Timeline: January 28-31, 2017
We had a pretty full day planned for Sunday so we were up and out of the house early, our first stop Stone Mountain Park, an easy thirty minute drive to the eastern outskirts of Atlanta. I’d visited here once before, when I was eleven years old, traveling with my parents, brother Chuck, Sister Bev, my Mom’s Dad Charlie and his second wife, Evelyn.
My grandparent’s divorced when my Mom was in early adulthood. Born and raised in Belle Valley, Ohio, she would move from that state to Los Angeles just before WW II with her long time friend Thelma Hallahan, also a native of that small town they both grew up in. After working for a defense contractor during the war, she clerked in a record store in Santa Monica, Harvey’s, after 1945 where she met my Dad. His love of music led him to the love of his life and both of those loves infuse my spirit to this day.
Another love they inculcated in me was for travel. Mom must have gotten this from Charlie as some of the fondest childhood memories I have are of our trips, most often in whatever Chevrolet station wagon we owned at the time, every five years or so back to Ohio and West Virginia, and those when Charlie and Evelyn would come out west. We’d meet them in places like Denver and Las Vegas, or at home in Los Angeles, and then embark on a road trip with them.
At the end of each day of sightseeing with them, we’d check into a motel and later in the evening, with us kids (Chuck, Bev and I) settled in, Mom and Dad would go to Charlie and Evelyn’s room to play cards. Evelyn would mix up the ‘highballs’ and they would play until late in the evening and I cannot recall there ever being a late start or bleary-eyed morning the next day, just one more story to file away in the memory box.
It would have been my last trip east with the family when I visited Stone Mountain. I had my learners permit and Dad let me drive a couple of times on the way east; just he, Chuck and I as Mom and Bev had flown to Ohio earlier. We spent our time there then drove down to Clarksburg, WV to meet and pick up Charlie and Evelyn for a short jaunt down south. Our final destination was Atlanta and a glimpse at Stone Mountain. The rest of the trip is a blur after all of these years, just a few random memories. But that one sticks with me.
Joanna and I stopped to grab a cup of gas station coffee and then soon arrived at the entrance to Stone Mountain Park, pausing at the entrance booth to pay the $15 entrance fee. We circled to the left, landing in a parking lot adjacent to the park’s fun-zone, which today included a man-made snow tubing set up. For us though the attraction was the centerpiece of the park, a rock relief carving on its north face, the largest bas-relief in the world, of three Confederate figures during the Civil War: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis.
This place is steeped in the history of the area; some of it unappealing to folks not sympathetic to the Confederacy and its conviction that slave holding was a right worth fighting for. Stone Mountain was once owned by the Venable Brothers and was the site of the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. The carving was conceived by Mrs. C. Helen Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). The UDC was given 12 years to complete a sizable Civil War monument by the Venable Brothers and Gutzon Borglum was commissioned to do the carving.
Borglum abandoned the project in 1925 (and later went on to begin Mount Rushmore) and further work stopped for thirty years. In 1958, at the urging of Governor Marvin Griffin, the Georgia legislature approved a measure to purchase Stone Mountain for $1,125,000. Work on the carving went on intermittently under the direction of several artists until it was finally completed on March 3, 1972.
After snapping a few pictures, we drove back to a parking lot closer to the path we planned to hike. At more than 5 miles in circumference at its base, Stone Mountain is a pluton, a type of igneous intrusion that formed around 300-350 million years ago as part of the Appalachian Mountains. Our goal was the summit, about 800 feet above the trailhead, sitting at a total elevation of 1,700 feet.
The trail was crowded as we made our way up, but thinned out as we hit the steeper parts and neared the summit. Along the way, we ran across quite a bit of carvings in the granite surface, a number over 100 years old. The last section of the hike was difficult, nearly straight up, similar to like what we had experienced the couple of times we climbed up the side of Half Dome in Yosemite, with a bitingly cold wind cutting through our outer garments.
After pausing for a few chilly moments at the top we descended to the car, bypassing the Confederate Hall Historical and Environmental Education Center to head back into downtown Atlanta for our afternoon’s activity, a stop for lunch at The Varsity and then a visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
An Atlanta institution, The Varsity is famous for their chili dogs and that was what we ordered, the number one combo with two dogs, fries and a diet Coke, a fried apple pie and the kicker, their infamous frosted orange shake, a sweet and slushy concoction made with vanilla ice cream and Varsity’s orange drink.
The hot dogs are small, such that two would not be a challenge for one person. We did fine with one apiece but had to work our way through the fries, they the one disappointing element of the meal, limp, soggy and relatively unappealing; the next time we’ll go for the onion rings. Suitably fortified we drove the short distance to the neighborhood bordering downtown’s Olympic park, luckily finding street parking two blocks away from the Center.
We spent a full two hours touring the exhibits that highlight injustice here in the United States and globally, not nearly enough to take it all in and yet more than enough to let the full impact set in; we live in a nation whose founding documents proclaim respect for all men and yet so frequently abandons those principles.
It’s tempting to get up on a soap box and discuss how badly we Americans have treated certain races, how we continue to discriminate not just on race but for so many other personal attributes, but this is a travel blog so we’ll not go there.
Heartened by the progress we’ve made and yet despondent about how long it took us to get here and how much further we must go to live up to the principles our country was established on, we left for 49 Waverly, tired from the hike and sobered by our exposure to global man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.
After a little downtime in our room, we walked over to Krog Street Market for some dinner. The scene this time around was much different than the day before, as it was Sunday; as a result the place was sparsely populated and the energy level much less maniac.
The Hop City brewpub bar was closed for the day, but their retail shop next door was still open. We browsed the refrigerated case and picked a big can of Delirium Tremens to share and then asked the clerk if they had any of the Prairie Bomb we’d had the night before. He replied they did and pointed it out on a shelf, so we got a bottle of it to take home with us. For food I ordered a chicken Philly cheese steak (American cheese, French, cherry peppers, onions, and aioli) from Fred’s Meat and Bread, pricey at almost $13 with sales tax. What we got was filling, but nothing I’d order again, a messy creation of mostly meat and cheese with no distinguishable taste. The saving grace of the day was another stop at Jeni’s for more of that great Juniper & Lemon Curd ice cream
We returned to 49 Waverly to find Dave and Alex, the owners’, still up and in a talkative mood. We spent nearly an hour getting to know each other before heading off to bed; a good night’s sleep just the ticket to finish a day full of physical and mental exercise. With another full agenda planned for Monday, we would need an early start in the morning. We were back in the tourist groove.
Belle Valley: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Valley,_Ohio
Stone Mountain Park: http://www.stonemountainpark.com/
The Varsity: https://www.thevarsity.com/
Center for Civil and Human Rights: https://www.civilandhumanrights.org/