Keith wanted to head out for a photo trek. Thursday seemed like a good day for an exploration, so we swung through Clemson and picked up Ken, and the three of us headed for the mountains of North Georgia.
The weather was not promising. We had a 30% chance of rain, and as Keith and I left Greenville raindrops were falling on my windshield. However, it looked like the front would blow through quickly. By the time we got Ken and continued on our way, blue skies were breaking through to the west.
From Clemson we took 123 through Westminster and continued on until we got to the Tugaloo arm of Lake Hartwell. Our first stop was Old Madison. This is on my list of ghost towns, and the last time I was here was with Laura and her mother. I wanted to explore a bit more. The old Madison School building was in much worse shape that when I came through last. The roof had collapsed. We didn’t take any photos of that, but I probably should have just for documentation. We did stop and took a few pictures of the old Madison Baptist Church, a white-framed building with a classic steeple that seems to be in regular use.
From the church we continued on around the bend until we got to the old Highway 123 bridge. The steel truss bridge is now used as a fishing pier, with the center portion removed.
We backtracked a bit and took New Madison road to New Madison. The road winds up and over a hill, with a rickety bridge over a railroad. I still need to do some research on this area, but I think New Madison was build to accommodate the railroad. However, the trains stopped coming, and all that is left is the old post office. With the development of Highway 123 as a major thoroughfare, Old Madison is now more lively than New.
We continued down River Road, with a brief stop at Tugaloo Presbyterian Church. This is another white frame church, but it doesn’t look like it is still used. The church was locked away behind an impressive chain link fence, I guess to ward off vandals. We could have gotten around it easily, but decided to respect their wishes.
We crossed over the Tugaloo and were now in Georgia. Just on the other side of the lake we saw a sign for the Travelers Rest Inn. It seemed a bit far removed from our Travelers Rest, so we decided to check it out. The Inn is operated by the Georgia State Park System, and is only open on the weekends. However, the grounds were open. The main building is a long unpainted building with several outer buildings. Behind the inn is a slave cabin, and a rock with several weathered petroglyphs.
Leaving the inn we soon found ourselves in Toccoa, and were approaching Toccoa Falls College. Keith had visited the falls before, but neither Ken nor I had been there. We decided to check it out. The falls are on the college campus, and access is through the campus bookstore. There is a modest fee to help cover upkeep of the site. However, what we found was well worth it. The skies had completely cleared by this time, and the falls were spectacular. The light was hitting the mist just right, and a brilliant rainbow formed at the base of the falls. This was one of the most amazing single-drop falls I had seen. I found myself taking lots of photos of the same view, over and over. I still don’t think I truly captured it. I was glad we stopped.
By this time it was getting close to lunch, and we had some decisions to make. I had originally suggested that we drive up to the Tallulah Gorge area. Looking at the map, we saw that we weren’t too far from Helen. I hadn’t been there in ages, and Ken had never been there. We decided to check it out for some German cuisine.
First up, though, was a detour through Clarksville. The town was larger than we thought, and had a lovely downtown square area. There was lots of interesting architecture and photo opportunities, but we didn’t stop. Our objective was a few miles north of town at Alley Chapel Methodist Church. Here, Keith’s great-grandparents were buried. We stopped to pay our respects.
One particular stone seemed to show an extremely long-lived individual:
We continued on our way, passing through the scenic Nacoochee Valley. We paused for a moment at one farm to take a photo of the fall leaves.
Soon enough we were in Helen. We were already making bad jokes, saying that we had been to Helen back, and that we had driven over Helen half of Georgia. Of course, there were plenty of jokes to be had. The idea of a Bavarian village in backwoods Georgia is just a bit weird. It’s a tourist trap. Period. It also led to some odd juxtapositions. One of the restaurants we wanted to check out was on “Chattahooche Strasse” – a weird combination of the Indian name and the German word for “street.” There was also cowboy art plastered on fake half-timbered buildings, and other unusual combinations.
Bodensee Restaurant had one of the highest reviews, so we decided to go there for lunch. A bus from a retirement home was there, and a large portion of the restaurant was taken over by those patrons. We should have taken that as a sign to move on. The waitress was a cute blonde who would have looked at home in a Munich Bierhaus, but service was terrible. She kept forgetting to bring us essentials – drinks, bread, salad dressing, silverware, etc. The food was equally uninspiring. Keith got a wurst salad, Ken got a chicken schnitzle (is there really such a thing?) sandwich, and I got garlic wurst with sauerkraut. About the only saving grace was the Warsteiner Dunkel beer.
We left the car at the restaurant and decided to explore the main drag on foot. There isn’t much to the town. The main portion is built up along the Chattahoochee River, and there seemed to be a nice river walk. The town is expanding southward, with miniature golf places and all the other essentials of a tourist trap town. There was even one of the dreaded bear pits.
What we found in the town was an odd mix of trash with bits of German tossed in to keep with the theme. There were some amazing tattoos, including one guy who had his entire head tattooed. There other equally odd looking characters. I had to wonder who in their right mind came to this place and stayed longed than a few hours to look at the weirdness.
I guess the Alpine themed brightly colored buildings dulled one’s recognition of the trash within. There were quite a few options for food, though. We could have gotten wurst all along the street. Keith even found a wine store called “Helenbach.”
We decided we had seen enough, and headed on out of town. Just on the outskirts is one more indication of juxtaposition insanity. The Nacoochee Indian Mound stands in a valley just outside of the town – a sacred Native American site desecrated with a frou-frou gazebo on top of it.
In fairness, the gazebo was built in 1915, long before such such things were considered inappropriate, Still it symbolizes the attitudes of Helen. Some may call it fun eclecticism. I just call it crap. The weirdness of the town aside, the surrounding countryside is quite lovely. I guess folks could come stay in Helen, then do trips out and about.
We made one more stop on our way out. I had seen a sign for the Stovall Covered Bridge a couple of miles off of our route, and decided to check it out. I’m a sucker for covered bridges. This one, however historic, was not scenic, though. It was a tiny bridge covered with graffiti, which is a shame.
As we drove home we again passed through the town square of Clarksville. As with the trip earlier, we were in a hurry to get elsewhere, and didn’t stop for photos. I felt that we had shortchanged the town. It’s a beautiful place, and much more appealing than that god-awful Helen. I could see coming back here and exploring at some point. I hate that I don’t have any shots of the square or town.
It had been a good day exploring, but we were tired. We dropped Ken off in Clemson and headed on back to Greenville. Not bad, for driving all over Hell and half of Georgia.