I See Georgia: Senoia

It was when traffic slowed to a crawl for the third time in the last thirty minutes that I began to wonder if the trip had been a good idea. A drive that, according to Google Maps, was supposed to take two hours was well into hour number three, with still no end in sight. My hands were clamped on the steering wheel in a death grip, as if I could make the car in front of me move by sheer force of will. Still, we continued to inch along.

We were on our way to Senoia, the latest destination on the “I See Georgia” tour, and our stomachs were beginning to grumble. It was well past lunch time, and our arrival would be quite a bit later than we’d anticipated. The 100-mile drive had begun innocently enough, as we cruised through small towns like Bostwick and Rutledge with only cotton fields and blue skies to keep us company.

We were making good time until we picked up I-20 near Covington. It was on this major East-West route that traffic began to thicken. From that point on, it was one slow down after another. When we merged onto I-285, it was more of the same. Even after exiting onto I-85, things didn’t get much better. I began to wonder if we would ever get there, when finally, I saw daylight up ahead.

Freed from the gridlock, we headed South, passing through Peachtree City, then a string of retail establishments until, at last, the Senoia city limits sign appeared just ahead. We made our way through a residential area, topped a hill, and found ourselves right in the middle of downtown. We pulled into a parking spot on Main Street and stepped out of the car.

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I was immediately struck by the beauty of the town. In an earlier post, I said that Covington, Ga is ideal small-town America. Well, there is more than one locale worthy of such a title. Senoia takes small town ambiance to another level.

We headed down the street, passing shops and restaurants and pausing every few feet to take it all in. Main Street begins on level ground before sloping down a hill in an ever-increasing decline. We stopped and looked in the window of a classic car museum, which featured vehicles from the early 1900’s, then continued down the hill until we reached our first stop in Senoia: Nic and Norman’s restaurant.

I’ve mentioned our affinity for The Walking Dead in the past. Now here we were, at the center of the show’s universe. Senoia is ground zero for The Walking Dead, as the show continues to film in the area. Remember season three, when “The Governor” ruled the settlement of Woodbury? Well, Senoia is Woodbury! All the scenes in the fictional town were filmed there.

Nic and Norman’s adds to everything TWD about Senoia. The restaurant is co-owned by Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon on the show) and Greg Nicotero, the special effects and makeup wizard behind so many of the show’s namesakes. We walked in just as the lunch rush was ending and were seated at table near the door.

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The interior of Nic and Norman’s is dimly lit and elegant. A bar stretches along one side, and the brick walls are adorned with artwork. The one-page menu is heavy on burgers, and we ordered from the eclectic list. Soon, our waitress appeared with our food, and we sat back to enjoy our well-earned lunch.

We’ve had quite a few burgers on our tour of Georgia cities and towns, and the last thing I want to be known for is hyperbole. But it only took a few bites to elevate Nic and Norman’s into the upper echelon of deliciousness. My “Greg’s Pick” and Dena’s Mexican Burger were some of the best we’ve had.

Both burgers featured a blend of ground chuck, short rib, and brisket, and both were seasoned to perfection. Mine featured blue cheese, lettuce, tomato and the house made N&N sauce. Dena’s included jalapeno, cilantro-lime mayo, queso, and guacamole. Famished after waiting in traffic, we tore into the burgers, supplementing the beef with side salads. We polished off every scrap, then headed out to see what else the town had to offer.

We walked along Main street, passing numerous Walking Dead themed shops and stores, until we reached the intersection of Main and Travis Streets. As we stood on the corner, we could almost see the barricaded entrance to Woodbury stretching across the street.

Beyond the intersection, a set of railroad tracks pass through town. But it was what we saw beyond the tracks that immediately grabbed our attention. There, standing less the 100 yards from where we stood, lay Alexandria.

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For the unfortunate among you who don’t watch The Walking Dead, The Alexandria Safe Zone is a settlement surrounded by a high, metal wall. Much of the action in recent seasons takes place in or around Alexandria, and many a character has died within its walls.

Now, here it was in all its glory. We approached, star struck by the appearance in real life of a place we’d only seen on television. There were signs everywhere informing visitors that no trespassing was allowed. People actually live in the subdivision, undeterred by the walls that cut it off from the rest of society. We walked along, admiring Alexandria from a distance as we marveled at the intrusion of fiction into reality.

