It has been said that Gulf Creek is not much more than a
drainage ditch. Maybe so, but it is the grandest ditch you
will ever see with waterfalls, cliffs, stone structure,
canyon walls and mountain views to admire. Not far from
Horse Pens 40, Gulf Creek runs from atop Chandler Mountain
at Loop Road down to the confluence with Jake's Creek and
then on to Beason Cove Road.
A few years ago on my way to Buck's Pocket, a steam alongside Chandler Mountain Road caught my attention - Jake's Creek. Always looking for new Alabama places to explore, I parked and investigated. Unfortunately, long ago people had thrown garbage down into this place of beauty. In years gone by, garbage pickup was unheard of in rural areas and people would sometimes solve the problem by selecting a ravine along a roadside for their dump. This one was conveniently located just as you started down the mountain. Old pieces of metal and junk littered the creek and ruined any possibility of a photograph, but the roar of the water further down in the valley beckoned me to return another day.
Getting to the next lower section of Jake's Creek directly, involves negotiating a very steep incline. I worked my way from one tree trunk to the next, holding limbs where possible. I later found the best way down is to take a longer route, starting further downstream and working my way up.
I brought along my one-year-old Finnish Spitz, Sienna, and once we reached the creek, she had a big time jumping from rock to rock, testing her abilities. I was amused how she could run along the sides of rounded boulders without falling off but the fun ended when she slipped down the side of one and plunged five or six feet into a chilly pool of water.
I laughed until I realized her predicament. Boulders were on all sides except downstream and around the boulder she fell from, was the roar of a waterfall. The current was pulling her but she knew better than to be swept around that boulder. She swam from one side to the other looking for something to climb onto, but there was nothing and there was nothing for me to push in for her to climb onto. It was a matter of time before she would drown from exhaustion or be swept around the boulder.
She eventually managed to climb onto a narrow inclined spot on the side of the boulder beneath me and stood there until she regained some strength. She then lunged up the side of the boulder toward me but it was almost vertical and she plunged right back.
Venturing into nature clears the mind of the hustle and bustle of civilization. Everyday thoughts give way to reflections on universal concerns about life that have followed man from the beginning. In the vastness of wilderness our lives on earth find proper perspective. Sometimes nature points out how brief life is.
I witnessed exhaustion and cold starting to win out over Sienna's will to survive. When she couldn't paddle any more her head would dip under before she could find another burst of energy. I leaned as far as I could over the boulder reaching my hand down, encouraging her to find her way back onto the narrow incline. Eventually she did and except for the heavy breathing, stood frozen like an ice statue for several minutes. Finally, her head lifted and she made another leap upwards. I was ready to help but careful not to get pulled in head-first, myself. At the highest point of her jump, I grabbed the nape of her neck and she managed to climb out.
The rest of the day she stayed well away from the water. Later, on another occasion, I brought her back to Jake's Creek but she refused to go down the incline when she recognized the roaring. I reluctantly left her for most of the day and thought I might have lost my dog. But when I got back to the van, she was nearby, gazing into the canyon, waiting for me. (Yes, that's Sienna in the first picture).
My exploration of Jake's Creek was well worth it. Over two
years of working in black & white, several of my best
shots came from there. At the bottom of the grade things
level off and shortly thereafter is the confluence with Gulf
Creek. Downstream there is a hostile landowner that I've
been warned to avoid.
From the roadside near Jake's Creek you can look into the
distance and see canyon walls near the top of Chandler
Mountain. I knew one day I would make that climb and
discover what lay at the top, but before I got the chance,
Dr. Richard Vest asked me if I had been to Gulf Creek and
told me it was a beautiful place. He was the first, and
probably one of the few, to ever run Gulf Creek in a kayak
(Class V+). It is surprising that anyone would attempt to
run it. It is not advised at this time because of serious
landowner issues. This is private property except for about
eighty acres owned by the Nature Conservancy which is known
as Gulf Creek Canyon Preserve. Visitation is restricted to
staff guided tours.
The first time I explored Gulf Creek, late one day my son and I climbed our way up from the confluence with Jake's Creek. The first picture on this page was taken on the way up. I was determined to make it to the top to see if there was anything of interest because I didn't want to repeat the climb unnecessarily. Hundreds of times I have explored areas throughout Alabama, spurred on by what might lie around the next bend or over the next hill, but rarely finding anything out of the ordinary. When I made it over the last boulder of this climb I was pleasantly surprised.
At a pivotal point of beauty which I have termed The Landing, my eyes explored a variety of visual pleasures. Gulf Creek tumbles down into a vivid green pool before starting its steep decline down the canyon. Bordered by cliffs on one side, the other side of the landing features a side branch with a picturesque waterfall which forms another pool. Looking down the mountain, one side is flanked by sheer cliffs and in the distance is mountain and valley. The Landing has an unusual feel to it because you can look up at waterfalls and bluffs, out at sheer cliffs and down at mountains and valley. It is one of the most beautiful spots I have found in Alabama.