The Great Blue Hills of God (Part 4)

Native American Heritage Month: November

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach …”
~Henry David Thoreau (Walden)

America’s eastern mountain range, the Appalachians, I am told, reach all the way from the Long Range Mountains of Newfoundland-Labrador, Canada, into the hills of North Georgia. “The Great Blue Hills of God” is the name the Cherokee gave to the Blue Ridge, running from the Virginia Highlands to the southern tier of the Appalachians.

Our journey began in Dandridge, Tennessee, at the juncture of I-40 and I-81, and, so far, is closing in on Georgia, though we plan to go on to the capital of the South, Atlanta. This region may be the most visited area in the US, mostly because there is so much to see and do, and it is so close to the large population centers of the East. It is also one of the most prosperous regions I’ve explored around the country.

GEORGIA

I assume you’re making your way back toward Chattanooga via I-24 east.* If so, you may notice that, west of the city, I-24 east dips down into the State of Georgia, which will give you opportunity for another excursion. Take I-24 x 167 to I-59 south, then I-59 x 11, SR 136, to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which boasts two cascade waterfalls and a rugged canyon floor, accessible by rim trail or decked stairs. To me this park, because of the pedestrian-friendly climb into the canyon, is more exciting than still primitive Fall Creek Falls. You may want to have a look.

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

From Cloudland Canyon, backtrack to I-59 north, to I-24 east, then resume I-75 south. Shortly after you pass the Tennessee-Georgia state line, at Ringgold, you’ll come to the Georgia Welcome Center on your right. Since you’re here, you might as well stop, stretch your legs, and pick up some brochures and a state map.


(Click on any thumbnail photo to enlarge or get more info.)

You may notice that, in Georgia, I-75 is named the Larry McDonald Memorial Highway in honor of Rep Larry McDonald (D-GA), presumed killed when his Korean Air Lines Flight was downed by Soviet interceptors (1983). Rep Larry McDonald and Rep Ron Paul (R-TX), both physicians and politicians, and roughly the same age, were close friends. At the time of his death (aged 48) McDonald was considering a run for the Presidency.

Continue on the memorial highway to I-75 x 350. Right at the ramp onto Battlefield Parkway (SR 2). This is a good exit for gas and services. You may find a Conoco Travel Center a mile or so on your left; if not, don’t worry about it. Down the road are places to shop and eat. Proceed on to Fort Oglethorpe, then left onto Lafayette Road, which runs through Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. About a mile after the turn, to your right you’ll see the Chickamauga NMP Visitor Center, 3370 LaFayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, which offers video and exhibits of the Battle of Chickamauga. While you’re browsing the center, pick up a map of the park, showing a seven-mile self-guiding auto tour, monuments, historical tablets, hiking trails, and horse trails.

“What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.” ~Robert E. Lee

“War does not determine who is right—only who is left.” ~Bertrand Russell

After you’ve explored the park, the easiest way back to I-75 is the way you came: Battlefield Parkway (SR 2).

Back on the interstate, continue south to I-75 x 333, Dalton, which calls itself “the carpet capital of the world,” “nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” If you have inlaid carpet in your house, it probably came from here. Take W Walnut Avenue (SR 52) east until it becomes E Walnut Avenue and Chatsworth Highway.

West of Chatworth, take SR 225 south to Chief Vann House Historic Site, a 2.5-story brick house appearing out of nowhere, with a commanding view of the land and a nice view of the Cohutta Mountains. (With the cellar and the live-in attic, it feels like four stories.) The Vann House is the oldest remaining structure in North Georgia owned by a leader of the Cherokee Nation. In his day, early 19th-century, James Vann, a member of the Cherokee Triumvirate, was one of the richest men in the Western Hemisphere. At the time, his plantation consisted of thousands of acres of land. When he died (1809), the place (no deed in those days) naturally passed to his oldest son, Joseph, and became known as the Joseph Vann House. You’ll want to see this house—evidence that the Cherokee were a highly literate and cultured people.

