Never heard of Hayden, Alabama? No surprises there. According to the 2010 U.S. census, Hayden had a population of 444 and no stoplights. Some of its attractions include two lovely Dollar General stores, an abundance of small churches, and a rather charming “Mom-n-Pop” general store called Logan’s. In the way of dining, there is a trailer that has, incidentally, come to be under new ownership at least once a week due to a repeated string of management issues. For more refined tastes, there also stands a tiny barbeque joint that used to be a car wash, unfortunately christened “Hens-n-Hogs”. Both of these fine institutions stand just down the road from the creepiest lawn ornament I have ever seen:
What you’re thinking now is probably similar to my feelings on Hayden growing up there as a teenager– Why would anyone in their right mind want to visit a town like this, much less stay here long-term? Granted, Hayden may not have much in the way of frivolous entertainment for the modern American teenager, but its sprawling farmland, the fresh water from the Black Warrior River, and the family-friendly environment make it a great place to raise kids or simply get away from ever-moving cities and busy workweeks.
Even driving into Hayden on Highway 160, the air smells of sweet grass and hay, lacking the smog and pollution associated with more populated areas, and you won’t find a kinder population anywhere else. The old myth of southern hospitality rings so true in Hayden that it almost seems unreal. You can barely move about without someone offering to have you over for Sunday lunch, especially if you have family living in Hayden. Like fresh fruits and veggies or beautiful flowers? You’re in luck. Mann’s Farmstand, located right outside Logan’s, offers an array of seasonal produce and hanging baskets full of gorgeous flora. Take a ten-minute drive west, respectively, and you’ll end up in the fairytale forest that is Rickwood Caverns State Park, arguably one of the south’s most beautiful outdoor areas. Among other things, Rickwood boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a sparkling underground limestone cave with guided tours (nicknamed the “Miracle Mile” which you can take a virtual tour of) for more adventurous types, as well as 380 acres of wilderness and hiking trails. As if all that were not enough, Hayden is also home to numerous rivers, creeks, and untouched forests, ideal for those seeking a more active, unconventional getaway.
As someone who has traveled New York, L.A., and Vegas, all with their shining, man-made glory, I can attest to the fact that these are indeed wonderful places, but are also ones that emphasize being outwardly focused. Yes, it’s a cliché, but Hayden is a destination quiet enough that, if left to your own devices while staying there, you have a chance to truly examine your inner self. Even city lights don’t compare to standing in one of Hayden’s corn fields on a clear evening when everything around you is all stars and sky, or watching the sun rise on your front porch with a cup of coffee before the day has become too humid, surrounded by the same sounds that people listened to before there were car horns, sirens, or iPods.
For those searching for a hip, urban destination, Hayden may not be for you. But for those looking to find themselves, those seeking untouched nature combined with southern charm, or those looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, there is no doubt in my mind that Hayden is absolutely the place to be.
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