A few weeks ago we went on a week-long vacation to Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.
For the last ten years, give or take, I have had a carefully curated travel bucket list. This trip was exciting for me, because this is one of the original trips that went on that list.
This week was all about Civil War history for me. It was amazing to finally be in places that I have read about for years.
Our first three and a half days were in Savannah. Some of the things we did there included exploring all of the squares, Bonaventure Cemetery, Wormsloe Historic Site, a riverboat cruise on the Georgia Queen, and General Sherman’s headquarters.
My favorite thing we did in the Savannah area was Fort McAllister. On Dec. 13, 1864, General William B. Hazen (no relation, we think, but still neat) led an attack on Fort McAllister, on the Ogeechee River, south of Savannah. This was vital, in order to gain Union control of the waterway. Hazen’s division had the element of surprise, and the battle lasted 15 minutes. With the fort in union control, the union army was able to march into Savannah, and have the supplies that they needed.
We were able to visit Fort McAllister on Dec. 13, to the day, which was a nice touch. We were the only two people at the fort! We couldn’t believe that.
A lot of this trip, in both cities, was devoted to walking the different streets, and taking in the old, historical buildings.
We spent one half day exploring Tybee Island, which is known as Savannah’s beach. We both enjoyed Tybee Island, and said we would enjoy a full beach vacation here. We spent some time on the beach, and enjoyed watching a group of surfers.
After the first half of our trip in Savannah, we drove two hours to Charleston.
Some of what we did in Charleston included shopping at the historic City Market, seeing the Pineapple Fountain, Rainbow Row, Boone Hall Plantation, and the Angel Oak tree.
The highlight in Charleston for me was visiting Fort Sumter. The first shots of the Civil War were fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. I am a Civil War history buff, so it felt good to finally get there!
Another thing we really enjoyed in the Charleston area was visiting the Charleston Tea Garden, which is the only place in North America were tea is grown. We took a trolley tour, and we learned a lot of facts about tea, such as the growing season is from April to October. Tea grows in bushes, and during harvest time, a special cutting machine trims off the tops of the bushes to get the leaves.
The gift shop was a tea lover’s paradise, with many free samples of tea to taste. We bought loose leaf tea both for ourselves, and for my parents as Christmas gifts.
In addition, like in Savannah, we enjoyed seeing all of the historic homes.
Our favorite thing about Charleston was something that we stumbled upon, something that we had never planned to do. Our hotel was across the harbor in Mount Pleasant. We were back at the hotel just before dinner, and we were looking for something to do that evening. Thanks to a Google Maps search, we found Shem Creek, just a few miles south.
We walked along the Shem Creek Boardwalk, a series of paths that went over the marsh and followed the waterway. There, we watched all kinds of birds, fishing boats going in and out, kayakers, and even a few dolphins! We watched the sunset. We enjoyed this so much that we came back the for a second night.
We spent our last afternoon at Sullivan’s Island Beach. We had the perfect weather on our trip with temperatures in the 60s-70s, so a beach afternoon in December wasn’t too crazy!
While at Sullivan’s Island, we explored Fort Moulrie. This was another unexpected bonus, as we did not plan to do this.
On our way home, we broke up the drive by stopping to see a few things in Atlanta. We visited the MLK Jr. National Historical Park, which included Ebenezer Church, where he was co-pastor, his birth site, and the graves of himself and Coretta Scott King. Everything was closed because of COVID-19, but at least we got to see the outside of these historic places.
We had a great time on this vacation. We did everything that we wanted to do and then some. Now we are back home with all of the pictures, video and memories, and we’re looking forward to the next trip!
If you live in the Chattanooga area or are visiting Chattanooga and looking for a hike to do, consider Lula Lake Land Trust.
Lula Lake Land Trust is different from other outdoor recreational areas, in that it is a conservation area, and you need reservations to hike here. The Lula Lake Land Trust has open gate days, which are the first and the last weekend of every month. There is a $15 “conservation use fee” per carload.
Lula Lake Land Trust (LLLT) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established by the will of Robert M. Davenport in January of 1994. Dedicated to the preservation of lands located within the Rock Creek watershed on Lookout Mountain, the mission of LLLT is to preserve the natural and historic landscapes surrounding Rock Creek and its tributaries through conservation, education, and low-impact recreation.