After walking around the perimeter of Alexandria for a while, we headed back toward downtown. As we crossed the tracks, I was struck by the realization that Woodbury and Alexandria, bases of two groups that were at war in the series, were practically across the street from each other. The magic of television!

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We walked up Main Street, stopping at the official Walking Dead store. The shop features everything Walking Dead, including a museum in the basement with memorabilia from the show. We checked out the museum before moving on to The Georgia Mercantile Company. We went inside and browsed, checking out the various food and household offerings. The store is housed in an old building, and brings echoes of another era.

Soon the sky began to darken. It was almost time to say goodbye. But before we left, there was one more place we had to visit. We walked back down the hill until we reached Senoia Coffee and Café. We stepped inside and found ourselves in a small-town coffee shop that doubled as a Hollywood hangout.

The inside of the shop is bright and open. We ordered coffees, then spent a few minutes checking out the autographed memorabilia on the walls. It was clear that members of The Walking Dead cast frequent the place on a regular basis during filming. We sat and enjoyed the coffee, rich and dark, as we looked back on all we’d seen.

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Soon we were back on the interstate, headed home. As we navigated the post-Thanksgiving traffic, I found myself reflecting on our visit. Senoia is a a place full of contradictions; one-part idyllic small town and one-part Hollywood glitz. I enjoyed myself, and look forward to touring it again, even if The Walking Dead has moved on to other locales by then.

Before I sign off, I need to give props to my Georgia Bulldogs, who recently dominated Auburn to win the SEC Championship. The win also put UGA in a four-team playoff for the National Championship. Here’s hoping that we can keep it up and bring home the ultimate prize.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more on Senoia, visit the official website here. To learn more about The Walking Dead, achieve enlightenment by clicking here.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll make the short drive to Greene County to visit a town steeped in history. It’s a trip back in time to Greensboro!

 

 

 

 

 

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I See Georgia: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

I’ll be the first to tell you: I don’t know much about Hinduism. Growing up as a Baptist, I knew the names of other religions, but not much else. Later, I would learn more about the beliefs of various groups, and would come to admire many of the tenets of some of the major religions of the world.

Still, Hinduism remained a mystery to me. Though I’ve read quite a bit on the philosophy of this religion which is practiced by nearly a billion people, it remains something of an exotic idea to me. I know that it originated in India, but beyond that, I don’t know very much.

Despite my ignorance when it comes to the beliefs of the people who practice the religion, when I found out that there was a massive Hindu temple in our state, I jumped at the chance to visit. On a cold, windy morning, we left Athens and set a course for the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn to check out this spiritual and architectural wonder.

We drove West along Highway 316 for an hour until we reached Lilburn. We exited the highway and turned onto Rockbridge Road. After a few minutes, we could see the gold-topped spires of the temple in the distance. We turned into the driveway, gave our names at the security gate, and pulled into the parking lot in the early afternoon.

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A Mandir is a Hindu place of worship, and the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan is the largest such structure outside of India. Its more than 34,000 limestone, marble and sandstone pieces were hand-carved in India before being shipped to Atlanta and assembled in Lilburn.

We parked the car and approached the Mandir, immediately in awe of the place. As we drew closer, we were able to make out the intricacies of each column and pillar. I’d read online that over two million hours of labor went into building the Mandir, and with all attention to detail, it was easy to see why.

We circled around to the front, where a large reflecting pool stretched before the building. We stood at the foot of the pool, where golden elephants watched over a mini stair step waterfall. The sky was deep blue and cloudless, and the bright white stone of the Mandir stood out in sharp contrast in the midday sun. I’ve never seen the Taj Mahal in person, but I can’t imagine a scene much more beautiful.

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We admired the view for a while, until the cool breeze off the water drove us to seek a more sheltered area. We headed for the main entrance, climbing several flights of stairs. When we reached the final landing leading to the last few steps, I noticed a sign instructing visitors that no photography or video was permitted beyond that point. I snapped a few pictures from just beyond the prohibited area, and then we made our final approach.

Large peacock statues flanked the final set of stairs, and we passed between them, again marveling at the detail of the carvings. We climbed the last stairs and stood at the entrance, pausing for a few seconds to look back at the pool and people below before continuing our journey.

