Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

DragonCon

DragonCon

In early September, we had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta for the weekend.  Anthony was very excited to attend Dragon Con, a festival that attracts over 20,000 visitors to the city of Atlanta every year.  We spent all day Saturday at the fest, attending the parade – where hundreds of people in costume march the streets downtown, advertising their loyalties to various video games, movies, comics, and books.  Ghost Busters, Pastafarians, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones…the list goes on and on.  One word to describe Dragon Con – overwhelming.  We spent much of the day either waiting in line, or fighting our way through hoards of people.  The events and venues are spread out through several hotels downtown.  We had to wait in line or wade through scores of other humans in order to see vendors, get tickets, watch a panel, and even just people watch.  Many are in costume, and people stop to take photos and meet and greet constantly.  By the end of the day, we were exhausted from trying to see things and from the heat of the city in the summer.  Dinner, far from downtown at Soul Vegetarian, was a welcome respite from walking and standing all day.  A restaurant we visit every time we go to Atlanta, Soul Veg serves homestyle delicious entrees – the mac and cheese is my favorite side.

On Sunday, we had a free day to wander the city.  We began our day at Dough Bakery, for an all vegan brunch.  Sadly, Dough is closing, which is so sad because their food is delicious.  When we left, we were already planning our next visit to Atlanta and our next meal at Dough.  The biscuits served with gravy and a choice of sausage, chicken fried steak, or Canadian bacon were so tasty!  I had ran 7 miles that morning, all along the Beltline – an amazing running trail miles long through many neighborhoods, filled with people exercising – so I was especially hungry.  We then ended up going to the Decatur Book Festival, where I was able to pick up several inexpensive books and we ate free popsicles.  Mainly, we drove around the city, enjoying the company of a good friend who lives there.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Monday, before heading back to Asheville, we drove north to visit Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park where we learned all about the battles fought and how each side triumphed in different circumstances on the land and hills surrounding Chattanooga.  There are two visitor center units at the park.  At the Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia, we marveled at the sheer proliferation of monuments erected to commemorate the fallen soldiers, as well as the preservation of the battle itself.  Strict records have been kept in order to recall the exact movements of each division as the battles played out.  Then, on top of Lookout Mountain, we admired the view of Chattanooga as we walked around the small park.  We stopped for food at Sluggos North Vegetarian Cafe before driving home, to feast on delicious sandwiches.  A quick weekend trip, but we managed to pack a lot in.

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Cumberland Island National Seashore

When I first heard about Cumberland Island National Seashore, it seemed like a magical place full of wild ponies, sea birds, maritime forests, and peaceful beaches.  The reality was that magical.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

On our drive to St. Mary’s, Georgia we stopped for dinner at Tios in Columbia, South Carolina.  They served meat and vegetarian food, but offered vegan cheese for any order on the menu.  We took advantage of that and were very happy with the results.  Yummy tacos and burritos!  Upon arrival in St. Mary’s, a precious, quiet town on the water, before we could take the ferry to the island, we stayed the night at the Riverview Hotel, a relic of the past, replete with the requisite ghost stories and lounging cat.  All the rooms are unique, and are named after different people or things.  We stayed in the Nimitz Room, named for Admiral Nimitz, a naval officer during WWII.  We saw no ghosts, but did see the cat.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

In the morning, we explored the visitors center while waiting for our ferry to Cumberland Island.  The weather was warm and sunny, wonderful conditions for a weekend on the beach.  The ferry ride itself was lovely, as we chugged across Cumberland Sound from the St. Mary’s River.  We landed at the Sea Camp Ranger Station, where we were given some rules and regulations before being given our camping permits.  We were planning to stay on the island for two nights, and were able to get both of the camping spots we wanted.  As soon as we were told we could camp at Stafford Beach our first night, we shouldered our packs and headed into the interior of the island to follow the Parallel Trail to the Pratts Trail.  Not an overly taxing hike, no hills, we hiked the three or so miles through maritime forest relatively quickly and set up camp at a large site right off the trail.  I spent the entire time looking for any of the feral ponies that roam the island.  It wasn’t until dusk that I heard, and then caught a glimpse, of two trotting by our campsite.  By then we had made our way to the ocean to touch our toes to the Atlantic waters and collect shells.  There is an abundance of shells on the island, and since they are considered a renewable resource, visitors can take home as many as they can carry.  We spent a peaceful night sleeping under the stars, lulled to sleep by the pounding waves.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

The following morning, we meandered south along the beach, looking for sand dollars and picking up shells.  By the time we arrived back at Sea Camp, I had amassed a huge stuff sack full of shells!  I later decorated our dining room table with them – so we always have a reminder in our home of this truly magical place.  Anthony found two intact sand dollars.  We pretty much had the beach to ourselves, and it was a gorgeously sunny day, magical indeed!

