22015 Trip Six, Great Smoky Mountains, Oct. 8

Dahlonega, GA October 8, Thursday

DeSoto Falls in the Chattahoochee National Forest

DeSoto Falls in the Chattahoochee National Forest

Sitting on the veranda at Amicalola Lodge this evening, watching the sunset, and listening to others talk, we are struck once again that our style of travel differs from that of many others. Many of the veranda sitters were discussing their hikes, either today or in the past. Two of them mentioned that today they had hiked 18 miles from here to Springer Mountain, the southern end/beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Both were maybe about our age. One mentioned that she had broken her wrist. Another mentioned that he had pulled a groin muscle.

Chris and I probably walked five miles today on four hikes at three different locations. We generally prefer to go to varying places to try to see more of the terrain and beauty of the areas of the country which we visit. That length, particularly with elevation gain and rough terrain, is plenty of exercise for us. Maybe that is our way of justifying shorter walks, rather than one all day hike that might be too difficult for us. In any event, it works for us and we plan to stick with it.

Dunkin Donuts was our breakfast stop this morning. Sausage/egg sandwich with a donut and milk and coffee. Then it was driving time in the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. First stop was in the Chattahoochee National Forest. This forest began with purchases in 1911 under the Weeks Law that allowed the government to purchase land from willing sellers to preserve the headwaters of navigable waters and preserve timber resources. Much of the land here had been abandoned by miners after it had been played out or destroyed by hydraulic mining that washed away the soil by high pressure water lines. Other land had been abandoned by lumber companies who cut the timber and then left the area when the trees were harvested. Other land was never truly good farmland and had been abandoned.

The trail to DeSoto Falls

The trail to DeSoto Falls

DeSoto Falls is a pleasant little falls reached after hiking a mile along a stream and up a hillside. It was a pleasant time for a hike, the day was clear with just a gentle breeze. We have not seen deer surprisingly and no bear thankfully for Chris; a few woodchuck and wild turkeys scattered about. The forest service also has a campground here that was still well populated.

The drive continued north from Dahlonega to Vogel State Park. The park has 1 bedroom cabins, among other lodging, that we had considered in 2013 for the Deep South trip that was postponed for a year. Staying here would have been a nice option for the springtime also. Mountain laurel and rhododendron were frequent along the trails, although not blooming. Fall color was not predominant, mainly green and fallen brown leaves.

Spillway falls at Vogel State Park

Spillway falls at Vogel State Park

Vogel State Park

Vogel State Park

Vogel has a lake (Trahlyta) that feeds a trout stream and a mile long hike along the lake brings you to a spillway at the end of the lake with a rock outcropping falls. The dam was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Shadow Mountain (4338 feet) and Blood Mountain (4458 feet) guard the lake and park. The second hike here took us along the slopes of a mountain. Not too many people were here; according to park literature Vogel is one of Georgia’s most popular parks.

Our third stop took us a while to reach. Springer Mountain is the designated southern end/beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Why they located it on a mountain top that is a challenge to reach is beyond me. Why not make the terminal point one with parking, a place to say goodbye, etc?

But we returned to back roads searching for it. No major road signs. We obtained directions when we were at Amicalola Falls State Park, but those directions were based on starting at Amicalola, probably 50 miles and an hour and a half away. So we improvised, sharing back roads with the largest daily contingent of motorcycles we have yet encountered (but we expect them to increase). The scenery has been great and the roads generally smooth-although without any shoulders; it is just the constant up and down and curves that increase the driving challenge (pleasure).

The final stretch of road is 6.5 miles and is an US Forest Service road, gravel, bumpy, and narrow. That stretch took us 25 minutes to traverse; we were glad we had a rental car. Our 2001 Saturn would not have survived the bumps, its suspension is already in need of some repair work. There is a small parking lot on this forest service road; you park here and then hike one mile and up about 400 feet on a very rocky path to reach the official terminal point at the top of Springer Mountain.

the trail to Springer Mountain

the trail to Springer Mountain

The view  through the trees on the trail to Springer Mountain

The view through the trees on the trail to Springer Mountain

We decided early on that making it to the official point was not critical for us. You might say, well, why hike the path if you are not going to go to the end? Because there is satisfaction and enjoyment in hiking. Going too long starts to tax our strength and makes mistakes more likely, particularly on this very rough, rocky path. (Remember my comment about the two people on the veranda this evening?) So we went out for 30 minutes and then headed back. Back to the car and another 25 minutes to return to a paved road.

Scarecrows in Ellijay GA

Scarecrows in Ellijay GA

We had forgone lunch and only had a granola bar between us so we drove 45 minutes to Ellijay GA for dinner. Ellijay is the center of the apple growing section of GA; the next two weekends mark the Fall GA Apple Festival in the town. Scarecrows and mums decorated the streets. The 1907 Pub had a tasty meatloaf (Ed) and chicken (Chris) dinner with some original and tasty flavors. It did not take us long to clean our plates.

Tomorrow we head out to Gatlinburg TN. We plan to drive more scenic byways, taking a meandering path to reach Gatlingburg. Amicalola Falls Lodge has been great, the views fantastic, the meals reasonable. There were one or two forgotten items by housekeeping that were promptly and pleasantly resolved. We would have no problem returning here in the future.

Ed and Chris 10/8/15 9:45 pm

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