You can’t go back, at least that’s what Pat says. I’m inclined to agree after this last stop. Don’t get me wrong. I still like Birmingham, but it was more like seeing it for the first time than it was visiting an old familiar place.
Back In The Eighties
I was here back then for grad school at University of Alabama at Birmingham. I lived in Southside in a crummy apartment complex, and then in Homewood in a bit better one. I have memories of clubbing at Five Points, visiting the Vulcan, and driving my manual transmission car up and down Red Mountain. The only sameness I could dig up was a glimpse of what I think is that crummy apartment complex and shifting gears on Red Mountain.
Turns out even the Vulcan monument was refurbished since then and does not look quite the same. The famed regional burger place, Milo’s, has since closed the original Northside location and looks just like most any other fast food joint. The criminal justice building where I took my classes has been replaced as well, so no fond drive-bys on campus. Sigh. To be fair it has been 30 years.
Good thing I had a short list for this stop. 1) Burger at Milo’s – a sloppy burger with special sauce served up in a brown paper sack, 2) Visit the Vulcan, and 3) See Sloss Furnaces.
Pat indulged me and we had our Milo’s burger with its special sauce, although these days they come in very crisp white logo’d bags. We’re not sweet tea people, so skipped that part. I had tea for all meals except breakfast growing up, so I’m happy to skip that whenever possible. Pat is not a Southern boy, so iced tea is a completely foreign concept. The burgers were good, but we decided we’re not great fans of the sauce. Milo’s is known for that extra piece of meat on the sandwich that they call the LSE or “little something extra”. Fun to see that is still part of the tradition. We both agreed that the fries were the best we’d had in quite a while, and we’d go back just for those.
Pat and I met while I was here in grad school and we visited the Vulcan Monument when he came to see me. Perfect. We’ll go back there and it’ll be just like old times. Not. Apparently the Vulcan was in terrible disrepair in the 90’s. The city closed the park in 1999 and took the poor guy down for repairs. He went back up in 2004 and the base, statue color and what he’s holding are different. Just enough different that it didn’t feel like the same place at all.
A bit about his history. He was forged from iron, and built originally for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The Vulcan Park and Museum site says it best, “What kind of city builds a huge statue of a burly, bearded, bare-bottomed man to tower over its entire population? One that never forgets its roots. Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, watches over all of Birmingham as a symbol of the city’s iron origins–and the ever-present spark of its indomitable spirit.”
And there he is – the Vulcan is all his glory!
From the top…
Wish I knew what I said to Pat to evoke that smile. Captured his essence I do believe! And if you look closely at the bottom left of the other shot, you’ll see a horseshoe-shaped building. I think that is the crummy apartment complex.
Birmingham, after all, is the Iron City since it had the three key ingredients – iron ore, coal and limestone – all within a 30 mile radius. Colonel James Withers Sloss built the first furnace in 1881 to cash in on the money to be made in iron. Pig iron production was through the roof and the city grew practically overnight. We learned that the name comes from the iron tapped from the blast furnace and cast into “pigs”. These resemble suckling piglets although I think they really looked more like ingots.
I knew about this place in the grad school days, but never visited. I was a twenty-something after all and wasn’t terribly interested in history. Glad I had it on the list since both Pat and I found this place fascinating. It is essentially a huge old factory, left to ruin for 30 years until it was donated to the city. Birmingham decided to stabilize and preserve the site, and it has a National Historic Site designation. Old, crusty and being chipped away by the elements, it is an amazing grounds. You get a self-guided tour map and are cut loose to wander. Pretty sure we will never see anything like this anywhere else.
The grand old plant – Sloss Furnaces. This shot was taken from the Vulcan.
And the close up.
Here is my montage of views that caught my eye and seemed to showcase the place….
Finally a shot I had to have even though the battery died on the real camera. Cell phone to the rescue
My grandfather, Cecil Sr., operated a dragline for a living. I have seen old black & whites of him and the equipment, but this is the closest thing I’ve seen in person. Pat reminded me that this is really an old steam shovel, but close enough.
Oak Mountain State Park
We camped outside the city on another mountain. Nice campground, but an odd setup. We had a “pull-through”, which is normally a u-shape with some green space facing the road so you have a place for your picnic table, grill, etc. Our site really looked more like a roadside pull-off and we had no such green space. You pretty much stepped out into the road. We moved over as much as we could to avoid that and parked the car strategically for protection. In the end it wasn’t a bad spot, but strange nonetheless.
Great hiking, biking and fishing here. We only did the hiking part and also visited the Wildlife Center’s injured bird hospital. The hike to the waterfall was my favorite and most strenuous.
Pat and Jackson at the overlook and then at the bottom. The dog was a trooper since this was not easy. Very steep and we had to clamber over rocks and trees.
Yes, that sign says parking and points pretty much straight up. No lie. We advised a family with small children not to venture down.
Good-By Sweet Home
My extended family had reunions in Alabama every July when I was a kid so I have fond memories of the state. I got a good case of chigger bites every year scrambling through the brush to pick blackberries and fish by the ponds. We also ruined our share of socks.
Those socks were ruined by the Alabama red clay. Mom tried everything to get those stains out to no avail. I realized I hadn’t taken a picture of the clay hills, so this was my parting shot from Lucy as we drove to Mississippi. My two best souvenirs of good old Alabama are the ceramic angel made from red clay dug from the Coosa river bank, and a long-sleeved t-shirt from the Vulcan that has a capital B + the picture of a ham on the front. I love a good pun. Will wear this shirt in the chilly Northwest and remember those HOT summers with the family long ago.
We’re excited for the next stop since we’re now out of familiar territory. All new camping states for the rest of the year. See you on the way!