Tinglewood at Orr Park – Faces in the Trees.

A study pops up in my orbit semi-regularly that makes the case that neurotic people are more likely to see faces in random objects.

If this idea scares you with regards to your own mental health, do not – I repeat DO NOT go to Orr Park in Montevallo.

If it doesn’t, though, you need to go right away.

We had some time left over after our Brierfield Ironworks field trip, and since we were in Montevallo already, I decided we would visit the park – a fascinating place that I’d only heard about. I hadn’t told the kids anything about it, so as we started down the walking trail, I told them,

“Be on the lookout for wooden faces!!”

“What?”

“Wooden faces!”

“What in the world do you mean, mom? I don’t see any — OH!”

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We began seeing faces everywhere.

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The park is filled with old cedar trees, many of which are dead. A local coal miner, Tim Tingle, got permission from the city to turn the trees into works of art and, over the span of more than a decade, he has sculpted over 40 trees – many are faces, some are entire bodies, and others are animals and fantasy creatures.

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It’s really the best walk you could ever want to take with children – and totally worth the drive to Montevallo. There’s a walking circle that’s over a mile long, but the part of the park with the carvings is probably half a mile or less, so it is completely walkable for any age.

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I especially bonded with this 360 degree carving – a mom with a kid clinging to her legs,

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And a giant sack of groceries on her back, right above another kid hiding behind her.

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I feel you, tired mom. I feel you.

There were sad faces,

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perplexed faces,

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Shocked faces,

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Irritated faces,

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And hungry faces.

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There is also a Native American,

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A War Memorial,

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And one of my favorites, a fantastic dragon.

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It makes for a fantastic Scavenger Hunt location, because there are tiny and subtle carvings intermingled into the more obvious ones. If I’d been more prepared, I would have had clues ready to send my kids off on a glorious hunt. Next time, next time.

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This park is absolutely a must-visit if you live anywhere in Alabama, as it is as rare as seeing a unicorn eating a rattlesnake.

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Hands-On History: Brierfield Ironworks

After a few false starts, we finally got back into the groove of history field trips after the holidays. It’s harder now, because our dear friend and adventure comrade Carla Jean has moved to Colorado, and nothing is as much fun when you lose your buddy.

We set out to Brierfield Ironworks, a furnace built in 1862, used for a minute to make iron for farm implements until the owners were strong-armed into selling it to the confederate army, then used to forge iron to make cannons, then promptly destroyed by the union army and never truly resurrected, despite a few attempts. I’d heard it was a less impressive Tannehill, but we often like the “little guy” places, so we wanted to check it out for ourselves. It was also the only furnace actually owned by the confederate army, so it definitely fit into our history studies.

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We arrived and found that we seemed to be the only people at the historic state park. There were log cabins and historical buildings scattered about the grounds, sitting peacefully and quietly.

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We found the one titled “Information Office”, and opened the creaking door to find a kind lady who gave us a trail map and sent us on our way. We first walked over to what was left of the furnace, covered by an oversized carport to protect further decay.

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Unlike Tannehill’s furnace, which is made of giant stones and is still in beautiful condition, Bibb Furnace was made of bricks, and many of its bricks were pillaged for other projects during World War II. As such, there’s not as much left.

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Noah liked the mining cart, though. Mining carts make everything better.

There was a lovely hiking trail above and around the furnace, where we found the old reservoir and several other interesting artifacts.

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We used the opportunity to spot seedless vascular plants, the chapter we were reading in botany at the time.

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We adored the covered bridges scattered throughout the park, acting as bridges in some places and covered picnic pavilions in others.

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It was an easy 1.5 mile circular hike, which was just about the right amount, since Ali was rather overdressed for the hot February day and Noah can always find something to whine about.

Briarfield_MG_3642_7392s“The sun is so bright, Mommy!! I need away from the sun!!”

The most fascinating feature that Brierfield possesses are the bright and dark green rocks all over the park – we at first assumed that they were some of the very minerals that drew people to create a furnace here (Tannehill was created around the red ore mineral line – could this be green ore?)

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The pieces ranged from tiny to small boulder size, and we compared and contrasted color and features. Ali noticed that they had many holes, so surmised that they were like sandstone – on the softer end of the rock spectrum.

