Recently we had our annual summer vacation in the mountains.  John and I have been renting cabins in the Blue Ridge area for the last 8 or 9 years.  We’ve stayed in so many different places and
spaces that it’s hard to remember them all. We usually go 2-4 times a year so we can experience each season.  Moving from Dallas, TX, where we’d been for many years, and where there weren’t many trees and NO mountains—we really appreciate now all that the North Georgia Mountains have to offer.  We love being able to run up to Blue Ridge in less than 2 hours, rent a large house for a week and have our daughters and their families join us for a long weekend.  It seems to suit everyone well.  And we never get bored with the same old place or run out of things to do—especially since I started writing for the Rainbow Cabins website.  Doing research for my articles & blogs has enabled us to have so many fascinating experiences we might have otherwise missed.

This has been a “Summer of Fun” for me.  I’ve been to Melbourne Beach in Florida for a family wedding; spent 3 days at Disney World with the grandkids; and spent a week with my BFF at her lake house on the NC/VA border and drove out to the Outer Banks.  It’s been a whirlwind of excitement, so the idea of kicking back in the mountains was a joy.

We didn’t kick back all the time though.  In fact, we crammed quite a lot into our week at River Lodge.  While in Blue Ridge we drove over to the Marina to check out the water level.  I’m pleased to report that Lake Blue Ridge is back to normal (after having been drained 60-70’ for work on the dam during the winter.)  The crystal clear blue waters were sparkling; all the docks at the Marina were serviceable; and homeowners had their private docks back where they belong.

Next, John and I went downtown to do a little shopping.  John normally does not enjoy shopping in the least, but he actually had fun as we meandered in & out of numerous stores to see what’s new.
My favorite stop was at the Johnson family’s “Tomorrow’s Antiques Today,” more commonly known as The Bear Store.  Every nook and cranny is filled with delightful home décor items, unique gifts and custom furniture.  I even found the Blue Ridge car decals that I’d been looking for.  We also wandered through the Mall and various art galleries and specialty shops.  When we’d worked up an appetite, we stopped at Harvest on Main.  Donna at the BR Chamber of Commerce recommended the Salmon BLT and it was superb.  John had a tasty little kettle of chicken stew.  Everything at Harvest is impressive—from the massive wood & timber beams to the stacked stone fireplace to the mammoth animal heads hanging around on the walls.  It has a rustic atmosphere, excellent service and good prices.  We paid less than $20 for our 2 meals.

When the grandkids arrived from Atlanta and I could tear them away from splashing in Fightingtown Creek and playing arcade games, I took them to Brown’s Pet Store in downtown Blue
Ridge.  They went crazy when they saw the conglomeration of animals that are packed into the old fashioned store.  Ryan, my 8 year-old, is particularly fond of reptiles so I knew he’d love all the iguanas, snakes and turtles.  Maryann and Betsy, ages 5 & 3, enjoyed the baby chicks and lop-eared bunnies.  Jason, the 2 year-old, was just enthralled by everything he saw.  I don’t know how but we got out of there without buying any pets.  Of course, I had to get a 50 lb bag of cracked corn and a deer lick for all my critters back home.  Incidentally, when I got home I had two families of deer waiting patiently.

After going to Brown’s, we took the kids to the Blue Ridge Recreation Park to run around and play on the playground.  If you haven’t been there yet, be sure to give it a try.  The City has done a beautiful job of creating this huge park of rolling green hills and ball fields, surrounded by the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  There’s an indoor rec center if you drive to the back.  The Park is located out Hwy 5, just a little past Mercier Orchards.

John and Bryan, my son-in-law, went kayaking on Fightingtown Creek.  They were dropped off at Power Dam Road (near the WhiteWater Cabin) and paddled back to our cabin.  The trip took about 2 ½ hours but was made worse by several downed trees from recent storms.  It was still a beautiful trip—very lush and shady, with a few small rapids.  Perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

John and our daughter Shelby snuck off early one morning to go fishing at Horseshoe Bend Park.  They were happy to catch & release several decent sized trout—despite not having the kids along to “help.”  Imagine that.

Mercier Orchards was hopping every time we passed by.  Fresh peaches are their featured crop right now (mid July.)  Soon the early season apple crops will be ripening and the U-Pick Specials will start up in August.  It’s fun to take a tractor ride out into the orchards to snap up the freshest fruit.

Saturday we packed up everybody and headed for the Amicalola Deer Park.  Getting there was easy and only took about 25 minutes.  Just head south on Hwy 515 and turn left onto a short access road that takes you to Hwy 52E, just north of Ellijay.  This is actually called Apple Orchard Alley since there are so many orchards along this stretch.  Go 22 miles to Mile Marker 3.  Don’t be confused by the Mile Marker numbers.  They go up before restarting at the county line.  You’ll pass Burt’s Pumpkin Patch, a really cool place you should visit in the fall.  Soon you’ll see the sign for the Deer Park.  It’s nothing fancy, but it’s really fun.  Pastor Sean Smith started this place a few years ago to rescue and rehabilitate deer and use it as a tool to interact with special needs children.  It has continued to grow and now many times whern there is an animal that needs help, it is taken to the deer park.  Sean works his magic and all the animals get along famously.  You’ll be greeted by a multitude of friendly gentle and perfectly tamed deer.  We were loaded into a wagon and driven to several different areas around the farm to view and feed the animals.  There were mainly deer, but also llamas, goats, donkeys, ponies, a fat pig and an emu.  There could have been others, but I didn’t see them.  Sean doesn’t let them out to mingle with the public until they are tamed.  This is a working non-profit farm.  Be sure to bring some extra cash because you will want to purchase $2 bags of corn to feed the animals.  Sean also has some beautiful Great Pyrenees dogs that help him herd and guard the animals from predators.  Ryan really wanted to get an antler with his own money.  Pastor Sean sold him one with the solemn promise that Ryan would always be kind to animals and never kill one.  It was a truly blessed experience for all of us.

After the Deer Park we drove to nearby Amicalola Falls National Park.  We found one of the numerous picnic tables and had lunch.  The kids were starting to get tired so we drove up to the top of the waterfalls and viewed them from the Observation Bridge.  It is really nice the way the park is set up with the ability to see the falls from above, below, and the middle.  There’s an easy 10 minute walk halfway up.  All make wonderful photo opportunities.  My knees were grateful that I didn’t have to hike.

All in all it was another perfect trip to the North Georgia Mountains.  I love this time of the year when the mountain laurel is blooming, the fireflies are twinkling and the kids are toasting marshmallows for s’mores.  But, we can’t wait to return in the fall!