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We stepped inside and found ourselves in a large room, where we left our shoes and proceeded on in our socks. We walked past a manned desk and up a set of stairs, where we entered a room straight out of a fantasy land.

Had I really thought the stone work on the outside of the Mandir was intricate? In here, the detail was nothing short of jaw dropping. Everywhere we looked, another incredibly meticulous carving. We wandered around, taking time to appreciate it all. Photography is not allowed inside the Mandir, so I’ll do my best to describe it, though I have a feeling words will fail me.

In addition to the carvings, there were also the Murtis. In Hinduism, a Murti is an embodiment of the divine. Also carved from stone, these statues stood, backlit against the soft light of the temple. Before many of these idols, Hindu people knelt in prayer. We toured the room, visiting each statue while taking care not the disturb the worshipers.

Eventually we made our way to the center of the room, where the high ceiling featured the most complex carving of them all. It resembled a chandelier, and protruded from the roof as ever-changing colored lights flooded the area. A tour group was learning about the significance of the carving, and we joined them for a minute or two.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know much about Hinduism. Heck, I don’t know all that much about any religion. Even Christianity, which I’ve been immersed in since birth, remains something of a mystery to me in many respects. But one thing I do know: when you are in a holy place, you pause for a moment of quiet reflection.

We found an open space and sat on the floor beneath the changing lights. The atmosphere in the Mandir is soothing, calming and inspiring all at once. As the minutes ticked by, I felt a distance open up between myself and the troubles of the outside world. I was free, as least for a little while.

Before we knew it, the time had come to depart. We retraced our steps to the front of the Mandir, where we claimed our shoes and headed for the door. Soon we were back outside, shivering in the cool breeze. We hurried to the car and got in, but not before taking one last look back at the Mandir; such an unexpected wonder in a surprising place.

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That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more on the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, visit the official website here.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll head Southwest to visit the small town that draws visitors from all over the world. It’s ground central for “The Walking Dead,” Senoia!

 

I See Georgia: Bostwick Cotton Gin Festival

I didn’t fully realize how important the annual Cotton Gin festival was to the people of Bostwick until I saw the lineup for the parade.

They stretched out of sight; tractors and combines and classic cars. Standing beside the road, we could see everything from old trucks to people in full confederate soldier uniforms on horseback. The kickoff for the parade was moments away, and the crowd was ready.

Bostwick is small, even by rural Georgia standards. According to the 2010 census, the town has just 322 residents, most of which live on farms or similarly agrarian parcels. The downtown area consists of a single strip of old, brick buildings, many of which are no longer in use, intermixed with a few more modern structures.

We’d heard about the festival from someone who grew up in Bostwick, and put it on our calendar during the summer. Now, on an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in early November, we made the drive to the tiny hamlet to check it out.

We’d passed through Bostwick before; most recently on an August trip to Covington.  But the scene we encountered on this day was 180 degrees from what we’d seen before. People were everywhere! Both sides of Route 83 were lined with people, both standing and sitting in folding chairs. There were food vendors, a craft market, and various other tents and booths.

After parking in a field, we walked along the main street, taking in the sights and sounds. We passed one display which featured a milk cow and explained the process of extracting the milk. We ventured deeper into the crowd, eventually coming upon the Susie Agnes Hotel, an early 20th century structure that remains the centerpiece of the town.

You’ve seen the Susie Agnes before, though you might not know it. The hotel was featured in the 1992 film “My Cousin Vinny.” Remember the scene where Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei check into a motel, only to find that there is a slaughterhouse located next door? That was the Agnes! The festival began as a fundraiser for the preservation of the building. Today, it serves as a town hall and multi-use space for the community.

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Our next stop was the festival’s namesake, Bostwick’s Cotton Gin. One of the few working Lummus Gins in Georgia, the gin remains an integral part of life in Bostwick. We approached from a backstreet, and were able to walk right up to the control panel. A group of men who looked like they’d been working there for at least forever stood around, laughing and talking.

The mechanics of the gin spun and whirred, separating cotton from seeds. Cobwebs hung from the rafters, and the entire area was coated in a thick layer of dust. The cotton gin is old. I almost expected to see Eli Whitney himself on a ladder, making adjustments and poking at mechanisms.