Dates for reservations are listed two months out in advance, and dates sell out quickly. The reservations are timed, with the first group of people allowed to enter from 9-10 a.m.
We made our reservations a month out and hoped for good weather. If the weather forecast is not looking great and you want to cancel, you can get a refund if you do so at least 48 hours in advance.
There are multiple trails to choose from, and we picked the most popular, “The Out and Back,” which is 4.2 miles. This is a flat, gravel path, with little elevation change.
We timed our reservation, Oct. 31, for the forecasted peak foliage time, and we were not disappointed! I love photographing fall leaves, so this made our time here more special.
After a nice stroll, you come to a bridge that goes over Rock Creek. Just after this bridge, you will see the lower falls. There is a stone step path that leads down to these falls, filling into the conservation’s namesake, Lula Lake.
Head a little further up the trail and you will see the main falls, Lula Lake Falls. This waterfall is 120 feet high. I loved the pop of color at the top of the falls!
There are two trails leading down to the falls from the gravel path. The first one you come across is meant to use to come back up, after leaving the falls, because this one is steep. The second trail you come to, just a little further up from the first trail, is meant for making your way down to the falls.
There was plenty of space to walk around and check out the falls from different angles.
What I like the most is that the number of people allowed in are limited. Of course, we saw some people at the waterfalls, but it wasn’t crowded like some other hikes are. There were long stretches of time when we did not see any people on the trail.
At this point, heading back, we decided to deviate from the Out and Back Trail, and take the North Creek Trail back. I do NOT recommend this!
The North Creek Trail follows the creek and turns into the short Ford Trail, at which point you ford the river. We knew there would be a river crossing, but we didn’t know what we’d be up against.
The water was fairly deep, about mid-calf high. Derek took off his socks and shoes and rolled up his pant legs. I told him to go first, and I took his phone and recorded his crossing.
He barely made it a few steps when he slipped and fell! Luckily, he caught himself, and saved his butt from getting wet. Unluckily, he lost one of his shoes! There it went, floating down stream.
However, it was at this time that Derek met his trail guardian angel. A hiking couple were on the trail near us, and must have heard us exclaiming about the shoe, and he came running out on a section of rocks that jut halfway across the creek. With one of his hiker poles, he was able to retrieve the shoe.
After that, he made it safely across. Then it was my turn, and I was responsible for three shoes now! I decided to go across the creek from the rocks that were jutting out and go diagonally. This ended up being a little easier. I did have my moments when I almost fell though!
Once we were on the shore, we laughed about it. I’m glad we did it and we had the experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again! It might be easier in the summer if the water levels are lower. After that, the North Creek and Ford Trails meet back up with the Out and Back Trail.
Overall, this was a great hike. Even with the extra water crossing that we weren’t planning on, it was a great, mostly easy hike, with great payoff in terms of views. I may consider coming back here again sometime, but I think we spoiled it for ourselves for another time by going during the fall with the beautiful leaves!
This past weekend, Derek and I did something that I never thought we would do. We camped at Cloudland Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t just typical camping in a campground.
We had a backcountry campsite, which is one of 10 campsites that are along the Backcountry Loop Trail. There is a parking lot at the trailhead, and everyone has to hike into their site. Some of the sites are closer, and some are further out than others. Our campsite was No. 5, which was not one of the closer ones, but not too far out either.
We do not have the big camping backpacks with the frames, we only have our regular school backpacks. In order to be able to haul everything we needed, we bought a little two-wheeled utility cart.
Our campsite was totally secluded. No. 5 had a little off shoot trail from the main trail, which we liked. The backcountry trail loop is a two mile trail, and I assume regular hikers, who are not camping, frequent through there.
This overnight camping trip was not perfect by any means. In fact, it was a comedy of errors. We learned our lesson many times over. We are not too scathed from our experience, and we want to camp there again, maybe even in the winter. Now we know how to do things right.
Our first lesson is to bring a hatchet next time, and skip the bundles of firewood. Because of the wood, we had to make two trips back and forth from the car to the campsite. We learned that campers are allowed to use any wood at the site, within reason, for campfires.
