Inn for the Night: Pioneers Rest

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Bear Creek Cabins offers authentic, hand-hewn vacation cabins nestled on a picturesque working farm.

by RANDY GRIDER | photos by Olivia and Randy Grider and courtesy Bear Creek Cabins

Driving onto the property that houses Bear Creek Cabins, you know you are entering something very different and special. The labyrinth of rocks on the right side of the country road makes you slow to a crawl and beckons you to come explore before you even arrive at your destination.

The only thing that keeps me from hitting the brakes and doing a little bouldering with the goats that use these incredible formations as their private jungle gym is the anticipation of seeing the cabin where we will be staying for a couple of nights. I’m always excited to bed down in anything rustic that teems with history.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]Bear Creek Cabins is a complex of pioneer cabins that have been relocated and painstakingly reconstructed on a 196-acre working cattle farm adjacent to Little River Canyon National Preserve. (Part of the land was once divided into lots for construction of a golf-course development as part of the now-defunct Canyon Land amusement park. Canyon Land offered carnival rides, chairlifts into the canyon and a zoo with exotic animals and was a popular music venue before it closed in the 1980s).

We are assigned Cabin V, a two-bedroom, one bath, hand-hewn structure that wows us the minute we open the door. My wife, Olivia, and I, as well as our daughter, Ansley, 15, and son, Caden, 12, are happy to see it offers a perfect blend of rustic and modern conveniences – gas-log fireplace, cable TV, washer/dryer and a hot tub on the back porch.

OK, quick reference for first-timers: Cabin V is the first cabin you come to on the entrance road. The cabins are numbered not by order, but rather by when they were reassembled on the property, explain Randy and Sandy Galloway, owners of Bear Creek Cabins. Cabin I, the first cabin they reconstructed, is actually the fourth cabin and the fifth structure in  sequence as there also is a lodge – a remodeled farmhouse that is perfect for larger families or groups. As the couple added more cabins, they decided not to change the numbering or name the cabins since that would confuse repeat customers – an important part of Bear Creek Cabins’ success.

Perhaps it should be noted that Bear Creek Cabins didn’t start out as a rental-cabin venture. It evolved from Randy’s passion to find, save and reconstruct an authentic, hand-hewn cabin on his farm. His love of pioneer cabins began with a childhood friend, Barry Borders, whose parents, Buck and Martha Borders, owned an 1830s-era cabin on their property on the western bluff of Lookout Mountain. When he spent the night with the Borders, he and Barry often would sleep in the cabin beside the main house.

But hand-hewn cabins aren’t the easiest things to come by. Few are left, and most are in poor shape and hidden inside newer exterior and interior walls – keeping their secrets from the unsuspecting eye. Randy spent years trying to find one he could purchase, take apart and reconstruct. After giving up, and with “Building and Restoring the Hewn Log House” by Charles McCraven as his guide, he started building a new, hand-hewn cabin in 1998. Six logs into the project, fate intervened when a neighbor stopped by to see what was causing so much noise.

“Daryl Norman came over and asked, ‘What in the world are you beating the woods down for, Randy?’” Sandy says laughing. Randy told him he was building a cabin because he couldn’t find one to restore.

“[Norman] says, ‘Here’s the deal. I bought an old cabin that I don’t have time to do anything with,’” Randy says. “He offered to sell it to me, and that day I bought it.”

As I tour the grounds of Bear Creek Cabins with Randy and Sandy, they proudly point out little reminders of the hard work that went into rebuilding Cabin I. As with all the cabins, the logs were numbered when they were dissembled. And in the case of this cabin, the rocks of the chimney were also carefully cataloged for reconstruction.

Cabin I is the only cabin whose original front façade doesn’t face the road. It’s aligned instead for a view of Bear Creek, which cuts a deep gorge before it intersects Little River Canyon. (Several miles of scenic Canyon Rim Drive – Highway 176 – including the part boasting Grace’s High Falls, Alabama’s tallest waterfall, follow Bear Creek Canyon. You can witness the convergence of both waterways and canyons at Crow’s Point Overlook.)

It took the Galloways three years to complete the first cabin, which was originally built in Lebanon, Ala., by Isham B. Roberts, an early settler and member of the Alabama militia who was involved in the Indian conflicts of the 1830s.

Sandy says it was a dream come true to finally restore an authentic cabin, but renting it was not the intent. That idea came from family and friends who were impressed with the completed project. “This was 2001, and there were cabins in the Mentone area, but not like it is now,” Sandy says. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Who in the world would come out here to stay in the middle of nowhere?’ Little did I know.”

Now the Galloways have five restored cabins and the lodge, and they stay booked almost constantly year round. Each cabin is amazing in both detail and décor. Our cabin’s living room walls feature antique tools, a spinning wheel, a mounted deer head over the fireplace and a bear skin. Other cabins offer similar features as well as small, stained-glass windows.

Though it’s relatively chilly during our visit, we each find exploring the grounds a lot of fun. The Galloways invite guests to make themselves at home and enjoy the farm at their leisure. (Just please close any gate you enter as to avoid letting out the cows or goats).

Olivia, Ansley and Caden hike to Bear Creek while I prepare dinner. They also ramble along the rocks with the goats – a very popular aspect of Bear Creek Cabins, especially with kids.

“We bought the farm in 1995 and inherited goats,” Sandy says. “It’s perfect: the goats climb on the rocks and keep the place manicured, and they are neat to watch. Kids love them. We usually keep between six and 12. We also give them away. You won’t believe the number of guests who have taken baby goats home with them.”

The first night, we eat chicken and sausage prepared in a slow cooker and play cards before enjoying the hot tub. The next day is comprised of more exploring, and Caden and I go down to the pond to fish before the chilly winds of an approaching cold front drive us back to the warmth of the cabin. Still, it was very enjoyable – a pictoral setting for lofting away a sunny, winter afternoon.

Caden and I watch a movie the second night, but I find myself spending more time contemplating the cabin and the area than paying attention to what is on the screen. I enjoy sitting on the couch and gazing around in wonder at the hard work and craftsmanship that went into building this cabin.

I learn from the Galloways it was originally on a piece of land about five miles away near Johnny’s Creek and is at least 150 years old. This cabin, like the others on the property, is a testament to the determined grit of this area’s early settlers, who literally carved their homes from what the land presented.

This is part of why the Galloways are willing to go the extra mile to preserve them for future generations. “I always wanted an old log home,” Randy says. “I knew what it took for the pioneers to build them. They were carved out of the wilderness, right where they stood. Each one is unique, and there’s not another one like it.”

I drift to sleep peacefully and without stressful thoughts. It’s hard not sleep well when you realize the walls surrounding you were built with such dedication and passion – twice.

If You Go

GETTING THERE: Bear Creek Cabins is located at 923 County Road 252, Fort Payne, AL 35967. Directions and additional information about each cabin can be found at bearcreeklogcabins.com or by calling 256-845-2584.

OTHER AREA ATTRACTIONS: Outdoor activities are plentiful and include: hiking on the farm and within Little River Canyon National Preserve (see page 26); a scenic drive around the canyon rim via Highway 176 (nps.gov/liri/planyourvisit/scenic-drive.htm); and educational programs at Little River Canyon Center (jsu.edu/epic/canyoncenter). If you feel the need to be creative, consider Orbix Hot Glass (orbixhotglass.com), where you can create your own glass art.

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