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We walked around to the front and got in line for the opportunity to walk through. After a few minutes, we entered the building. While we were inside, workers shut down the gin in preparation for the parade, but we were still able to squeeze through tight spaces and exit by way of the back door.

Now here we were, standing beside a road in a tiny town, waiting for the cavalcade of vehicles to begin a slow crawl down the street. Somewhere in the distance, the sound of someone singing “Dixie” drifted on the still air. Then, engines gunned, and they were off.

We stood and watches as classic cars from decades past cruised by. Then came a line of tractors and combines which rumbled along. Many of these vehicles had children at the wheel, with their parents or grandparents assisting. Some pulled trailers full of smiling, waving kids and adults.

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We watched the parade for a while, then left our vantage point and began working our way through the crowd. Wonderful smells drifted from food trucks as people bought hamburgers and hot dogs and barbeque. The day was becoming warmer and the crowd thicker, so we made our way back toward our car.

As we left Bostwick, we marveled at the long, long line of cars waiting to get in. They stretched from the outskirts of town into the countryside. We passed them and soon found ourselves surrounded by fields of cotton. The sun danced across the white expanse, creating an almost surreal scene.

Lunchtime was fast approaching, so we headed for a joint we’d been hearing about for quite some time. We pulled into the parking lot of the Traveling Hobo Café in downtown Watkinsville at just after noon and immediately walked into another era.

The café would have been at home in the early to mid-1900s. The walls are decorated with train memorabilia and black and white photos from a time when drifters regularly rode the rails from town to town, looking for work. We ordered at the counter and took a seat at a corner table beneath a flashing traffic light.

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As we waited for our food, I checked out some of the décor. On the wall near our table, I found a legend of Hobo signs; symbols that travelers would leave for the next person who came along. I was fascinated by the signs, and what they meant. For instance, 3 backslashes meant “unsafe area,” while a circle containing a squiggly line meant “courthouse or police station.”

Our food arrived, and we dug in. I’d opted for the Blazing Hobo Burger, which was topped with chili, jalapenos, and cheddar cheese. Dena chose the hamburger steak, which came covered in brown gravy. Both came with a side of Boxcar Fries, with Dena’s fires served “dirty,” smothered in gravy.

The food was, in a word, delicious. We’ve had quite a few burgers during our travels, including delectable selections from The Rookery in Macon, The Half Moon Pub in Rome and Clocked! In Athens. I’d put the Traveling Hobo Café right up there with the best of them. The burgers were thick and juicy, and the fries were hot a crispy. The chili and jalapenos gave mine just the right amount of heat, while the gravy made Dena’s even more savory.

By the time we left the restaurant, we were happy and stuffed. We headed home, where I would settle in to watch Georgia continue its magical season by taking down South Carolina. As I watched the game, I felt like a part of me was still in Bostwick, surrounded by those rolling fields of cotton. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday!

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more info on Bostwick and the Cotton Gin Festival, visit the official website here.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll visit the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside of India. And its right here in Georgia! It’s the Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lilburn.

I See Georgia: Anna Ruby Falls

 We’ve spent a fair amount of time in North Georgia, visiting towns like Rome and Dahlonega, as well as natural wonders like Tallulah Gorge. Still there is much left to see: Mountains, valleys, forests and more. On a late October morning, we once again headed to this fertile playground to check out one of the area’s most famous features: Anna Ruby Falls.

Northeast Georgia is known for its waterfalls. There is even an “Ultimate Georgia Waterfalls Road Trip” for those with a long weekend and a thirst for adventure. For us, schedules dictate that we visit one at a time, which is how we found ourselves cruising North along Highway 441 on a Friday.

Leaving Athens, we passed through Nicholson before arriving in our old hometown of Commerce. A large portion of my childhood was spent in the town, and Dena and I were both living there when we met in 2002. As long as we were there, we decided to visit one of our favorite Commerce haunts: La Hacienda.

“La Ha,” as the locals sometimes call it, boasts some of the best Mexican food in the area. Many was the afternoon I spent with coworkers, drinking after-work Dos Equis beer and eating chips and salsa. We slid into a booth and ordered from the lunch menu.

