Heading away from The Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway we headed South West, waterfall hunting, passing some unusual roadside Americana. Rather than breaking ourselves in gently, we arrived at Tallulah Gorge State Park. There are over 1000 State Parks all over the US as well as 61 National Parks. We’ve always found them to be great for outdoors pursuits, well maintained and varied. The waterfall at Tallulah is spectacular and worth the effort, glorious colours on the trees as we went down the 576 steps to the bottom. Yes, you guessed it, we had to climb them back up! We needed to put our feet up when we arrived in Clayton for the night, another lovely historic town.
Unicoi State Park, within the Chattahoochee National Park, is home to Anna Ruby Falls, a more sedate affair. The challenge here wasn’t the hike but the number of people, it being ‘Holiday Weekend’. Still a great stop before heading on to what is the most bizarre place we think we’ve ever been. Some marketing bloke a few years ago decided to rebrand the town of ‘Helen’ as a Bavarian Wunderland. In terms of putting the town on the map it worked, it was rammed as they’d just switched on their lights. Comparing it to Blackpool would be an insult to Blackpool though. We had a walk round but didn’t feel the need to stay long, the pictures will explain why. Considering it was supposed to be Germanic, and Christmassy, no sign of Bratwurst or Gluhwein, just some twists on US fried favorites. Odd, very odd!
Dahlonega was a lovely little overnight stop before another testing waterfall. Twinkly by night they had more lights than Oxford Street but not much else other than horse and carriage rides. Yet again, Nick pushed Santa out of his sleigh, being the US, Santa has called 1-800-Fallen and is now suing us.
Amicalola Falls State Park, which is also the start of The Appalacian Trail for many, was our second major adventure (I’m trying to be positive about the endeavours!) 5 1/2 km is fine to see a waterfall and amazing long views but it’s the 604 steps as well that’s the killer! Sore knee’s aside, it was genuinely worth it and the hike back down through the wooded areas with not another soul was a blessing. Only squirrels for company and stunning leaf kicking leaves, the colours of autumn and the nut caches for winter. The town of Blue Ridge was an overnight, a tad touristy and not as authentic or charming as Sylva, but it had old trains in the station and lots of vintage cars. One of the trains was people pedal power! Hope they get the numbers, tricky for two!
The sweetly named ‘Popcorn Overlook’ provided another perspective on the landscape as it was a long view over to the Smoky Mountains from the opposite direction to where we’d been and gave us a real sense of the vastness of the landscape. A solitary hike in Moccasin Creek State Park to Hemlock Falls was serene and grounding. The lightly footprinted trail followed the numerous cascades and flows all the way to the fall itself. A quiet and sensory moment to ourselves among the rippling sounds, birdsong and leaf crunch underfoot.
Having done so many falls in The Fall we decided a change of tempo was in order so headed in the direction of Atlanta. Quite a distance so we stopped in Gainesville overnight, apparently ‘The Chicken Capital of the World’, or so it claims. There’s even an obelisk with a chicken atop to prove it 🙂 Having found somewhere that had something remotely like vegetarian food we thought we were in trouble as even Santa carries a knife in those parts….
Arriving in Atlanta, 7th largest metro city area but growing rapidly, we headed out for an explore. The Olympic Park is a great space downtown, a tree planted for every country that participated. Not many people around, we walked through into the high-rise jungle, meandering our way to Mid Town and SoNo (South of North!) Stopping to pay respects at the house where ‘Gone with the Wind’ was written by Margaret Mitchell we wandered Peachtree Street (Georgia’s state fruit is the peach!) past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, lots of churches and the remarkably ornate Fox Theatre with a beautiful Art Deco foyer. We didn’t visit the ATL aquarium, the second largest in the US, on the basis they have dolphin ‘shows’ and a Minke whale there, nor did we pay an extortionate amount of money to be rinsed in Coca Cola (Atlanta is its home) Not much of Atlanta in those areas, is old, there’s a lot of building going on but there’s a noticeable amount of run-down buildings too, and we wondered how much is being done to help the pretty high number of people on the streets, other than the churches who had long queues outside their kitchens.
Following our route back we admired many urban art pieces, many seemed showoffy in front of the grand tall office buildings and hotels, seemingly ego statements, but impressive all the same. We timed our ‘Date Night’ ticket on the Sky View Atlanta wheel perfectly, not just because of the choc’s we got in the deal but we, in the course of 5 spins of the wheel, saw an incredible sunset and reflections on the buildings. (in addition to the advert for Tasers!)
South of Atlanta is a little-known trail called The Dolls Head Trail as yes, it features among other artifacts, dolls. It’s a fabulous people curated trail of miniature art installations, set among the trees and swamp waters, in turn settled between a busy road and a railway. It’s eclectic and humorous, the only rule being it has to be ‘found art’ within the wider park so there’s all kinds of bits and bobs put together in a wonderfully creative way.
A complete change of scene from the previous day and the trail, Atlanta’s 22 mile ‘Belt Line Trail’ is accessed from Ponce City Market. It started life as a Sears warehouse and store before being engulfed by urban sprawl and closing. A few owners later, it is developed into swanky apartments, high end shops and food outlets and seems a destination for the trendy (we didn’t fit in!) The Atlanta Beltline is considered similar (but not really a comparison) to New York’s Skyline, it’s a walkway along old rail tracks, past historic warehouses (converted) factories and new housing, and it seems, is home to some great graffiti artists. The beltline in one direction, goes to the so-called Historic Krug District which is currently undergoing a vast amount of gentrification so to be honest, was underwhelming. Dinner that evening was a burger from the fantastic “Slutty Vegan” overlooking the lights of Atlanta followed by drinks at the local Irish!
Anyhow, enough of big city lights, how about a new State? Let’s head to Alabama! 🙂 Sorry this has been a long one, I never start out that way!