Posts Tagged With: RV adventures

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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Chill’n in Florida

Here it is spring already and 2019! I know, we have been quiet since we got back from our Maine trip and the Halloween cruise, but that doesn’t mean we have been hibernating all fall and winter. We winterized the motorhome after hosting family for Thanksgiving, we had more family with us for Christmas and have spent some quality time with our grandsons.

 

I made a trip to Hilton Head to check on Dad, we made a few improvements to the house, I crafted several more glass totems and Jackie was busy with crochet projects.

 

But the worst news was when we had our reservations cancelled to St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach for this summer. The damage from Hurricane Michael has been pretty devastating to the area and the campground has only limited sites available, so the decision was made to cancel all reservations for the year and open it to walk-in (drive up) only. That’s pretty risky when you have to drive 6 hours with fingers crossed that you can find an opening when only 30 of the 200 sites are even available to campers. So St. Andrews is off the schedule this year.

About that Florida Chill

Our first camping adventure is to Big Lagoon State Park in Florida (west of Pensacola Beach next to Perdido Key) for an early adventure with family (Colin and Rachel’s school is on spring break). We uncovered the motorhome, rinsed and sanitized the water system (and yes, the hot water does flow!), checked to see that the fridge works, put air in all the tires and packed up for about a week along the Gulf coast.  Now we consider ourselves pretty sharp, but I don’t know what we were thinking when we packed our gear for this trip.  We had bathing suits, flip flops, snorkel gear, beach chairs and umbrellas, paddleboards and a kayak all loaded – but as we rolled out on Saturday the temperature was 40 degrees!  Needs to warm up a bit.

It didn’t get much warmer as we approached Peridido Key and it was overcast and breezy.  But we made camp in a very nice campsite and caught up with Judy, Craig, Colin and Rachel once they arrived.  Naturally, we all had to explore the trails, boardwalk and waterways the next day to see what fun we could get into and we all quickly learned that it was not at all swim weather, or paddleboard weather, or kayak weather (Gulf water temperature was maybe 63 degrees).

 

   

 

A short drive into Pensacola for lunch followed our hike, but this was St. Patrick’s Day and we weren’t sure what to expect along their entertainment district.  No problem, we had a nice walk along Palafox Street and stopped in at World of Beer for some good food and cold beer. After placing orders for several flights of beer we were told, “no flights today” so settled for some pints of local brews instead.  I ordered the deal of the day: an amazing andouille sausage sandwich with slaw that was huge and the table shared wings and a big pretzel.  One last stop at Perfect Plain brewery for a flight (I liked the Carrot and Ginger Saison) and we were set to head back to the campground.

 

 

The forecast said we would be warming to the mid 60’s with some sunshine soon, so we decided to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum the next day and then check out the beach on Perdido Key.  We spent a lot more time exploring the museum than we expected, since it was a great (and free) attraction.  I recommend you visit if you are in the area and have a look at some amazing aircraft, including the Blue Angels, of course.  But aircraft ran the spectrum from helium balloons to WW1 and WW2 aircraft, Vietnam-era Hueys, Coast Guard helicopters, a Marine One helicopter and plenty of jets.

Yes, Nixon is onboard.

Later in the afternoon we tried the beach for maybe a half hour, but it was just too windy and chilly.  Maybe tomorrow.  Oh, but those plans got changed to be a Segway tour around historic Pensacola in the morning, which turned out to be sunny and warmer.  Now Jackie and I have done a Segway tour in Washington, DC, so we figured we had this one nailed.

And, yes, we did just fine the six of us zipping behind our tour guide along the streets and sidewalks of downtown like a swarm of bees buzzing along.  However, about midway through the tour I got a little flummoxed and lost my balance forward just a bit.  If you know how Segways operate, you know that is the instruction to go faster, so zipppp I go forward a lot faster than intended.  I tried to dig in my heels to slow down, but meantime the curb came up fast and I was soon bouncing and spinning circles, dragging around the road.  Finally let go, got my foot untangled, dusted off my pride and we got going again.  Yep, I have a few brush burns on my knee, but otherwise lucky that was all.  Oh, but hotshot nephew Colin had an encounter with a bush that left him sprawled on the ground later, so it isn’t always smooth running on these “simple” scooters.  Emerald Coast Tours did a great job of showing us the historic district and we learned a lot (for instance, did you know Pensacola was the first colony in the New World – before Plymouth Rock and Jamestown?).  I was surprised to learn that Andrew Jackson was Florida’s first governor – wasn’t he a Tennessee native?

Well, I needed to recover after that, so we found one more spot for lunch, Big Top Brewing, and had ourselves a flight and some fish tacos.  Beer was good, tacos were tasty, but it was the first time I had mullet fried in a taco.  Was I eating bait?  Actually, the Hawaiian Lion Coconut Coffee Porter was good.  Before we ended the day around the campfire we tried about an hour at the beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore, but it was windy and chilly despite the sun.

   

 

Last day in camp it was sunny, upper 60’s and we all went different directions for a while, bike riding, walking along the lagoon, and an aborted kayak attempt.  Finally packed into the car and over to the beach at Gulf Islands NS (with our senior passes it was free admission), and spent the afternoon in beach chairs.  It is a gorgeous beach, but it was just a bit too early to enjoy the water.

Just a bit nippy, eh?

 

Dinner was a great spot along the water in Pensacola, the Oar House, where we started with drinks on the patio but moved indoors when the sun went down and it got cold again.  The grouper po’ boy I had is a serious contender for best grouper sandwich.  This one was a monster slab of grouper on a bun with remoulade sauce and lettuce – a big mouthful for sure.  Judy had ahi tuna, Craig had shrimp and grits, Colin shared some of his fried oysters, which were very soft and tasty – everyone enjoyed the food. This place was fun and would be an ideal spot in warmer weather, with a big outside bar overlooking the marina.  Good choice.

 

 

 

 

We got ourselves packed up and out of Pensacola the next day, which of course was a cloudless blue sky, and were soon headed north to Montgomery, Auburn and Atlanta.  And of course to welcome us home, I-285 started with a wreck, major backup and plenty of traffic.  But it was all good.  Pulled in, unpacked some stuff, ate a quick dinner and off to bed.

 

 

Consider this a successful first camping adventure of the 2019 season, even if we miscalculated the Florida panhandle temperatures in March.  We might just try next year’s week in Grayton Beach State Park but with far less of the watersports gear (in fact, none).  But seriously, isn’t March a little early for a school to have Spring Break?

What’s Next?

We have plans for May camping in the Georgia mountains and might head to the Okefenokee this fall, but no big multiple-week trips have been planned out.  Of course our BrewCrew will be volunteering at the Kennesaw Beer Fest in April and we plan to host a final retirement party for one last group of our good friends who are saying goodbye to teaching.  Gosh, retirement is rough.

Thanks for reading along – check out some of the previous posts and enjoy the photos.

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