When the food arrived, we tore into the taco salad and burrito deluxe. It was as good as I remembered, and we quickly polished it off. Between the salad and a healthy helping of chips and salsa, I was stuffed by the time we paid for the meal and resumed our journey.

We bypassed Homer and headed into the mountains. By the time we made it to Helen, it was early afternoon. We worked our way through the alpine village and headed into the Chattahoochee National Forest. We turned at a sign informing us that the falls were ahead and headed along the driveway leading to the trail head.

We crept down the long driveway, taking hairpin turns and easing around sharp curves. Eventually we came to a guard shack, where we paid $3 each for admittance. We parked in the visitor’s center lot and walked out onto a deck which provided a view of Smith Creek, which flows below the falls.

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We began our hike, moving slowly in order to take in everything. All around us, trees soared toward the sky as the water cascaded over rocks and logs to our right. There were quite a few people there, but it wasn’t as crowded as it likely gets on weekends. The trail is short, at just under half a mile. In no time at all, we were there.

We stood, gazing up at the falls, which are actually formed by two separate creeks which come together at the base. Both begin on Georgia’s sixth highest peak, Tray Mountain. The bigger of the two, Curtis Creek, drops 153 feet down the side of the mountain. The other, York Creek, drops 50 feet.

The falls are beautiful, cascading along the rock face of the mountain through lush, green foliage. We made our way to one of the two viewing platforms and took a few minutes to take it all in. Legend has it that a local Confederate soldier, Colonel John Nichols, found the falls while horseback riding and named them after his daughter. After spending some time there, I can see why a man would want his daughter’s name associated with all that beauty.

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Eventually we reversed course and headed back to the parking lot, pausing to pet some of the dogs that were out for a stroll along the way. Before we knew it, we were back in the parking lot. We checked out the gift shop, which features the usual collection of T-shirts, hats and books about the area, then headed for the car.

As we made our way back along the winding access road, I was already planning another trip to North Georgia. There are still so many waterfalls, trails and mountains to explore, and with fall foliage beginning to show, it will only get more beautiful.

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That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more on Anna Ruby Falls click here.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll visit the tiny town with a unique fall event. It’s the Bostwick Cotton Gin Festival!

 

 

I See Georgia: Wild Rumpus

Halloween is kind of a big deal in Athens. Not that it isn’t big in other towns, but in Athens, people tend to take it a little more seriously. Children trick or treat, just like they do everywhere. But in our hometown, adults have as much fun as the kiddies.

The last Saturday in October is special to a lot of people. Here in Athens, it means two things: The annual Georgia-Florida football game, known to locals as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” and The Wild Rumpus Parade and Spectacle.

The former is an institution. Georgia and Florida have met nearly 100 times on the gridiron, with the result a matter of pride, celebration, sorrow or angst for hundreds of thousands of people. It is a rivalry game, perhaps Georgia’s most intense. Being a huge UGA fan, I count myself among those who follow this border war with religious intensity.

The latter is a more recent development. The first Wild Rumpus was held in 2009, when 250 people braved the rain and cold to celebrate in the streets of Athens. Since then, the event has grown into a massive Halloween party. In 2016, over 7,000 costumed people turned out for “Athens’s Mardi Gras.” This year promised to be even bigger, and the Bear Team would be there to witness it.

But first, there was the matter of the game. Kickoff was slated for 3:30pm, and I spent all morning waiting, impatient and conflicted. Though Georgia, off to a tremendous start at 7-0, was favored by 14 points, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.

The game and the Rumpus taking place on the same day has caused me problems for years. Way too often I’d found myself rushing to get ready to go out after witnessing a close win or, way too often, loss. While a win brought a euphoria to our excursions into the night, a loss put a damper on the whole thing. Georgia had every reason to win, but in this game, there is always a way for the Dawgs to lose.

So yeah, I was nervous. Then the game began, and it was immediately apparent that there’d been no reason to be. The Dawgs dominated from beginning, exploding for 21 first quarter points behind the running of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Meanwhile, the defense was dominant, shutting down the Florida offense.

By the time the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Dawgs had delivered a 42-7 beatdown of their longtime nemesis. The game wrapped up around 7pm, leaving me with plenty of time to prepare for our night out. The only problem was the weather. For the last hour, a steady rain had been falling, giving us pause and threatening to ruin everything.

