Fall colors beckoned and Wild Mama answered the
October 11th: Blast Off into the early morning blue came early
today. We filed IFR even though the local weather was good because there were IFR airmets through southern Georgia and
Northern Florida. There were low wispy clouds as we crossed north of Brooksville then sheets started to form that soon broke
into cloud waves. The cloud waves ebbed and flowed over the northern Florida landscape until the waves vanished into a solid sea of clouds by the time we crossed the Georgia line. We were happy, however, and were not concerned about the clouds. ATC gave us
direct SRB (Sparta) about 12 miles to the south of Cross City. Big whoo-hoo until we realized that "direct" took
us just west of Atlanta International. Fat chance we keep it. I know they are going to send us back to the original route
so we can cross "HEFIN" intersection - you seldom go west of Atlanta without crossing HEFIN. Sure enough, just south
of Atlanta came the dreaded call: "N614WM, advise when you are ready to copy..." Here we go. Now this was annoying as we diverted way to the east only to fly back into a headwind to the west. This is not right - time to
fight back. We know we cannot cross Atlanta so we requested TIROE to RMG then direct. This still takes us out west but not
nearly as far as HEFIN. We are granted our request - a small victory.
The clouds below have given way to
haze while the blue skies above have now become overcast. As we edge closer to TN the blue above returns but the sea
of foamy white clouds envelops the hills below. It is not looking good for a visual approach. No sooner do we contact Memphis
Center than we are told to expect a hold at Sparta. The Air Ambulance is waiting for departure so we will hold to let them
out for an emergency run. We enter the hold over HEM, taking 2 spins around the loop before being cut loose for the procedure
turn and the ILS 4 into Sparta. The AWOS reports 800' broken. I set the autopilot for the auto-descent and call out the altitude.
Our decision height is 1230'. 2000 ... 1900 .... 1800 .... "I have the runway in sight," Vern calls out. I look
out and see the lights shine through a light haze. The runway soon comes clearly into sight and we touch down to a nice, cool
day. Good to be, well, "home" in TN.
The destination for the day is Blue Ridge, GA. There is a Scenic Train that
runs from Blue Ridge to Copper Hill, TN and that is the plan for tomorrow. But we have to get there first and there is no
public airport in Blue Ridge. The next best option was to land in SRB, grab our car and drive down to Blue Ridge. We took
the scenic route down highway 30 and 60 passing the Tennessee River and Ocoee River and Dams and the Chattahoochee National
Forrest. How beautiful. Fall is still creeping ever so slowly into the Blue Ridge mountains. While the greens of a wet summer still dominate, some yellow, orange
and rust hues have mixed and mingled their way inside to transform the forrests into fall from the inside out. We arrive
in Blue Ridge early evening, in time to grab some GA BBQ and kick back to rest.
October 12th: Scenes from the Scenic Railway: I turn
on the weather channel to see what is in store for us for the day. It was forecast to be gorgeous. "... beep, beep, beep ... All residents are advised that there is a flash flood warning in effect for our area
from 8:30 this morning until 2:00 this afternoon." Great. Just what we wanted to hear. We look outside at first
light to see sheets of water falling from the sky. We cannot even see the mountains behind the hotel. So much for the forecast; but we are
going on the train anyway. www.brscenic.com The depot opened around 0900 and there were already people standing out in the pouring rain to get tickets.
Vern had ordered ours early so we hopped over to the "will call" guy, got our tickets and headed to the coffee shop
for a little cinnamon coffee warm-up. Although it was in the low 60's, with the clouds and rain, I was a small icicle. They
boarded the train early. We were in car 549 - an enclosed rail car about midway through the line of open and closed rail cars
and concession cars on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway train. We settled in for the hour long journey to the north. We soon departed and attained warp speed - about 10 m.p.h. - in a few miles.
Most of the journey we meandered through the woods along the Toccoa River northward toward the town of Copper Hill. The
river was severely swollen from the rains that apparently started late last night and continued heavily through mid morning.
Our conductor was commenting on the rains and that this might be the best that leaf season had to offer as often times the leaves will fall
off early before reaching full color when the rains are so heavy.
Shortly out of Blue Ridge we pass several cabins dotting the shores and the
mountain side: cozy retreats welcoming weary travellers to the serenity of the area. Along the side of the railway, signs
of yester-year still remain: the old telegraph poles still standing century over the rail lines; an ancient indian fish trap
said to be over 500 years old; old mile post signs from the original length of track. This track has been significantly shortened
now and only runs this scenic route.
