Posts Tagged With: Georgia mountains

Georgia Mountains Getaway

It’s spring, and Jackie and I wanted to get out in the motorhome to enjoy it before summer season hits, so we planned a week in the Georgia mountains. Since our Panama City Beach vacation has been cancelled we thought it would be good to explore more state parks near home. And a good choice it was. First stop was Talullah Gorge State Park in northeastern Georgia. It took us about 2 hours early on a Sunday morning to get here, but it seems like we are much farther from the metro area as we drive into the bright green mountains.

Wildflowers, Waterfalls and Wallenda

 

As we checked in at the campground we noticed a “Campground Full” sign posted, but we soon figured that must have been for the weekend, since the place nearly emptied out by Sunday evening. Nice level spot with lots of room and we made camp easily. This site has water and electric, which is just fine. The weekend before the trip the motorhome got a good scrubbing – thanks to Jackie and her brother John, who both worked on cleaning the van to a sparkling white.

 

Talullah Gorge and Falls are just below a Georgia Power operated dam and Sunday was to have an aesthetic release of water, a much larger volume of water than normal that would make the falls much more robust. We wanted to see that so we started out on the path that led to the first overlook, a rock outcrop high above the gorge. As I was standing at the rail, snapping some pictures of the falls, I heard gasps and commotion behind me only to look down and see Jackie falling forward into the iron rail and down on the rocks.

The overlook that caused problems

While looking at the falls, she missed the step off the wood platform and couldn’t recover her balance as she fell forward. Although she banged her head darn hard into the rail, it was hugely fortunate that it was there. So many folks helped check her out (a nurse who was hiking the trail, several other visitors, the park rangers who hustled down the path and the EMTs that we called to have Jackie looked at). Several ice packs, bottles of water, some time laying back on a bench and lots of TLC later she walked out to the parking lot with the EMTs as we all made sure she was just fine.

So that is how our week’s adventure started off – a bit of a scare. As Jackie said, “we have hiked all around the US on much more difficult terrain!” but it is a reminder to walk while watching the path and stopping to watch the scenery, not both.

 

 

 

After some ibuprofen and a good night’s rest Jackie felt up to trying the hike again. The hike to the bottom of the Gorge is mostly a series of stairways down to the lowest level. Before you reach the lowest platforms there is a very cool suspension bridge about 80’ above the river that has some great views. We noticed that the waterfalls were just beautiful with the normal flow of water, but later witnessed much larger volume as they did another aesthetic release.

 

The hillsides were loaded with mountain laurel in bloom and a few remaining rosebay rhododendron blossoms. Sweet shrub, speedwell and a few trillium were also in bloom. The cool air in the gorge felt good as we made our way up the many, many steps back to the top.

After lunch back at camp, we drove north a few miles to the town of Clayton. The old main street was filled with cute shops and eateries and one stop just called out to us: Farmhouse Donuts. We only bought 4 donuts, but they were so delicious and calorie-laden (it involved caramel, peanut butter cups, Bavarian cream, apple filling, whipped cream, chocolate sauce) that as dessert and again with breakfast, they more than did the trick to satisfy our sugar craving.

 

 

The next day we headed back to the Interpretive Center and took the North Rim trail up and along to Inspiration Point. It was at this spot that Karl Wallenda in 1970 made a crossing of the gorge on a cable, without nets or safety harness and performing two headstands along the way. The remains of the dismantled tower lay along the rim at that spot. To give you a sense of how high up you are, we were looking down on a dozen turkey vultures who were catching the updrafts and thermals. Quite something to watch them zooming around, banking and gliding on the air currents. Kodi came along with us on this hike, but he was happy when we turned back and headed for the car. One last wildlife sighting was a large king snake making his way along the meadows edge. Cool.

 

Dropping Kodi off at the motorhome, we drove off in search of another waterfall hike – somewhere near Lake Rabun heading toward the town of Tiger. As we serpentined our way along the shoreline of Lake Rabun we fell in love with the gorgeous homes and boathouses that lined the lake. Clearly out of our price range.

