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!

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

I See Georgia: Buford

When we left Athens on a hot Saturday afternoon, visiting a city or town wasn’t really on our radar. We’d been so many places since beginning our tour in April, but now we had something entirely different on tap. As we ventured into Gwinnett County, the only thing on our minds was completing a circle that began with a single line of verse:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Stephen King wrote this line, the first in his epic Dark Tower series, in the late 1970s. It would take him a quarter century to finish the story. Of all King’s books, and believe me, Dena and I have read them all, nothing can compete with the tale of Roland of Gilead and his quest.

We love these books; so much so that the long-theorized film version intrigued us to no end. Now, after years of false starts, cast comings and goings, and a handful of directorial changes, the movie had finally been released.

I’d received a cinema gift card for my birthday back in May, but since we don’t have a Regal theater in Athens, I hadn’t used it. What better time than now! The closest Regal cinemas are in Gwinnet County. So, we made our way to Buford.

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Incorporated in the 1870s, Buford grew up around the railroad tracks that pass through it. Its prominence as a railroad stop, along with a booming leather industry, led to population growth in the early 1900s. Today, Buford has around 12,000 residents, and if you’d like to see them all in one place, you need only visit the Mall of Georgia on a Saturday afternoon.

The mall, which opened in 1999, is the largest one in Georgia, and it is massive! We were a little early for the movie, so we walked around for a bit. The place was overflowing with people: shoppers trying to find deals at Belk, JC Penny and Macy’s; diners grabbing a bite at the massive food court; young people walking around in packs and calling out to one another. We went into a few stores, but given the throngs of people, were unable to do any shopping. We ended up heading for the theater a little early.

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The cinema is located on the third floor, so we took the escalator to the top. Tickets cost nearly $15.00 each (more than I had on the gift card!), so we decided against purchasing any drinks or snacks. We found the theater where our movie would play, then spend the next twenty minutes trying to buy skittles from a coin machine. Really. Every time we would put quarters in and turn the crank, nothing would happen. Eventually we just gave up and went inside.

The theater was sparsely populated, so we had our choice of seats. We settled in and, after a series of previews, the Dark Tower began. Ninety minutes later, we walked out of the theater not sure just how to feel. While the movie had its moments, the whole thing seemed rushed. I suppose that happens when you try to cram 4,000 pages of action into one film. I found myself a little disappointed, though Idris Elba did a fine job as Roland the Gunslinger.

When we left the mall, it was dinner time. We hopped into the car and headed for a place I’d found online that claimed to have some of the best BBQ around. A few minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot of the uniquely named Praise the Lard.

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We walked inside and were immediately struck by the décor. There was work by local artists all over the walls, and “Praise the Lard” was spelled in huge metal letters over the dining room. We approached the counter to place our order, scanning the menu while waiting for our turn.

Praise the Lard is my kind of place. The menu was short and to the point, offering pork, brisket, ribs, chicken or turkey along with a handful of sides. We both settled on pulled pork plates. I went with slaw and Brunswick stew, while Dena settled on stew and collard greens.

Another reason why Praise the Lard is awesome: the table markers they give out to help the waiter find you are adorned with pictures of professional wrestlers from the 1980s. We were given Superstar Billy Graham, but I also saw The Four Horsemen, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Stan Hansen, and Sergeant Slaughter.

When our food arrived, it was everything I’d hoped for and more. The pork was tender and delicious, and the tomato based stew was hot and tangy. Several BBQ sauces were offered, and I tried them all, including a vinegar based, North Carolina style, and the thicker, more tangy Praise the Lard sauce. Full and happy, we paused to speak with the owner, who told us about the artwork and the atmosphere he wanted to create, and thanked us for coming.

After dinner, we drove to the small, downtown area of Buford and parked on the main street. We took a walk past the stores and restaurants, pausing now and then to check out an interesting spot. The town runs alongside railroad tracks, and is dotted here and there by small parks and green spaces. We passed other people out for a walk, many of whom were accompanied by dogs.

By the time we reached the outskirts of town, darkness was approaching We turned around and headed back. As we neared the car, I paused long enough to snap a photo of the main strip of businesses. Small towns have many similarities, but each one is unique, featuring its own oddities and quirks.

Soon we were in the car, on our way home. Buford is a nice town, even if most people only visit the retail intensive area just off I-85. As we cruised along highway 29, passing through towns like Lawrenceville, Auburn, and Winder, I was already planning our next trip. There are still so many places to see!

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information on Buford, visit the official website at http://www.cityofbuford.com/.

Until later…

Next Time: We’ll visit yet another city, town or place in our great state. While I’m not sure which one yet, it’s bound to be entertaining!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: A Look Back

“The longer we keep looking back in the rear view mirror, it takes away from everything that’s moving forward.”

