Buck’s Pocket State Park. A Haven for Defeated Politicians.
That’s how I’m greeted upon arrival at Buck’s Pocket State Park. How apropos. I’m not a politician, but I do feel defeated. Career-wise for sure. After moving to Alabama from Southern California over twenty years ago, Buck’s Pocket was one of the first places I visited. Drove through, really. Filled with hope and the promise of a new beginning on the other side of the country.
I left California, and a promising career, in search of a better way of life. So Cal is great, but the exorbitant cost of living is a grind. Not to mention the congestion. I was warned by many that I was throwing my future away. A rising star in my chosen field. Their words have haunted me this week. I can’t seem to stop the loop playing in my head no matter how hard I try. While it’s far too late to do anything about it, I can’t help thinking that they may have been right.
I wish I didn’t care. Desperately. So stupid to think those twenty-plus-year-old words from people I don’t even know anymore and whose names I can barely recall can still be summoned so quickly to the forefront of my thoughts.
Parking at the ranger station I head inside to get a trail map and some advice.
The door is locked. Looking around the park appears deserted. Thankfully, I threw the book Hiking Alabama in my bag before leaving. A book I bought years ago which, sadly, has not gotten much use, if any at all. Two hikes are outlined in the pages dedicated to Buck’s Pocket State Park. I choose the Point Rock Trail and begin my quest for the trailhead.
Buck’s Pocket State Park is in a canyon formed by erosion from the South Sauty Creek which ultimately spills into Lake Guntersville. This makes for high bluffs and a boulder-strewn ravine. The park takes its name from a story about a Native American Hunter who corners a massive buck on one of the cliffs. The buck jumped to its death, rather than being taken by the hunter. Hence, Buck’s Pocket State Park.
Still not sure what’s up with the defeated politicians
Now, where is that confounded trailhead?
In my somewhat limited hiking experience, it appears that roughly 50% of my hiking time is dedicated to finding the starting point. Spotting a man working close to the creek, I head over to him for help.
At last. A park employee. Looking up from his work, he asks if he can help. He goes on to tell me that the park has been placed on the recent closure list handed down by the governor. So no ranger, closed restrooms, and just the one lone guy trying to clean up storm damage and maintain the park.
Pointing me in the right direction, he warns that the blazes marking the trail are few and far between. Many of the blazed trees were downed by recent storms as well as last year’s tornado. Also, due to closure, the annual repainting of the blazes has not occurred.
I find this news both disturbing and incredibly sad.
Spotting a faint red blaze I turn slightly right, beginning my hike up the Point Rock Trail.
Point Rock can be seen in the distance to the left. The trail is rocky. There’s supposed to be a stream that I follow, but there’s only rocks and boulders. I guess it’s dried up. Either that or I’m lost already. I’ve just come across one blaze so far, a blaze so faint it can almost pass for a shadow.
Rounding the bend, I hear water. Following a short side trail, I find a waterfall and the stream. I sit for a while, admiring the beauty, and also determining that I am on the right path. I am, and the area I’ve just crossed through is known as the Big Sink.
Navigating rocks and boulders, I hike back across the Big Sink and head up. Not too hard to follow the trail here. Just go up. And up. And up. It’s pretty steep, and I’m panting. So steep that sometimes I’m using all four limbs to climb. But I eventually arrive at the top. There’s a paved road to cross; this is for the unambitious who choose to drive to the overlook, followed by a footbridge. Walking out onto the main bluff this is the end of the hike.
Before I head back, I climb under the rails and shimmy out to the edge.
Probably not the smartest idea I’ve ever had, considering I’m alone, but I feel compelled to sit on the edge of that bluff and take in the panoramic view. I realize that not once since I began the hike have my thoughts turned towards anything but the path. All focus has been on the trail, the sights, and the sounds surrounding me. Standing up, I brush off my pants and turn around before those negative voices start creeping back in.
Fun fact! Down is not much easier than up.
It’s not! Just different. Up is a butt and thigh burner which gets your heart rate racing. But down is painful. At least on my middle-aged knees. It’s also scary. Slipping and sliding my way down the trail, I finally arrive back at the Big Sink where I retrace my steps to the starting point.
The man I’d spoken to earlier is burning a brush pile. I think he waited for me. Waving, I ask him about the defeated politicians. It turns out the park got its nickname when a former Alabama governor, “Big Jim” Folsom, conceding defeat in a race for the U.S. Senate said he was going to Buck’s Pocket State Park to “gather his thoughts and lick his wounds.”
I hear ya’, Big Jim. I hear ya’.
Want to start at Hike One? Click here.