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Vanderford's Travel Column


Eufaula has maintained its quaint, small town feel

My first visit to Eufaula, Alabama to fish in a big bass tournament was over 45 years ago, and winning the competition had nothing to do with falling in love with both Lake Eufaula and this sleepy Southern town built on the high bluffs of the Chattahoochee River.

In a recent return, I pleasantly discovered that except for modern cars and different businesses, the historic center of this picturesque village with its stately antebellum mansions is still intact. Even the people tend to move to a slower beat that was more prevalent during my younger years.

This gorgeous old city was first settled in 1816 and built on the site of a former Creek Indian village. It is home to numerous structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places ... most being immaculately restored mansions of the Old South. The most famous of these is the Shorter Mansion that was constructed on the main highway through town in 1884 and completely renovated in 1906. The Classic Revival type house was bought by the Eufaula Heritage Association at auction in 1965, and now serves as the headquarters of the oldest tour of homes in Alabama.

Another of the famous homes in Eufaula is the antebellum Italianate mansion, Fendall Hall, which was built in 1860 by businessman E.B. Young and remained in the family for five generations until 1973. It was purchased by the Alabama Historical Commission at that time to become a house museum to show period furnishings that include marble mantles and a black and white tiled entryway.

Historians love to wander through the grave stones in the old Fairview Cemetery that contain the remains of all of the notable families who settled this area. The huge marble statues with diverse designs not only show the wealth of these people, but display the artistic values of the Italian stone cutters who made them. Because the cemetery is located on a high bluff overlooking Lake Eufaula, it is a reverent place to reflect and combine the wonders of nature as well. This old burial ground also has a section that is reserved for those of the Jewish faith, which is not found in many Southern cemeteries.

Since the dam was constructed on the Chattahoochee River in 1963, Lake Eufaula has been a huge attraction to bass fishermen from all over the world. It is a 45,000 acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment that straddles the border between Georgia and Alabama. Also, the lock at Ft. Gaines, Georgia has the second highest drop east of the Mississippi River, and on the northern section of the lake the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is a birding paradise.

Not far from downtown Eufaula is the Lakepoint Resort State Park, a 1,220 acre park that has a lodge, convention center, modern campground, vacation cabins and lakeside cottages. It also offers a complete marina, launch ramps, boat slips and fishing guide services. Lakepoint is the site of numerous bass and crappie fishing tournaments and championships from the local to the national level.

Despite all these diverse opportunities, the highlight of any visit to Eufaula, Alabama, is because it is one of the most beautiful remaining examples of antebellum architecture in the Old South. So many of these preserved and restored homes are often open to the public, and the gracious people in this town are always happy to share their time with visitors. For more information, check their web site at: www.eufaulachamber.com.



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.



January 2016 column

Winter blahs? It's never too cold for a mid-winter trip to St. Simons

By Pamela A. Keene, Guest Travel Columnist

It may be a bit chilly in January to get your water fix on Lake Lanier, but a short drive south to St. Simons Island is just the ticket. And when you’re looking to be pampered, check out The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort. Even if you’re not a golfer, January – well, truly any time of year – is a great time to visit the Atlantic Ocean and spend a little time on the Georgia Coast. With an average temperature in the low to mid-50s in January, dozens of restaurants featuring fresh-caught seafood, close-by historic sites to explore, and miles of biking and walking trails, St. Simons is the perfect getaway for a long weekend or a full week away from cold North Georgia.

If you haven’t been to The King and Prince for a couple of years, you’re in for a treat because the resort has undergone extensive remodeling and renovations. The expanded lobby’s high ceilings, curved staircase and comfortable living-room seating set the tone for relaxed elegance and a view of the ocean. The indoor swimming pool is gone to make way for additional dining, a two-sided bar that serves signature cocktails, and a welcoming atmosphere. Although the weather may be a bit on the cool side to take a dip in the outdoor pool, the patio’s fire pits encourage enjoying the fresh sea breeze overlooking the pools and the ocean.

With 14 choices for accommodations, from the 4-bedroom Meadow’s House with its fabulous veranda and roof-top views of the resort to cabana ocean-front rooms in the historic part of the hotel, The King and Prince offers lodging choices for romantic getaways, family reunions, girls’ weekends or a family vacation.

The original hotel, opened in 1935, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has retained its historic charm while being completely renovated with larger bathrooms with granite countertops and comfortable bedding. Over the years, the property has added ocean-front villas with patios or balconies, six private guest houses with kitchens and finely appointed living areas, plus deluxe suites.

Hotel guests and island locals frequently dine at the resort’s brand new ECHO Restaurant, featuring seasonal menus made from local ingredients. Chef de Cuisine James Flack serves up innovative farm-to-table creations for all palettes, from Georgia Wild Shrimp and Southern Grits to Wagyu Beef and Southern comfort foods with a twist. The extensive wine list complements the varied flavors he pairs when creating such dishes as the coastal catch with wild mushroom risotto and truffled tomato broth, or the chef’s 4-course tasting menu that changes daily depending on which ingredients are freshly available. ECHO is the island’s only ocean-front dining experience.

Exploring St. Simons Island
The King and Prince’s central location makes navigating St. Simons Island easy. Some of the most popular areas include Pier Village, accessible from Ocean Boulevard down Mallery Street. It’s the social, shopping and dining hub of the island with boutiques, the Lighthouse and Heritage Center, a wide range of varying-priced breakfast lunch and dinner choices. Be sure to stop by the wonderful hardware store midway down the block that sells kitchen supplies, gigantic pots for cooking crabs or low-country boil, and just about everything a real hardware store offers. Fish off the pier, chat with locals as they bait their catch, or just relax under the 200-year-old live oaks.

The recently renovated Neptune Park offers an ocean-side swimming pool, a playground and miniature golf. In the winter, the park and streets are less crowded than the spring and summer months, making it easy to while away your time without the hustle and bustle of the beach in summer.

At Pier Village, check out dining choices, including tried-and-true Sandcastle Café, a favorite with the locals, and the new Georgia Sea Grill with meals that rival the cuisine at restaurants in major cities.

