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Geodetic Survey marker for “Cheehahaw, Alabama”.

At the top of Alabama’s highest point is a brass marker placed in 1941 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. It notes the location as “Cheehahaw”.

If you look on any modern map of the state, you won’t find any mountain peak named “Cheehahaw”, but you will find Cheaha Mountain.

Cheaha Mountain (pronounced “chee-ah”) is located about 60 miles east of Birmingham, at the southernmost end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the ranges collectively called the Appalachians.


Bunker Tower atop Cheaha Mountain in Cheaha State Park, Alabama

It rises 2,407 feet above sea level, but the view from Bunker Tower (a fortress-like stone building built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corp) at the mountain’s peak seems much higher. The surrounding farmland and distant forested ridges are fairly low-lying. (And despite a relatively low “highest point”, Alabama’s Mt. Cheaha comes in higher than the highest point in 15 other states.)

The name Cheeha is (according to the Cheeha State Park website) derives from the Creek Indian word “chaha”, meaning “high place”.

So how did we get from “cha-ha” to “chee-ha-ha” to “chee-ah”?

European explorers and their American descendants struggled with standardized spelling in general.  Spelling for Native American words (which were generally spoken but had no written forms) varied considerably from writer to writer.

For example, the same Creek work is spelled “Chehaw” when referring to the state park near Albany, Georgia. Albany is barely above sea level, so it’s hardly a “high place”, but the Creek Indians who lived there were called “Chehaw” or “Chiha” people.

According to the Alabama State Department of Archives and History, the Alabama Indians (who lived in the center of the state that eventually bore their name) were called “Alba Amo” by the Choctaw, meaning “the thicket clearers”. The Alabamans practiced agricultural farming…without the benefit of plows or livestock to pull them. Early variations on spelling “Alabama” included almost anything that ended up sounding right.

Still, why the marker uses “Cheehahaw” to mark a place in Cheaha State Park (which was founded before the marker was placed) is still a mystery to me. If I find any more information, I’ll update this post.

Admission to Cheaha State Park is $3 (current as of 2014), and includes access to Bunker Tower. There are also hiking trails and a restaurant to visit, and cabins for rent.

Plan your trip!

Cheaha State Park at the Alabama State Parks website :

Winter Snow Break: Memphis National Cemetery

This marker, with the Union shield, is typical of those from the post-Civil War era

This marker, with the Union shield, is typical of those from the post-Civil War era

Saturday, February 12, 2011 — Wednesday’s snowfall of up to 5.5 inches (depending on the part of town you were in) left the city streets coated in rutted ice.

Despite sub-freezing temperatures through Friday morning, a sunny, clear sky left the streets mostly clear by Thursday afternoon. Friday’s temperatures in the low 40s did the rest of the work. Sunny skies continued into Saturday, with afternoon temperatures in the high 50s.

Snow? What snow?! Let’s ride!

I saddled up the Silver Bullet and headed up to the Memphis National Cemetery, “just because”.

The cemetery is a Federal burial ground, established by the Union during the Civil War as the Mississippi River National Cemetery.

While burial at these cemeteries is sometimes limited to Union soldiers, bodies of Union and Confederate soldiers were re-interred at Memphis National Cemetery from nearby battlefield cemeteries within a couple years of the war’s end.

The oldest grave markers have the charmingly-historical military shield design (similar to the Union Shield currently displayed on the reverse of the U.S. one-cent coin, the “Lincoln penny”). However, I saw more modern headstones for veterans of wars as recent as the Korean War.

The Union Shield on the reverse of Lincoln Penney, beginning in 2010.

The newer-style headstones are engraved and carry more information about the person interred beneath (including rank and religious faith), but they lack the character of the older, hand-cut embossed markers

The 44-acre cemetery may have veterans of more recent conflicts, but the newer headstones are for the recently-deceased spouses of veterans.

The cemetery has a couple elaborate monuments for the soldiers from Illinois and Minnesota. Unfortunately, there is no special monument to the Union soldiers who died in the explosion of the steamboat SS Sultana.

The cemetery is neatly maintained, despite being situated in the lower-income blue-collar Nutbush neighborhood, bounded by a railroad track and industrial buildings, and the urban decay of Jackson Avenue.

I rode around the Nutbush area, and was impressed. I would guess the small homes date back to the late 1930s/early ’40s. They range from fairly-maintained to barely-maintained. There were a lot of people sitting out on porches, or standing talking to neighbors, or walking down the streets. Vehicles parked in driveways were older but in good shape.

I left the neighborhood with a positive impression. I saw a variety of ages and ethnic groups, the same mix of people that used to mark the Frayser area: people who put in their time at the plant, come home and do their chores, and at the end of the day ask for nothing more than a good meal and some decent TV.

After nosing my way through the Berclair area I headed back toward the east for a sunset-ride home.

The memorial to soldiers from Illinois is a sarcophagus depicting a solder ready for burial. He is shrouded and his cap and an oak branch lay by his side.

