Thursday, December 16, 2010

Georgia Veterans State Park - Another Tribe Adventure

Entry Date: February, 2010

This adventure turned out to be just that, an adventure. The expected became the unexpected, and the unexpected became the expected... rather unexpectedly.

Ok, so the plan was to head South with some friends last February. South to a warmer climate. What better time to visit hot sweaty South Georgia than in the Winter. As the departure day neared, the forecast became very unusual for the region. Snow! Snow in Cordele, Georgia! This was a rare event indeed. We bought some tubes and took off work early to get ahead of the weather. We were stoked! Snow in South Georgia!

It snowed hard on us most of the way to Cordele, but the roads were pretty warm and stayed clear right up until we arrived at Georgia Veterans State Park. We found our site and began setting-up. Flakes were the size of golf balls, and splatted when they hit the ground. It was a wet snow, and it was stacking-up fast.

By the time I'd finished hooking us up it was snowing very hard, it was really cold, and the sun was gone. I had the unpopular task of sending the kids inside, assuring them that the snow would be piled-up good in the morning ready for play. Tubing, snowmen, and snowball fights would fill our day. They were excited, I was optimistic, I was sadly mistaken.

When we got up Saturday morning, all the snow was gone. The white precipitation had turned to rain sometime during the night and washed the snow away. It was cold outside as well as inside. Daddy was not the most popular resident at the campsite, at least for a while. All was soon forgiven though, it was, after all, my Birthday.

We spent the remainder of time at the park fishing and exploring the museum. It was a very cold weekend, so we kept a fire roaring all the time. We celebrated valentines day and Lee Thomas' Birthday while on this trip as well.

On President's day, we hopped on the Sam's Shortline Train to Plains, home of former President Jimmy Carter. It leaves from the park. There was an actor on the train impersonating Teddy Roosevelt. He spoke at an auditorium in Plains, and was entertaining although he probably should have rehearsed a little more. We had previously visited the childhood home of President Carter, so this was more about the train ride than anything. One thing of note regarding Plains, there is no ATM. Yes, that's right, as of the time of our last visit, Plains has no ATM, anywhere, not even the bank. Be prepared.

In Summary, Georgia Veterans State Park is an awesome destination with a good many nearby attractions. In warmer weather, I would think getting a lakeside site might be a bit more difficult because fishing and water sports are what this place is made for. The weather's usually pretty nice this time of year. We just happened upon an unusual weather event. On the bright side, we didn't see a single gator.
The Richardson Tribe

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dollywood - A Real Value...

Eventually (visit our Dollywood page)
The day after the extended Richardson family's Thanksgiving feast, the Tribe headed out for an early lunch at No Way Jose's Mexican restaurant in Pigeon
Forge, then on to Dollywood. It had rained all morning, and we were hopeful that the crowds might be a little smaller. When we arrived, the crowds were just as we'd hoped, thin. The weather was pretty chilly, but we were prepared with the toasty trapper hats we bought here last Winter, one of our best investments. This was the first of our two days at Dollywood during the Thanksgiving holidays.

Another good investment from last Winter was the purchase of Dollywood Season Passes. As far as value goes, a single day at Dollywood is not necessarily a good value, especially with four kids (and cheap like me). However, it's pretty inexpensive to upgrade it to a season pass which gets everyone in for free for the next 12 months (or from before Christmas through Christmas of the following year). If you spend a few bucks extra, you can upgrade one of those passes to a Gold Pass. Gold Pass holders pay no parking ($10), and receive a 10% discount on everything in the park. 

Now, if you've never been to Dollywood, wipe those images of redneck midway carneys and sticky sidewalks from your mind. A nicer place you'll never visit. It's clean, the rides are top-notch and safe, and the people that work there are very friendly and down-to-Earth. For kids, the rides, games, and sights are awesome. For grown-ups, it's better than Disney, especially this time of year when millions of Christmas lights sparkle all over the park and a variety of seasonal musicals and live bands also contribute to the holiday spirit.