Afterward, take SR 52 A to Chatsworth, and follow the Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway, SR 2, up to Fort Mountain State Park. This is a narrow, winding road, almost straight up, but it is the quickest way up and over the hills to the mountainous outback. Did I say “up”? Just before the Storm of the Century (1993) some young people, hardly dressed for the occasion, came up here planning to see the snow and drive back. They little anticipated the sudden blizzard or the 30-plus-inch snowfall. They were trapped on the mountain for days. Snowbound, cold, and hungry. Never underestimate Mother Nature.

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~John Muir

After seeing the park, don’t backtrack. Keep going on SR 52 and SR 2, through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, to Ellijay. If you take SR 52, you’ll come to Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, a nice place to visit as you can from the website. But if when SR 2 breaks away from SR 52, you take SR 2 and US 76, you’ll come to Blue Ridge Dam (Fannin County), one of two TVA dams in the State of Georgia; the other is Nottely Dam (Union County).

From the Blue Ridge Dam follow SR 2 to Blairsville, a small town with a history of gold, Cherokees, and settlers. It was south of here, in Dahlonega, that gold was first discovered in the New Land, but Blairsville was said to have the purest gold in the mountains. East of Blairsville, Brasstown Bald (4,784′), is the highest peak in Georgia.

“Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take.” ~Anonymous

Now, I am the kind of person who does not move far from the car unless there is wood, macadam, or concrete under my shoes. You may be different. If you are one of those adventurous types who gets his highs from hiking uncharted trails, please be careful. The mountains of North Georgia are so rugged that the US military uses these areas to train its Special Forces in survival. You don’t want to become a statistic in the lost and never found. Remember there may be bears, wolves, coyotes, rabid animals, and scorpions on the prowl. Probably your cellphone or other high-tech devices won’t work away from the city phone towers. A couple of buddies, handheld GPS, binoculars, compass, altimeter, sports watch, matches, and cereal bars might be good; and if you’re cold, wet, and hungry, and rescue helicopters are circling, a flare gun might come in handy. (This is not hyperbole. I knew a dad who suffered through the nightmare of searching for days, with the help of the military, for a teenage son lost in these hills.)

“I have always found thick woods a little intimidating, for they are so secret and enclosed. You may seem alone but you are not, for there are always eyes watching you. All the wildlife of the woods, the insects, birds, and animals, are well aware of your presence no matter how softly you may tread, and they follow your every move although you cannot see them.” ~Thalassa Cruso

After Blairsville, head south on Gainesville Highway (US 129). Bear left at SR 180, then right onto Richard B Russell Scenic Highway (SR 348) south. You’ll be deep in the mountains of northeast Georgia with all its twists and turns. Navigate SR 75 and SR 17 into the tiny village of Helen, a replica of a Bavarian alpine town. Its main business is tourism. It gets busy in summer when people come here to chill, in autumn when people do the color tour, and in October when this German-looking place celebrates Oktoberfest.

“No town can fail of beauty … if venerable trees make magnificent colonnades along its streets.” ~Henry Ward Beecher

Nearby is Unicoi State Park and Anna Ruby Falls, designated a National Recreation Trail in Georgia. The park offers hiking, mountain biking, swimming, and canoeing.

To leave, take Helen Highway (SR 75) to Cleveland, Georgia. From Cleveland, take Dahlonega Highway (SR 115), then SR 52 through Dahlonega. SR 52 west will bring you back by Amicalola Falls State Park.

Work your way down, via SR 183, to SR 136 west, which will bring to the Georgia 136 Connector. Turn left and use SR 53, which becomes Fairmont Highway. You will be hopping back on Larry McDonald Memorial Highway at I-75 x 312. Continue south only 6 miles to I-75 x 306. Take Adairsville Road (SR 140) west. Turn left at New Calhoun Highway NE (SR 53), right onto Veterans Memorial Parkway NE (State Loop 1), right onto US 27, then left into 26,000-acre Berry College, 2277 Martha Berry Highway NW, Mount Berry, Georgia, the largest contiguous college campus in the world. You’ll want to stop at the Information Center for a campus map.

