New Echota State Park – #21 of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta

Going into New Echota town

Going into New Echota town

This past Sunday I went with a few friends to New Echota State Park to check another hike off the list.  Prior to going I didn’t look up much info as it was a last-minute decision.  I wasn’t aware at the time the historical significance of the area.  From 1825 until the 1830’s New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation.  In the 1830’s the US government began giving the land away via lottery and forcing the Cherokee to leave via The Trail of Tears.  I was surprised at how small and relatively unknown the site is based on the historical significance.  After the removal of the Cherokee people, the site was mostly untouched for almost 100 years.  In 1952 the land was put up for sale and local residents purchased 200 acres and donated it to the state due to the historic significance.  For more reading please follow the highlighted links, there’s a lot more to the history of the area but I won’t cover that here.

From a hiking perspective the trails are pretty simple.  There is a 1 mile nature trail as well as ~1 mile of trails circling the site.  There is a small museum in the main building and there are several original and recreated buildings on site showing the way the town was setup and how each building played its role in daily life and government.  There is a small lake, created by an active beaver dam, and a small creek flowing through the area.  On the day I went there really was not much to be seen along any of the trail.  It was a pleasant and easy walk through a heavily forested area.  A couple points of interest show one of the lowest spots in GA at 630 feet and an area where one side of the trail is new growth pine and the other is older hardwoods, this was caused due to part of the area being cultivated as a farm until he 1940’s.  When it was no longer farmed the fast growing pine quickly took over.  The leaves on the hardwoods were nearing peak fall colors and made of some nice scenery.  Some of the trees had began to lose leaves and made this feel like a true Autumn hike as they crunched under my feet.

Fall colors at New Echota State Park

Fall colors at New Echota State Park

If you’re looking for a quick and easy hike this would be ideal.  I doubt the trail gets very crowded at any time and there is a lot of important Native American history at the site.  The trail is pretty open and very dog-friendly so take your 4-legged friends with you when you go.

This post refers to trail listings in the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta.  New Echota Trail is #21/60.

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Sweetwater Creek State Park – 58 and 59 from 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta

Sweetwater Creek

Sweetwater Creek

We had a gorgeous weekend in Atlanta and as I’m wont to do (I’ve always wanted to say that) I had to get a hike in.  A buddy suggested Sweetwater Creek State Park, so that’s where we headed.  I didn’t check my book beforehand and when I got home and looked found out the area we hiked actually covered two of the hikes in the book.  There are a few trails throughout the park and we started out on the red blazed trail, also called the historic trail (more on that later) and finished our hike via the white blazed trail, along with the Blue blazed trail these are referred to as the non-game trails.

The park is located approximately 25 miles west of Atlanta in Lithia Springs.  We entered the park via the Factory Shoals Road entrance and paid the $5.00 per car fee to enter the park.  As you enter the park Sparks Reservoir will be immediately on the left.  Drive straight back to get the visitor’s center and trailheads, you’ll pass several picnic areas along the way.  The park was very busy the day I went, I’m sure people are taking advantage of the gorgeous weather knowing that cooler temps are just around the corner.   We parked, got our gear together, put the leash on Boo, grabbed a map and headed out.  Jumping topics here but I really should get a little better with reading and navigating via a map.  In all fairness many of the maps the parks give out can be confusing as they only put things on the map they feel are important and sometimes things I think are important to pinpointing where I am are left out.  That’s right… I blame my shitty map-reading skills on shitty maps.  Don’t hate.

As mentioned the park was busy and traffic, especially at the trailhead, was heavy.  Just a short ways in we saw a Blue Heron perched high up in a tree, it looked odd as I usually see them along the shore or wading in the shallows. Later on I saw a Bald Eagle, unfortunately it flew over quickly and I didn’t get a chance to take a pic.  That was very awesome, first time I’ve seen one in the wild.  We proceeded along the trail which ran parallel to Sweetwater Creek, about 1/2 mile in you come to the ruins of the New Manchester Mill.  If you’ve read some of my other posts you know I love a hike with history so this was awesome to see.  The factory was burnt to the ground on July 9, 1864 by Union troops.  All employees were taken prisoner and moved to Marietta, later they were moved north and given the option to pledge allegiance to the Union and be released as free Northerners, they were commanded not to travel back south while the country was still at war.  I didn’t find any info as to what the other options were if you didn’t choose to become a Yankee.

New Manchester Factory ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park

New Manchester Factory ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park

Past the ruins the trail continues along the creek and offers a bit of challenging terrain as the area is quite rocky, as I attempted to navigate the rocks my pup simply ran up and down them pulling me along on the leash and getting frustrated with me for not keeping up.  For some reason she was extra rambunctious on this hike and hard to control, maybe there were just too many smells to process all at once.  I was too focused on looking at the scenery and navigating the rocks and forgot to take more pictures but did get a few of  the creek.  My buddy that went with me said he’ll be back soon with his fishing pole.  We saw several smaller fish along the banks so I’m sure there are larger ones out there.  He doesn’t have a very good record anyhow… I’m pretty sure the fish are safe.