For many more pictures and details about this trip and other trips to Dollywood click here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mama always said "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

But then, I never was a very good listener...
November 25 - The Tribe ate Thanksgiving lunch with the extended Richardson family, then jumped in the packed camper and headed for Wears Valley, Tennessee. Typically, when we visit this area, we stay at the KOA campground in Townsend. It's one of the nicest campgrounds in the area, but it's a bit pricey (we paid almost $70 this Summer for river-side sites), and if you don't plan to use their many valuable amenities, it's hard to justify.
On this particular trip, our plan was to spend two full days at Dollywood, and very little time at the campground. I spent several hours researching campgrounds in the area, even over in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. I found a few questionable prospects, but most were booked-up through the holiday weekend. Then, I discovered Cove Creek RV Resorts and Rentals, a destination that appeared to be an ideal place to camp in Wears Valley between Townsend and Pigeon Forge. What's more, the rate was an acceptable $33.00. It sounded great!

Here is what their website said: (the words are theirs, the pictures are mine)
"At Cove Creek RV Resort choose sites offering personal outdoor gazebos with lounging areas and outdoor fireplaces or perhaps you would prefer to be creek-side so the lull of the babbling waters can soothe you to sleep at night. Whichever you choose Cove Creek RV Resort will not disappoint. We offer a first-class clubhouse, bathhouse, workout facilities, onsite laundry facilities, a game room, an outdoor pool and outdoor recreation, a conference center as well as an onsite fishing pond. 

We are working to make the campground better, please bear with us as we are 75% complete.” Please enjoy our reduced summer rates as compensation for any minor disruption."

Ok, the key here is the last sentence of the above quote. It gives you the
impression that the campground is undergoing some "improvements", and it's almost done. Further investigation made it appear the description was published in early Summer (June), so one might assume, as I did, this nice luxury campground is probably nearing completion by November. The pictures were great, but there were suspiciously very few pictures to view. Finally, I cast all caution aside and booked three consecutive nights. Shame on me.

When we arrived at Cove Creek RV, the office was dark, but our site was identified on
a map taped to the inside of the clubhouse's front door. As we pulled through the park on the way to our site, I began to feel as though I'd been a little misled. I was getting peeved. The first sign we saw said something to the effect of "Buy your own RV Site starting at $69,000". I asked myself, "when is $69,000 too much to pay for a concrete pad in a pasture?". The sites are narrow, and nothing was really finished. Our site was at the end of a row. It faced a gravel drive, some unfinished pads, some exposed sewer pipes, a dumpster, construction equipment, and a storage warehouse behind an old chain-link fence. The pictures tell the story.

In all fairness, that last sentence on their home page does provide a bit of a disclaimer that warns of the campground's condition, and there is a nice looking pool and exercise room with four pieces of equipment, and Wears Valley is beautiful, and it is convenient to Pigeon Forge, and it was just $33 a night, and we really didn't spend anytime there during the day, and the site was pretty level, so I'll give them a break. I'd have probably stayed here in the same situation had I known the truth in advance, but I'm most offended by the website's misrepresentation of the camping facility and its surroundings.

On the other hand, I think that someday this will be a very nice "RV Park". I doubt you'll be able to rent a site for $33, and maybe someday in the far far distant future, their sites may also be worth $69,000, but I'm not holding my breath.

I began reviewing destinations for this very reason, so you won't have to make the same mistakes I make. You won't find Cove Creek Luxury RV Resort on our Places to Go page, but I still felt like I owed them a little write-up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lula Lake Land Trust - A Little Known Gem on Lookout Mountain

The Lula Lake Land Trust is a privately owned 4,000 acre preserve on Lookout Mountain in Northwest Georgia. Lookout Mountain is a massive, cave riddled, and heavily forested limestone ridge that stretches from North Alabama to Tennessee. Lula Lake is very near the town of Lookout Mountain, Georgia and a good many entertaining attractions typically associated with Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Lula Lake Land Trust has a lot to offer a family with energetic children. Its natural beauty and outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, wildlife watching, and fossil hunting make this a memorable destination. Oddly, the land is open to the public only on the first and last Saturdays of each month. Just show-up, sign-in, and enjoy. If you want to make arrangements for a group field trip, you can contact the land manager to request special arrangements.