Eventually we decided to press on, bolstered by the news that the 830pm start time for the parade had been pushed back to 9pm. We put on our costumes (Pris from Blade Runner for Dena, and a random bandit/masked man for me) and drove downtown, parking in the Hancock Street parking deck. We paid the parking fee and headed out into the rain.

We hurried toward Hull Street, where the parade was to begin. Along the way we passed people in costumes, walking in the same direction. Before long, water found its way into my shoes, which began to squelch with every step. We headed on, crossing streets an inch deep in water. Finally, we made it past one final crosswalk and came upon a faceless horde.

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They were gathered at the intersection of Hull and Hancock Streets, huddled beneath umbrellas, but still chomping at the bit. We plunged into the crowd, slipping between serial killers, movie characters and everything in between. Somehow, in the middle of the throng, we found my brother, Matt, and his family.

Moments later Timi Conley, the Master of Ceremonies, appeared atop a platform nearby. The crowd roared as Conley, dressed as Max from “Where the Wild Things Are,” raised a horn to his lips and set the Wild Rumpus in motion.

Our group, which included Matt, his girlfriend Amber, my niece and nephew, Taylor and Matthew, Dena and I, joined the others as we headed through the streets of Athens. All around us people from all walks of life strolled along, dressed as demons and politicians and animals. Some people spend all year planning for the Rumpus, and it showed in the complexity of the costumes.

As the parade began, the rain stopped. I lowered our umbrella and began using it as a walking stick. The crowds lining both sides of the street grew as we turned onto Pulaski Street, and then Clayton. Matthew, dressed as Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” chased Taylor, raising his saw high above his head as onlookers cheered him on.

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We walked on, passing bands playing beneath pop up tents. Women dressed as jellyfish and men sporting horns and tails and carrying pitchforks wove through the crowd. A dog dressed as a nurse loped along, sniffing the ground and the walkers in turn. That’s right! In Athens, even our furry friends get in on the Halloween action!

We turned onto College Avenue, and the end was in sight. At the intersection of College and Washington, a banner stretched across the street welcoming us to “Rumpusland.” We passed beneath the banner and found ourselves in the middle of a dance party, as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller’ blared from a huge bank of speakers. We joined the crowd of revelers getting down in the shadow of City Hall.

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I began to take pictures of some of the more imaginative costumes as an aerial dancer twisted on ropes to our right. Out of nowhere, an adult dressed as Leatherface appeared, and Matthew joined him for a photo. I saw one person dressed as a T-Rex, and two others made up as Jason Voorhees and Freddie Kruger.

On the corner of College and Washington, an obviously out of place preacher yelled about sin through a megaphone, berating the crowd for its many sins. No one paid him much attention, preferring to avoid a confrontation and keep having fun.

Eventually, Matt and company decided to get the kids home. Dena and I headed for Flicker, a bar on Washington Street. The place was crowded, chock full of costumed revelers. We had a few beers and sat back to enjoy the night. Not a bad way to end the day!

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That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about the Wild Rumpus, visit the official website here.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll head North to visit one of Georgia’s natural treasures. It’s Anna Ruby Falls!

 

I See Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park

We’ve seen a lot so far on our tour: cities; towns; roadside attractions. We’ve been North and South, East and West. We’ve traveled on interstates, U.S. highways, State Routes and everything in between. We’ve eaten at some delicious restaurants and sampled some great beers. But heading into October, there was one thing we hadn’t done. We had yet to visit one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.

Modeled after the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, our great state has seven of its own. From waterfalls to mountains, Georgia boasts no shortage of natural phenomena. On a Friday in early October, we set out to add one of the state’s greatest wonders to our list. It was time to visit Tallulah Gorge.

The gorge, formed by the Tallulah River over millions of years, is a two-mile long chasm which reaches depths of as much as 1000 feet. The river flows through the gorge, cascading in a series of waterfalls. Nestled in Northeast Georgia in Rabun and Habersham counties, Tallulah Gorge State Park was created by former governor Zell Miller in the 1990s.