Gnat’s Landing, serving lunch and dinner, is a must-stop. Located in Redfern Village off Frederica Road, it’s famous for its Vidalia onion pie and fried dill pickle chips. Hint: go to Gnat’s, as the locals call it, for lunch because it’s less crowded. Wait times on weekend nights can be long, but the live music, bar and island-themed décor help the wait pass quickly.

For a true beach experience, East Beach at Gould’s Inlet on the northeastern side of the island is perfect for shelling, a quiet walk or bike ride on the beach, or a chance to be where the locals hang out. From the pier, you can view sand bars and jetties, tidal pools and shallow slews, but be sure to dip your toes in the sand and go down on the beach. The area’s Massengale Park has a shaded picnic area, a children’s playground and ample parking. Dogs are allowed on the beaches in the off season, but not between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

While visiting East Beach, stop and see the seven galleries at the Maritime Center at the Historic Coast Guard Station. The exhibits interpret the beaches, marshes and forests and their relationship to the coast’s military and Coast Guard history.

Many visitors take in the historic sites at St. Simons, and these attractions are more accessible and less crowded in the winter. Visit Fort Frederica, the Bloody Marsh Battle Site (fought between the Spanish and the British long before the Revolutionary War), Christ Church and Cemetery on the site where John and Charles Wesley preached their first sermons in the mid-1700s, and the First African Baptist Church built in 1869 by former slaves of the island’s plantations.

It’s never really too cold to head south to Georgia’s beaches. You’d be pleasantly surprised at how much fun you can have. Remember to pack a jacket in case it’s breezy. Otherwise, enjoy the smell of the ocean, the crashing of the waves and an out-of-the-box trip away from home.


December 2015 column

Alabama's Lookout Mountain is diverse wonderland

It would take a master artist with a huge canvas to even begin capturing Alabama’s portion of Lookout Mountain. This palette of land, water, history and people is an eclectic tapestry woven through sheer rock walls of gorges, majestic rivers with picturesque waterfalls, massive lakes and dotted throughout with quaint, historic villages that tell stories of both American and Indian history. Therefore, I will simply try to list and picture places and activities that I experienced during my few days traveling this extraordinary triangle bordered by both Georgia and Tennessee.

Little River Canyon National Preserve:  (www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm) is one of the deepest gorges east of the Mississippi River and boasts DeSoto State Park (www.stateparks.com/de_soto_state_park_in_alabama.html) and the stunning DeSoto Falls, as well as the nearby, picturesque Little River Falls. This area also includes Cherokee Rock Village (www.ccparkboard.com/parks/cherokee-rock-village), which has unforgettable vistas of “The Crappie Fishing Capital of the World,” Lake Weiss (https://apcshorelines.com/our-lakes/weiss), and the surrounding valley ... plus great opportunities for rock climbing and rappelling.

One of the most rewarding places I visited was Tigers for Tomorrow, (www.tigersfortomorrow.org), which is slightly off the beaten path ... but very near I-59. It was founded to provide a last home for predatory animals that were discarded when they were no longer wanted or could no longer work or earn money for their proprietors. More than 160 animals, including several species of tigers, mountain lions, African lions, bears, wolves and black leopards will spend the rest of their lives here and be treated with loving care. It is a fabulous place for children and families to see these great animals in a positive way!

I was mesmerized watching renowned glass artist, Cal Breed, create beautiful art treasures out of molten glass at Orbix Hot Glass (http://orbixhotglass.com) near Ft. Payne, Alabama. Cal and his team of glassblowers hand-craft each piece with great attention to form, balance and color, and the results are beautifully unique!

My favorite village in the area is Mentone, Alabama with its mountain top scenery, friendly people and laid back surroundings. With the exception of modern cars, it’s almost like traveling in time back to the 19th century. I especially enjoyed my stay at the famous Mentone Inn B&B (www.mentoneinn.com)  that is in easy walking distance of everything in town ... and the breakfasts at the inn are more than worth the stay!

The best place to eat in Mentone is the Kamama Gallery and Café (www.kamamamentone.com), where you can find original fine art, enjoy a casual lunch or savory gourmet dinner, and listen to live music. On the different side, the Wildflower Café (www.mentonewildflower.com) is known for its menu of hearty homestyle meals with organic and vegan options.

Probably the best view from Lookout Mountain and the most romantic place to stay is The Secret Bed and Breakfast Lodge (www.secretbedandbreakfastlodge.com). It has a 180 degree panoramic view of the foothills, valleys and beautiful Weiss Lake, and is spectacular both day and night!

This is but a small portion of what ignited all of my senses during the whirlwind trip in and around the magic of Alabama’s Lookout Mountain. Like those before me, I know that a yearn to see and experience more of this artistry will bring me back again and again!


November 2015 column

Hidden treasures are found in Scottsboro, Ala.

Coming from the Georgia side down through the misty clouds of early morning from the heights of the southern portion of Lookout Mountain, one gets glimpses of the sprawling Lake Guntersville and the old town of Scottsboro, Alabama. Though this little community is slightly off the beaten path, it has much to offer the traveling public.

Probably the most famous business in Scottsboro is the Unclaimed Baggage Center, which was begun in 1970 by Doyle Owens with a great idea, a borrowed pick-up truck and a $300 loan. He bought a load of unclaimed baggage that he sold on old card tables in a rented house with the help of his wife and two sons, thus becoming the only lost luggage store in the USA.

By developing working relationships with airlines and other transportation companies ... and being featured in numerous newspaper and magazine stories, this center of unclaimed luggage began to draw curious visitors from all over the world! Doyle’s son Bryan bought the business from his dad in 1995 and has expanded it into a building that covers a city block. It is now one of the top tourist attractions in Alabama drawing annually more than a million lookers and buyers from all 50 states and 40 foreign countries.

For the history buffs, the Scottsboro-Jackson Heritage Center was opened in 1985 as both a historical and cultural museum exhibiting customs, traditions and art from the local area. It has three exhibit areas: The antebellum “Brown-Proctor House,” the pioneer village named “Sagetown,” and the “Little Courthouse.” The complete tour, however, takes visitors back 12,000 years to the first Indians who inhabited this part of Alabama. Visitors learn about various tribes that were in the area when the first explorers passed through all the way to the time when the first settlers arrived.