Things went fairly smoothly in the evening. Rain was in the forecast, so we hung up a tarp over our tent, to keep us dry. We have a beginner’s pop up tent, that is not water proof, but it suits our needs fine. It drizzled on and off while we ate dinner, but never amounted to much. We enjoyed the evening by the fire.
What we weren’t prepared for was how DARK it got at night. We’re used to camping near others, so you have everyone’s lantern light and campfires, and even the glow from buildings like the camp office or the bathhouse. It felt very weird, and somewhat scary, to be alone in the woods in the dark.
Before we went to bed, we opened up the top and side parts of our tent to expose the screens underneath, to let in air flow. It was quite warm when we went to bed, at 70 degrees.
It poured on and off all night long. We stayed nice and dry until suddenly, we were quite wet. I guess the wind must have shifted, causing the rain to come right into our tent! In the dim lantern light, Derek struggled to get the tent closed up again. Another lesson learned. Leave the tent fully closed when rain is in the forecast!
Our tent is small, so we can’t put everything inside. Our shoes were outside, underneath the tarp. But when it’s raining sideways, this does not help! Our shoes got soaked. Derek’s socks and jeans also got soaked, because they were folded up in the front corner of our tent, which was a full puddle of water by the time we got everything zipped up. Another lesson we took away from this is to bring an extra change of socks, and bring plastic bags for anything we want to stay dry.
The rain finally moved out at about 6:45 a.m. We got up, and again, were shocked at how dark it was. The wood was a little damp, and so were the Duralogs. Lesson No. Four: Duralog packaging is not water proof! Keep the Duralogs dry so they light easier!
We were both worried for a minute that we would not be able to get a fire started, therefore no warmth, no hot tea, and no breakfast. Things were tense, but the fire eventually did get going. It should also be mentioned that a cold front came through after the rain, so it was quite chilly early in the morning.
Once the sun came up and we had food in our stomachs, we could laugh at our misfortunes.
The Backcountry Loop Trail connects with the Bear Creek Trail. This is a trail that we had never been on, so we decided to check it out.
Unfortunately, we were steered wrong by the map that we had. The map listed that it was .5 miles to Bear Creek, before continuing on for another 7.1 miles. I thought to the creek and back would make a nice one mile hike. This was not so. Apparently the map was labeled incorrectly, or perhaps it was .5 miles from where it intersects with the Overlook Trail. Even the dotted line representing the direction of the trail was wrong, too.
The hike was easy at first, but then we went down a lot of switch backs to get down to the creek. We saw our first bright orange salamanders!
By the time we got back to the campsite, I think we had hiked nearly three miles total. It was a gorgeous hike, but we just were not prepared to go that far!
Once we got back, we started to pack up our campsite. We had to be out by 1 p.m. Imagine our surprise when a bunch of Boy Scouts, Boy Scout leaders, and some parents came into our campsite. They were very nice to us, but I was unhappy that they showed up too early. We had to rush through our packing up. We left at about 12:30, a full 30 minutes before they should have even been there.
All in all, we had a great time, and it was an adventure, to say the least.
Last weekend we went to the Prater’s Mill Country Fair in Dalton, Ga.
Prater’s Mill is an original, working gristmill that was established in 1855. At the fair, people have the opportunity to walk through the gristmill, the cotton gin, an old country store, and a barn that features a large collection of historical items. This part of the fair was my favorite, because I always enjoy anything historical.
Of course, there was also a ton of shopping to be had as well. What we enjoy about these types of fairs (there is a similar Ketner’s Mill Country fair in Whitwell, Tenn.,) is that the vendors are heavily vetted. Everything is handmade and local, and unique.
There were also performances all day long on a stage. We caught a few dances by a clogging group.
I bought myself a quartz crystal necklace, which I always seem to have my eyes on, whenever I see a gem vendor. Derek bought himself a 4th-5th Century AD Roman coin, which was turned into a keychain.
There was lots of good food to choose from. We had pulled pork sandwiches, shared an apple dumpling, and a cup of hot cider.
We enjoyed our day here. This event may be an event that we put into our regular rotation for next year.
