You know that point on every awesome road trip, when you decide to squeeze in just one more sight and the whole thing gets bogged down? Well that point was Muscle Shoals, Alabama for us. After the Tupelo, Oxford and the Delta…it was pushing our luck to try and swing through the OTHER Southern music landmark on the way home. But I’d heard about Muscle Shoals on NPR’s American Roots and just had to try. Turns out there’s an Alabama Music Hall of Fame there but it’s a squat, uninviting building off the highway with too many retirement home tour buses in its parking lot. The famous “Fame” Recording Studio (a Cher album cover, anyone?) was equally disappointing, penned in by fast food and pawn shops. We couldn’t even find a downtown Muscle Shoals to celebrate – just endless loops of roads that look a lot like Highway 21 entering Beaufort.
What saved Muscle Shoals was actually about a half hour into the mountains – the world’s only coon dog cemetery. There’s evidence of hunting dogs all along the winding road – the kind of evidence that makes you glad you’re not a coon dog. Think trailers with cages outside in the snow and that’s the type of reverence shown coon dogs when they’re alive. But when a good hunting dog dies in Alabama, its owner gets downright sentimental. I figured on simple, homemade crosses, maybe the odd gravestone marking faithful Fido.
But at the Coon Dog Cemetery, there are tombstones and even statues penned in by barbed wire so no one steals the cement raccoons chased by the everlasting enshrined dogs. The names alone are worth a leisurely stroll through the wooded cemetery – Troop was apparently the first but not the last.
These are not dogs, or dog owners, to be messed with. On the long mountain road back, we passed a no trespassing sign. It read “Nothing I’ve got is worth you getting shot for.” I just know there were coon dogs out back.