The excitement was palpable as we started breaking down camp to head to our next destination – Smith Lake. As I was securing the inside of the trailer, I heard a scream of pain like I have never heard before. I bounded out in a hurry to see what was going on. There was Drake, withering in pain but I couldn’t see the cause. I ran to him and it was then I learned the cause of his distress. He had been trying to rinse something out at one of the camp water connections when a couple of giant red wasps flew out. One chased Drake, flew up his shirt sleeve, and stung him three times in his underarm area. The poor kid!! I got him inside, washed and iced the affected area, then administered Benadryl.
Drake had left the water running so Troy walked over to turn it off but he too was chased by menacing red wasps. Our camping neighbor called park staff and someone came out to spray chemicals. It was then we learned they had been protecting their nest located inside the wrapped water spigot.
Tip: Always recheck your first-aid kit before heading out on an adventure and make sure to have appropriate children remedies available such as Benadryl. You never know when you may need them!
Rickwood Caverns State Park
After Drake was feeling better, we set out to Rickwood Caverns State Park, our planned stop for a picnic lunch and tour of the caverns. This state park is conveniently located just off Interstate 65, about ½ hour north of downtown Birmingham.
Rickwood Caverns State Park may be on the small side, but it has plenty to offer. We were pleased to see a large parking lot with lots of room for RV’s and trailers to park and turn around. We found a lovely spot in the shade to park and we enjoyed a sandwich lunch at one of the picnic tables close by.
While I went to the gift shop to purchase cavern and pool tickets, Drake and Mia enjoyed a few minutes at the retro- playground. Cavern tours start frequently so our wait time was short. We made our way to the tour waiting area and spent some time checking out some exhibits and photos.
We had an enthusiastic guide who was well versed with the caverns’ history, features and formations. We learned that this was just one of the caves in Alabama designated at a Fallout shelter back in the 1950’s. Tucked back into the interior of the cave is a chamber in which food, water and medicine were stored. Drake was the only one in our family brave enough to crawl and squeeze his way to see the rusted cans and broken bottles that still survive.
Our family visits a lot of caves and we are always surprised at the vast differences that each one holds. Rickwood Caverns has large rooms with lots of huge columns (columns are where a stalactite and stalagmite meet and fuse together) and soda straws (a hollow mineral tube and a precursor to stalactites). Since this cave was once an ocean bed, we had the opportunity to view 300 million year old bits of shell as well as fossils of small marine organisms imprinted on the limestone walls and ceiling. My favorite part was seeing a little sleeping bat. He was so cute!
After our tour, we took a quick dip in Rickwood Caverns Olympic-size pool. We were drawn to the pool because of it’s unique use of chilly cave water, however, for our visit, the water was mostly municipal. This was due to the changing of management and when asked, they assured me that cave water would be filling the pool going forward. Either way, it was an enjoyable respite from the heat.
Note: Rickwood Caverns State Park offers 13 modern campsites with electric/water hook-ups. No max size limits. There are restrooms, seasonal showers and a dump station.
Finally! We were on our way to our next destination and the reason for our Alabama itinerary: Smith Lake. This lake is huge with over 500 miles of shoreline. With its proximity to Huntsville, it is a weekend favorite for many. Our California friends were staying with family at a rustic lake house and fortunate for us, there was room out front for us to camp right there with them!
While the men worked on getting the trailer positioned just right to take advantage of the electrical hook-up (we had to have A/C), the kids and I made the quick walk to the lake to let our friends know we had arrived. It was a wonderful reunion! We spent the next couple hours swimming, jumping, paddle-boarding, and rafting. Later, we were treated to a fun boat ride on the lake to check out some of the beautiful lake homes.
Today was the day I looked forward to the most. A full-day with my good friend Kathy and watching our kids reconnect. After breakfast, we prepared a chest full of sandwiches, snacks and drinks, then shuttled by boat to a local friends’ dock that sat over deeper water. After wrangling all five kids for sunscreen, everyone, including us mamas, jumped in. The day passed with jet-ski rides, tubing, and lots of catching up.
Before heading back, everyone decided to take a boat ride to check out a popular cliff-jumping area. I was a little nervous about letting the kids jump, but after several people in our party jump successfully, I allowed them to give it a try. They were so excited and had no fear. They jumped from several elevations which provided them an opportunity to challenge themselves and test their own limits.
After our full-day, sleep was particularly good for everyone. In the morning, we shared a hearty breakfast with our friends and said our goodbyes. It was hard to part ways, but I was comforted knowing we all had wonderful memories of our short time together.
Next stop: Monte Sano State Park, located in Huntsville, AL.