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|Driving through the center of Georgia is much like looking through a kaleidoscope. With every turn of the road, the landscape shifts, sometimes offering a subtle change in form or color, other times presenting an entirely new aspect. Anne Sponholtz takes you on a 470-mile trip north through peach orchards and pecan groves, with a sobering stop at a Civil War prison camp and an exhilarating ride into the Blue Ridge Mountains.|
Fifteen interstates crisscross the state of Georgia, but when my husband and I traveled from one end of the state to the other, we wanted to see more than miles of multilane highways and billboards. So as we made our way from the Florida border to Tennessee, we often left Interstate 75 in favor of Georgia's back roads.
Our first stop was Barney, Georgia, just a speck on the map about 40 miles from the Florida state line and a few miles west of I-75. Trying local foods is one of our road-trip passions, so we stopped at the roadside stand in Burton Brooks Orchard. An invasion of gnats forced us to grab a bag of peaches and some blueberries and then hit the road, passing up a stroll to the ice cream stand.
Reed Bingham State Park made a nice detour for a picnic lunch, and the gnats weren't as bad there. The 1,613-acre park has a cypress swamp, a sandhill area and a 375-acre lake that provides fishing, boating, swimming and pontoon boat tours. A fishing tournament was in progress, and the catches we saw would be a treat at any fish fry.
Georgia's Civil War history is perhaps no more vivid than at Andersonville National Historic Site. The 17-mile drive to the site was a treat, taking us along country streams and through lush farmlands, and the visit to the site was far more moving than I had expected. A driving tour takes you through the stockade area of the Andersonville prison camp, which held 45,000 Union soldiers from 1864 to 1865. Some 13,000 soldiers died at the prison and are buried at Andersonville National Cemetery, a still-active national cemetery. Also on the grounds is the National Prisoner of War Museum, honoring all American POWs.
Since this was to be a leisurely trip, it was time for a little R&R, so pulled our RV into Twin Oaks RV Park and Campground, which offered a swimming pool and hot tub -- and no gnats. The city of Perry, just up the road, provides a full package of hotels, restaurants and automotive services, and we made it our headquarters for the next few days.
First on the itinerary was a drive into Fort Valley to Lane Southern Orchards, growers and shippers of Georgia peaches and pecans. The orchard is a popular tourist stop that offers a roadside stand, a gift shop and tours of the orchards, strawberry fields and packing house. It also has a wonderful café serving peach cobbler that any grandmother would be proud of. Before we left, our shopping basket was filled with pecan bread, fresh peaches, cantaloupe, peach cider (delicious), peach barbeque sauce, cinnamon pecans and peach jelly.
Next stop was Massee Lane Gardens, the historic home of the American Camellia Society. A thunderstorm ended our visit to the gardens, but we did see the country's largest collection of Boehm porcelains in the museum, an exquisite collection well worth the visit.
It was time to pack up and continue our journey on the interstate, and soon the Atlanta skyline came into view -- a stark contrast from rural Georgia. But not far outside the northern suburbs, we found more back roads, this time winding into the rolling Georgia foothills. Here chicken coops are scattered across the hills and valleys, and pumpkin patches open to visitors in the fall.
Our destination was Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge. At one point, we had the choice of following the road signs or trusting the GPS directions. We took a deep breath and put our faith in technology. Sure enough, we soon found ourselves at the 729-foot falls, the largest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi. It is spectacular, but the park offers more than the falls. It is also the beginning of the approach trail leading to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the 2,135-mile Appalachian Trail. A stunning lodge and restaurant offer guests a magnificent mountain view.
Cabins and a campground also offer lodging. Traveling to the campsite, we passed an ominous sign warning of a 25 percent grade. As we chugged up the mountain in our small-sized RV, I began to wonder how the heck we would make it back down. According to our GPS, we were now at an altitude of 2,643 feet. That might not seem like much to mountain dwellers, but for a Florida girl who lives at an elevation of 531 feet, this was nearly touching the sky, and when the thunderstorms rolled in and echoed off the mountains it was awesome.
It was rainbow trout-fishing season in Georgia, and although my son, who joined us at the park, was the only angler in our group to hook trout at Reflection Pond, other anglers who'd reached their limit generously shared some of their catch, providing just enough trout for a delicious dinner.
After a few days on top of the mountain, we made the descent safely, heading north to Blue Ridge, a delightful little town filled with fascinating shops just south of the Tennessee line. Serenity Garden Café, a 12-foot-wide restaurant, proved a great stop for a turkey melt sandwich and French onion soup. Homemade fudge at the Village Peddler Fudge Café was the perfect dessert. This is apple country, so we stopped at R & A Orchards' roadside stand near Ellijay, Georgia. June apples, some smaller than a 50-cent piece, were a delicious find.
It was time to head back to Florida, taking home some great memories and knowing that peach cobbler, fruit salad and maybe some applesauce and homemade peach ice cream were in our future.
August 29, 2008
(Updated May 20, 2020, RTA)
Here are four more roadtrip routes and maps covering some of this same area:
Marietta to Blue Ridge, Georgia: Apple Orchard Alley,
Columbus to Tifton, Georgia: Exploring the Peach State,
Atlanta to Helen, Georgia: The Mountains of Northern Georgia,
Atlanta to Cordele, Georgia: Peach County and Beyond.