Posts Tagged With: native azalea

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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We’re Back!

Yes indeed, it has been a while since I have posted a new and exciting hiking or camping adventure.  Not that we haven’t been busy the past few months.  It has just been a lot of solid family time — helping paint and update our daughter’s new home; decking and bathroom projects at our son’s home; some granddaughter birthdays; decking projects at our house and welcoming a new grandson into the family!

Trees just starting to leaf out

Trees were just starting to leaf out

Great view north

Great view north

And now, after de-winterizing the Winnebago, we headed out for a quick three days at Cloudland Canyon State Park in northwest Georgia.  Weather was sunny, temperatures in the 70’s and we were ready to do some hiking down in the canyon and around the rim.  As you can see by the pictures, the wildflowers were plentiful and the trees were just pushing out their leaves — maybe a week behind our Kennesaw neighborhood.  If you have ever hiked Cloudland Canyon, you will recognize the views and the two beautiful waterfalls.  If not, you should plan a visit to a spot that has views up along Lookout Mountain ridge toward Chattanooga and the Tennessee River.

The view North toward Chattanooga.

The view North toward Chattanooga.

What's in that cave?

What’s in that cave?

Our first day’s 3 mile hike was from the West campground (oh, we were one of maybe 6 in camp that day) over to the Waterfalls Trail and the Main Overlook.  Spectacular view of the ridges and valley below.  The hike down to Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls is a combination of trail and stairways.  Beware, it is 600 stairs down and the same 600 back up again!  But if there is good water flow, the falls are a beautiful sight.  And the wildflowers were amazing.  A hillside of trillium, saxifrage, Solomon’s seal, dwarf crested iris and violets was gorgeous.  Water dripped over limestone cliffs covered in moss and maidenhair ferns, with Jack-in-the-pulpit blooming.

Cherokee Falls

Cherokee Falls

Along the creek

Along the creek

Hemlock Falls

Hemlock Falls

Above Cherokee Falls

Above Cherokee Falls

Trillium

Trillium

Dwarf crested iris

Dwarf crested iris

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Look up, Jackie!

1 Cloudland Canyon (103)

Saxifrage (foam flower)

1 Cloudland Canyon (44)

Violet wood sorrel

1 Cloudland Canyon (97)

False Solomon’s Seal

1 Cloudland Canyon (90)

1 Cloudland Canyon (52)

1 Cloudland Canyon (106)

1 Cloudland Canyon (105)

We had thought that the Sitton Gulch Trail was a choice for the next day, as it traced along the creek further down the valley, but since it also incorporated the same 600 stairs at the start, we opted for the West Rim Trail along the top of the mountain instead.  That seemed like a good 5 mile hike to prepare us for our upcoming hike in Amicalola Falls to the Len Foote Hike Inn.

Catawba rhododendron

Catawba rhododendron

Cloudland Canyon (41)

Fringe tree

1 Cloudland Canyon (32)

Blueberries

1 Cloudland Canyon (19)

Wild Indigo

Wild Indigo

Mountain laurel almost blooming

Mountain laurel almost blooming

Cloudland Canyon (3)     20160421_170335

Flame azalea

Flame azalea

Sweet shrub

Sweet shrub

Along the rim

Along the rim

The trail was a nice woodlands hike with plenty of pink native azalea in bloom.  Underfoot were bluets, star flower, violets and the lovely blue dwarf crested iris.  Doug was busy snapping away with his camera, which Jackie confessed provided some good “breather” moments.  I am pretty happy with the pictures, but I must confess the ones “in my mind” always looked better than those the camera captured.  Somehow the vividness of the colors just doesn’t come through as well, especially the blue of the iris.  Wildlife was pretty scarce, with only one vulture sailing the updrafts.  But a 3 foot green vine snake was a surprising find along the trail.  We had a good look before we sent him along.  The Catawba rhododendron were just about to bloom and the mountain laurel were maybe a week or two from full flower.

Green vine snake along the trail.

Green vine snake along the trail.

Quiet campsite

Quiet campsite

Benji loves camping

Benji loves camping

Back in camp it was quiet, with no sounds of planes overhead or highway traffic or train whistles, such as we hear at home.  Actually, no wildlife sounds either, since it is too early for crickets or katydids but no peepers chirping.  We did have a Pileated woodpecker teasing us at camp, stopping to tear up a few stumps mere feet from the campsite.  He knew I didn’t have my camera out, of course.  Jackie was heard to say “you have plenty of their pictures,” but you can always try for that one more money shot!  Food in camp was rough:  grilled strip steaks one night, maple-bourbon salmon the next.  Don’t ya love it?

Rock outcrop at the rim

Rock outcrop at the rim

After a brief overnight rain, we packed up and headed for home — only a two hour trip.  The campground was fully booked for the weekend, so lots of folks will be hiking the trails.  It was nice to have the place almost to ourselves.  We met some nice folks who will be heading to some of the Western parks we visited this past fall, so there was a chance to share ideas and experiences.

Back home we sat out on the deck and listened to the sounds of Barred Owls hooting in the woods, got buzzed by hummingbirds who wanted a feeder refill and we watched for our herd of local deer to wander through.  Cloudland Canyon was very cool, but home isn’t so bad either.

Check out all the photos in the “Places” page of this blog.

Coming up next:  weekend family cruise to Nassau and then for our anniversary a hike to the start of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia with an overnight stay at the Len Foote Hike Inn.

 

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