Shake Down Cruise to Stone Mountain
Finally it was time for our first journey in our new coach! As mentioned in our previous post, National Indoor RV Center (NIRVC) provides a complimentary two night stay at the nearby Stone Mountain Family Campground.
For those of you not familiar with the area, Stone Mountain is a massive 1,686′ dome comprised of quartz, feldspar, and mica with traces of garnet, giving it a pink hue in certain areas. Rising 825 feet off the horizon, it has a 5 mile circumference at the base. Besides being well-known for its geology, what attracts over 4 million tourists a year is the enormous rock relief on its north face, the largest bas-relief in the world but more about that later.
Before getting into our stay there, for anyone who might be thinking of purchasing a new or used motor home, let me just say that we were extremely pleased with our purchase experience at NIRVC. Here you will find very friendly and knowledgeable people who go above and beyond to make sure that you are a “happy camper”, a philosophy passed down to his employees by Brett Davis, an avid RV’er and owner of the company. And so far we’ve been impressed with the overall quality of our new coach. In 2013 when we bought our first Aspire, we had several major problems and lots of minor issues which took quite a lot of time to resolve. Although we know that more things would most likely surface once we moved on board our new coach, we could tell that the overall quality of the new one far surpassed that of our 2013, thanks to the efforts of Tadd Jenkins, who rejoined Jayco as President back in May of 2014. Since then, he has implemented numerous new measures to improve the overall quality of each and every new coach and has listened to his customers every step of the way.
Anyway back to our excursion, we were eager to hit the road even if it was just for a 6 mile drive. We had heard all sorts of good things about the campground (review coming) and as soon as we arrived we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed. With 400 sites, it was huge but quite lovely. Besides the campground, there is a very nice Marriott Conference Resort and the Stone Mountain Inn for accommodations.
After settling into our site (#4) which had a limited view of Stone Mountain Lake, doing a little exploring was on the agenda, at least to drive around the park’s main loops, Stonewall Jackson Drive and Robert E. Lee Boulevard. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our stay would most likely be a busy one as there was a lot to do within the park. A variety of attractions, some more fitting for families with kids while others were more adult oriented and historical in nature. Except for a covered bridge, a fee is charged for each attraction or an Adventure Pass can be purchased for $31.95/adult, $25.95/children. Other passes are offered depending on the season.
Our initial intentions to see everything were honorable, plus we had hoped to hike some of their 15 miles of trails. But despite adding an extra day to our stay, our depleted energy levels forced us to move much needed rest and relaxation to the top of our priority list. Future visits to NIRVC for service are sure to happen so we’ll have more opportunities to visit Stone Mountain. Here’s what we did do:
Covered Bridge to Indian Island
This was our first stop along our drive. Listed in the “World Guide to Covered Bridges,” this quaint and historical one lane pine and cedar bridge spans Stone Mountain Lake and leads to Indian Island picnic area. Built in 1891 by Washington W. King in Athens, GA, this century old bridge is nearly 20-feet high and 151 feet in length. Decommissioned in 1964 because it was unsafe, it was purchased by the Stone Mountain Group for $1 and moved to Stone Mountain Park from Athens, in 1969. It was pretty neat driving across it.
It was a beautiful day, clear blue sky with lots of sun. When we arrived in Lilburn, temps were close to 90 with high humidity but fortunately by the time we moved to Stone Mountain, the temps had dropped. Perfect day to take the high-speed Swiss cable car up more than 825 feet above ground to the summit of Stone Mountain. At the ticket desk, we bought a Historical Pass for $15.00 per person which not only included the Summit Ride (normally $12) but also admission to the Museum at Memorial Hall and the Historic Square. Unfortunately it was 3:00 p.m. and these other attractions closed at 5:00 p.m. so we might not have time for all of it. But that was okay, it seemed like a good deal even if we didn’t see everything else.
