Exploring Georgia

Author: Alecia Pirulis

North Georgia Mountains

This Saturday, I’m driving my son to a music competition in Macon, Georgia. On this three-hour drive, I’ll pass through some of the more rural parts of Georgia: farmland, cattle, and horses dot the hilly landscape along the highway. It’s a beautiful part of the country, and it always amazes me just how different the parts of this state really are.

When people think of Georgia, they typically think of Atlanta. This bustling beehive of activity is a beautiful capital city with a lovely skyline. Historic architecture and soaring skyscrapers, major colleges and universities that include such powerhouses as Emory and Georgia Tech, friendly people, nightlife and entertainment, and major sports teams (how about those Atlanta Falcons? Not to mention the Hawks and the Thrashers!). With unique neighborhoods brimming with local flavor and style (check out Little Five Points, Buckhead, and Atlantic Station for starters), Atlanta is quintessential Georgia for a reason.

But, the quaint little towns in the North Georgia Mountains shouldn’t be overlooked. One of my favorites, Ellijay, is a gorgeous area filled with apple orchards and sweeping mountains, a charming downtown, and cascading waterfalls. For hiking, mountain biking, and nature-watching, this small part of the Appalachian foothills is ideal. And the mountains bursting with color on a crisp, fall morning? Unbeatable. Alpine Helen is a special treat – dozens of shops and great food with a mountain backdrop and nearby Anna Ruby Falls make this small village with cobblestone streets a must-see.

Coastal Georgia can be a little deceptive – you won’t get miles of shoreline cluttered with hotels and condos here, but miles upon miles of unfettered marsh, hidden beaches, and isolated islands. It’s a gorgeous sight, wild and untamed and filled with swooping cranes and egrets, stealthy alligators, and a lively history of pirates and sailors and settlers. When you visit places like Sapelo Island, Cumberland Island, Jekyll Island, and one of my all-time favorite locations, St. Simon’s Island (one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen is located here – it is tiny, but magnificent), it is so far removed from busy metro Atlanta or the rolling mountains of North Georgia that you feel as though you’re in another state. And, in Savannah, you don’t just feel as though you’re in a different state, but a different time period, as well.

Probably one of my most memorable experiences was a tent-camping trip to Laura S. Walker State Park in the Okefenokee Swamp, located in South Georgia. Our primitive campsite was isolated and near the water, so I could hear the alligators all night long (if you’ve never heard one, they sound similar to a bullfrog only it’s a longer sound and more rumbling. They can also make a more high-pitched clicking noise.) It can be a little intimidating under a pitch-black sky, and can easily keep a nervous camper up all night. On this trip, we took an impossibly small (read: low to the water – practically level with the water) canoe ride with a guide who insisted that alligators are misunderstood and are actually very friendly. My kids had hoped to see an alligator on this trip … they saw several, all around our tiny little boat. This was a boys’ dream trip: they got to hold a snake during an educational show about swamp critters, saw dozens of turtles and birds, and had the opportunity to scare mom with a never-before-seen assortment of bugs.

The different sections of Georgia really shouldn’t fit together – these seemingly mismatched puzzle pieces, taken individually, look as if they belong to different states. But when placed together, the edges blend seamlessly and the end result is a brilliant scene of color, flair, and unparalleled style.