Thursday, June 25, 2020

Northern Georgia: Hoochie Coochie in the Chattahoochie

We left toasty-warm Greenville, SC and headed for the cool mountains of Northern Georgia.  So cool, in fact, that we had to pull the down jackets out of the closets at night, even in late June.

Vogel is a gem of a state park, set on a small lake.  Set in the Blood Mountains of Georgia's Chattahoochee National Forest, it sports hiking trails with names like the ominous sounding "Bear Hair Gap" Trail.  

Brasstown Bald is Georgia's highest point at 4,784 feet elevation.  You can take a steep hike to the top for 360 degree views.  For the less intrepid, there is a shuttle, but it wasn't running during our visit. 

This area has several extremely curvy, extremely beautiful scenic byways through the mountains, meaning extremely daring members of extremely large car clubs drive their Porsches or Mustangs or motorcycles or whatever at extremely high rates of speed to get to various viewpoints.

Grandaddy Mimm's is a fun destination in the area, near Blairsville.  "I spy, with my little eye(s) ..."

It's a combo moonshine distillery, shopping arcade, concert venue, and quirky roadside attraction. 

Mimm's was just weird enough to be interesting but not weird enough to make us uncomfortable, with strange/interesting/"what the heck is that" type stuff around every corner.

The tiny, touristy town of Helen is the third most-visited in all of Georgia, so, you know, traffic.  But also a lot of fun.

Formerly a logging town in decline, the town reinvented itself as a Bavarian Alps style town.

Še das d' kemma bisd (Welcome) to Helen!

I also learned how to say "My hovercraft is full of eels" (Mei lufdkissnbood is foia åle) but I am thinking it's going to be harder to work that into everyday conversation.

One of the most popular things to do in Helen is rafting the Chattahoochee.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people rent these brightly-colored tubes (and pay for the shuttle bus to pick you up at the end) every day.

If the bracingly-cold water is not your thing, the next-best activity is people watching from the restaurants and bars that line the banks.

Amicalola State Park is named for a Cherokee word meaning "tumbling waters." This is understandable since it is home to Georgia's tallest waterfall at 729 feet tall.

The small campground is set near the top of the falls, requiring a long drive up a 25% (!!!) grade.  Easy in a vehicle, not so easy in a 20,000 pound RV.  But we made it to the top!

The view from the top is beautiful, but the waterfall doesn't look like much from this view.  

To get the money shot(s), you've got to clamber down 429 steps ...

 and face her head-on!  So beautiful!

If camping isn't your thing, we can't be friends.  Just kidding -- let me start over.  If camping isn't your thing, you can still stay in Amicalola State Park at their Lodge, with stunning views from their windows and balconies.

"Signs" of bears are everywhere .... from actual signs ....

... to clawed trees where bears have scratched their itchy backs ...

... to an overturned grill at our campsite!  In fact, we know for a FACT this was a bear, because we saw him with our own eyes!  We heard crashing around outside at 1:00 in the morning, shone a flashlight out the RV bedroom window, and there was a 500+-pound-Smokey licking the grill in our site.  Who can blame him ...??? ... Philip has been seasoning that grill with all kinds of scrumptious flavors for the last three months!

We stumbled upon a time capsule while at Vogel, and wondered what was included inside.  And, if a time capsule were buried on July 4, 2020, what would it contain?  What would you include?  (Besides PPE's, I mean.)

But the REAL time capsule in Vogel is this ... a pay phone!  With ... wait for it ... wait for it .... a phone book.  Young people, let me explain that this is a book that included everyone's phone numbers, before Google.  They are very rare indeed!

Speaking of time capsules, how about a 32-acre time capsule!  I'm speaking of Old Car City USA in White, Georgia, a huge automobile junkyard ... the world's largest, in fact.

Over 4,000 old cars are scattered in a loosely-organized fashion throughout the forest, which seems to be slowly eating them alive.

Nuggets of wisdom, all hand-lettered by the owner, are liberally sprinkled throughout. 

Some are thought-provoking, some educational, most just plain funny.

Old Car City has special Halloween events along its 7 miles of trails.  It was a spooky place even in broad daylight, so I cannot imagine it at night or with ghosts lurking about, searching for their lost car keys .... They were just right here ??!!

There are even some non-junkers, or lesser-junkers, including vehicles previously owned or driven by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

The more special cars get their own lean-to's to lean-upon, but the vast majority have been left to the elements to slowly decompose.  

Old Car City is the site of multiple photo shoots, though the rules include admonitions against posing nude with the cars.  (As if!  Have you seen the mosquitoes in Georgia?)  It has also been the subject of multiple news stories including the New York Times and BBC.

The supermodel of this place is the "Two Ton Flowerpot," a 1939 Chevy.

Multiple trees have grown right up through the windshield, er, where the windshield used to be anyway.

