“Oh Georgia, take me to your Southlands. I sometimes feel that life has passed me by. Oh Georgia, lead me through your heartlands, I need to see them one more time before I die” -Elton John-
By now you’ve probably heard about the new Seven Wonders of the Natural World which were released last week. If you’re anything like me, you’ve already begun formulating a plan on how to visit them all. I’ve already sailed a junk through Halong Bay, watched the sunrise over Jeju Island, and hovered over the Devil’s Throat in thundering Iguazu Falls, so what’s four more?
While I’m sure there are more than a handful of world nomads who have already experienced all seven of the new wonders, I can almost guarantee there is no one out there who has been to all seven of the new wonders and has also–get ready for this one–visited all seven of the Natural Wonders of Georgia.
Yes. You read that right. The Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.
If I had read that statement five days ago while hiking the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon I would have coughed up a good chuckle at the thought. As I stand here on a roadside in northeastern Georgia, however, the hills dripping in red and orange foliage that spills nearly 1,000 ft. down into Tallulah Gorge, I’ve suddenly stopped my chuckling.
One of the state’s aforementioned wonders and the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi River, Tallulah Gorge State Park is best known for a series of six waterfalls that carve through the gorge and erupt into the Talullah River far below. A regional haven for whitewater kayakers, the Tallulah is known for a steep descent where the water drops 500 vertical feet over the course of only half a mile. You can only kayak the Tallulah, however, on days when there is a planned water release, which is an event that only happens six times every year.
Oh, and you also have to be completely out of your mind. Many of the rapids in Tallulah are classified as class V+, and one rapid by the name of Oceana Falls was described to me as simply being “boat-breaking”. Thanks, but I’m fine with sticking to the 20 miles of hiking trails for the time being.
Speaking of completely crazy, although it’s pleasant enough to take a late autumn stroll through the park, there have been two notable figures in history who thought it would be a better idea to actually walk OVER the park and get a view of the Gorge from directly above.
The first tightrope crossing of Tallulah Gorge took place in 1883 as part of a publicity stunt for a local hotel, and it would be another 87 years before the famed daredevil Karl Wallenda would become the second man to walk over the gorge on a tightly stretched piece of wire. An estimated crowd of 30,000 people gathered around Tallulah Gorge to watch the nimble German do two complete headstands in the middle of his death-defying crossing, and the large towers from where he strung his high wire are still visible in the Gorge today.
Although Wallenda would eventually fall to his death in a tightrope stunt in Puerto Rico 8 years later at the age of 73, his crossing of the Tallulah Gorge still ranks as one of the most notable events to ever take place high up in these Georgia hills. The other, of course, being the filming of the 1972 hillbilly thriller Deliverance, which was filmed and set right here in the gaping Tallulah Gorge.
Tight rope acts and toothless movie characters aside, northeastern Georgia and the towns around Tallulah Gorge are a remarkably agreeable part of the country. After nearly 3,400 miles of driving, I am met with the same sensation I had in Durango of thinking I really could just stay and live here.
Single lane roads. Country stores selling locally made jam. The refreshingly slow pace and community feel of small town America. These are the scenes which inspire me to crawl behind the wheel of a car and drive across the third largest country on the planet. The simple joys of leaving the chaotic drone of the Interstate in favor of winding back roads that lead you to corners of this country you never knew existed.
Corners of this country, like Georgia’s Tullulah Gorge.