Mentone: The Sedona of the South

Mentone, a place the Great God built,

Up near the sunlit sky,

There life is new and friends are true

   And days too quickly fly;

Where wearied souls regain their power

              And  sorrows leave in the night.

Where peace is born with each new morn,

       A haven of joy and delight.

                                                            Sidney Lanier

Mentone is one of those special places that if you happen to pass through and stop, you might decide to stay there. Many people have done just that. Over the years,  “Adventurers, poets, crafts-people, musicians, promoters, dreamers, people of religious fervency, farmers, coal miners, sawmillers, educators and a few bootleggers have found this spot” writes Zora Strayhorn In the History of Mentone. Indeed they have.

Today, an eclectic mix of folks call Mentone home: retirees, hippies, mountain mamas, artists of all stripes, shamans, Buddhists monks, entrepreneurs (meth labs don’t count), summer campers, writers, good old boys, hikers, cyclists, biker dudes, herbalists, energy healers—all individuals with an independent spirit, to say the least. Even the black bears have returned to Little River Canyon.

Here are a few of my favorite places and people. This list is by no means a comprehensive list! Just a sampling.

Founded in 1884, Mentone Springs Hotel (www.mentonesprings.com) is the oldest hotel in the state of Alabama. I especially like the hotel restaurant, Alice’s, where you’re guaranteed a good meal and live music on a wraparound porch overlooking town. Rumor has it the mineral springs, home to the healing waters that brought so many people here seeking refuge and rejuvenation in the first place, along the mountainside next to the hotel will re-open one day.

A stone’s throw from the hotel, you can find Jim Marbutt, owner of Kawliga, on the main street in the heart of town. Chainsaw in hand, he’s hard to miss, hanging out with his carved creatures. If you sit a spell, there’s no telling what kind of story he’ll conjure up to entertain you with—headless Hessian horsemen, tales of the war between the states as if it happened yesterday. My favorite piece he’s done lately is a bench with a catfish holding a rod on one side. A honeypot dangles from the end of his pole tantalizing the bear he’s trying to catch on the other side.

After listening to Jim, keep walking and you run into a coffee shop, art gallery and antiques shop all under one roof at Kamama  (www.KamamaMentone.com), owned by Ray and Sandra Padgett, two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They first happened upon Mentone in the 1970s, and even owned the hotel for many years, renovating it on the weekends while they worked and lived in Atlanta. They’ve now retired here.

Miracle Pottery (www.miraclepottery.com) is located on Highway 117 on the right as you drive up the mountain into Mentone. You can’t miss the flashing sign. Valinda Miracle’s work is both beautiful and functional.  And, yes, her last name is really “Miracle.” In her new book, The Dead Don’t Bleed, Those Who Are Alive Do, that she also sells in the shop, she describes the many miracles in her life, overcoming one adversity after another, including a flesh-eating disease. This is a woman who will captivate you with her pottery and her stories. Now, my daughter Frances wasn’t so sure what to think the day we watched Valinda throw pots and talk to a group. When Valinda started describing one of the many times she came back from the dead after entering in the inner chamber’s of God’s kingdom, Frances decided it was time to go. Clearly, this is a woman with a powerful faith.

The beauty of Mentone is the abundance of spirituality and healing found here in the “Sedona of the South.” Go down to Valley Head and you can practice your faith in yourself by firewalking at Rock Ridge Retreat. Edwene Gaines, a Unitarian minister and the director, leads prosperity retreats. Who knew? www.edwenegaineseminars.com

The natural beauty of the area is in and of itself a powerful, healing source. The falls at Desoto State Park (www.alapark.com) are stunning, not to mention the great hiking trails and mountain bike paths. Nice cabins and tent camping as well.

Check out One World Adventure Company, for sure, to go canoeing, kayaking, or embarking on other outdoor adventures! www.oneworldadventureco.com

This is just a tiny taste of a what is truly a “haven of joy and delight.” Go to www.mentonealabama.org or www.mymentone.com to discover more.


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