Amicalola Falls State Park: friendly waters

Due to its size and geographical location on the continent, Georgia has a beautifully diverse landscape. I was reminded of this over the weekend as I drove from my home in a pastoral area of Southeast Georgia to the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Northwest portion of the State.

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I can’t decide if it’s rude or ironic, but either way… I like it!

It was a long drive for a day trip, and only two days after the “Great Georgia Blizzard of 2016”, but my friend and I set out for a much anticipated visit to Amicalola Falls State Park. Neither of us had visited before and we were both suffering a little cabin fever (it had just snowed after all) and we felt the need to get outside and enjoy nature.

We arrived around 1 pm, had a quick snack and decided we would eat lunch when we got back from our hike, which was approximately 2 miles round trip. We gathered our stuff, had cameras on the ready and set out to see the falls!

I realized I had left my water bottle in the car, but decided not to go back and get it because the nice lady in the Visitor’s Center had told us there would be a place to buy water when we got to the top.  Just a mere one mile away from where I stood… no problem… I’d just get some later.

Did I mention this was a hike to the top of a waterfall? And not just any old IMG_4332waterfall…the highest waterfall in the entire Southeast, a 729 foot waterfall, one of the 7 Wonders of Georgia, the hiking of which would include over 600 near-vertical stairs. Oh yeah… that waterfall!

So, halfway up the six-hundred-some-odd stairs, I turned all clammy and started feeling nauseous. I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack and tilted my head back and lifted my camera up for one last photo before I died. At least it was a beautiful place to breathe my last breath.

And then it hit me, I wasn’t dying… it was my vertigo! Once I realized I was going to live, the scenery was much more enjoyable, but it was still hard to make it up the remaining stairs.

I was dehydrated and knew that wasn’t helping matters, so I asked my friend to go on ahead and get some water from the lodge which was supposed to be right at the top of the falls.  I made it up the remaining stairs by counting them off and closing my eyes to keep the nausea at bay.

When I got to the top and the world had stopped spinning some, I realized there was no lodge right there, there were no signs, and I had sent my legally blind friend to find me some water. Yes, I know. My “Friend of the Year” nomination has just been revoked.  I had asked my legally blind friend to head on up the side of the mountain and please go find me some water.

As you can imagine, I was relieved to see her coming toward me, two Good Samaritans in tow. They had a cold bottle of water which instantly revived and also insisted I eat one of their delicious organic bananas. (My friend told me later that she had approached them, handed them her wallet and told them that she was legally blind and needed help finding where she could purchase a bottle of water for her friend.) Thankfully, the couple, aside from being completely adorable, were incredibly kind.

The young woman said that she didn’t believe in accidents and that there was a reason that things had unfolded the way they had in order to bring us together, and I couldn’t agree more. Even if that reason was simply to remind me and those of you reading this story that there are good people in this world and that kindness matters! And kindness to strangers somehow matters even more.

I looked up the meaning of the name, Amicalola, and found that it comes from the Cherokee for “tumbling waters”. But I didn’t sit through four excruciating semesters of Latin for nothing, and I know that “amica” means friend.  So for me Amicalola will always mean “tumbling friend”… or um maybe “friendly waters”… yeah, that’s it, Amicalola means “friendly waters”! How appropriate is that? (And how thankful am I that “tumbling friend” did not turn out to be the appropriate name??!!!)  🙂

Hints, tips, lessons learned….

Here’s the numIMG_4386ber one lesson to take away from this story – always carry water when hiking. No matter the distance. No matter the weather. No matter your physical fitness level (but perhaps especially when your physical fitness level is, um, not fit).

If you have vertigo, you may want to take the ridge trail to the top instead of the stairs… it’s not as scenic, but it also avoids vertical climbs and see-through stairs. If looking at this photo makes you feel queasy – take another route.

Plan for plenty of time to make the full circuit hike from the bottom of the falls, to the top, and back down. If it’s 1:00 when you get there, eat lunch BEFORE you head out. It’s only 2 miles, but it’s a STEEP 2 miles – going up and down.

Enjoy the gorgeous scenery! The falls are beautiful, the views of the mountains from the top of the ridge are spectacular. This park was wonderful and, despite my own little drama, totally worth the drive. I hear the views during peak fall color are amazing and I’d like to go back in the autumn to see it again!

