Morgan Falls Overlook Park

Sitting on the Dock of the Sluice Map
From Morgan Falls Overlook Park

New Parks get me excited. Especially, when they are done well, have something significant to offer, and are located terrifically close to me. Now, this doesn’t mean I get around to seeing them right away, but it does make my list of things to do. The freshly minted city of Sandy Springs (2005) unveiled a newly minted park in late Summer of 2010. So when I had a little time to on my hands, I made my way over to the Morgan Falls Overlook Park.

Now, the park is rather small at 35 acres, but the planners did a lot with a little bit of space. There’s a rather impressive playground and picnic pavilion, but that wouldn’t be the chief reason for the park. The place’s centerpiece is the splendid view of Bull Sluice Lake on the Chattahoochee. In order to enjoy the view, Sandy Springs has erected about a dozen or so bench swings, that make for a great spot to sit and watch the water or the sunset above the Trees.

But there’s more. In building the park, they uncovered the remains of an old homestead, once belonging to the Powers Family. The home had a massive chimney that was kept intact and perches regally near the edge of the small peninsula. So you get some ruins on a picturesque backdrop. Additionally, there is a small floating dock, which gives a good place to fish or to launch your canoe to explore Bull Sluice. The Georgia Tech Kayak Club calls this place home now.

And there’s a little hiking opportunity. There is a paved trail that runs along the lake. It can’t be more than ¼ mile, and runs from swings to chimney, down some stairs, along the pier, and then along the water back to the parking lot. There is also a short compact dirt hiking trail that may be a little difficult to find. It runs up and down the bluff and the entrances are at the street side of the parking lot as you enter or at the backside of the pavilion by the horseshoe rink. For such a short walk, it is decent exercise because of the incline. There are three places marked as overlooks on the trail, but the best view is either of the parking lot at one end, or just above the pavilion on the other. The overlooks may improve in parts of the year with less leaves on the trees. You could very easily combine these two trails to get a very competent 1 mile trail, very near home.

So if you are looking for pretty place for a nice walk without the expenditure of too much time, Sandy Springs overlook park serves up a welcome quick retreat. A few quick notes: First, to reach the park you drive down Morgan Falls road which is unpaved, in poor condition, and may actually make you think you missed your turn. Second, the Morgan Falls Dam is around the bend to the South and the falling water is not visible from this location. And, finally, because of its proximity to the people of the city, there may be few opportunities to be alone with your thoughts.

Trail Essentials
Approximate Time: 15-30 minutes
Approximate Distance: 1 mile
Features: Lake and River Views, Ruins

Overall Rating: B-

Scenic Quality: B+
Athleticism: C+
Solitude: C
Value: A
Parking: Free
Hours of Operation: Daylight, not exactly sure
Facilities: At Park
Maps: not needed, at entrance to park
County: Fulton

The Silver Comet Trail

From Silver Comet Trail

The Granddaddy of all bicycle trails in Georgia is the Silver Comet Trail. Heck, it might be the Granddaddy of all bike trails in the US. It runs almost 64 miles from Smyrna to the Alabama State line, mostly on what was once the railroad track used by Seaboard Railroad’s Atlanta to Birmingham line. If you continue through Alabama on the Chief Ladiga Trail it will take you 96 miles, all the way to Anniston, Alabama. The road is paved, relatively flat (3% overall grade), and is completely off roads used by cars, except for a few crossings, and a very short patch in Western Polk County. So how does one write a good article about this unique attraction just 13 miles outside of Atlanta. Well, you probably have to ride the whole darned thing.

On Oct 2, 2010, The Urban Baboon and three close friends set out to do just that. The longest I had ever biked in one day up to that point was 32 miles. Our plan was to drive two vehicles out to the Highland Station parking lot in Smyrna, drop the smaller car there, cram the five of us (we needed a driver) and four bikes into the minivan and be dropped at Esom Hill, near the State line, and then have the driver go back to Highland Station and leave the van there for us when we finished. The beauty of this plan was its simplicity. The downside was there was no turning back.

