Dahlonega, GA Tuesday Oct. 7
A long day of driving over primarily two lane roads; up and down, left curves, right curves, and switchbacks all for the goal of more scenery. But success was achieved.
It took 90 minutes to reach the first destination, Tallulah Gorge State Park. The gorge is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. We timed the visit for this day in particular. Tallulah Gorge is part of the Tallulah River, heavily dammed in the early 20th century for hydropower. The vast majority of the water is used for this purpose and normal stream flow is low. However, on about 30 days per year, the power company releases higher volumes, either at an aesthetic level or at a whitewater rapids level. Today was one of the days for an aesthetic release of water, five to seven times greater than normal flow.
It made me recall our trip in the fall of 2014 when in Wawa, Ontario one waterfall was not flowing until later in the day when the power company “turned the water on” and we were lucky enough to be at the waterfall at the right time.
Tallulah Gorge is the creation of water, active over millions of years; water moving mountains and carving river gorges from stone. The falls are a series of five falls, each with its own characteristics. The area was a major tourist site as people came from great distances to see the gorge and the waterfalls. The creation of the dams on the river slowed the visits but today the state park on both sides of the gorge provide fantastic views.
In the 1970s, Karl Wallenda (of the famous wire walking Wallendas) walked over the 1000 foot wide gorge, doing two hand stands in the middle. The steel towers used to hold the two-inch steel cable wires are still there, although laying on the ground to deter anyone stupid enough to try it again.
We spent two hours here, hiking the rim trail, climbing up and down the trail to obtain varying views. There is not one spot (other than in the air) that allows for a full view. It is possible to walk along the river on days when there is no increased flow. On those low flow days, it takes 1062 steps to reach the bottom. We limited ourselves to several hundred feet of elevation gain along the trails. We could have gone down 600 some steps to a suspension bridge over the river but declined the opportunity.
Our second destination was Brasstown Bald, at 4,784 feet above sea level it is the highest point in Georgia. It is in the Chattahoochee National Forest and reached again via two lane twisty roads with constant inclines and declines in the road. The early part of the journey went around Lake Rabun, formed by the damming of the Tallulah River, with narrow roads by homes and cabins of some distinction. No “good ol’ boys” in this neighborhood.
Brasstown Bald is managed by the US Forest Service and is reached via the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway which drives through the highest mountains of the Georgia mountain country. Mountain laurel and rhododendron are everywhere, a visit in May or June would also be stupendous. You are able to drive to a staging area, 6/10 of mile in length and 400 feet in elevation gain, from the summit. We chose to take the shuttle up and walk down.
At the summit is a visitor center affording great views in all directions. You can view portions of Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina, as well as Georgia obviously. At this higher elevation, the weather is different from the lower, surrounding areas. The highest temperature recorded at Brasstown Bald is 84 degrees F, 27 degrees F below zero is the lowest temp recorded.
Due to the higher elevation, we were able to view our first significant areas of fall leaf color change. Several mountainsides were almost completely in yellow, orange and red. The day was primarily sunny with temps in the low 70s, clouds were high in the sky so views were not impeded.
The Scenic Byway forms a rectangle. Brasstown Bald is at the top, center of the rectangle. Helen GA is at the bottom right corner. We started and ended the byway at Helen, a town that now advertises itself as a re-created Alpine village. Like Leavenworth WA which we visited in 2013, Helen was facing hard economic times. In 1968, the concept of an Alpine village was agreed to and the community re-built itself with new facades, murals and special events.
Helen, then, was our third destination and the one the park ranger at Chattahoochee River Recreation Area feared would be overrun with tourists. But, as we thought, Wednesday was not a peak visitation day. The town is 90 miles from Atlanta and while this section of northern Georgia is full of cabins and RV parks, even in the fall, weekdays are not the busiest time.
We had an early dinner here at an authentic German restaurant,loading up on schnitzel, rouladen, red cabbage, spaetzle, German potato salad, apple strudel, etc. The stores did not hold a lot of interest for us so we continued our day’s pattern of driving on those two lane twisty, hilly roads arriving back at Amicalola Falls Lodge just after sunset.
Ed and Chris 10 pm