Sunday, September 01, 2019

Amicalola Falls

At (seemingly) long last we have a long weekend to enjoy. Our docket was already filled with plenty of projects but I was also determined to have a little fun and as I was reviewing Benjamin's study guide with him (because my little bitty "grade two-er" brings home study guides so that he can study over the long weekend for a test he'll have to take when he returns (which is just how intense this school is, which is why this long weekend felt so necessary to us in the first place)), I knew just the place: Amicalola Falls.

"What can you tell me about Amicalola Falls?" I asked Benjamin.

"It's the tallest waterfall in Georgia!" he told me. "And it's so beautiful!"

"What region is it in?" I asked

"Valley and Ridge," he said, but, of course, I've never taken Georgia geography so I had to look up where it was, anyway, and it turns out that it's not too far from us (only about an hour away). 

So I convinced Andrew that we should take a day trip this weekend. It would be fun and educational.

We'd spent the evening sanding the basement floor and woke up tired and sore (Andrew being much more tired and sore than I was because he'd been the one to tame the unwieldily beast of the "floor maintainer" since it weighs 102 lbs and there was no way I could control that machine (I've got about five pounds on it so I was on sweeping and vacuuming duty)). That's how I wound up carrying Alexander up the mountainside (poor Andrew has some epic bruising on his hips from working the machine). Still, we decided to give it a go on Saturday morning.

Zoë started crying in the backseat right away so we started a lightning round of The Alphabet Game—it goes by so quickly when you live in a city! Zaxby's is the greatest restaurant to come across when you're right at the end of the game. Anyway, we went through the alphabet three times before we were out of the bustle of the city, and then we were immediately thrown into the foothills. 

We hadn't realized Atlanta was so...foothilly...but it is, smack-dab in the middle of the piedmont region (which explains all the hills, really). 

Benjamin, noticing the hills growing bigger and more mountainous, called from the backseat, "Are we in the footh-ills now?"

"Do you mean the foothills?" Andrew asked.

"Pretty sure I mean footh-ills!" Benjamin said. "There's a tee-aitch!"

I grew up in the "Foothills School Division" in Alberta and I don't think I ever once imagined foothills as "footh-ills" but now we can't stop laughing about it!

This Atlanta traffic continues forever, so Google kicked us off the main road and took us meandering through some pretty rural areas, which was kind of fun, and we still made it to the park at our predetermined arrival time, which was nice.

The visitor's center was crowded, but pretty neat. They had a little reptile room with all sorts of local turtles and snakes, as well as a display of taxidermied local animals (deer, bears, owls, and so forth).

Here we are starting on the trail. It's a pretty fancy trailhead because it's sort of the beginning of the Appalachian trail here in Georgia (I say "sort of" because Amicalola Falls isn't technically on the Appalachian Trail, but Springer Mountain is, and this is the trail head for both Amicalola and Springer Mountain (it's just that Springer Mountain is eight miles and Amicalola is...less)).

Here's a picture of me with Alexander, who isn't too pleased to be stuck in the backpack (he'd rather be running around touching poison ivy and scraping up his knees):

This hike was this particular backpack's inaugural trip. We bought it at the end of last summer as a replacement for the one that broke when Andrew and Alexander fell over the falls while hiking Sulphur Creek, but then summer was over and we didn't do much hiking this summer (on account of moving across the country), so we're just now breaking it in. It was fine (but I still miss our old backpack).

(Also, side note: I'm somewhat determined to continue to let my hair grow au natural because I feel like grey hairs should be embraced. Sometimes, however, (like when I look at this picture) I'm shocked by just how many grey hairs they are and feel a little bit like perhaps I should dye my hair. But I've also rather admired women who have let themselves go grey (not that I haven't admired women who dye their hair because I have plenty of role models who dye their hair; I just want a piece of that authenticity I've seen in women who don't)).

Here's our crew at the reflection pond (about a mile into our hike, according to this Atlanta Trails):

Zoë was feeling like a super model, striking dramatic poses every time she was prompted to smile.

Here's a picture with me and Alexander in place of Andrew:

The hike is beautiful, and potentially peaceful...but it was swarming with people. It's one of the most popular hikes in Georgia and visiting it on Labour Day weekend, I'm sure, made it more crowded than it ordinarily is.

