When we left off, we had just finished our first day in Birmingham with a visit to an old quarry, and we were all set to see more industrial relics the next day.
But first up on Sunday, we checked out Oak Mountain State Park, a large state park about 20 miles south of Birmingham. Part of our reason for going here was so we could scope out the campground as a possible future spot to stay with the trailer, so we headed there first and drove around a bit. It looks doable; the sites are of variable size and quality, and not as big and lovely as what we’ve gotten used to at Georgia State Parks….but the park itself is lovely and has so much to do that I think we could have a great trip there. Someday. I agreed to limit our school year trips to no more than one weekend a month until Dave finishes his masters, and summer is already filled up with longer trips, so this year’s available camping slots are filling rapidly .
At Georgia parks, you pay a single, $5 per car parking fee to get into the park; at Oak Mountain they charge per person ($5 for adults, $2 for kids and seniors). So a little steeper than we’re used to, but there is a ton to do here (although there are extra fees for some things): hiking, mountain biking, boat rentals, golf, horseback riding, a petting farm….
We were short on time, so we had to prioritize. We first checked out the Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitation Center:
We were the only people in here, and there wasn’t really much going on. There are a few exhibits inside and big windows looking out on wildlife friendly areas outside. I gather it’s more exciting other times of year, when there are more animals there in need of rehabilitation.
Then we headed outside for a hike on the Treetop Nature Trail. We found the signage for this trail really misleading. There are signs for it right outside the rehabilitation center saying it’s .3 miles long. We figured that meant we’d walk the .3 miles and then we’d probably go find a longer hike elsewhere in the park to do. But it turns out that the trail doesn’t really start right by the center; first you hike through the woods for quite a ways to get to the elevated boardwalk (where several unreleasable birds live) that actually is the Treetop Trail. So that was fine, but it wasn’t what we were expecting, and had we only been prepared for a short walk, it would have been disappointing. All told the round trip to the boardwalk and back was a little more than two miles, I believe. It’s on a lovely little trail through the woods and alongside a little stream, but be aware that it’s all downhill on the way there which, of course, means it’s all uphill on the way back. There’s also parking right across the street from the boardwalk, so you don’t have to hike to see the birds.
There’s a bird behind Milo somewhere, but, really, I just liked this picture of Milo, so I’m putting it in. Also, I didn’t get any good pictures of actual birds:
And then, after lunch, we headed for the place I was most excited about in Birmingham, Sloss Furnaces:
Sloss Furnaces produced iron in Birmingham for more than 90 years and is now a National Historic Landmark. There’s no admission charge, and you can either use the brochure and map available at the visitors’ center to do a self-guided tour, or you can go on a guided tour. Right now the website is only listing Saturday at 1 as an available time for guided tours; I’m reasonably certain that when we went it said every hour on the hour on weekends (and they were definitely offering them when we were there on a Sunday). If you’re there when the guided tours are offered, I’d recommend doing some of each. Take the guided tour and then grab the map and wander around on your own. The guided tour was great (what I saw of it; Dave and I took turns touring and chasing Abe), but you don’t see the whole site on the tour. Plus it’s fun to wander at your own pace.
So the whole history of the site and all that was fascinating. But, honestly, I was mostly excited about taking pictures of the remains of industry. So I did. A lot.
We found the self guided tour a little hard to follow. We got lost. I mean, sort of. It’s not like we ever didn’t know how to get back to the car, but we didn’t do things in the right order, so it was hard to know what we were looking at a lot of the time. But that was okay. But I can’t tell you what all these things are. I just know that they’re INDUSTRIAL.
Here’s the part at the end where Dave and the older kids were still on the tour, and I had nothing to do but take pictures of Abe:
After I made him pose a lot, I let him play on this circle-y pipe thing. Which I think would have actually rolled away if he’d been able to push hard enough on it. Word of caution.
Oh, and it was Valentine’s Day (oddly and not on purpose, this was the second Valentine’s Day in a row we spent in Alabama). In honor of that, we found this on the ground:
We ended the day with a quick trip to Railroad Park downtown.
This is the kind of park you might find along the bank of a river in some cities. In Birmingham, it’s by the railroad tracks. Which is actually pretty cool. Especially if you’re three.
We watched the train go by then spent a few minutes walking through the park. This was a Sunday evening on a holiday weekend, and the park was hopping: tons of people out walking, biking, playing….we saw one family having family pictures done. It’s a great spot.
And here’s the part where I sheepishly admit that we didn’t make it to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, even though that was the main thing that attracted me to Birmingham in the first place. You see, what happened was, we were planning to go on Monday before heading home. And then we set out on our way, only Abe, worn out from the trip, was crying and crying and crying in the car. Sobbing, overtired three year old + the Civil Rights Institute seemed like a really terrible combination. There are a number of walking tours highlighting important places from Birmingham’s civil rights history, too, most of them originating near the Civil Rights Institute. I thought this might be a nice alternative, more active than a museum….except it was pouring rain.
So we made a last minute change of plans and went to the McWane Science Center instead. Along with everyone else in Birmingham:
So this is a nice, if fairly standard, science museum. Definitely a fun way to pass a rainy morning, but it drove me crazy that we don’t have a current science museum membership anywhere and couldn’t do a reciprocal admission thing. I didn’t know we were coming here! Or I would have gotten one before we left! Argh!
My favorite part was the adorably named museum within a museum, Itty Bitty Magic City:
It’s your standard play town kind of thing that we’ve seen other places, but really extensive and well done. Grocery store! Restaurant! Farm! House! Garage! Vet! Etc! There’s also a fun mail delivery game where the kids can transfer letters from mailbox to mailbox at each place, which is very much relevant to Abe’s current interests.
The only issue was that it, like the rest of the museum, was crazy crowded. They have a timed ticket system to keep crowds down, and they kick you out after you’ve been there for your hour, but it was still pretty saturated. It was hard to get a turn with the grocery store scanner. Had we been there when it was less crowded, I suspect Abe would have been happy to play indefinitely.
As it was, the little play house usually wasn’t too busy, so Abe hung out in there quite a bit and, uhh….washed these records:
As a child of the new millennium (and a child whose parents weren’t hip enough to hold on to their record player and gave it to his uncle before he was born), Abe had no idea what these were and decided they must be plates.
And, finally, before leaving Birmingham behind, here are a couple of quick restaurant recommendations:
Saw’s Soul Kitchen: Word is, Paula Deen ranked Saw’s the best barbecue in the country, and we’re not going to argue: it was really good. Dave and I both had the pulled pork; the sauce is on the spicy, vinegary rather than sweet side. It’s a tiny little place; there are a handful of small tables inside, but they were all full when we were there, so we ate at one of the outside tables, even though it was a fairly chilly day:
Big, Bad Breakfast: This place was very close to our hotel, so a bit south of the downtown area. We first tried to here after Oak Mountain on Sunday….then we remembered that it’s even harder to get a table post church on Sunday in Birmingham than it is in Atlanta. An hour and a half wait. We went back the next day after the science museum and still had to wait a good 15 minutes. But it was good stuff: mostly your standard diner menu, but with a few twists and with an emphasis on local foods.