If you find yourself in Scottsboro at the lunch hour, I suggest a visit to Carlile’s Restaurant for a taste of their famous tomato pie that won the statewide cook-off in 2005. Just a glance at the inside or outside of this eatery with its no-frills vinyl tablecloths and simple exterior, you would be deceived. An extensive menu of Southern food, including fried kosher pickles, barbecue, a variety of steaks plus the Thursday night seafood buffet has people coming from as far away as Chattanooga and Atlanta.

The real gem of the Scottsboro area is Goose Pond Colony located right on Lake Guntersville and complete with two demanding and beautiful 18-hole golf courses, a full-service marina, a beach, lodge, lakeside cottages, waterfront campground, meeting facilities, scenic walking trail and a famous restaurant. The Docks was featured in Rand McNally’s Editor’s Picks of places to eat in the South and offers an eclectic menu that would satisfy a wide variety of tastes from seafood to steaks and lighter choices for the children. Add to all of this Lake Guntersville, which is known as one of the South’s most fantastic fishing holes for largemouth black bass, and there are many reasons to visit the picturesque Goose Pond Colony!

Though Scottsboro is certainly not the high point on most national travel magazines, this quiet Alabama community has lots of hidden treasures. For more information, check these websites:  www.jacksoncountychamber.com  or www.goosepond.org.

For more information, check their web site at: www.gastateparks.org/tallulahgorge


October 2015 column

Tallulah Gorge, a wonder of the Cherokee world, is right here in Georgia

When the white man first ventured into what is now North Georgia, my ancestors, the Cherokee Indians, were already living here in one of the marvelous wonders of their world ... known today as Tallulah Gorge. In fact, some historians still believe that the modern name comes from the Cherokee word meaning “terrible” but the Indians called it Ugunyi, which has never been translated. Nevertheless, the Cherokee viewed Tallulah Falls as wild, mysterious and dangerous, and generally avoided the area of the falls.

Formed by the slow erosive action of the Tallulah River that sliced through the Tallulah Dome’s quartzite rock formation millions of years ago, the gorge is more than two miles long and 1,000 ft. deep. There are six spectacular waterfalls that range from the 96 feet of Hurricane Falls to 76 feet at Tempesta Falls, then Oceana Falls is 50 ft. high, L’Eau d’Or Falls is 46 ft. high, Bridal Veil Falls is 17 ft. high and Lovers Leap Falls is 16 ft. high.

Following the Civil War, Tallulah Falls became a major tourist attraction and when a railroad was built from Atlanta in 1882, thousands of people came to see the gorge and the falls. Soon, the little town of Tallulah Falls had more than 20 hotels and boarding houses, bars and other tourist businesses. Numerous fires burned down the small village, but each time, they built it back even better than before, which kept the tourist traffic flowing.

Tallulah Falls was often referred to as the Niagara of the South complete with horse riding stables, billiard tournaments, tennis and nightly music and dancing. They even had the first high wire crossing of the gorge by Professor Leon on July 24, 1886, which was duplicated by the great Karl Wallenda on July 18, 1970.

The downfall of this early Southern tourist attraction came when politicians and businessmen saw the possibilities for generating power from all the rushing water. Local people and early environmentalists battled to keep the falls in its natural form, but in the end, the big money and powerful politicians won and allowed Georgia Power to complete a dam in 1912. Visitation dwindled but the town hung on until a fire again destroyed it in December of 1921.

As early as 1905, there were discussions of making Tallulah Gorge into a park, but nothing was done until 1993 when Governor Zell Miller established the Tallulah Gorge State Park. Visitors can hike rim trails to several overlooks, or they can obtain a permit to hike to the gorge floor (100 per day, not available during water releases). A suspension bridge sways 80 feet above the rocky bottom, providing spectacular views of the river and waterfalls. A paved path follows an on old railroad bed, perfect for strollers and bicycles, while mountain bikers can test their skills on a challenging 10-mile trail.

Exhibits in the park’s Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center highlight the rich history of this Victorian resort town, as well as the rugged terrain and fragile ecosystem of the area. An award-winning film takes viewers on a dramatic journey through the gorge, including footage of rock climbers and kayakers.

If you love nature and like a healthy workout, this place offers spectacular views while going down and back almost 1,000 stairs. Those who are really hardy, are expert swimmers and want to traverse the river at the bottom of the gorge need to be at the center on or before 7:30 a.m. to acquire a permit. Otherwise, there is no need to wake up that early as you can enjoy the trail and the vistas at an easy pace from above.

The cascading waters of the Tallulah River passing through huge rock outcrops as it descends rapidly in the deep recesses of the gorge is an unforgettable sight!

For more information, check their web site at: www.gastateparks.org/tallulahgorge


September 2015 column

High Falls is unique among state parks

Breathtaking cascades of water tumbling more than a hundred feet over huge granite rocks from pool to pool are but one of the highlights found at or near High Falls State Park. Though the view is one of the most picturesque natural settings in the Peach State, history is also woven into this gorgeous tapestry.

The area around High Falls State Park was originally inhabited by the Creek Indians, and according to the legend, in the 1800s, the Indians massacred some nearby settlers. The time was July, and it was so hot that the scalps from the settlers began to spoil upon returning to the encampment, so the Indians decided to take their trophies to the river and dry or “smoke” them. Thus, the river obtained the name “Towaliga,” which means, “roasted scalp” in Creek Indian lingo. Nevertheless, settlers who came later were more successful than the previous ones in getting along with the remaining Indians and developed the High Falls area. Eventually all the land in the area was owned by Mr. T.S.M. Bloodworth and Dr. J.A.C. Wynn. In the late 1880s the area was know as Unionville, which later became High Falls or High Shoals.  

The river and the 100-foot drop of the water falls provided power to operate many early industries in the High Falls community. These businesses included a shoe factory, sawmill, carding factory, a broom and mop factory, two wooden furniture plants, cotton mill, blacksmith shop and a grist mill. The town of High Falls also had a Post Office which was located between the grist mill and what is now the paved road. Mail delivery stopped from the post office in the early 1900s after the railroad bypassed High Falls in favor of Jackson. The population of High Falls ranged from 30 in 1879 and 1880, to about 200 in 1899.

