Sunday, October 5, 2014

Enjoy Georgia More With These Resources

Trivia:  Did you know that Georgia is the largest state East of the Mississippi River in total land area?  It is fourth largest behind Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin if the expanses of water territory is included.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to venture out of our South Georgia home and travel North for some much needed vacation time.  Not that it was our first vacation, however, it was the area that we chose to visit that was unfamiliar to us.  With that being the case, we really wanted to optimize our time so that we could make the best use of it.  The "North" that I'm speaking of in this case refers to North Georgia, particularly the Blairsville area (about 5+ hours driving distance from us).  And though much of this post deals with resources relating to North Georgia, some are also beneficial for other areas of our great state too.  To make things simple, I have placed these resources into the following categories:  Books (includes anything written, usually purchased and carried) and Links (to include websites and computer apps).

BOOKS:
Perhaps the book that we've found to be most beneficial is Brian A. Boyd's North Georgia Mountains Pocket Companion:  99 great things to see and do.  Within the pages of this book the author goes to great lengths to provide directions and a brief summary to scenic waterfalls, favorite trails, historic sites, U.S Forest Service campgrounds, recreation areas, maps and directions, GPS coordinates, and other fun things to do.  Quite frankly, it is our number one "go to" guide and we don't leave home without it!  As a helpful tip, my wife and I usually grade the things that we accomplish in this book by writing a brief summary on the pages.  We also make notes that our friends may find useful should they ever want to borrow this handy guide.  We purchased our copy at the General Store in Dahlonega, GA. for $10.99.  If you only purchase one book/guide, we'd suggest this one, though it primarily deals with North Georgia.

A new book for us is one that we saw in a cabin in which we were guests recently.  The Georgia Conservancy's Guide to the North Georgia Mountains - Revised & Updated (Edited by Fred Brown and Nell Jones:  Preface by Jimmy Carter) is chocked full of great information and includes sites, history, directions, and maps.  It really covers everything!  We purchased our used copy on Amazon.com for around $7.00 including shipping, and after thumbing through it, we have compared the information of many of the things that we've done and found its information to be accurate.  The first edition of the guide was published in 1991.  Our copy is the third edition and was published in 1996.

The Wayward Traveler's Guide to Waterfalls and Back Roads (Franklin & Highlands NC; Clayton GA 2014/15 Edition) is another guide that we find to be an excellent resource.  We picked up this magazine during our most recent trip to Clayton, GA, though we have followed the Wayward Traveler's Facebook page for quite some time.  The sites recommended in this magazine, as well as on their Facebook page, are outstanding.  The directions and related information are presented very well and we found many of their assessments of the attractions to be very accurate too!  The authors, Dave and Tammy Wolfe, are local to the area around Franklin NC and Clayton GA and have obviously taken the time for "extensive exploration" as their guide states.  They have definitely hit a homerun with this guide.  And though I feel that this guide/magazine is worth far more, the cost is a very affordable $4.95.  Money well spent!!  Be sure to check out the Wayward Traveler's Facebook page too!

Our most recently acquired resource is a map with many of our state's waterfalls listed on it.  The Backroads Less Traveled With Waterfalls of North East Georgia & Part of North Carolina is more than just waterfalls, however, it is also an excellent guide that lists mountain elevations, hiking trails, lakes, highways/backroads, wineries, and much more.  On the right side of the map, brief directions are given for 22 waterfalls in Georgia, six in North Carolina, and six in South Carolina.  The map also lists area campgrounds, parks, WMAs, though no description is provided.  This map is viewed pretty much like a regular state map, but with much less clutter, as it designed primarily with an adventure seeker in mind.  For a price point of around $15, it is a resource that we recommend and it can be picked up at many of the area State Parks or local general stores.


LINKS
As far as resources go, we have found that the internet is far and away our most reliable resource for planning our vacations and trips throughout the state.  Most of the sites that we frequent are updated regularly and most have updated pictures to view.  YouTube is an excellent source that we've utilized on many occasions to see actual user reviews of the places we want to visit.  Though YouTube is not necessarily specific to Georgia, it is a tool that we use that many may overlook.  Simply put, we type in the name of the place that we intend to visit.  In most cases, there will be a wide variety amateur video clips uploaded, and most contain commentary.  This is a great way to preview an area to decide whether or not it is worth the effort.  Be sure to remember YouTube!

ExporeGeorgia.org website and Facebook page.  Wow!  If you are looking for a great way to plan and organize your trip to Georgia...start here!  Touted as Georgia's Official Tourism and Travel Site, it is loaded with helpful information including regions and cities, things to do, places to stay, dining, events, and trip ideas.  There is a newsletter that you can sign up for, and there is an online itinerary tool that you can utilize to help you organize your trip.  This site has it all...ALL of GEORGIA!  You can't miss this one!

