Since our last post, we’ve been wandering around eastern Tennessee and the Asheville, NC area. We visited Jonesborough, TN for a day last spring and loved it. It’s the oldest town in Tennesssee and they have maintained the historic architecture of their small downtown area. When we first visited, it was a sort of sleepy town, but this time it was quite busy. Jonesborough is the home of the International Storytelling Center and they host the annual International Storytelling Festival the first week of October. The festival this year was being held entirely online so we thought we’d be safe from crowds. Unfortunately, a combination of beautiful weather and storytelling brought an awful lot of folks to the town’s narrow sidewalks. Since we’re trying to stay away from crowds and our campground was less hospitable than we expected (a very tightly packed, busy place, not like other state parks we’ve visited), we decided to move along ahead of schedule and left after three nights.
I am a planner, and sometimes it’s not easy to be flexible. Trying to find a campground in the Asheville, NC area during foliage season was one of those times, but I prevailed! I found the last available dry camping site (no electric/water/sewer hookups) in Lake Powhatan State Park! Bob called a friend from his youth, Janet, who relocated to the Asheville area a few years ago. As luck would have it, she lives about five minutes from the state park, so we spent the afternoon visiting her. We had a great time! Janet’s a great gal with lots of stories and we really enjoyed our visit.
After a couple of days in Asheville, we continued our push south. We’ve never been in this area before … the mountains region of northeast Georgia (the southernmost part of the Blue Ridge Mountains). It’s really spectacular! We stayed one night in a town called Rabun Gap where our view the next morning was clouds lifting from between the mountains behind the RV park. The park itself is brand new, opening for business in the summer of 2019. They built their park from scratch so everything is brand new and clean. The staff is very friendly and interested in forming relationships with their guests … we’ll be back! In the campground office they have license plates from many states nailed to the rafters. Most were from the southeast, but I did see one from Massachusetts. None from Connecticut, though. As luck would have it, our Texas plates showed up the following day! We put the new plates on our vehicles and gave one of the old ones to the park to add to their rafters.
Our second Georgia stop was in the town of Sautee Nacoochee. The town is named after two local Indians. The legend is that Sautee, a Chickasaw warrior, and Nacoochee, daughter of a Cherokee chief, fell in love. The Chickasaw and Cherokee were foes and always at war, so the relationship was forbidden. When the Chief learned of the romance he had Sautee captured and thrown off the mountain top while his daughter watched. She was so distraught that she threw herself off the mountain after him. They died in each other’s arms at the base of the mountain. This Indian burial mound in the middle of a cow pasture is supposedly their grave! Why is there a gazebo on top? In the 1800’s a man bought the property to farm it, cut off the top of this hill and added the gazebo because he had no idea it was an Indian burial mound! The property was sold in the early 1900’s to a Mr. Hardman who became Governor of Georgia and had the property excavated by the Smithsonian. That’s when it was discovered that about 75 skeletons are contained in the mound. (Although it is very unlikely that Sautee and Nacoochee are there as the story has never been proven.)
This is why we travel … great stories!
Another great story involves the nearby town of Helen. Quite an oddity in the middle of a warm southern state, Helen is a replicated Bavarian village. The story here is that in the late 1960’s some of the town’s business men met to discuss what they could do to attract the mountain tourists to their town. The poor town looked quite plain and shabby and needed some help. They put the question to a local artist … what can we do to make our town interesting? The artist knew exactly what he would do … he had served during WWII in Bavaria and fell in love with the architecture, so he painted some watercolors of what the storefronts could look like. The business leaders loved the idea and immediately set to remodeling their buildings, and they’ve been adding to the town ever since! It’s pretty amazing to see, but we were sad to see how touristy it was. Really, what did we expect? It’s a Barvarian village in Georgia, of course it’s going to be filled with people! We didn’t feel very comfortable with the crowds, didn’t go into the shops, just had one beer at a Biergarten outside and left.
Between Helen and our campground is a state park where the beautiful Anna Ruby Falls are located. Near the top of the mountain there’s a paved, sometimes steep, quarter-mile trail along a beautiful creek. The trail ends at the falls. It’s a beautiful walk with lots of photo opportunities. We stopped there on a whim, and we are so glad we did!
We spent a day driving on back roads through the mountains. What a great day on one windy road after another with beautiful views and colorful foliage, and we were practically alone on most of the roads. Bob missed riding his motorcycle on “the twisties.” We ended up at Tallulah Gorge and a short walk to a breathtaking view of Tallulah Falls. This is where the 1972 movie Deliverance was shot. If this blog post isn’t enough reading for you, head on over to this link for a great story on how the movie was shot: https://ascmag.com/articles/on-location-with-deliverance . In a separate article, I read that more than 30 people have died trying to navigate the Cahulawassee river, which cuts through the gorge, since the movie was released. Also, the boy with the banjo who became famous without saying a word is a local fellow named Billy Redden. He was hired by a film scout who thought he looked like an inbred backwoods boy. He doesn’t even play the banjo, they hid a banjo player behind him and made it look like he was playing. Billy is in his 60’s now, has worked at the local Walmart and the Cookie Jar Cafe and, despite Hollywood hiring him for cameos in three more films (always as the inbred southern banjo player), he is barely scraping by.
Returning from Tallulah along a different windy mountain road we discovered a little barbeque place in the middle of nowhere. Bob looked it up and this tiny place gets 5 stars on Google, Yelp and Facebook, so you know we had to try it! It was about 2pm and, unfortunately, the ribs and wings were gone due to an unusually busy lunch time. We took an order of BBQ nachos to go and we both agreed that they were delicious! The place is only open four days a week (Thursday through Sunday), so we didn’t have another opportunity to try the ribs.
Another place that is only open a few days a week is the little bakery and breakfast joint across the road from our campground. At first we read the sign, AIN’T BS, but when we walked across the street and got closer we saw the second apostrophe: AIN’T B’S. Bob spoke to the owner about the sign, and apparently that is exactly the response she was aiming for as she is Ain’t B and her place Ain’t B.S.! She only opens three mornings a week, Thursday through Saturday, and serves the freshest cinnamon rolls, sticky buns and cupcakes as well as a short list of omlettes. Her little business also earned five stars online! This is another of our favorite things about traveling … finding these little gems that you’ll never see along the interstate.
A couple of people have asked me how the southern states are dealing with COVID. We haven’t really noticed much difference since leaving Connecticut, although there was one diner in Virginia that we didn’t enter because we watched people go in and out unmasked. When we arrived in Georgia, however, I started to notice that fewer people are masked. It’s kind of hard to determine because we have been doing mostly outdoor things. In the town of Helen, there were lots of tourists milling about going in and out of shops, and a lot of them were not masked. The trails at both waterfalls were heavily traveled and, although we’re outdoors, there were a lot of people huffing and puffing up the hills, which means aerosolized breath is going farther. My accidental research was done when I ran into a Dollar Tree to grab something … despite a large sign on the door instructing that masks were required, I counted ten people without masks in the store including the cashier. There were three wearing masks including me. That resulting number of 66% of people not wearing masks seems to be about right for northern Georgia. And this state is certainly not out of the woods yet, as it has suffered the fifth highest number of COVID cases in the country.
Tomorrow we leave northern Georgia and head for Aiken, South Carolina, a town that we’ve been to twice in the past and a town that we really enjoy.