Wade Mountain

Wade Mountain

Everyone take a minute.  Just exhale.  Spit out all that stress that has been over-pressurizing your lungs, quickening your breath, tightening your chest.  Take a look at the freshness of the spring forest, pictured above.  Dote on the unmistakable harlequin burst of the April woods.  Contrast the vitality of the newborn leaflets with the obsolescence of the fallow-colored leaves resting on the warming forest floor.  Ponder the synergies and symmetry of nature: the old feeding the new, the dead nourishing the living, the trees lending shelter and filtering the air for the inhabitants of the Earth.  Imagine the complexity of our planet.  Imagine the vastness of the cosmos beyond.  Admire for a moment the miracle of life.

Feel small.  Feel insignificant.  Feel at home with the natural world around you.  And then, my friends, feel free.  Free from deadlines.  Free from cell phones and computers.  Free from bank accounts, and loan payments.  Free from the disquietude of our almost artificial existence. 

That's why I visit the forests.  That's why I crave the spare moment -- the few idle hours -- the chance to slip away onto the back roads, onto the trails, or into the streams that connect us with our natural heritage.  I don't have much time at work or at home to contemplate the essentially incomprehensible reality that surrounds us.  But these trips to what I call the "real world" ignite my curiosity.  The trees feed not only my lungs, but my brain as well.  I realize I am connected both physically and emotionally with the planet on which I, so astonishingly, happen to reside.  And I am reminded that I am but one of many species of beings so bound up with this land.

With all of this in mind, I visited Wade Mountain Nature Preserve in North Huntsville.  Given the breadth and complexity of the foregoing topics, you might wonder whether a little nature preserve just outside of town would suffice to fulfill the purpose.  You'd be surprised.  Wade Mountain is a Land Trust property comprising 843 acres; although there are popular, paved greenway sections (about which we have written before), there are very few visitors to the more secluded and rugged trails, where abundant deer and other wildlife reside.  There's also a really interesting, semi-arid microclimate to be observed at the top of the mountain, where the unexpected cactus can be found. 

I decided to visit Wade Mountain primarily because I've been to all the popular Land Trust destinations, and I never hear anyone talking about this one -- even though it was designated a "National Recreation Trail" by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2012.  After viewing a map of the property, I selected an easy, approximately 3.0 mile round trip trail called Devil's Racetrack (which meets up with a rather short, round trail called Devil's Loop). You can get to the Devil's Racetrack trail by heading north on the Parkway past Winchester Road.  You then take the first left and another right, and you will find yourself in a hiker's parking lot.  I was impressed at how quickly I found myself exiting the bustle of the city and entering an obviously little-known nature preserve.

The hike is pleasant and fairly simple.  The trails are well marked and wide, with few rocks to trip you up in the first part of the hike.  Shortly after leaving the parking lot on my April 2014 hike, I encountered two baby snakes, and saw a pair of large deer shoot across the trail about 30 yards in front of me.  About the time you tire from all that excitement, you will find some benches to rest on and enjoy an exceptional view of Wade Mountain itself.

The area of the trail referred to as Devil's Loop is particularly interesting.  It is located about one mile into the Devil's Racetrack trail; you simply take a right turn down a narrow, windy pathway, and shortly you will encounter a short, circular, flat, dusty trail running along the base of large limestone boulders that form the crest of the hill.  There's a picture of this area in the gallery below.  I've read that numerous fossils from a former reef environment can be found around the limestone.  Rumor has it that Cherokee Indians also formerly used the loop for horse-racing.  If you see the place, this would not seem far-fetched in the least.  Notably, Wade Mountain is still used for horse riding, and it is the only Land Trust property where horses are allowed on the trails.

If you take a left or right on the Devil's Loop trail, you will quickly come across an impressive view of the Tennessee Valley, courtesy of a swath in the forest cut by TVA transmission lines.  According to the Land Trust website, on a clear day you can see easily into the State of Tennessee.  I have no way of verifying this, but I certainly felt like I was taking in quite a view from the top.  If you have a little energy, you can actually follow the power lines up Wade Mountain for an even greater command of the valley below.

Speaking of areas I didn't explore, I am told that there are some climbing opportunities on some of the limestone cliffs on Wade Mountain.  I didn't check the signs to see if this is permitted or even advisable, but obviously, you should check that out before you go ascending the rocks.

I also couldn't tell if overnight camping is allowed, but if so, I'd sure like to try it out.  After all, even though it only takes a few hours in nature to get me started thinking about the greater mysteries of our existence, a night outside in the woods gives the me the chance to visualize our extra-planetary surroundings and contemplate our place in the universe.

{gallery stories/Wade-Mountain|Photo Gallery}

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