The above quote, from Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, certainly has merit. If anyone knows the dangers of looking back, it must be him. Still, I don’t see any harm in a little reminiscence; especially when looking back on the things we’ve seen, done, eaten and drank so far on our I See Georgia tour.

Our odyssey began on April 14th in Macon. Since that Spring day, we’ve crisscrossed our state, with stops ranging from Milledgeville to Dahlonega; Rome to Warner Robbins. Along the way, we’ve Kayaked on Broad River, sampled beer at the Terrapin brewery, and witnessed a solar eclipse. Our tour is nothing if not eclectic!

Georgia is diverse. So much so that we’ve seen mountains and beaches; hills and plains; lakes and rivers. Each trip has unlocked more of Georgia’s treasures. We’ve visited both cities and small towns on our tour, as well as meeting people from all walks of life.

One of our favorite things to do in a new place is sample the food. Over the past few months, we’ve eaten at a multitude of restaurants. We’ve also sampled beers from many local breweries. In fact, food has played such a prominent role on our tour that we’ve often considered changing the title of this blog from “I See Georgia” to “I ate Georgia.”

Now, after five months of traveling around our state, we’d like to pause for a moment to share some of our favorites from the tour so far. But first, a few observations:

  1. South Georgia is hot! While the entire state, along with rest of the Southeast, has brutal summers, Southern Georgia is the only place where you constantly feel as if you are sitting in a sauna while wrapped in a wet blanket.
  2. Georgia is big. We’ve driven 300 miles or more on some of our trips. In the Northeast, you’d be in another state if you drove that far. In Europe, you’d be in another country!
  3. Every town has its claim to fame. No matter where we go, there is always something that makes each place unique. From cherry blossoms in Macon to antebellum homes in Madison, every city has its thing.
  4. North Georgia is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes; It’s all there to be found.
  5. Every person in Monticello, Georgia has a trailer attached to his or her vehicle. Seriously!
  6. There are UGA football fans in every corner of the state. And not just a few. Walk into a store in any town in Georgia, and you’ll likely find something University of Georgia themed for sale. We are the Dawgs, and we are legion!

On to the favorites. In the interest of brevity, I’ve chosen a handful of places and things to mention. So many attractions, So much food, so many beers, so little time…

-Favorite small town: Madison. We’ve visited or passed through quite a few idyllic small towns on the tour, but this village of 4,000 between Athens and Macon is so beautiful that General Sherman spared it from his torch, or so local legend has it. Runner up: Covington.

-Favorite soul food: Bear’s Den, Macon. The first stop on our tour yielded a down home, lunch that has yet to be topped. Fried chicken and Southern sides; What more could you want?
Runner up: Fenders Diner, Cornelia

-Favorite place to relax with a beer: Tubby’s, Savannah. Sitting outside on a patio, sipping a local brew while overlooking the Savannah River? Yes, please!
Runner up: Troll Tavern, Helen.

-Favorite odd attraction: Guidestones, Elberton. In Georgia, it doesn’t get much more mysterious than the granite monolith in Elbert County. To this day, no one knows who is responsible.
Runner up: The tree that owns itself, Athens.

-Favorite burger: The Rookery, Macon. Cheese, sautéed onion, B&B pickles, mustard and Coca-cola ketchup. Plus, you can write on the walls!
Runner up: Harvest Moon Café, Rome

-Favorite quirky event: World’s largest whoopee cushion, Covington. I’ll always be grateful that we were present for the historic moment when a horde of young people helped set a Guiness World’s Record.
Runner up: Are you kidding me?

-Favorite natural event: Solar Eclipse. Nothing we’ve done has compared to sitting outside and watching the sun disappear. One for the ages.
Runner up: Nothing, but I’ll tell you our least favorite. Tropical Storm Irma: F*** you!

Favorite disquieting place: Central State Hospital, Milledgeville. Once the largest mental hospital in the country, the buildings have fallen into disrepair. I can’t imagine a more haunted place!
Runner up: Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah

Favorite ethnic restaurant: Bratzeit, Dahlonega. Schnitzel with mushroom sauce and bratwurst with curry ketchup. Plus, strudel!
Runner up: Metropolis Café, Milledgeville.

Favorite Cemetery: Myrtle Hill, Rome. Naming a favorite cemetery might seem a little morbid, but we always enjoy visiting historic burial places. Myrtle Hill, built on terraces to avoid flooding, is as unique as they come.
Runner up: Rose Hill, Macon

Favorite local beer: Tropicalia, Athens. What can I say, we love it!
Runner up: Tybee Island Blonde, Savannah.