There was about a 15 minute wait for the tram car which gave us time to study the stats presented on the plaque on the side of the building. We were surprised to see that the cabin capacity was 80 + 1 persons. What’s with the +1 we wondered? Guessing that the extra person was the staff operator. Sure didn’t look like 80 people would fit, thankfully there weren’t that many on our ride and more thankfully it was a cooler day. As we were herded into the car and warned that we should hold on to a pole or one of the overhead straps as the car would lurch and swing slightly as we embarked on our journey.
The operator told us we would be able to see the Confederate Monument but with everyone’s head in the way we couldn’t see it very well. Within a few minutes we arrived at the Summit where they have a very nice Visitor Center as well as a cafe. Numerous signs provided a wealth of information about the birds, animals, flora and fauna and geology of the dome. Outside we walked across the very flat granite. Wow, spectacular view of the skyline of Atlanta off in a distance and the Appalachian Mountains as well as closer views of the surrounding area and Stone Mountain Lake. Awesome! When we had our fill of the scenery we returned to the Visitor Center where we waited for the next tram (they run about every 20 minutes). Same lurching as we swung over the edge of the dome on the way down, reminding us of the Tower of Terror at Disneyworld. Well, maybe not quite that scary but a little disconcerting nonetheless.
Stone Mountain Museum at Memorial Hall
Just a short walk from the Skyride was Memorial Hall. Standing outside the building on one of the terraces, we finally had really good views of the Confederate Memorial Carving which according to the Stone Mountain website, “depicts three Confederate heroes of the Civil War, President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
Here are some interesting facts that we learned about the carving:
- The entire carved surface measures three-acres, larger than a football field and Mount Rushmore. Hard to believe since it looks so small from a distance.
- The carving of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet, and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain. Mt. Rushmore is a mere 60′ high.
- The deepest point of the carving is at Lee’s elbow, which is 12 feet to the mountain’s surface.
- Gutzon Borglum, although hired in 1915 to carve the memorial but he didn’t begin carving until 1923 due to funding issues. In 1925, he had a dispute with the managing association and left. He went on to carve Mt. Rushmore.
- Augustus Lukeman resumed work on the carving but by 1928 (the original deadline) only Lee’s head was complete and funds were depleted. The family that owned the mountain reclaimed their land and it remained untouched for 36 years.
- Stone Mountain was purchased for $45,000 by the Venable Brothers of Atlanta in 1887, who quarried the mountain for 24 more years, and descendents of the Venable family would retain ownership of the mountain until it was purchased by the State of Georgia.
- In 1958, the state of Georgia purchased the mountain and the surrounding land.
- In 1963, Walker Kirkland Hancock of Gloucester, Massachusetts was hired to complete the carving which he did using thermo-jet torches.
- A dedication was held in 1970 and finishing touches were completed in 1972.
Besides the mammoth carving, there is a darker side to the history of Stone Mountain. In 1915 it gained notoriety when William Simmons, a minister and organizer for fraternal associations, planned induction ceremonies for the KKK to take place a week before the opening of D. W. Griffith’s silent film Birth of a Nation in Atlanta. By igniting a flaming cross atop Stone Mountain, the KKK was revived from its forty-year dormancy in Georgia. Until the late 1950s, Stone Mountain was a marching ground for the KKK. Even today the future of the bas relief is unknown due to all of the controversy regarding icons of the Confederacy and what they symbolize. There has been talk of blasting the memorial off the side of the mountain.
Next to the terrace workmen were busy building a wooden framework for the 400′ foot tubing hill for “Snow Mountain” which kind of spoiled the view slightly. What? Was that a snow making machine spewing snowflakes? In 80 degree weather? It was already about 30′ high, wonder how they keep it from melting.
Every Saturday there is a laser show at the Hall using the carving as the backdrop. We were told that people bring chairs and sit on the lawn. Sounded like it might be fun! However, when we saw the gargantuan wooden structure for Snow Mountain, we suspected that there might not be many places to sit with an unobstructed view. We’ll catch the show some other time.
