Monday, March 4, 2019

A foray in a northwest Georgia wilderness area

Last Thursday it rained in Georgia.  I postponed my drive back to Tennessee by one day as the weather forecast indicated some drizzle and fog on Friday.  I thought it would be fine.  I had an early start on Friday and felt good.  My car was full of bags of things to take back with me as well as another 150 books for the bookstore in Trenton, GA.  Traffic on I-75 was light and I made good time to my exit ramp for highway 136 going toward Trenton.  Starting in 2010 when our youngest daughter and family moved to Brentwood in suburban Nashville, we made the trip to Nashville often.  We would use interstate I-75 all the way.  But as my husband enjoyed side roads I was able to avoid Chattanooga by going through the Chattahoochee National Forest via highway 136.  I found maps and marked them to give you an idea.  As you can see on the bottom map, hwy 136 is a curvy road going through Villanow, LaFayette and Trenton.  Then we would take I-59 back up to the main highway between Chattanooga and Nashville, I-24.

We would drive through a section of the Chattahoochee National Forest. This is a large forest that comprises 750,145 acres (3,036 km2) and covers 18 north Georgia counties.  In 2011, in the little town of Villanow, we noticed a sign indicating a "Georgia Scenic Byway" and turned into it.  This took us to the Johns Mountain Wilderness area.  It was truly a lovely ride with no houses, cars or people - a genuine wilderness.  Although numerous animals can be found in this wilderness - hawks, owls, ducks, beavers, river otters, bobcats, deer, weasels, foxes, American black bears, coyotes, eagles, geese and more.  I took some pictures and wrote a post about our ride, see my post of November 2011 "On the road again in Tennessee and Georgia."   Below are some pictures I took of Johns Mountain Wilderness area in 2011.

Villanow is an unincorporated town in Walker County (one of the most western counties in the state.)  There is a country store there that is listed on the National List of Historic Places.  It opened around 1840 and served the community for many years.  It holds the record as the longest operating stand alone country store in the entire state of Georgia, but it is closed now.  I drove by it and thought I should stop next spring and take another picture on a sunny day.  Then driving on I was stopped by a truck parked across the highway.  People were motioning me to take a left as hwy 136 was closed.  I just went back to look on Google map to find out the names of the roads I used.  The first little road is named West Armuchee Road, a country road with farms and old houses along it.  I then had to turn on an even smaller unpaved road, Smith Gap Road.  At the corner was a very old cemetery.  I was tempted to visit it but did not know how long this detour would take, so I went on.  Later I found a picture of it - it is called the McWilliams cemetery.  Below is the start of Smith Gap Road, the graves of Elizabeth Lillies, 1826-1867, Spencer Bomar, 1810-1884, Martha B. McWillaims, 1815-1891, William McWilliams, 1818-1878 in the McWilliams cemetery and the Villanow country store.  Click on collage to enlarge.

The road was getting narrower with more gravel and rocks.  Then I was stopped by a small river without a bridge.  I just stopped there, looked at the river and took a picture with my cell phone.  A big SUV came behind me and could not pass me.  I went out and asked the driver what to do.  He told me to go ahead and drive across the river.  As I was apprehensive he said not to worry, he would push my car if I were stuck in the water, or get me out if my car would not move out of the river... I went back in my car, took a big breath and drove across the river - it made a lot of noise as I went over rocks.  You can't see from my cell phone picture below, but there was a small waterfall on the left.  I found out it is called the Greenbush Branch river.  I also attach a picture of the map with the accident on hwy 136.  I penciled the detour I took through Johns Mountains wilderness.

The dirt road then kept going up the mountain with big holes full of mud, fallen branches, rocks and more.  I have pictures of the road when the weather is pleasant, but at the time it was not at all.  Below photo in center of collage and the two lower left photos show the road in good weather.  As I was driving up and around the mountain the fog was getting denser.  I was going slowly as I could not see well and was afraid someone would drive in the opposite direction, as there is room for only one car.

I think it was a 4 miles (6.5 km) journey to the end of the detour but it felt like 20 miles!  As I drove higher around the mountain ridge I knew that the sides went sharply down below.  Earlier I had come to a dead-end into a fork and made a left.  The local SUV behind me made a right.  So, I carefully backed up and went on the right (later after checking the map I realized the left dirt road went on and on all the way to Alabama.)  By then the SUV was way ahead out of sight.  It was a scary ride.  This is part of Johns Mountain Wilderness area after all and it is a 24,849 acre (10,057 ha) area in Walker, Whitfield, Gordon and Floyd counties.  It is located inside the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.  It's not a place where many tourists venture and even less in winter.  The few people living close to the wilderness area are families going back generations as seen in the cemetery.  In summer Johns Mountain Wilderness is lovely, but it was not then.  Below are photos of the wilderness area in better weather.

I kept driving, turning around sharp curves and finally it became a small paved road.  There were still no vehicles, houses or people.  I was pleased that I had just bought 4 new Michelin tires and had a full tank of gas.

