Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Shopping in North Georgia

If you are not fond of chain stores, cavernous malls and large crowds...the north Georgia mountains can provide some refreshing alternatives. I live in the north metro Atlanta area and have been doing 90% of my shopping in the mountains for years now. I find some great gifts while enjoying some fantastic scenery and a much more laid back atmosphere than I did fighting mall traffic in the past.
What surprises most people about mountain shopping is the incredible variety of unique gifts. Some of my favorites are the hand carved wooden bowls at Turning Leaf Wood Art in downtown Blue Ridge, and mosaic pottery at Fishbone just a block off the square...the unique jewelry and myriad of unusual items at Shapiro's in Sautee Nacoochee..the potters that dot scenic Hwy 197 in the Batesville-Lake Burton area..I could go on and on, but I think you will enjoy exploring on your own and finding things that suit your tastes much like I have over the years.
Christmas is a great time for shopping in the mountains. Many retailers mark down items for the holiday season. This is the "off" season in the mountains, yet many small retailers depend on this time of year for the bulk of their winter business. It is not unusual for shops to offer their wares at 40-50% discounts compared to summer prices. Dealers in the antique and craft malls are generally more than willing to negotiate to get a sale-don't be afraid to make an offer on something you want, there is usually a middle ground that will leave you both happy. Try doing that at Macy's! I've found that friends and relatives love gifts of food from the mountains...Apple products from Ellijay, Fudge from Helen and Dahlonega, and jams, jellies and honey from shops all over the area have been big hits as gifts. A "must stop" for me every year is Nora Mills Granary just south of Helen to get some of their great products for friends and myself!
My best advice is to make any trip to the mountains more than just a shopping trip. There are great little restaurants and cafes in all the downtown square areas-try Grapes and Beans in Clayton or the Corkscrew Cafe in Dahlonega. Check out the historical old courthouses in the squares all decked out with Christmas decorations. In Helen you can even use a horse drawn carriage for transportation. Make a relaxing day of it and you may just swear off the malls just like I have!

Contributed by Jenny McIntire-Hoschton, GA

Logan Turnpike Mill

Strategically located just south of Blairsville on heavily traveled US 19/129, The Logan Turnpike Mill Store offers stone ground goodness in many forms. Corn, wheat, rye and buckwheat grown both locally and from sources across the country are milled on site with a vintage 1916 blue granite grist mill.
I had stopped at the mill a few months ago on my way home from North Carolina and purchased some of the buckwheat pancake mix they sell up front. The resulting pancakes at home were light, fluffy and about 3/4" thick - I knew I had found a favorite destination in the north Georgia mountains. On my most recent trip last month I came home with more of the pancake mix and a bag of stone ground yellow grits (pictured below).

The grits are good too! You just can't beat fresh stone ground products made with high quality grains. Some of the other offerings include biscuit and bread mixes. porridge mix and various syrups and condiments. All can be found at the store or online through their website: Logan Turnpike Mill

Rib Country

No Brunswick Stew. A proper BBQ joint in Georgia should have Brunswick Stew on the menu..I'm sorry, but I think this is written on a sacred tablet right below the law stating that tea sweetened with sugar must be offered.
Other than that, I enjoyed my recent Saturday lunch at Rib Country in Blairsville. The Blairsville location is one of four Rib Country restaurants. They can also be found in Hayesville and Murphy, North Carolina and the newest store in Cleveland, Georgia. This comes very close to qualifying for my bias against "chain" BBQ restaurants... but judging from the crowd lined up and the 20 minute wait for a table, it doesn't seem to bother anyone else, nor should it.

I ordered a pulled pork and chicken combo (pictured above) with slaw and fries. The pork was excellent-moist and loosely pulled with little bits of the bark mixed in, which I love. I tried the sauce offerings and made good use of the hot sauce in the bright red bottle. The other sauces were a little bland and the hot sauce was just about perfect. The chicken wasn't quite as impressive as the pork, I suspect it had been reheated before serving. Unlike the pork, the chicken comes with a sauce already applied. I would have liked the same sauce option I had with the pork, but overall it was better than average. Slaw, fries and Texas toast were all decent compliments considering that STEW was not available. The sweet tea was fantastic though.
I must comment positively on the service. You can tell these folks are well trained and used to doing a brisk business. Everyone I dealt with was courteous and helpful to a fault. I will look forward to returning to Rib Country in the future.

Rib Country Website including Menu

Ruffed Grouse in the North GA Mountains

The north Georgia mountains are the southernmost range of one of our country's popular upland game birds, the Ruffed Grouse. While not nearly as plentiful as they are in northern areas, there is a stable and huntable population of grouse in our national forests and WMAs.