After taking hundreds of pictures (not to worry we won’t bore you with all of them) we went inside the hall. On the main floor were exhibits which provided an excellent perspective on the size of the carving by having actual size replicas of various sections of the carving. It looks so small from a distance. Rob was fascinated that he could place his arm in the nostril of Jefferson Davis’ horse! Robert E. Lee’s head is 15′ tall and Jefferson Davis’ thumb is the size of a couch! Inside the museum were displays and artifacts depicting the history of the Civil War. Very well done!
Outside the Park – Stone Mountain Village
Not to far from Stone Mountain Park is the quaint village of Stone Mountain which has earned a spot in the National Register of Historic Places. According to the National Park Service Historic Places website, “the Stone Mountain Historic District is a rare surviving historic railroad town. This intact community contains nearly every major element of a railroad town in Georgia, including the homes of the town founders, the rail line, central business district, residential neighborhoods, and community landmark buildings.”
Our first stop was lunch at the Sweet Potato Cafe, located in an 1800’s craftsmen style house, where they offer farm-to-table cuisine. Cute place! At the recommendation of our server, we started with an order of Fried Green Tomatoes ($6) served with black-eyed pea relish and sweet pepper compote. Oh my, never had Fried Green Tomatoes like these before. Delish! We followed that with a Beef Brisket sandwich with sweet pomegranate barbeque sauce, blue cheese coleslaw and ranch dressing $10.50) for me and a Smoked Gouda BBQ Burger with smoked gouda, sauteed onions and chipotle mayo $9.50) for Rob. These came with a choice of sweet potato salad, sweet potato fries (my favorite) or regular fries. Everything was delicious. Highly recommend a visit here!
After lunch, we strolled around the very quaint village. Next to the railroad tracks at the approximate place where Sherman began his “March to the Sea” was a replica of one of “Sherman’s Neckties”. According to historians, Sherman ordered the melting and twisting of rails along the tracks, rendering useless this major form of transportation used by the Confederacy. While looking at the sculpture, we wondered how the soldiers were able to bend the huge red hot rails around trees and telegraph poles to form what they coined “Sherman’s Neckties”.
So much more to see and do, but suddenly it was time for us to leave on Friday morning, October 7th. Where was our next destination? Back to NIRVC. Rob had ordered 2 new batteries which were delivered to NIRVC so we needed to pick them up. Because it was Columbus Day weekend, we planned on staying there Friday and Saturday nights.
Then on Sunday afternoon, our plans were to drive to Austell, GA (other side of Atlanta) to Safe-T-Plus where we had an appointment on Monday morning to have a steering control that will automatically stabilize the vehicle, enabling anyone to safely maneuver through an unexpected peril (like a front tire blowout). I’ll leave it to my techie hubby to write a separate post about that installation.
Before we left NIRVC though, on Sunday morning, we took a drive to Lawrenceville to see their new facility. Wow, it was huge! Although Brett had hoped to move into it by mid-October, it was far from ready, probably won’t be ready until mid-November. Hope so because Brett has sent out invitations for a grand opening the beginning of December!
We stopped for lunch at the Universal Joint in Lawrenceville, one of two restaurants (the other was Local Republic but it is closed on Sunday) recommended to us by one of the guys at NIRVC. Neat place housed in what used to be a former auto service station. I had the Steinbeck Burger with pimento cheese, bacon and jalapenos ($10) and Rob had the U Joint Burger with cheddar cheese, bacon and jalapenos ($10.50). Both were served with a choice of fries, tater tots or cucumber salad. We both had the tots. Delish!
So after our appointment at Safe-T-Plus on Monday, October 10th, we’re headin’ west! Stay tuned to read about our journey.
Talk of blasting Stone Mountain scares me – shades of the Taliban. We can’t rewrite or erase our history, only learn from it. The Civil War happened, we got past it.
Stone Mountain is a great place to visit (1978). I remember the cable car rides. Going up, we were in the front of the not-so-crowded car and had a fantastic view of the monument. Going down, we were also in the front of the car. Ask Burl, who is extremely challenged by heights, about the experience. I had to pry him out of the car and find the nearest bench to sit him down because he could barely stand, much less walk.
I totally agree with you. Blasting the Memorial isn’t going to change history. Poor Burl. I don’t like heights either but I’m not that bad.