Admittedly, I stumble along in life quite often. But…Have you ever stumbled upon something absolutely marvelous, by complete accident?
For me, it’s the fairy tale of hiking. Like Belle, stumbling through the obscure forest map, lost from her original destination, having a beast of a time finding the turn-offs because the ruts in the one-lane road are bouncing the not-so-reliable-directions out of her hand (and, no, this place doesn’t exist on any GPS) — there’s just no turning back…Suddenly, out of nowhere, she spots her trailhead of destiny!
This one happened to be Conasauga Trailhead 61. Let me say, my photos don’t do the place justice! My camera’s limited capability (okay, maybe it was the operator’s limited capability) couldn’t fully capture the water’s exact beauty as it went from deep forest green to clear emeralds, teals and jades. The river also transitioned between exciting rapids, suitable for a kayaker, to calm swimming holes, one complete with the addition of a rigged wire/rope swing that I wouldn’t trust any more than a grinning politician. That – and the pair of undies snagged in a tree – were the only signs of civilization I encountered on the trail. I’m fairly certain all that will change in the summertime, but I also know the rapids won’t be as impressive once the spring rains subside.
The trail is an easy one to hike, with the most challenging feat being to keep your feet dry at a couple of creek crossings and mud holes. The second crossing is rather wide and does require some skill at creek rock jumping, so those who are balance-challenged should plan to un-boot – or bring a change of shoes. (Not many southeastern trails come without creek crossings – and most don’t have bridges, in case you were wondering.)
So how do you get to this accidentally magical place, you ask? The directions are quite simple…You adventurously drive around the Tennessee-Georgia border while looking for another trail you were actually searching out (from directions supplied by a deranged Eagle Scout) until you pass this old tractor in the middle of nowhere.
Then you veer right onto a one-lane, once-graveled, now deeply rutted trail that is meant to serve as a mountainous lane. If you’re acrophobic, best not to look out the window while topping the mountain ridges, wondering why there are no guard rails – better just to pray for the next several miles, as you bump along, that you don’t pass any other vehicles. You will pass three moonshine stills (but you probably won’t notice them unless someone fires a warning shot, since they’re covered in digital camo netting); you’ll continue to check your map that hasn’t done you a bit of good since you set out much earlier that day; the road will turn back into asphalt for approximately 50 feet and you’ll wonder why they even bothered (apparently they just needed to clean out their asphalt truck); you’ll then wonder if you’re going to run out of gas before you ever reach civilization; eventually you’ll convince yourself that the mountain creeks are better than civilization – and maybe you could move there and get on your moonshine neighbor’s reality TV show; and then…out of nowhere, you’ll inadvertently pass Trail No. 61. This would be a good time to back up and find a parking spot.
Quick (and Possibly Imperative) Geography & Translation Lesson (most especially if “you ain’t from around here”)
If, on your trip, you begin to hear banjo music playing from a front porch, you’ve traveled too far east to hit this Conasauga River trail. You would be on the Chattooga River instead. The Conasauga River is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, but don’t confuse this with the name of the Chattooga River (upon which the movie, Deliverance, was filmed). Chattahoochee is loosely translated as ‘painted rock,’ while Chattooga means ‘he has crossed the creek and come out on the other side.’ If you saw the movie, coming out on the other side takes on an entirely new meaning. Conasauga means everything from ‘sparkling water’ to ‘strong horse’ to “let’s mess with the white man and not tell him what it really means. Hey, your mama’s a Conasauga!” Now that we’ve got that all straightened out…
I’d love to share with you some of the views I stumbled across. I am serious when I say that, once you’ve traversed all the ridges in your car, the hiking is easy, being fairly even and following the river the entire way – always providing a gorgeous view. Various generations in your family could enjoy it together, if they’re reasonably steady walkers. Kayakers could also enjoy it when the water’s elevated with decent rapids because carrying your equipment back up the trail would be a breeze. (I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic to do that with my canoe – the portage part, that is.) Lastly, I’ve not forgotten you fisher-people. This river was once stocked with trout and though it’s no longer stocked, they’ve bred and are present. There are also bass, catfish and bream – and even geeky little fish that like to be studied by scientists.
So, without further ado (or probably just in addition to it), here’s my geeky slideshow for your viewing pleasure:
Happy Hiking! -jody