In total we hiked 3.85 miles in 2.5 hours.  I’d say overall the trail was moderate difficulty. There was one hill that seemed to go on forever but other than that the hard climbs were pretty quick.  All in all it was a very fun hike and I will definitely return again to explore the other trails.

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Brasstown Bald – Highest point in the state of Georgia

Panoramic view from the top of Brasstown Bald

This past Saturday I took a trip a little outside my usual 60 miles of Atlanta range.  Some friends and I traveled up to Blairsville, GA to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the state of Georgia at 4,783 feet.  From the top of the mountain you can see four states – Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina.  The English name for the mountain comes from a translation error of the Cherokee name, Itse’yĭ (New Green Place or Place of Fresh Green).  White settlers in the area mistakenly translated it as Ûňtsaiyĭ (brass).

Brasstown Bald is approximately a 2 hour drive from Atlanta, mostly due to the last 45 +/- miles of the trip being on winding mountain roads.  It’s several miles from any city/town so just be aware if you decide to travel up.  Due to stops for lunch at a nice Cuban restaurant, the cigar shop to grab a stogie for the trip up and the gas station for fuel and drinks we headed up a little later than intended.  We arrived close to 5:00 PM just as they were shutting down the small General Store and the museum on the peak of the mountain, no big deal for us but worth noting if these are areas you’d like to see.  Brasstown Bald is also a wonderful place for star gazing.  We were there once it got dark (unintentionally, it’s a long story… I’m still traumatized so I’d rather not talk about it.) and I have to say I’ve never seen a night that dark before.  The sky was crystal clear and moonless and the stars were the most brilliant I’ve ever seen.  Absolutely indescribable how amazing the night sky was, if you get a chance you should definitely check it out.  The trail to the summit is open 24 x 7 for those that would like a night hike to the summit.

View from the top of Brasstown Bald

View from the top of Brasstown Bald

There are a few ways you can get to the top of Brasstown Bald.  One popular route is via Jack’s Knob Trail, a 4.5 mile trail (each way) with the last 1/2 mile being the trip from the visitor’s center parking lot to the top.  Although I’d like to think I was ready for a 9 mile hike over steep hills I’m not one to lie to myself so I opted to do the short 1/2 mile on this trip.  Fortunately we had a couple others that agreed with me so majority won.  Even the half mile is a tough half mile, very steep hills.   The trail is paved all the way up and is flanked on both sides with trees and plants.  As I pushed my hardest to make it up the mountain I really wanted to trip the kids that were sprinting past me… but I didn’t, even though those little show-offs would have deserved it.  Once I managed to make it to the top I was greeted with an amazing view from the observation tower.  The sky was clear but there was a light fogginess over the mountains, a really amazing sight.  The towns and lakes we could see in the valleys looked more like they belonged on a model train set, very cool stuff.  I snapped a few pics and we wandered around a bit then headed back down.   I was very happy to be trotting 1/2 mile down the mountain rather than back up.

Some technical details for the trip.  There is a lot of winding roads to get to the mountain, we had one person in our group that gets carsick and this trip whipped her around pretty good.  You can ride a shuttle bus to the peak if you’d rather not take the hike.   The shuttle bus is $3.00/person for adults.  If you choose not to take the shuttle bus it’s still $3.00 per adult (anyone over 16) to enter the park, I believe older kids and teens were $2.00 with young children being free.  There is a newly constructed restroom facility at the welcome center and also a small General Store with t-shirts, hats, stickers, magnets, etc.  The day we went they also had a vendor there with a cart selling hot dogs, cold cider and hot chocolate.  There are machines if you’d prefer water or a soda.

Definitely a fun trip and one I’d do again.  We caught it about mid-way through the fall foliage change and there was still a lot of green.  It would be nice to see it when leaves are at there peak, perhaps I’ll take another trip next year.

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I’ve lost over 100 pounds… and got quite a shock at the doctor’s office.

Not my actual feet... or weight.

Not my actual feet… or weight.

Yesterday was a bit crazy.  I went to the doctor for an annual check up, I was actually looking forward to going as I’d lost 78 lbs (or so I thought) and she’d urged me in the past to lose weight.  Since she hadn’t seen me in a year it would be a pretty noticeable change.  Cool.

The last time I saw her was September 2011.  The nurse checked me in and went through the typical stuff – blood pressure, pulse check, any meds, weighing me… uh oh, they want me to step on a scale.  So I step up, wait a second and look at the digital display, it read [ — ].  Over the limit.  Damn.  I didn’t even look at the weight limit on the scale, I just stepped off and moved on, the nurse asked me how much I weighed and I gave her my guesstimate.  She looked at me a bit funny and I figured my guesstimate must have been less than the scale’s limit, however I didn’t ask and she didn’t question my answer.  I didn’t know for sure my starting weight, I didn’t buy a scale until I knew I’d lost a good bit, then I weighed and took a guess at how much I thought I’d loss.  I’ve never been very good at estimating weight, obviously.