-Favorite restaurant: Crab Shack, Tybee Island. This was a tough one. We’ve been to so many great places, but nothing tops enjoying seafood so fresh it might have been in the water that same day.
Runner up: Belford, Savannah

And, finally…

-Favorite city: Savannah. We’ve visited so many great places, it was hard to narrow the list down, but Savannah takes the top spot. How could anyone who has been to this Southern gem put it anywhere else on any list? Savannah has everything: food, history, beer. Plus, it is located both on a river and near the coast. What else could you ask for?
Runner up: Macon

That’s it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it! For more information about the places mentioned above, follow this blog at https://jkmaxwell76.wordpress.com/.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll visit a small town with one large feature. It’s the home of the Mall of Georgia, Buford!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See Georgia: University of Georgia vs Samford University

One thing you need to know about me right up front: I’m a Bulldog.

I have been for as long as I can remember. I’ve lived most of my life in Northeast Georgia, and I’ve spent it tearing my insides out, trying to win every time UGA takes the field. I’ve written at length on my love of Georgia football, and won’t delve too deeply into my fandom here. Suffice to say, when the idea for “I See Georgia” began to gestate in my head, a game in Sanford Stadium would no doubt be on the agenda.

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My initial plan was to attend Georgia’s season opener vs Appalachian State. There was only one problem: I didn’t have tickets. I spent the week leading up to the game watching prices on StubHub, certain that they would drop by the weekend. Unfortunately, the usual rules didn’t apply. By Saturday, the cheapest seats were going for $75. I’d have to wait.

The Dawgs (yes, that’s how we spell it!) beat App State 31-10. The next game was a road tilt in South Bend, Indiana against Notre Dame. Once again, UGA was victorious, pulling out a 20-19 win behind freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and a dominant defense led by Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith.

The stage was set for the next game, a home date against FCS opponent Samford. This time I didn’t procrastinate, securing two $40 tickets to the game well in advance. For this stop on the tour my brother Matt would be filling in for Dena, and in the week leading up to kickoff, we planned our game day.

I’ve been to quite a few games over the years, including memorable wins as well as excruciating losses. For this game, there shouldn’t be much chance of experiencing the latter, though you never know. Samford, a small school, has an enrollment of just 5,500 students. When compared with Georgia’s 36,000, it isn’t much of a surprise that top athletes don’t flock to Homewood, Alabama.

The original plan was to walk, but when the thermometer crept into the eighty-five-degree range, I began to re-think the idea. Our house is approximately two miles from Sanford Stadium, and I didn’t want to be dripping with sweat before we even made it to the end of the street. To make things easier, Dena agreed to drive us.

We left the house at 4:45pm, with our first destination being the tailgate of Matt’s friend Anthony. Dena dropped us off in what we thought was the vicinity of Anthony’s setup. We jumped out of the car and spent the next forty-five minutes wandering around East Campus, trying to find Anthony. Matt was in constant contact with his friend, via both text and phone call, but we still couldn’t find him. At some point, I began to wonder if the tailgate was like the village of the Smurfs and was invisible unless it wanted to be seen.

Eventually we gave up, though not before walking along about three miles of forlorn railroad tracks. With the tailgate nowhere to be found, we headed for the UGA Bookstore, if for no other reason than to get out of the sun. The bookstore is across the street from the stadium, and I had my picture taken in front of the huge University of Georgia sign which rises above the end zone.

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We walked inside and were immediately swallowed up by the throng of fans attempting to purchase Georgia gear. There were a lot of people in the bookstore; so many that we didn’t so much walk down the aisles as we were carried down them.

When we emerged from the store, we decided a drink was in order. We walked up Lumpkin Street and soon found ourselves downtown, where we ducked into Cozy Bar. Inside, the small joint off Clayton Street was deserted, but blissfully cool. We sat at the bar and I ordered a Terrapin Hopsecutioner. I’d just taken my first sip when my cousin Pete texted asking where we were.

Growing up, Pete was my partner in crime. Every Sunday we would go to my grandparents’ house in Bowman, where the two of us spent the entire day coming up with money-making schemes, wreaking havoc with the house and the surrounding property, and turning our parents’ hair gray well in advance of middle age.

As adults, we are united by a shared love of UGA. Matt and I were just ordering a second round when Pete and his wife Amanda arrived. We sat at a table and talked about the upcoming game and the season so far. At some point, Matt returned from the bar with a pair of shot glasses filled with a neon green concoction called a Starburst melon shot. We knocked back the drinks, which tasted like watermelon juice mixed with pure sugar, then headed for the stadium.

As we walked, I saw multiple people with one of their feet in casts or braces of some kind. Then I saw an older man who didn’t have a leg on which to put a cast. He was hobbling along on one good leg and a metallic one that looked like the bottom half of a crutch. It seems that no infirmity is enough to keep fans away from the team they love!

