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Seeking wilderness at Tallulah Gorge


July 12, 2016

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    “All of those were gone by eight-thirty this morning,” the smiling park ranger told me, seeming faintly surprised at this fact herself. The park opens at 8 a.m. and it was only 10:30, but all of the passes to hike the gorge floor had been given out. Only 100 hikers are allowed down into the gorge per day and, as hot as it was outside, I didn’t expect them all to be gone. 
    As soon as I stepped outside the doors of the Information Center though, I decided it was better them than me. Even up in the North Georgia mountains, it was a hot day and, unlike the Gorge Floor trail, the trails I would be hiking were comfortably shaded by hardwoods and pines. 
    Tallulah Gorge is nearly 1,000 feet deep and 2 miles long. It is bookended by a dam at each end, allowing the park to host Whitewater Weekends when water is released, usually in April or November. Though it is probably out of range of a day trip from Statesboro at a nearly four-hour drive, Tallulah Gorge State Park is well worth the trip up. Your outdoor adventure can be extended to include a night at one of the park’s 
50 campsites. If roughing it really isn’t your style, you can find accommodations in the nearby town of Tallulah Falls. The park also boasts trails for every kind of hiker, ranging from paved nature trails to the more challenging Hurricane Falls or Gorge Floor Trails. 
    A little ambitiously, I chose a route that would take me along both rims of the gorge, crossing the suspension bridge of the Hurricane Falls Trail and back along the top of the Tallulah Falls Dam. The rim trails are pleasant, well-maintained affairs with a scenic overlook every 30 feet or so. Before long, I was descending into the gorge itself, stopping in the middle of the bridge to admire Hurricane Falls from above. 
    On the other side, however, I realized embarrassingly quickly that I am woefully out of shape and that I probably should consider drinking those eight glasses of water a day, or whatever it is they tell you is healthy. Hurricane Falls Trail is mostly stairs — over 1,000 of them. After about 40, I was making a very concerning wheezing noise and had to take a breather, which I disguised by saying, “Oh look, there’s a good view of the waterfall!” 
    Stairs and my questionable fitness aside, the experience was a very enjoyable one. Strategically placed overlooks highlight the five major falls of the gorge, and a cool breeze rose from it at fairly consistent intervals, making the Georgia summer bearable. I even ran into two men who had seen the peregrine falcons that nest on the cliffs. I didn’t see the birds myself, but they were kind enough to show me some pictures they had taken earlier that morning. 
    “They’re late this year,” the older man explained excitedly, “and we think they’re actually still building the nest.” They told me that this is the only recorded nest in the state to exist in the wild, most of the birds choosing instead the easier but more dangerous ledges of Atlanta high rises. 
    That’s kind of telling, I think. It reflects us, in a way. Modern life is fast-paced and designed to make our lives more and more convenient. To find even a bit of wilderness, even tamed wilderness, we have to seek it out, go a little bit out of our way. I’ve found, though, that places like this are usually worth the time it takes to find them.

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