Posted by: justnaturallyme | March 2, 2011

Mountain Magic

A Mountain Tree Spirit at Forest Hills Resort

North Georgia always holds a fascination for me. Maybe it’s those wise old mountain spirits that call my name. Maybe it’s the different kinds of fun found there. Then I am sure the food plays a role in motivating me to  head for the hills every chance I get. So when Travel South, a new to me travel marketplace for both journalists and tour operators, offered the chance to do a very busy trip to Rabun, White and Dawson counties I jumped right in.

Dawsonville Poolroom really is a poolroom!










Bet you’re thinking, “That would make a nice two week vacation.”  It surely would but we did it in less than thee days. Leaving from Atlanta at 4pm on Saturday, we made a shopping stop (always a sure crowd pleaser when you have a lot of female journalists in the group) at North Georgia Premier Outlets. Next we  headed right for Dawsonville where NASCAR began with local moonshiners. All that shopping had stirred up  our appetites so our fearless leader, Cheryl Smith, directed that bus to The Dawsonville Poolroom. There we were greeted by owner Gordon Pirkle. He proudly showed us his collection of history and memorabilia on Bill Elliott’s NASCAR career and early moonshine runners.Elliot know locally as  “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” frequents the restaurant but he was busy racing in Daytona this night. We all dug into the filling food. My favorite was the corn nuggets. Of course, I have to admit that I ate a lot  of other things too.  Gordon’s favorite menu item is the Bully Burger. He told us how one of the cooks originally created this burger by combining together just about everything but the kitchen sink on the meat.

My room at Forrest Hills. Can you imagine anything more relaxing?

Our home for the night was Forrest Hills Mountain Resort, a delightful 140 acre wilderness hideaway snuggled into the Appalachian Mountains. That huge jacuzzi in my room felt good that night. The resort has been nominated as one of the US’s top 100 Resorts for ten of its 30 years of existence.

You could spend a week or longer and never run out of things to do. There are the horse stables, hiking, roaming the trails and even playing with the resident cats. You are close to the Kangaroo Conservation Center (just 3 miles away), Amicalola Falls and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail (just 5 miles), canoeing, kayaking, gold mining and so much more. There is a wonderful dining room on site where we ate a hearty buffet style breakfast.

A tiny bat sleeps deep in the mine

Then we set off to search for gold. We found our treasure deep inside the bowels of the earth as we explored a real gold mine, Consolidated Gold Mines, the largest hardrock gold mine east of the Mississippi.

Prowling around the square in Dalonega is always a golden experience. There is the old Courthouse with its mining history and the shops of every kind. My favorite is the old general store. They still sell coffee for a nickle.

The “golden” theme was carried into lunch at the Smith House.You  can still see the old mine entrance inside. This former home of a gold miner was converted to a world class inn and restaurant. The food is good old southern cooking served family style and all you can eat. Yummy!!!

A baby is delivered at Babyland

From gold to babies. At our next stop we all found ourselves parenting a brand new “baby.” Babyland Hospital in Cleveland Georgia is the “birthplace” of the Cabbage Patch Kids. This is as much fun as Disney except it’s free. We all watched in awe as a mother cabbage “gave birth” to a brand new little Cabbage Patch girl. The “doctor” and “nurse” then took the newborn into the examination room and did some tests to be sure the little one was healthy. Strangely enough all of these kids are born with a special birthmark, Xavier Robert’s signature on their little butts. We were all allowed to adopt a “kid.” Mine is Evelyn Vicktoria, a precocious little beauty pageant princess. She’s going to adjust well to being mothered by a travel writer as she gave me no complaints when I had to ship her home in a box from Atlanta after the trip.

An Indian Snake Jar by Melvin and Michael Crocker

The Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia was a trip back to the earliest days of Georgia’s potters when “throwing” a pot or bowl was not art but everyday life. The museum is part of the Sautee-Nacoochee Community Center, which houses a local history museum as well. It was so much fun to look at this area of North Georgia history.

Next stop we headed for a quaint little Alpine village high in the mountains. Located not in the Alps but the Appalachians, Helen is a re-creation of  a picturesque Alpine town. It seem to always look like Christmas there. Wish we had had more time to check it out but we needed to get checked into the Unicoi State Park. This park is filled with natural wonders including Anna Ruby Falls. If you want to rough it there are camping and RV sites as well as the lodge. The decorations in the lodge consist of some of the most charming handmade quilts I ever saw.

For supper this time, Sautee-Nacoochee Community Center brought together the best food and wine of the region to offer us a feast worthy of royalty. There were three local wineries, Habersham Winery, Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards and Yonah Mountain Vineyards, who offered us the finest fruit of their vines distilled int liquid perfection. Our food menue was composed of the best of local cooking styles from Bernies, Nacoochee Grill and Stovall House, complemented by fresh baked bread from Old Sautee Store; coffee and beverages from Sweetwater Coffee House and dessert from Scarlet’s Secret. It was my pleasure to meet in person Hamilton Schwartz, the proprietor of the Stovall House who had provided me with a lot of interesting background material for my book, Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways.