I came to the end of Smith Gap Road and turned on Old Alabama highway 151, passed Homestead Hollow and was back on hwy 136!  I was very happy that my foray into the wilderness was over thinking I was OK then... I drove through LaFayette (named in honor of the Marquis of LaFayette) went on the switchback roads on the next mountain and finally arrived in Trenton, GA, located in the foothills at the Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee line.  John, the owner of the Trenton bookstore, was happy with my 4 large bags of books.  I told him about my adventure in the mountains.  He assured me that there are many scenic areas and I should stay several days in summer to take a look.  I may do that.  He added that I needed to still be careful driving as there was more fog ahead and a year or so ago a pile-up on I-24 destroyed 30 vehicles and several lives.  After crossing the large Tennessee River I stopped at the rest stop for a bit of lunch and rest.  I walked around and took pictures of the mountains I had left on the other side of the bridge, pleased that this was over.

The Monteagle Mountain grade in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee was still ahead.  It is the "white knuckle" highway mentioned by truck drivers.  I talked about it in my post of January 21, 2019 Stops along the way..  Indeed as I came up the steep hill the fog was thicker and thicker.  In a short while I could barely see the front of my car and could only hear the trucks without seeing them.  The higher I drove the heavier the fog became.  The visibility was terrible.  I knew there was another rest stop at the top near the Monteagle exit.  As soon as I came to it I entered it and stopped the car.  I took a picture of what I could see.  It was a bit better than on the freeway - picture below.

I waited in the car for a while, then walked out and took more pictures as the fog was diminishing.

I was hesitant about continuing driving and anxious about going down the steep Monteagle hill.  But then I did not want to get homichlophobia and had to move on.  So I did, carefully, and once down the hill the fog had almost dissipated.  Now the ride would be much easier.  It had been an eventful foray in the wilderness then in a dense fog.  At least I had seen some pretty spring blooms at the first rest stop.


Roderick Robinson said...

You shame me. When I go from A to B, or back from B to A - the journey being purposeful and/or utilitarian - I never add in an unpurposeful inch of travel. The journey ceases to be measured in miles, only in time. My mind is always on the future never the present. I envisage myself talking to the people I have set out to meet or (on the return) lying on my couch at home, reading today's paper, a G&T at my elbow. Even on journeys I know well I still switch on the satnav, not for geographical instruction but for the comfort of seeing my ETA (estimated time of arrival) expressed in numerals which may "become earlier" if I choose to break the speed limit.

Most of my journeys are seen as necessary domestic tasks such as going to the toilet or doing the washing up. Not occasions to be dwelt on. No adventures happen, nothing gets explored. Please understand these are not recommendations: I envy your proclivity to add to your experiences, to put yourself at risk. In a sense travel lengthens your life whereas it compresses mine. This is an awful confession for someone who pretends to be a writer and I can only defend myself on the rather feeble grounds that I aim - in writing - to use my imagination rather than recycle past events.

But then I remind myself that you are a Vagabonde (with that absolutely vital terminal e) and you have been designed to wander. We are literally and metaphorically poles apart. I am presently in the midst of the the local Borderlines Film Festival and my grandson (aged 31) is staying with us to share the 22 movies we will see. Yesterday he and I repaired a wall-light in my home on which the "puller string" had broken. There was a mental element to this work and the details are clear in my mind. Eventually these impressions will bed down as nourishing garden compost in my memory, to emerge at some time or perhaps not.

But I'd have to work hard to make it as vivid as your trip through the woods and rivers.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vagabonde - I can 'hear' your anxiety ... and yes I've done trips like that - a little unfair of the SUV guy not to get out and talk to you at the point he left. Loved the tour - I'm sure you were glad to be back down in Georgia. Happy to know the Trenton bookshop were happy with your goodies ... take care - cheers Hilary

Linda Starr said...

my goodness what a detour, and that fog, rather scary looking all the distance you had to travel all alone. we took a drive to Tennessee to go see some falls but we never made it, the road was so curvy, narrow, and too well traveled by cars coming into our lane from the other direction.

Colette said...

What a great adventure! You must have felt somewhat like a modern pioneer, trying to find your way through.

Divers and Sundry said...

I admire your adventurous spirit. I've vacationed in the Chattanooga area before and love it. Such scenic vistas! Your photos are wonderful, and they brought back memories of fun trips :)

Jeanie said...

It's incredibly beautiful but boy, you are far more brave than I. I don't think I could have crossed that river in my car no matter how mad the fellow behind me was. I would have said, "We have to back up!"

And thanks for introducing me to a new word -- homichlophobia -- which I had to look up!

David said...

Hi Vagabonde, We love side roads but our Hyundai sedan would never be able to navigate those dirt ruts that you were on. We've been on worse roads, mostly in the west and especially one in British Columbia. The good news was that the sedan we were driving was a rental...and despite lots of rocks and scary moments, I didn't wreck it!

Whenever we have the chance, we get off the big 4-lane highways and go local. We'll have to explore the area that you traversed just to see the scenery.