 

 

   

 

 

We found the parking spot at the trailhead for Angel and Panther Falls in a National Forest campground. A good choice for a future visit. The trail to the two falls was supposed to be a mile in, but it sure seemed farther than that as we climbed upward along the stream on a mostly narrow, root-filled trail. But it was worth it to see both of these refreshing and beautiful falls. Again, the stream was lined with loads of blooming mountain laurel and we spotted a few native azaleas just finishing their bloom. We clicked the GPS tracking on our new Fitbit Charge 3’s at the far end of the falls, only to find that it was indeed a mile each way. Sure seemed like more.

 

Well after that hike we needed some refueling. Drove a bit further to Clayton again and parked ourselves at the Universal Joint – a converted gas station with a wonderful outdoor patio. Jackie was in heaven when she saw they had her favorite on tap: Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. The zippy pimento cheese sandwich she had with it just made her whole day. I had a delicious Brisket Dip sandwich with Bell’s Oberon – a beer that I will definitely have again.

 

One final stop on the way back to camp was in Tiger at “Goats on the Roof” – a roadside attraction not to be missed if you have kids. A whole lot of goats were really grazing on the rooftops, with connecting bridges to all sorts of other rooftops. Ok, then.

Black Rock Mountain

Midweek it was time to pull up and head further north to Black Rock Mountain State Park. This trip was close enough to home that we didn’t trailer the car, Jackie just drove behind. Made it a bit easier on the motorhome, too. I realized that was a smart move as we wound our way up the Black Rock Parkway – a very twisty road with lots of blind curves. Fortunately no one else was coming down the mountain and I was able to negotiate the curves with gusto.

 

The campground is perched along the ridge of the mountain and our site is a nice pull-through 2-level spot. Not a lot of negotiating room around here though. There are some awesome sites further along the ridge with loads of hybrid rhododendrons in bloom, but I really wouldn’t want to have to drive to the far reaches in our motorhome.

 

Some of the trail hikes we did here are a bit short, but still a lot of elevation changes. Norma Campbell Cove trail was filled with trillium, native azalea, false solomon’s seal, true solomon’s seal and some columbine. Ada-hi Falls trail downward on stairs and slopes to the falls was lined with a new wildflower for me: white clintonia, with galax, saxifrage and moccasin-flower. The Black Rock Lake trail was fairly easy and flat around the lake past Greasy Falls and also wildflower-lined. We hope to try a portion of the Tennessee Rock Trail before we leave the park – since it is supposed to have a great view to the north to Tennessee and across to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

   

Our hiking here was in short bits, but the views from the several overlooks are spectacular. The green mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest spread out before you as you look toward the southern Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Wow.

We drove down the mountain to have lunch in Clayton, this time at the Rusty Bike Cafe. It was a very busy spot with locals and we ordered blackened chicken sandwiches that were quite filling. Needing to work off that lunch, we hiked around the Foxfire Heritage Center, a celebration of the mountain lifestyle made famous by the student-written magazines and books from the 60’s and 70’s. The relocated and restored cabins in this mountain hideaway tell a unique story that continues through classes and activities today. It was nice to visit a place and story that inspired much of my early outdoor education activities as a naturalist.

 

 

Since rain is expected for later in the week, we are heading to Franklin, NC to meet with Vickie’s sister Sharon and sample two breweries on our list: Lazy Hiker and Currahee Brewing. As it turned out, the day was just beautiful weather and we enjoyed both breweries.

 

Along the way in Otto we had to stop and wander through Culpepper’s Salvage to see if there was anything we could repurpose or use at home. An absolutely fascinating place to poke around if you need any old beams, windows, iron fence, knobs, lights … well, you get the idea. Picture-rich spot.

 

 

   

Sharon took us toward Highlands to stop at my brother’s favorite place in town: Wilderness Taxidermy. This workshop and museum of trophy animals, fish and mounts was loads of fun to look at and we enjoyed chatting with the taxidermist working on an elk mount.

