Wow! I can’t believe it’s been a month since I rolled out of Florida and into Georgia. I’ve been saving up my Georgia experiences thinking it would be easy to condense them into one blog post, but I found myself enjoying the state so much I stayed longer than anticipated. Now I have the difficult task of whittling down the highlights and images. That’s never easy for me because I want to share everything!
I never would have guessed that Georgia was such a mountainous state. These mountains don’t rival peaks of the Cascade, Sierra Nevada, and Rocky Mountain ranges, but they are spectacular just the same. What I thought would be a fairly brief journey through Georgia turned into a few weeks, as I “feasted” on the the scenery… the forests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls… while they were brought exuberantly back to life by the wonders of spring!
At the recommendation of some of my new friends in Florida I planned my first stay near Calloway Gardens in Pine Mountain. I usually opt to camp in state and national parks when possible. Most don’t provide full hook-ups (utilities) and they rarely have wifi available, but they all sit in the midst of nature. Camping next to a lake or stream, easy access to hiking trails, and meeting friendly neighbors who enjoy the same is worth the inconvenience of using the “dump station” on my way out of a campground, and having to find a nearby coffee shop to take care of business online.
My first Georgia campsite was at F.D. Roosevelt State Park, just outside of Pine Mountain. I managed to score an enviable lakefront site that I was thrilled to call home for a few days. While there I took Jazzy and Sadie for several hikes in the woods, visited Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Little White House”, and enjoyed watching a pair of geese and their adorable fuzzy yellow offspring!
One neighbor I met, Joe, was on a solo exodus in nature while contemplating his future, his career, and in particular some choices he felt he had to make. Was it fate that brought him casting and reeling past my campsite? Our conversation started light…
“Hey… good evening.”
“Hi. I’ve been following this one bass all the way from my campsite.”
“Hmmmmm… Is his name Walter?”
My attempt at humor was met with a blank “who the heck is Walter” expression.
“Walter! You know… the trophy size bass that Norman pursues for years in the movie On Golden Pond.”
Still a blank expression.
“Ummmm… well… ok. I guess it’s an old movie.” I say as I glance away concealing a smile and only a slight bit of embarrassment.
We spent a fair bit of time chatting over the next few days… about life, about choices, and the importance of staying true to yourself and your convictions. I was truly impressed at the depth and understanding of this young man for his age.
A few days ago I came across a plaque with a quote on it that made me think of Joe and immediately snapped a shot of it with my cell phone and sent it to him.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
I spent one full day at Calloway Gardens. Unfortunately I was about a week or two late for their colorful azalea blooms, but found that there was still much to enjoy about this place. Walking amidst thousands of butterflies in the Day Butterfly Center was a delightful experience.
They also have a very nice “Birds of Prey” show which, of course, I couldn’t pass up. It was a good and educational show, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a Red-shouldered Hawk featured along with a few other hawks and owls. This is the same type of hawk that I managed to untangle from fishing line and hold for a few moments while kayaking in Florida. (Story and picture here… Friends Along Florida Waterways)
To top off the day, I indulged myself in their Treetop Adventure and Zip-line course. This was a rather intense obstacle course stretching from tree top to tree top, and I was glad to be wearing a safety harness as I wobbled and swung and teetered from one challenge to the next. I did the entire course with a GoPro video camera attached to my helmet, but have yet to find time to edit the lengthy clip. (Hope to add it soon!!!)
After Pine Mountain I made yet another pit stop in Atlanta to visit my friends Eddie Tapp and Judy Host. I’ve written about these dear friends a few times before. (Fellow photographers and kindred spirits) It’s rare that I plan my route to include large cities, but there’s no way I’d pass through the state of Georgia without visiting these two special people. Thank you, my friends, for hosting me and my girls once again!
From Atlanta I made my way to Vogel State Park at the southern fringe of the Smoky Mountains. Here I scored another awesome campsite right along Wolf Creek, and spent my days hiking trails to one waterfall after another.
‘Tis the season! While hiking through the park along Trahlyta Lake one rainy morning I came upon this mother goose protectively sheltering her babies from the rain. I didn’t know until I passed by again how many there were!
My next stop was not too far down the road… Tallulah Gorge State Park. I arrived and set up camp in the pouring rain, which is never fun but goes with the territory from time to time. I accept it, deal with it, and then count my blessings as I peel off my soggy attire while stepping into a dry motorhome instead of crawling into a damp tent. I did plenty of that, sometimes for days on end, while living in Washington.
The following morning I hiked the North Rim trail with Jazzy and Sadie, and enjoyed several overlooks along the way. Knowing they were not allowed on the suspension bridge I set out on my own that afternoon to hike the South Rim trail, then down 1099 steps to the Hurricane Falls lookout point at the bottom of the gorge (and back up again!!), and back across the suspension bridge, which stretches high over the gorge floor, to the north rim and my campsite beyond.
This 1000 ft deep gorge is absolutely stunning, and well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the area. Unfortunately the hikes I’d planned on doing down to and around the bottom of the gorge were closed due to weather and trail conditions, so I cut my stay one day short and headed off to my next destination… Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee.
I have to admit the campground gods have been looking favorably upon me lately. I scored yet another great campsite, right on the waterfront of Lake Chatuge, at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Moments after setting up camp I dropped my kayak in the water for the first time since leaving Florida. I did find myself missing the birds I grew to love along the Florida waterways, and thought it almost comical when I remembered there was no need to keep a lookout for alligator anymore. I was a bit startled when a goose came racing off the water and flew right at me, but realized it was my granola bar he was after, not me. I’m guessing he’s been fed a wee bit too much people food!
Although most of the Rhododendrons had not yet reached bloom, I enjoyed hiking through Hamilton Garden located right there at the fairgrounds.
Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in Georgia, was only about fifteen miles down the road, so I made a point of checking it out my first day in town. I was so entranced by the 360 degree view that I set my alarm for early the following morning so I could reach the parking lot well before sunrise, giving me time to hike to the top in time to capture the first light of morning. As it happened it was a very foggy morning, so no “sunrise” to speak of, but the foggy layers woven between the mountains held a mystical beauty all their own.
As it happened, my friend (and Canon contact during my time on their elite team of “Explorers of Light”) Steve Inglima was visiting his brother not far from me in North Carolina. He took the time to come down for a visit one afternoon, and showed me some of the sites I had not yet seen. The tiny little community of Brasstown was one of them. Field of the Woods in Murphy was another. The intense religious conviction that went into the creation of this place reminded me of another place I visited while journeying through southern California… Salvation Mountain. Thank you Steve, for taking the time. It was wonderful to see you!
There’s a song that’s been slow dancing through my head since the morning I crossed over into the Carolina’s, and I can still hear old Willie now… singing “Georgia on my Mind.”
One last peaceful image of a foggy morning from my campsite on Chatuge Lake…