At the Main Campus, besides the usual academic and residential buildings, lawn and trees, you will find the Cage Center, a new state-of-the-art athletic facility; the Ford campus, a section of Gothic Revival buildings contributed by Henry Ford; and the Rollins Ruminant Research Center, where you can watch the cows being milked.

“All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” ~Grant Wood

We were there on a beautiful spring day and, like cows released from the barn after winter, experiencing our own spring fever. We lounged in Adirondack chairs on the spacious lawn in front of Memorial Library while we enjoyed snacks and coffee we’d brought with us. Because it offers so much “great outdoors,” fresh air and sunshine, Berry is a great place to unwind.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” ~Mark Twain

Afterward we followed a picturesque tree-lined lane to the Mountain Campus where we visited Frost Memorial Chapel (we happened on a wedding), Old Mill Wheel, Pew Observatory, Gunby Equine Center (we stumbled on an equestrian competition), and WinShape Retreat Center (the old Normandy Campus and the pinnacle of the mountain, where we happily chanced on some international tourists). Whatever you find, I’m sure it’ll be interesting. And, if you want, bring a lunch, a bike, or your hiking shoes. On the Mountain Campus, there are tables near the waterfall and country lanes to walk.

After seeing the campus, backtrack to the interstate and head south. Take I-75 x 288, west on SR 113, right on Gilmer Street, for a couple blocks, to Booth Western Art Museum, 501 Museum Drive, Cartersville. “Second-largest art museum in the state” and “the only museum of its kind in the Southeast,” its main gallery features 20th- and 21st-century Western art.

“Anyone who says you can’t see a thought simply doesn’t know art.” ~Wynetka Ann Reynolds

We were there during a heavy rain, our car was parked across the street, and we were trapped over a half-hour in the foyer till the sky cleared.

“Weather is a great metaphor for life—sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and there’s nothing much you can do about it but carry an umbrella.” ~Terri Guillemets

Well (same day), it was one of those times when the interstate was flooding, and traffic was stalled for high water. But if you’re lucky, and it is a pretty day, take I-75 x 285 to Red Top Mountain State Park, known for its 12,000-acre lake. It’s a nice place to bike, hike, picnic, or swim. Keep to marked trails.

Take I-75 x 269, Ernest W Barrett Parkway west to Old US 41 NW south to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. During what I call my “Civil War” period, I visited all the battlefields. What I remember about Kennesaw was that William T Sherman (one of my favorite historical figures) called the battle—he lost 3,000 men—”the hardest fight of the campaign” to that date. During the battle Sherman penned an order to one of his officers, Daniel W Whittle: Hold fast; we are coming. Whittle, who later became a preacher and in-law of Dwight L Moody, marched with Sherman through Georgia. After the war, Whittle, with songwriter Philip P Bliss, visited Kennesaw, the place that inspired Bliss to write the song “Hold the Fort.”

“The most persistent sound which reverberates through men’s history is the beating of war drums.” ~Arthur Koestler

When you come to I-285, the Atlanta beltway, don’t take it unless you have to. Many of the things you’ll want to see are in Downtown Atlanta, not the suburbs (even the airport). I’d stay on I-75 and watch the road signs. Here are some of the museums, schools, and historical sites I saw in Atlanta. You may choose to see something else.

CNN Center, 190 Marietta Street NW at Centennial Olympic Park Drive. Nearby is the Omni Hotel, Georgia World Congress Center, Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, and Georgia Aquarium. CNN gives tours.

The Capitol, 206 Washington Street, Capitol Square, near intersection of I-20 and I-75/I-85. A Neo-Classical structure. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, a 33-acre outdoor museum, in the heart of Buckhead.

Oglethorpe University, 4484 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, in Buckhead. Known for its Gothic Revival architecture. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s mind a pleasant place in which to spend one’s leisure.” ~Sydney J. Harris

Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree Street NE, including the Atlanta High Museum of Art (closed Mondays), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Alliance Theatre. You’ll have to use paid parking.

