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Cities & Towns > Glow Worms in Dismals Canyon

Glow Worms in Dismals Canyon

We are thinking about trying to get a hike and an over night trip to Dismal Canyon in Alabama before it gets too cool this years. The glow worm thing was really interesting, and I wanted to share an article I found.

By Jenny Thompson

PHIL CAMPBELL — Dismal's Canyon, nestled in 85 acres of soaring hemlocks and sweating bluffs, provides visitors a pristine view of the state's geological diversity.

Randy, Donna and Jonathan Stacy of New Albany, Miss., throw fish food purchased at the country store to the fish that live in the canyon creek.
DAILY Photo by Gary Cosby, Jr.
Randy, Donna and Jonathan Stacy of New Albany, Miss., throw fish food purchased at the country store to the fish that live in the canyon creek.
Night tour guide Royce Crowell said he loves the canyon because of the beautiful waterfalls that create miniature rainbows in the canyon. But that's not all.

"I love meeting people," Royce said. "We have people come in here from all over the world — London, Paris, Japan — and that's just to name a few."

The National Park Service named the privately owned and operated Natural Conservatory a National Natural Landmark in 1975.

The canyon contains such natural wonders as a chilly creek, sandstone grottos, two waterfalls, six natural bridges, giant moss-covered stones, cliffs and one of the oldest primeval forests east of the Mississippi River.

Observers can spot the state trees of 30 states on the canyon floor, including the Champion Tree.

Canyon workers boast that the Champion Tree — a 350-year-old, 138 foot-tall Canadian Hemlock — stands as the largest of its species in Alabama and possibly the world.

Also, more than 350 different species of exotic flora grow in the canyon.

Susie Crowell, canyon assistant manager, said the temperature on the canyon floor remains an average of 14 degrees cooler than the hot Alabama summers.

Her favorite spot is Weeping Bluff, a spot that seems to show the face of a native maiden who appears to cry with the water that seeps from the bluff.

"I like it because when I'm hot, I can get water on my head," Crowell said.

The Dismal's setting seems so untouched that the Discovery Channel used it to film pieces of a documentary called "When Dinosaurs Roamed America."

In addition to the canyon's rich geological history, workers recount a detailed human history.

History only hints at how the canyon got its name. Early settlers of the area came from Scotland and Ireland, and could have named the canyon after a craggy spot in Scotland called "Dismals."

Others think the settlers felt uneasy about the rugged bluffs and dark grottos of the canyon.

Explorers have found 10,000-year-old pottery and arrowheads made by Paleo Indians, the first people known to inhabit northwest Alabama, on the canyon floor.

Pueblo, Chickasaw and Cherokee tribes also called the Dismal's home at one time in history.

U.S. troops held a large group of Chickasaw Indians captive in the canyon in 1838 before forcing them to Muscle Shoals where they began what historians now call the Trail of Tears.

Outlaws, such as Jesse James and Aaron Burr, have also sought refuge in the canyon for their misdeeds because of its close proximity to the Natchez Trace.

Explorers found an old musket and cot in one of the dark spots of the canyon, and believed them to belong to Aaron Burr when he went into hiding after he killed Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel.

"You know the man never spent a day in jail for it," tour guide Darlene Cagle said.

Also, remnants of a water mill, cotton gin and sawmill built by early settlers can be found throughout the canyon, where, on Sunday afternoons, church congregations would gather for old-fashioned baptizing in the 50- to 60-degree waters.

"I had a man in here, 92 years old," Royce said, "who told me when he was 7 or 8, he'd come down here and pay a penny or two to the woman who owned it at the time, and she would let kids swim all day."

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the canyon is a colony of glowworms that live on the walls called "Dismalites."

"It looks like stars all over the wall," Cagle said.

Dismalites, the larvae stage of a fungus gnat, glow an electric blue-green at night to attract food.

Guests can enjoy guided night tours to see the Dismalites that live in only a few places in the world outside of New Zealand.

June and July are the best times to see the maximum number of glowworms.

As well as exploring the caverns and insects of the canyon, visitors can swim in a natural pool, shop at the country store or make a short excursion for canoeing or tubing down Bear Creek.

The canyon offers a number of natural campsites and cabins designed to blend in with the surroundings.

Randy, Donna, 12-year-old Matthew and 8-year-old Jonathan Stacy of New Albany, Miss., recently visited the canyon for the first time.

"I like all the tall trees," Randy said.

"I just like all the scenery," Jonathan said.

"My legs are shaking," Donna said as she ascended Pulpit Rock, which gives visitors a panoramic view of the canyon.

"The best part of this whole thing is just sitting and BS-ing with people from around the world," Royce said, "and fussing with Darlene and Susie."

How to go

Where: 901 Franklin County 8, Phil Campbell

When: Open daily from March to October. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: A combination day/night tour cost $10.50 for adults and $6.75 for children. Discount rates are available for seniors, groups, schools and scouts. Call (205) 993-4559 or visit

This last photos is in New Zealand.

posted on Nov 9, 2008 3:37 PM ()


Cindy, that looks amazing!
comment by shesaidwhat on Nov 12, 2008 2:13 PM ()
Take Pics please
comment by grumpy on Nov 11, 2008 9:37 AM ()
I would love to camp there for a week-end, it sounds amazing!
comment by sumkindabich on Nov 11, 2008 2:11 AM ()
Yes,it have.I used to play e flat alto.Many moons ago.
This was not one of my favorite thou.It was night train
comment by fredo on Nov 10, 2008 3:42 PM ()
Looking at your new icon...did you do something different with your hair?
comment by mzscarlett on Nov 10, 2008 3:06 PM ()
There are so many great places to visit practically in our own back yard.
comment by saito56 on Nov 10, 2008 3:45 AM ()
Wow, sounds like a cool place to visit!
comment by marta on Nov 9, 2008 5:46 PM ()
glow little glow worm.Sounds like fun there.
comment by fredo on Nov 9, 2008 3:48 PM ()

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