One of the Brave Ones

We enjoyed  a fine breakfast at the Unicoi Park Lodge and headed to Rabun County to experience zip lining. I have to admit I chickened out on this one. I made it to the point of being buckled into a harness that would have held a large elephant and getting on the trial run. However, once my feet left the safety of the platform, my brain started shouting, “You were never meant to be suspended between heaven and earth dangling from a thin cable!”

I enjoyed taking pictures of my braver (or more foolish) comrades as they whisked from treetop to treetop at what seemed to approach the speed of light.

Cheryl pets one of Grape and Beans cats

Next stop was one I was able to take part in quite heartily, lunch at Grapes & Beans. It’s a quint little downtown restaurant with a friendly back deck. I had a spicy Southwest Chicken Fajita with seasoned chicken, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, tomatoes and chipotle dressing and warm fajita squares. I was happy to learn the chicken is hormone free and locally raised. The food was tasty and the owner, Sue Willis, is a cat person like me. She had a few furry friends sharing the porch. It felt just like home to me.

Nest we moved just two doors down to Persimmon on the Square where owner Mary Ann Hardman treated us to a wine tasting of her own vintages. She explained how her vineyard operates on a biodiversity principle. We learned about her sheep and the part they play in creating a wonderful vintage.

Which of us looks more contented?

From sheep to goats, Goats on the Roof that is. This is a fun stop for kids of all ages. The goats are precious and well cared for. We even got to pet Fudge, a four month old kid. Supposedly, the goats are aliens from outer space who have landed and made a home on the roof of the buildings. They prance around between the building by means of a plank and rope bridge. You can feed them by means of several clever pulley type devises. Their ice cram is out of this world too. And, no, it is not made from the goat’s milk.

Janice and Erin struggle up the steps at Tallulah Gorge

From the earthy to the sublime. Our next stop was to one of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern U.S., Tallulah Gorge, known as the Grand Canyon of the East. It is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. Visitors can hike rim trails to several overlooks. Some of us hiked down to cross the suspension bridge over the deep canyon where in 1970, at the age of 65, Karl Wallenda thrilled crowds with his tightrope walk across the gorge without the benefit of a safety net. Ditto on my zip line feelings about doing something like that. (For those who want to know more about Tallulah Gorge, there is a great article on in the winter 2011 issue currently online)

We spent the night at the Dillard House, a Rabon County institution. The view of the mountains from there is spectacular.In 1794, Captain John Dillard was awarded a land grant of 1000 acres between the mountains for his service in the American Revolution. His descendants flourished and in 1917, Carrie and Author Dillard opened the present Dillard House as an inn. Over the near century since, it has flourished. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Walt Disney. Arnold Palmer, Larry Bird Johnson, President Jimmy Carter, Senator Max Cleland, Mayor Maynard Jackson and Ambassador Andrew Young are among the prominent guest to have enjoyed the Dillard hospitality.

Dinner at Zepplins

For dinner that night it was a trip back to the days of old Rock and Roll legends at Zepplin’s Pasta House. Owner Cappy Taylor and her husband Mark specialize in the freshest food mostly all organic. If you are a fan of Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and their elk, you will love their pictures decorating all the walls.

Is this table overflowing or what?

Early next morning we gorged on breakfast Dillard House style. The buffet was filled with just about every berry and fruit known to man. But that was not all. Soon our table groaned under the weight of eggs, bacon, sausage, county ham, grits, biscuits, two gravies and a few other delicacies. Their County Ham was chosen by Chef Alton Brown on the Food Channel’s The best Thing I Ever Ate. Upon leaving we were presented a cookbook and a button that read “I ate TOO much at the Dillard House.”

Then we all settled in for the bus ride back to Atlanta and Travel South. Next installment will tell about the fun places we visited while in Atlanta. So tune in same time same blog in a few days for the low down on that.

For more information:

Dawson County Chamber

North Georgia Premium Outlets

Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber & CVB

Forrest Hills Mountain Resort

Consolidated Gold Mines

Smith House

Alpine Helen-White County CVB

Babyland General Hospital

Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia

Unicoi State Park

Sautee Nacoochee Center

Rabun County Convention & Visitors Bureau Authority

Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours

Grapes & Beans

Persimmon on the Square

Goats on the Roof

Tallulah Gorge State Park

Dillard House




  1. Wow what a GREAT trip you had! Thanks for sharing with us, not only the written storyline but the pics are off the hook cool, too.

    Only problem is, now I’m SO jealous! I’ve been stuck here in icy, snow-bound and boring central Michigan all winter …

    LOL, but glad you had such a wonderful time! 🙂

    Marvin D Wilson

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