When planning a hike, I have found the AtlantaTrails.com website and Facebook page to be one of the best resources on the web.  A description from the website states its purpose this way:

"Atlanta Trails reviews the best Georgia hiking trails, backpacking trails and running trails throughout the state and in the Atlanta area. Our Georgia hiking trail reviews and Atlanta hiking and running trail reviews include trail info, trail maps, elevation profiles, inspiring photography and driving directions. Our goal? To inspire Atlanta residents and visitors to get active outside and to find a great Georgia hiking, backpacking or running adventure."

Be sure to check out the Atlanta Trails website to help you plan your trip!

Have you heard of PB&J Adventures?  If not, I'd like to recommend that you visit their website at PB&Jadventures.com or their Facebook page.  This is a family run site that posts many informative articles, pictures, and reviews about their travels throughout America, though they have much content about Georgia...the whole state!  It's a great site and one that I gladly recommend for anyone wanting much more out of their time in Georgia!

Finally, I'd like to suggest two other links that we find very helpful.  First, our Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites website is locate at gastateparks.org and it is rich in content about all of our state parks and historic sites (as you might have guessed).  Additionally, you'll find directions to the parks and sites, as well as other surrounding places of interest.  You'll also find event dates and pictures of the various sites here too.  In addition to the website and Facebook page, there is also a smartphone app available...we've got that too!  Be sure to check them out!

The last site that I'd recommend is AboutNorthGeorgia.com.  Though it is not a site that we utilize very often, it does have quite a bit of information available.  Of particular note is its historical information content.  I am not aware of a Facebook page for this site.

So there's our list.  These are our trusted "go to" resources to help us plan our visits throughout our great state.  Though not an exhaustive list, we hope that you'll find it useful and take the time to share it with your neighbors, friends, and relatives.  Be sure to add other sites or links to this list in the comments section below too.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Geocaching on Vacation Time (Four Factors to Consider for a Great Geocache Adventure)

Geocaching, at times, seems to be a luxury that we just don't seem to find time for anymore.  And though I can't really put my finger on why, it doesn't take away from the fact that we enjoy it immensely when we do find the time.  Perhaps it's because we've found many of the caches in our area. Maybe its because we're a bit hesitant to pursue caches that are in high "muggle" areas...I don't really know.  What I do know, however, is that I consider about four factors necessary for a great geocaching experience:  time, location, availability, and someone to share the experience with.


Time.  This should be an obvious factor, though there have been times when I really didn't have time that I made time.  I recall spending my lunch hours searching for geocaches near my office...ever done that?  How about on the way to a special event?  Ever stopped to search for a cache that wasn't pre-planned?  I have.  (This is a great opportunity to plug the Geocaching App for smart phones.  The "find nearby geocaches" tool is very valuable!)  Vacation time, as in the case of this post, is another opportunity to find time for a cache or two.  That's just what we did on our recent trip to the North Georgia mountains...keep reading for more about that.

 From the Blue Valley Overlook-Highlands, NC

 (The "Old Iron Bridge" on the Chattooga River - Highlands, NC) ** Deliverance (the movie) was filmed on this river near this location.
 A geocache find in Cornelia, GA

 A geocache find in Sky Valley, GA

 Mud Creek Falls (Sky Valley, GA)

 Toccoa Falls, Toccoa, GA

 The Suspension Bridge at Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

 The old fire tower on top of Rabun Bald. (Georgia's second highest peak)

 Dry Falls in Highland, NC

A footbridge on the way to Holcomb Creek Falls (Clayton, GA)

Location.  Are you a beach person or a mountain person?  For those that know me, there is no doubting that I'm a mountain kind of guy.  I'd much prefer being on a trail somewhere hiking through the wilderness, observing spectacular vistas, plant life, and the many various types of wildlife.  Rugged, fearless, inquisitive....that's me! (Well, almost, at least that's who I think I am).  I am particularly fond of hiking, and camping too!  The mountains, for me, present a kind of spiritual experience.  It is there that I am able to find my way back to zero and focus on the things of life that really matter.  In the mountains, I reflect on the glory of our Creator, for it is on full display.  I revel in His majesty! (See Psalm 104)  Furthermore, I am challenged to be a better steward of these great places, as well as my time, my resources, and my family.  Again I say, it is usually in the mountains that I find my way back to zero; my priorities are re-balanced.








Availability.  The initial thought is that availability and time are one and the same.  In this case, however, I'm suggesting that there needs to be available caches in the area in which you intend to visit.  Seems elementary, huh?  You'd be surprised how many times that we've went somewhere only to find that the "find nearby caches" didn't turn up any results nearby.  This is important, especially when time is involved.  Another factor that could be included with availability is tower reception if you're using a smart phone.  This was definitely an issue for us during our most recent time in the North Georgia mountains.

 Geocaching with family members is always nice.

 My Mother-in-law finding her first geocache. (My wife is also pictured)

 My lovely wife on the trail to the summit of Rabun Bald. (We were taking a breather).  She is the one that I most enjoy geocaching with.

 Here we are at Dry Falls in Highlands, NC.  We do 'selfies'!

My favorite pic of our most recent vacation!  Here my wife is sitting on a large boulder on the Chattooga River under the "Old Iron Bridge".  We enjoyed a picnic on this very spot!

Someone to Share the Experience With.  Lastly, I'd argue that sharing the experience with a loved one is time well spent!  In my case, my wife is with me nearly 100% of the time when I geocache.  We should consider the fact that geocaching with a spouse (or loved one) allows us to work together, communicate, laugh together, and at times compromise.  All of these lead for an excellent time of "togetherness" and can be appropriately applied to friendships as well.  Additionally, who doesn't love to share the joy of someone finding their first cache?  It is a joyous occasion!

In closing, while I'm sure there are many other factors to consider for a great geocaching adventure, these are what I've come up with.  Take time to contemplate them and let me know what you think.  Draw on your past experiences and ask yourself if you may have subconsciously considered these factors.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for reading!
Sonny

Sunday, July 27, 2014

High Shoals Falls Trail - Review


While enjoying a tremendous breakfast at the Hole in the Wall in Blairsville, Ga., my wife and I were finalizing trip details for a waterfalls hike over near Blue Ridge when I asked our server if she had ever been there and if she'd recommend the falls that we had picked out.  She quickly nodded with approval but then suggested that if we wanted a better option that we should try the High Shoals Falls trail over near Helen.  "Just take 180 over until it dead ends into Ga 75 then take a right.  The trail will be down a couple of miles on the left...you can't miss it."  Her enthusiasm and her eloquent description painted for us a picture that we had to see in person.  It was a great suggestion!



As her directions suggested, we took Ga 180 from Blairsville over until it dead ended into Ga 75 (south of Hiawassee and north of Helen).  We then turned right and traveled until mile marker 2 and veered off to the left onto Ga FR 283 (see the signs above).  Once on 283, after a short distance, you will encounter a washout/shoals type of crossing on the road.  This may present difficulty for lower profile cars, but we were able to pass through with no problems in our 2003 Toyota Camry.





Once on FR 283, you will travel a little over a mile (1.2) until you see a parking area for the trail on the left.  The trail is also well-marked with a sign letting you know that you are at the right place.




So now that we've illustrated what it looks like to get you where you need to be to start your hike, let's get to the good stuff!  As the above pic shows, your hike will be a descending 1.2 mile hike down to the High Shoals Falls.  We found the hike in to be moderately easy due to the slight decline in elevation.  You can expect to find certain instances where the trail narrows to about 18-24 inches, but for the most part, there is plenty of room.  There are a few switchbacks that you'll have to contend with, as well as rutty/rocky terrain from time to time.  Footbridges are also common along the trail and provide excellent photo opportunities.  The creek will also become visible at about the half way point.













Once you have made your way down the trail to the falls, you will start to hear the unmistakable sound of rushing water.  If you're like us, your excitement level will rise and you will soon find an extra amount of energy that you may not have thought you had.  That excitement and anticipation will soon be rewarded with a spectacular series of cascading water tumbling violently downward creating what we now know to be called the High Shoals Falls.  At the base of the falls, you can expect to find an observation deck and ample opportunities for photos.




As an added bonus to the hike, there is another set of falls which you'll actually come to first (if you are paying attention) on your journey down to the High Shoals Falls.  The Blue Hole Falls can be accessed at approximately the one mile mark from the trail head.  There is also a viewing platform and a large pool of water that I've been told is open for swimming, but I did not confirm that.



Once you've had your fill of waterfall eye-candy, it will be time to make the hike back out.  Obviously, since the hike in was a descent, you'll find the hike out to be quite a bit more strenuous since you'll be dealing with a moderate ascent.  Fear not; however, there are quite a few places in which the trail levels out, thus affording one ample rest if it is needed.

In summary, my wife and I would not hesitate in rating this a 5-Star hike on a scale of 1-5.  The trail itself was full of natural forest beauty, and the spectacular falls were a reward worth pursuing.  We gladly recommend this trail to anyone heading to the Blairsville-Hiawassee-Helen area!







If you'd like more information on this trail, please check out Eric Champlin's excellent review (Atlanta Trails).  Click here:  Atlanta Trails