May 7, 2009
|Georgia just keeps getting better! - Thursday, May 7
We had intended to leave Unicoi State Park on Wednesday but we woke to rain, and mid morning the campground host came around and said there was a ‘tornado watch’ posted until 7:00 PM. So we opted to stay put, to stay warm and dry in our coach, and to just relax - as much as you can relax when there’s a tornado to watch for out there!
Like most weather warnings the tornado never came, and we woke Thursday morning to see sun peeking through the clouds. That meant it was off to Amicalola Falls State Park, the next attraction on our itinerary. The name is pronounced Am-i-ca-LO-la and it’s a Cherokee word for ‘tumbling waters’. Tumbling waters indeed - at 729 feet these falls are the highest east of the Mississippi River! There is also an intriguing sounding Kangaroo Reserve nearby. A combination that is just too cool to miss!
The drive over was about fifty miles and it took us through some lower Appalachian scenery as pretty as any we’ve ever seen. This part of Georgia is just gorgeous. There are a lot of fascinating old barns and sheds and houses with rusted tin roofs. Some of them are abandoned and covered with vines, but the area does not look poor or depressed. To the contrary, it’s a rural scene right out of the book on Americana. Everywhere there are gardens tilled from the red Georgia soil and towns we passed are clean, modern and prosperous. South of here the azaleas and dogwood were past their prime, but here they are still in bloom and they provide vibrant splashes of color against the green of the mountains.
In the past year we have spent well over a month of our time in Georgia, and the place has completely won us over. From Skidaway and Tybee Islands on the coast (and midnight in the Savannah garden of good and evil), to FDR’s Little White House and Calloway Gardens in the west. From the Okefenokee wilderness and the Suwannee River in the south, to the grandeur of the southern Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains in the north, this state has something for everyone.
People are warm and friendly, and even in the big city of Atlanta we met folks who treated us with courtesy and kindness. The Georgia State Park system may just be the best state park system in the country, and the food has been great everywhere we’ve gone. From FROG Jam to mountain trout, from alligators to Cabbage Patch kids, from antebellum decay to state of the art medicine - this state just won’t let you go. So thanks, Georgia. You are now one of our very favorite places!
And it’s not over, because Amicalola Falls, the Kangaroo Reserve and Tallulah Falls with it’s 1,200 foot ‘Deliverance’ gorge are still ahead. Today it was Amicalola Falls.We checked in at the park lodge and scored a campsite for the next two nights. We wanted three, but the campground is small, the park is popular and the weekend is booked. We will keep checking back for cancellations. We went to the campground and picked out a remarkable site, then headed back down the hill to the Falls Overlook. The ‘hill’ it should be noted is steep - boasting a 25% grade! You definitely want to use low gear going both directions.
From the overlook parking lot it is a 50 yard walk to the top of the falls. Once there you look down at the last 40 feet of the river before it goes over the precipice, but you can’t see much more than that. The view out over the valley is spectacular and what you can see of the river and the brink of the falls is exciting, but all it does is make you want to see more - to take the 425 step stairway down to the middle observation platform. The stairway is a good one, and at the bottom you meet a trail in from another parking lot halfway down the hill. This one is wheel chair accessible, and it is paved with rubber made from ground up old tires. It feels really good on your feet after the long descent on the stairway.
From the stairs you can see the falls, and when you get to it you find that the observation deck here is actually a bridge that spans the falls. A stairway on the other side descends another 175 steps to the bottom of the falls, but the 425 coming down to here were enough. And this level is where you see the falls at it’s most thrilling view.
The pictures speak for themselves, but even the best ones don’t capture the experience of standing there in the spray and feeling the power of nature. The movie clips come a little closer, but you really do have to come here and see it for yourself. Returning to the top of the falls we drove down the hill and stopped at the Visitor Center. Here the staff was typical Georgia friendly, and out behind the building is the trailhead for the 8+ mile ‘approach trail that takes you to Mt. Springer and the southern terminus of the 2,135 mile Appalachian Trail, commonly abbreviated as just the AT.
Up the road a ways is a reflecting pool where you can see the top of the falls in the distance, and also see it’s reflection in the trout pond below. A trail from there leads up to the base of the falls, and we hiked it for a ways, but we got sidetracked by some woodchucks (which we didn’t photograph) and some snakes and wildflowers (which we did photograph) and besides, 425 steps both ways was exercise enough for one day.
We retreated to the campground and ended the day with a good stir fry and a quiet and peaceful evening. Tomorrow a down day, and then on Saturday we’ll take you to the Kangaroo Reserve. Can’t wait to see that!