By Bradley Robertson
This adventure is a bucket list check-off that I will never forget, a day trip, just for me and my good boy Shep. It has been four months of quarantine and I had yet to have this sweet fella all to myself. I found an opportunity with the older two being away, and I took it, quick as I could.
The last time I entered a cavern was with my parents when I was around 10-years-old. We visited Desoto Caverns in Childersburg and I still remember what it looks like. I knew this trip would be something completely new and unexpected for Shep. As for myself, I was happy as a clam to slip out of town and see something remarkable with my little boy.
Rickwood Caverns State Park is located in Warrior, Alabama, right next door to Talladega. The best route there is to take 280 to Birmingham and then head north on Interstate 66. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive, which gave me more time to listen to and enjoy Shep.
There was minimal effort for this trip and I had read that there was a pool for swimming, fed by the spring from the caverns. I packed our bathing suits and towels, along with a few snacks and drinks and we headed off the farm around 10 a.m. I stopped close to our house and got Shep his favorite sausage biscuit from Jack’s – this kid is an easy pleaser. Keep him fed and give him your full attention and he will be your buddy for life.
I called ahead on our route to make our reservation for the Cavern tour. They currently only allow 10 people at a time as a health measure. You can call daily as early as 9 a.m. to reserve your time. We made no stops on the way to the Caverns and the drive was easy.
Shep mostly talked the entire trip and every so often he’d say, “Can you play ‘Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie’?” Since this is his favorite song. I once had reservations against this, as the famous old tune speaks of sending one’s self to hell. But I have learned that during a pandemic, anything goes. Joy and laughter often outweigh reasoning.
We arrived in chipper form and the first thing Shep saw was the very large, Olympic-size pool.
“Can we go there first Mom?” he asked.
Shep soon spotted an old school park straight from the 70s.
“What are those things of wood sticking up in the air?”
“That’s called a see-saw,” I said. “One person sits on each end and you go up and down.”
This made Shep giggle and highly interested in something he’d never seen before.
“Why don’t we have these on our playgrounds?” he asked. “Will you do it with me?”
I proceeded to show my darling little boy how a see-saw works. He was fascinated and found it very funny that he went up so very high and I did not go up at all.
“Is this ‘cause you weigh so much Mom? I wish Sissy was here, she would be just right to do it with me.”
We laughed and the randomness of being on a see-saw in the middle of a forest in Alabama was perfect. No agenda, no fuss, just me and Shep.
We soon found ourselves at our 2 p.m. cavern tour and were both silent with anticipation. Our guide wore a protective mask and she led us up a steep path to the cavern entrance.
Shep got behind me and walked in wide-eyed holding my hand. We went down a good 40 to 50 steps, built into the cavern, until stopping for our first lesson from our guide. Sand-colored clay surrounded us on all sides in the forms of paths and nooks and caves.
It’s odd to think you are underground looking up into the earth. I felt like we were tiny ants, maneuvering in our own ant hill, sometimes walking small narrow paths or viewing large rooms you could gaze into for hours. It was a cool 65 degrees in the cavern and Shep enjoyed touching the smoothness of the walls around us. With sand beneath our feet, we often looked up or down, to find you could see no end in sight to this deep, ancient cavern.
The cavern is a massive cave, with paths and rooms going down 175 feet beneath the earth. It contains formations that are said to be 260 million years old and created by water which reveals the cave was carved from an ocean bed.
The Caverns became open to the public in 1954 after having been found by Eddie Rickles and his Boy Scout troop. The property was acquired by the state and re-opened as a state park in 1974.
The cave, from the entrance and beyond, is filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Some, in the deepest parts of the cave, are still growing today. The state has done a great job of lighting the entire cave; you can see well but still get the effect of being underground and experiencing this natural wonder for what it is.
We remained underground and in awe for just over an hour. We saw the edge of the underground lake that feeds the water into their pool and Shep saw his first bat up close in the cave; it was tiny and covered in fur.
“I had no idea bats were so small and brown,“ Shep said. “I thought they were bigger and black and fly all around acting crazy.”
The cavern was the best Alabama playground I could have picked that day. It is a true wonder and something to marvel at. It puts the perspective of time very close to us. A cavern formed millions of years ago, and yet here we are, walking in it and seeing it as brand new.
This place is recommended to anyone! I will never forget it, and as for Shep, he wants to take back his sister and brother very soon.
Visit www.alapark.com for more details on Rickwood Caverns and other Alabama state parks.