Tuesday, May 8, 2018

ALBANY EXPEDITION!

It is with a heart full of gratitude, that I am able to be communicating in this photo, the message, "Greetings from Albany, Georgia"!  It is a place I had never visited before, and knew nothing about.  However, that all changed after a tour of the area, that started at the location of this photo---the historic Bridge House, which is now home of the city's welcome center and the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.  It is aptly named, as it is located adjacent to the bridge that crosses the Flint River, which was the original "lifeblood" of the city, and has continued to play a key role in Albany's growth and economy. 


Developments along the Flint River are a magnet to visitors, because they lead to an attraction that is dedicated to Albany's most famous musician---Ray Charles.  An area called The Ray Charles Plaza has the sculpture of the man and his piano, that is shown in the photo below.  However, this is no ordinary statue.  This sculpture slowly rotates over a circular fountain, while recorded music of familiar Ray Charles songs, emanates from the speakers that surround the sculpture.
The Ray Charles Plaza is part of a multi-phase development, that includes a 2.4-mile paved Riverfront Trail, kayak docks, scenic overlooks, Radium Springs Garden, and the new Broad Avenue Bridge.  Notice in the photo below, that one of the seating benches in the Ray Charles Plaza has been made in the shape of a musical note. 
Our group enjoyed listening to the music of Ray Charles, as we sat beside the Flint River, and soaked in the sun on this "Chamber-of-Commerce-Day" in Albany, Georgia!  There is a nice hotel right across the street from the Plaza, that would be an ideal location for folks needing overnight lodging, that wanted to take advantage of the water sports activities available on the Flint River.  (Note: There are several local outfitters that rent kayaks/canoes for just this purpose.)


The multi-phase development of the Flint River area goes all the way to the 800-acre wild animal park called Chehaw (www.chehaw.org ).  Chehaw has a zoo, conservation land, mountain bike trails, camping sites and more.  Part of the "more" is shown in the photo below---The Muckalee Swampland Station. 
It is called an alligator outpost, because we saw NUMEROUS alligators, of varying sizes, all over the swampy location.  Some of the alligators had crawled up out of the water, and were fairly easy to spot.

Then there were the "older and wiser and LARGER" alligators that were well camouflaged, and lurking just under the surface of the water, waiting for an unsuspecting critter to enter their "food chain".

We were also able to get quite close to a gigantic rhinoceros that seemed unamused to being photographed. 

Our guide did a wonderful demonstration of getting this camel to gallop, by running just outside its fence, causing the camel to gallop along after her.

There was also an exhibit of pink flamingos, which are an iconic symbol of this part of the Southern waterways. 

Our group was able to get in a good bit of walking, by following the deck that weaved through the spring-fed, black gum swamp.  There were educational signs posted all along the walkways, that helped us interpret what we were seeing.

At another attraction in Albany, we saw this antique candy delivery truck, and learned about the origin of the name "Albany".  The Native American inhabitants called the area Thronateeska (meaning "the place where Flint is picked up"), and thus the name "Flint River".  Then, in 1836, Mr. Nelson Tift, chose the city's site because of its river location and named it "Albany" with the hope that it would prosper as a trade location like Albany, New York.

Our group visited the Flint Riverquarium ( www.flintriverquarium.com ), which is also located near the banks of the Flint River. 

The
touch tanks at the Riverquarium lets visitors pick up and closely examine a variety of marine creatures.

One of the guests was particularly intrigued with a the sea cucumber shown in this photo, as she had never been able to pick one up before, and wanted to make sure I got a close-up photo of it!
Although this beautiful fish is not a fresh-water native, I have yet to visit an aquarium anywhere in the country, that did not have one of these colorful swimmers on view.  As a kid, this was my favorite fish shape  to draw and color in my art classes.


The Flint Riverquarium is unique in that it is built around a recreated 175,000-gallon blue hole spring, and houses more than 120 species of fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians that inhabit the Flint River watershed. 

