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Aug. 16, 2018
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Vanderford's Travel Column


Brasstown Valley Resort at the top in North Georgia

The mind of a Cherokee Warrior surveying the lush valley below from atop the 4,784-foot summit of Brasstown Bald (Georgia’s highest mountain) must have been running wild as he contemplated the multitude of possibilities below. Though my ancestors, the Cherokees, were forced off these lands many years ago and the outside world has changed completely, the outdoor experiences that await any visitor into Brasstown Valley today would certainly bring a smile to that early sojourner.
 
In reality, the Brasstown Valley Resort near Young Harris, Ga, is built around the site of an ancient Cherokee village the Indians referred to as “The Enchanted Valley.” Thanks to extensive planning, this property blends naturally with gorgeous surroundings without disturbing the historical significance or original flora and fauna. Therefore, the resort’s fieldstone-accented lodge appears to ascend from the forested hills as though it had always been a part of the picturesque, mountain landscape.
 
Designated as a bird sanctuary, the 503 acres of Brasstown Valley Resort is home to more than 100 species of birds, including bald eagles, hawks and peregrine falcons. Other regular visitors like red foxes, black bear, deer, and numerous species of smaller animals enjoy the protection provided by prolific oak, sycamore and white dogwood trees. 
 
Though not easy, fishing for rainbow and brown trout is possible on-site along the clear, spring-fed waters of Brasstown Valley Creek, but a small pond on the resort property better affords kids and elders a chance to catch bass and bream. Other outdoor activities include hiking on the Brasstown Trail, which winds along forested paths that pass babbling brooks and beautiful vistas. Boating, fishing or other water sports exist nearby in Lake Chatuge or Lake Nottley.
 
The most impressive part of Brasstown Valley Resort, however, is the championship, Scottish links-style golf course. Constructed in the hills below and within sight of Brasstown Bald, this challenging golfing venue is one of the most environmentally sensitive facilities in the country because of the efforts that were made to preserve and protect the local animals and the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountain surroundings. Despite the constant test of golfing skills needed to play well here, the panoramic views at every hole have most people stopping frequently to drink in the beauty with their eyes and their cameras.
 
In addition to the natural beauty that surrounds this golf course and resort area, one is equally impressed upon entering the Lodge’s Great Room. It has a hexagon shape highlighted by a very impressive fieldstone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows that frame spectacular mountain scenes. Massive chandeliers made from naturally-shed antlers hang from soaring ceilings with exposed wooden beams. The unique fireplace seems to have a perpetual fire that automatically makes guests feel right at home!
 
Accommodations at Brasstown Valley Resort include rooms, suites and cottages. The lodge proper contains spacious and well-appointed guest rooms and suites. One may also choose to stay in secluded cottages on the property that feature large guest rooms and a grand parlor with a wood-burning fireplace, kitchenette and hillside verandah.
 
Abundant regional recipes and ingredients are always a part of any culinary experience in The Dining Room of the lodge. I enjoyed one of the best steaks I’ve ever tasted! For those who prefer a more laid-back atmosphere, Brassies Grill is perfect for a relaxing lunch, quick afternoon snack or cozy fireside dinner. Guests are invited to play a game of pool or darts, or catch the latest game, race or news of the day on the big-screen TV.
 
Other offerings include: A fitness center, Equani spa, a picturesque wedding venue, tennis courts,  an arcade, indoor-outdoor swimming pool and equestrian stables. For corporate and business people, the resort offers more than 14,000 square feet of meeting space. For directions, more info or reservations at Brasstown Valley Resort, visit: www.brasstownvalley.com.
 
This naturally spectacular place is a part of Georgia that would enhance anyone’s itinerary. It offers some of the finest scenery in the Peach State, and affords one a unique experience while taking in the beauty of the North Georgia mountains!
 
 

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at 770-289-1543, at jfish51@aol.com or at his web site: www.georgiafishing.com.



July 2018 column

Carolina coast nature is phenomenal

The Carolina Coast offers a plethora of habitats including tidal creeks and flats, salt marshes, beaches and sand dunes, thickets of coastal shrubs, aquatic vegetation and maritime forests. These diverse places become the home and feeding grounds for countless species of birds, mammals, reptiles and fishes. Therefore, this unique environment affords visitors and photographers the possibility to experience some of the best wildlife and bird watching opportunities in America!
 
