Alabama and America’s Best Kept Secret
America’s best kept secret.
What a cliche.
How many times have I heard those words uttered during these last few months in the states? Lonely Planet can’t seem to think of a different phrase to call that hidden restaurant or the little museum around the corner, and the stores themselves seem to take it to heart. “We are America’s Best Kept Secret,” screams the neon sign outside that ice cream shop in Miami or Dallas or New Orleans or wherever else you might be. But they’re not, no commercial business or tourist trap can be. Because America’s best kept secret isn’t found in the bustling towns of Florida or Texas, and it isn’t something you can eat or consume. But America’s secret can be found it every State. You can smell it, taste it, breathe it in and live it. And my favourite so far lives in Alabama, not too far from the history-riddled town of Birmingham.
Oak Mountain State Park has nature even my home county of New Zealand would be envious of. The dance of squirrels brings treetops to life above an endless world of crystal clear lakes and forest teeming with wildlife. Forecast thunderstorms swerve around us, fish nibble at our toes and deer run when we get too close. But for such a magical place it’s surprisingly free of human presence. On a walk by myself I encounter no one but a great white bird. Our campsite sits beside a lakeshore and hiking trails, but no neighbours arrive to disrupt our peace. We roast marshmallows to the blissful sound of lapping water and the gentle buzz of insects. We wake to birds and squirrels. It couldn’t be more peaceful and it couldn’t be more beautiful.
Americans are so spoiled in their selection of National and State Parks that the ones we visit are rarely crowded. Whether we were roasting in Joshua Tree or hiking up Bear Mountain in brilliant Sedona, it hasn’t been hard to find a quiet place, free from the rush of traffic or the screams of children. Before this trip I thought of America as bright lights and loud cities and louder people. And it has all of those things, but now when I think of this country I can add trickling waters and hungry squirrels. America is a place that can be as loud as you want or as silent as you need.
That’s its best kept secret.