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We also talked about how cool it would be to come upon a mineral line like this long ago – and what if it had been gold? We had just read about the Alabama Gold Rush the day before, so we daydreamed about happening upon a whole area of golden nuggets the size and quantity of these curious green rocks.

After we finished our hike, we went back into the welcome center and asked the kind lady about the green rocks. She informed us that they are actually slag, left over from the years of furnace operation. Slag is stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. This made the finds more exciting – we had found byproduct from the Civil War era.

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While she explained this to us and I examined the beautiful pieces of slag she had in the gift shop, Noah shopped, itching to spend his allowance.

“Can I buy this, mom? How about this? And this?”

Without ever really looking up, I agreed to his purchases. He slowly counted his dollars while the nice lady giggled – I assumed she was pleased with his independent economic prowess. It wasn’t until we got to the car and he proudly showed me his new possessions that I questioned my hands-off parenting strategy.

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And that, dear readers, is how a family ends up with a confederate flag shot glass that says “Heritage not Hate.”

Geez.

I’m the best.

After our hike, we visited the playground, where the kids fawned over the vintage playsets,

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while I enjoyed creating super creeptastic “Dementors Are In The Neighborhood” footage.

On the way home, I slid through KFC to get the kids some food.

As we were pulling around, Noah said, “Hey Mom, can you roll down my window?”

“Sure…”

“Thanks! I want to show them my new little cup that I got at the gift shop!”

“NOOOOOOO!!!”

Geez.

I’m the best.

Here’s Ali’s report on this trip and another stop we made on the same day – but I will write about that fascinating place next time.

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Hands-On History: Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum.

Birmingham was founded on the iron industry, and the iron industry required some heavy transportation to succeed. Therefore, trains are a vital part of our history, too. The Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is our favorite place to experience that piece of our past.

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The HODRRM can be found in Calera, about 45 minutes outside of Birmingham (depending on which end of the city you reside.) In the past, we’ve come for Thomas the Train’s visits, and stayed to play on the other exhibits. Way more than a museum, they have five rows of old engines, train cars, flatbeds, and more.

161208-HOD-RRM_MG_9708_3687We might or might not be allowed to climb in these, but there weren’t signs on most of them…

Each one seems to have its own hidden secrets, to be found by peeking in the doors, climbing up the stairs, or reading its graffiti.

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And also, it’s kind of a photographer’s dream.

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The kids spent about half an hour building something out of scrap pieces they found – carrying items from one end of the flatbed to the other.

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Carla Jean and I just watched and enjoyed the imaginations at work.

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Speaking of Carla Jean, she had meetings after our visit and dressed accordingly, which made chasing the children around a sight to behold. But as any southern lady journalist can do, she carried out her duties with grace and poise.

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After ample time exploring the old engines, we walked across the street to the museum. They have a wonderful signals display outside, complete with a button you can push to make them all work and signs that explain how they were operated.

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The kids enjoyed playing on the hand train, and wished it weren’t chained down so that they could take off on a long journey.

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I think they would’ve made it, too. For at least ten feet.

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The museum lives inside the depot. It was an actual depot from a small Alabama town that was moved to the museum. They have the lobby set up with original train depot benches, and a ticketing office staged to see how it all worked before computers, printers, and Ticketmaster.

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As we learned at our Tannehill visit (and many others), the minerals found in Alabama were the catalyst to development and growth. This map showed the Alabama Mineral train route, along with pictures from many of the sites.

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There was a working dispatch table, with real-time audio of current-day train engineers discussing their journeys through Alabama. Above the antique switchboard was a computer monitor that showed the current day track switches.

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Both were fascinating, but the thought of controlling train tracks with these switches was downright literary.

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In continuing with experiencing the romance of the train era, they had many artifacts from a Pullman car. Flasks and menus and towels and dishes…

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The entire museum made you want to pack up your suitcases, be Anne Shirley, and board a train to meet your new parents on Prince Edward Island.

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The kids made one more stop at the train yard – this time to ring the bell on Train #38,

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And then begged for one more walk through the old train yard.

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If you’re looking to get a yearning for a life lived long ago, this is the place to find it.

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