The memorial to soldiers from Illinois is a sarcophagus depicting a solder ready for burial. He is shrouded and his cap and an oak branch lay by his side.

Winter Sports

20110129-TN-Germantown-Home-RidingToHockey-SSS+TerrySnider-1wSaturday, January 29, 2011 — Riding to a hockey game is a rare treat, usually only practical at the earliest and latest ends of the season. That’s about the only time when the late evening ride home (30+ miles) isn’t either cold or rainy.
After four snow/ice events in the space of a month, Saturday’s unseasonably warm (71°F) day was a welcome break from winter weather. And it presented an unusual opportunity: A January ride to a RiverKings game.

My riding buddy Terry S. and I were a couple winter sports and enjoyed a ride down to the arena under the gloaming sky and with temperatures in the low 60s. The ride home was just as comfortable, only a couple degrees cooler.

The big Silver Bullet’s engine heat kept my legs reasonable warm on both trips, so the only thing I can complain about was the overtime loss by the RiverKings to the Bloomington (Illinois) PrairieThunder.


Here’s hopes that the RiverKings go deep into the play-offs, so we can enjoy more evening rides to the games.


Bikers Empowerment Training Conference 2011

Conference attendees wore a lot of black leather and club patches. (JR)

Saturday, January 22, 2011 — Saturday, I participated in the 2nd annual Bikers Empowerment Training Conference (BETC).

The conference is aimed at motorcycle clubs who want to be more effective in pursuing charitable ventures and protecting their intellectual rights.

Many motorcyclists participate in fund raisers for members of the military, law enforcement and emergency response services who are injured or killed in the line of duty. They hold barbecue or chili cook-offs to raise money for medical research charities. They sponsor Christmas toy drives for underprivileged or sick children.

But I would suspect many motorcyclists and most non-riders would be surprised to learn that many motorcycle clubs go beyond sponsoring charitable activities such as those above; they run social service programs.

Similar to churches, many motorcycle clubs run scholarship grant programs, pre-school child care centers, food banks, elder-care programs, and similar community-based programs.

Motorcycle clubs, if organized in a legal sense, are generally non-profit entities. Many of the events at BETC include sessions on how to write grant applications, how to incorporate, how to obtain non-profit status from the IRS, and how to copyright and trademark club names, insignias, and intellectual products.

Last year and this year, I participated in the conference as a member of the Motorcycle Awareness Foundation of Tennessee (MAFT).  MAFT’s mission is to educate the driving public on motorcycle awareness and road safety. However, we use these conferences to recruit members in Tennessee, and talk with riders form other states who might wish to launch similar programs in their state.

Sven explains MAFT’s education programs to riders from Boston and the Bronx. (JR)

Since the conference draws riders from the entire east coast (as far north as Boston, as far south as Florida), the conference is a great chance to network with riders from all walks of life.

The first two conferences have been largely attended by members of African-American groups, which may be a reflection of how the knowledge of the conference has spread among those groups, or it may reflect a fact that African-American groups are more likely to engage in supporting structured social services.

One humorous note: many motorcycle riders go by “road names” (nicknames). In many of the groups of black riders, there are one or two white female members. For some reason, they seem to choose (or are given) road names like “White Chocolate”, “Snow”, or “White Rose”…names that reference their skin tone. On the other hand, I did not meet anyone named anything like “Brown Leather”.

Regardless of age or skin tone, participants of the conference are serious about their efforts and it’s easy to form a rapport with other attendees. People are very sincere, and they know we have all come together for common purposes, and so conversation quickly becomes personal and open and friendly.

And that’s the way it seems to be at almost any biker event. Bikers recognize a bond with other bikers that goes beyond skin tone, social class, or other common barriers.

The conference is the invention of Anita “Black Widow” McNeil, from Memphis. After two years growing the conference locally, she is planning to have the conference move to other locations in coming years. For information about the conference, check the BETC website.

A Rider’s Mid-Winter Blahs

Motorcycles wait for more inviting weather

Motorcycles wait for more inviting weather

Friday, January 21, 2011 — In December and January, my bikes tend to sit in the garage.

There are usually a few good rising days early in December, but my riding for the month usually ends with the Le Bonheur toy run, unless we get an unusually warm and dry day around Christmas.

After January’s New Year’s Day ride, there are few inviting to ride. It’s either too cold (even if it’s sunny) or it’s rainy, even if the temperatures are in the 50s.

I have perfectly good four-wheel transportation for running errands or commuting. The only reason to ride in the winter is for the fun of it.

But I don’t really have that much fun bundling up to protect against mid-30s temperatures just to kill time on the bike.

Despite the promise of a La Nina cycle bringing us a warm and dry winter, we’ve had an unusually cold and snowy one, so far. Daily highs and lows have been lower than average, and we’ve had three snow events in less than a month.

February generally offers a few unseasonably warm days, but this year might be the exception.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just be content with plans for the coming year’s rides and events.