Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another Side of Georgia

Yesterday's blog title mentioned a president and then never got there.  Sorry folks, guess I get lost in my ramblings here too.  Yesterday was mostly about war, the most famous war down south, and of course the president I alluded to was Jefferson Davis.  So let me just get this one right.

After an all too short weekend of camping on the lake with nephew Clay and getting in a couple of long paddling trips (4 miles on Friday night!  Was I sore?), I had to pack up early Sunday and head south.  I was really excited about the winter job I committed to at Okefenokee and since it was only another 250 miles past Mike's, why not go by and check it out.  But I had to be there Sunday to meet the folks since they really aren't open for business right now.  It was a long and scenic drive down Highway 441 south but I loved it.  And it turns out that the camp is just what I like: small, not commercial, with really nice folks running things.  Now I'm really looking forward to it.

I left the little town of Folkston (gateway to the Okefenokee!) and drove across the state line into Florida.  I stopped at a really nice welcome center where I got out for a potty break and to stretch my legs.  Yes, there was a geocache there, but it was over in the woods and since dark had fallen I opted to let that one wait for this winter when I return.  When I returned to Seeker I turned on the air and heated up some leftovers in the fridge for my supper.  Then I stretched out on the couch and napped till around midnight.  Since it's been so hot my plan was to drive down to the Jacksonville, FL bypass and cut over to Lake City where I could pick up 75 and start back north.  I'm not a huge fan of late night driving but it's cooler on the engine, has less traffic, and I could avoid the morning rush hour in and around JAX.  It was a great plan for the first 30 minutes, and then it began to rain.

Did I say rain?  I meant storm.  Thunder.  Lightning.  Pouring rain.  Just short of Lake City I saw an exit with a truck stop so I ducked in there and got parked.  Good thing I got in there when I did because within the hour there was no place left to park.  Cars.  Trucks.  Campers.  We all had the same idea.  I decided to go inside and have a proper hot meal at the restaurant: bacon and eggs.  Then I returned to Seeker for some more sleep, or as much sleep as I could get with all the lightning and the hum of all the truck engines and generators.  But it must have worked because I woke suddenly around 4am trying to figure out what woke me until I realized it was quiet, well, quieter.  Vehicle noise was still out there but the storm had stopped.  Seemed like my cue to get back on the road.  I started up 75 north in the semi darkness and found myself almost alone on the highway - and I liked it.  The only scarry part was a stretch of road with signs warning of "fog and smoke" which was indeed there and was puzzling, about the smoke part, until I realized I was passing the northwest side of Okefenokee which is the only part that still has wildfires burning.  I'm hoping they got all that rain that put me in the truckstop.

With a new day came a new plan.  I have been to Georgia many times but always on the eastern side.  This time I decided to follow 75 north only as far as Tiffton and then drift off to the major highways that lead north, but farther west than 75 so that I can explore that side of the state.  Just as I was closing in on my exit I saw a sign "Jefferson Davis Capture Site", so I had to exit earlier than planned.  It was about a 10 mile drive out into the country and just when I wondered if I had missed it I ran into road construction, so I knew I was on the right road.  I seem to attract construction like moths to a flame.  The traffic crept along for about a mile until I saw my turn.  About 5 miles down another county road and there it was.  I guess I had expected just a marker, or maybe a statue, but what I found was the very house he was camped at when the federal troops captured him as well as 2 markers and a statue.  The house contains a museum but was closed on Mondays so I had to get my satisfaction from the outside markers and statue.  Someday I would like to visit when they are open.

Back on the highway I followed the county road on past Jeff Davis, but not back toward the construction.  Eventually I hit a state highway which led me to Ashburn, GA and the world's largest peanut (I did not try to find it though you'd think if it was that large I could have seen it) and opted to take 75 up to Cordele where I found a Titan missile set up between a gas station and a Krystal.  I can't explain it, but there was a geocache there!  But the real reason I got off there was to get on Veterans Highway 300/280 west.  This was the road to Andersonville, or at least to Highway 49 which runs right into Andersonville.  I made a brief stop at the Jimmy Carter Regional Airport to see a statue of Lindbergh at the airport where he bought his first plane only 4 years before his historic cross Atlantic flight, and then went on in to Andersonville. 

The town of Andersonville is small and is dedicated to remembering and honoring soldiers of the Civil War.  I took pictures of the monument in the middle of the street that honors the officer in charge of the Andersonville Prison who was later found guilty of war crimes and hanged.  Then I visited the small museum in town, mailed postcards from the tiny post office (wonder if it's one of the ones on the chopping block), found a geocache on the old caboose sitting on the nearby railroad tracks, and headed to the Andersonville National Park on the other side of the highway.

The park contains the remains of the prison, a visitor center/POW museum, and the cemetery.  It was huge.  I got there around 12:30 and didn't leave until after 4.  There are no pictures allowed inside the museum, but all I can say is if you ever get a chance to visit you really shouldn't miss it.  There were tapes playing in one room of former POWs telling their stories as well as family members telling what it was like to live through that nightmare.  Lots of memorbilia from all the way back to the Revolutionary war up to today's war.  For me, the museum was a sad reminder of just how cruel humans can be to one another.  I didn't linger too long there.  Out the back of the museum is a combination brick wall/sculpture which was also something I'd never seen before.  Really made you think.

I picked up the cd guide for the park and spent the next 2 hours driving through the remains of the prison and touring the cemetery.  At one point, near the area call the sinks (meaning where the latrines had been located for the prisoners) there was a sign warning visitors of rattlesnakes.  As if the heat and the gnats weren't bad enough!  The cemetery was very impressive.  The large statues from the different states reminded me of Vicksburg and Shiloh, and all the rows and rows of headstones made me think of Arlington.  Not only are all those who died at Andersonville Prison buried there, this is still a working cemetery and in a couple of my pictures you can see that a plot was being readied back beyond the New Jersey statue.  It was a long, hot, and inspiring yet somehow oppressive tour.  By 4:00 I was beat, so I found a campground back in Americus and crashed for the night.  I think I was asleep by 7:30 - long before dark.  I was exhausted from the restless night before and the long day of heat and walking.

But I'm glad I'm getting to see this other side of Georgia.

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