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Marja said...

wow that is a huge detour and adventurous I would be scared especially if you are on your own and in that fog You wouldn't see if you drive off the mountain. It is a beautiful area I must say.

molly said...

My, but you are brave and adventurous! I love exploring side roads and getting off the beaten path, but The OC is more destination driven, like RR in his comment above, so, as the OC is usually in the driver's seat, I don't get to indulge my inner vagabond very much. I enjoyed wandering with you today!

Cergie said...

Eh bien, quel périple ! Tu es une véritable pionnière quoique à notre époque je parlerais plutôt de voyage initiatique, tu es allée au bout de toi m^me et ces quelques fleurs ont été un avant goût de printemps agréable
Je ne crois pas que seule je me serais lancée dans une telle aventure ! Vraiment tu m'épates !

Pardonne moi de ne pas être passée te voir plus tôt. J'ai été très prise avec mes enfants et petits-enfants. Nous sommes descendus en TGV dans la Drôme, depuis Paris il nous a fallu 2 heures ! Nous avons gardé notre petite fille de 14 mois qui est un amour. Et puis dès notre retour nous avons récupéré notre petit-fils de 3 ans pour toute une semaine. Ses parents sont venus le chercher avec son frère ce week-end.
Tu me diras lorsque tu auras plus de précisions sur ton voyage éventuel en Europe. Personnellement je fais des projets au jour le jor, tout est assez booké jusqu'à la rentrée de septembre. Mais tu pourrais faire le tour de tes ami(e)s du blog, ce serait une façon agréable et pas si aventureuse de voyager !

DJan said...

What an adventure! I'm glad it turned out so well, and that you were able to take pictures to make it come alive for me, too. That one picture where I could barely make out some trees through the fog made me realize how anxious I would have been in your shoes. The comments that others have left were also very interesting to me. It certainly made for an interesting post! :-)

Jenny Woolf said...

Good grief, this sounds like a terrible drive! I would have been in pieces after it. THe photo of the thick fog with visibility down to almost zero was bad enough just on its own.Of course, as you suggest, it is a different thing in better weather and at a better season. I am glad that bookstore owner was pleased to get the books!

sonia a. mascaro said...

Hello my dear friend,
Just stopping by to know how are you.
Your posts are always wonderful!
Sending big hugs and Love,

Joared said...

Enjoyed reading this account and your photos. Quite an adventurous trip. My husband and I enjoyed such drives. One time we found ourselves on what we finally figured out was a fire break road in Taos, N.M. — became rough. rugged, no way to go back. We were lucky we had no car problems. Another time in Arizona we discovered we were traveling a wash and storm clouds were building, but we were able to get back to a main Hwy before rain came. In both instances we weren’t wise taking those drives. I’ve no longer.taken lengthy drives when I’m alone and haven’t encountered anyone who enjoys such trips, regretably, to accompany me.

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, first, I'd like to apologize for taking so many weeks to come to your blog now that you are back blogging. I was sick for nearly six weeks--all through January and into mid-February. Then I tried to do too much too soon and had a relapse. So all I've done since then is a couple of postings and a little blog reading, which explains why I'm so late in finding your postings again---posting I always enjoy because you take me with you on your travels and you teach me so much about life beyond my home, which, since I no longer drive, has become sort of a hermitage.

As to the adventure you recount for us in this posting, I find myself in deep admiration of your fortitude! Back in 2009 when I moved from Minnesota to Missouri I had to do a detour in southern Minnesota and got totally lost. The day was sunny, with no fog or rain or snow or anything except my inability to figure out what roads led south! In the front seat with me was Eliza--the long-haired gray cat who'd been my companion for 20 years. It was summer and the heat bore down and the air-conditioner didn't work in the car and I was so concerned that she would have heat stroke. She was panting and I almost began to cry because I couldn't find the way back to the freeway (I-35 going south).

Finally, of course, I did and Eliza and I stopped at the nearest rest stop--beneath a tree that shadowed the parking lot. There we both rested. If you'd been along, I tend to think we'd have found that freeway a lot faster!

It's so good to have you back! Peace.

Magic Love Crow said...

What a journey, WOW! The photos are amazing! What an adventure! Big Hugs!

Haddock said...

Wow... you visited the cemeteries too. Cemeteries give a good history of a place.

Shammickite said...

You were very brave travelling those quiet country roads though the fog all by yourself. Was there cell phone connection available in case you got into trouble? I think I might have been panicking, but panicking doesn't get you where you want to go does it???

Glenda Beall said...

You were near where my husband grew up in north west Georgia. I would have been filled with anxiety if I had been alone on that road where you had to cross a river and had no map to show where you needed to turn. I am amazed that the DOT would send you on such a hazardous detour.
My husband and I always took side roads in our jeep and had some great adventures and he took wonderful photos. Your post was like reading an adventure story holding my attention right up until the end. Love the foggy photos and the mountain roads. Some would make wonderful book covers for poetry.

Vicki Lane said...

Well done! And well described and photographed. We have similar areas here in western NC. White-knuckle driving, indeed!

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