It was both breathtakingly beautiful and heartrendingly sad at the same time, to see these vehicles that were once somebody's pride and joy, now left to the elements.  Oh, if only they could talk ... what stories they would tell!

We continue to be enchanted, but confused, by this part of the world.  Case in point, ciders.  "Scuppernong"?  "Muscadine"?  In Arizona, our choice is "Apple."  That's it.  Just apple.

Alas, we're headed on down the road in the direction of home (sniff!).  It'll be a slow roll, but we're headed back to Arizona where (1) we now lead the nation in Covid cases, (2) wildfires are raging, (3) everything is closed or closing, cancelled or soon-to-be-cancelled, and (4) it's regularly 112 degrees.  

But, there are adult children there who purport to miss us, and perhaps more importantly, we really really need haircuts.  So, we are leaving the gorgeous North Georgia mountains behind, and hittin' the highway once again.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Greenville and Pickens, SC: You Drive Me Glazy (In A Good Way)

We made our to Greenville, SC, a charming city perhaps best known for its youthful, vibrant downtown, and met up with family for a fun-filled week.

Philip's cousin Karen and her husband Gary live in Greenville, and the Columbia crew of Dennis, Grayson, and Hopp also made the drive up.

Grayson and Hopp were REQUIRED to deliver our 10-month-old grand-niece Millie so we could get some snuggles.  She gave Philip the same look of suspicion he's been receiving from all ladies since the beginning of time.

Smack-dab in the middle of downtown, Falls Park on the Reedy highlights a large waterfall, suspension pedestrian bridge, and abundant walking trails and flowering gardens.

I was tickled to finally get to touch the snout of El Porcellino ("The Piglet") for good luck.  

We saw the original when we were in Florence, Italy in 2018, but there were hundreds of people crowded around trying to get to him.  Here in Greenville, he is mine-all-mine!

Lunch was at the famous Mary's at Falls Cottage. Dating from the late 1800's, it was originally a home, then for many years a service station, and now a delightful restaurant with patio seating, right on the edge of the park.

Also in Greenville, a fun concept in dining:  Gather GVL  (code for Greenville), a bunch of shipping containers that have been "gathered" and stacked to become one shady outdoor food court, including every kind of cuisine and even beer and wine.  Plus:  dog-friendly!  Score!

It's all there: Chicken and Biscuits, Sushi, Hibachi, Acai Bowls, you name it.  But I'm still dreaming of the Roast Pork sandwich from Mike's Cheesesteaks.  Italian marinated roast pork, broccoli rabe, aged provolone cheese, on Liscio homebaked rolls.  Ahhhhhh soooooo goooooood .....

We camped outside Greenville at Paris Mountain State Park.  Formed as a watershed for the city of Greenville, it still sports structures built by the CCC in the 1940's, and a great 5-mile loop trail with lots of elevation gain.

It also sports the world's least level campsite (thankfully not ours), an RV'ers nightmare come to life.  Arghhh!

We hosted Karen and Gary for dinner, and the next night they had us to their house.

It's a mere 26 miles from Paris Mountain State Park to Table Rock State Park; indeed, South Carolina has many state parks to choose from in this area. 

It's called Table Rock because the Indian legend says that the Gods would sit on the seat (peak on the right) and eat their dinner off the table (rock on the left).  Therefore, Table Rock!

A variety of hiking trails lead out from one central location, most with waterfalls and features, a welcome perk as the summer heats up.

The nearby town of Pickens is known for its 1890's-era Easley-Pickens railroad line, which ran all the way until just 2013.

The line was known as The Pickens Doodle because there was no turning track, so it ran backwards as it returned to Easley, looking like a scuttling doodlebug. 

The route of the railway was turned into a 16-mile bike path.  Since Philip was hit by a car while biking (not once, not twice, but three times over the years), this is the kind of path we prefer ... completely off-road and away from cars.

The Doodle Trail also had some unique eye candy off to the side, with political campaigns in full swing.  Hey, I'd vote for this guy!   

Pickens also had the BEST donut shop we've ever visited.  Let me be clear:  Philip loves donuts.  So this is a the opinion of a seasoned, professional donut eater.

"You Drive Me Glazy" not only wins the award for cleverest name, but also cleverest concept.  Using this grid form, you get to pick the glaze, topping and drizzle for your custom mini-donuts.

They are then fried up HOT and FRESH and bedazzled to your liking.

We got them for the following morning's breakfast.  But, ya know, we had to try one on the drive back.  And then it was very good.  So, maybe one more.  Repeat. Repeat again.  They never made it to breakfast.  Sorry not sorry.

Two SC state parks and nine donuts later, we're leaving South Carolina for the second time this trip.  We're headed to two more state parks, this time in the mountains of North Georgia!