The property was the home to the Durham coal mine around the turn of the 20th century, and the mine's tailings have tons of fern fossils. The part of the property that
contains the mine tailings is not typically open to the public, but the Land Manager told us arrangements could be made for small groups to visit the site.

There are numerous trails covering the property, and a new trail connecting the Lula Lake property to Cloudland Canyon State Park is being cleared for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The main trail we walked on is an old rail bed for the train that carried coal off the property. It's a really interesting walk along Rock Creek. Lula Lake itself is little more than a pool in the creek that accumulates just before a small waterfall, but the view from the old renovated Iron bridge is quite nice. Further down the trail is another larger waterfall, and the climb down to the base and back out makes for some pretty good exercise.

While in the area, consider visiting the tourist attractions like Ruby Falls, Rock City, and the Inclined Railway. All these attractions overlook Chattanooga and its awesome Tennessee Aquarium, Tennessee River, Chattanooga Choo Choo, a really neat little zoo, and lots more.

For more pictures and information, visit the PB&J Adventures website.
Fern photo credit-

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Bucket Full of Memories

A Bucket Full of Memories - Rockhounding on the Road 
Funny thing about rocks, you can find them just about anywhere. From mountain streams to the seashore, rocks have been revealed and eroded by wind and water, blasted out of the Earth by volcanoes, pushed from the ground by unseen forces, and exposed by construction and mining. You might assume that since rocks are so common, they must not be very interesting, right? Well, that depends on your perspective.

We initially began collecting rocks because one of the kids received a rock polisher for Christmas a few years back. It was cheap and didn't last long (Santa didn't know how to shop for a good quality rock tumbler, but that's another story).

Coincidentally, it was around the same time that we visited James H (Sloppy) Floyd State Park, a place with an abundance of collectible rocks and fossils. Quite by accident, while hiking to the park's abandoned marble mine, we found some very unusual rocks. After some research, we discovered they were agate, and they polished beautifully. On that same trip, we also found rose quartz, pink marble, and a few fossils. It was this trip to Sloppy Floyd State Park that inspired the purchase of a camper, and the rest is history.

What do we love about rockhounding? Our list is pretty long, so I'll try to be brief.

1- Rocks are everywhere, so no matter where you go or what you do, rocks can't be too far away. It's a relatively easy and inexpensive activity, at least until you start polishing the rocks.

2- Searching for rocks, minerals, fossils, and artifacts keeps kids entertained (distracted) on those long hikes resulting in fewer complaints about boredom or sore legs and feet. The twins were just three when we went on that hike to the marble mine at Sloppy Floyd, about a 2 mile round trip.

3- Searching for rocks (colors, shapes) encourages kids to keep their eyes on the ground so they can watch their their step (and watch for snakes).

4- It's educational. Every rock, fossil,  is a lesson in history, science, and mathematics. Learning how the various types of rocks and minerals are formed and why they are shaped or patterned the way they are is very interesting when you can hold the evidence in your hand. We let the kids take some of the rocks to school when they are covering Earth and geology. They are always a big hit.

5- Rockhounding can take you places you wouldn't have otherwise discovered. We have visited several really neat towns and remote areas based on research for rockhounding. Geocaching is also a great activity for finding new places.

6- Rocks you find at various locations will always remind you of that place and the things you did while there. It's kind of  like a souvenir without the gift shop. I call our rocks a "bucket full of memories".

7- Rocks are beautiful. We have found some of the most astonishingly beautiful rocks in some of the most unlikely places. Semi precious gemstones are great, but some of the prettiest rocks in our collection are more or less worthless. That's ok, their value is much greater than any amount of money.