Though the terrain is mostly flat with high grasses and mud-bottom creeks that wind their way through the marshes to the sea, sporadic patches of oaks and cypress trees with hanging Spanish moss give the area a calming look of a painted landscape. This naturally beautiful setting is home to a wide range of common, migrating and rare species of birds and wildlife.
 
A popular way to see and photograph the intricacy of the Carolina Coast is with a small boat, canoe or kayak. Thanks to the network of creeks that skirt in and around the heavily used Intracoastal Waterway, miles of bird and wildlife watching and views of stunning scenery are possible. These trips should be planned to coincide with the high tide to ensure plenty of watery paths that are deep enough to paddle.
 
Many of the almost deserted beaches along the coast are picturesque and ideal for swimming, surfing, fishing and hiking. However, with no lifeguards on most beaches and the ever-present danger of ocean currents and uneven, soft bottoms, visitors should never venture too far into the waters alone.
 
Though not as productive as many beaches in Florida, shelling is another possibility for avid collectors. Shell seekers should patrol the beaches at low tide to look for whelks, olive shells, moon snails and even the rare Scotch Bonnets which periodically wash ashore.
 
For those who wish to camp along the Carolina Coast, it is necessary to check federal, state and local regulations. Some laws are strict about litter, personal items, campfires, wildlife, pets and the protection of beaches and dunes.
 
Besides offering constantly changing magnificent vistas with an abundance of diverse wildlife, the Carolina Coast and the South Carolina Lowcountry boasts dozens of picturesque and challenging golf courses. Many of these have ocean or marsh views, and some like Rose Hill Golf Course in Bluffton, S.C. have as many different species of wildlife as you might find in a zoo.
 
During most of the year, festivals can be found that highlight almost every aspect of the area as well as most of the native creatures. These celebrations include events for gopher tortoises, shrimp, watermelons, rice, catfish, chili, harbors, wine, beer and more.
 
Accommodations range from a reasonably-priced rest to the finest four-star resorts, bed & breakfasts, inns or beach-front cottages. Great campgrounds are abundant and numerous state parks dot the coastal landscape.
 
Warmed by Southern breezes, the miles of pristine beaches, expansive marshes and maritime forests of Coastal Carolina beckon. Beach lovers, thrill seekers, history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, bird watchers, foodies, fishermen, golfers artists and authors will all love the laidback lifestyle, lush landscapes, natural attractions and diverse culture of this unforgettable area!


June 2018 column

St. Marys is one of the last wild, scenic rivers

Canoeing and fishing through one of the most beautiful, natural settings in the South on one of the last remaining wild, scenic rivers in our country is still possible. This unforgettable experience can be accomplished on the historic St. Marys River near Folkston, Ga. by even a novice paddler with a little planning.
 
The physical character of the St. Marys River changes tremendously over the 135 miles that it traverses from its beginnings near Ellicott’s Mound in the heart of the Okefenokee Swamp until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near the southern tip of Cumberland Island. Nevertheless, the beauty of this natural river, throughout its length, is too magnificent to be described with mere words. 
 
Just below its headwaters in the Okefenokee Swamp, the St. Marys River is a small, beautiful stream that is slow when the water is low and quite swift after rainy periods. Majestic cypress forests outline the St. Marys River as it flows over and around sugar-white sandbars in every bend. When the river is low, these wide, sandy areas are excellent for campsites.
 
On the Florida side of the river, the St. Marys River Canoe Trail has been officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. It begins at County Road 121 Bridge, which is north of Macclenny, Fla. Wildlife is abundant along this wilderness trail, especially herons, egrets, ospreys, turtles, and occasionally a bear or deer. 
 
