Pat’s Wildways: Mountain Road Trip

By Pat Foster-Turley

Planning a trip is always fun for me, and always full of unique challenges depending on the location, the time of year and the company I will spend it with. Usually, the company is my husband Bucko, but this time was very different. I planned a three-day trip to the southern Appalachians with my brother Ken, who flew to our home from Philadelphia to start this adventure with me. Ken and I had not spent three days alone together in maybe six decades, another wrinkle to the mix.

Sunset from the Amicalola Falls Lodge is a breathtaking sight.

We are both solidly in our 70s, in good health, but still, the thought of hiking up and down mountain trails in this overly hot summer was not appealing. And neither one of us feels comfortable climbing down slippery docks or in and out of rafts and kayaks. In my memories that’s just about the main occupations in the mountains, so what would we do instead?

Plenty, it turns out. The high point of our journey, both literally and figuratively, was Springer Mountain, the cornerstone of Amicalola Falls State Park in northwest Georgia. After diligent scanning on the internet, I found the Amicalola Falls Lodge high atop the mountain, and this became our destination. We drove up the mountain through the state park and were happily in our comfortable hotel-type room in time for a leisurely dinner with a view of the surrounding wild forests and Blue Ridge Mountains fading into the distance with no human intrusions anywhere. After dinner, Ken retired to the room, but I remained on the lodge porch watching the sunset. Before long a small group of other visitors joined me, an eclectic mix of locals, and tourists from near and far. The stunning sunset bonded us, and soon I was talking to an Indian man and his family from London about the spiritual nature of the view, the sunset and life in general, and then to another man with his teenage son who were planning to kayak into a mine tunnel the next day. (Yes, they did it and emailed me a video afterward.) When I wasn’t chit-chatting and watching the sun sink I was trying to get close-up photos of an interesting green beetle walking along the railing. It was a fun time for me and a peaceful and relaxing alone time for Ken. Perfect.

The Amicalola Falls is one of the largest in the Eastern United States.

The next day, we walked to the Amicalola Falls in the park, a breathtaking view, but very easy to reach on a handicapped accessible trail. Along the trail, we were surprised to see a rusting hulk of a car that had washed down the mountain, and I discovered a crayfish mound near a stream where crayfish deposit their tunnel excavations. At the pond below the falls, we chatted with some fishermen who were happily catching trout. On the road again Ken and I used Spotify to listen to all our favorite music as we drove the scenic highways along the scenic roads. Bluegrass, African jazz, Latin tempos, Southern country, we had it all at our fingertips and happily found a lot of shared musical interests, interspersed with science and news podcasts that appealed to us both.

Zinnias and other cultivated flowers are available for cutting at the Red Oak Lavender Farm.

During our trip in the area we visited the Red Oak Lavender Farm to admire the flowers there for the cutting, and the butterflies they attracted and happily slurped creamy lavender ice cream as we walked through the rows of zinnias, celosias, black-eyed Susans and more. Further up the road, we stopped at the Ruby Mines to watch families sifting through large buckets of dirt in search of the gemstones and fossils planted there—a fun activity it seemed for families and all ages. We stopped nearby at the Nantahala Outdoor Center to watch the rafters, kayakers, and kids splashing in the cool river while we enjoyed a lunch of fresh trout.

The Ruby Mine provided family entertainment – sifting through sand for gems and fossils.

Throughout the trip we admired the wildflowers, marveled at the clear scenic views the trip offered and were aghast at the kudzu covering the trees along the road in some areas, “the weed that swallowed North Carolina.” Yes, there is a lot to do in this area even for senior citizens like us.

Kudzu covered many trees, shrubs and abandoned buildings along the road.

Ken and I had a great road trip together and are already planning our excursion next summer, maybe New England next time, who knows? There is nothing like a good car ride, and good company, to make a great vacation. And what a great way to become reacquainted with my brother!

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.  [email protected]

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Noble Member
10 months ago

Thanks for sharing another grand adventure with us Ms. Pat! I always look forward to reading your articles!!

10 months ago

I always enjoy Pat’s articles, especially the travel stories.