Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

Dear Jack,

After leaving Saturday morning at 5:30 AM from our home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and having a few adventures in between, we finally made it to Fort Payne, Alabama, about 13 hours later; where Nonna and Papa live.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d3

The next afternoon, we loaded up for our final stop on our 1st father and son road trip. Nonna and Papa joined us in the Lexus ES; while Uncle Andrew and your cousin Calla followed us in their Toyota Highlander.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

On route to the hiking spot, I made a quick detour to show you the little brick house I grew up in, until I was a high school freshman in 1995 when the “new house” (which serves as your summer camp headquarters for the week) was built.

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Just a few miles away was the DeSoto State Park, where we began our journey down the Azalea Cascade Trail.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

I chose for you to go on this trail as a way to keep you from having to take a nap: In the afternoons, you get way too much energy if you don’t sleep; so I catered to your needs by providing an agenda and landscape for you:

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

It was a long, strenuous trail for the likes of a 5 and a half year-old boy. I was very pleased with the results.

You encountered a wall of a hill…

d12 Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

A treacherous bridge…

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And a giant rock or two for us to climb together.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d27

Perhaps one of your favorite parts of the trail was when you amazingly found a baby slug that you took along for a leg of the hike.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d26

About 15 minutes later, you declared, “Daddy, it’s time for me to part ways with Sluggy.”

And so you did.

I helped you find a nice place in the grass for him to hang out.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d21 d22 d24

Hiking that trail with you showed me what you’re capable of for next time!

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d6 d7

I figured it would be a good idea for you and your cousin to cool down by playing at the playground across from where we parked the Lexus ES.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d30 d31

It just so happens, the playground equipment company Papa has worked for since 1979 made and installed the equipment the two of you played on.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h) d33

From there, we got cleaned up and got ready for your goodbye dinner at the Thai restaurant…

Love,

Daddy

P.S.

Here’s the collection of stories from our father and son road trip…

Ghostbusters and the BFG

Nick A Jack Road

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park

2016 Lexus ES 300h Father & Son Road Trip (Table of Contents)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

dad from day one: Baby Jack the Boy Scout at DeSoto State Park (Nature Vs. Nurture)

Week 15.

Now that the weather is getting nicer, we the parents are very excited about taking advantage of the dozens of trails near us at DeSoto State Park.  That means Baby Jack gets to go hiking with us.  Fortunately, he actually enjoys hiking, even if he’s asleep for most of the time.

I should point out these aren’t simply 20 minutes walks I’m referring to.  I’m talking 3 and a half mile hikes- not just easy, flat trails.  When he is awake during his hikes, he loves to look up at the blue sky, which matches his eyes. Conveniently, we haven’t had to change his diapers during these journeys.  But of course, we feed and change him right before we embark into the forest, to make things easier for Jack and for us.

I don’t know if it’s normal for a 3 month old to enjoy hiking.  But I guess now it’s normal to him.  I help create his reality like that.  It’s a classic case of “nature vs. nurture”.  I am nurturing him to appreciate nature.  And he’s buying it.

Parks and Rec: How Growing Up Near DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, AL Made Me Who I Am

“A crooked chimney standing in the middle of a field once surrounded by walls of work, by laughter and by love…  It once was beautiful, right here.  It still is beautiful, in here.  You once were beautiful, I hear.  I hear it can be beautiful, just remember.”

– “Just Remember” by Sister Hazel

I grew up in the wooded mountains of Alabama, a few miles down the road from DeSoto State Park and the Boy Scouts’ Camp Comer. It was only inevitable that I would forever enjoy hiking and exploring trails, well past the days of Cub Scouting. Barely marked paths are rough draft adventures that offer something more sacred and wild than any tourist attraction I could know.

Whenever I trek through new terrain, I always wonder how few people in the history of the world have stepped where I step. And I wonder how long it’s been since anyone else was there. And what kind of animals cross the path throughout each day.

Saturday my new friend Daniel is coming over. That means two things will happen. We will play New Super Mario Bros. Wii. And we will go hiking in the woods behind my neighborhood. There’s an urban legend that an Indian man has been sighted out there meditating. And wild boars.

I’m not inspired by sporting events where the players and coaches switch teams each new season. So when another guy chooses to hang out with me, I will find a way to incorporate some sort of exploration of the wild.

In 2001 my dad and I spent a Saturday morning exploring the undeveloped, unmentioned land in between the Interstate and main street of my home town. I had never talked to anyone who knew what was back there. Forty-five minutes into the hike, we found what we didn’t exactly know what we were looking for.

We looked up and it was as if it just suddenly appeared. An old abandoned house with no power poles or roads leading to it, but instead, an isolated railroad track ran right in front of the house.  Only a few miles from civilization, yet completely forsaken. The entire house was covered in moss. We dared to step inside.

The front door was already open. The couch in the living room was rotted out. The floor of the back bedroom and bathroom was gone. The only proof of recent life was in one of the kid’s bedrooms. Blue shag carpet. Tinker toys. And the local newspaper, The Times Journal, from 1986.

Mentone, AL

The year I started kindergarten was the last time a family had lived there, evidently. In a way, my dad and I discovered it. If anyone in my town wanted to know details about this forgotten house, they would have to come to us. Otherwise, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist.

And it’s that sort of discovery that is the motivation for my constant attraction to hiking the woods. It’s what I do. I thrive on it. Not hiking a three day excursion through Catskill Mountains surviving on Cliff Bars and filtered urine. But just finding simple forgotten pockets of wilderness wherever I am.

Today I spent my lunch break from work hiking in the woods behind my office building and found a mysterious soccer field with no parking lot or road leading to it. And an old pony stall. And a frozen baby snake. Perfect.

And as I was searching for pictures of Canyon Land yesterday I stumbled into a new discovery about myself. I am fascinated with abandoned amusement parks. While I didn’t successfully find many pictures of Canyon Land, I did come across several others that fellow abandoned amusement park enthusiasts have taken the time to post. These wonder-playgrounds that once brought thousands of people joy now sit tucked away on the corner of town.

Maybe I romanticize the situation. I see them like Cinderella waiting for someone to come along and save them, bringing them back to their full potential. Like Jim Carrey in The Majestic, I imagine bringing the lost back to life. But for now, these broken-down Ferris Wheels and rusty roller coasters sit quiet like Atlantis.

Below is a collection of the beauty and wonder I see in abandoned amusement parks.  Sometimes creepy.  But what a life they once saw.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one