At Esom Hill, there is a small parking lot close to the Alabama border. It is quiet and serene and there are no facilities there. The nearest place for any supplies or amenities is in Cedartown, about 7 miles away. In order to say that you rode the entire trail, you need to head west first about .3 miles to get to the archway that makes up what they call Stateline Gateway Park, not much of a park, but a fitting starting point for a day on two wheels.

The Polk County portion is the least travelled part of the trail. The 7 miles to Cedartown run by farms and fields. It is also the most hilly portion of the trail with a few noticeable inclines and descents. At Cedartown, there is a depot where supplies are available, though you are required to walk you bike in front of the store. The next stretch to is a bit more of the same, about 14 miles to downtown Rockmart. We used this as our first breakpoint. Rockmart has a nice little park and a fair number of businesses very near the trail that could be of use to the Trail Rider. We had originally planned to lunch here, but it was only about 10:30 am, so we took a short break and rescheduled lunch for Dallas. Rockmart is the lowest point on the trail, so the rest of the route is uphill, but fairly gentle, almost unnoticeable.

The next section contains the longest isolated stretch of the whole journey. After the last Polk County Trailhead at Coot’s Lake, you travel 11.5 between trailheads. The tradeoff for the isolation is you get the most scenic stretch of the entire trail. Coot’s lake is a pretty piece of water. About 2.6 miles East you cross through the 800 foot long Brushy Mountain Tunnel. Exiting the tunnel you pass through the Paulding Wildlife Management Area. We actually saw wild turkeys on the path, but other wildlife might be possible. You then cross the Pumpkinvine Creek Trestle , a 750 foot long railroad bridge, just west of the Rambo Trailhead. Both the Tunnel and the Trestle are worth the stop to look around, but we didn’t as we had miles to go, and had been there before. Rambo is a fairly amenity free parking location, but if you continue another two miles to Tara Drummond, there’s accessible restrooms and water.

By the time we reached Dallas, our group of four had significantly separated into two groups of two, so we skipped lunch because we were to far behind. From here to Smyrna the path gets progressively more crowded as you get closer and closer to the city. And this is the area where you see the most road crossings. The trade off for lack of serenity is the comfortable feeling that you are not too far from help, should it be necessary, and after 40 miles under your belt, this is good to know. You cross through Hiram, leave Polk County, and go through Powder Springs and Mableton. Once in Cobb County, there are some nice walking trails off the Comet, near Center Road (Wildhorse Creek) and Concord Road (Heritage Park). The road gets pretty straight and pretty crowded the rest of the way. At the Floyd Road trailhead, there’s a bike shop. When you get to mile marker Zero at Mavell Road you are not actually done, there is still a mile to go principally uphill to reach the Highland Station Parking lot.

For a trip of this magnitude, preparation is far more important than usual. The three chief concerns are water, food, and bike maintenance. Water is crucial. I read a post somewhere where they said that you should also bring a camera, so that when you run out of water you can sell it to get more water. I travelled with a 72 oz. camelback which I filled and drank three times, with only one bathroom break. Food is another important consideration, I calculated on a website that six hours of moderate riding for someone of my size would burn about two days worth of normal meals. I packed a case of Power Bars and ate all but two. Bike maintenance is a lesser worry, because the trail is clean and paved, but you should travel with essential repair tools including a flat tire repair kit, air pump, and bike wrenches, just in case, it would be awful to be stranded a long time in certain areas.

The 64 mile trek is not normally for the casual rider, like myself. It took me a little over 7 hours to complete with significant and well needed breaks. The faster two riders finished about an hour ahead of us. The beauty of the Silver Comet Trail is that you can bite off as much or as little as you want. Most people use the Cobb portion of the trail, probably due to its proximity. But the best portion is in Polk County. My recommendation for the more casual rider is that you put in at either Hiram, Polk Chamber of Commerce, or Rambo and head West to Rockmart. There you can eat lunch or whatever and then return back to your original spot. This way you get at 32-38 round mile trip hitting most of the highlights of the road, with a nice place to stop to break the work in two.

