As we travel around the country, we try to visit with friends and family whenever and wherever we can reasonably do so and still stay on track to finish out our travels in just over a year. Because Matt’s immediate family moved to Kansas City years ago, it has been quite some time since he has had the chance to visit with his extended family and long-time friends back in his home state of Alabama. We took advantage of our proximity to this area to do just that.
Visiting Friends and Family
When it comes to visiting with friends and family, I am terrible about remembering to take pictures. 😳 I get so caught up in the moment that it completely slips my mind and before I know it, I have said my goodbyes. Afterward, I always want to kick myself, yet I’m thankful that my priority is still spending time with these dear people rather than capturing blog footage. 😛 As such, I only have one photo from all of our visiting.
Much of Matt’s extended family still lives in the Birmingham area, so we met with his aunts Phyllis and Sharon and his uncle Wayne for a late lunch/early dinner at the Cajun Seafood House in Vestavia Hills. We had the place to ourselves, which fostered a leisurely meal, catching up on each other’s lives and enjoying time spent with one another. As we all get older, we find it is important to cherish these moments we have together because you never know what the future may hold for any one of us. We were so thankful this visit worked out and we could see each other again. 💗
Before we headed back to Lake Guntersville, we stopped by Matt’s longtime friends Heath and Misha’s house in Springville, and see their boys Brooks and Bryant who are nearly full grown now! 😲 Plus, we played with their extended doggy family, including the wise, old Winston, ripped Jack Jack, and little Minnie, all either full or part Boston terriers. They are a funny bunch and kept us entertained as we talked for hours. We also made plans with Heath and Misha to meet up later in the week at our campground before we left Alabama.
On our final trip down to Birmingham, we met with another longtime friend of Matt’s named Michael, his wife Tiffany and their daughter Natalie in a downtown establishment called the Paramount Bar. The arcade was popular with their daughter Natalie, and I was impressed with their big Greek salad. It is probably the best Greek salad I have ever had, no joke! The chickpeas were crunchy, the chicken perfectly cooked, not too much feta or olives, and none of the pieces were so gigantic you couldn’t eat them in one bite. 👍👍
After grabbing coffee nearby at Filter, we went back to Vestavia Hills to visit with Matt’s cousin Jeff and his wife Suzanne. It turns out they had just sold their house and were excited to start a new chapter in their life with their kids now in college. We had such a fun time talking about each other’s adventures that the hours slipped by quickly! It was getting late, so we needed to drop by Matt’s aunt Phyllis’s house in Gardendale.
Phyllis lives next door to Matt’s parent’s previous house before they moved to Kansas City, so we wanted to see what changes had been made before it was too dark. In addition to seeing Phyllis again, we were delighted to also see Matt’s cousin Kelly and her husband Barry, Phyllis’s daughter and son-in-law. Matt had not seen them for over a decade, so it was fun to catch up and trade stories of travels and family history. It was a great close to our time visiting near Birmingham and we were so grateful to have the opportunity to do so. 😊
By this time it was 8pm and we were famished, so we headed to the nearby Baja California Cantina and Grill before driving back to Lake Guntersville. This unassuming establishment is located in a strip mall and was brimming with people and had an air of excitement when we walked in. They have an extensive menu, but their garlic shrimp caught my eye, as it’s one of my favorite shrimp preparations. The service was fast and the food was fabulous and flavorful. 😋 If you are passing through on Interstates 459 or 65 and need to make a pit stop for food, swing by here! You won’t regret it. With full bellies, we headed back to our humble abode.
Lake Guntersville State Park
We opted to stay at Lake Guntersville State Park, south of Huntsville, Alabama so we could balance our desire for outdoor exploration and visiting with folks near Birmingham. This state park has a large campground, over 26 miles of trails, lake access for fishing, boating and swimming, a lodge atop Taylor Mountain, a golf course and more.
The campground survived a tornado 10 years prior, and while we were there we also had a tornado watch. 😬 Thankfully, we lucked out because the campground was spared in a tiny pocket within a wall of storms that passed through, and we did not suffer any major storm activity. That being said, the campground has some rougher roads and a lot of the trees are gone from the previous tornado damage. We enjoyed our stay here overall, but the laundry facilities are barely functioning with most of the machines out of order or rusted out, so we didn’t dare use them.
We hiked on several trails, including Seal’s Trail, Lake Guntersville Lodge Trail, and part of Lake Guntersville Cave Trail. For a little elevation gain and some great lake views, Seal’s Trail takes you along the northern side of the state park and connects with several other trails if you want to extend your hike and make a big loop. For a heart pumping route in a short distance, check out the lodge trail, which you can also access right from the campground. The views at the lodge are incredible, and during the weekends you can also enjoy lunch or dinner as a reward for your efforts. The Lake Guntersville cave can be accessed near the main road leading to the campground, but there are also trails that take you south, so we did that portion. As we circled back to the truck on a fire road, we also discovered an old cemetery on the state grounds.
Finally, Heath and Misha came to visit with us and enjoy some grilling and chilling on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. We had visited with them earlier in our stay and enjoyed catching up some more as it had been years since we last saw them both. It was such a wonderful way to end our time in Alabama. 🥰
Guntersville and Surrounding Area
With a population of under 8500 people, the small town of Guntersville is 10 miles from the state park campground, so we headed there to run errands and grab lunch at the Rock House Eatery. I ate their (fried green) tomato melt and Matt had their pimento cheese BLT. My sandwich was tasty, with a decent amount of crunch from the apples and lettuce. Although Matt loves pimento cheese, his sandwich had a lot of it, so it was too salty for his liking.
We also drove through town on our way to the nearby Lost Sink Falls Trail in the Keel Mountain Preserve, about 20 minutes southeast of Huntsville. The skies decided to open up and dump rain upon our arrival. As we ascended toward the falls, the rocks were very slick, so be aware and tread carefully if you choose to do this hike. Spring flowers abounded all along the trail, including yellow buttonweed, blue and purple violets, and bright pink vervain.
There are also sinkholes throughout this part of the state, so I don’t recommend going off trail too much, but the falls were beautiful and the area is a great place to stop for lunch. We continued onward for another mile to another creek access and stopped for lunch there instead before heading back down. Thankfully, the sun came out and dried the slick rocks, so we had a less precarious descent.
Though we may not have a slew of pictures to share from this leg of our trip, we do have many happy memories shared with loved ones to cherish as we continue north for the next three months. These times spent with friends and family keep us going as we continue on our search for a new place to call home. Hopefully, when we find this place, we can then host these same lovely people and enjoy more visits in the years to come. 💞