8- Commercial gem grubbing mines typically provide some pretty good inexpensive and not so clean fun. Give the kid a bucket of dirt and tell them to go play in the water. You won't get much argument. We spent two full days at Gold n Gem Grubbin in Cleveland, Georgia, Panning for gold in the creek and grubbing for Gems at the (nice place to camp too!).

9- Using the rocks and special wrapping wire, you can also learn to make jewelry. The pendant shown here, I made with square silver wire and a shaped and polished agate I found in Summerville, Georgia near Sloppy Floyd State Park.

10- The act of looking for and collecting minerals, rocks, and fossils, and gem grubbing and gold panning gives each and every family member something in common with their siblings and parents. The kids have learned about different types of crystals and rocks, and it gives them something to talk about. I can't tell you how many times I have had one of the kids come running up shouting Daddy, look at this rock I found. The kids will compare their rocks and brag about who found the best one.

One of my favorite benefits of collecting and polishing rocks is the uncanny way they can bring back memories. Sometimes we pull the bucket out and spread the finely polished agate, quartz crystals, amethyst, chert nodules, garnet, and various other rocks and minerals out on a towel covered table. We'll turn the lights up and go through them one by one talking about where we found them and what we did while we were there..

So there you have it, 10, no 11 reasons we rock hound. We're making memories, and I'd be willing to bet the kids will fight over the collection when Mommy and Daddy are gone. 

Proofed and Edited by Lee Thomas Richardson

For more stories and pictures from our adventures in the Southeastern US, visit our website  -

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chiaha... Chia who?

Adventure Journal
Entry Date: October 2010

For 46 years, the Chiaha Festival has been taking place on the banks of the Oostanaula River in Rome, GA. The Richardson Tribe has visited the Chiaha Festival a few times, and we love it! It is so different from most of the Arts and Crafts shows we go to. On this particular weekend, we had camping plans at Desoto State Park in Fort Payne, Alabama. We knew we'd have to pack-up early enough on Sunday to swing into Ridge Ferry Park for Chiaha, and that's just what we did.
When we first arrived, David Bell, an old friend of ours, was performing on the stage. He is as great as ever. The kids were anxious to get into the Scout's activity tent to make some sand-art bottles like they had done the last two years. Rebecca was anxious to see the art, especially the jewelry. Being rockhounds, we always enjoy talking to the folks that make wire-wrap pendants and other types of jewelry from common gemstones.

The kids and I spent a little extra time in Mr. Hardy's hand-made knife exhibit. He explained to us how he made the knives completely by hand. Everything from forming the blade to cutting, assembling, and finishing a variety of exotic handles. It was some really cool stuff.

As I wandered through the exhibits, I took a lot of pictures of various art. But then, while I was taking pictures of some LP tanks painted pink and made to look like flying pigs, the "artist" stepped-up, and quite abruptly insisted I not take pictures of his "art" for fear someone might steal the concept. So, I have intentionally NOT shown a picture of a 5' piece of rebar sticking in the ground with a 5 gallon LP tank welded to it, with sheet metal wings, all painted pink.  Unfortunately for the "artist", you won't know who he is or what he has to offer. And PLEASE, do not steal the idea of welding wings on an LP gas tank and painting it pink. But, if you do, remember, you didn't see it here.

There is always a lot of food at Chiaha, but we couldn't feast too much. There is no ATM, and we were short on cash. We could only afford junk food. We ultimately ended-up at the playground as usual. Ridge Ferry Park has two playgrounds side-by-side. They are both fantastic. There are also some exercise stations with equipment and instructions. If I'd had the energy, I would have pulled the bikes off and gone for a ride too, but after a weekend of Desoto State Park and a few hours at the festival, we were ready to head home.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Tribe at Spookapalooza - Desoto State Park Fort Payne, Alabama

Journal Entry - October 22 thru 24
Desoto State Park near Fort Payne, Alabama is one of the Richardson Tribe's top ten favorite destinations. We have spent several long holiday weekends here because Desoto has all the positive aspects of a state park with the conveniences of an RV Park. There is an abundance of nature and the campsites are large like most state parks, but Desoto's campground also features full RV hookup (30 & 50 amp electricity, water, cable, and sewer). Amenities are abundant and the staff organizes some really great events and activities.