After an hour, we arrive 13 mile north in the town of Copper Hill/Macaysville. It is actually only one town split in two by
the GA/TN state line: a line that is literally painted in blue across the town dividing streets, neighbors and buildings!
We Stop at the Iron Horse Restaurant for some home made chicken pie then meander about the town in search of treasures. We
are told to keep a watchful eye for "Magic Mine" doors. The first to locate and open the Magic Mine door for that
day will discover the treasures hidden within. We leave GA and head to TN to the Christmas is Here Shoppe containing
all hand made Christmas ornaments and decorations. While browsing the trinkets and treasures I look down to see "Elf
Magic Mine". Oooo. Could it possibly be? I pick up the small box and look for a tag to see if it is the real thing or just a for sale item.
No tag. I tug at the little door as Vern walks up, telling me to put it down before I break something! The door opens and
reveals a beautiful lady slipper orchid ornament and 2 candy canes. I put them in Vern's pocket - he is convinced that I am
trying to have him arrested for shop lifting when a sales clerk comes up and congratulates us for finding the treasure. How
cool is that?!?
The town is full of little antique and craft shops containing all sorts of fall leaf peeper
items, including home made pumpkin fudge. Now, as I can not longer eat chocolate, pumpkin has become a favorite and I purchase
a small chunk of the creamy sweet delight. We come upon the river cuts through the town; and, similar to the town name, the
river name changes from Toccoa in GA to the Ocoee in TN. The train whistle blows, giving us 10 minutes to get back to the
train before departure. We scurry down the hill and across the street back into TN, or was that GA, again, snapping the photo
of the state line painted on the building.
The trip home is peaceful and fast. We switched sides so we were looking at
the mountain side of the view instead of the river side. There are more houses perched on the top of the mountain high above
the train tracks and the tree line. Although there is still a bit of drizzle, the rains have nearly ended now as we pull back
into Blue Ridge. The remainder of the day is to wander through this quaint little town. It seems that the rail business is kind to both towns, bringing passengers
and much needed retail traffic through the heart of these cities that are otherwise rather isolated from the busier part of
the world. The isolation is nice and makes the vacation a relaxing one. This is our last day here. Tomorrow, we venture
deeper into the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains for extended leaf peeping activities.
October 13th: A cabin in the woods:The rains have finally come
to an end but the fog was thick this morning: too thick to see the mountains again. We laugh as we paid extra for the mountain view from the hotel room. No worries – we are heading to the cabin in the
woods this afternoon after we make the final few stops in Blue Ridge. Yesterday, we had stopped at Merciers Apple Orchard and made a note to come back for either breakfast
or lunch today. Vern opted for lunch; I opted for breakfast but, then again, breakfast consisted of an apple scone and
pumpkin ice cream. We stocked up on a few local goodies here – most notable Cameo apples. While the clerks said the
Fuji’s were the sweetest variety, I had to respectfully disagree as the Cameo’s had a much better flavor and were much sweeter
to me. We purchased a small bag along with some pumpkin scone mix and an assortment of sauces and dressings to take home.
It was time to leave Blue Ridge. The scenic
route was the only route to get to Ellijay and the location of the cabin in the woods. As we neared the turn off to Ellijay,
we spied a sign directing us to Amicalola Falls State Park. This park is said to be one of the most beautiful in the area
due to the 729’ waterfalls that runs through the park and is the focal point of the park – all trails lead to the waterfalls.
entered the park and headed toward the base of the falls trail and started walking. The grade was quite steep and we turned
off at a platform along the lower and less steep portion of the falls; but before we got to the 175 steps leading to the “base
of the falls”. I was done – steps and I are not the best of friends. We elected to take the ADA trail to the base
of the falls.
We drove up the 25% grade
winding around the mountain until we came to the trail head. I liked this trail much better and was pleased to see that we ended on top of the 175 steps that led to the base of the falls’ only to see that there
were another 425 steps to the top of the falls. I pass! The falls was breath taking. It was much larger and gushing much more
than I had ever seen Fall Creek Falls run; but, then again, there was over 3’ of rain in the area yesterday –
any waterfalls in the area should be running. The falls had a sheer drop to the area where we stood then cascaded down to
the bottom of the mountain to the reflection pool. I am not sure where the measurement started but it certainly seemed like
a bigger drop that the claimed 729 feet.
was getting time to head back up the mountain to Ellijay and to the cabin in the woods at Wilderness View Cabins at the edge
of Fort Mountain State Park in the Cohutta Mountain Range. We had a long drive out from Ellijay; in fact, the cabin
web site advised a grocery stop before check-in as it was another 20 miles back to Ellijay for groceries. They were right
and we heeded their warning.