A steel bridge was constructed in 1902 as part of a major thoroughfare known as the Old Alabama Road, which was one of the first roads in Central and Western Georgia. It started at the Seven Islands of the Ocmulgee in Jasper County, near what is now Jackson Lake Dam, coming through Indian Springs and continuing west to Coweta Springs, which is now Columbus.

The grist mill, known as High Falls Milling Company, was rebuilt in 1866 after being burned by Confederate troops of Wheeler’s Calvary during the Civil War. They were retreating from Union Troops and did not want them to obtain flour and supplies. The old mill was closed on August 12, 1960, and was torn down a couple of years later.

In approximately 1890, the Towaliga Falls Power Company started building the dam and power plant. They wanted to generate electricity to run the cotton mills in nearby Griffin. The property was sold to the Georgia Hydroelectric Company in 1898 and they completed the dam and powerhouse, then placed it into operation. Most of the bricks used to build the powerhouse and transformer house were made of red clay from the surrounding area. The generators were 5,000 horsepower and produced direct electricity. Adjacent to the powerhouse was the transformer house, which converted the direct current into alternating current and supplied the cotton mills in Griffin and the homes in the High Falls area. It was closed on October 27, 1958, after 53 years of service.

The dam is 606 feet long and 35 feet high. It impounds a 650 acre lake with a total width of 415 feet, and average depth of 12 feet. The dam was completed in 1904, and is made of stone and mortar on bedrock. The stone blocks used for construction were cut from rocks in the stream below.

The High Falls power station was turned over to the Hiawassee Timber Company after Georgia Power closed the plant in 1961, and was donated to the Georgia Game and Fish Commission. In 1966 the Game and Fish Commission turned the area over to the State Parks Department, thus forming High Falls State Park.

Through the years the state has acquired additional land for development and today High Falls State Park consists of 981 acres of land and 650 acres of lake. All of this is administered by the Department of Natural Resources, Parks and Historic Sites Division.

Besides the natural beauty and the interesting history, one can enjoy many other amenities at the park, including tent, trailer or RV sites, a shelter for organized group outings, an area for pioneer camping, a 650-acre lake for fishing or boating and hiking trails. It is located 1.8 miles off Interstate 75 South. For more information or camping reservations, call 800-864-7275.

Another beautiful place to visit that is only a few miles away is Dauset Trails, which began in the 1980s as a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned wildlife. These animals were given exhibit cages for protection and gradually became what is now known as the Animal Trail. It winds about half a mile through the woods around a small lake with an elevated walkway and a covered bridge. This interesting path is easily accessible by foot, strollers or wheelchairs. The animals are used to teach students of all ages the importance of each species and its role in our ever-changing world. For more information or directions visit www.dausettrails.com.

Just a few miles farther away is Indian Springs State Park which is one of the oldest state parks in the United States and a popular spot for outdoor recreation. For centuries, Creek Indians collected the spring water for its healing qualities, and during the 1800s, the area was a bustling resort town.

Today, visitors can still sample the spring water flowing inside the stone Spring House built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Most park guests also enjoy wading the rocky falls of Sandy Creek or swimming in McIntosh Lake, named for Creek Chief William McIntosh who signed an illegal treaty deeding Indian land to Georgia in 1825. A small museum, open seasonally, highlights Creek Indians, the resort era and CCC history. Cottages and campsites may be reserved for overnight stays. For more info, visit: www.gastateparks.org.

These three places are near Griffin, Ga. and are easily reached for a day trip from anywhere in the Atlanta area. The beauty and significance of this tiny part of the Peach State makes the journey well worth the time!


August 2015 column

Canada's Sunshine Coast is a delight in summer

Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada has become a favorite destination for travelers from all over the USA. Because of so many daily flights out of Atlanta, it is especially easy for folks in the Southeast to enjoy the beauty and exciting lifestyle of this Western Canadian metropolis. Less than an hour away by car and ferry, however, a completely different world with a slower pace, warmer temperatures, friendly people and breathtaking scenery can be experienced along British Columbia’s hidden jewel ... the Sunshine Coast!

Take a short drive from downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay and catch a BC Ferry across a resplendent but protected bay between Bowen and Gambier Islands to the port at Langdale. From there, drive a few miles west to Gibsons Landing, and you will have arrived at one of the most livable communities in the world. This unique village is also home to Molly’s Reach, which was made famous in the popular TV Series “The Beachcombers.”

The entire community is built on a ridge that seems to flow downhill through a multitude of eclectic shops and eateries into a picturesque harbor. Many of the docks are lined with colorful flowers and are filled with everything from common fishing boats to luxurious yachts. Even a “seawalk” has been constructed around the harbor to allow different views from above. The Winegarden Waterfront Park also overlooks the harbor and is usually home to a weekend market for local artisans.

If one continues northwest along the shores of the Strait of Georgia on Highway 101 from Gibsons to the vicinity of Pender Harbour, the Sunshine Coast will reveal a plethora of communities and islands that feature local history, cultural heritage and many natural attractions. Just by turning your head 360 degrees, you will be enthralled by the subtleness of inlets and tributaries, plus the magnificence of the Coastal Mountains.

All along this picturesque pathway, side trips to see local artists, taste mouthwatering cuisine or languish in luxurious lodgings are constantly beckoning. Many privately operated bed and breakfast style homes can be rented for a night or longer.

For those who love solitude, romance, and spectacular scenery, not much could top a few days and nights at the Rockwater Secret Cove Resort in one of their Tenthouse Suites. The sunsets are fantastic!

From the parking area of the resort, an elevated pathway, above the rugged terrain, winds through trees and huge boulders to suites with canvas walls and ceilings. Both the boardwalk and the canvas enclosures allow unbelievable vistas, but are constructed in such a way as not to interfere with the natural surroundings. These units have proven to be extremely safe and durable even in high winds ... though some are built almost over the water.

Though it might seem like camping to some folks, with no television or radios included, the distinctive interiors of these units are quite surprising. A king-sized bed is the most noticeable part of the room, but it also includes a high-tech propane fireplace, heated tile floors, and a hydrotherapy tub with a chromotherapy mode that constantly flashes bright colors.