 

  

Back at camp it was a quiet, starry night … until it wasn’t, early in the morning. The predicted thunderstorms and rain hit hard and we spent the morning having a second cup of coffee and plotting the final day on the mountain. Hikes were out of the question in the rain, so we are going to hang out at an indoor flea market in Clayton, then gather our things and prepare for the trip down the mountain and back home. We did manage one short walk along the road to an overlook between rainstorms and found a new friend warming himself on the roadway: a red salamander. Never have seen such a bright orange critter, and not too sure he was happy about the selfie.

It was a terrific getaway week in the Georgia Mountains. We enjoyed spring wildflowers, waterfalls, challenging hikes, green mountain vistas, some good beer with family and learned a little more about life in the Appalachian Mountains.

If you want to see what it’s like from the driver’s seat going down the road from Black Rock Mountain, watch the new video “Leaving Black Rock Mountain” – but hold on tight, it is a wild ride.

Upcoming adventures that await us are a retirement party on our deck for three of our teaching colleagues who are joining our ranks and another Caribbean cruise with Dad, Jeff and Vickie. This cruise was to have been on the Oasis of the Seas, but the fallen crane damage in port canceled that cruise, so we are now booked on Harmony of the Seas heading to the newly opened Perfect Day at Coco Cay, St. Thomas and St. Marten. Can’t wait. Stay tuned for more “Happenings,” pictures and stories.

 

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Not So Smoky Mountains

Finally another posting and story to tell.

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Vogel State Park

Since returning from the Florida Keys we have been busy with family and friends this fall, including volunteering at the Acworth Craft Beer Festival (check out Happenings page).  But we did want to fit in one last trip before we winterized the RV, so we plotted an adventure to the Georgia mountains.  Trouble is, as you know we are in the midst of a drought and there are several big wildfires in the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina.  So the smoke haze that has been felt in Atlanta and the stories of evacuations in the mountains made us rather skeptical we should be heading into trouble.

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Smoky view of Vogel St. Park

But it seemed that our destination, Vogel State Park, was in-between the major fires and might be worth a visit.  Off to the mountains we went and what fun it was to drive the many switchbacks of the curving ascent to Neels Gap and Vogel State Park, the oldest of Georgia’s state parks.  There were maybe only a dozen campers in a gorgeous rhododendron-filled glen, but we definitely did see the haze of smoke as we walked around Lake Trahlyta and the campground to get our bearings.  Staff at the camp store warned us about the resident bear, so we were hopeful for a late-night sighting.

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Smoky view from the lake at Vogel St. Park

Next day’s challenge was to hike the 4.2 mile Bear Hair Gap trail between the campground and the base of Blood Mountain.  Parts of this loop were on the much longer (12.9 mile) Coosa Backcountry Trail, so we tried our best to watch the trail blazes to stay on the right trail, with a few head-scratching moments at the intersections.  We took the steeper route up and around, preferring to get the tough part over with first.  More than half the leaves were down so visibility was good but there was still a lot of golden brown color, with pops of yellow and red.

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Ohhhh Noooo, not Blood Mountain!

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The Vogel Overlook was a good spot to take a break and admire the view.  We passed several hikers on the loop, compared experiences and confirmed directions.  A quiet hike, with no wildlife spotting at all (unlike our crazy backyard refuge). Maybe tomorrow.

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View from Vogel Overlook

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Made it to the overlook!

Rested and refreshed after a good steak dinner in camp, we set out the next day to hike part of the Appalachian Trail from Neels Gap to Blood Mountain.  In our day packs we had water, light lunch, fruit and snacks.  What we forgot were our hiking sticks (argh!).

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Tree of hiking shoes at the hostel.

