The Southern Appalachian Mountains dominate the landscape of North Georgia and Northeast Alabama. These ancient mountains have been the upland home of Native Americans and have borne witness to their life and death struggles from the earliest traces of human habitation (12,000 to 15,000 years ago) into the 19th century. Interlaced with rural byways, the region is a beautiful setting for explorations in crisp fall weather.
Vanished Native Cultures
Mounting up on the first morning, we’re confronted with a chilly start. Temperatures are in the low fifties, but there are clear blue skies overhead. Jeff Arpin ignites the thunderous KTM 1290 Super Duke GT. My wife, Karen, and I mount the Honda Africa Twin, and I light up its staccato beat. Today we’re headed to points east of Rome.
Motoring along US 411, we’re stopped abruptly by an unexpected road construction closure, which immediately has me consulting alternate routes. I take a gamble by turning onto diminutive Stamp Creek Road, where we are richly rewarded with tightly wound, pristine tarmac. The gentle, rhythmic, rocking motions are pleasurable though sleep-inducing for Karen, whose helmet is lightly tapping mine.
Substantial elevation changes along Route 136 treat us to dramatic Appalachian Mountain vistas. Before long, though, we’re pulling into the popular tourist destination of Ellijay, GA. This charming county seat, with its historic town square and busy fall streetscape, has inviting shops and eateries. After lunching on tasty fare at The 1907 Restaurant, we’re back on the bikes, swiftly slicing through the crooked meanderings of Georgia Route 2.
We put on the brakes, however, at Fort Mountain State Park, which acquired its name from an ancient 885-foot-long rock wall located on the mountain’s peak. The purpose and people who built the wall are undetermined, but some believe it was a defensive structure constructed by Native Americans. Others posit that it may have been modified later on by European colonists. No one seems to know for sure. An uphill trail, which is strenuous in riding gear, leads to the wall from the closest parking lot.
Recommended Lodging: The Claremont House Bed & Breakfast
This visually imposing, Second Empire Victorian-style home was built in 1882 by Colonel Hamilton Yancey, a wealthy cotton farmer and a prominent member of Rome society. With its 14-foot ceilings, 11 fireplaces, grand staircase, massive carved wood architectural details and antique furnishings, Claremont House is no less opulent on the inside than it is on the outside. The 8,000-square-foot home became a bed and breakfast in 1993 and is currently owned and managed by Holly and Chris McHagge. Four spacious bedrooms and a detached cottage all have the 21st-century amenities guests expect, including private bathrooms, central air and heat, wireless Internet service and cable TV. Each morning guests start their day with a sumptuous gourmet breakfast prepared by Chris. Find it at 906 E 2nd Ave, Rome GA, (800) 254-4797.
The history and purpose of our final stop is well known, however, but shrouded in sadness. The New Echota State Historic Site contains twelve original and reconstructed buildings of the former Cherokee Capital displayed as those structures appeared before the tribe was force-marched west along the infamous Trail of Tears in the early 19th century. The reconstructed buildings, which include a courthouse, print shop, log homes and other contemporary structures, indicate that the Cherokee People had largely adopted a European lifestyle. But their rich croplands and the discovery of gold in North Georgia inspired greedy neighbors to successfully lobby the federal government for the transference of their land to white settlers.
Motorcycles & Gear
Autumn is a special season and a particularly enjoyable one for motorcycle touring. Leaves in their brilliant dying colors of red, brown, and yellow infuse nature with a dreamlike aura. The brisk, clear air tingles the senses. The sun’s lower trajectory casts long shadows early and late in the day. But warm temperatures at midday almost convince you that it’s still summer and a wintry mix isn’t just around a curve ahead.
Our southerly ride from Rome takes place on just such a fall day, except that the trees are still in the early stages of showing their color. Motoring south, we ride across Georgia’s Piedmont terrain. There are no mountains here, but the rumpled landscape still provides shaded byways and enough changes in elevation and sweeping curves to keep the riding interesting.