Wonderful possibilities are encountered all along the Sunshine Coast from Gibsons to Pender Harbour ... but so much more is waiting. On warmer days, kayaking, canoeing and fishing excursions are lots of fun. No matter what your interests, every visitor to the Sunshine Coast finds something special to remember that seems to bring them back, and this area is one of British Columbia’s best kept secrets!


July 2015 column

Finding Georgia's beautiful covered bridges

Long before Robert Waller’s romantic tale in Bridges of Madison County had every middle-aged woman in the country starry-eyed, covered bridges were a major part of Americana lore! Many a poet tried vainly with ink and pen to capture the unique engineering and dreamy side of these stately structures.

An abundance of reasons have been given for the popularity of covered bridges that were mostly built from around 1830 to 1900. The practical ones were about strength in the structures, protection of the wood from extreme weather and a less intimidating place for livestock to cross a river. They also became known as “Kissing Bridges” where young lovers could express their true feelings without being seen.

Even though thousands of these unique bridges existed at one time from coast to coast, many were replaced by steel structures during the industrial revolution that followed the War Between the States. In rural areas of the country, these beautiful bridges were loved by the local people and have been kept intact. Here in Georgia, we still have around 60 covered bridges, but mostly constructed in recent years. The ones that are more than a hundred years old, however, only number around a dozen.

Elder’s Mill Covered Bridge near Watkinsville is the structure that I am most familiar with in this area. The 100-foot span over Rose Creek was built in another location in 1897 and moved to the current place in 1924 to allow access to the Elder’s Mill. Even though locals often string it with Christmas lights during the holiday season, the old covered bridge comes to life during spring when the Watkinsville Garden Club adds colorful flowers.

Because almost no waterfalls exist in the flatness of South Georgia, the Coheelee Creek Bridge near Blakely is quite picturesque. It is both a long and stately old structure, and has a small waterfall just below the crossing.

The Coheelee Creek Bridge is the southernmost historic covered bridge in the USA, built in 1891 and is 96 feet long. It is quite unique because it uses angled steel rods as tensioners in the truss design which is similar to the Warren truss that was less common in the South.

One of the most modern covered bridges is the Rockdale County or Haralson Mill Covered Bridge. This beautiful bridge has two lanes, is 150 feet long, 36 feet wide and was built in 1997 over Mill Rock Creek. It is in daily use and is equipped with cameras, smoke detectors and a sprinkler system for protection.

The Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge in Meriwether County was built in the 1840s by freed slave and noted bridge builder, Horace King, who died in 1885. His design of planks crisscrossing 45 to 60 degree angles are fastened with approximately 2,500 wooden pegs. Although King built many covered bridges throughout West Georgia, this is his only surviving bridge of that design. It is 391 feet, including the approaches, which makes it the oldest and longest wooden covered bridge in Georgia.

The sites of several of the older covered bridges in Georgia have been made into parks or they have been moved to a park. Among these are the 96 foot long Auchumpkee Creek Covered Bridge in Upson County near Thomaston that was built in 1892 and the Poole’s Mill Covered Bridge north of Cumming in Forsyth County, which is on land once owned by Cherokee Chief George Welch before the Indians were forced off the land in 1838. The original bridge was washed away in an 1899 flood and replaced with the current 96 foot structure in 1901.

The Euharlee Creek Covered Bridge near Cartersville is the centerpiece of an annual covered bridge festival on Labor Day. This 138 foot long bridge is located adjacent to the ruins of an old mill once owned and operated by Daniel Lowry, who allowed the builders to use rock from his land to build the piers of the bridge high enough to be above the flood plain.

Known as one of the most picturesque state parks in Georgia, the 1,118-acre Watson Mill Bridge State Park boasts one of the state’s longest covered bridges, spanning 229 feet across the South Fork River. It was built in 1885 by Washington WW King, son of freed slave and famous covered-bridge builder, Horace King.

Stone Mountain Covered Bridge is also known as Effie’s Bridge and College Avenue Covered Bridge because of its original location over the Oconee River in Athens. It is 151 feet in length and was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1974 after being moved to Stone Mountain Park.

One old bridge built in 1904 near Athens seems to have been practically forgotten and allowed to be partially consumed by the forest. It is the Howard’s Covered Bridge across Big Cloud Creek and was named for a pioneer family that settled this area in the 1700s. The bridge is 164 feet long and is located in a very isolated section of Oglethorpe County where it has been abused.

Some of these nostalgic structures had to be left out because of space, but few things still standing from our past history remind us of a romantic period when horses were king and magic was a stolen kiss inside a covered bridge. That amorous feeling within all of us is still drawn to those fanciful days by books, movies and poetry that exalt the mystery of covered bridges ... so we dream on ... and wish for more!


June 2015 column

Experiencing a French Polynesian dream cruise

Brilliant streaks of gold seemed to explode through the fluffy clouds and illuminated a line of coconut palms that assured early risers on the Aranui III that we were nearing Fakarava, the second largest Tuamotu atoll and the first stop of our journey through the exotic isles of French Polynesia. This was just the beginning of a 14-day, island-hopping trek through the fabled Tuamotu and Marquesas Archipelagoes in the South Pacific aboard the passenger/freighter, Aranui III.

Arriving in Tahiti greeted by welcoming smiles, native drinks and leis of fragrant tiara flowers was just the beginning. A night at the elegant InterContinental Resort Tahiti with its famous swimming pool bar allowed some much needed rest and a chance to become acclimated to the warmth of Tahiti and its people. The following morning we boarded the Aranui III for a unique voyage aboard a special vessel.

Though this 386-foot, 207-passenger-freighter was built in Romania, it was designed specifically to serve the tiny ports it visits and the needs of the island people in French Polynesia. For those of us visiting these enchanting islands for the first time, the name “Aranui” seems apropos. In the Maori language, it means “The Great Highway.”