This particular adventure was planned around Spookapalooza, a weekend of Halloween activities like outdoor movies, games, story telling, and Trick or Treating. For the Richardson Tribe, it was the end of a very long and trying week. John Micah had a fever of over 103 Thursday night, and work was piled on everyone. The costumes we'd ordered hadn't yet arrived (or so we thought, another story), and we got away from the house late on Friday making our arrival at Desoto well after the office had closed. Fortunately, the trusty security ranger had the code and our paperwork handy. It didn't take long to get the camper leveled and connected, and it was once again beginning to feel like home. The psychology of being on Central time for a change made me decide it was early enough for a fire, so I indulged.

Saturday went a little differently than planned. We  rode bikes for a while a in the morning, but didn't cover the distance I'd hoped. There was just too much happening. After enjoying the playground for a while, we visited some good friends at a cozy little cabin they rented that overlooked Desoto Falls. The cabin, nearly 70 years old,  was very rustic and quaint, but a newer structure just a short walk away was even more unique. The cabin's owner has also built a very nice screened chalet over the small lake formed from the dam at the top of Desoto Falls. There is no glass in the structure. It is completely screened, but has most of the comforts of home. Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the park. Unfortunately, the cabin isn't usually for rent, but there are others available. Google it!

We hadn't planned on "trick or treating" because the kids had no costumes. Initially it was working. The little guys helped entertain the trick or treaters by posing as statues while Mommy played the "Candy Lady". But then, with a stroke of genius, Lee Thomas created the costume of a Dumb and Dumber Hobo Nerd!  The rest of our crew followed suit, and were soon a hit with the other trick or treaters and parents. It wasn't the goofy way they dressed, it was how they acted and talked. They REALLY got into character, especially the dumber part. They went around our loop in the campground, and came back with grocery bags loaded with candy.

We sat around the fire for a very long time talking and laughing that evening before retiring to the camper. We started a movie, but, as so often happens, everyone was out well before the end. That's ok, 'cause we have to get up tomorrow morning, pack-up, and head for Rome and the Chiaha Art Festival, but that's another story...

For more about this and other trips to Desoto State Park, visit their dedicated page on our website.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What's Next?

Lookout Mountain stretches from Northeast Alabama into Tennessee via the upper left corner of Georgia. Anywhere along that ridge you will find something to see and do. This weekend the Richardson Tribe will enjoy camping near the Little River Canyon located on the Alabama side of Lookout mountain, a site also "survived" by Bear Grylls on the Discovery Channel.

Never fear friends, the Richardson Tribe will survive those "Lookout Mountain Alligators" and wild hogs too (with full RV hookup and cable no less). Sorry Bear, I'm giving away your secrets. Ok, I admit the cell service is pretty scary.

We'll ride bikes and participate in the Spookapalooza festivities at Desoto State Park. I'll take lots of pictures 'cause I know the colors will be beautiful.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Townsend/Great Smokies KOA - A long weekend on Little River.

Adventure Journal
Entry Date: October 2010
The Richardson Tribe has just returned from our most recent adventure in the mountains of East Tennessee. We camped at the Townsend/Great Smokies KOA on Little River just outside the park for four nights.

While in the area, we visited Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and took a nice drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yes, I am afraid we did the "tourist thing" on this trip, but we still enjoyed all the KOA's campground and activities.

We spent Saturday at the campground fishing, playing bingo (the kids loved it!), making tie dye t-shirts and various crafts, playing in Little River, and warming beside a toasty fire. The folks at the KOA in Townsend really know how to keep the kids happy, and the river and scenery keep everyone happy.

