Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hiking The Walls of Jericho

I was able to rack up some really awesome Mommy Miles hiking yesterday with my favorite guys in the whole world!  We heard about a place to hike about an hour and a half north of our home a while back called "The Walls of Jericho".  After some research, we knew that we needed to be able to set aside a full day to do the hike because of the drive to it and the length of the hike.  Yesterday was the day.

We packed up plenty of snacks, lunches and Powerade for our hike and hit the road.  Each of the boys got a new "Camelback" backpack this Spring so they could carry their own hydration and lunch on our hikes.  This was their first time to try them out and they worked beautifully!

We searched and searched for good directions to The Walls of Jericho trailhead and never really found them online.  The only directions we found were to go 25 miles past Scottsboro on Alabama Highway 79.  Luckily, these directions worked out just fine for us.  We drove straight to it without any problem.  A better description, though, is that the trailhead is just a mile or two North of the town of Hytop, Alabama on Highway 79.  As a matter of fact, the town of Hytop boasts that it is "The Gateway to The Walls of Jericho".

We entered the trail in perfect hiking weather.  June 1st in Alabama is typically hot and balmy, but as luck would have it, it rained the night before our hike and cooled the air to a comfortbale 75 degrees.  The weather was perfect throughout the hike.  If it had been warmer, staying hydrated for our hike would have been a bigger issue. 

We hiked at a comfortable pace for the boys.  We generally like to stop often when we see something that fascinates the boys....and pretty much everything is fascinating to kids.  We stopped to walk on logs, to look at bugs, to look into sinkholes, and just to rest. 

We stopped and meandered off the trail several times, but our favorite stops along the trail were at the footbridges and the cemetery.

The cememtery was grown up and had only this one grave marker that had an inscription.  The other markers were just plain rock markers.  The little cemetery so far from current civilization, really made us curious about the Clark family that obviously once called this area their home.

During the hike down to The Walls of Jericho, we crossed over two of these log footbridges.  The bridges are simply made from a fallen log with a hand crafted railing.  The bridge is certainly sturdy enough, but with our entire family on it walking together, it gave enough of a shake that it added to the excitement.  The first footbridge crossed over Hurricane Creek, which was flowing with water on the day we crossed.  We stopped just across the creek, where a bench had been placed for a refueling snack.  The boys also spent some time looking for fish and critters off the bridge.

The second footbridge crossed over a dry creekbed.  I have read that during a thunderstorm or after a heavy rain, that this creek bed can become filled with a swift moving stream.  Until recently, the footbridges were not there, which made access to the Walls of Jericho dangerous during rainy season.

Besides being safer, I think the bridges add charm to the hike, without making it feel too "man made". 

  It took us just over 2 hours to get into the gorge area.  The hike down into the gorge was almost completely downhill and filled with switchbacks.  Throughout the downhill portions of the hike, we built up a sort of dread for the hike back out.  Although hiking downhill is always pleasurable, it causes some alarm when thinking about the inevitable hike back up. 

As we hiked the last bit of the trail into the gorge, we were able to hear the water falling and we knew we were close to the canyon.  The last bit of hiking was the most treacherous of the entire trip in, as it included rugged terrain and some fairly sheer drop offs.  We were driven to get to the end of the hike and were instantly rewarded with this sight.....

As we entered the Walls of Jericho area, this naturally formed pool was the first sight we saw.  We were immediately taken aback at how crystal clear the water was.  We were instantly saddened by the fact that we didn't bring our swim suits.  The water falling off the rocks and into the pool simply begged to be swam in.  We now have plans to hike back to The Walls of Jericho, if for no other reason than to swim in this water.

For a bit, we thought that this natural pool was the main attraction of The Walls of Jericho.  But after a few minutes of exploring, we hiked farther up the rocks and found this area.....

This natural amphitheatre area was a blast to explore and made the perfect setting for our picnic lunch.  We managed to keep the boys sitting still long enough to refuel with lunches and drinks before they were off again exploring the area.  We spent about 2 hours down in the Walls area.  The boys clambored over the rocks, caught tadpoles that were abundant in the shallow pools on the rocks, waded in the water, and explored the caves and alcoves.

At one point while we were down in the gorge, a young couple came clamoring over the rocks and walked up to us.  They asked....

"Excuse us, but is there any other way to get back out of here besides the way we came in?"

We explained that the only way to get back out was to hike the 3-4 miles back out......uphill.

They replied...."That's what we were afraid of.  We are dreading the hike out and was hoping there was a short cut to get out."

Our belief is that the most beautiful natural sights require some effort to see, so the strenuous hike back up didn't seem quite as horrific to us as it did to the young couple.

We kept a watch on our time inside the gorge, knowing that we needed to allot 3 hours to hike out.  We knew that it was time to begin our ascent back to the top. 

We gathered up all of our discarded gear.....

...and started our hike back up.

Although we feared that the hike back out would be too strenuous for our family, we quite enjoyed it!

The hike out was definitely uphill, but we took it slow and worked in several rest stops.

Even taking breaks, it took us only about 2 1/2 hours to hike back out of the gorge.  The hike out wasn't nearly as bad as we feared it would be.  Thankfully, the switchbacks are designed to give you some flat hiking interspersed with the uphills.  It made hiking out quite bearable.

If I were to give our day of hiking a ranking, I would give it a 9 out of 10.  The weather was perfect.  We had plenty of drinks and snacks, the scenery was lovely, the trail was well marked, and the conditions were perfect.  The only thing that would've pushed the hike up to a 10 would've been if we had carried our swimsuits. It also would have been nice if water had been running in the dry creek bed and out of the holes in the canyon walls.  But, those things are quite minor. They just make us want to go back to see it again after a rain.

I wore a Nike+ sensor throughout the hike to see how many miles it recorded.  Although the sign at the trailhead proclaims that the hike is 6 miles round trip, my sensor recorded it as 8.25 miles.  I have read other people reporting that the trail is actually farther than posted as well. So if you choose to are in for a treat....just keep in mind that the hike is fairly strenuous and is likely farther than 6 miles. Take plenty of fluids and allot plenty of time to stop and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. 

I would highly recommend this hike to able bodied people who are at least fairly fit and who are looking for a great... free way to spend time together as a family.

We are already searching for our next hiking destination.