Spann’s Best Way To The Bama Beaches – 2007

| May 17, 2007 @ 9:44 am | 16 Replies

Spann’s Best Way To The Bama Beaches… 2007 Edition!

May always a brings mix of emotions. Sadness to see your children getting older and growing up; some will watch their kids walk down the aisle and get a diploma in a week or so. You see, when it comes to raising children, the days are long, but the years are short. Enjoy those long days while you have them.

There is also happiness over the coming summer, which is the best time of the year for little ones. And, even us older kids even have those memories of the carefree days with no school, hanging out with friends, and just having fun. Sure, fall is my favorite season now, but deep in my soul there is something telling me that I need to kick back and have some fun during June, July, and August.

All of that brings us to this annual piece that will give you a chance to kick off your summer in a unique way. Countless numbers of Alabamians will be heading south soon, to the “Redneck Rivera” for some surf and sand. In the words of Doobie, the cabbie in the movie “Planes, Planes, and Automobiles”, “all you see on the Interstate is Interstate”. Why not get off I-65 and take the roads less traveled for a real adventure. I have a real love for rural Alabama, and along the way you will find a treasure trove of interesting places to visit, things to do, and food to eat. So, lets get to it. This is my 2007 version of “Spann’s Best Way To The Bama Beaches”….

This year, from Birmingham we are going to head down I-59/20 to Tuscaloosa, where we begin the eat-a-thon. My top two choices: the City Cafe, in downtown Northport, and the original Dreamland BBQ joint in Jerusalem Heights.

The City Cafe is the greatest meat and three in the state, but it is only open for breakfast and lunch weekdays. To get there, take I-359, and continue onto Lurleen B. Wallace Bvld. through downtown Tuscaloosa, and over the Hugh Thomas Bridge. Take the first Northport exit; turn left onto 5th Street, and then left onto Main Avenue. The City Cafe is on the right. The food is superb and the prices are incredibly low, but the lines during the lunch hour can be long. Trust me, it is worth the wait. Be sure and say hello to owner Joe Barger; Joe used to serve me when I was a college student; what really bothers me is that Joe looks no different now than he did in the 1970s! The City Cafe is a real Alabama treasure.

If you prefer Dreamland, you will need to exit at the McFarland Bvld exit (U.S. 82). Turn left onto McFarland, and go through the Skyland Bvld intersection. About a block past Skyland, you will turn left onto Jug Factory Road. Turn right on 15th Avenue and you will see the original Dreamland location on the left. I clearly remember the days when John Bishop was always behind the counter at this joint; I really don’t think he ever felt he was creating a southern barbecue legend when I first found this place back in the 70s.

From Tuscaloosa, we will leave the Interstate for good as we begin the journey down into the West Alabama countryside. We will take Alabama 69 south out of Tuscaloosa; about four miles south of I-59/20 (very close to the entrance to Shelton State Community College) is where the horrible F4 tornado crossed the highway on December 16, 2000.

Right after you cross into Hale County, you will be in the community of Moundville, which just happened to be the largest city in North America 800 years ago. No kidding! To prove it, you need to turn right off Alabama 69 at the sign and enter Mound State Park, now known as Moundville Archaeological Park.

The Moundville site, occupied from around A.D. 1000 until A.D. 1450, is a large settlement of Mississippian culture on the Black Warrior River in central Alabama. At the time of Moundville’s heaviest residential population, the community took the form of a three hundred-acre village built on a bluff overlooking the river. The plan of the town was roughly square and protected on three sides by a bastioned wooden palisade. Moundville, in size and complexity second only to the Cahokia site in Illinois, was at once a populous town, as well as a political center and a religious center. Within the enclosure, surrounding a central plaza, were twenty-six earthen mounds, the larger ones apparently supporting noble’s residences alternating with small ones that supported buildings used for mortuary and other purposes.

The park is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and the on-site Museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. year-round. See the park web site here.

From Moundville, we will continue down Alabama 69 South, through the small community of Havana Junction, which also happens to be the birthplace and hometown of the great Alabama weather legend, J.B. Elliott. Highway 69 will take you into Greensboro, the county seat of Hale County. This community over the years has become the “Catfish Capital of Alabama”, and features some lovely homes as you enter the town from the north on Alabama 69.

Just south of downtown Greensboro, lets take a left turn onto Alabama Highway 25, a fascinating highway which runs from Leeds all the way down to the small community of Sunny South, near Thomasville. We will take Alabama 25 down through the West Alabama prairie, through the communities of Faunsdale and Dayton, and on to Thomaston (not to be confused with Thomasville). As we get close to Thomaston, be watching for an old school building on the right, the former Marengo County High School.