Another very popular attraction in this city is the Albany Civil Rights Institute ( www.albanycivilrightsinstitute.org ).  Both audio recordings, videos, and still photographs are used here to capture the stories of ordinary people who became effective agents of change. 

The Institute was built so that it could be adjacent to the original Mt. Zion Baptist Church, that played a key role in what came to be known as the "Albany Movement". 


We were at the Institute shortly after the national day recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so his portrait was still on display in the lobby, along with memorial wreaths. 

The Institute courtyard has a recreated covered porch, and it includes signage that comments on the importance of the front porch in Southern history (before air conditioning was developed!)

After we toured the Institute, we walked into the adjacent Old Mt. Zion Baptist Church.  There we were treated to a choral recital by Rutha Harris.
 Ms. Harris (in the red dress on the left of photo) was assisted by her niece, in telling the story of the Freedom Singers.  Both ladies are retired school teachers now, but continue to engage visitors to the Institute with oral history presentations, and songs.  Mrs. Harris was a member of the original SNCC Freedom Singers, and was invited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to be part of the March on Washington, on August 28, 1963.  She stated that singing at the March on Washington, in front of Dr. King, was one of the greatest experiences of her life. 
The 2018 Albany, Georgia, Visitors Guide has a six-page article about Rutha Harris, and she was kind enough to give those who wanted one, a personalized autograph of her B/W feature photo in the magazine.  She is called "The Voice of Albany". 
This sign is a visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com )memory verse, because they both have the word "Zion" in them.  Psalm 84:7 says, "They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion."  I am thankful for the strength that Rutha Harris has displayed in her life's journey.  She stated that "Freedom is a constant struggle.  This is why I still sing."    It takes strength to struggle, and walking by faith in God can supply that strength.
I want to thank all those who made it possible ( www.visitalbanyga.com , www.exploregeorgia.org, and www.grouptravelleader.com ) for me to take this most interesting tour of Albany, Georgia, because it gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!    Tricia

Monday, April 16, 2018

THOMASVILLE HISTORY EXPEDITION!

Folks who work in the tourism marketing field are often curious about how the visitors who come to their destination, first heard about it.  My answer to this query, in the case of Thomasville, Georgia, is "word of mouth".  That is because during a visit with two sisters who were Georgia Tree Farm owners, I mentioned that I was scheduled to be driving from the Florida panhandle, up through Georgia, on my way back to Arkansas.  I mistakenly assumed they would tell me about panhandle attractions, when I asked what would be an enjoyable place to visit along my route.  Instead, they said their favorite spot along my proposed route, would be the town of Thomasville, Georgia.  I had never heard of Thomasville, Georgia, but I read up on it via the Internet, and planned to make a slight detour on my route, so I could visit it.  As my friend and I drove along the highway leading to the town, I was in awe of the acre-after-acre of pecan trees!  Although the ladies I met grew pine trees, it was readily apparent this area had the necessary climate and soil conditions, to grow some mighty fine TREES! 

However, the plantations of pine trees and pecan trees, do not garner even a tiny portion of the public's attention, as does THE BIG OAK TREE!  This is probably the most "historic" tree in the entire Thomas County area.  Taking up almost an entire city block, this incredible tree boasts hundreds of visitors on a regular basis.  Because of its gigantic size, and visitors' desires to have their photo made with it, arrangements have been made such that visitors can stand beside the sign describing the tree, press a certain "technology button", and a camera mounted on a telephone pole, very high up across the street, will snap your photo! Then you can see the photo on the Thomasville, Georgia website www.ThomasvilleGa.com!  Perhaps the need for such an elevated camera was made obvious, whenever President Eisenhower came to see the tree, and "trespassed" on a home owner's porch across the street, in order to capture the entire circumference of the tree in a photo!  (Photos from that first trip to Thomasville can be seen in this blog's archives, on the post dated April 19, 2016)