Other access points are also possible, but some of these are private and may require a fee for launching or parking. The absolute best place to kick off any trip on the St. Marys River is on the Georgia side at Traders Hill Recreation Area, which was originally an Indian trading post known as Fort Alert that became the county seat of Charlton County in 1854. This 32-acre recreation park on the St. Marys River has a boat launch, campsites, fishing and swimming area, and a place to simply enjoy the natural beauty of the river. It is close to the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, and can be excellent for watching a variety of wading and woodland species of birds that are often seen in the waters and trees around the park. Amenities include plenty of RV hookups, tent campsites, showers, a dumping station, and picnic tables. In addition, canoe rentals, nature guides, parking and shuttle service to and from any of the available canoe launch areas south of the Okefenokee Swamp are available.
 
More than 65 species of fish have been identified in the St. Marys River, but largemouth bass, many species of sunfish, and several types of catfish can be found inhabiting much of the middle and upper portions of the St. Marys. At the river’s mouth, the estuarine system (the wide, lower portion of the river where the river current meets the ocean tide) provides fishing enthusiasts with an abundance of redfish, spotted sea trout and flounder. Anglers may fish both sides of the river, but need a Florida or Georgia fishing license. 
 
In the past, the most popular fishing and canoeing area has been the second stage of the river. This section starts at Highway 2 near St. George, Ga, and continues for 35 miles with a wider berth and slower current which allows more maneuverability for fishing, canoeing or kayaking. Nevertheless, the river still maintains the scenic beauty and intimacy it had upstream and has many sand beaches that are perfect for picnicking or camping.
 
The breathtaking beauty of the pristine, tannic acid tinted, dark waters of the St. Marys River is highlighted by extremely contrasting ribbons of pure, white sands on either side, and surrounded by a kaleidoscope of interesting flora and fauna. Also, the fishery for sunfish and bass in the river is certainly worthy of any angler’s time. Add to this the solitude of rarely seeing any manmade structures, boats or people, and any nature lover will realize that this wild, scenic river is one of the last of its kind on the planet.

May 2018 column

The timeless world of Rio Parismina in Costa Rica

The rainforest is a paradise of plumage that swoops through the tall tangled trees spreading seeds in the forest amid animal and bird songs that constantly fill the air. These are the thoughts that in moments of solitude have filled my mind for more than 25 years.
 
It is often said that you can never go back in time and find the same magic that had peaked all of your senses when you wore a younger man’s shoes. In some respects because of the natural aging process and the ever-changing world ... that is true, but time makes some things even better!
 
More than a quarter of a century ago, Judy Heidt, a beautiful lady from Texas, came to the mouth of the Parismina River on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica to do battle with the huge schools of 100 pound tarpon that live there. She loved it so much that she purchased 50 acres of land with the idea of building a retirement home. She had so many requests from friends to visit that her retirement home idea expanded into carving out space for a first class fishing lodge in the middle of the rainforest.
 
To further expand the visitation among anglers to the new Rio Parismina Lodge, Judy invited me and numerous other outdoor writers to experience and photograph the fabulous fishing, the breathtaking beauty of the rainforest and the unforgettable culinary opportunities.
 
All of us spent at least 10 days partaking of the world class fishing and other unique experiences. We returned home with a diverse collection of photos and stories that we have used in numerous articles since that time.
 
Recently, Judy invited me to return to her paradise on the Parismina River and to spend a week with Carlos Prendas, who was the same guide I had 25 years ago. With visions of the rainforest and memories of one of the best trips of my lifetime, I couldn’t say ‘Yes’ fast enough!
 
On my first trip to the Rio Parsimina Lodge, my interests had been more about the fantastic fishing, but this trip would be different. With better cameras and a deep yearning to see and photograph the natural diversity of the ageless rainforest, my eyes were soon opened wide to a world I had only slightly seen 25 years ago.
 
My first morning began with the deep bellowing sound of a tiny howler monkey, who sounded like King Kong, perched high in a mahogany tree! This was the first of many shocks to all of my senses as the rainforest is never quiet and seems to both startle and entertain intruders with a constant kaleidoscope of ever-changing sights and sounds.
 
I could go on forever trying to convey the overflowing cornucopia of the beauty in the Costa Rican rainforest, but I must save space for the photojournalism that says so much more! So, feast on the pictures and if you want to live the experience, contact the Rio Parismina Lodge at: www.riop.com.
 