Now it’s October 2012 and time for my follow-up visit.  The nurse greets me and we head to the scale.  I step on an it pops up 393, which is 7 lbs more than my scale at home but I’m fully clothed so I’m guessing we’re pretty close.  This time I decided to check the limit on the scale, I was shocked when I saw that it was 500 lbs.  What?!  Did I read that right?  Maximum weight 500 lbs.  I was shocked.  Now I see why she looked at me oddly when I guesstimated my weight at 465 the previous year.  I can’t believe I weighed over 500 lbs at my heaviest.  It’s hard to admit, it’s embarrassing.  I actually think that scale did me a favor last year by not registering my actual weight, not sure I could have handled it at the time.  I go in the exam room and wait on the doctor.  When she walked in the firs thing she said was, “You’ve lost weight.”  Nice.  She commented that she could really see it in my face.    Just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy about the scale I asked her if I read the max weight correctly at 500 lbs, she said I had.  I asked her if they’d replaced the scale since last year, they hadn’t.  My 1/4 ton+ starting weight was confirmed – and I didn’t like it one bit.

However, on the bright side of things I’ve actually lost 107+ lbs and I am damn proud of that.  I will do everything within my power to never see a 4 as the first digit in my weight again and I sure as hell am not going to see a 5… and not just because the scale won’t read that high. ;-)  That visit in 2011 was my first step to getting my life on track, taking control of some things that had gotten out of control.  I’m proud to say a year later I have made major, major changes in my life.  I’ve changed what I eat, how much I eat, my physical activity and my sleep patterns and the sum total of these actions means I’ve lost 107 pounds in the last year and on my way to even more.  As shocked as I was to find out my true starting weight it will also be a huge motivator to never go back there again.  I’ve made permanent changes in my life, I can’t wait to see where I am a year from now.

Firefly Run Atlanta – My first 5K

Crossing the Finish Line at my First 5K

I took a break in my weekend hiking to take part in my first 5K, the Firefly Run Atlanta.   Now, I didn’t say I ran my first 5K… but I did complete it.  Maybe next year I’ll be able to run it.  It was a blast and I had some great friends that went along with me for the adventure.

If you’re not familiar with the Firefly Run it’s a nighttime 5K.  Everyone gets these blinking armbands and most people load up with glow sticks, glow necklaces, glow bracelets, glow sunglasses… you get the point.  I saw one couple that had LED lights on their hat, glasses, clothes and even blinking mouthpieces.  I’m not sure how many people usually participate in these races but there were thousands of people at this one, runners as far as you can see.   The race was through midtown Atlanta and the Start / Finish lines were in Piedmont Park.  The participants were awesome, the race was a lot of fun and even the spectators got into it.  People would cheer and honk their horns as we ran (errr, walked) by and one guy had the Rocky them blaring as the crowd came by.

My official time was 57:19.67 and my goal for this year was to finish under an hour – mission accomplished.  I’m already looking forward to see how much I can improve by next year’s race.  I’ve already framed and hung up my bib, this is a milestone for me and having it on the wall will remind me how far I’ve come in a relatively short time and keep me pushing on to lose weight and get in better shape.  I’ll definitely do the Firefly Run again and might even jump in a few other 5K’s.

Next weekend I’m back to hiking, weather permitting I’m heading up to the GA/NC state line to Brasstown Bald to view the fall foliage.

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Paper Mill Trail – #10 / 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta

Last Sunday I went with a few friends and knocked out another hike on my list.  This one was Paper Mill Trail, #10 from the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta.  The trail is part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and winds along and over Sope Creek and wrapping around Sibley Pond.  In addition to Paper Mill Trail there are many other trails that can be combined to hike over 12 miles.  In addition to hiking the trails are also open to mountain biking, be warned that mountain bikers  definitely make use of the trails and in some sections the trail is narrow, stay alert for bikers coming around corners while hiking.

As I’ve found with many of the trails it wasn’t possible to follow this exactly as listed in the book.  The trails have changed recently with areas marked off for reforestation and erosion control.   The terrain is listed in the book as “Moderate to Difficult” however I found it to be just moderate most places.  There’s some interesting terrain along the trails with large tree roots and rocks scattered throughout, a couple of nice hills give you a bit of a workout.  Most of the trail is heavily shaded however at one point you walk into a clearing for about 100 yards as you walk along Sibley Pond.   In total we hiked 1.81 miles in 48 minutes, although there’s a bit of disagreement in the distance as my friend believes the hike was longer than that.  He’s much more familiar with the trail than I am so that’s possible.  I used my Runkeeper app on my iPhone however I did lose GPS signal for a good while.

The trailhead is easy to get to off of Paper Mill Road.  There are also some gorgeous homes to view along the drive, although with the tree cover it’s mostly fleeting glimpses.  There is a large parking area with a fee of $3.00 per day.   I’m amazed every time I go out how many amazing trails there are buried within the city and suburbs of Atlanta, looking forward to checking out the next one.

I’ve got a new adventure coming up this Saturday where I’ll take part in my first 5K!  We’ve put a team together for the Firefly Run in Atlanta, a nighttime 5K with a party vibe to it.  The week after that we plan to visit Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia and one of the best places in the country to view fall foliage.  Judging by the forecast we should hit it right at peak viewing so hopefully I’ll have some awesome pictures to share.

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