Very close to The Big Oak, one can take a tour of a most unusual historic home.  It had more corners in it than any house I have ever visited!   I notice corners because, when involved in building our first home, my father advised us that the two-story hexagon room we had planned, to take advantage of a beautiful mountain view, was a bad idea, because every time you added a corner when building a house, you increased the cost of the construction by hundreds of dollars.   He would have been "aghast" at the number of corners in the Lapham-Patterson House!!  However, the original builder of the home was involved in the timber industry, and wanted the house to be a "showcase" of wood construction---so the more corners, the better!   Learn more about the Lapham-Patterson House at www.thomascountyhistory.org

This is the first home I have ever visited, that had a staircase above the fireplace.  Plus, as you can see from this photo of our guide standing beneath the staircase balcony, such a design required that there be TWO chimneys leading from the fireplace---another example of the extravagance of the original builder.  Also, notice the triangular design made on the floor, by using especially cut wood , and different varieties of trees. 

There are so many scenic spots in Thomasville, that regardless of the direction you point your camera, you can find a picturesque vignette.  The one in this photo is a "pocket park" in the downtown area, ideally suited for husbands who prefer to "sit a spell", rather than tag along behind their shop-a-holic wife!

If you check Trip Advisor, you will see that a restaurant in downtown Thomasville that has excellent reviews, is Jonah's  www.jonahsfish.com  Our guide told us that the place is so popular, that there is usually a bit of a wait to get a table, especially if you have a large group.  However, the Thomasville CVB rep had prevailed upon the management to come up with a plan that would get our group seated and fed, in a timely manner, since we were on such a tight schedule. 

We only waited a very short time, which I found totally enjoyable as it gave me an opportunity to check out the location, the menu, and take photos!

The section of the menu shown in this photo is "upside down", because "upside down" is the direction the owner's life took at the time he started this restaurant.  He tells the story of how he was sitting in church, listening to a sermon, based on the Bible story of Jonah.  He realized, that , like Jonah, he had been "running" from what God was calling him to do.  He prayed for direction, and the result was the restaurant we were dining in!  That is why it is called "Jonah's"!!  I am using this image as a visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse that says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective"  (James 5:16)   The success of Jonah's Restaurant, and all their downtown partners, shows that this Georgia man's humble prayer was both powerful and very effective!! ( Another "God-moment coincidence" occurred when I opened up the Bible devotional app on my phone during my time in Thomasville, and yes, it was based on the Old Testament Bible story of Jonah!)  This "right side up" photo shows that the founder of Jonah's is doing what the memory verse says---confessing sins, praying, and receiving the powerful, effective healing that God's Word promises!


I like to include lots of salad greens with my entree, so when the waitress brought this delicious-looking piece of salmon on a "bed of lettuce", I was delighted !

After lunch, our group traveled to Pebble Hill Plantation, on the outskirts of Thomasville, to walk off a few of those calories we had for lunch, and to do so in a gorgeous Southern venue!

This photo shows the approach that visitors to Pebble Hill Plantation would have used, during the estate's early beginnings, when travel by horse and carriage was prominent.

A more recent addition to the property includes a brick serpentine wall, modeled after the one designed for the University of Virginia campus, by former American President Thomas Jefferson.  (See a previous blog, dated April 6, 2017, I wrote about University of Virginia architecture)

The Visitor Center and Administrative office complex opens up to a lovely courtyard, that is often scheduled for weddings and other special events.

A water feature provides the pleasing sound of a babbling brook to the serenity of the courtyard. 

Giant spheres of twinkling lights, hang from the massive oak trees in the courtyard, and make for a romantic atmosphere during the twilight hours.


Inside the historic home, the visitor will get to see numerous rare, original Audubon prints.  The previous owners of Pebble Hill Plantation were friends and contemporaries of the Audubon family, which accounts for their prominence throughout the home. 

This long passageway, with vaulted ceilings and symmetrical archways, leads to another addition to the original living space.

One of the guestrooms in the home, as well as the bed that is in it, is famous and historic, because it is the bed used by American President Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he was a visitor to the plantation, back in the last century. If sleeping on the same plantation grounds used by a former U.S. President is something you would like to do, please note that overnight lodging is available at Pebble Hill Plantation, in addition to its availability for wedding venues, and other special events.  Check out their website www.PebbleHill.com for more details.


