SLIPOFF HOLLOW, Ala. - Sometimes a wrong turn is all it takes to end up in the right place.
That's how it happened for Carl and Katrina Hubbard when they got lost in 2007 looking for a property in the Appalachian foothills of Northeast Alabama. Instead they found what they now call Crow Mountain Guest Ranch in Slipoff Hollow.
According to Carl Hubbard, the three founding families who settled Big Coon Valley all had beautiful daughters. Slipoff Hollow got its name because gentleman callers from Scottsboro would "slip off" and meet them in the hollow where the ranch sits now.
"I never intended to buy this much ranch," Hubbard said. "We were looking for a small plot of land where we could have an animal rescue with no issues from the neighbors."
The previous owner, Bill Sanders, who had used the ranch for training champion-caliber trotter horses, wanted to sell all 320 acres and all the facilities. The ranch is nestled against the 22,000 acres of the Skyline Wildlife Management Area with three artesian springs creating a creek that borders it. The Hubbards fell in love with the place and now want to "share the lifestyle" with others who might love it, as well.
There are takers.
"We had a choice of here or New York, and we chose here," said Denise Barnes, of Calhoun, Ga., visiting last weekend with her husband, John, and 9-year-old son, Ben. "We love it - the atmosphere of the mountains and the people - we'll be back."
The Hubbards transformed one of the barns, putting in 12 guest rooms with 1800s Western decor so equestrians could sleep next to their horses.
This proximity appealed to Lotte Hileman, Margaret Ream and Katelen Allen, who all brought horses in a trailer from Millbrook and Snowdoun near Montgomery. It turned fortuitous when Hileman's horse got colic one night.
"I wanted to check on him at 4 a.m. and walk him," Hileman said. "I went out in pajamas and that would have been hard anyplace else."
The horse recovered quickly, and the women went on a trail ride called the Rodeo with Brandon Edmonds as trail guide.
"It offered everything," Ream said. "You had primitive trails and water crossings and open fields and dirt roads. The steep rocky ascent was the most challenging portion."
Several dogs roam the barn and follow the horses out because of Katrina Hubbard's animal rescue. She has a soft spot for animals that are unhealthy, on the side of the road or have reached their last day at a shelter. She volunteered at a wolf preserve in Florida and now has huge pens with several wolf hybrids. They come to her for hugs and lick her face when she says, "Give me kisses."
"If they're manageable, I adopt them out," Katrina Hubbard said. "The ones that need a lot of work I keep ... they've taught me a lot, and you learn about people from them, too: How to help in bad situations."
Some people come and never want to leave. Gail Sherrill came for a rodeo, then for a visit. Now she's spending the summer at the ranch and finds it ideal for her 9-year-old daughter, Katie, and her visiting friend, Madeleine Wiedemann, age 10.
Sherrill is renovating a cabin on the property with hopes of moving in by Thanksgiving and plans to commute to her teaching job in Sewanee, Tenn.
Although the ranch is idyllic for horse activities and they held a rodeo there, the Hubbards are open to other ideas.
They've had people in for a Sweet 16 birthday and an all-female "Wine, Women & Song" event that is planned to repeat this fall. They had a group of 700 people, who camp out together every Labor Day, come to the ranch.
"They camped for four nights with 27 music acts and gourmet chefs," Hubbard said. "It got nicknamed Hubstock."
"Kat and I don't ride - for us it's about the lifestyle," said Hubbard. "The way we see this property is we're just the stewards of it and helping people discover it for themselves."