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Walasi-yi hostel

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Walasi-yi Interpretive Center

We drove up the road to Neels Gap and the Walasi-yi Hostel and Interpretive Center – a great old stone building constructed in 1937 and now an outfitter post with plenty of hiking supplies.  We spoke with the staff of Mountain Crossings about the hike:

  • 4.3 mile out and back trail
  • 1,471 feet elevation change (gain and loss of 3,000 feet elevation)
  • “You should be fine”

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Off we went to hike a section of the AT on a cool fall day.  With a shift in wind direction, the air was surprisingly clear and free of smoke haze.  The trail starts as a moderate slope upward around the mountain, but soon becomes a series of switchbacks and stone stairways that head up the slope at a steeper angle.  Lots of pauses later the trail seemed to level out a bit and even head downhill just a bit until we reached a section of boulder-climbing and more rocky ascent.

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Once past that section we were sure the summit was near, as the trees were more compressed and windswept and there were more patches of bald rock.  Passing several other hikers heading down we were told “it’s just 10 minutes more” or “just ahead.”  Yet the trail kept heading uphill.  Well, we did eventually make it to the rock shelter at the summit (a CCC construction that sadly had trash littered about) and looked for a spot to rest.

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The view at lunch

Facing west, we sat on a rock ledge to have lunch and enjoy the fantastic view.  Here we were on the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. It gave us that sense of wonder that helps put all things in perspective.  In the distance we could see smoke from fires in the Cohutta Wilderness and drifting further south.

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In other views we saw smoke to the east, but where we were was rather clear that day. Spoke with several others on the trail: a pair of college guys headed another 6 miles to Slaughter Mountain; another young man headed for the final 30 miles to Springer Mountain (he started at Mt. Katahdin in Maine); and a few young couples just hiking a version of what we did.  In all, we probably passed about three dozen hikers.  We recalled our own spring hike on the AT approach trail from Amicalola Falls to the Hike Inn lodge (and that’s a story worth reading if you missed it!).

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Summit of Blood Mountain

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The view southeast

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Panorama of Blood Mountain view

Well, on this hike up 1,500 feet, you also have to hike back down again, so down we went.  This part was where we really missed those hiking sticks, since they are a big help in keeping your balance on the rocky and root-filled trail.  But we made it back to Neels Gap just before the center closed for the evening and got ourselves some shirts and drinks.  There was a good crowd outside the hostel sharing stories about their adventures and demonstrating far more energy than they should have (ah, youth!).

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Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park

Back in camp we had a few adult beverages and took a hot shower, feeling much better and grateful that we had such comfy accommodations.  A six hour hike, not exactly a record-setting pace, but a personal accomplishment for us both.  Jackie felt that this one was a tougher climb that the ones we did out west last year, but it was cooler weather and not quite the altitude. (4,459 for Blood Mountain, 6,000 to 13,000 in the Rockies).  Another great adventure (but the bear was a no-show).

Notes about our motorhome for RV’ers:

You might be interested in our experiences with our motorhome, one that we feel has served us well.  Last time we reported from our Keys trip that we lost the foot and springs from one of the leveling jacks.  In the weeks since that trip we ordered a replacement foot and springs to install.

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Leveling jack mid-repair

The tricky part of the install was stretching the springs long enough to be able to place the foot over the bottom pin of the hydraulic cylinder.  I read that by inserting wooden wedges along the spring it can be expanded enough to do the trick (and then when the cylinder and foot are extended the wedges will pop out of the spring as it extends).  Our latest discovery, however, is that the cylinder is not extending at all, so the wedges remain for now and we ponder how to finish the fix on this jack.  Either we lost hydraulic fluid, blew a fuse for that jack or the cylinder is simply stuck in place.  We have been able to level the wheels and the recent site was very level to begin with, but it needs to be resolved.  Hmm, this one may need some professional help.  So it goes.

Next Adventure?  Well, the Winnebago is getting winterized (freeze warnings for the weekend already), so it may not be until March or April before we head out in it again.  But there are always plenty of other adventures that await (some of them covered on our Foodie and Happenings pages).  Stay tuned – and thanks for being a faithful reader.