At the other end of the spectrum, I saw girls attempting to navigate railroad tracks, stairs, rocks and other rough terrain while wearing heels or clunky sandals. I appreciate trying to be fashionable, but you would think something more practical would be in order.

We entered Sanford Stadium approximately 40 minutes prior to kickoff. Pete and Amanda’s tickets were on the other side of the field, so it was time to part ways. Before we split up, Amanda had a UGA staff member take a picture of the four of us. Then we all headed for our sections.

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Our tickets were in section 102, near the West end zone and about 10 rows behind the small visiting fan contingent. We squeezed our way onto the bench which serves as seating with 35 minutes to go until game time.

As various announcements were made over the public-address system, Devon Gales popped up on the Jumbotron. The crowd roared. Gales, a Southern University player who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in a 2015 game between Georgia and the Jaguars, was adopted by the Bulldog Nation, which has followed his recovery ever since.

During player introductions, I found myself marveling over the cheer that rose from the fans at the mention of each player’s name. Even long snapper Trent Frix received a roar. The SEC must be the only conference in which every player, no matter how anonymous to the casual fan, receives such adulation.

A few minutes before kickoff, we stood and joined the rest of the crowd in pointing to the second deck of the Southwestern corner of the stadium, where the lone trumpet soloist led the rest of the band into the Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation. Those first few solemn trumpet notes always tug at my heartstrings. Maybe I care a little too much!

Finally, 7:30 arrived and Samford kicked off. After an exchange of punts, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, filling in for injured starter Jacob Eason, connected with Mecole Hardman on a five-yard touchdown pass. Two minutes later, sensational senior running back Nick Chubb ripped off a 36-yard run for another score and it was 14-0 Georgia.

The fact that the Bulldogs were playing an over-matched opponent did next to nothing to dampen fan enthusiasm. After every questionable ruling by the officiating crew, the man in front of us would leap to his feet and scream at the referee. Fan passion knows no bounds!

Georgia’s passing game has been touch and go since Eason was injured early in the season opener vs Appalachian State. Fromm, a five-star recruit, had spent most of the previous two games alternating between plays that provoked reactions ranging from “Wow! He’s a freshman!” to “Damn! He’s a freshman.” Early in the second quarter, he had one of the former on a fifty-yard touchdown pass to Terry Godwin.

The game reached halftime with Georgia leading 21-7. While the Dawgs were playing well, the score was still a little closer than I’d hoped. During intermission, we hit the restroom, then paid $7 each for cokes at the concession stand. All I could think was that in any other environment, a $7 drink would contain a substantial amount of alcohol.

The second half began with a Samford fumble, followed by another Chubb touchdown. Chubb, who surprised everyone with his decision to spurn the NFL and return for one last season, rushed for 131 yards on the day. After his second scoring run, he took a seat for the remainder of the game.

At this point, we were subjected to the abomination of abominations: the Karaoke Cam. For the fortunate among you who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it consists of a bad song playing over the PA while the out-of-tune crowd sings along. In this case, the song was Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” I protested by merely humming along.

One the tone-deaf singing was over, Godwin struck again, hauling in a ten-yard touchdown pass. It was now 35-7, and the only thing in doubt was the final score. Georgia piled on more when freshman running back DeAndre Swift scored late in the third quarter. For once, my Dawgs were pulling away from a lesser opponent, leaving no room for drama.

The third quarter came to an end, and we joined 93,000 others by rising to our feet and holding four fingers in the air as the band played “Krypton Fanfare.” This has been a tradition for as long as I can remember. During the last few seasons, fans have also begun turning on the flashlights on their cell phones and holding them up at night games. Following suit, we lit up Sanford Stadium as the final period drew near.

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As time winded down, a mass exodus began. I’ve always believed if you pay for sixty minutes of football, then that’s what you should witness. It is a stance that I’ve rarely abandoned, only leaving early when my team is hopelessly out of the game. We stayed to the very end, watching Georgia wrap up a 42-14 win. When it was over, we followed the crowd out of the stadium and began our walk home. It had been a good night, and we savored the expected, but always sweet victory.

We walked along the railroad tracks, following them even when they veered away from the road and into the woods. Eventually we would reconnect with the street, but for now, we were content to stay off the beaten path. The win improved Georgia’s record to 3-0, and moved them up to #11 in the Associated Press poll. There was still a lot of football to be played, but on this night, the future didn’t matter. It was all about the present, and basking in the afterglow of a win.

That does it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about UGA football, visit the official website as www.georgiadogs.com.

Until later…

Next time: We’ll look back on everything we’ve witnessed so far. It’s been an eventful summer, and the I See Georgia tour is still going strong!