We checked in at the Overlook Inn, got the keys and headed slightly back down the mountain to get to the cabin. We turned
off on to a gravel road that wound around the side of the hills. In many places the gravel road was washed out and quite badly
rutted. We slowly made our way to the Bear Dancer cabin on the edge of the mountain with a view out over the valley. The cabin
was nicely appointed with a real fireplace and a hot tub – that’s all I need. I could care less about anything
else. I check out the hot tub and work on getting the fire started while Vern finishes unloading the car and putting the groceries in the kitchen. The fire was quite a chore to get started as the wood was wet from the recent rains
and kindling was hard to find. I did manage to get enough to get a raging inferno after a 3-1/2 hour fight with the logs.
The fire sizzled and the water was oozing out from the ends of the logs but I had a good beg of hot coals to keep the logs going with ease.
The sun set
through the hazy blue sky. It was nice to be able to see the mountains and the changing leaves, if only for a day. Tomorrow
we are forecast to have flash floods again. We will head into the Fort Mountain Park to wander around and get internet coverage.
We have no phones and no internet here in the cabin in the woods. It is peaceful and pretty – a good time to rest.
October 14th: Fort Mountain State Park:I am glad that I fly; otherwise, I would have missed the majority of the fall colors
and the mountain views in Northern Georgia. We were awakened this morning by the lights sounds of rain on the roof. The forecast
was for steady rain all day today; but it seems as if it started late last night and got the bulk of the steadiness out of
its system. We were, however, left with the fog. The hot tub beckoned this morning: it was
58 degrees outside and 108 degrees in the hot tub. Hot tub wins. I ducked down in the water with just my head above the waterline
to breathe in the cool mountain air that was quite refreshing against the heat of the hot tub. The view from the hot tub is
supposed to be quite breath taking but the morning fog has obscured all but the nearest of the trees. We hung out around
the cabin for quite some time this morning giving the fog a chance to lift before heading to the Park. By noon, we decided
to head into Chatsworth and Dalton to see what those towns had to offer. While there was nothing to speak of in Chatsworth,
Dalton offered a nice restaurant called Dalton Depot. This was an original depot built around 1850. Most of the train depots
were destroyed during the civil war; but this one remained with little damage. The building was restored to its original architecture
and was later converted into the restaurant featuring train décor (duh). Lunch was quite delightful: Vern had New Orleans
chicken, stuffed with crab meat; and I had the Santa Fe Salad with chicken and cheese bread. By 2:30 p.m., with bellies full,
we headed back up the mountain to Fort Mountain Park to get the much anticipated grand vista of the surrounding valley. The
top of the Park sits about 2800’ msl while the cloud remained about 2600’ msl. We were shrouded by the cloud at parts as we meandered about the trails. The State of Georgia has done a fabulous job
marking these trails. All are color coded with a little splotch of pain on the trees and rocks along the way. There are few
directional signs but the markings are so good as to not really require any. We went toward the top of the park to see the ancient wall, the tower and the overlook. The legend
of the wall is still a mystery – why is this wall here. I could not imagine; but after seeing it, I was convinced that there was no TV at the time and there was lots of spare time to fill. I am sure that the real reason is somewhat
more substantial; but considering the rather haphazard design, the real motivation for the wall escapes me. After a nice little hike we were ready to come back
to base camp, the hot tub and the fire place for the remainder of the evening.
October 15th-16th: Still in the clouds: Ever since coming
off the Blue Ridge Mountains, we have yet to see much more than the inside of a cloud. The ceilings have been quite low here
on Spencer Mountain - elevation about 1800'. We were lucky to see our own water falls - but it sits down in the valley below the cloud so we were priviledged to
see it. We are supposed to fly to Gatlinburg for the Heritage Log Home Mill tour tomorrow but flying is a no go for certain.