The Georgia Ruffed Grouse season runs from October 15, 2008 - February 28, 2009 with a limit of 3 birds per day. Dogs, especially Spaniels and Setters, are often used in the pursuit of these elusive birds who would often rather run than fly away from danger. Habitat changes have taken place over the past couple of decades for Ruffed Grouse in north Georgia. Environmental regulations that have reduced the amount of clear cutting in the forests have limited the amount of food and cover available. You are most likely to find the birds near a food source..and these days that consists mostly of acorns, wild herbs and their seeds, blueberries and dogwood berries. Cover is often provided by rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets close to springs and streams.
All of north Georgia's Wildlife Management Areas with good elevation can harbor populations of Ruffed Grouse, with some of the best habitat and availability found in the Cohutta, Chattahoochee, and Cooper Creek WMAs. The terrain requires both hunters and dogs to be in decent physical condition and good knowledge of the outdoors and safety practices. The effort is considered worth it by hard core bird hunters, a Ruffed Grouse bagged in Georgia is considered a coveted trophy-hunters average flushing or seeing less than three birds per trip.

For more information about Georgia Wildlife Management Areas and hunting regulations, click on the link below:

Georgia DNR

Short Hike To Minnehaha Falls

Last time I had attempted to visit Minnehaha Falls I was frustrated by bridge construction. The bridge crossing the Tallulah River just below the Seed Lake Dam was being rebuilt and closed during the construction. The bridge is open for travel now and makes a trip to see the beautiful 60' falls much easier for folks visiting the Lake Rabun/Lake Seed area. The falls can be approached from the opposite direction via Bear Gap Road but that requires a pretty long trip over gravel roads from a starting point well south of the area.
Minnehaha Falls is a beautiful cascade even in these times of chronically low water (see photo above). It is more even more outstanding when freshly charged by a good rain. The short .4 mile trail can be navigated by anyone in moderately good health, the steepest section at the beginning of the trail has stairs to aid the climb.

It takes about a 10 minute walk to reach the falls from the parking area on Bear Gap Road, which is really just a wide spot in the road shoulder. The trail winds through rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets before reaching the falls, which seem to appear rather abruptly as you enter a wide mountain cove. There are a couple of natural stone sitting benches where you can sit and enjoy the scene at close range, but care should be taken when walking on the worn rock which stays moist all the time and can be icy in winter.

From the bridge at Seed Lake Dam, proceed south till you come to the fork in the road with the sign for Glen Ella Lodge...veer left onto Bear Gap Road and proceed for 1.6 miles. The beginning of the trail (shown in the photo above) will be on your right and parking will be on your left. This is a great little side trip any time of the year for visitors heading to the Clayton-Lakemont-Tallulah Falls area and well worth the time.

Georgia State parks to Remain Open

But Changes to the System Remain on the Table:

Facing budget shortfalls and increased operating costs, the state of Georgia was considering the closure of up to six of our forty eight state parks earlier this year. While it is unlikely that the heavily used north Georgia mountain parks like Vogel and Unicoi were being considered for the axe, the recent news that there would be no closures induced a huge sigh of relief from Georgians and visitors who take advantage of our nationally renowned park system.
Georgia State Parks will not escape the economic downturn without changes, however. Among the ideas being discussed is privatizing the golf courses and lodges that are now being operated as part of some parks. This would affect the lodges at Amicalola Falls and Unicoi State Parks as well as Smithgall Woods Conservation Area located in the mountains. Also on the table is the closure of some historical sites, or at least reduced hours or staffing at those sites.
Public pressure and feedback has been cited as one of the reasons for the decision not to close any parks. will make every attempt to keep our readers up to date on further developments as we head into the new year - It is our opinion that there are many areas of state government that should be considered for cutbacks before we do away with parts of a system which actually helps pay for itself...and provides so many opportunities for outdoor activities.

Kurt Thomas Packs Em in at Wylie's

I talked to a couple of lovely ladies who had driven all the way from Vinings to see Kurt Thomas do his thing inside the Down Under Bar at Wylie's in Dahlonega. Kurt apparently has quite a following, as I had to gingerly wedge myself into the bar to catch his first set on the day after Thanksgiving.

The crowd seem to be getting what they came for as Kurt and his bandmates played favorite covers of songs from Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, Pure Prairie League and more along with a couple of his own. I found myself thinking that he may be overdoing the cover songs a bit, as I have listened to and been impressed with his original country tinged ballads. If anyone else felt the same, we were in the minority as everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Kurt Thomas plays frequently in the north Georgia mountain area-and you can check out the music calendar here at to see when he has dates scheduled. In the mean time, check out some of his original stuff on his MySpace page:

Kurt Thomas MySpace