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.