Dahlonega, GA Tuesday Oct. 6
Well we are back on the road, looking for fall in GA, TN, NC, and SC. Yes, this means we will miss fall colors in Minnesota and who knows when fall colors will show here and how brilliant they will be, but we are here. And fall colors are only one piece of the journey’s pleasures. Mountain scenery and hiking are other expected pleasures along with several national parks.
We flew into Atlanta last night and spent the night in a hotel in the NE suburban area, closer to our destinations than the airport itself. Our first stop this morning was at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Like the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in St. Paul and Minneapolis, this is an urban, linear park focusing on the beauty and activities associated with 48 miles of a major river. Unlike the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, the Chattahoochee park owns a lot of parkland along the river. There are numerous park units scattered along the river but only the visitor center is staffed with park rangers.
One of the sights was a group of maybe 50 school kids getting into canoes and paddling two miles downriver to a city park where they will land. Oh, we felt sorry for the adults, even though they seemed to have control of the situation. The kids seemed to be enthused and we only observed a few canoes going backwards.
The Chattahoochee River Recreation Area has a visitors center housed in a log home built of logs from the Okefenokee Swamp back in the 1930s. Their introductory film does a nice job of discussing the Chattahoochee and water use; it was a little light on dramatic scenery. The ranger on duty had made a career switch from business and he seemed to be pleased with the change. We told him our Georgia destinations and he approved, although warning us of potentially heavy traffic at one town with an upcoming Octoberfest festival. We plan to be there tomorrow and believe we will miss the crowds.
Finding the park visitor center was a challenge, even with maps and a smart phone. Some roads on the map/phone were blocked off, and there was only one sign giving directions. That sign was right off the Interstate and of course at further intersections, some where you went straight, and some where you had to turn, there were no further signs.
We walked for a while in the park by the visitor center and had forgotten that the Chattahoochee joins with the Flint River south of Atlanta to form the Apalachicola River which flows from southern Georgia through northern Florida into the Gulf of Mexico. This spring we had spent time in the town of the same name at the mouth of the Apalachicola, even buying a T-shirt emblazoned with the name Apalachicola.
Dahlonega Georgia was our second stop of the day. Lunch was our first priority, at the Smith House, with a traditional Southern meal of fried chicken, fried okra, mashed potatoes with white gravy, creamed corn, green beans, ham and collard greens finished off with strawberry shortcake. Smith House has been in operation since 1946, and had previous owners with inn and food service going back to the 1800s.
Why Dahlonega?? Well, this portion of Georgia was the area of the first gold rush in the United States. Beginning in 1828, gold was found here along a ridge of mountains stretching from the North Carolina border to the Alabama border. Dahlonega was the focal point, over 200 mines were located in this area. The U.S. mint actually had a branch mint here until the start of the Civil War. Men came from all over the existing U.S.; many left here for California when gold was found at Sutters Mill in 1848.
The gold in the Dahlonega area was especially pure, over 99% gold. Some mines continued until the Second World War but most were played out by the early 20th century. The area is still home to at least two gold mines which allow people to pan for gold or to tour an abandoned gold mine. The Smith House is actually located over a gold mine, the hole is visible from the lower level of the restaurant-although safely sealed off by glass from modern-day explorers. We took a tour through the Dahlonega Gold Museum in downtown, located in the old county courthouse. A pleasant experience, learning a new nuance of U.S. history we were clueless about before this visit. Of course, the land here was taken from the Cherokee Indians and when land plots were given away by lottery, Native Americans were not eligible.
Our third stop was at Amicalola Falls State Park. We are staying three nights here at the lodge; it has a great view of the mountains from our bedroom window. (Actually 90% of the rooms here have a great view.) As you might guess from the park’s name, there is a waterfall here. Amicalola Falls drops
729 feet, supposedly the tallest falls east of the Mississippi River.
We hiked a good portion of the falls, going down 175 steps and back up 175 steps plus walking on trails before and after the steps with a steep grade. BUT, we did not hike the second portion of the falls. That was another 425 steps up and 425 down and we felt no need to prove ourselves. The falls come from a small creek so while the drop is great to look at and to listen to, it is not overwhelming in the total amount of water flowing. There are numerous falls throughout Georgia and North Carolina, etc so we will have to pick and choose which ones we deem worthy of our time and energy.
Dinner was in the restaurant at the lodge; this time of year it is all buffet. The restaurant also has a great view of the mountains and we sat out on the veranda after dinner watching the sunset. A pleasant beginning to our 22 day journey.
Ed and Chris 9:30 pm