Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sequoyah Caverns and Ellis Homestead by John Dersham

By now most of you have heard that Sequoyah Caverns will be closing on September 3rd. If you have not visited Sequoyah Caverns and Ellis Homestead now is the time to do it and if you have been it is a good time to visit again before they close.

This location, the cave, the land and the entire setting is, one of a kind. Nestled in the valley and running up Sand Mountain is this picture perfect location. With 1,000 acres or so you will get an uninterrupted scenic view as you approach Sequoyah Caverns from highway 11 north of Hammondville and South of Sulfur Springs. The owners John and Roy Jones have been long term leaders in promoting tourism in our area. They have been members of North Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association and of Dekalb Tourism. Roy has been President of our DeKalb Tourism Board twice in the six years I have been Executive Director. I credit Roy as the reason I was able to get an interview for this job. When I applied for the position I responded to an ad in the paper. I was to send my resume to one of our email addresses that is generic with no person’s name. Since I did not have a hospitality and tourism background I feared my resume would be ignored. The ad asked for 5 years of experience in the industry of which I did not have but I had a 30 year management background with Eastman Kodak and almost all the remaining criteria in the ad seemed to fit perfectly. I started calling friends around town to find who was on the tourism board so I could call and introduce myself. After a couple of phone calls the name Roy Jones came up. My friend volunteered to give Roy a call and give me an introduction and find out if I could give him a call. I called Roy later that day and I explained how I felt my background at Kodak and my passion for our area fit what they were looking for. I told Roy that after 30 years of Kodak moving us to various locations around the country my wife Kyle and I selected this area on our own because we had been coming here on vacation and loved the area. I mailed Roy my resume with a cover letter and he later arranged for me to interview with himself and the entire tourism board. The board agreed to make me an offer and the rest is history.

In addition to the cave the Jones have Jones Farm which produces some of the best and most naturally grown strawberries you will ever taste. The farm and the production of vegetables will continue.

The history of Sequoyah Caverns and Ellis Homestead is a wonderful story. They have made a valuable contribution to the history of DeKalb County and have left an indelible mark on the history of tourism to our entire region. The cave and property have been in the Jones family since 1841 with the cave having opened to the public in 1964. Prior to that the cave was visited by private groups or individuals on a requested basis. It used to require climbing a ladder to get into the cave until the current entrance was built prior to the public opening in 1964. For more information about Sequoyah Caverns, its hours of operation and history visit

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway by John Dersham

We have one of the most beautiful and fun drives to be found anywhere, right here at home. Lookout Mountain Parkway which runs on top of Lookout Mountain from Noccalula Falls at the south end to Ruby Falls on the north. The parkway is comprised of 93 miles of scenic beauty and visitor attractions… all along the route. Reader’s Digest named the Parkway as one of America’s top Scenic Drives. The Parkway is one of 11 Alabama Scenic Byways and can be viewed on state and national maps as a scenic route. For us it makes a fantastic Daycation and is host to many tourists visiting our area and it is the site of our areas largest annual event, the World’s Longest Yard Sale.  I know many of you use parts of the parkway on a fairly regular basis to go to local attractions like Little River Canyon N.P., DeSoto State Park or Mentone. Maybe some of you live along the route or drive on it to get home. Right now I am not talking about the parkway in those terms but instead as a fun family day trip or weekend trip.
In an era of time starvation and high gas prices a fun trip close to home is just the remedy to fulfill that need we have to get out there and enjoy a mini vacation.
 To make a daycation out of it I suggest starting at the beginning and going the whole route to the end. My suggestion is to drive I-59 to the Noccalula Falls exit and go up the mountain to Noccalula Falls. Start your daycation with a visit to Noccalula Falls Park. Here you will find the beautiful 90 ft Noccalula waterfall. Sit back and enjoy a train ride through a native animal habitat and botanical gardens. You will find hiking trails, a campground and miniature golf. When you are done at Noccalula Falls take a right onto Tabor Road to begin your drive on the Lookout Mountain Parkway. This scenic drive will take you through some beautiful mountain top farmland with fantastic vista’s and quaint towns and villages along the way like Dogtown, home of legendary Akins Furniture Store. In Dogtown I recommend you take a right on H-176 and take the alternate Parkway route which takes you along the Canyon Rim drive at Little River Canyon N.P. You can visit the Canyon Center and Little River Falls on that leg of the trip.  You will take H-35 toward Fort Payne to rejoin the regular route of the parkway. At the flashing yellow light just before heading down the mountain take a right onto the parkway and from then on follow the signs that keep you on the Lookout Mountain Parkway as it meanders through the wilderness through DeSoto State Park and Waterfalls to the quaint artisan village of Mentone . Here you will find restaurants and lots of artsy gift shops, B&B Lodges and Rental Cabins. Once finished in Mentone follow H-117 to Cloudland, GA where you will take a left onto H-157 and travel up the east side of Lookout Mountain for awhile before crossing back to the west. You will follow the Lookout Mountain Parkway wayfinder signs as you travel north toward Chattanooga. Along the way you can visit Lookout Mountain Flight Park and look out over some scenic valley vistas from the mountain. You can drop off the parkway and visit nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park before heading toward Rock City Gardens, the town of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee where you find famous Point Park from the Civil War. You can eat and shop there or ride the famous incline railroad down Lookout Mountain at Chattanooga. Don’t miss beautiful Ruby Falls at the end of your Lookout Mountain Parkway drive. From here you can drive down the mountain and head home to our area on H-11 or I-59.
Have a fun journey.
If you need more information and a map of the parkway visit us at our information center on H-35 across the street from Hardees, or call us for other options at 256-845-3957.