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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

In my last post, I wrote about my visits to Chattooga River country starting in the early 1990s and my special fondness for the territory along Section IV of the river.

I wrote about a regular destination, a sandy beach near the river’s confluence with Camp Creek, and my frustration over the lack of trails along the river — as if the Forest Service owes me a trail for every whim.

My specific gripe: just downstream from the beach are the crown jewels of the Chattooga, the famous Five Falls — five major rapids in less than 1/4 mile of river.

This graphic shows the five rapids: Entrance, Corkscrew, Crack-in-the-Rock, Jawbone, and Sock ’em Dog. All are rated Class IV or Class IV+.

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Here they are in person.

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The flat water below Sock ’em Dog goes by the ominous name of Deadman’s Pool. The unmarked trail I learned about in Clayton ends there.

Once you know the trail exists, it’s obvious and easy to follow. My dog Kelly and I reached Deadman’s Pool in about 30 minutes and emerged onto these rocks:

Five Falls 2-3

We were alone, but within a few minutes, kayakers appeared in the distance, working their way through the rapids.

I took this photo as one of them ran Sock ’em Dog.

Five Falls 2-4

Kelly and I spent the next hour exploring the river bank, pausing to watch when boaters came along. Our vantage point on the rocks gave us a good view of Jawbone and Sock ’em Dog.

Kelly was off-leash that day. I always carried a leash in case it was needed, but, especially in such a remote location, she was unrestrained. That was routine on our hikes. When we encountered people on the trail, I would call her back to get hooked up. Kelly was a well-mannered and cooperative lady.

It was a fine, warm day. We had lunch, explored, and exchanged pleasantries with the rafters and kayakers who paused at the pool after running the rapids.

All was peachy — until Kelly ventured onto wet rock, slipped, and tumbled into the river.

She fell about six feet and — kerplunk — went under and out of sight. By the time the situation registered in my brain, she bobbed to the surface, wild-eyed, dog-paddling furiously.

The river current was negligible, so she was in no real danger of being swept away. But she was panicked and disoriented, going in circles. I kept calling to her, trying unsuccessfully to get her attention.

But luck was with us. Three kayakers had just exited Sock ’em Dog and entered Deadman’s Pool. They paddled to her, and one grabbed her collar. Instantly, she relaxed and regained her focus.

While the kayaker held Kelly by the collar, his friends pushed him toward the shore. I hoisted her to safety, babbling my gratitude.

After all that excitement, remaining at the pool any longer seemed anti-climactic. The three kayakers continued downstream. Kelly and I hiked back to the beach and up the trail to the car.

Over the next few years, I went back to Deadman’s Pool with Kelly twice, with my two sons once, and a fourth time with Paco. Nobody else ended up in the river involuntarily.

I probably owe Jake a trip sometime soon.

Five Falls 2-5

My best girl Kelly in the early 1990s. She was a fine lady.

 

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In 2009, I posted a story about being confronted by two armed local dudes while hiking to the Chattooga River in Northeast Georgia. It happened in 2002. The memory still gives me the willies.

That post focused on the incident itself, not the river or the experience of being there. That, I see in retrospect, was a serious omission.

I hope to fix that with the following story.

———

The Chattooga River, the inspiration for the novel and film Deliverance, begins in North Carolina and flows south as the state line between Georgia and South Carolina. It passes through terrain that is mountainous, dense, fertile, and humid. The region gets the most rainfall in Georgia.

The Chattooga is designated a National Wild and Scenic River and thus is under federal protection. No development is allowed within 1/4 mile of either bank. The river corridor is pristine and spectacular — clean, green, peaceful, natural, invigorating. A balm for the spirit.

Chattooga country is a premier destination for whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, hiking, backpacking, and camping. For boaters, the upper sections of the river* are relatively tame and forgiving, with exceptions here and there. But Sections III and IV at the lower end feature multiple rapids that will test your skills.

Section III consists mostly of Class II and Class III rapids, ending with Bull Sluice, a Class IV+. Section IV takes it up a notch with 10 rapids rated Class IV or higher.

The Chattooga abruptly fizzles out at Lake Tugaloo, the first of a series of reservoirs inflicted upon the Savannah River, which the Chattooga becomes downstream, as it flows to the Atlantic.