This building is now known as The Alabama Rural Heritage Center, It was completed in 1909, and is the oldest standing county high school in the state. Beginning as a foundation in 1986 and incorporated as a non-profit foundation in 1990, the Center displays and sells traditional folk art and crafts from across the state.

At the site you will find The Heritage Shoppe, a store which showcases a variety of one-of-a-kind craft items, all made by native Alabama artisans. Handmade quilts, pottery, baskets and paintings are just some of the items available. You will also find “Mama Nems” food products, a unique line of green pepper jelly, red pepper jelly, and watermelon rind pickles, created from produce grown on-site in the Center’s garden, and prepared in the Center’s kitchen.

The Center is open to visitors from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. You can see the exhibits, visit the Heritage Shoppe, and get the latest information about upcoming classes and events.

Once you are in downtown Thomaston, we will turn left onto Alabama Highway 28, which runs through a wide spot in the road called Consul, and then town to Catherine, where we will be turning left onto Alabama Highway 5. After a few miles, we reach the community of Alberta, and there will be be turning right into Wilcox County road 28, which takes you to Gee’s Bend.

Yep, I know, the 2006 trip also went through Gee’s Bend, but this year the ferry across the Alabama River is open, and for that reason we need to go through this remarkable place again. Here is what I wrote last year about this part of the trip:

“Quilts made in Gees Bend have become internationally famous; just stop and ask anyone in the community about them. You might even get to see one of them being made!

Here is a Pulitzer Prize article from the Los Angeles times on Gee’s Bend published in 2000.

If you take the time to talk with the wonderful people in Gee’s Bend, you might even get to meet Mary Lee Bendolph or some of her friends. Gees Bend is one of the most peaceful places in the world, and an Alabama treasure.”

But this year, instead of turning back on Wilcox County 28, we will be taking the ferry across the Alabama River to Camden. The ferry runs from 6:15 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., and the cost is three dollars for a car with one rider; each additional rider costs one dollar. Here is a link to the ferry web site.

In years past, I have sent you to Dallas Soul Food; but my good Wilcox County sources tell me that the place burned down recently. A similar place called “Uncle Redd’s Soul Food and BBQ” has opened, and it has been given a thumbs up by my sources. Check it out and give me a review. Uncle Redd’s is on Claiborne Street in downtown Camden, better known as Alabama 41.

From downtown Camden, lets head west on Alabama 10 for several miles. At Pine Hill, we will turn left onto Alabama Highway 5, which runs through Sunny South (we see the southern terminus of our old friend Alabama 25 there), and into Thomasville. At the end of Alabama 5, turn left onto U.S. 43, which will take us through Thomasville, Grove Hill, and Jackson.

Below Jackson, we run through a community on U.S. 43 called Mount Vernon, in the far northern part of Mobile County. Not much there now, but in a few years you won’t recognize the place. Last week, ThyssenKrupp announced their intention to build a 4.2 billion dollar steel mill there, which will be open by 2010, employing almost 3,000 people.

Deeper into Mobile County, we will take I-65 South, then I-165 South, which turns into Water Street in downtown Mobile. After a few blocks, turn left onto U.S. 90/98 and through the Bankhead Tunnel, which goes under the Mobile River. Did you know the tunnel was a location for a scene in director Steven Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind?; Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) drives through it as he chases UFOs.

Within a mile we will turn right into the U.S.S. Alabama parking lot, where it is time for a break and another great Alabama tourist attraction. The Alabama is a dreadnought battleship commissioned 1942 and converted to a museum ship in 1964. The ship is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily; it is really worth your time. The Park’s artifact collection contains representative Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard aircraft from before World War II through the Persian Gulf War. Included are a Mach 3+ A-12 Blackbird, the submarine Drum, tanks and artillery. Visit the web site here.

After the U.S.S. Alabama visit, head east again on U.S. 90/98, and then hop on I-10 east at the next opportunity. Once you are through Spanish Fort, we will exit I-20 at Loxley and head south on Alabama 59, which is also known as Gulf Shores Parkway.

Once you get to Foley, be sure and stop by Lambert’s Cafe, the home of “throwed rolls”. Lambert’s will be on the left once you pass the Tanger Outlet Mall. The lines can be long, but this place is lots of fun with great food and reasonable prices. And, yep, they really do throw the rolls.

After Lamberts, keep on Alabama 59 South, which runs right into the Public Beach at Gulf Shores in about eight miles.

I am building a Google Map of this trip… the route and stops mentioned here are all highlighted. See the map here.

Have a great time at the Alabama Gulf coast, and I assure your vacation will be packed with a few more memories thanks to taking the roads less traveled!

Category: Pre-November 2010 Posts

About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

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