Buck's Pocket State Park

Date: Friday–Sunday, December 16–18, 2011
Location: Buck's Pocket State Park, northeastern Alabama (near Grove Oak)
Trails: Primitive Campground, Point Rock, Indian House, High Bluff
Members: Keith, Larry, Mimi

Mimi and I chased the receding edge of a cold front that had been dumping rain all day over north central Alabama and arrived at Buck's Pocket around 2 PM, the weather holding out nothing much more than cloudy skies and some mist in the air. The park is located about 100 miles from Double Springs and is not particularly hard to find, though one needs directions at least the first time.

The park office/comfort station and the adjacent campground/picnic shelter/playground are all in the same place, down in the "pocket" between 400 foot bluffs, the valley gorge due to the action of South Sauty Creek – which thanks to the rain was raging by the time we arrived.

The tent camping area is located just across the road from the "improved" campsites (with water and electrical hookups). The tent section is sort of an amorphous flat area with fire rings and picnic tables interspersed more or less at random. In other words, it is not like the sites are numbered with any sort of borders.

Buck's Pocket State Park
Tent camping site Since we were the only campers, we just sprawled into a large flat area with a superb fire ring and a relatively new picnic table. We only had time to get set up and explore the immediate vicinity before losing daylight. We gathered up all the firewood that we could find; though none of it was anywhere even close to being dry, we somehow managed to get a campfire going.

Around 7 PM another couple showed up and pitched a tent near us. They were gone by early morning. The RV sites were all empty, as were the rental RV campers. The rental units looked okay should anyone be interested.

The temperature fell to just a little above freezing overnight but with only light wind and no more precipitation. In fact the stars were magnificent.

Keith arrived around 8 AM on Saturday. He had printed out the Briartech trail map for the park – six letter-size pages in color, all neatly taped together. This was much easier to read than the one page, black-and-white handout from the park office.

We started with the Primitive Campground trail which follows an old road bed along the south side of South Sauty Creek. The park's trail description gave the length to Morgan's Cove at 6 miles one way. We think that is off by 50%. We ambled at a leisurely pace for about an hour before we encountered a section with major tornado damage. We finally chose to just turn around and not climb over any more downed trees. But the dock at Morgan's Cove was in sight. I think the trail is more like three miles each way and we probably walked about two before turning back. Either that or we walk a whole lot faster than I think we do.

To get to the nearby South Sauty Creek trailhead required crossing a spillway. Keith has apparently done some pretty crazy things in his life but he was not about to drive through eight inches of fast flowing water just to take a short hike.
Primitive Campground trail
Point Rock overlook So we drove in the other direction to the highlight of the park, the Point Rock Overlook. The tornado damage visible from the access road was depressing but the overlook itself was in decent shape. A short boardwalk leads to spectacular scenic views (and rather good birding). We lunched at a concrete picnic table in the sun.

We hiked down the park's premier trail, appropriately named Point Rock, which comes out reasonably close to the campground. This trail requires more serious hiking – boulders to climb over, streams to cross, steep terrain, all that stuff. The park literature claimed it was two miles one way but we painstakingly made it down in 50 minutes so again I am suspicious of their distance estimates.

Keith had to leave so we drove him up to fetch his car. On the way back, Mimi and I stopped at the Indian House and High Bluff trails. Both of these were very short, maybe a quarter mile each, and led over to a spot with overhanging rocks. I am sorry, but I am just not enough up on my Native American lore to fully appreciate these places for anything other than their geological interest and their beauty.

Saturday night was cold, period. Fortunately we had located a pile of firewood that some kind soul had left behind for us. The club members frequently leave unused wood so we felt like this was payback time. We entertained ourselves with what heat we could muster until about 9 PM. The tent was already frosted up by then.

The stars were gorgeous again, the moon not rising until after midnight – not that either of us was all that inclined to venture out of our mummy bags into the sub-freezing great outdoors. But we managed to keep the coals alive all night. One other couple (plus a dog) had rented one of the improved sites. All this space and just the five of us.

With the fire coaxed back to life and coffee brewing, we managed to shake the frost off everything and pack it up. We stopped at Morgan's Cove on the way back (via paved road this time). While this is a North Alabama Birding Trail site and quite scenic, it is probably a bigger deal for fishermen.

Overall, the park was a bit old but the plumbing worked just fine with clean toilets and plenty of hot water in the showers at any time of day. Maybe it was just because we had the place to ourselves, but we thought this one to be a real gem. Just perfect for a short trip.
South Sauty Creek

For these and other photos, please see our Picasa Web Album Buck's Pocket State Park 2011.

Submitted 20 December 2011
Text: Larry
Photos: Keith, Mimi

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