We left Athens and began the 69-mile drive on an unseasonably warm October morning, passing though Baldwin, Demorest, and Cornelia along the way. Climbing constantly, we rounded one last curve and entered Tallulah Falls at just after noon.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the town rivaled Niagara Falls in the tourism department. At its height, Tallulah Falls boasted 17 boarding houses and hotels to accommodate the thousands of tourists who came to view the six waterfalls and enjoy a little R&R. Local hotels offered horseback riding, tennis and other activities in addition to gorge access.

The beginning of the end for the town came in 1912, when Georgia Power began building a dam to harness the power of the falls. By 1913, the roar of the falls, once audible for miles, had quieted. Then in 1921, a fire tore through the town, damaging many of the structures. Very little that was destroyed was ever rebuilt.

Today, there isn’t much town left. Outside of the police station and a post office, there are only a few businesses still in operation. It is the type of town you could pass through without even realizing it. But it wasn’t the town that we came to see, it was the natural feature from which the town takes its name. And the gorge is anything but small.

We began our visit at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center, where we obtained some information about the available trails. The center, named after the noted conservationist and environmentalist, is filled with exhibits and is a great resource if you are looking to learn more about the natural history of the area.

Map in hand, we followed a green-carpeted ramp along a series of switchbacks until we arrived at ground level. We exited the center through a set of double doors and soon found ourselves at a trail head. After checking to make sure we had everything we needed, we set out to experience the gorge.

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The trail took us along the North rim of the gorge. We walked along the path, stopping at a series of overlooks, all of which were breathtaking; showing off the rocky cliffs and the river below. We gazed down at the picturesque L’ Eau d’Or Falls, and took in Oceana Falls before reaching the staircase.

If you’ve never been to Tallulah Gorge, listen to me now. When you see the sign that tells you that the Hurricane Falls trail is strenuous, pay attention to it. They aren’t kidding! From the rim, we took the metal stairs down, and down, and down. Eventually we reached a suspension bridge which spans the gorge over Hurricane Falls.

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We stepped out onto the bridge, which swayed from side to side under our feet. Midway we paused to take in Hurricane Falls, the highest waterfall in the park. The water rushed by, powered by one of the regular releases from the dam that return the river to its former glory. It is a stunning scene, staring down into the abyss. As more people headed across, the bridge moved more and more, giving pause to some of the younger hikers.

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We made it to the other side and came face to face with another staircase. This one climbed up the side of the gorge before disappearing. As we stood at the base of the stairs, an image of the sign warning us of the difficulty of the trail flashed across my mind. We steeled ourselves and began to climb.

Sometime later, I can’t say with any accuracy just how much later, we paused for a rest. The stairs are broken by landings, some of which feature benches where you can take a break. The handrails which run parallel to the stairs are wooden and splintered, and during our rest period, and noticed that someone had written “Ow! Me pica,” which translates to “Ow! It pokes me!”

Eventually we made it to the South rim of the gorge, where we paused for a drink of water. A sign promised more overlooks to the East and a return trip to the interpretive center to the West. Once we’d caught our breath, we decided to check out the overlooks. It turned out to be a great decision.

We walked along the trail, pausing to marvel at the views at every opportunity. After a bit we came upon some huge rocks protruding from the earth. We climbed on top of the biggest one and were afforded an incredible view of the rocky walls of the gorge, and the water far below. We sat on the rock and ate sandwiches, aware of the natural beauty all around us. Lunches don’t get much better.

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Energized by the food, we headed along the South Rim as the trail entered a grassy area away from the gorge. We crossed along Highway 441 via the Tallulah Lake dam, shying away from the cars which rocketed by to our left. Once we’d navigated the dam, we headed back into the woods along the North Rim. Soon we approached the end of the trail. Just after we paused at one last overlook, the interpretive center came into view. Minutes later, we were in the parking lot.

Back in the car, we headed for a place I remembered from childhood. We turned on a side road and soon found ourselves at the Tallulah Point Overlook; a combination gift shop, restaurant and viewing area left over from the gorge’s glory days.

We entered the shop and browsed through the wares, eventually finding our way onto the porch overlooking the gorge. The walls were plastered with vintage photos of the area, along with posters hyping Karl Wallenda, who famously walked across the gorge on a tight rope in 1970.

The overlook is an anachronism; a relic from a former era akin to all the old Route 66 roadside attractions from the past. Inside, the shop features T shirts, local art and the oldest Coca-Cola cooler you will ever see. It is more than worth your time.