“What art offers is space—a certain breathing room for the spirit.” ~John Updike

Margaret Mitchell House, 990 Peachtree Street NE. Home of the author of Gone With the Wind.

Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, 233 Peachtree Street NE Suite 1400.

Peachtree Plaza, 210 Peachtree Street. The second-tallest hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. But more than a hotel. We went up in a glass elevator, on the outside of the building, after dark—breathtaking—and dined at the Sun Dial Restaurant, at the top of the tower (723′ tall), while it was rotating 360°. For coffee and dessert.

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, 441 Freedom Parkway, about two miles east of Downtown Atlanta.

Morehouse College, 830 Westview Drive SW. A private, male, historically Black college. One of the few remaining men’s Liberal Arts colleges in the US. The alma mater of Louis W Sullivan and Herman Cain.

Spelman College, 350 Spelman Lane SW. A private, female, historically Black college. The school of choice for the daughters of MLK, Sidney Poitier, and Bill Cosby.

Wren’s Nest, 1050 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard SW. Home of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit.

The Varsity, 61 North Avenue, Downtown Atlanta. Historic diner drive-in. Known for its hot dogs and ‘What’ll ya have?” On days of Georgia Tech football games, visited by up to 30,000 people. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas.

Atlanta Cyclorama, 800 Cherokee Avenue SE, near the Atlanta Zoo in Grant Park. A sweeping panorama of the Battle of Atlanta. Map and other helps are available online.

Emory University, 201 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, in Druid Hills. A private, United Methodist college. Home of the CDC. Alma mater of Alben Barkley, Newt Gingrich.

Turner Field, 755 Hank Aaron Drive at Base Street. Home of the Atlanta Braves. I drove by. I didn’t actually go inside.

Agnes Scott College, 141 E College Avenue, Decatur. An undergraduate college for women. Alma mater of Catherine Marshall.

Columbia Theological Seminary, 701 S Columbia Drive, Decatur. A graduate school for ministers. Alma mater of Peter Marshall. You turn at Agnes Scott to get back into Columbia, which is set in the woods.

Stone Mountain has its own zip code: Stone Mountain Park, Georgia 30086. It is located on Stone Mountain Highway (US 78), off I-285. Or, if you’re coming from the city, take Memorial Drive (SR 10) east. Among its featured attractions are the Stone Mountain Museum at Memorial Hall, antebellum plantation and farmhouse, great barn, summit skyride (Swiss cable car), scenic railroad, laser show (in season), river rides, carillon, dining, shopping, lodging, and camping.

A trip as I have described—Dandridge, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia—would require a week or two-week vacation. But if you’re interested and still have the time, there are a couple more nice places to see, southwest of Atlanta. Take I-85 south to I-185 south x 42. Head south on Hamilton Road (US 27) to Callaway Gardens, 17800 US 27, a 13,000-acre resort in Pine Mountain. It’s a beautiful spot to spend the day. You’ll find gardens, butterfly center, horticultural center, memorial chapel, beach, trails, golf course, and chic cafe.

“Plants give us oxygen for the lungs and for the soul.” ~Linda Solegato

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” ~Cicero

After your visit, head north on US 27 and turn east on SR 354. Turn left at SR 190 and continue east. SR 190 will become Pine Mountain Highway and bring you to the Little White House. This is the only house Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt ever owned together and the place where he died. There is a museum, his car, and a walkway with flags of all the states. The little town of Warm Springs is on White House Parkway (US 27, SR 85 A). The FDR State Historic Site is at the end of Little White House Road.

“A good vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work.” ~Morris Fishbein

Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit

* Mine is merely a good-faith effort to tell you where things are and, generally, how to get there. Please consult a website, road atlas, state map, or GPS for more detailed information.

About Christseekerk

Minister, Editor, Writer, Senior Citizen, Grown Children, Grandchildren. Interests travel, writing, reading, walking, golf.
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