As usual, the night sky was a light show. I actually snapped a few time-lapsed shots this time, and realized there were many stars that I wasn't seeing with just the naked eye. We come here in the Winter between Christmas and New Year, and the sky is even more clear and brilliant at that time of year. For these and other pictures, click here.

John's Soapbox Moment:
I plan to write a series of articles on camping and RV etiquette soon. I may dedicate an entire segment on one neighbor's multiple offenses on this trip.
For instance, one of the few negatives of this park is how narrow the riverside sites are. It's normal for water sites to be narrow, so I can't complain much. However, a courteous camper is careful not to intrude on their neighbor any more than necessary, and to try to make the area on the back-side of their camper as neat as possible (the back-side of one camper is the front- side of someone else's). Our neighbor on this trip had the patio-side of her old Class-A motorhome decorated with lights and FSU (Florida State) flags (and stickers, and pillows, and banners, and more lights, and flags, etc.). Her back-side on the other hand was disgusting (pardon the pun). She threw her sewer hose, water hose, and poser cables on the ground wadded-up in a mess. She stayed inside most of the time, except when laying out on the deck sunbathing and coming around to shake her sewer hose and grunt. She never said a single word to us in four days. I would move her sewer hose away from our picnic table only to find it back, almost on my patio, later. Unbelievable. I personally think other FSU fans need to hunt her down. She's giving your university a bad name. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Labor Day Weekend at Callaway Gardens and Pine Mountain RV

Adventure Journal
Entry Date: September 2010
This trip was based on Labor Day weekend and a hot air Balloon Festival scheduled at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. We camped at Pine Mountain RV, a very nice RV park only 3 miles from Callaway. The plan was to ride bikes, play at the beach, visit the vegetable garden, and participate in the hot-air balloon festivities. We actually did quite a lot more. The day turned into an adventure to remember with good friends, good food, and good clean fun.

First stop on the bike trail was the Cecil Day Butterfly Center. This impressive butterfly habitat is both entertaining and educational for the kids and grown-ups alike. You can actually see butterflies emerging from their cocoons.

From there, the plan was to ride down to one of several lakes at Callaway and take a ferry across to the bike path on the other side. Unfortunately, we learned the ferry was closed and had to ride along the road for a little while. With all the kids we had riding with us, it was a little scary. Given the choice again, I would have probably gone back up to the butterfly center and taken the much shorter and safer route to the vegetable garden and Robin lake.

We pushed on until we reached the vegetable garden. There were lots of ornamentals, some muskadine (wild grape) vines bearing fruit, and some okra blooming. The garden is a peaceful place, but not with hungry kids. We decided it was time for lunch.

Just down the hill from the garden is Robin lake and one of the cleanest fresh-water beaches you will ever find. We ate the snacks we'd packed and the kids hit the water. There was a "knee boarding" show happening, so we got to see some impressive tricks. Callaway gardens is known for waterskiing.

After a while, we made our way around to the opposite side of the lake where the festivities were happening. We played miniature golf, did the bungee swing ride, then went to watch the finale of the balloon festival, the launching. Turns out, the balloons were tethered, so they would only let them rise a hundred or so feet in the air, then pull them back down, giving rides to the patrons.

We eventually went back to the campground. From our vantage point there, it looked like they did eventually release some of the balloons, although we only saw two.

During our stay at Pine Mountain RV, we visited the Wild Animal Safari Park just a couple miles down the road. This was actually our third visit, but our friends' first. It is such a blast to see these animals up close and personal. I'll publish a write-up about the park soon.

In summary, it was a very good weekend. There are many things to do at Callaway, but I should point out that it can be a bit pricey, especially for a family of six. Our cost to enter the park was around $100, a bit more expensive than usual because of the balloon festival. If you are looking for a day of bike riding, fishing, and swimming, a state park can provide those features for a $5 parking fee.