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By the time we left the overlook, we were exhausted and ready to head home. As we drove South, I was left to consider just how lucky I am to live so close to so much beauty and history. Tallulah Gorge is a treasure; a natural wonder. And it resides in my own backyard.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Tallulah Gorge, visit the official website here.

Until later…

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Watson Mill State Park

On a June day in 2002, my life changed forever.

It was hot that Sunday; though the calendar said it was spring, everything about the conditions outside told me it was already summer. I parked on a street in front of a house in Commerce, Georgia, walked up to the door, and knocked. A few seconds (it felt like days!) later the door swung open and the woman who would become my wife stood in the threshold.

We’d met at work through a co-worker, and were about to embark upon our first date. A day date is unusual, but to us, it somehow seemed right. We drove to Athens, where we had lunch at Gautreau’s (a Cajun restaurant that has since gone the way of so many great places and closed). After that, we found ourselves at a loss for something to do. Eventually, we decided to go to Watson Mill State Park. From that point forward, the park would be a special place for us.

Over the years, we’ve been to Watson Mill quite a bit, though sometimes years would pass between visits. When we began the I See Georgia tour, we knew we had to include the park. So, it was that we found ourselves cruising through the countryside on an early September day, headed for Madison County.

Watson Mill Bridge State Park is located between Comer and Lexington, along the banks of the South Fork of the Broad River. We entered the park by passing through the centerpiece, the bridge from which it takes its name. The longest covered bridge in the state, Watson Mill Bridge extends 229 feet across the river. Built in 1885 by Washington King, son of famous bridge-builder Horace King, it is one of just 20 covered bridges left in Georgia.

Driving through the bridge has always felt like entering another world for me. As our car bumped over the wooden supports, headlights piercing the gloom, we could see the light entering from the other end. A new and exciting world was waiting for us.

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Soon we’d exited the bridge, paid our $5.00 parking fee, and walked down to the river. All over, people were wading in the water, lounging in chairs and generally enjoying the day. We walked along, taking in the scene. Before long, we stood at the head of a woodland trail.

We entered the woods and walked along the trail as the sounds of civilization gradually faded. By the time we’d gone a mile, we might as well have been in an unexplored wilderness. There were no cars, no man-made structures and, best of all, no people; only the rolling water to keep us company. We strolled along, climbing and descending, using tree roots as natural stairs.

The path eventually took us away from the river, heading deeper into the woods. By the time we’d reached the halfway point on the loop, a deep silence had fallen over the area. The only sounds came from our footsteps as we crunched over leaves and pine cones.

Eventually we completed the loop and came out downriver from the bridge. We emerged from the woods and walked out on rocks jutting from the water. Taking a few minutes to rest, we were afforded a spectacular view of the river as it cascaded over weathered stones and around outcroppings.

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We then ventured to the other side of the river, where another trail took us past the ruins of the old mill, then along the bank and back into the woods. All along the path we could hear see and hear wildlife beneath the canopy of trees. From time to time we would encounter another hiker, but for the most part, the trail was ours.

Once we’d reached the end of the trail, we turned around and headed back the way we’d come, eventually coming once more to the bridge, where we sat watching the river flow over the falls. The river was up, and the water looked almost like a sheet of glass. Sunlight reflected off the river as it ran over the edge. It was a beautiful scene, in one of the most beautiful parks in our state. As we sat reflecting on how far we’d come since that first visit, I snapped a picture that looked more like a painting that a photo. It is one of my all-time favorites.

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Soon, it was time to go. We walked back to the car, eager to get out of the heat. As we crossed the bridge for the second time that day, we knew that we’d be back soon. As I mentioned earlier, the park is a special place for us; the place where our life together began.

Before long we were on the way back to Athens. As is always the case, the end of the trip wasn’t really the end. There is another destination waiting just around the corner. Our tour around the state has covered the last six months, but our adventure as a couple has gone on for fifteen years. Thankfully, much like our I See Georgia tour, there is no end in sight!

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That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Watson Mill State Park, visit the official website at http://gastateparks.org/WatsonMillBridge.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll head North and descend into one of the seven natural wonders of Georgia. It’s Tallulah Gorge State Park!