For me, kayaking Sections III and IV is out of the question, but I’ve rafted both several times commercially. Raft trips with the local outfitters are reasonably priced, reasonably safe, and great fun.

Over the years, however, most of my visits to the Chattooga have been to go hiking, and occasionally camping, in the magnificent mountain setting. My dog Kelly, and later her successor Paco, helped me explore numerous trails that lead down to and along the river.

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Kelly in 2000, ready for the day’s adventures.

From the headwaters down through Section III, Chattooga country has numerous dirt roads and trails, and you have good access to the river and the surrounding forest.

For example, the Chattooga River Trail follows the river corridor for 19 miles from GA 28 in the north (where Section II begins) to US 76 in the south (where Section IV begins).

But along Section IV, only a few roads access the river. And the handful of trails at river level are short and primitive.

For me, this always presented a problem. The upper Chattooga is terrific, and I’ve been there often. But it’s more crowded than Section IV. And the rapids aren’t as imposing as those on Section IV. And the terrain isn’t as steep and scenic as on Section IV.

I’m simply a bigger fan of Section IV.

On the map below, Section IV begins at point #1 and ends at the takeout on Lake Tugaloo, point #25. Note that only a few roads access the river in this 8-mile stretch.

Five Falls 1-2

Sometime in the late 1990s, by asking around and exploring the roads myself, I learned that the easiest route to the river on the Georgia side is via Camp Creek Road and Water Gauge Road, ending at Point #19 on the map.

(Point #22 at the end of Camp Creek Road is where I was confronted by the previously-mentioned armed local dudes. I decided not to go there again.)

At the end of Water Gauge Road, an abandoned dirt road serves as a trail down to the river, arriving at a spot just north of the confluence with Camp Creek. The river there is straight and calm and features a rare sandy beach.

I took the photos below in 2004 when I took Paco there to introduce him to the river.

Five Falls 1-3

Five Falls 1-4

Paco liked it fine, as long as his feet could touch bottom.

A few years earlier, Kelly and I had visited that spot several times to go swimming. But each time we went, I had the same nagging complaint: just downstream, literally around the next bend, are the biggest and best-known rapids on the Chattooga: the Five Falls.

And there is no trail along the river to get you there.

Five Falls 1-5

Five Falls — just around that bend to the left.

True, you are free to bushwhack downstream, climbing over rocks and wading where necessary. But trails were invented as a sensible alternative to that.

Then I got lucky. Someone at the visitor center in Clayton told me about a primitive trail that begins near the beach, climbs away from the river, crosses the adjoining hill, and drops back down to the river just below Five Falls.

The next weekend, Kelly and I went back, found the trail, and had an eventful day at Five Falls.

Details in my next post.

* From north to south, the Chattooga consists of six sections: 00, 0, I, II, III, and IV.

 

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Since I moved back to Georgia in 1979, I’ve lived in five different places around Atlanta and Athens. And the one constant since my return has been regular trips north into the mountains to go hiking.

There was a time when I took multi-day backpacking trips, but that practice evolved into the more civilized pursuit of dayhiking. Over the years, I’ve been on many hundreds of hikes in the mountains and foothills of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

For any given hike, my route to the mountains depended on where I lived at the time and where I was headed. By now, I’ve probably driven 90 percent of the roads, county, state, and federal, in the northern third of Georgia.

Sometime in the early 1990s, on my way north, I came upon an intriguing road sign that compelled me to stop and take a photo.

Bates Motel Road

It appeared to be a legitimate, official road sign, not a joke. The story behind it was a mystery, of course. All I could do was accept it as a humorous oddity and take the photo.

When I got home, I made a print and put it on the refrigerator. I also saved it as a .jpg and filed it away on my desktop.

But the novelty eventually wore off, and for the next couple of decades, I gave Bates Motel Road little thought.

But then, not long ago, a curious thought popped into my head. That photo of the Bates Motel road sign — where, exactly, did I take it?

I remembered the setting clearly, but I couldn’t recall the location. It could be anywhere in half a dozen counties in the North Georgia foothills.

For a while, when I drove north to go hiking, I made it a point to take different routes, hoping to find the elusive sign. No luck.