Speaking of state parks, it should be mentioned that FD Roosevelt State Park and Roosevelt's Little White House are also located very near Callaway Gardens and Pine Mountain RV. 
For more pictures and journals from other trips to Callaway Gardens (especially Spring!), visit

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fort Mountain State Park - A wonderful place for an adventure.

Overview - The Tribe's Favorite Park
Fort Mountain State Park is located near Chatsworth, Georgia on the Southwestern edge of the Cohutta Wilderness. This park is the Richardson Tribe's #1 favorite place to visit and camp, Why? Where do I start?
1- Accessible- Fort Mountain (Cohutta to the Native Americans) is perhaps the most easily accessed mountain in North Georgia. It's about 1.5 hours from Atlanta and just a little over an hour from Chattanooga. All but the last eight miles is flat freeway and highway travel. The final segment is curvy, steep, and scenic. There are several picturesque pull-offs that should be observed on the way. 

As you wind your way up the mountain, roll your windows down so you can enjoy the gradual temperature and humidity change. Typically, from the base of the mountain to the park, there can be as much as a 10-12 degree change. The dramatic temperature change can affect the weather on Fort Mountain, often making it totally different from the mountain's base (as in rain, snow, or lack thereof).

2- Campgrounds- Georgia's standards for its state parks are high, especially when it comes to campgrounds. Fort Mountain State Park has two campgrounds. One is located adjacent the lake, the other is just across the road. The sites are level, extremely large, clean, and furnished with fire ring/grill units and sturdy picnic tables. If we can't get a site on the lake, we usually go over to campground 2 and use the very large pull-through sites. The ONLY negative I can think of is the lack of full hookup (as in sewer), but that's pretty standard for state park (with very few exceptions). They have cable there, but channels are few and picture quality is sub-par. It doesn't matter, you should be outside enjoying the fresh clean air anyway.

3- Amenities- Fort Mountain State Park seems to have all the right stuff. There is a lake with a very nice (sometimes crowded) beach, row boats, pedal boats, and some good fishing. Near the beach's snack bar and picnic shelters is a miniature golf course and a very nice playground. The park features 14 miles of hiking and 27 miles of mountain biking within the park. and the Cohutta Wilderness is directly accessible as is the Pinhoti Trail making hiking and biking almost unlimited. For a fee, you can rent a horse at Fort Mountain Stables (a private business).

4- Wildlife - You can find just about every type of animal native to this part of the country at Fort Mountain including bear, turkey, bobcat, and even (according to some) cougar.

5- History, Mystery, and Legend- Fort Mountain State Park is the home of much history, mystery, and legend. For example:

- The wall- Located at Fort Mountain's peak are the remains of an 855 ft wall. Though there are many speculations as to its origins and its purpose, it is unlikely it was built as a fortification. While it would help to fend-off enemy attacks, there is no water source. All the enemy would have to do is sit and wait. It's more likely the wall was somehow a part of a ceremonial ground, which is consistent with other sites such as Old Stone Fort State Park in Manchester Tennessee. Some speculated the wall was built by Desoto's men, and some think it was built by Welsh Prince Madoc's men. The fact is, no one knows for sure, although the estimate the wall's construction to be around 500ad.

- Cherokee Gold - There are legends related to a secret Cheroke gold mine on "Cohutta", the Native American word for the mountain. Stories about the local Cherokee wearing gold jewelry, and settlers trying to find the source have been handed down for years. One has to consider the wealth of some of the local Cherokee such as Joseph Vann. Vann's father accumulated massive wealth while living near the foot of the mountain. They say his father made the money from taverns and various other enterprises, but when his son was forced to move from this area to Tennessee, he deposited over $200,000 worth of gold in a bank. That's $200,000 in the 1830s, think about it.

