Feeling the Opposite of Dismal by Day

1:58 PM Life in Between 4 Comments

January 12, 2016

"We are going in circles," my cousin Ayla exclaimed. "This is part of the test. We aren't ready for the actual hike, so they are making sure we never find the entrance." There we were at Dismals Canyon in Phil Campbell, Alabama...and we couldn't even find where the trail began. After months of sitting behind a desk, my adventurous cousin and I decided to spend a weekend studying the glowworms that gave the canyons their misleading name.

"I think it's this way," I gestured to a path that we had already covered. We walked in a circle for the fourth time, until we decided to walk back to the welcoming cabin and start again. "What does the map say?" I asked.

Ayla flipped the map in several directions until folding it back into her pocket. "It says we're lost."

The welcome cabin functioned as an outdoor supply store and a diner. The walls were covered with t-shirts, hats and intricate wind chimes. The staff at Dismals was warm and inviting. It felt more like visiting a favorite uncle's home, and it smelled like a homemade meal. Finally, we were pointed in the right direction and began our descent into the damp walls of the canyon.

As you reach the bottom of the wooden stairs leading to the trail, there is an immediate photo opportunity on top of a moss covered rock. The waterfall frames the bottom of the canyon and we immediately knew where we were on the map - Rainbow Falls. We had a choice of starting the trail to our left or to our right. After some "trouble" walking across the swinging bridge (because we were acting like 10 year olds and galloping across it), we decided to head in the direction of the Grotto.

As we walked further into the canyon the sun began to give way to numerous shadows from tree branches, resulting in a Jackson Pollock painting on the forest floor. We decided to forgo the intended path and walk our own way. This landed us in the Dancing Hall...well, almost. First we had to complete an impromptu obstacle course. We had to carefully jump across a wide creek.

We reached a section of the creek with tall, cement stepping stones. No doubt these stones had once been set up quite flat and orderly, but over time they had gone a bit wonky, to the point where some were turned nearly sideways and when you jumped to them you had to balance on the very edge. The very last stone was the wonkiest, as luck would have it, so we had to balance quite precariously while preparing to leap across a rather significant gap and land on a tangle of exposed tree roots that protruded from the other bank. We took turns going across them, feeling very adventurous and daring despite the fact that the worst that would have happened had we fallen was that our socks would have gotten soggy. Though that is no small thing when one is hiking!

We reached the Weeping Bluff, which is a section of the trail with an overhanging rock formation that dripped a light but steady stream of water down it. At first this just seemed like another opportunity for silliness as we paused on a bridge to play in the water for a moment. But then after crossing the bridge, we found this one spot where the sunlight was shining directly on this little stream of water pouring down from the cliff above us. The rock face was green and mossy and the mist of water was refracting the light into a vibrant rainbow. The scene was absolutely stunning. We had to share the moment with a passing photographer, and we exchanged "oooo's" and "ahhh's" before we parted ways to continue on our trip.

The rest of our day hike was scattered, exciting and magical. Scattered, because we kept getting lost. Exciting, because we decided to take the "Fat Man's Misery" challenge. (By that I mean we did what you are not supposed to do. We took off our backpacks and squeezed between the two massive rocks just to see if we could succeed. Climbing back down was much scarier, because you had to leap into a crack in the canyon on faith alone.) And magical, because the canyon is truly beautiful. The best part was how empty the place was. I was amazed that there were not more people out enjoying Dismals on such a nice day in May.

We passed so many wonderful things. Perhaps our favorite was a narrow walkway with the most beautiful light shining through (pictured at the bottom). When we stood between the towering walls, things got quiet. All we could hear was the sound of the birds and the breeze several feet above us. Ayla described it well, "I feel like this is the entryway to some magical fantasy land or something. I just love the feeling of walking through this narrow, leaf-strewn path with the walls of the canyon looming over me on either side. And it's green and cool and damp and earthy, and walking through it felt like going back in time."

In the end, we decided to not only enjoy Rainbow Falls from the front, but to actually climb behind it. This was not an item offered on the map, but when you decide to go your own way you run into these opportunities. The cave was dark and it was impossible to continue walking forward because a giant slanted boulder was in our way. I carefully slithered up the wet, slippery rock to get closer and closer to the falls. I prayed for the grips on the bottom of my shoes to be as awesome as the sales guy at the Mountain Outfitters store said they were. After much scooting and uncomfortable crawling (to which my cousin referred to me as Gollum), we were able to reach the inside of the falls. It was even better than the outside. It was relaxing, cool and it was the perfect spot to rest before we headed back to the welcome station to get ready for our night hike. That is when the glowworms (or Dismals) would finally appear.

Matthew 7:14 - But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

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  1. Cool! I might have to check this place out. Someone told me it's best to visit in the Spring.

    1. Totally worth it. Yes, go during the Spring. The canyon walls will be glowing at night.

  2. Thank you for this post! I too am a Jesus girl!
    See you in heaven! : )))