Friday – December 6, 2013
Rickwood Caverns State Park
The freezing rain/sleet continued throughout the night at the Fort Massac State Park campground in Metropolis, Illinois. We awoke to find our Ford E-150 van and Casita Trailer completely covered in ice, at least one-half inch thick. I literally had to pry open the driver’s side door on the Ford, started the engine, turned the heater on full blast and selected the window defroster option. One hour later the ice buildup was starting to thaw. Having no ice scraper onboard, I took a wooden spatula from our kitchen to remove chunks of ice from the side windows. With that task accomplished, I turned my attention to the windshield. This proved to be more difficult because the windshield wipers and the rotating portion of the wiper arm were buried in about one inch of ice. If I could not get the wipers to function, we were not going anywhere. The freezing rain had now changed to sleet, with heavy snow forecast to begin later in the day. Time was of the essence. I diligently continued chipping ice from the wiper arms and blades with my trusty wooden spatula. Finally, after about 30 minutes… success! The wiper arms could now move freely. Now to remove the ice buildup from the windows. The window defroster had done its job! The ice came off in large chunks. With the windows cleared, the windshield wipers functioning properly, time to get outta here!
We departed the Fort Massac campground at 8:35 a.m. The exit from the campground to US-45 is about one-half mile, and now a slippery, sleet covered road. US-45 is a four-lane highway, but only one lane in each direction was suitable for driving. We very slowly and cautiously made our way north on US-45 to Interstate 24, about three miles north of the campground. Upon our entry to eastbound I-24, only one lane in each direction was really suitable for driving. Truckers were reporting on the CB radio that the eastbound traffic would leave the freezing rain/sleet mixture behind at the Tennessee State line and just have to deal with rain from that point on. They reported that westbound traffic was in for a rough ride, with the weather deteriorating by the minute. Many westbound truckers reported they were going to park their rigs at the next truckstop and ride out the storm.
Driving east on I-24 was a white-knuckle adventure. Truckers were complaining that they had not seen any snowplows out spreading salt on the Interstate. The speed limit is 70 mph. We cruised along at 35 mph for the first 50 miles and then cranked it up to 40 mph for the next 30 miles. Finally, about 20 miles west of the Tennessee state line, the freezing rain/sleet mixture turned into a heavy rain, the road surface was free of ice buildup in both lanes and we were able to cruise along at 50 mph.
Our travel plan for today was to reach Montgomery, Alabama and camp at the Gunter Hill COE campground. Our GPS showed our arrival there would be at 5:30 p.m. By that time it would be dark and we prefer not to arrive at a campground after dark. We stopped at the Visitor Center in Alabama on Interstate 65. Our first task was to clear off the one-onch thick ice from the hood of our Ford van. A good sized chuck had blown off earlier and hit our windshield. I did not want to take a chance on another chunk flying into our windshield and possibly cracking or breaking it. Our next task was to look for state park campgrounds north of Birmingham, Alabama. We found a brochure on Rickwood Cavern State Park, about 70 miles south of the Visitor Center on I-65 in Warrior, Alabama. Our GPS showed we would arrive at 3:35 p.m. Perfect! Off we go!
We arrived at Rickwood at 3:40 p.m., registered at the park office and selected campsite #6. This is a small campground with only 13 campsites. There are electric and water hookups at each site. An added bonus for us is we have cell phone and Internet service through our T-Mobile service provider.
The Rickwood Caverns is located within the State Park and is the first operational caving park in the entire Alabama State Park System. The underground "miracle mile" is composed of magnificent passages and beautifully lighted rooms accented with thousands of sparkling white limestone formations.
The caverns themselves were water-formed during the Mississippi period over 260 million years ago. The cave area itself was once an ocean bed. Bits of shell as well as fossils of marine life are clearly visible along the cavern ceiling and walls. And, blind cave fish inhibit crystal clear water in the cavern pools.
Guided cave tours are provided daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Guided tours are provided on weekends only from March through Memorial Day and September through October. Cave admission is $15.00 for adults and $6.00 for children, ages 5 through 11. Cave admission for adult campers is $10.00.
A return visit to this state park in March or April 2014 to explore the cave is now on our Bucket List!
Rickwood Camping Fee: $20.05 per day Mon-Thur / $23.05 Fri-Sun (15% discount for seniors)
Total miles traveled today: 311
Tomorrow another adventure begins.