Derek is partnering with the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, and another local artist, on an art project this year. Through this work, we have learned a lot about the Arboretum, and all that they have to offer to the public, including their work in animal conservation, and their animal ambassadors.
The Arboretum houses a collection of animals native to eastern Tennessee, all of them unable to be released into the wild, for different reasons. Many of these animals are used in educational programs for children.
They also have a red wolves rehabilitation program, where they are trying to reintroduce red wolves back into the wild. Some of the red wolves are unable to go into the wild, and call the Arboretum their forever home. Red wolves are critically endangered. As part of the program, they also breed red wolves with the intent of “cross fostering” where the bred pups are raised by a wild red wolf and her wild pups, and will grow up wild.
As a late birthday present, we scheduled an animal encounter with Toddy, the red fox.
Males are called tods, hence the name “Toddy.” Females are called vixens, and young cubs are called kits.
Toddy is five years old, and he came to the Arboretum when he was just five weeks old. He was rescued from an “exotic” animal auction.
We got to watch Toddy eat his mid-morning meal, comprised of meat, peanut butter, peppers, cat and dog food, and scrambled eggs. We both got to feed him some of the scrambled egg!
Red foxes always have a white tip on the end of their tail and black “socks.” They have elliptical pupils, like cats.
A red fox like Toddy typically weighs about 14 pounds in the summer, and up to 17 pounds in the winter, due to all of the extra fur!
He was very excitable and energetic. He was running and jumping all over the place. At the end of our encounter, he curled up in his dog carrier for a nap.
After our time with Toddy, Tish, the Director of Wildlife, gave us a quick peek at all of the other animals. We saw a bobcat, a black vulture, an opossum, a one-eyed owl, a turtle, a hawk, and an eagle. I would love to do an animal encounter with the opossum in the future!
I am so happy that hiking season is returning! There are some extreme hikers that will hike year round, but we prefer to do it while staying cool, and not having to carry twice as much water.
On Labor Day, Monday morning, we got up early and we headed to the Glen Falls Trail. We started out small; this wasn’t even a mile and a half, but it was a good start nonetheless.
We were on the trail at 7:30 a.m. and we had the trail and waterfall to ourselves.
We hiked this trail last January, and this time around we had a totally different experience. The water was practically gushing compared to last time.
We wanted to take off our shoes and go wading in the water this time. We brought a towel so we could dry off our feet afterward. Last time, we learned our lesson, that the wet rocks in the base of the falls were quite slippery in our hiking boots. Our bare feet offered more traction.
The water was cold, but refreshing. It was a little scary in some places, where it was deeper and the water was rushing fast, but we waded back and forth safely.
This is a fairly easy hike that is good for beginner hikers and families. The parking lot is small though, and fills up quickly. I recommend getting to this trailhead early, or going on a weekday.
If you’re traveling through northern Georgia, and are looking for a quick and interesting pit stop, I suggest checking out the Rock Garden in Calhoun.
Located behind the Seventh Day Adventist Church, this is a free, little attraction. (There is a donation box at the entrance.)
All built by volunteers, the rock garden features both miniature and large scale sculptures of castles, villages, and real locations, such as the Colosseum in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris.
All of these are located on a nice, meandering garden path.
The details on some of the sculptures are stunning. There are clay windows, stained glass windows, and little figurines like dogs, knights, and villagers. The sculptures are made with glass beads, stones and shells, with a concrete base.
It only took us about 15 minutes to see everything, but it was worth the stop to stretch our legs and see something different and beautifully made.
If you don’t live in the south, there’s a good chance you probably haven’t heard of Buc-ee’s. What is that, you ask? Buc-ee’s is hard to describe. At its most basic description, Buc-ee’s is a gas station and convenience store. A better description would be to call it a magical place full of food, household items, clothing, and beavers. Lots of beavers. Some of the bigger stores have over 100 gas pumps. Plus, it’s clean inside. Buc-ee’s was voted as the cleanest restrooms in America! Yes, that’s right.
Buc-ee’s is a Texas based company, that has recently expanded to other southern states like Alabama, Florida and Georgia. We visited a Buc-ee’s in Alabama while we were on vacation in July, and it felt so good to be back after two years. We had missed it!