Then it dawned on me to look online. I Googled the words, Googled the image. I checked Google Maps and Google Earth. I searched various counties for “Bates Motel Road.”

I did all that and found nothing. Zip.

Why, for Heaven’s sake, could I find no record of any kind? Has the road been renamed? Was it bulldozed to make way for a subdivision? The subject bugs me greatly whenever I think about it. Which, lately, is often.

When you consider how many roads must exist in North Georgia, the odds are pretty slim of locating Bates Motel Road by searching randomly. It’s a needle-in-a-haystack situation.

Inevitably, the elusive road reminds me of the story of Brigadoon, the fictional Scottish village that is nowhere to be found except when it reappears for one day every century.

Then there is the 1957 movie “Raintree County,” a Civil War-era melodrama that takes place in the fictional Raintree County, Indiana. Essentially, it’s “Gone With the Wind” with Montgomery Clift in the Clark Gable role.

In the story, Raintree County is named for a romantic local legend that, hidden deep in the forest, is a magnificent Golden Raintree planted long ago by Johnny Appleseed. Find the Raintree, the legend says, and you will learn the secret of life itself. The locals consider it a nice fairy tale.

I remember the movie mostly for its ending. As the main characters emerge from a swamp after a dramatic climax, the camera pulls back to show the Raintree looming behind them, shining in golden splendor, still undetected. The End.

My road sign doesn’t qualify as magnificent or splendid. Just elusive.

And undoubtedly looming just out of sight.

North-GA

A needle-in-a-haystack situation.

 

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Road Trip 11/18, Part 5

My November road trip to Grand Canyon concludes…

———

Hatch, New Mexico

The “Chile Capital of the World” is a fun and interesting place. Stopping for a visit never gets old.

The little town is surrounded by vast fields of chile pepper plants. Something in the soil agrees with certain varieties of peppers, and the local farmers have taken advantage of it for the last century.

Naturally, numerous shops around town sell all forms of the product — fresh, cooked, dried, powdered, frozen — as well as souvenirs of the town, the state, and the region.

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Also, Hatch is only 100 miles from Mexico, so Talavera pottery is everywhere.

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The prices are low, and I have a grand time perusing the merchandise. As if I need more Talavera pottery.

###

Meridian, Mississippi

On Day 11, I stopped for lunch in Meridian and pulled into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant.

Immediately, a large brown dog appeared. He sat at attention next to the RV, wagging his tail furiously and looking up at me. He was a big, short-haired, pitbull-looking dog. He seemed friendly, but I was a little apprehensive when I got out of the RV.

No worries. he took the lead and escorted me to the restaurant entrance, looking back frequently over his shoulder. At the door, he stepped aside and sat at attention again, tail still wagging. Amused and bewildered, I went inside.

My table had a view of the entrance and the dog sitting outside quietly. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet and disappeared from view.

But not for long. He returned, escorting more people to the restaurant. They entered, and he resumed his sitting position at the door.

A few minutes later, a couple paid their check and left the restaurant. The dog escorted them to their car, then returned to his station.

While I ate, he escorted numerous customers to and from the restaurant. He never got uncomfortably close to anyone, never begged for food or attention. He was just, well, escorting the customers.

I flagged down the waitress. I had to ask about the dog.

“He showed up about a month ago,” she said. “Nobody knows where he came from or where he goes at night, but he’s always here when we get to work. We call him Jeeves.”

The employees had asked around, but no one knew anything about Jeeves. Nor could they explain his behavior with the customers. Some thought he was looking for his owner.

Jeeves was always friendly and a gentleman, the waitress said, and no customers had complained, so they saw to reason to call Animal Control.

A girl’s voice came from the booth behind me. “Mom, can I go over by the door and look at the dog?”

“Okay, honey, but stay inside.”

The little girl stood beside the glass door for several minutes, studying Jeeves. I was compelled to step into the aisle and take a photo.

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When the waitress brought my check, I asked what Jeeves did about food. Did he fend for himself — like, eating out of garbage cans?

“Oh, no, Jeeves is well taken care of. He gets all the restaurant leftovers he can handle.”

After lunch, Jeeves escorted me to the RV, then trotted back to his post at the front door.