The true business of the Aranui III is to haul much needed freight to and from the picturesque Marquesas Islands, but thanks to a unique design, this ship provides visitors with a chance to be a part of a working vessel in a graceful style. The Aranui III is the best of any passenger-freighter of this type, but is certainly not a luxury cruise ship. Nevertheless, passenger accommodations are more than adequate and all have windowed views. An outdoor swimming pool is available, as well as a bar-lounge, gym, library and limited use of on-board facilities including fishing and snorkeling.The daily menu is primarily composed of both French and Polynesian cuisine.

The best part of the Aranui III is the crew. Most of them are direct descendants of the ancient Polynesians who first came to these islands and were some of the greatest navigators of all time. Also, the spectacular cruise visits more than a dozen diverse and fantastically beautiful islands over a two week period. Seeing these remote and exotic places makes one easily understand why they inspired and captivated such great men as Paul Gauguin, Herman Melville, Jack London, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Thor Heyerdahl and countless others.

Though the Aranui III departed Papeete, Tahiti around noon on Saturday, the Sunday dawn was breaking over the Fakarava atoll as we steamed into the inner lagoon through a wide cut in the reef. It was the first stop of a journey that would eventually crisscross an area the size of Europe. We anchored in a crystal clear, brilliantly turquoise-colored lagoon several hundred yards from a white, coral sand beach before going ashore in wooden whale boats.

Friendly native merchants had “set up shop” under the shade of coconut palms near the beach, and displayed their creations made of wood, shells, bone, and especially black pearls. Many of the passengers browsed the merchandise while others snorkeled or swam around the scattered coral formations in the warm, clear waters of the huge lagoon. At the appropriate time, a picnic lunch of local fish was served under a thatched canopy and accompanied by island music provided by a ukulele band. An hour or so of time to explore, swim, or rest in the shade followed lunch, and then it was into the whale boats and back to the ship.

The next stop was Ua Pou, which was the first of the ancient, volcanic Marquises Islands that we would encounter. Because of its towering, pillar-like summits, this majestic island is often called the “Cathedral Island.” This would also be our first taste of the Marquesan culture, which included native dance, ancient and modern religion, food, and totally different arts and crafts. For photography buffs, the contrasts of the blue ocean, the brilliant greens of the island and the 12 towering peaks that encircle Hakahua Bay are spellbinding!

From Ua Pou, we went to Nuku Hiva which is the administrative capital and the largest island in the Marquises. There near the deep bay of Taipivai, Herman Melville was inspired to write his famous “Typee” in 1842. For the passengers on the Aranui III, it was a chance to do some banking, use a very slow, French Internet system, or sit back and watch the precision of the ship’s crew loading and unloading much-needed freight for the island people.

The next stop of our expedition brought us to Hiva Oa, which is the final resting place and favorite island of famous artist, Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer, Jacques Brel. Though nearly a century apart, both of these men spent the last few years of their lives on Hiva Oa and are buried very close together in an old cemetery at Atuona, which is high above the pounding waves of the ocean.

From Hiva Oa, we made a short southeastern passage to the small, mostly undeveloped island of Fatu Hiva. This is one of the last places in the Marquises that women still make tapa, which is a paper like product that was once used for clothing, but is now more popular for tattoo designs or artwork. After skinning the bark from trees, the women pound it for hours with flat sticks of ironwood to produce the tapa, which is a strong vegetal cloth that varies in color depending on the bark that was used. The women of Fatu Hiva are also well-known for wearing umuhei in their hair. These sachets are made from aromatic plants and are said to have extremely strong powers for attracting men.

After leaving the beauty and tranquility of Fatu Hiva, we returned to the port of Puamau on the opposite side of Hiva Oa, which for history buffs was one of the most interesting stops on the trip. On an archaeological site in the hills above the open ocean, we walked among the largest tikis (Polynesian godlike statues) in the Pacific. Some of these are up to eight feet tall and are located in a sacred area of the Naiki tribes that dates back to the 16th and 17th century. Historically, these tribes were always led by women.

After an all night voyage, we reached the mouth of a narrow fiord known as the “Invisible Bay of Vaipaee,” and the captain sailed right into it. For those who came on deck to watch, they were rewarded with an unbelievable show of maneuvering expertise. With less than 10 feet on either end of an almost 400-foot long ship, the captain and crew turned the vessel 180 degrees until it faced outward toward the open sea and then tied it with huge cables between the two shores. It was immediately obvious that this island was far more arid than the other islands in the Marquises chain. The road followed the tops of the ridges with breathtaking vistas of the sea below, and wild horses and goats could be seen grazing on the steep hillsides. After visiting a couple of local handicraft markets, an elaborate Marquesan lunch was prepared by the villagers of Hokatu. We were then transported to a gorgeous, rocky beach where we swam and body surfed until the whale boats picked us up for our next leg of the trip.

Another full day and night of sailing brought us to our last stop at Rangiroa, which is the largest Polynesian atoll and the fourth largest in the world. The jade-green and turquoise colors of the lagoon are spectacular, and its tranquil waters are famous for producing perfect black pearls.
Being aboard the Aranui III for two weeks left us all with wonderful memories of an ancient culture.

It would be hard to see more of the unbelievable beauty of these South Pacific islands in such a short time with so much efficiency and style than that afforded by this cruise aboard the Aranui III! Visit their website at: www.aranui.com.


May 2015 column

Summer can be magic at Hilton Head

The first streaking rays of the rising sun dance along the sparkling surf and illuminate the white sand throughout the 12-mile length of the broad beaches at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Only the intrusion of an occasional jogger or shell seeker brings this natural setting into the 21st century. Nevertheless, the awesome beauty of this southernmost of South Carolina’s barrier islands is still as much a magnet to people today as it has been throughout recorded history.

Hilton Head’s first inhabitants were Indians who came to this island paradise as early as 4,000 B.C. to experience the great hunting and fishing, but it wasn’t until 1664 that the first white man set foot on this 42 square mile island. He was English sea captain William Hilton, who was sent to explore the region on behalf of a syndicate of Barbadian planters. His report was enthusiastic, and in honor of his explorations, the island was named Hilton’s Head, which is a reference to the headlands that marked the way into Port Royal Sound. Despite Hilton’s discovery, due to threats from the Spanish to the south and Indians to the west, it wasn’t until the closing days of the 17th century that the first English colonists began to settle in the area.

