It was the year 1540 and Hernando Desoto and his army of Spanish conquerors were heading down the Chattooga River toward Cedar Bluff, Alabama. On June 4, 1540, they arrived and camped for almost a month on an island. It was soon named McCoy Island, ‘Chiaha’ was the name given by Desoto historians.
When they arrived, they found the beauty of the two rivers and the Coosa Valley very pleasant. They decided to rest on McCoy Island to heal the men and the horses. It was also very abundant in food and the perfect camp after a long and hard journey through the Appalachians. A journey that was very difficult and challenging even for the most experienced warrior!
There were rumors that gold could be found in the northern and western hills of Lookout Mountain. So Desoto decides to send a small army of men led by Lieutenant Vilabo y Silva. They left in June 1570 and passed between Menlo, Georgia and Blanche, Alabama to Desoto Falls near Mentone, Alabama! They decided to camp for a few days at the 104 foot waterfalls. It is located at the west fork of the little river at Lookout Mountain.
For several days, the troops searched the area for gold and other treasures and then proceeded through Big Wills to Henagar Alabama. Here they found southern Sauty Creek and followed it to Buck’s Pocket State Park. The men are said to have been impressed by the view from Point Rock and found no gold, but they did find iron oxide high on the cliffs around Buck’s Pocket! There is no historical evidence to say that they went further than Buck’s pocket or that they ever saw the Tennessee River!
From this point, the group headed back to McCoy Island and passed through the town of Sand Rock, Alabama. The men returned to Chiaha (McCoy Island) near Hokes Bluff. They arrived to discover that Desoto and the main group had established the trail on June 28, 1540 along the Coosa River. Desoto had left some wounded men waiting for the Sand Mountain crew to return. They set out to reach Desoto and arrived on June 18, 1540, just two days after Desoto’s arrival on July 16, 1540. They camped at the mouth of Talladega Creek in Talladega County.
Many people say that Desoto discovered the falls, but there is evidence that the area was used by Indians and even Welsh! Located about 325 feet above the small river are three caves that are interconnected by openings between the caverns. They are protected by the cliff and only a narrow path leads to the caves of Wales. It is rumored that only a few men could fight an army of troops. The path was so narrow that only one man could pass at a time.
The Welsh are believed to have traveled to the New World more than 300 years before Columbus and made 3 trips. They sailed to Mobile Bay and traveled to Lookout Mountain. The Indians of the time did not possess the ability to excavate and it is believed that the Welsh came and built the caves above the small river. Also found were six skeletons in bronze armor bearing the coat of arms of Wales.
Desoto Falls is a stunning waterfall and seeing it in person is inspiring and beautiful. Seeing the foliage in fall is breathtaking and the colors are super vibrant. I couldn’t imagine what it would look like 500 years ago. The area is still highly conserved and has an abundant supply of wildlife.
In the 1920s, Arthur Abernathy Miller and a self-taught electrical engineer built a goddamn twenty-foot-tall tower over the falls. The author built the dam to supply power to his hydroelectric generator on the west side of the gorge. There is still a square concrete slab where the generator was. It supplied power to Fort Payne, Collinsville, Mentone, Valley Head, Alabama, and Menlo Georgia. If it weren’t for Miller’s genius, many people in the area would have run out of power.
Desoto State Park is one of the most beautiful areas in Alabama and has many things to do throughout the year. They have cabins, chalets, swimming, picnic area, hiking trails, and many special events. You also can’t forget all the waterfalls in the area: Indian waterfalls, Azalea waterfalls, laurel, lost waterfalls, Lodge waterfalls and, of course, Desoto waterfalls. You could spend a week at Desoto State Park just looking at waterfalls and hiking. Little River Falls and many other falls around Little River Canyon are just a short drive away!
There are some great trails, the wildflower trail which is perfect for flower lovers. It’s only 0.49 and it starts and ends at the hostel! If you are looking for a longer hike, you can take the Laurel Creek Loop and it is a total of 2.9 miles long. This is the perfect trail for waterfall lovers and passes laurel falls, lost falls, and azaleas waterfall. When it’s dry, you may not find Lost Falls, so be prepared! It also starts and ends in the same spot, making this a great trail for hikers.
They have an impressive camping area with 58 water and electricity sites and two comfort stations with bathrooms with hot showers. You’ll want to make reservations, on a first-come, first-served basis. They also have 20 primitive campsites and offer a group rate and a single person is $ 5.35 as of 2008. It is $ 3 per person with the group rate! You can also use the toilets and showers!
If you need food, you have the Desoto State Park Mountain Inn cooking up all the homemade classics. There are also places in Mentone like Cragsmere Manna Restaurant and Dessie’s Country Chef, just like Mom used to do!
While in the area, you should visit Little River Canyon National Reserve with large cliffs and 700-foot waterfalls along Lookout Mountain. Little River is a climber’s paradise and also has white water for water ducks. Come to Alabama and see the beauty of the mountains and get lost in nature. If you come in winter, be sure to visit Cloudmont Ski and Golf. They start blowing snow from Alabama as early as 28 degrees and the area receives an annual 12-inch snowfall. Who would have thought? Alabama snow!
Thanks for reading about Desoto Falls at Lookout Mountain. Come see Alabama and understand why they call it “Alabama the Beautiful!”