Bike Trail Essentials
Approximate Time: 6-8 hours (allowing breaks)
Approximate Distance: 64 miles
Trail Surface: Paved
Features: Small Georgia Towns, Rolling Countryside, Bridges, Trestles, Tunnels, Lakes, Rivers, Wildlife

Overall Rating: A

Scenic Quality: A
Athleticism: A+
Solitude: B
Value: A
Parking: Free (Various Locations)
Hours of Operation: Daylight Hours
Facilities: At many trailheads
Maps: Silver Comet Website, Trail Express, Google, and
Path Foundation
County: Polk, Paulding, & Cobb


EOM on the Range map
From Pasaquan

There are several notable artists that come from or have resided in Georgia. I don’t write about them all, but when one artist describes himself as the “Bodacious Mystic Badass of Buena Vista,” it makes this monkey sit up, take notice, and put a visit to his home on my list of things to do. Now, it has taken me some time to manage the trip, with its 2.5 hours of traveling and pretty restrictive operating hours. But I got there and wanted to tell you about it. If you don’t know what I am talking about, this is about Pasaquan, the residence and artwork of the lovably mad Eddie Owens Martin, near Buena Vista, Georgia.

For a couple of years now, the site has been open to the public on the first Saturday of each month during the summer. They do charge a $5 donation/admission, but it goes to the preservation of the home and is well worth it. As I have said, the hours are short, being only open from 10am to 4pm on that one day a month.

What you get to see is patchwork of geometric patterns married to mystic, Indian, and religious symbols. Driving up the deserted and aptly named Eddie Martin Road, this outlandishly decorated home is woefully out of place in the middle Georgia countryside. But I say this in a good way, a place where you might least expect something this out of the ordinary, it is magnificent to find the extraordinary. The house is decorated on every wall and inside every room with different paints and designs, except his bedroom. He paid special attention to painting faces and patterns.
From Pasaquan

Eddie Owens Martin was born in this home in 1908. Around the age of 14, he left home after an incident where his father killed his dog. He wandered about a bit, starting as a fruit picker in the South, but eventually managed his way up to New York City, a place where those who perceive themselves as different often feel quite at home. He managed to eke out an existence there as a waiter, bartender, and male prostitute. He often made money in gambling or selling marijuana. Over time, he found his best calling as a fortune teller working the streets of the city. In the 1930’s, apparently due to a fever, he had a vision of people from another time and space who called themselves Pasaquoyans. They told him to show the world what life could be like in the future and to go back to Georgia to do something. And to change his name to St. EOM, pronounced like Ohm or the meditative chant.

There he started building this place on the site of his old homestead. He would finance the thing by continuing to tell fortunes. He would wear outlandish costumes: part Indian, part Eastern Mystic, part out of this world. He built a circular sandpit where he would conduct shows and ritual for those who made the journey. He did this for 30 years, until the pains of disease and old age were too much to bear. Using a gun, he killed himself there in 1986; he was 77 years old at the time.

Eddie often complained that he was underappreciated as an artist. And from the works, you find in the welcoming area, I think he had a point. Compared to most of the self-taught artists I have seen, his paintings were actually pretty good. Descriptive and well crafted, and not really childlike in appearance. Now, the structure itself is simplistic and crazy, but the paintings were quite better than that. He also did a fair amount of sculpture, hence the maze of walls and totems throughout the property. Many of these are fallen into disrepair, but it must have been a sight when the colors were bright and brilliant. I should also note that it would be difficult to spend an entire day there as the grounds are not vast. Normally on the last day of business for the year in November they have an Artists Day, where Southern Artists set up displays and there’s food and music. You can keep up with them and their events on their blog here. In one of the rooms, they were showing films of the artist while he was still alive.

So, If you are in the area of Buena Vista (about an hour East of Columbus and two hours South of Atlanta) on the first Saturday of the month during the day, you should definitely put this on the list of things to do. If you are into folk art, it is certainly worth the trip by itself. The place reminds me of what midnight movies used to be in the 70’s before corporations figured out a show that late could be really profitable. It’s wildly fascinating.