###

Jefferson, Georgia

As always, it was good to be home. I sprung Jake from the kennel, and we resumed our routines.

Among my mementos of the trip was a $10 ristra I bought in Hatch. I found a suitable spot in the living room to hang it.

I didn’t set out to create a Southwest theme, but it seems to have materialized anyway.

RT 5-5

A good road trip is satisfying and therapeutic. But, a few months from now, I’ll start getting antsy to go somewhere again.

To a degree, the destination will matter. But not as much as the doing of the thing.

 

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Road Trip 11/18, Part 4

More on my November road trip to the Southwest…

———

Cameron, Arizona

35 miles east of Grand Canyon National Park, well into the Navajo rez, is the venerable Cameron Trading Post, established on the banks of the Little Colorado River in 1911.

This remote place is a veritable oasis. It consists of the trading post, restaurant, motel, gas station, RV park, gift shop, and, one of my favorite stops, a truly awe-inspiring art gallery.

Everything in the Cameron gallery is premium quality, some of it modern, some of considerable age, all for sale. Most of the merchandise sells for many hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

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Pay no attention to that man behind the pottery.

But I think of the gallery as more of a museum than a store. I go there to admire and enjoy the merchandise, not to buy anything. The touristy gift shop next door is more my speed.

###

Tuba City, Arizona

25 miles beyond Cameron is Tuba City, one of the larger towns in Navajoland.

Traffic when I arrived was unusually heavy, and, in fact, eventually stopped moving at all. Police vehicles were directing drivers in both directions to pull over.

In the distance, I could see why. A hundred or more men on horseback were approaching in a slow, solemn procession. The only sound was the clopping of hooves on the pavement.

I knew immediately what was up. The next day was Veterans Day, and the Tuba City veterans had turned out for a Saturday morning parade. In the procession with the horsemen were several cars carrying older veterans.

The scene was genuinely moving. Despite a lump to my throat and a tear in my eye, I grabbed my camera.

After I shot the video, a young rider peeled off from the group and rode over to my RV. The van sits high, so we were at eye level.

“Yah-ta-hey. Where you from, sir?” he said. I told him.

“You a veteran?” I said I was indeed.

We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He said he was in Afghanistan with the Army. I told him my service was Air Force, Vietnam era. He tipped his hat, wished me a safe trip, reined his horse around, and rejoined the procession.

I later learned it was Tuba City’s first Veterans Day parade. A lavish lunch was waiting for the veterans and their families next to the local VA office.

###

Ganado, Arizona

The Navajo town of Ganado is the home of Hubbell Trading Post, founded in 1878 and now a National Historic Site.

Hubbell is still in business. In addition to being a grocery store for the locals, it has an eye-popping selection of Navajo rugs and baskets, old and new.

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By sundown, I had crossed into New Mexico and was back in Gallup.

The trip home continues in my next post.

 

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Road Trip 11/18, Part 3

My November road trip to the Southwest continues…

———

Grand Canyon, Arizona

This year, the entrance fee at Grand Canyon National Park went up to $35 per vehicle. But I laugh at entrance fees. On Day 7 of my trip, when I arrived at the South Rim entrance gate, I flashed my lifetime Senior Pass and got in for free. Ha!

Actually, the geezer pass itself has become rather pricey. The cost of the lifetime pass is now $80. I got mine 10 years ago for $10. Ha!

For the record, this trip marked (drum roll) my 26th visit to Grand Canyon National Park. It also marked the first time I showed up without reservations.

If you’re familiar with the crowds and the limited accommodations at South Rim, that’s really betting long odds. Vacancies are rare and ephemeral.

Yes, you do have options. A campground and numerous motels are available in the village of Tusayan, seven miles outside the park. But, other than services, Tusayan has few redeeming qualities.

Tusayan is where tourists can watch an Imax movie showing them the wonders of Grand Canyon. Tusayan is where all the souvenirs are made in China.

That morning, my first stop in the Park was the RV campground. No vacancies.

My second stop was the front desk at Bright Angel Lodge. I approached one of the clerks and gave her an engaging smile.

“Hi,” I said. “I’ve been coming to Grand Canyon for 25 years, and this is the first time I’ve showed up without reservations. Any chance you guys have a vacancy, in any of the lodges?”