During the early to mid 18th century, Hilton Head prospered from indigo and rice plantations, but it was sea island cotton that made the island plantation owners wealthy. The War Between the States, however, ended the great cotton dynasties. In fact, after the largest naval battle of the war at Port Royal, the fine homes and fertile fields were destroyed by occupying Union troops. Post-war Hilton Head became home to family farmers, commercial fishermen and oysterers until wealthy entrepreneurs began building homes on the island after World War II.

Though Hilton Head Island has been highly developed during modern times, an extreme effort has been made to blend human expansion with the beauty of nature. Therefore, this island has no billboards, neon signs, roller coasters or skyscrapers. The permanent residents on Hilton Head live in harmony with an abundance of deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, alligators, ospreys, pelicans, herons and a multitude of other land and water birds. When using any of the miles of nature walks, horseback riding trails or bike paths, one may observe any or all of the aforementioned species.

The island has long been known for hosting world-class golf and tennis championships, and probably boasts more venues for these two sports than any other resort in the world. If all of these offerings aren’t enough to keep one busy, Hilton Head  also has a wealth of cultural and artistic activities as well as great fishing, boating, shopping and dining.

Accommodations at Hilton Head vary from very expensive private villas to reasonable motel rooms. Dining options are also available for any taste or pocketbook, and the nightlife seems to mix the gamut of humanity into a happy throng of cohesive revelers with the fading of the sun in the west each evening.

The turn to the south on Highway 278 toward Hilton Head Island is only a few exits north of Savannah on I-95, and one is within 30 miles of this gorgeous paradise. An excellent first stop, however, is the Hilton Head Island Welcome Center and the Coastal Discovery Museum of Hilton Head. Both of these are located on the right soon after crossing the bridge onto the island, and have experts on hand to answer any question one might have. To be prepared ahead of time for any visit to Hilton Head visit: www.hiltonheadisland.org.

Few summer destinations combine and preserve natural beauty and the cornucopia of fun and excitement that awaits vacationers at Hilton Head. It is truly a nearby magical summer place for everyone!


April 2015 column

The primeval rainforests of Ketchikan are a wonder of nature

A hundred feet above the clear waters of Bostwick Inlet on Gravina Island near the village of Ketchikan a lone bald eagle watches intently. In a boat far below, an angler is in the midst of battling an unhappy rockfish from its home in kelp beds more than 50 feet deep. The hungry eagle knows that fast food is on the way!

Less than a second after the tiny fish made its first splash on the surface, the eagle spread his six-foot wingspan in readiness. Despite having bulging eyes and a good case of the bends from being forced up so swiftly from the depths, the small rockfish was unhooked and thrown back into the water no more than five feet from the boat. It would have only taken 30 seconds for the struggling fish to have regained its composure and head back to the safety of the kelp beds, but that was too much time. In an instant, the huge bird traversed the hundred feet from the tree above, and in one precise movement, sunk its razor-sharp talons into the hapless fish and sped skyward with a tasty tidbit. The anglers were both surprised and amazed by a sight that happens frequently in Southeast Alaska.

Probably one of the least known sections of our most northern state is the region near Ketchikan along the famous Inside Passage from Northern Washington to Anchorage. This area is also one of the best salt and freshwater fisheries in the world. Within a 50-mile radius of the seaport and floatplane docks at Ketchikan, an angler can easily catch five species of Pacific salmon, four species of freshwater trout, three species of sea run trout, Arctic grayling and more than 30 species of saltwater fish, including huge halibut. In reality, it is much easier to catch fish than it is to fail, and that can’t be said of too many places anymore.

Unlike most of Alaska, however, the Ketchikan area is in the middle of a primeval rainforest that is made up of hundreds of islands that are completely covered with forests of 70- to 100-foot tall trees. The abundance of trees combined with snow accumulations in the higher mountains of the area endows this part of Alaska with a unique weather pattern, which is a nice way of saying that it rains nearly 300 days each year. The climate is considered to be mild in comparison to the rest of Alaska. Summers range from the 50s to the 70s, and winters are usually in the 30 to 50 degree range with relatively little snow or ice. Rainsuits and above-ankle boots, known as “Ketchikan sneakers,” are the normal attire for most visitors to the area. Despite the rain, during the summer, local residents go about their business in short-sleeve shirts, shorts and normal sneakers.

Bald eagles are so numerous that tourists often mistake these huge birds for seagulls and are usually astounded by their first close encounter. Visitors to Ketchikan might also see whales, seals, black and brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, otters, mink, wolves, grouse, both common and Arctic loons, as well as numerous other waterfowl. In addition, the people are friendly and the surrounding area has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

Though the logistics of reaching this breathtaking part of the world have become easier because of the abundance or cruise ships, the first glimpse of this vastness and beauty makes one feel as Sherry Simpson did when she wrote these words, “In the slow swell of dawn, the sea stretched before us like time, large enough to swallow all history, legend, desire, imagination ... We sailed on an ocean awash in the stories of all those who came before us in cedar canoes, sloops of war, merchant schooners, steamers, freighters, fishing boats, dories. In the ghostly light, they moved with us ... the Tlingit Indians, the Russian, British, and American explorers, the seafarers and traders, the settlers and sailors, and everyone who ever imagined, like me, to be the first to witness this place.”

Visiting Ketchikan always brings back a host of wonderful memories from my many trips to this unique place. Though known as “The Salmon Capitol of the World” during earlier times, this tiny Tlingit fishing village has been reborn and continues to survive due to the coming of cruise ships. Adventures that once revolved around fishing are now more about experiencing the wildlife and beauty of the area.

If your plans include Southeast Alaska this summer, now is the time to start checking the possibilities. For more information, visit: www.visit-ketchikan.com.


March 2015 column

Walter Mitty Race brings historic sports car racing to Road Atlanta

When I stepped out of a race car in 1971 as a professional driver, I assumed that I would never return to my dangerous occupation of the previous 10 years in Europe. I simply walked away without looking back and stepped into a life of raising children, being a fishing guide and writing articles about the outdoors and traveling to interesting places. It was one of those writing assignments in 2003 about Panoz racing cars and Road Atlanta that brought me back in touch with my past. It only took a few laps driving the 2.56 mile course at Road Atlanta and a day reliving memories on the historic concrete of Sebring in Florida in a real racing car to make the old juices flow again!