Here are some interesting video links:
From the Documentary
From PBS
A longer video

And the Ballad of Eddie Owens Martin:
Ballad of Eddie Owens Martin

Lake Lanier - Laurel Ridge Trail

“The Laving Laurel Turned my Tide” Map
From Laurel Ridge Trail Lake Lanier
Though I don’t have any precise metrics, I believe from personal anecdotal evidence, that Lake Lanier is the most talked about and visited outdoor recreation spot by most Atlantans. And for that reason, I have personally shied away from our man made wonder just an hour North of us. I look for peace and quiet, and massive throngs of people are not conducive to this goal. But I have been told that one of the better hikes near to our area runs along Lake Lanier. It’s called the Laurel Ridge Trail, slightly under an hour away up GA 400 or I-85.

The trail runs, by most accounts 3.8 miles, although the trail markers clock it in at a flat 4.0. It runs a nice continuous loop, and we began at the Lower Overlook Park, where the parking is free. From this point, the trailhead lies just behind the restrooms and takes you immediately across Buford Dam Road.
The trail is well marked and takes you through a series of overlook where you get nice views of Lake Lanier or the Chattahoochee River. It would be best explored in the early spring months or winter as the views are often blocked or diminished by trees full of leaves. The overlooks, except for the first one, are still enjoyable to the naked eye, but the obstacles hinder photography. The path is mostly compact soil, with some boardwalk through the “wetland” portions, and some pavement near the more traditional recreation sites. Although there is no monumental physical challenge, the path does rise and fall enough from ridge to shore and back to make it an adequate workout. I would still rate it as easy, however, I would not say it was simple.

At about the ½ mile mark, the Buford Dam is both visible and accessible on your right. Though this would not be technically on the trail, it would be foolish not to add this short jaunt down to the dam. I will talk more about Buford Dam in a later post because most other sites treat it as a separate trek, as short as it may be. If you cross the wooden bridge and follow that trail it will meet up with the Laurel Trail maybe two-tenths of a mile up from where you departed, adding, maybe, another ½ mile to your journey.

The trail is good for wildlife watching and people watching. Along the way, we saw several smaller birds, Ducks, Goats, and a Deer. On the Lanier side, there are benches and swings where you can view boats and water skiers pass by. The day we went was a little on the cold side and overcast, so we were met with a little more peace and quiet that you may encounter. However, there are stretches of the trail that take you away from the congregation of people that I’m sure there will be some serenity when you go. Additionally, there are wetland areas, a nice little pond, and a beaver dam. A good portion of the trail runs along a petite stream known as Rocky Creek. I will caution you that the trail crosses roads in three locations, two of them being the busy Buford Dam road, so cross with caution. Other than this, it would be an excellent spot for children. When you come out of the long quiet part of the trip, the trail empties out at a playground (at around 2mi). I should also note that under current rules, Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

Most of the hiking I do seems to be goal oriented. Let’s go see this waterfall or climb this mountain or whatever. There is another type of hiking that encompasses the process more than the accomplishment and I appreciate these as well, but they don’t make the most intriguing articles. At the end of the trail, I told my most frequent travelling companion, that within this category, I would rate the Laurel Ridge Trail as the second best trail of the sort behind the underappreciated Stone Mountain Loop Trail. My fellow Traveller thought this one was even better than that.

So if you are looking for nice little day in the great outdoors, and want to get your legs and heart moving a little, the Laurel Ridge Trail deftly suits the bill. And considering its close proximity to most of us, it is definitely worth the trip.

Trail Essentials
Approximate Time: 1-2 hours
Approximate Distance: 3.8 (4.6 with Buford Dam Area)
Surface: Compact Soil, Boardwalk, Wooden Bridges, Some Pavement
Features: Riverside, Creekside, & Lake Side Walk, Lake Vista Views, Buford Dam, Wildlife

Overall Rating: B

Scenic Quality: B
Athleticism: B
Solitude: C+
Value: A
Parking: Free at Lower Overlook Park (paid parking at some Lanier locations)
Hours of Operation: Daylight Hours
Facilities: Throughout the trail
Maps: here
County: Gwinnett County


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