Our group was treated to a wonderful tasting experience at Pebble Hill Plantation, that was made possible by the founder and owner of Sweet Grass Dairy ( www.SweetGrassDairy.com ) of Thomasville.  The family that started this business, wanted to establish a "back to the earth", sustainable, artisan cheese creamery, and their efforts have been very successful! Yum!

I want to recognize some of the folks who made this outstanding experience in Thomasville, Georgia, possible.  They are an example of
the power of partnerships, and I hope  you will check out their websites for more information.  ExploreGeorgia.org   www.thomasvillega.com  www.sweetgrassdairy.com  www.grouptravelleader.com  These ladies represent an area of the South that provided a very beneficial familiarization tour, and gave all of the participants "MILES OF SMILES"!!   Tricia

VALDOSTA POWER EXPEDITION!

  Since I was raised by a father whose main source of recreation involved activities on Bull Shoals Lake, in northern Arkansas, it is easy to understand why I learned to water ski at a very early age, long before I was a teenager.  My father did not have a gigantic ski boat with a fancy motor; rather, he had an old metal fishing boat with a somewhat low-horsepower motor.  However, since I was a tiny little person back then, it did not take much of a motor, to pull me out of the water, and up to the point of skimming across the surface, at what seemed to me like flying!  I cannot overlook the fact that one of my best friends in elementary school was also a factor in my getting interested in water sports at an early age.  That is because her parents had a business that sold ski boats, motors, and water skis; so that family helped teach me, (and dozens of my friends), to water ski!  The more kids they could get interested in water skiing, the better their business was!  All this information on my childhood, is just to explain why I was thrilled to get to visit a place where facilitating  folks to  experience "skimming across the surface of the water" is the reason for their existence!  It is called the Valdosta Wake Compound, and is located in South Georgia. ( www.valdostawakecompound.com )

The unique aspect of the Valdosta Wake Compound, however, is that there are no boats with big motors, towing the participants across the surface.  Rather the body of water is surrounded by a series of towers, cables, motors, and pulleys, that pull the guest around several acres of a (somewhat) shallow and calm lake.

Readers of this blog with a mechanical engineering background, could do a much better job of explaining how the system works, but I will provide a condensed explanation for simple-minded folks like me.  This photo shows the main motor that propels the whole system. 

The motor is powered by electricity, and requires preventive maintenance lubrication and quality checks throughout the day.  That explains the location of the triangular platform beside the motor, where a staff member perches himself, to access the moving parts of the motor. 

The young entrepreneurs that opened up the Valdosta Wake Compound told me that their motor was a "three-stroke" model, of German design.  They also said setups like the one in Valdosta have been in use in Europe for many years, due to fewer Europeans owning their own ski boat.  In the United States, it is more common for water sports enthusiasts to not only own a boat, but also to have it custom-rigged, to pull human beings behind it, on a variety of floating contraptions!  For those who do not own their own boat, rental boats and equipment are available at most major marinas.  However, as the cost of owning a boat has skyrocketed over the years (think liability risks, fuel costs, marina mooring fees, equipment costs, etc.), a facility such as the Valdosta Wake Compound can fulfill a ever-growing niche market in the U.S.A. !

If the wake boarder falls, there is an automated system for retrieving the tow bar they were holding on to, and bringing it back around the circuit, so they can give it another try.  I recall circling fallen skiers in a ski boat, dozens of times, as they tried to master the sport of being pulled against the force of the water, to finally stand up on their skis.  Another advantage of the Valdosta system is that there are not huge waves created for the beginner, due to a boat circling them repeatedly.  Seeing these athletes whiz by time after time, reminded me of when I was at the "peak" of my water-skiing activity, I once skied from the Lead Hill Boat Dock, to the Tucker Hollow Boat Dock---a distance of several miles, and almost an hour of being pulled behind the ski boat!  Just a short time after that "marathon" and personal record, I found out I had accomplished that feat, while pregnant!  (This was before the days of the "Early Pregnancy Test")  So, I like to tell my son that I took him water skiing while he was still in my womb!