As I parked the Panoz GTS behind the pit wall at Sebring after an exhilarating day on the track, my heart was racing from the rampant adrenaline rush, and I knew that the racing bug had bitten me for the second time in my life. Though I had no idea of how or when I would ever strap on a helmet again, the wheels in my head were turning fast.

Since I drove a Mazda Miata every day and had owned several of them since 1991, I toyed with the idea of renting one for a driver’s school. Knowing, however, that just the school experience would never be enough to satisfy my new “need for speed,” I began investigating the current Club Racing classes and stumbled upon Spec Miata. I knew this would be the path for me to follow for fun racing.

To make a long story short, that beginning led me to another 10 wonderful years of very competitive road racing during my 60s that I could have never imagined. I even won the Southeastern Championship in 2004, had a number of podium finishes and drove most of the famous racing tracks in the South. But, as I eased in to my 70s, I knew it was time for a new direction that would allow me to drive a few more years in a calmer atmosphere. That’s when I discovered HSR (Historic Sportscar Racing), who happen to host one of the most prestigious vintage car racing events in the world at Road Atlanta every spring.

HSR began during the 1970s at Road Atlanta with the idea of highlighting the race cars from the past ... many of which I had driven in Europe during the 1960s. HSR’s efforts have provided a venue for competitors and spectators alike to share in the wonderful history and excitement created by the cars that competed at race tracks around the world. This includes many race cars and motorcycles that date back to the early 1900s, but includes early Miatas like mine that are now more than 25 years old.

Though I didn’t finish any higher than 4th at the 2014 Walter Mitty at Road Atlanta, I plan to do better this year. Nevertheless, if you want a fun weekend with lots of car lovers, great food, fabulous old cars everywhere and some of the best vintage racing seen anywhere in the world, plan to be at Road Atlanta for the “Mitty” from 24 through 26 April this year!

BMW has a long and storied history in motorsports and will be the featured marque, which means that many of these classic race cars will be on display and on track during the event. Spectators will also enjoy car corrals for numerous marques, diverse vendors, an expansive hospitality tent and over 300 cars competing throughout the weekend. In addition, there will be live music, technical seminars, infield camping, free paddock access, parade laps around the track, and so much more. The “Mitty” is one of the largest automotive spectacles ever in the Southeast. For more information or to buy tickets, go to the Road Atlanta web site: www.roadatlanta.com/the-mitty.


February 2015 column

Iceland: More than just fire and ice

Imagine a remote island inhabited by 300,000 friendly people who speak an ancient language that few in the world even try to understand. This is truly a land of constant fire and ice, where your house can be destroyed by earthquakes, a massive wind burst can blow you down, the smell of sulfur from the water faucet signals the invisible fire flowing not far below your feet, the northern lights can change the sky into the largest light show in the world and hot springs and glaciers abound throughout the fog-shrouded lava fields. It’s a spooky, barren landscape in which anything might lurk, and tales of the “hidden people,” who are said to make their homes in this wilderness, are a huge part of Icelandic lore.

Despite these perceived and real horrors, Icelanders enjoy an unlimited supply of the purest water in the world that flows from every stream, river and waterfall; they have free geothermal heating throughout the country. Therefore, sitting on a crack in the Earth’s crust that pushed through the surface to form an island some eight million years ago with constantly flowing molten rocks within reach of the surface and glaciers throughout the island has made Iceland a unique and wonderful home to these descendants of war mongering Vikings!

Oddities like believing in elves and trolls, or electing a comedian to be mayor of the capital city, Reykjavik – after a financial disaster and being proud of their volcano that managed to break down the European air traffic – make Icelanders very different. Unlike the rest of the world, who would run when a volcano erupts, the Icelanders look for long sticks to roast hot dogs over the lava flows!

Iceland is not simply a diverse and beautiful place to visit anymore. The cultural life has come alive with festivals celebrating everything imaginable, and they boast great native cuisine and a multitude of fantastic local beers. Most of the men and women on this island are tall and very handsome, but the women have Celtic DNA and the men show DNA from the original Nordic tribes of the Vikings who began landing here in the late 9th century.

Because of the nearby Gulf Stream that brings warm waters all the way from Florida, many types of fish and shellfish are plentiful. Also, in different seasons, thousands of geese, ducks, sea birds and upland game birds like rock ptarmigan make Iceland a bird hunter’s paradise. Nevertheless, one only has to look around anywhere on the island and see thousands of sheep, which are the main food source.

The most fascinating animals I encountered during my visit were the hundreds of beautiful and friendly Icelandic horses. They are a unique breed of rather small but quite thick horses that came over with the early settlers from Norway more than 1,100 years ago. These gorgeous creatures are the descendants of an ancient breed that is now extinct beyond the shores of Iceland.

It would take several books to describe all that is possible to see and experience in Iceland, so to make a visit to this remote area of the North Atlantic enjoyable, you need local help. I was extremely lucky and found the right people, which made my trip magical. All you have to do is contact Harpa and Stefan of Iceland Outfitters (www.icelandoutfitters.com), and they can take care of your every need. Stefan can arrange everything for those who want to partake of the fabulous Atlantic Salmon, Trout or Arctic Char fishing as well as exciting duck, goose or bird hunting. Harpa can arrange interesting tours for the ladies, couples or families, find them the best geothermal spas, direct anyone to the best shopping venues or anything else they might desire in Iceland. Contact her at: harpa@icelandoutfitters.com.

A common misconception about Iceland is that it’s a hard place to reach. Not so! Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is a five-hour direct flight from Boston, Washington, DC and New York on Icelandair. The airline has direct flights from Iceland to seven major airports in North America including Seattle, Orlando, Toronto, Minneapolis and Denver. Flights are normally less expensive than you might imagine, and Icelandair allows passengers to stop in Iceland at no extra cost en route to over 18 cities in Europe and Scandinavia including London, Paris, Madrid, Milan, and Copenhagen.

The unique geological beauty of Iceland is akin to looking in a kaleidoscope that changes multiple times with every mile traveled. Icelanders are a friendly and physically beautiful
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