Monday July 4th was of course American Independence Day. We spent most of the day preparing for our camping trip, but in the evening we went down to the Bayfront to see the firework display. There were crowds of people, which meant long queues to get drinks or use the toilets. But the fireworks were spectacular.
Our camping trip had been planned a long while back. It was intended to be a nostalgia trip, revisiting places that were familiar from the year we spent in South Carolina (1982-3). A secondary purpose was to visit Shenandoah National Park, about the only national park which we had not previously seen. So our itinerary was to take us north from Florida in a loop around Georgia and the Carolinas, with bits of Tennessee and Virginia thrown in. Here’s how the first part worked out.
Tuesday 5 July. We spent most of the day driving – about 270 miles, although we were still in Florida when we camped at the Suwannee River State Park (cue for a song, or maybe two). After putting up the tent we went to explore the park on foot. We enjoyed a late afternoon/early evening walk. The scenery was unusual and picturesque; the cypress knees in and near the water were bigger than any we’d ever seen, and some had grown into weird and dramatic shapes – they reminded us of the pinnacles in Cappadocia!
Wednesday 6. This morning we walked the remaining trails in Suwannee River, then paid a brief visit to the nearby Madison Blue Springs State Park: small, but the scenery was beautiful.
We crossed the border into Georgia and stopped at the Welcome Center to pick up information. Flicking through a booklet over coffee, we spotted a picture of the Providence Canyon State Park, aka ‘Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon’. The blurb said that it would particularly interest hiker and photographers, and we thought ‘That’s us!’.
Unfortunately, during the long drive there, the sun disappeared and the rain started. We decided to continue, and after a while the rain stopped. When we finally reached Providence Canyon, there was more rain, but it was very light, so it did not stop us exploring the park. The coloured rock formations (white, pink, orange, red) were truly amazing – a kind of miniature Bryce Canyon, which we had not expected to find in Georgia! But the colours would have looked even better in sunshine, so we spent the night nearby in the hope of better luck in the morning. We decided to risk camping, but as there was only rough camping at Providence, we went a few miles further to the Florence Marina State Park. Luckily there was no more rain!
Thursday 7. After a brief look at the Florence Marina reservoir, we returned to Province Canyon. The weather had improved, but there was still lots of cloud, so we did not get the bright blue sky which would have formed the perfect background to the rocks. But there was some sun, so we took plenty of photos. We walked along the rim and down to the canyon floor. There are nine linked canyons, and we explored all the ones we had not walked through the day before.
Our next stop was Atlanta, and here we were not camping, but staying at the home of our friend Alice. We were welcomed with wine and nibbles, and later had a delicious meal – and of course lots of chat!
Friday 8. Allice lives several miles north of Atlanta centre, so we drove back part of the way and then took the Metro. When we lived in Greenville, Atlanta was our nearest big city, so we visited several times. But the two places we went to today were new to us – so much for the nostalgia trip! In the morning we went to the Botanical Gardens, where there was an exhibition of blown glass installations by Chihuly; in the afternoon to the Human and Civil Rights Center, which is devoted to the work of Martin Luther King and other people who have fought for the rights of minority groups.
Saturday 9. After accompanying Alice to her local farmers’ market, we said our farewells and headed up to Lake Lanier, just north of Atlanta. The lake is very jagged, so has a long shoreline, and there are many campgrounds, marinas and ‘day use’ parks all round the lake. We visited several, enjoyed strolling and taking photos. Sandie even had a brief dip in the water. We ended up at the Don Carter State Park (on the northernmost ‘finger’ of the lake), and there we camped for the night.
Sunday 10. After doing a couple of trails round the lake in Don Carter, we moved on to the Tallulah Gorge State Park. We walked along the north rim of the gorge, stopping at overlooks for views of waterfalls. Next stop was Toccoa Falls, which we visited more than once ‘back in the day’, as it was a pleasant stop between Atlanta and Greenville. Another waterfall, but this one is viewed from below.
We crossed the border into South Carolina, and camped at a KOA campground just north of Travelers Rest – our old stamping ground. Following our custom, we put up the tent, and then had a drink while our airbed was being pumped up. Next task would be cooking dinner (Ian) and making up the bed (Sandie). But there was a sudden violent thunderstorm, so we took refuge in the ‘pavilion’, where there were covered picnic tables. The thunderstorm eventually abated, but the rain continued, with no sign of a pause. So Ian collected our food and cooking equipment, and we had dinner under cover. It could have been much worse!