 - Cohutta Gold Mine - Apparently, placer gold had been successfully panned from the creeks on Fort Mountain for many years before the Cohutta Mine opened around 1905. According to the United States Geological Survey, a large vein of gold had been discovered and was being worked when they visited in 1906. In fact, the owners had ordered additional equipment and were stepping-up production. Mysteriously, four years later when the same surveyors visited the site, the mine was shut-down. In 1926 the property was purchased by wealthy businessman (and later Atlanta Mayor) Ivan Allen, then donated to the state of Georgia as a state park. So, the mystery of the Cohutta Mine exists today. Where was it? Why was it shut down? Is there still gold to be panned? I believe there is.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adventure Day at James H (Sloppy) Floyd State Park, Summerville, GA

Adventure JournalEntry Date: September 2010It was time for the annual Adventure Day at James H (Sloppy) Floyd State Park again, and we had to be there. Adventure Day 2009 was cut short for the Tribe because of rain, so the kids were anxious to do some of the things they didn't have time to do last year. The weather this year was about as perfect as it could be.

We camped at the park so we could get an early start (and we love camping there). Our first stop was archery. All the kids received straight bows last year for Christmas, so they knew the basics. They all did pretty well with the compound bows the rangers provided, but they still need some practice. The helpful DNR rangers gave them some pointers though (pardon the pun).

We then wandered over to the area where the rock wall was located. The kids enjoyed the educational snake show provided by Jason Clark of
Southeastern Reptile Rescue before climbing the wall. Smokey Bear and some DNR fire fighters were there with their cool equipment, including a Polaris UTV with all kinds of neat firefighting gadgets onboard.

There must have been 25 or more rangers present to make everything run smoothly, including keeping the loaner fishing rods in working order. Adventure day is the one day a year they let kids (16 and under) fish in the stocking end of the lake. Lee Thomas landed a nice catfish, and there were people there with strings of fish totaling 25 or more pounds. It was a little crowded, but fun was had by all.

After fishing for a while and eating a free hotdog lunch, the kids got a short shooting lesson and target practice with pump bb guns. To wrap-up this wonderful event, we toured the Southeastern Reptile Rescue trailer. Jason Clark captures reptiles such as snakes and lizards when they're somewhere they are not supposed to be. In the trailer he had a small alligator, a Gila monster, and a respectable collection of venomous snakes.

Jason does events like this, but he also does private birthday parties that include encounters with reptiles like the Albino Burmese Python pictured above. He shares a lot of funny stories about the animals he has rescued, the places he has found them, and the unusual people he meets in his job. It's an entertaining and hair-raising show, but most importantly, it teaches kids to safely respect these widely misunderstood animals. Personally, I liked the show, but I'm not going to be sitting on the front row.

Back at the campground, we enjoyed a nice afternoon of play and exploration. Sloppy Floyd State park is our favorite place for rockhounding, and the kids are avid rock hunters, so that kept them occupied much of the afternoon. We found some very nice purple and pink chert with a .2" layer of agate partially enclosing it (very unusual).  There was also a little game play Mancala) and fireside relaxation at the site which had a nice view of the playground.
In summary, this was a most perfect day. The temperature was pleasant, the activities were fun, the DNR staff was hospitable, the park was beautiful, and the food was free. How much better can it get?

That night, I got a lesson about being a prepared camper (which I normally pride myself on). About 3am, I woke to the sounds of thunder. I hurriedly jumped-up, threw on some shoes, and ran outside to replace the windows I had removed from the Jeep three weeks earlier. Finally, a relief from the Summer drought. Unfortunately for me, it ended in a big way about the time I got outside. It's ok, the Jeep, my camping chairs, and I all needed a good shower.

Note: The only complaint we could muster on such a perfect day was that Mother Nature unleashed the yellow jackets (aggressive yellow wasps). For some reason, this time of year, yellow jackets are abundant up on Taylors Ridge and the vicinity (could be the fruit-bearing muskadine vines- aka wild grapes). No one in our crew got stung, but it made us uneasy a lot of the time.