A new Buc-ee’s opened in Calhoun, Ga., a few weeks ago, and it is only an hour long drive! There were other things we wanted to do in the area, so this was the perfect time to stop at Buc-ee’s.
I DON’T recommend going to a Buc-ees that has just opened. For those who live in Chattanooga or northern Georgia, wait a little bit longer to check out the one in Calhoun. It was madness! There were people taking selfies out front, and people were taking videos on their phones inside. Derek and I had to hold hands the entire time so we wouldn’t get separated.
Here are some of the things I personally enjoy and recommend buying at Buc-ees:
My favorite sweet tea is Texas Tea, found in the cooler section. There are many different flavors, but my favorite is strawberry.
I also enjoy their snickerdoodles. They are soft and chewy. There are so many different baked goods to choose from!
Kolaches are also a Texas specialty. Kolaches were brought over from the Czech Republic immigrants who settled in Texas. A kolache is a bun filled with either a savory or sweet filling. My favorite is sausage and cheese.
If you research Buc-ee’s online, most people will say to get the Beaver Nuggets, which is a sweet caramel flavored corn puff snack. I have had these before, and honestly, they’re not my favorite.
Of course, you have to get something with Buc-ee Beaver on it. Over the years I’ve grown a collection of keychains, stuffed animals, pajama pants, shirts, a sweatshirt and a mug!
Overall, Buc-ee’s is a great pit stop on a road trip. Gas prices are usually on the cheaper side. The bathrooms are humongous so there won’t be a line. There is so much food to choose from, too.
This Labor Day weekend, in honor of it being a long weekend, and it being my birthday weekend, we wanted to do something special. We decided to take a day trip into Georgia, and visit some Civil War sites and museums.
I love Civil War history, and there is no shortage of it in Tennessee and Georgia. When we first moved to Chattanooga, my dad told me about the Great Locomotive Chase. He let me borrow a book about it, “Stealing the General.”
Here is a short history lesson: The Great Locomotive Chase (also known as Andrews’ Raid) happened on April 12, 1862. James Andrews, a civilian and scout for the Union Army, and volunteers from the Union Army stole a train, the General, in Kennesaw, Georgia, (back then known as Big Shanty). The train at the time was stopped to allow passengers to have breakfast at the Lacy Hotel.
The goal was to drive the train to Chattanooga, destroying the Western and Atlantic Railroad track as they went. Railroads were vital in the south and the Civil War. Gaining access to the railroads would cut off supplies to and from southern cities, and badly damage the south’s chances in winning the war.
Confederates gained access to different trains, including the Yonah, and the Texas, and pursued the General. Andrews and the Union soldiers made it as far as Ringgold, Ga., before the locomotive ran out of fuel, and they were captured. Some of the men were able to flee, but eight were hanged.
Our first stop of the day was Kennesaw Georgia, about an hour and a half drive away. We visited the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, which houses the original engine, the General.
The General was the main draw of the museum, but we also learned a lot about the railroads and how they were used and impacted by the Civil War.
There was a neat section in the museum where you learned about the work in foundries, and what it takes to make a locomotive.
The second Great Locomotive Chase and Civil War related stop of the day was in Tunnel Hill, Ga., where we visited the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center and Museum.
A major part of the Great Locomotive Chase was the chase through the Western and Atlantic Railroad tunnel. The Texas was actually chasing the General backwards!
As part of this tour, we rode on a golf cart the whole length of the tunnel, back and forth. This was really cool. The tunnel is no longer used, but the newer tunnel, built in 1928, is right along side of it. We were lucky enough to see a train come through while we were here.
We also got to see the Clisby Austin house, built in 1848. Austin was the post master in Tunnel Hill, and he also owned general stores. He was married twice — his first wife died — and he had 19 children! Austin was a Union sympathizer, so when the war broke out, he sold the home and left.
General Sherman stayed in the home for a week during the start of the Atlanta Campaign. Later on, after the Battle of Tunnel Hill, the home was turned into a hospital.
One thing that I found interesting in this home was that the stairs were original. You could see the dips in the wood, from all of the people who have walked on it over time. I took the same steps as General Sherman!
I enjoyed the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center and Museum, because it was a bonus to learn about Clisby Austin, and the home.
There were other stops on this day trip, so stay tuned!