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Sunrise on Tybee

South Georgia Transplant Solitary Sunrise

The ocean, for me, has always inspired solitary introspection. I’ve never been a fan of crowded beaches. I prefer to watch the social interactions of seagulls to those of swimsuit-clad humans. South Georgia Translpant seagulls

 

 

 

So, visiting Tybee Island during tourist season is not really my cup of tea. And if you had asked me 16 years ago when I lived on the West Coast and was enthralled with the craggy coastline of the cold Pacific Ocean if I would ever truly enjoy the flat sandy shores of the Mid Atlantic Coast, I would probably have said, no.

But like so many other things in Georgia, the beaches also won me over.

South Georgia Transplant Tybee sunriseMy favorite visit to Tybee so far, was a solo trip I made. During the winter. To watch the sunrise.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am not a morning person. But I got up at around 5:30 AM and headed out to meet the sun. Somethings are just worth the sacrifice.

South Georgia Transplant misty dunesThe beach was shrouded in mist that morning. The air was cold and the breeze was brisk. The solitude was palpable and it was a much-needed tonic to my soul.

It was only as I was leaving that I encountered another living being of the human variety. But I wasn’t lonely.

A small group of seagulls kept me entertained, huddled together like the old-timers who gather every morning in some local establishment in small towns everywhere for an early cup of coffee and all the latest gossip. They shuffled about in the surf in chatty camaraderie, waiting to say their first “hello” of a new day to the sun as it awakened.

The sun took its time rising on that morning. Much like I do on most days. Clinging to its covers until the very last possible moment. Sluggishly making its way through the clouds and in no hurry to shake off the morning fog.

But rise it did. Perhaps not eager, but still ever faithful in going about its business of the day.

south georgia transplant seagulls and sunrise

 

 

South Georgia Transplant

My roots have never grown deep.

During my growing up years, the longest my family lived in the same home was where we lived when I was born until I reached the age of five! Not a lot of time for putting down roots.

My parents were missionaries and I grew up in Central Mexico… the place I still consider my “home” more than anywhere else even though I was, by most standards, an outsider there.

At the age of 15, I moved to Oregon. Though I had never even visited there before, the snow-capped mountains and picturesque pastoral scenery instantly put me at ease reminding me of the beautiful landscapes I had left behind in Mexico. I quickly felt “at home” in the Northwest.

Picking up roots once again, I moved to rural Georgia when I was 23 (more years ago than I care to mention). More than any place I had moved before, Georgia felt very foreign to me. The accents, the phrases, the weather, the landscape, the manners, the overwhelming friendliness…. it was all a bit much for me to take in.

My family is from the South, so to a certain degree, I had always considered myself a Southerner, but I was in for quite a shock when I became fully immersed!

I was truly transplanted. Pulled up by the roots and deposited into foreign soil amongst unfamiliar surroundings. I had trouble understanding what people said to me, the strong southern accents were nothing to the local colloquialisms that I found utterly baffling. The weather very nearly killed me (literally!) – 100 degrees coupled with 100% humidity – how does anyone survive that???  The mosquitoes and gnats drove me insane. The landscape left my soul barren – where were the mountains? Pine trees were something I was used to in Oregon where I thought they were plentiful – but it was nothing to the tightly planted pine forests of South Georgia. I felt confined, claustrophobic even, with pine trees (not to mention the kudzu) obstructing my view in every direction.

sunset in the south georgia pines

It took me a long time to fully appreciate and acclimate to my new HOME, but it did happen gradually over time.

I came to understand what people were saying to me and to appreciate the friendly and hospitable manner of the South. It has even helped to bring me out of my introverted shell so that I can seem downright chatty to those who knew me best in my pre-transplant days. Always a verbal chameleon, I now speak southern fluently.

I came to love the natural beauty of this region – it lacks the overt majesty of mountains, but it gently woos the soul with its subtle beauties.  The graceful live oaks laced with Spanish moss, a cotton field on the brink of harvest, a marsh filled with the sounds of life, a fiery sunset behind grazing cattle, a dilapidated old barn blending in with the fog… these are a few of my new favorite things.

It occurred to me recently that this IS my home and that my roots have recovered from their transplant shock and that it is high time for them to push down deeper, spread a little wider, and help this transplant become fully established. And to that end, this blog is born.

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It doesn’t snow often here, but when it does it’s magical!

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