Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve in the Woods

Actually, I didn't get that deep into the woods, but I did pay a visit to the Sweetwater Creek State Park today to test out my knee for my upcoming backpacking trip on the Florida Trail. (I'm thinking that as long as the Ocala National Forest isn't very hilly, I should be good.) This is a surprising bit of beauty pretty much in the middle of the Atlanta sprawl. It's only a few miles from I-285 and yet after a few yards on the trail, it's easy to forget that after the first bend back on the interstate, the skyscrapers of Atlanta fill the skyline.

The first thing I noticed is that the namesake creek is really more of what they would call a river up in the mountains. It's very wide, at least at the section that flows through the park, and while I don't think it's that deep, it's deep enough that crossing it would be tricky. The main man-made feature of the park is an antebellum textile factory that once churned out yarn and fabric on the banks of the stream. During the Civil War, the factory was burned to the ground and the mill employees forcibly relocated up north for the duration of the war. Several of the ruined walls remain at the edge of the creek, and unfortunately it's fenced off from the trails so you can't wander through the remains. I'm sure it's safer for both visitors and the ruins that way, but it's not as fun.

The trails themselves are fairly typical of state park trails, mostly short (the longest is only about three miles), but it is kind of amazing to be surrounded by beech and pines (there were a ton of beech saplings in the understory for some reason) with only the sound of the occasional jet allowing the urban world outside to break through the sounds of the tumbling water and the rustling of squirrels in the dry leaves. I even spooked a trio of whitetail does at the very beginning of the hike who were so immune to hunting (you can't really hunt in state parks or strip malls usually) that they could barely be bothered to run away from me. I actually stood and made eye contact with one doe for an oddly long time at a distance of less than 50 yards. The only place I've seen deer less concerned about humans was where I went to college. The deer there barely even acknowledged your existence.

This park probably isn't a place worth going out of your way to visit, but if you're living in Atlanta and not making use of this resource, you're a total loser.

I just thought this tree looked cool. It looks a lot like a foot driving into the ground, toe pointed like a gymnast. Too bad it's covered in carved graffiti.

The trail wasn't all smooth footpaths. This rocky section came pretty early on, but the section past the mill along the river actually got fairly rugged.

Like I said, this seems a little broad for a creek.

This is the middle section of what remains of the textile mill. It's kind of weird looking through the windows and seeing weeds and water.

This is where the water, redirected upstream down a millrace, rejoined the rest of the stream after pushing through the waterwheel that powered the factory.

Honestly, I just took this photo because I liked the texture of the rock. The water has really worked a number on this slab.


Julie said...

You would come play in my backyard when I am not around, wouldn't you? We're about 15 minutes away from the park. I'm a total loser, thought. I don't take advantage of it. f

Mickey said...

That sounds a lot like a couple of other parks in metro ATL I've been to, right down to the size of the stream and the ruins.