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Hike Inn Anniversary

Hike Inn Anniversary (3)

Rainy start to the 5 mile hike

You’re gonna love this post. For our 41st wedding anniversary this year we wanted to try something different and extend our adventures to a Georgia mountains challenge. So we booked a night at the Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park. If you don’t know about this place, let me fill you in.

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls

 

View from Amicalola Falls

View from Amicalola Falls

In 1998 the state built their first backcountry inn as a place that you could only reach by hiking 5 miles into the Chattahoochee National Forest from Amicalola Falls. Officially named the Len Foote Hike Inn, it is operated by the non-profit Appalachian Education & Recreation Services, an affiliate of the Georgia Appalachian Trail club.  The inn is just one mile from the Approach Trail that leads to Springer Mountain and the trailhead for the Appalachian Trail.

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The Hike Inn has 20 guest rooms in four clustered buildings: bunkhouse with lobby and gathering spot, bath house with showers and restrooms, dining hall reminiscent of summer camp, and a library of games, puzzles and sofas with wraparound deck and rocking chairs.  In fact, each building has a wraparound deck for great views.

Hike Inn

Hike Inn

You are provided with sheets, pillow and blankets for your bunk (two to a room) and a washcloth and towel to use in the showers … there were even cloth bathmats!  Afternoon snacks and drinks are ready for you when you arrive, which is a good thing, since you will probably be eager for some of that blueberry crumble or banana bread and iced tea after the 5 mile hike.  Dinner and breakfast the next morning are served family -style for guests.

View from Hike Inn

View from Hike Inn

So you get the picture.  A remote location in the Georgia Mountains that is pretty much on the Appalachian Trail.  An easy way to experience the trail without having to pack in your tent, food and supplies (and didn’t I mention hot showers, too?)  So while we couldn’t bring in a celebratory bottle of Champagne or even a nice Merlot, it was going to be a peaceful, backwoods hike in the mountains.  We hoped to chat up some new peeps and learn about other good day hikes in the area from folks like us — I mean, who else would be there on a Tuesday night in May?  Umm… well it’s a funny thing about being retired teachers: you are never really far from students.

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At last! Made it to the lodge.

 

Len Foote Hike Inn Lodge

Len Foote Hike Inn Lodge

As we joyously arrived at the end of the hike and stepped up to the lobby check-in, it became apparent that something was amiss.  Where were the seasoned hikers and elders who were ready to tell tales of their favorite treks?  We were surrounded by a class of twentysome 5th graders who were staying the night with us.  Seriously?  Oh yes, there it was.  All the familiar behaviors of middle-schoolers-in-training.

A class trip? Seriously?

A class trip? Seriously?

“So, Jackie, let’s go get a glass of iced tea and a snack in the dining room.”  Oh, but of course 5th graders live on sugar and iced tea, so it was slim pickins.  “I hear they have a game of cornhole set up,” Jackie said.  “I really wanna try it out.”  Nah, that location was now some sort of bean bag dodge ball going on.  “Ok, how about that nice porch swing out front?”  Nope, there was a game of musical chairs between the swing and the rocking chairs.  “The library?”  Now that was just too cozy a spot to pass up, if you were a youngster with no internet — so it was a mash-up of Jenga, a half-finished game of Monopoly, a puzzle (?) being worked on by the quiet one and kids flopped about on the comfy sofas.  And did I mention the wraparound decks?  You know, the kind where you can get away from someone who is chasing you and then, like, spy on someone else or maybe, I dunno, cut through the lobby for the fourth time in 15 minutes?  Well, at least there was the 5:00 tour of the buildings to look forward to . . .

Now don’t get me wrong, the location was great, the dinner and breakfast were delicious and there was a group of six other retirees who had hiked in for the night together.  But they were sort of huddled together for safety most of the night.  Oh, and the teachers and parent chaperones for the group (and our teaching buddies will know how that played out) were fun to chat with as we stood at the rail watching the antics around us.  It just wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

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Boardwalk was just that: boards.