The news forecast just said that if you are going to Gatlinburg to see the leaves - don't bother as the fog will persist
The Heritage Open House was this afternoon - a day full
of Heritage Log Home owners enjoying fellowship, good company and great food. We all gathered in the local model center in Spencer with the owners of the local dealersip, Peter and Rachelle. http://www.heritageloghomesinfo.com/ They have more than dealers - they have become our good friends and we always look forward to seeing them when we visit.
There was a great turnout in speite of the dismal weather conditions.
to the airport today to pick up our new fuel cap. It seems that we had a fuel cap failure on the trip up here. The right tank
cap had a minor leak - to the tune of about 10 gallons over 4.5 hours. We had a new cap shipping in and installed the cap
today. We also got a hangar for the next couple of days to keep Wild Mama safe and warm for our departure on
October 17th: Our Heritage: An early morning
flight to Sieverville to tour the Heritage Log Home Mill did not "fly": the ceiling was low and the freezing level met the ceiling. We were grounded so we made the 2.5 hour drive (as opposed to the 40 minute flight). The
drive was well worth the effort.
Both of our cabins there in Spencer,
TN www.tennesseelogcabinforrent.com are Heritage Log Homes. We plan to build a third when the economy picks up at bit. It was nice to see the "birth place" of our cabins. The
mill tour was quite amazing. The whole plant is fully automated and computerized. The logs are precision cut, precision drilled,
precision inspected and the "seconds" are culled out so all the logs the make up the home are the top quality heartwood
pine. The cut sheets for each model and custom home are mastered on the computer and the log cuts are all made from that master
chip to assure that there are no missing parts and pieces nor ill-fitting pieces to the home.
The seminar that followed our barbecue lunch was informative as well. We learned of design ideas
that are cost savings: it is cheaper to build a 1-1/2 story home than it is to build a single story; manufacturing costs start mounting exponentially past a certain
point; rectangular houses are more cost effective than additional angles; shed dormers add space with minimal addition of cost. We left the afternoon even happier than ever that we have chosen Heritage. We were so happy, in
fact, that we celebrated with ice cream!!!
A favorite from Oklahoma
City was the Marble Slab Ice Cream Company; and to my delight, they had had a store in Sieverville and it had pumpkin ice
crean with granola and graham cracker goodies inside. Mmmmmm. With a smile on our faces and ice cream in our bellies we made
the 2.5 hour drive back home. The clouds were still hanging low but we did get a glimpse of the blue skies. The easter part
of Tennessee has a bit more color in the leaves, too, so the fall colors - now that we can really see them - were quite spectacular
even for the early part of leaf season.
Tomorrow we fly home after
a nice week. We are promised cold, clear skies and tailwinds. I hope the forecast is accurate on both counts!
October 18th: Home at Last: The stairs
to the cabin were covered with ice this morning as the temperature plummeted to 32 degrees last night. So far, the cold part
of the forecast held true. We loaded the car and cast off for the airport, the heater blazing all the way. It was just past
0500 local. We wanted wheels up by 0600 local so we could make it back to the Paradise Coast 99s barbecue at Page Field at
1130 and the trip is usually around 4.5 hours.
The morning was crystal
clear - the second part of the forecast held true. We could see stars fort he first time since we had left Florida; but the
cold had gone through to our bones. Wild Mama had been hangared overnight to prevent the frost from delaying our
departure. While she was not warm and toasty, she was not frosty so the morning flight was a go. We filed IFR just because
it was dark and we did not know if we would hit any small layers of clouds. We thought it prudent to be talking to ATC - just
in case. We were wheels up on time.
Through the climb-out we knew
that the final part of the forecast was a go as well: the climb-out was nearly 150 kts ground speed. We had a kicking tailwind!!!
By the time we leveled at 7,000' we were cruising at 185 kts ground speed. Sweet! We settled in through the darkness then witnessed a most glorious site: a sun rise. It had been a week since we had seen the sun; and this morning, it seemed
more radiant than ever. The orange glow through the early morning haze was truly a sight to behold.
Our arrival at Fort Myers was uneventful for us, although Fort Myers approach was overworked. We
had requested the ILS 5 at FMY to get in a practice approach. Approach control set us up for the approach then forgot and
dumped us on top of Page Field at 2,700' when we were cleared to land. Becky was on the tower and called back to us when we
made a much longer than usual downwind and a nose dive for final. We had to get down and get our speed under control. With
a chirp, we made the turn-off to "Foxtrot" Hangars, there in time for a very yummy barbecue and our welcoming friends.
Good to be home.