Amicalola Falls, at 729 feet, is the tallest cascading waterfall in Georgia (Bridal Veil Falls in Utah, for reference, is 607 feet—though Bridal Veil Falls is a cataract falls, which is a little more "free-falling" than a cascade waterfall, which goes over a series of "steps"; Andrew had suggested we got to Taccoa Falls, which is a free-falling waterfall of 186 feet, but Amicalola won out because 186 feet didn't sound very impressive).

Here's Andrew and Zoë enjoying the view from one of the rest areas:

By this point, the trail was completely on boardwalk or iron grates, so when they say the hike is 604 steps they literally mean that you'll be walking up a staircase of 604 steps, to the very top of the waterfall. Here's a view of where we're headed:

Here's sweet Benjamin enjoying a rest:

We cannot get him to stop picking his mosquito bites. It's driving me bonkers. His arms are constantly bleeding. We put bandaids on and he just pulls those off and keeps picking. There's no way the bites are still itchy (some of these bites are months old); he just picks at them. We finally bought a roll of gauze and told him we're going to mummify him if he can't find the willpower to just let his poor arms heal... I don't know what else to do!

Here's Zoë about at the mid-point of the way up the mountain. She does not like the metal grate.

Here's Rachel and Miriam looking awfully tired:

To their credit, the hike up seemed long and arduous—and we had been warned it would be! Here's a sign for one leg of the journey (there are several places to join the hike, so the number of steps you'll actually have to climb can change; we did the entire thing), warning us that the trail difficulty is...strenuous:

Here we all are at the mid-point deck:

Going up was so hard, but then...we made it. And, upon reflection, it wasn't that difficult.

Looking out at the Blue Ridge Mountains (I'm pretty sure...but, like I said, I haven't taken Georgia geography)
I mean, it was difficult, but it was short and sweet. When we compared it to, say, the return hike from Calf Creek or The Steps of Repentance on Mt. Sinai (of which there are 3750, one way), it simply didn't seem too bad.

Here's everyone (save me and Alexander) at the top of the falls:

You're not supposed to cross the fence because directly below the boardwalk, Amicalola creek morphs into Amicalola Falls and you'd quickly be swept away to your death:

The view was lovely, and it was relatively cool in the shade, by the rushing creek, which helped us cool off after our strenuous ascent:

I suppose if we had planned better, we could have picnicked up at the top of the falls, but we didn't, so after enjoying the view for a minute we began our descent (which was a whole lot easier).

I didn't take many pictures, however, because it was so easy that the three older kids were off running and Andrew and I were hurrying to catch up to them, while lugging Alexander (who told everyone we passed, "Going down! Going down!") and prodding Zoë along. Zoë, who hadn't been a fan of the grates on the way up was even less of a fan of them on the way down. I had to agree with her that the ground did seem farther away underneath us when we were looking down at it, rather than climbing up. I guess that's why they say, "Don't look down!"

Once we got off the grates she was much happier (and our children were waiting for us, like good little children). Here's Zoë showing off her "nervous" smile:

And here's Benjamin showing off his nervous smile (even though this hike didn't make him remotely nervous):

Here's the end of our hike (just about):

And here are the kids splashing around in the creek (well away from any sort of waterfall area):

Alexander was so happy to be allowed out of the backpack!

Here's Benjamin and Rachel picking their way along the rocks (Miriam eventually got in as well, but I must have put the camera away by that point because I don't have any pictures of her):

Benjamin spotted a "lobster," which we informed him was actually a crawdad or crayfish or crawfish or whatever one might want to call it (I guess they're also known as "mountain lobster" so, there you go). He immediately wanted to touch it...

But ultimately chickened out and used a stick to poke it, instead. Those pinchers do look intimidating and, honestly, I've never picked up a crawdad, so I wasn't quite sure, but I was pretty sure that if you grabbed them right behind their pincher arms that they couldn't get you (I looked it up when we got home to verify this, and it turns out that is the best place to grab them, but also their pinchers aren't really strong enough to break your skin, so even if you do end up getting pinched it won't be a huge deal; we'll know for next time).

While Andrew and Benjamin went to the van to get our lunch, the rest of the kids and I started heading to the playground area. Alexander, once again, was thrilled to be allowed to walk:

Soon, he and Miriam, and I were left in the dust, gathering stones and acorns and every little thing we saw. Alexander was so proud of everything he picked up.