April 2018 column

Newfoulndland is a winter wonderland

It would be difficult to locate any place on the globe where the experiences of meeting and interacting with the people would stand alone as a good reason to visit, but Newfoundland is just such a place. The inhabitants of this winter wonderland have been described as: “A warm and welcoming people with a vibrant spirit and strong sense of self, who live remarkable lives in a remarkable place. They rely and thrive on their own ingenuity and on the kinship of each other.”
 
In a time when many people think only of themselves, it is so different to discover a people who are genuine, uncomplicated, creative, honest, spontaneous, and fun-loving to the bone! They never forget the really important things in life … family, good friends, and good times.
 
Beyond the wonderful populace and countryside that has changed little in more than a hundred years, the raw, natural beauty of Newfoundland is simply breathtaking…  especially during the winter and early spring! Beneath the untouched blanket of snow lies a geological tapestry that would rival any other region in the world. 
 
Throughout the globe, the Gros Morne area is highly regarded for its complex geology and stunning scenery. It was here that geologists proved the theory of plate tectonics. The Tablelands, a mountain of flat-topped rock of a kind usually found only deep in the earth’s mantle, is an awe inspiring sight.

Most of this area of Newfoundland is part of an ancient seafloor and preserved ocean avalanches that were exposed by the collision of the Earth’s tectonic plates 500 million years ago. Gros Morne National Park offers this unique geological history and during the winter, the snow and ice produces a winter wonderland.
 
The absolute best way to see and experience Newfoundland in winter is on snowshoes. Step out into the freshness of the clean, snow-covered world of Newfoundland and learn to love the very distinct sound of snow crunching underfoot as it echoes through the quiet evergreen trees. You will wander through small fishing villages and visit spectacular seaside vistas. Experience the movement of ice pans in snow covered harbors, watch moose wandering across frozen bays, and visit artfully painted lighthouses along picturesque shorelines.
 
The more adventuresome can climb the sloping heights of a mountain ridge in Gros Morne while floating above the ground on a pristine blanket of snow and ice. One can traverse entire lakes and ponds that are below the snow, and take photographs that will be cherished forever.
 
Most trips into this part of Newfoundland begin with a flight into Deer Lake, which is a thriving little community in the heart of the best skiing and snowmobiling areas. Once reaching the sleepy little village of Rocky Harbour, which is very close to Gros Morne National Park, individuals or families should experience the traditional food and hospitality of a real Newfoundland family.
 
A Newfoundland breakfast is filling when prepared in the local style complete with anything from Eggs Benedict to waffles. However, be sure to request a traditional Newfoundland, hot supper during your stay. Your palate will be treated to the unique tastes of salt meat, peas pudding, many vegetables, something called ‘fluffy duff’ and steamed pudding for dessert … .and, it is all cooked together in the same pot!
 
For mostly geological and geographical reasons, Newfoundland is often referred to as the Edge of the Earth. After a visit to this unique location, however, it is said that you might never find another place that makes you feel both lost and found at the same time. 
 
The people are hardy, warm and unforgettable, the sounds, smells and natural beauty of this land attacks your senses from every direction, and like so many who have come to Newfoundland before me, I will always have a special place in my heart for this gorgeous island that sits out on the edge of the Earth!

March 2018 column

The beautiful winter solitude of Nova Scotia

Thousands of expressively-written articles have appeared throughout the globe of the tiny villages and vistas along Nova Scotia’s “Lighthouse Trail” and “Evangeline Trail” during summer, but little has been said about winter in this gorgeous setting. For any lover of photography, solitude, wonderful lodging opportunities or palate-pleasing food and drink, wintertime in Nova Scotia is the best!

Even in winter, these trails follow a path through a breathtaking landscape of coastal beauty and historic charm that has captured the hearts and minds of travelers for generations. One can traverse a snow and ice covered shoreline that passes rugged coves, bays and islands that have been sculpted by the winds and waves for centuries. All along these incredible vistas, sojourners can pause in historic towns and weathered fishing villages that lie quietly waiting for the coming spring.

Much of the Lighthouse Trail follows a route where time seems to have stood still. Along this path, many of the trail’s namesake lighthouses can be seen and photographed in a winter setting that few have experienced.
 
