May 2023 Exploration in Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve

May 10, 2023, I spent a pleasant morning and afternoon, interrupted by a brief thunderstorm, deep in Cane Creek Canyon within the Land Trust of North Alabama Nature Preserve of the same name. The Preserve is a wild and special place, evidencing the wonder and magic at the confluence of geology, water, time, and abundant life.

I published subsequent to the visit one of my Brief Posts on Cane Creek deep within the canyon: I offer this full Post as a follow-up to my June 2, 2023, Brief Form Post #11.


The Preserve Legacy


I first visited the Preserve in April, 2018 (, meeting then with proprietors Jim and Faye Lacefield, and touring the property, delighted to have met new friends, experiencing the canyon and its rich spring wildflowers with Jim.

Chris Stuhlinger (fellow retired forester) and I began our May 10 visit relaxing with Jim and Faye, land stewards extraordinaire! Since my 2018 visit, Jim and Faye have transferred Preserve ownership to the Land Trust of North Alabama. This special place will remain protected in perpetuity — kudos to Jim and Faye.


I’ll begin this Cane Creek photo-essay’s dive into the canyon from above. The topographic interpretative sign at the Preserve’s trailhead hints at the sharp canyon walls that drop 350 feet to the canyon floor.


Anyone familiar with topo-lines will immediately recognize the severe local relief from the tightly packed contour lines.

The Canyon


With my left knee total replacement surgery scheduled for just five weeks beyond our visit, I am grateful that Jim toured us via his four-wheel all terrain vehicle, leaving our still-extensive hiking to the canyon floor. For those of you who have followed my personal health issues, you know that emergency triple bypass surgery (June 19, 2023) delayed my knee replacement and placed a temporary hold on subsequent forest wanderings.

A canyon-rim stream (low flow from 2-3 weeks without significant rain) dropped its first of many steps where we also began our descent into the canyon.


The Point (below left) captures the canyon (and Cane Creek) opening to the north as it empties into the broad Tennessee River valley. I’m a sucker for cerulean sky, puffy cumulus, overhanging pine trees, and forested hillsides. I love deep forests…I’m in love with rimrock vistas. I could have perched at The Point for hours!


I recorded this 58-second video at the overlook:


Sharing the view with friends (Chris at left; Jim by the benches), especially those who share my deep passion for Nature, sweetens the moment.


Beyond Jim and Chris, mountain laurel in full flower shows faintly. Closeup the blossoms are spectacular. Thank God for the perfect timing in placing us a Cane Creek at peak flowering. Hard to beat serendipity and fortuity.


A favorite spot at Cane Creek Canyon Preserve — count the overlook as one of many.

Cane Creek


We dropped into the canyon, where we found yet another favorite place! Peace, serenity, tranquility, warm breezes, and birdsong welcomed us. Once again, I could have settled in for hours…perhaps days! The gentle creek gave clues that its mood varied across wide arcs of extremity. Water-deposited debris from recent deluges hung to branches several feet above the banks visible streamside in both photographs. I snapped these photos from a low-water concrete trail crossing. During flash flow I would have been crushed and swept by a torrent ten feet deep. Peace, serenity, and tranquility would have yielded to the deafening roar of rushing water, rolling rocks, and tumbling branches and forest detritus.


Sure, I’d like to visit when water roars, but I’ll accept the calm of our May visit…and simply envision the wild side.

Here’s my 18-second video of the creek’s calm-side:


I’m accustomed to finding box turtles roadside and on the forest floor. This was the first time I’ve found one luxuriating in a woodland stream. The creek-turtle-spa looked inviting, another place to spend relaxing hours.


As we hiked along the canyon creek, approaching the point where Jim had pre-determined we would head back to the creekside shelter where we had left our transport, we felt clouds thickening and heard the first rumbles of thunder echoing within the canyon. As subsequent booms grew louder, we began our retreat, covering ground with an increasing sense of urgency.


Thunderstorm Sanctuary


We made it to the shelter just as the first fat raindrops fell around us. I can think of no better place to wait out a thundershower than a deep woods picnic shelter along Cane Creek. We listened to the rain, actually felt and heard one particularly loud thunderclap, enjoyed a refreshing breeze, and embraced the creek’s pleasant gurgle. I estimated that a quarter-inch of rain fell, not enough to influence the stream, but enough to generate some satisfaction from the three of us that we were able to experience yet another face of the Preserve and her sundry moods. Jim (left) and Chris in the shelter below.


I recorded this 23-second video as we relaxed under the streamside shelter, absorbing the sights and sounds, grateful to be out of the storm.


In comparison to memorable storms that swept over me in years past when shelter was not at hand, this one proved entirely pleasurable. I recall a dawn storm that overtook me during a marathon training run when I lived in Prattville, Alabama in the early 1980s. Four miles from home when cloud-to-ground lightning drew way too close for comfort, I found “shelter” in a roadside ditch, where I dropped to all fours to reduce my target profile. I survived, yet returned home shaken and chilled. That was in the days prior to readily available live weather radar.


Special Curiosities


Always alert for tree form oddities and curiosities, I watched as Jim and Chris debated the oddly shaped leaves of an American beech (left). We found a sugar maple woodpecker buffet nearby (right). We assumed pileated woodpecker given the size and scale of the excavations.


I stay vigilant about finding what lies hidden in plain sight.




Are northern Alabama forests are seasonally alive with wildflowers, shifting as the seasons progress from February through mid-summer. We found small ragwort (left) and a pale blue beardtongue.


I don’t recall seeing bigleaf snowbell in flower. A lovely flower; a great find. Once again, serendipity and fortuity at play!


American columbo, a large and dominating presence, greeted us with lush leaves, red stem, and a profusion of flowers.


Jim made sure we visited a sandstone glade, characterized by shallow soils, seasonally wet, with a unique floral community. Lavender phlox provided the color.


Thoughts and Reflections


I offer these observations:

  • Snowscape and ice-locked waterways are rare in northern Alabama; instead, Nature’s water-worlds reign!
  • Water is the driver of Nature. (Leonardo da Vinci)
  • Nothing in Nature is more dynamic than her endless, restless, life-giving cycle of water…and life.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!


Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2023 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

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And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at


Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.


  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!


Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books


All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!