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Back at Sea Camp, we established camp once again, in a secluded spot surrounded by trees.  Even though this is the most popular spot, and many people haul tons of stuff off the ferry to this nearby campground, it was still quiet during the night.  Once we had set up our tent, we took a walk to the ruins of Dungeness – which was a Carnegie mansion built in 1884.  It burned down in 1959, but the ruins of this magnificent house with beautiful views and solitude are still standing.  Rumored to be infested with snakes, visitors cannot actually enter the ruins, but can wander through the grounds and appreciate the lifestyle the Carnegies and their friends lived on this out of the way island.  They threw lavish parties that lasted for months, and enjoyed summers of leisure.  Only populated with the wealthy (and their slaves and servants) before it became part of the NPS system, Cumberland Island has always been a special place to its residents.  While walking around the property I spotted a small herd of feral ponies, and spent lots of time photographing them and refraining from approaching them.  Though used to people, they are wild animals.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

We crossed back to the Atlantic side of the island and walked up the beach in the fading light of the day.  After enjoying our couscous over our camping stove, and playing cards, we settled down onto our camping pads for our last night on Cumberland Island (at least on this trip – I hope we can come back and explore the rest of the island sometime).  The next morning we boarded the ferry, with some sadness.  The following day meant back to work and impending winter.

On our way home, we were able to stop at one more NPS site – Fort Pulaski National Monument.  Built in the mid-1800s, Fort Pulaski was first occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Fort Pulaski was believed to be impenetrable, but new weapons had been invented, and the Federals took advantage of this.  Fort Pulaski was attacked from Tybee Island and the Federals were able to get the Confederates to surrender within 30 hours.  The fort has been preserved and restored enough so that we were able to walk through many of the underground tunnels, as well as examine all the interior rooms.  After this stop, we headed back home to Asheville.

DeSoto National Memorial and Ocmulgee National Monument

In November, we travelled for another wedding – this time in Tampa, Florida. We drove, and on the way there stopped in Atlanta for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants Loving Hut. These can be found in many different corners of the globe, and always serve tasty vegan Asian food. Each restaurant has a different menu, but the same philosophy.

Once we arrived in Tampa, our first stop was to meet some friends at Taco Bus downtown. They have a walk up counter and an inside dining area. We chose to order outside and then walked over to the nearby park to sit and enjoy our meal in the warm sunshine. It was beautiful outside! The food was amazingly good, you can add vegan steak strips to any burrito or taco. We sat outside for quite a long while, enjoying the sun and company of friends who we do not get to see very often.

Our friends were married that evening at The Florida Aquarium, in front of a huge tank full of sharks, stingrays, and fish. A pretty amazing ceremony, watching them state their vows while giant sharks floated by their heads. During the cocktail hour, penguins came out to hang out with the wedding guests! That was pretty awesome. We were allowed to wander through the aquarium after dinner and cake, spying on fish, birds, seahorses, and other sea creatures. We had lots of laughs with friends, and amused ourselves for hours among the tanks and wildlife. What a great idea for a wedding location!

DeSoto National Memorial

DeSoto National Memorial

Early the next morning, we headed out to De Soto National Memorial in Brandenton, Florida. The site commemorates De Soto’s trek through the Americas in the 1500’s. He and his army spent four years threading their way through the southeast. Unfortunately it was not a successful mission – De Soto died of fever along the way, and his constant search for gold made him no friends amongst the Native American tribes he encountered. Enslaving and/or killing many Native Americans, as well as leaving a legacy of disease and social unrest, destroyed many tribes. Nevertheless, De Soto National Memorial is a beautiful, peaceful spot right on the waters of the Manatee River and Tampa Bay, and we were able to spend time walking trails in the sun and enjoying seasonably warm weather – much warmer than we would have in Asheville this time of year! The trail took us through a forest with many different types of mangroves, and down to small beaches covered in shells. A park volunteer mentioned that many visitors come to the park by boat, through the calm waters that mostly surround the park. There were interpreters doing a demonstration of the clothing worn during De Soto’s time period and many, many people enjoying the trails in the park. It was a busy location for such a small park site. The volunteers were, of course, super friendly and helpful. We always end up spending time talking to the people working at the National Park Sites, and really enjoy the conversations we’ve had.

We had lunch at Taco Bus again, with friends, and then spent the day just hanging out and enjoying being with everyone. We had dinner that evening at yet another Loving Hut – I had a fantastic ham sandwich and cheesecake. We ate really well the entire weekend.

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument

Our last stop, on the way home the following day, was at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia. Ocmulgee has an amazing history and is a beautiful park. With the leaves changing, and fall encroaching on the environment, the park took on an orange glow when we arrived in the late afternoon. The history is stunning – we were able to walk into an earthlodge built over 1,000 years ago. The mounds built on the site were quite a feat of engineering, but for some reason the earthlodge really blew us away. It gave me the shivers to stand in an underground chamber clearly created that long ago. We were also able to walk to the top of one of the ceremonial mounds and imagine why and how the early Mississippian people would create these structures. We stayed there until they closed, enjoying the peace and quiet beauty of the park. We always enjoy every park site we visit, but sometimes the less travelled, smaller sites are the ones that really surprise and delight.

