In eastern Madison County near the small town of Gurley, the 310-acre Keel Mountain Preserve is a Nature Conservancy property that exists solely to protect the endangered Morefield’s Leather Flower. This unobtrusive vine is a type of clematis with known populations only in the Huntsville area and a wee bit into southern Tennessee. You probably won’t see it if you visit, but there are plenty of reasons to visit anyway.
Lost Sink at Keel Mountain is a moderately difficult trail, especially if you go hiking in the rain as I did. While the trail itself remained fairly dry, there was just enough mud to make the rocks and roots treacherous footing. The trail follows a seasonal creekbed for much of the way. We haven’t had enough rain recently for more than a few puddles in the creekbed, but after a hard rain, it looked like the creek runs pretty wide.
It’s a 2 mile out-and-back trail through the oak-hickory forest, with generous and healthy populations of cedar and mountain laurel. 1.4 miles in and about 400 feet of elevation up is a small mossy waterfall that drops into a sink. Cheerful yellow St. John’s Wort was blooming along the trail, and I spied a lot of plants with spring-blooming wildflowers, past their season. With these and the waterfall, this may be a picturesque early spring hike.
Sturdy long pants, bug spray, and water. Leashed pets are permitted.
Take Highway 72 east over Chapman Mountain. In the town of Gurley, turn right on Little Cove Road and then left on McMullen Road. Go 4 miles and keep left at an unmarked fork. The preserve is on the left. GPS directions are recommended.