Seeing this photo reminded me of the exuberance I felt, when I finally learned to "slalom", that is, glide across the water on one ski, instead of two.  Usually, (back in the old days), the way a person learned to slalom was to get comfortable enough on two skis, that you could raise one leg a little above the surface of the water, and get the feel for being pulled on one leg, while still being able to lower the other leg, anytime you felt shaky.  After a while, you could kick off the extra ski, and continue upright on one ski.  Of course, this involved staying in the same general area of the lake, so the driver could retrieve the water ski that had been kicked off, and allowed to float away to who-knows-where.  Hence, the development of specially designed Slalom skis, where the skier started out from the very beginning on just one ski, instead of two.  However, this caused greater water forces to be directed against the skier trying to get up, and hence greater power needed in the boat motor.  

The sport of wake boarding was in its infancy when I was growing up, and even more so, in the landlocked state of Arkansas.  I saw early indications of the direction that the sport was growing, when I had the opportunity to water ski behind a boat owned by friends,  on the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Bermuda, when I was only 18 years old.  That experience made me REALLY appreciate water skiing on the mirror-like surface, of a quiet cove on Bull Shoals Lake!

Since my parents had a houseboat, I eventually learned to take off on skis from a sitting position on the deck of the houseboat, without actually getting fully immersed in the lake.  If conditions were right, I could start from the deck, and end the ski session, by coasting into a shallow area of the lake, resulting in staying dry the whole time!  (This was before I had a wetsuit, and keeping my body temperature regulated was more of an issue)

It never even occurred to me to try JUMPING into the air from the deck, while being towed---like this guy was doing on the day of my visit!

For those that have mastered the basic techniques of wake boarding, they can progress to gliding up and over the ski jumps, built around the lake. 

The development of materials that could be used to make wetsuits has been another factor increasing the popularity of water sports.  Participants are no longer limited to the warm summer months to enjoy the sport. 

Notice this wake boarder is also wearing a life vest, and helmet.  There is always the risk of the board coming unattached from the feet, flying up in the air, and landing on the head of the boarder, so a helmet is an important safety measure for these more extreme tricks on the water, such as somersaults coming off the ski jump.

I liked the fact that the folks at the Valdosta Wake Compound have "re purposed" wake boards to use as tables or benches, in the viewing/concessions area.  They most likely go through lots of equipment, because when you take a beginners' class at VWC, all the equipment you need is provided, and included in the cost of the lesson.

The
compound also has a small camping area adjacent, that becomes very popular when the park has competitions taking place, that brings in hundreds of guests for either getting in the water or staying on the shore, as spectators. 

There is also a skate park near the entrance, where you can practice your skateboarding skills.  ( The worst injury I ever had as a kid happened when I was on a skateboard.  My friends and I were skateboarding at night on a hill, in a new, sparsely populated subdivision.  I was doing great at it, until I started going too fast down a hill, lost my balance, and took a very nasty skid across the asphalt.  Perhaps it was all the panic-stricken parents, who saw the bloody condition of my knees after that accident, that originated the idea of kids wearing knee pads when they skateboarded!)


Because all my youthful water sports activities, as well as the water sports activities, of the Valdosta Wake Center (VWC) required a source of POWER to make them possible, I am using these images as a visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses, that says, "His divine POWER has given  us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness."  2 Peter 1:3    We are blessed to not only be able to call on God's Divine POWER, but also, the power supplied by the high-tech motor of the Valdosta Wake Compound, to get us safely across a most beautiful body of water!

I want to thank the Georgia Department of Tourism ( www.ExploreGeorgia.org ),  Group Travel Magazine ( www.grouptravelleader.com ), and the Valdosta CVB ( www.visitvaldosta.org ) for making this visit to the Valdosta Wake Compound possible.  They arranged for the very comfortable transportation shown in this photo, that enabled us to see some incredible attractions in South Georgia.  I can say with assurance, that a visit to this area will give you "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia