Cheap Field Trip # 4: The Tugaloo River History Tour

Cheap Field Trip # 4: The Tugaloo River History Tour

For the past ten years, on the last Saturday in May, Kelly  Vickers, a Stephens County historian, has been leading groups on canoes and in kayaks down the Tugaloo River Corridor for fun and learning.  If you haven’t participated in one of these now famous tours, you’ve been missing out.  The Tugaloo Corridor is that stunning stretch of wilderness and river that forms the border between Stephens County, Georgia and Oconee County, South Carolina.  The Corridor, which begins at the base of Yonah Dam, is the historical meeting ground of Cherokee Indians to the north and Creek Indians to the south.  There is a place just below the dam where the river is completely natural: flat, rocky and rapid.  It is just beyond this spot where the tour begins its meanderings and Mr. Vickers begins his oral narrations of the natives, the hunters, the farmers, and the tradesmen who made their mark on these regions many years ago.  He tells secrets about  the ancient geological formations that mark this area as uniquely beautiful.  Best of all, he tells tales about the waters, the bridges, the homes, and the local pioneers that you will never forget.  All of this, for free, while you get a tan and an upper body workout on the Tugaloo River.

Last year, we embarked upon this 5 hour tour on Memorial Saturday.  We had four in our party, but there were 140 river enthusiasts in our midst on 120 vessels.   It took about 30 minutes of gathering equipment and coolers, then brief instructions were given before the launch.  Mr. Vickers, easily identified with flag and pointed hat, led the charge at 8:45 am.

At first the waters moved swiftly and the paddling was easy.  Then, after about a mile in, the river deepened, the currents slowed and the arms came out to work.  It was a glorious day of bright sunshine.  About every mile, Mr. Vickers would paddle to the shore line and give a story.  We heard stories of natives warriors, run-away war-time officers, bridge burnings, Native rock carvings, and more.

We made it to the Prather’s Bridge area around 11 am to cool in the shade.

And the stories continued all the way down to the Long Nose Creek Falls on the South Carolina side.  Long Nose Creek Falls is only accessible by boat and is quite remote and pristine, a must see if you love the wild and scenic offerings of our upstate area.

After leaving the falls, we made our way across the top most portion of Lake Hartwell, where Toccoa Creek  merges with the river and the Tugaloo Mound is  located.  Here we learned about the great native chiefs that led their people in this valley land, the hidden dripping rock and the old Tugaloo Town before pulling our canoes out at a property on the Georgia side.

Thanks to strong sunscreen and lots of water, we made it down the river happy, hydrated and historically enriched.  It was just a great time.  We had two big kids with us, a 20 year old and a 14 year old and they loved it.  The best part, really, is the history.  Kelly Vickers is such a great storyteller.  He is the Registrar at Toccoa Falls College and a board member of the Stephens County Foundation.  He began these trips 11 years ago with a group of college students who were learning history at TFC.  The initial tour was a big hit and, as Mr. Vickers says, “The rest is history.”

If you want to join us in 2018  for this free and wonderful adventure, you are in luck!  The next Tugaloo River History Tour is May 26 and will depart from Walker Creek Boat ramp at 8:30 am.   A shuttle will be provided to transport you back to Walker Creek after the tour.

For more information on the River History Tour, go to the website:  http://www.tugaloocorridor.org/

Hope to see you there.

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Slice of Life: Day 29

Slice of Life: Day 29

Braking for Cows!

 

On a recent, late winter day we went on a pastoral adventure to find raw milk.  A luxury to us city folk, raw milk is just the anecdote to what ails you right before Lent.  And, with Lent just two days away, we decided an adventure was in order.  Plus, we’d get to see cows!

Down windy roads, soft hills in the distance, trees still bare, we made our way to the dairy.  Grey skies dominated the top half of the horizon, blanketing over any possibility of a sun sighting.  The smell of feed bins and earth permeated the air coming through the sun roof.  Then, somebody saw the sign, “Purple Haze Dairy.. there it is Mom!”

We pulled through the gate and there they were.  Cows!  I eased on the brakes and stopped just a few yards into the farm.

Why do I love cows so much?  Is it because they are gentle in spite of their size?  Is it their often wet noses?  Is it because they are an American icon?  Perhaps all of these reasons and they’re just darn cute.

These happy bovine were happy to see us and came over for a lump of grass and a forehead rub. We petted and visited and laughed as long as the cows were interested.  After about 10 minutes they grew bored with our offerings of day old hay.

Dusk was settling quickly over that country scene so we made our way  to the honor system cooler for a jug of the raw deliciousness.  $6 and worth every dime.

As we walked toward our vehicle, a giant cow pattie reminded us city folk that we are tourists out here.  Farming is hard work!  Then, jug in hand, we climbed into the truck, kicked the mud off our shoes and rode back from whence we came.

Slice of Life: Day 2

Slice of Life: Day 2

 

 

Day 2:  A Natural Exchange

We have five kids and our youngest is now 11.  I am at a place in life where every day I have with my kids is a gift.  Children grow up and fly away and I want to savor every last minute.  So, when I have a couple of hours on a Friday, I will ask my youngest child, “What do you want to do today?”  I ask it because I know that just around the corner, he will not want to do fun little adventures with me anymore.  I will be too old and he will be too young.  So, carpe diem!

Today, when I asked the question, he asked, “Can we go to the Nature Center?”

Now, our nature center is probably the coolest nature center in the world because it has a Nature Exchange program.  If you haven’t heard of the nature exchange, you are truly missing out on life.  The Nature Exchange allows you to bring in interesting or rare nature finds to receive points. Here’s what you’ll see there:  skulls, dried bugs, sea shells, rare rocks, pine cones, petrified wood, fossils, hornet’s nests, and unique  wood specimens.

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People from around the world have donated or brought in items for the exchange.  Upon receipt, each item is assigned a point value.  For example, a pine cone is worth 25 points, a murex shell is worth 500 points and a dinosaur bone may be worth 50,000 points.   The fun of all this is that you get to trade in the “boring” nature from your yard and get something completely exciting from someone else’s.

Today, my 11 year old had 3 skulls for trade. On a scale of 1 – 10 for boy-factor coolness, skulls get a 10, especially if they have teeth intact.  Brian, at the exchange desk, can literally identify any nature item.  He can tell what animal made it, ate it or lived in it.  In our case, it was determined that we had two raccoon skulls and a hog skull!  Pretty gnarly.

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I think there was a little remorse in parting with the hog skull.  But, when he saw the exotic rocks available for exchange, all was well.

Not long after we made our exchanges, a new family of five came in the door.  Being the nosy observer, I peeked in their cardboard box and saw antlers, a sea creature, pine cones, and more.  Guess what first object  their middle boy “purchased?”  The hog skull!  That skull sat on the shelf for a total of 15 minutes before it went to the next curious boy.

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Right before we left, Brian gave us a special viewing of a gigantic hornet’s nest.

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This was an afternoon I won’t regret taking with my nature boy.  Now, back to grading papers and laundry.

Write, Share, Give

 

A Slice of Life: Day 1

A Slice of Life: Day 1

March 1 is here which means day one of a Slice of Life.  Yes! I am taking the plunge and I’m going to write and post here every day for a month.  That’s 31 whole days during the month of March!  I’ve been following a blog called Two Writing Teachers and they’ve challenged their followers to write every day during March.  Today is day 1!  I’m going for it and you personally have my permission to hassle me if you see me slacking. Each day, I will draft up a daily dose of daily doings.  There’s plenty and today’s a perfect day to begin.

Here is a multiple choice question:  What is the benefit of living near the Georgia capitol?  (a) you have stately, gold-domed buildings to gaze upon during down town commutes, (b) you have seasonal XL traffic downtown, (c) you have parking garages, decks and sketchy lots scattered about (d) you can have your kids page under the gold dome, (e) all of the above.  If you picked (e), then you are correct!  Today, we experienced all of the above: traffic and buildings, a $13 parking spot, rain, paging and Georgia peanuts (little packages of Georgia peanuts are ubiquitous at the capitol!).

Our objective today: blaze through the rain and traffic, get to downtown, park and make the paging training session by 12:30.  All of that effort was worthwhile to page at the Georgia Capitol.  The Georgia Paging Program is a fantastic way for young people to learn about the legislative process by actually being right in the middle of the action.  House Pages hand-deliver messages from constituents and lobbyists to the representatives on the house floor.  Usually, these are small notes regarding upcoming bills and resolutions that are being addressed that day.  This process is kind of old school because all of these representatives could easily receive texts or email, but the Georgia General Assembly has reserved this job for our young students.  My paging- child said of it today, “It made me feel like I was doing something important.”  Here he is checking in at the Paging Desk. IMG_6157

What’s captivating is the activity going on all around.  There’s legislators chatting quietly in small groups, constituents sitting on benches with brief cases waiting for a chance to talk with their Senators, interns bustling busily about the marble floors and elementary school groups listening to tour guides under the giant rotunda.  The capitol is both quite and loud at the same time which is likely due to the abundance of sound-absorbing marble everywhere inside.   It is also one of the best people watching places in the state.  Everyone, it seems, was here today.

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Putting on a coat and tie is just one of the perks of paging.  They also pay each page $10 for their service and provide lunch and snacks.  Here’s a glimpse at the page training session which we barely made on time.   We had about 30 pages working today, a robust number.  After the training, its time to await your turn.  These patient pages seem unaware of the stately men and women who have roamed these halls before and whose pictures hang above their heads.  Can you tell this picture was taken just before snack time?

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While my ninth grader was busy paging, we took a tour of the fourth floor museum where we learned all kinds of interesting tidbits about the capitol.   According to our friend Chase, this painting of Lester Maddox is the only painting of a governor wearing a seersucker suit.  And, on the last day of the session, every legislator wears a seersucker suit in his honor.  It is a stellar tradition and Chase says he’ll be buying a one to wear in the next week.  The Georgia peaches next to Lester’s wife are a nice touch.

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No annual visit to the Georgia Capitol is complete without a stop by the two-headed calf.  This weird exhibit has been wowing visitors for years and never ceases to amuse my youngest child. It is a bit strange to have this in the capitol.  Hopefully our visitors realize that all Georgia cows aren’t born with two heads!

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At the top of the capitol looking down over the beautiful architecture and the cascading while marble steps, we heard that the session was adjourned.  It was time to check out our page. “If you don’t check your page out, they can’t leave,” they told us as we dropped him off earlier.  Down the stairs and a couple of steps around the corner, there he was looking very business-like, Alexander Stephens looking over his shoulder.

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That’s it for our first slice.  Its a slice of Georgia life.  See you tomorrow.

 

Cheap Field Trips # 3: Bob’s Trail

Cheap Field Trips # 3: Bob’s Trail

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Cheap Field Trips # 3

What’s lush, girded, roaring and peaceful all at the same time?  Well, it’d have to be the Bob Callan Trail, of course.

If you’re up for an interesting twist on nature, take a walk down the Bob Callan.  It’s in the middle of where you are and it’s totally free!  The trail traverses the region at the convergence of Interstate 285, Interstate 75, Cumberland, Akers Mill Road, Rottenwood Creek and the Chattahoochee River.  Remarkably, this diverse trail abounds with natural, architectural, and urban fascination.

I discovered the trail when  I saw a news article featuring a man traversing a newly paved concrete path beneath I-285.  What’s this?  Something natural under the Cumberland Connector?   We’ve got our next cheap trip adventure right here.

 

Thankfully, my youngest is usually game for an adventure, so off we went.

First, literally, the biggest challenge was to find it!  The whole place around there is under construction.  I circled the area for about 20 minutes looking for an access point.  Finally, we gave up,  parked in an office parking lot, and hopped over a silk EPA fence and into the trail.  Hopefully, by the time you read this the trail head parking will have opened.  Here’s what came up on Google Maps:

google map of trail head

Wide and paved, the trail is a fascinating confluence of  highly engineered highways and disordered woodlands. The trail seems to refill dead zones that were inaccessible when the highways came.  As my husband says,” I’ve spent all my time above.  Walking the trail gave me a sense of what’s beneath.”  There’s a hidden treasure down under the concrete canopy.   God’s art meets Man’s Art.  The man-made stuff obstructs; but nature finds its way around.  The trail gives you a glimpse into this battle that rages on beneath the thoroughfare, between the natural and the man-made.  In some places, the man-made is winning the battle; but, as you walk along, you see that nature is winning the war.  Little pockets of handsome purple flowers push up at the trail’s beginning.  A large mill-stone, broken in half by time and wear, is exposed in the creek bed.  A tree busts through a concrete retaining wall.  You know that over time, if left alone, nature would reclaim this strip of land back to its own quiet customs.

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In the meantime, until the apocalypse,  there is a great deal of symmetry and concrete to appreciate.

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We stopped frequently, taking in the splendor of a building’s reflection in the water or the feel of cold, steel  bridge I-beams.  Eventually  we advanced past all the bridges, railings, graffiti, and traffic sounds to the place where Rottenwood Creek deposits itself into the Chattahoochee River.   Even here, the mouth of the creek was buttressed with a concrete hedge.  Yet, the water softened the view and made for a lovely sound as it spilled over into the river.

I looked at my phone while we listened to the water spill into the Hooch! Where had the time gone?  We’d lost an hour here beneath the concrete canopy.   Time to head back.

This place impacted me in a bizarre and wonderful way.  Now I think about that trail and the nature going on there every time we drive over the top.  I can hear the rushing water under the bridges.  The image of my son dwarfed by the massive concrete wall, his colorful clothes contrasting against the grey, stays strong in the back of my mind.

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This trip revealed that there are beautiful, natural places to visit in and around our concrete city.   I’d say “The Bob” is a good destination in and of itself.  But, its also a good stop over place to take a lunch or traffic break and well worth the effort to find.  We’ll be back for sure.

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Cheap Field Trips # 2

Cheap Field Trips # 2

What’s gargantuan, gorgeous and gratuitous?

The Georgia Governor’s Mansion!  That’s right!  The Governor’s Mansion is absolutely free to tour and hosts regular visits throughout the year.  If you live near your state capitol, odds are you have a governor’s mansion to tour.  If not, a local public building or historic home will do. Many places offer free or discounted tours for youth.

In our home state of Georgia, the Governor and his wife throw open their doors and welcome the public to their beautifully decorated home at Christmas.  Living fairly close, we decided to check out the mansion one recent December morning and were pleasantly surprised!

After driving along a fabulous street with enormous and exquisitely landscaped residences, we approached the mansion on the left.  An attractive iron and brick palisade ran along the perimeter of the property.  Just east of the expanse of lawn and trees, we came to a small drive with a gate station attended by GHP officers.  Upon passing a simple inspection of credentials, we parked right on the grounds, close to the home.  It certainly wasn’t your Disney World parking lot with trams and a long wait. Instead, lovely magnolias and large oaks greeted us as we stepped from our truck and ambled past a school bus and a couple dozen vehicles.  The small crowd seemed to be moving toward the front door, and there, after a short wait of about 10 minutes, we saw the Georgia First Lady herself.

My youngest was decked for the occasion.

He looked up at me and asked, “Mom, who is the lady greeting everyone at the door?”

I whispered back, “That’s the Georgia First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Deal.”

“Oh!” he retorted with a goofy, surprised kind of smile.

When it was our time to approach the threshold of the home, my guy looked up and simultaneously, but cautiously shook the hand of the esteemed greeter. As a surprise, the first lady looked down at him and said, “I live in this house. Perhaps one day you will live in this house too.  But you gotta study hard and you can’t be mean, ‘cuz nobody’s going to vote for someone who’s mean.”

That’s a curious thing to say, I thought. But, certainly not untrue.

My boy nodded, smiled and quipped back, “I’m really mean!”

Now, I thought he was going to say something like, “Yes, Ma’m!” However, my children master the art of sarcasm quite early, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I was slightly concerned how she might receive this.

Evidently, she must be familiar with 10 year old boys because in the next second, she started up with a gleeful and endearing sort of laugh that seemed to last a full 20 seconds!

We stepped inside.

Once inside, my son thought a minute and then asked,  “Can we go back and take a picture with Mrs. Deal?”

I guessed that last exchange of dialogue and laughter convinced my boy that the two now shared a sort of bond.

“It couldn’t hurt to ask,” I said, thumbing in my purse for my iPhone.  I love a good photo opportunity and a challenge.

“Would you mind a quick photo?” I asked with slight apprehension, trying to cover my embarrassment.

She grinned. “Why certainly,” was her response.

This is how we began our lovely tour of the mansion!

 

Mrs Deal

 

The Georgia Governor’s Mansion was built in 1967.  It is an impressive, three story Greek Revival home with 30 Doric columns surrounding the porches. Each of the columns is made from California Redwood.  Once inside, we were hosted by volunteers who gave us little tidbits about each of the rooms, furniture and decorations.  In front of one broad fireplace, we ran into two lovely volunteers wearing colonial era clothing.  In the vast dining room, we took in the Federal period furniture and state chinaware.  We soon discovered that each room was decorated according to a different region of the state.  One tree was embellished with popularly grown Georgia products, like cotton, pecans, peaches and peanuts. Another was decked in Coastal Georgia ornaments such as shells and starfish.

After working our way through the first floor, we went down a flight of stairs and into the basement where we were greeted with cookies, punch and a local student choir.  It was a very festive way to spend a December morning.  This is definitely one trip we’d like to repeat!  It was really quite memorable and, best of all, it was free!!!!

Cheap Field Trips # 1

Cheap Field Trips # 1

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In the spirit of  stop-and-smell-the-roses, we’ve been making an extra effort to take cheap field trips this year.  Cheap could be free, or just cheap!  The best thing…these are fun little outings that get us off our routine and don’t require any preparation or great expenditure of funds.

I will be sharing these experiences in a series called Cheap Field Trips.

Cheap Field Trip # 1:  Visit a local Recreation Area

We happen to live near the Chattahoochee Recreation Area on the “beautiful” Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, GA.  There is a place called Powers Island which is an access point for folks “putting in” their canoes or rafts to float the river. Mr. Powers was a blacksmith and gunsmith here on the edge of civilization in the 1830’s.  He ran a ferry right from this island.

From I-285, I’d seen this parking lot and trail head for decades and never stopped.

“We’re going there today,” I told my youngster, one recent Wednesday in February.

Silence came from the back seat.

“It’s supposed to be in the 60’s today. We are doing something outside,”  I snapped, hoping he would catch the fever.

We pulled into the empty parking lot. The grey lot blended with the barren trees.  A solitary, work truck could be seen in a space by the restrooms, occupied by a man eating a sandwich from a wrapper.  His windows were up. A medium roar could be heard from the interstate a few hundred yards away.

“Hmmm. This does look a bit sketchy,” I thought as we unloaded ourselves from our truck. I grabbed my wallet and shoved it into my camera bag.  Then, I looked westward.  Through the dormant trees, the sparkling, greenish waters of the Hooch drew us thither.

The Chattahoochee

 

For these cheapie trips to be memorable, you’ve got to take a slow pace.  Don’t go on a cheapie trip thinking you’re going to get some exercise.  If you get fresh air, that’s a plus!  These excursions are about slowing way, way down to see and observe.

A rust colored bridge formed the entry point of the trail and drew us toward the island.  There, on the banks of this mighty waterway, we saw our first point of interest.

bridge to Powers Island

 

“What is flotsam and jetsam?” asked my inquisitive boy after I called out the words.

“It’s floating stuff that has come to rest between these downed trees,” I gestured toward the logs forming the clog.

“Flotsam are things which float up…like things that have washed away from the shoreline and into the river.  Jetsam are things which have been flung off boats and float from the river to the shore,” I continued, pulling out my zoom lens.

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basketball heaven

“I can sure tell people like to play basketball and tennis in this town,” he deducted.

“What about football?  See that black one over there?” I pointed.  He tip toed lightly across the colorful trash and grabbed it. The treasure secured, he squeezed it, heard the leaky hole and then threw it back into the pile.

This multi hued wedge of trash kept us busy for a good fifteen minutes.  There were a bazillion water bottles, every sort of ball, numerous plastic toys, various sized cups, some milk jugs, and a few unidentifiable things.  A pungent, earthy smell hovered over the place.

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Not far from the trash heap was a rock island that needed exploring.  I took a picture and then my guy said, “Mom, you come out here.”  I hesitated a minute and then this middle aged mamma hopped the swift current to make it safely to the rock, camera equipment and all.

on the rock

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Then, we saw the trees.  They were mammoth!  Who would think there would be giant trees on an island like this?

“Must’ve been here when Mr. Powers was working the ferry,” I concluded.  We looked up and saw their tips touching the deep blue winter sky.

One had a crevice two feet taller than my child.  A quick flash of the cell phone light illuminated a couple of creepy, glowing eyes.

 

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As we walked the trail, each successive tree seemed to be larger and larger.  Finally, we reached the granddaddy of all the trees!  Easily it was five human wing spans across.  Against the blue sky and with sun shining brightly behind, the size and shape of this gargantuan took my breath away.

“What a great way to spend 60 minutes,” I said as we merged back onto the interstate.

“It was pretty good,” was the recap from the back seat.

This trip cost $3, which was paid at the kiosk by the trail head.   It was a great day.

the granddaddy