Fort Frederica and Fort Caroline – The Southeast Coast

Fort Frederica National Monument

Fort Frederica National Monument

Over Labor Day Weekend, we took a very quick drive down to Florida to visit friends and family.  While travelling, we were able to squeeze in a couple of NPS sites – of course!  Our first stop was Fort Frederica National Monument, in Georgia.  We had spent a nervous evening the night before, since right before we arrived at our hotel for the night, our car started making an ominous noise in the wheel well.  Luckily, we were able to get it fixed quickly – a rock had managed to squeeze itself in between the tire and brake mechanism and was making a horrific racket!  But it was an easy fix and we were on our way shortly.  Fort Frederica is undergoing renovations, but they had a temporary bookstore set up, and we could view the film on benches outside, under a roof.  As always, the film was great – informative and concise.  We were then able to wander through where the town had been built.  It was a British military town, founded in 1734 by James Oglethorpe.  There are no buildings remaining, but foundations can be seen, and the layout of the town is still clear.  The fort, on the water, is partially still standing and has a gorgeous view.  Through most of its history, these British settlers were fighting the Spanish.  Though the British did not surrender Fort Frederica, once the war was over, the fort lost its purpose, and by 1758, when fire broke out, the fort was pretty much deserted.

While in southern Florida, we were able to eat at several of our favorite restaurants.  Including Darbster, which has incredibly tasty vegan delights and donates 100% of its profits to animal welfare projects.  We also went to a candy store, To The Moon, which often carries vegan chocolates and candies from all over the world, though they have all kinds of sweets.  Anthony was really excited to buy a case of Moxie in glass bottles.  Anyone else out there like Moxie?

Fort Caroline National Memorial

Fort Caroline National Memorial

On our way back from Florida, we stopped at Fort Caroline National Memorial, which is another NPS site.  Technically part of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, Fort Caroline is just one site you can visit in the preserve.  This was a French fort that was established in the mid-1500s.  Eventually, the Spanish wrested control of the fort, and the French were never able to regain their foothold in Florida.  You can view a reconstruction of the fort, as well as exhibits commemorating the Timucua native peoples.  We enjoyed the museum, especially a wooden owl – one of the only surviving artifacts from the Timucuan.

National Park Sites of Georgia

Plains, GA

On a weekend in September, Anthony and I were able to sneak away and spend some time in Georgia. We stayed in Atlanta, but traveled around in order to get to a few National Park Sites we had not yet visited. Our first morning, we got up early to head down to Plains, Georgia to visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.  It was a warm, humid day and we managed to stumble upon the Plains Peanut Festival. We had no idea there was a peanut festival in Plains, but we happened to get there the day it occurred! The visitor center for the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site is in the old Plains High School. Lots of cool artifacts from his presidency, and his life, including his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. Some of the classrooms have been restored to show how they would have looked when Carter was a student there. He had an inspirational principal that always told her students, “Any one of you could be president someday.” There were also displays detailing the humanitarian work that Carter has done through the Carter Center in Atlanta. The visitor center also offers information on Jimmy Carter’s continuing work as a Sunday School teacher, as well has his involvement in the Plains community.

President Jimmy Carter

We then wandered downtown, a short walk, in order to take part in the Peanut Festival. We were able to wander through the Plains Train Depot, part of the park service. There are tons of artifacts from his presidential campaign, as well as interesting facts about it. For instance, when he was inaugurated, basically the whole town boarded a train, that they dubbed the Peanut Express, and went to DC to be a part of everything. We ate fries, kettle corn, and sipped homemade lemonade, all while waiting to have Jimmy Carter sign books! We were planning to leave Plains earlier in order to make it to a couple of other park sites, but when we heard that Carter was signing books we decided to hang around and wait. Though we didn’t have a chance to speak to Carter, it was just really neat to have some books signed and to get to be that close to such an influential man. It also helped that he was adorable!

Andersonville National Historic Site

After leaving Plains, we headed to Andersonville National Historic Site.  Andersonville, a Confederate Civil War prison, is not an uplifting place. To think that more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here, and 13,000 of them also died here, is horrifying. The 25+ acre area of the actual prison is no longer surrounded by high wooden barricades or covered in mud, but from the displays in the National Prisoner of War Museum at the visitor center, you can get a pretty clear idea of how terrible is was. The soldiers were forced to create their own housing from whatever materials they could scavenge, and building scraps leftover from the walls. The only water source was a small stream that ran through the center of the camp. Up river were the latrines of the soldiers and workers who ran the camp. The conditions were deplorable. The museum does a great job of exploring not only the situation at Andersonville, but also other POW stories from all over the world.

The next morning, we went to explore Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.  We were most impressed by the historic earthworks that still exist in the woods around the area. Since it was a Sunday morning, there were tons of runners, and walkers all climbing the trail to the top of the mountain. We took a driving tour of the area, taking a few quiet walks through the woods. The Civil War battlefield was the site of the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign, and the soldiers battled in the area for almost a month in the summer of 1864.

Our last stop, before heading home, was Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.  We didn’t spend much time here, since we had to get home, but it looks like it would be a really fun river on which to canoe or kayak, exploring all the beaches and wildlife. The weekend went by too quickly!

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