Journeys: Lake Martin, Alabama, August 2008

When I took a trip out to Lake Martin with my family to visit my Uncle Cliff and Aunt Barbara at their beautiful lake house, I was expecting just a lazy summer vacation. I was definitely not expecting the fascinating history and sights that make up this 44 acre reservoir. Spanning three counties in the southeastern area of Alabama, the lake was created in the late 1920s by opening up a dam and washing over several small towns. It’s today home to multiple small islands, many with distinctive histories and names.

Despite this, Lake Martin may perhaps be most famous for its recreational appeal. Pontoon boats go out into the water and dock (anywhere), with eager swimmers leaping overboard into the surprisingly warm, bathlike water. Uncle Cliff would drive his boat out a couple of times a day: once to find a good place to float around for a few hours with beers, rafts, and the family dog, and a second time to watch the sun go down behind the trees.

A typical August afternoon at Lake Martin

It was very peaceful in the surprisingly clear water (visibility about 10 feet down), except when my sister tried to grab my foot under the water or send a mini-tidal wave my way. (Sisters lose all sense of adulthood when they are together.) But our swims were often accompanied by a trip out to see some of the islands that are scattered in handfuls across the lake. With Uncle Cliff as our tour guide, we learned a good deal.

This is Chimney Rock Island, home of two popular jumping points: Chimney Rock and Acapulco Rock. The more popular rock is Acapulco (because it’s higher), but it’s often confused for Chimney Rock.

Sadly, many people have died or been injured by jumping off the rocks, including a teenaged boy who is now memorialized by a plaque on Acapulco Rock. My dad was apparently one of the (thankfully unharmed) jumpers back in 2006, but this time we wouldn’t let him near it!

The rocks do have a friendlier history. Every 4th of July, hundreds of boats line up around Chimney Rock Island for partyin’ and carryin’ on.

Just in case you think your eyes are deceiving you, let me reassure you that yes, those are goats hanging out by the water! This colony of six goats lives on Goat Island, uninhabited by humans. Someone drops off hay for the critters, but they love seeing visitors, whom they openly solicit for carrots or, well, anything. We got close enough that they ran down to greet us, then made loud goat noises.

This is The Ridge Bridge, better known as the Bridge to Nowhere. Constructed to link two islands at the lake, and then seemingly abandoned, it just sits there … no visible roads on either side, just plenty of trees! Supposedly, one day, homes will be built on one of the islands, and those residents will use this bridge. For now, it’s just … going nowhere.

Another island that we docked at often was Sand Island, a long stretch of sandy beach with a bit of sparse woods. Partygoers often dock here, leaving behind fire pits and various and sundry other items. The water surrounding the island is full of micah, so that it glitters gold in the sun.

One island we didn’t get to see is Graveyard Island, so named because it’s mostly a tiny graveyard left over from before the days of Lake Martin. It seemed to be too far for us to go out there and get back to the house in time to watch Michael Phelps collect more gold medals in the Olympic Games. I guess I’ll have to make a trip back to check that out!

The little communities around Lake Martin are interesting themselves. They are full of “meat and twos” or “meat and threes.” These are so named because you get a meat and two or three vegetables for one great low price. We ate at the Kountry Kitchen (or Kountry Kafe, depending on which sign you’re looking at) and found the meal hearty and yummy, although my green beans were a bit too stringy, and an old farmer made a weird pass or two at me and my sister!

We also ate at Sinclair’s, a nice restaurant with a deck overlooking the lake, which really shines when you watch the sun set on it. That kind of view combined with a beer or two is incredibly relaxing.

I’m looking forward to visiting my relatives at Lake Martin again some future summer. Having done my fair share of traveling in the United States, I can honestly say there are few places that provide this type of tranquility, combined with a strange sort of intrigue and curiosity.

Photo credits: Bridge to Nowhere photo by Martha V. Lynch; all others by Jim Lynch.


8 responses to “Journeys: Lake Martin, Alabama, August 2008

  1. This is a wonderful description of a trip to Lake Martin. I felt like I was there again! The pictures are great too. Thanks for capturing all the happy memories!Aunt Vinson

  2. Love the bridge to nowhere!

  3. Lenore — yes, it's so funny to see it sitting there the way it is. I can't imagine how much money that cost to build …. and then to just leave there!~Mapless/M.V.

  4. Glad you got a picture about that bridge to nowhere. I love stuff like that.Are there any documentary's or books that talk about Goat Island? Those goats are rads.I want to dive off those rocks. It's a shame they are so unsafe.

  5. The Mapless Traveler

    Hey Eric,I'm not aware of any documentaries about Goat Island, but there are some web pages about it that can be found by Googling "Goat Island Lake Martin." I do recall reading an article about Goat Island in a Lake Martin magazine while I was down there. It said that the original family of goats had disappeared, and the family I saw are actually replacement goats.It is a shame about those rocks. I think there are plenty of undeterred jumpers each year though!There are many other islands that I didn't cover. It was impossible to see them all in the course of one week.~MT

  6. How did I miss this Lake Martin blog? It's awesome!! It's such a huge lake and there are so many neat little places in and around it. Eric, there's a pretty good Wikipedia about it. Barbara and Cliff have this awesome map of it, showing all the towns (complete with roads and houses!) that are now under water!

  7. The Mapless Traveler

    Cat – I love that map! I really want a copy of it for my apartment, but I totally forgot to ask Uncle Cliff about it at HHI!

  8. Pingback: Murrells Inlet « The Mapless Traveler

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