“Ten minutes ago, the answer was no,” she said. “But we just got a cancellation for a room at Thunderbird Lodge. Just for one night.”

My heart fluttered.

You’re lucky,” she added. “It’s a room with a canyon view.”

A room with a canyon view? Rooms with a canyon view are for rich people and visiting royalty, not for ordinary folks like me. I nearly swooned.

As it turned out, the view was somewhat less spectacular than I envisioned. The room was on the second floor, and you looked out at the roof of the first floor.

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But it was still a treat.

The weather was beautiful, if a little cold. For the rest of the morning, I walked along the rim, enjoying the views and taking photos. I’ve shot the same scenes countless times over the years, but I keep shooting them anyway.

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I also wandered through the usual gift shops and bought a couple of magnets and decals.

At Hopi House, a gallery featuring high-quality Native American crafts, I came across a small, handsome Hopi seed pot that I didn’t need, but nonetheless was drawn to.

I resisted the urge to purchase it for quite a while.

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Later, while walking along the rim behind Bright Angel Lodge, I noticed a small paper bag that someone had left on the stone railing. The bag bore the logo of Xanterra, the company that runs the shops and concessions. It probably contained souvenirs.

Bright Angel Lodge has a lost-and-found service, so I figured I would take it there.

As I reached down to pick it up, a raven landed on the railing a few feet away, looking at me in that weird, bug-eyed way birds have.

Ravens are everywhere at Grand Canyon. They are accomplished scavengers and thieves with little fear of humans. They’re also sleek and beautiful. I raised my camera to get a photo.

Simultaneously, he hopped closer and grabbed the paper bag.

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He launched skyward, flapping mightily, taking the bag with him. But he underestimated Rocky Smith. I snatched the bag from him in mid-flap, and the little pirate only got a torn piece of brown paper.

Inside the bag were a few postcards, a bookmark, and an “I Hiked the Canyon” bumper sticker. I dropped off the bag at Lost and Found.

That evening, I had prime rib at the Arizona Room, one of the better restaurants at South Rim. Afterward, I walked along the rim for a while. The night was chilly, but I was bundled up.

I marveled, as always, at how the constellations and the Milky Way stand out so clearly at Grand Canyon. Especially in winter, the night sky defies description.

This twilight photo is pretty good. 

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After a beer at the Bright Angel Bar, I retired to my room, pulled a chair up to the window, turned out the lights, and sat contemplating the stars.

The next morning, I checked at the front desk to see if another cancellation had materialized. The answer was no. If I wanted to stay longer, I would have to bed down in Tusayan.

I decided to move on.

In my next post, my trip continues east across the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

 

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Road Trip 11/18, Part 2

More highlights of my road trip to the Southwest…

———

Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff is a fun, funky, free-spirited place. It’s a mountain town, a college town (Northern Arizona University), and a ski resort. You can make day trips to Sedona, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Young, outdoorsy people are everywhere.

To me, this mural in a downtown alley, one block from Route 66, is typical of the vibe.

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When I’m in Flagstaff, I visit certain attractions, shop at certain stores, and eat at certain restaurants. Which ones will vary a bit from trip to trip, but I have a list of favorites.

On this trip, I wandered through the shops of the Indian traders downtown, and I went to the Museum of Northern Arizona, which has a world-class collection of Native American art and artifacts.

MNA also has one of the best gift shops on the planet for high-end Native American stuff.

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Among my notable dining experiences were a fine breakfast at La Belavia,

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a superb lunch at Diablo’s, home of the Diablo Burger,

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and a soul-satisfying supper at Beaver Street Brewery, where I am partial to the brewer’s platter.

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Earlier, to preemptively walk off some of the calories, I drove a few miles north of town to a picnic area with a great view of Humphreys Peak (which, in a few weeks, will be snow-capped until well into next summer),

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and, for an hour, I walked the trails under the ponderosa pines.

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On this trip, Flagstaff was the only place I stayed two nights. I couldn’t resist.

On the morning of Day 6, I left Flagstaff for Grand Canyon. This was the first time in 25 years I would show up at the park without reservations. It was a long shot, but I was hoping someone had canceled at the last minute, and I would be there to claim the room.

I will explain how that worked out in my next post.

 

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