As for the hike to the lodge, it was a good workout.  The day started with thunderstorms, but by the time we started the hike it was just all wet, drippy and a bit of slippery mud.  We crossed a few streams and climbed some steep inclines, and saw some woodland plants in bloom.  The mountain laurel that were in bud when we hiked Cloudland Canyon were in full flower here – large groves of them.  The rhododendron had finished, but there were literal forests of them — larger than I have seen.  I would pause to snap a picture, which was a good breather for Jackie, and suddenly we would notice a cluster of something new around us.

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Four-leaved milkweed

Four-leaved milkweed

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Cinnamon fern

Eastern hemlock

Eastern hemlock

False Solomon's seal

False Solomon’s seal

Solomon's seal

Solomon’s seal

There were patches covered in fourleaf milkweed, a delicate pink-white flower, and other places covered with mayapples.  Galax were pushing out their blooming stalks.  The best photo story is when I stopped to snap pics of club mosses and ground cedar (while avoiding the ever-present poison ivy).  As I stood up, I noticed distinct orchid leaves and mentioned it to Jackie.  She quickly spotted a couple of blooms back off the trail and we saw that they were gorgeous pink ladyslipper orchids.  So I navigated my way through the hollies, briars and poison ivy and knelt down to get a shot or two, awkwardly.  But heck, I got the shot, right?  Well, not 10 feet further down the trail there was a cluster of them right at the edge of the path – perfect location, hassle-free.  Oh, well.  It was a large patch of them, and we easily spotted the pink blooms all around us.  How cool.

Pink ladyslipper orchid

Pink ladyslipper orchid

Ground cedar

Ground cedar

Clubmoss

Clubmoss

Rattlesnake plantain

Rattlesnake plantain

Rhododendron forest

Rhododendron forest

Mountain laurel

Mountain laurel

Trillium

Trillium

Four-leaved milkweed

Four-leaved milkweed

Galax

Galax

Mayapple

Mayapple

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Local wildlife

Blackberry

Blackberry

Thump, thump, thump, thump.  Clackety, clackety, clackety (sounded like someone’s carry-on bag being dragged across the decking).  Oh, it was just our 6 am wake-up call, courtesy of the very active, yet somehow direction-challenged 5th graders.  As we finally stumbled out of our bunks, we realized we only had a half-hour to get to the kitchen for a cup of coffee before breakfast would be served to the masses.  Hurry!  Breakfast was worth the early rise — eggs, bacon, grits and peach spoonbread served up hot in a cast-iron skillet.  And we had one we only had to share with two other adults!

Dining hall

Dining hall

After we showered, turned in our linens, filled our water bottles, tucked in our packs, and collected our lunches (which were awesome, by the way) we waited just a bit for the munchkins to get out ahead of us, but it seemed they lingered around and … well, we finally just asked “So which trail are you taking back down?  The Hike Inn trail or the Appalachian Approach trail?  Oh, the Hike Inn?  Great, good luck.”  Any guess which one we took?  Actually, it was a good trail back, seeming to head downhill more than uphill.  We connected with the portion that went on to Springer Mountain and the AT, turned left and headed back down to Amicalola Falls.  It was just a quarter mile longer (5.25 mi), so it was fine.  And quiet.  We got to the bottom of the trail just as the group of six other adults joined us from the Hike Inn trail and we briefly laughed at our shared experience.

So we had a great anniversary after all:  a quiet, romantic night in a remote backcountry inn, surrounded by the night sounds in a National Forest that you can only reach by hiking five miles . . . well, something like that.  I’ll check the Appalachian Trail off my bucket list and try to remember that even though you can retire from teaching, the kids are never very far away.  (you might recall our posting from St. Augustine of last year).

Next trip is our return to Florida and St. Andrews State Park.

Be sure to check out the gallery in Places and some new pictures in Happenings!

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