We finally made it over to the picnic area, however, and enjoyed a little lunch before the children ran off to play. There were a couple of great playgrounds nearby, but Benjamin immediately gravitated to this large dirt mound:

The kids spent most of their free time playing "King of the Hill" while I pushed Alexander in the baby swing. Instead of asking me to push him higher, Alexander likes to point out that he's "slowing down."

"Uh-oh. Slowing down, Mom. Slowing down..."

These swings went much higher than the swings at the park I normally take the kids to, so Alexander was in swing heaven!

Here are the kids playing on the hill:

And here they (okay, it's mostly Alexander) are at the playground:

Driving home was a little bit tricky because we didn't have enough service on our phones to pull up a map, so we drove around blindly until I was able to pull up the directions. We had just missed our turn and had to circle around, which added a few minutes to our route, but it wasn't too bad, all things considered. This time we took the highway home and Zoë and Alexander both fell asleep so it was a quiet trip!


(I have been looking and looking for any sort of story surrounding Amicalola Falls, which was once firmly Cherokee Territory (the name Amicalola comes from Cherokee words meaning "tumbling water"). I feel like it would do well for us to learn the history of the Native American names in the south that we use every day. It's a little bit of a disservice, I think, to use them but be unaware of their history—like how I had no idea that Okotoks meant big rock in Blackfoot! It's just sad that we ignore so much of our history. And I think it would help us be more mindful and tolerant of others.

I was at a church activity and people were talking about some of the "strange" names around here: Chattahoochee, Tuscaloosa, Chattanooga...

One woman laughed, "It's like they took a bunch of letters, tossed them in the air, and let them fall into place at random!"

And it made me feel so sad because they're not strange names, they're just (oft-time somewhat decimated) Native American words. I think we should learn them and be respectful of them.

Chattahoochee is from Choctaw cato-hocce hvcce meaning "marked-rock river," because of the colourful rocks found in the Chattahoochee.

Chattanooga obviously also has to do with rocks...rising to a point. Probably referring to Lookout Mountain.

Tuscaloosa is from Choctaw aska-losa, which means "black warrior."

Anyway, we should all dig a little deeper into history before pronouncing something silly. Allow me to step off my soap box now).

Oh, also, I'm totally confused about the "fall line" in the state of Georgia, which divides the piedmont from the coastal plain. It's supposedly marks a big change in elevation, and is where rivers all have to "fall" into the coastal plain. But in my research of waterfalls this weekend, most of the famous falls are farther north. So...we'll have to check out this "fall line" sometime and see what it has to offer. There are a lot of waterfalls in Georgia so I'm sure there are some (probably many) along the actual fall line...I just happened to only find ones north of us.


  1. When you did the footh-ills thing, I didn't even get it. Because in Hindi there are about four different "t" sounds, and some are "th" with an aspiration after the "t" so I was imagining that sound. Then I finally got it! It made me think of the joke Auntie Arlene played on me: "How do you pronounce M-a-c-I-n-t-o-s-h?" I would answer. "How do you pronounce M-a-c-d-o-n-a-l-d?" I would answer. She would continue for a bunch more, and then "How do pronounce M-a-c-h-i-n-e?" "MacHine," I would say confidently, and she would say, "Myrna, its machine..."

    You could do something like that-- toothache, nothing, and then foothills...

  2. Replies
    1. Both are relatively close. I think we'll have to check out that fake Stonehenge someday. And we actually looked at living in Peachtree City, but it's a little too far from a MARTA station for us. I would have loved all those quasi-pedestrian trails though *sniff*.

  3. I don't know Georgia geography very well, either, but I know when we visit the Nantahala (another Native American word) Outdoor Center, we often meet people from Georgia. Even though the NOC is in North Carolina, it's closer to folks in Atlanta than it is for us. I've heard of Helen, Georgia, being in the GA mountains. Pictures I've seen look pretty, but I've never been. Andrew wants to see Springer Mtn since it's the start of the Appalachian Trail. I've also heard of Blood Mtn. I'll be interested in learning more about GA as you write about it.

    Those are some great family pictures. It's good to see y'all out exploring!