Trips to Nova Scotia normally begin with a flight into the Halifax International Airport, which is northeast of the city. The most direct route from the airport to the Lighthouse Trail or the Evangeline Trail is via Highway 101 going northwest out of Halifax. Though numerous side trips could be taken, I would suggest the first stop be in the quaint little town of Wolfville, which is a picture perfect valley town. This was the site of the Acadian Deportation and the setting for Longfellow’s famous poem, “Evangeline.”

Many of the exiled French found their way south to Louisiana, where “Acadian” was transformed into “Cajun.” Those who remained in Nova Scotia, or returned from exile, have a distinct link to and love for the Cajun culture and unique cuisine.
 
The Evangeline Trail parallels the Bay of Fundy coast, passing through many historical villages that were built by early European settlers. This sojourn along the picturesque Bay of Fundy covers more than 400 years of settlement through valleys, farms and fishing villages that shows a wealth of diverse landscape, European charm and rugged natural beauty. The Bay of Fundy alone is worth the experience with its phenomenal tides that sometimes vary over 50 feet from high to low.

Even in winter, one of the most picturesque villages along the Evangeline Trail is Annapolis Royal, which is a beautiful community nestled in the Annapolis Valley, and originally inhabited by a native Mikmaq community. In 1605, however, the area became home to some of North America’s earliest European settlers. 
 
Annapolis Royal offers a waterfront shopping area, some great restaurants, a downtown area that has been designated a National Historic District and a great selection of lodging within walking distance of the downtown area with all of the eateries and an exciting arts and theatre community.
 
Before departing the Fundy coast, take a short drive south to Bear River and Digby. Both of these little towns are rich in history, but Digby is more famous for its tasty scallops, while Bear River is known for its arts and crafts.
 
From Bear River, it’s time to climb into the hills and visit Kejimkujik, which is the only inland national park in the Maritimes. It features abundant frozen lakes and rivers that are ideal for snow shoeing or cross-country skiing. The woodlands and gently rolling landscapes of the park have many beautiful trails.

From the high ground and wilderness of Kejimkujik, it is a beautiful drive down to Liverpool, which is known as the “Port of the Privateers.” One can wander through the galleries of famous local artists, visit the historic Astor Theatre or photograph an unspoiled Atlantic coastline dotted with six lighthouses. It is a destination with many interesting vistas.
 
As one turns north on the Lighthouse Trail toward Halifax, you will be thrilled by some of the best and most famous landscapes in Nova Scotia. During the summer months, the tourist traffic would be almost impossible to navigate, but throughout the winter, solitude is the norm.

Visitors can cross the LaHave River on a cable ferry and meander through the colorful buildings in the old town of Lunenburg, which is a UNSECO world heritage site. Lunenburg is the birthplace of the world famous schooner “Bluenose” and the newer, “Bluenose II” which remains an important tourist attraction in the town. Wooden boat building has always been an important business in Lunenburg, and the building of classic dories is still popular. Tourism, however, is now Lunenburg’s most important industry and many thousands visit the town each year. A number of restaurants, inns, hotels and shops exist to service the tourist trade including the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.
 
The original inhabitants of Lunenburg were primarily Germans from the southern Rhineland, and Swiss and French Protestants from Montbeliard. Many of these first families and their descendants still inhabit and influence the development of the town in modern times.

Slightly further to the north is the town of Mahone Bay that is known for great churches, gazebos and a gorgeous waterfront. This tidbit, however, prepares one for the first look across the water to the famous lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, which is part of a tiny, painted fishin village that was randomly erected around a perfect Atlantic inlet, and has become the most photographed place in North America during the summer months. Nevertheless, few have had the opportunity to capture its beauty during the magical winter period.

With a head and camera full of unforgettable pictures of a Nova Scotia that few outsiders have seen and wonderful memories of the friendly people that were encountered, I had to return to Halifax and a flight back home. Most of the time, I am ready and eager to hop that plane, but even a week isn’t enough time to absorb the raw beauty and history of Nova Scotia and its unique people. Therefore, even before I left, I made a promise to myself that one day in the future I would return to this Maritime Winter Wonderland!



 
 
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