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Wholesale Observations: Rafe visits the Blue Ridge Mountains
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

One of the unique treasures of the eastern seaboard of the United States is the Blue Ridge Parkway, and in particular, the Great Smokey Mountains. This is the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain range, which stretches all the way from north Georgia to Maine.

My mother was from Charlottesville, VA, and going for a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway, when she took me and my younger brothers for a visit home, many years ago, was a real treat.

I have later had the opportunity to travel along many places on the Blue Ridge Parkway, from North Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia.

For a “flat-land boy” like me, raised on the Georgia coast, seeing the beauty of the mountains and hills of north Georgia and both Carolinas, particularly in the fall, has been nothing short of amazing. In the fall, when the leaves change colors, our trees in the coastal plain are different from the hardwoods north of here, and do not give us the seasonal beauty of the north woods. What an awesome view, when the variety of autumn colors paint the woods and hills in nature’s colors.

The first time I ever experienced the beauty of Fall in the north Georgia mountains, it was my first year in graduate school, at the University of Georgia in Athens, and I went hiking with friends I’d just met, who introduced me to the Dukes Creek trail off the Richard Russell Scenic Highway, just west of Helen. What a gorgeous area! One of those curving mountain roads that sometimes had mountains on one side and a deep gorge on the other, with breathtaking views of the valley between the hills.

I was mesmerized. Once we parked in the small parking lot at the foot of the trail, we walked up an easygrade switchback to where the falls rose above us. That was the easy part. We then climbed straight up the side of the mountain to the headwaters of the falls.

(Much easier going up than our return trip down, a few hours later.)

But what a view from the top! I have never forgotten that. I also found an arrowhead in the creek at the top, probably some 300+ years old. What a find, just lying there, waiting to be discovered.

I have been there many times, since that first visit, and am always in awe of the majesty of the north Georgia mountains, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, ever since.

Thus began my love affair with the “north country and points north.”

I have been all over north Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and parts of Virginia, Many stories apply. I recently became aware of a wonderful magazine, “Blue Ridge Country,” and highly recommend it to those of you who may be interested in that part of our country. It has both interesting stories and spectacular pictures.

Many years ago, I was introduced to a book by hiking enthusiast Tim Homans, “The Hiking Trails of North Georgia.” It listed trails and waterfalls all over north Georgia, with illustrated maps, directions, and descriptions of the length and difficulty of hiking each one. A very useful guide to the north Georgia mountains.

It eventually went through three reprints, but sadly is now out of print, although one can be found here and there on online reseller sites like Alibris. com or I used that book for years, and gave copies to friends I knew would enjoy it.

Some of my favorite spots include Anna Ruby Falls and Unicoi State Park, outside Helen (“Georgia’s Alpine Village”); Amicalola State Park, a few miles west of Dahlonega (“Gold Rush City”); Tallulah Falls and Gorge, a few miles south of Clayton; and Panther Creek Falls, just north of Clarkesville, on US 441, north of Athens.

Georgia is also home to the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, in the small town of Blue Ridge, just north of Ellijay (“apple country”).

This is Georgia’s version of the “Great Smokey Mountains Railway,” which my wife and I have also had the pleasure of riding, several times.

More on these in my next installment!

Rafe lives in east Liberty County and drives through Richmond Hill frequently. He is a Savannah native and UGA graduate.

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