This month our oldest child will turn 40 and last month our youngest turned 13. When Amy and Keith were young, we worked. There wasn’t much time for travel and fun stuff. When there was time off, we were typically too tired for much activity. There were a few trips (one or two to Oshkosh, if I recall), some school activities, and we always made time for church.
Being older and having Keely in our lives has given us new perspective. For me, even before she became our third child, learning to fly changed me profoundly. Some things that were important before no longer were, and the simple things that are often put aside or ignored took on new significance. Flying heightened my appreciation of the world around me, especially the natural world that we, as pilots, see so beautifully from the windows of airplanes.
I wanted Keely to feel a part of this natural world and not be a kid on a couch with a video game, disconnected from that which the human body is so much a part. Why live in a virtual world when the real one is a short flight away?
So in the past eight years, we’ve tried to supplement public education with real-world knowledge, just like flying. Book learning is good, but experience is better. Our airport is 65 statute miles from the city of Atlanta. We are at the edge of the Appalachian Mountains and just a few hours from the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Ocean. In any direction, there is an adventure waiting to happen.
Not all adventures are miles away. Some can be rather close to home. As parents (and older adults) we tend to avoid the commercial activities in favor of those that offer some learning opportunities. One of our favorite day trips is spent in the city of Cartersville, Ga., which is only 27 nm from our airport. Cartersville has several very neat attractions for all members of the family and is serviced by a friendly airport.
The Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site is a 54-acre site that contains six earthen mounds built between 1000 A.D. and 1550 A.D. that was home to a large Native American population. The park includes a small museum and hosts many kid-friendly activities on Saturdays. The Booth Western Art Museum, which “houses the largest permanent exhibition space for Western art in the country,” also showcases a large Civil War collection and a Presidential Exhibition that has a one-page, signed letter from each president. If this seems too serious for the “little fellars,” the museum offers the Sagebrush Ranch, guaranteed to burn off some extra energy through interactive play. The Tellus Science Museum is just plain fun for the entire family. This facility is relatively new and houses the Weinman Mineral Gallery, as well as a Fossil Gallery, Science In Motion Gallery, Planetarium and more.
Did I mention the Tellus Science Museum’s Science In Motion Gallery features a Wright Flyer replica and other cool aviation-related stuff?
When making excursions north of JZP into Georgia’s mountains (hills for my western friends), we always stay at one of Georgia’s state parks. It is hard to pick a favorite. I love Vogel for its beauty. We like the park’s proximity to the portion of the Appalachian Trail from Neel’s Gap to Blood Mountain. It’s a tough two-mile hike (or climb I should say), but the vistas are worth it. Unicoi near Helen, Ga., has barrel cabins that no kid (young or old) can resist, but Black Rock Mountain State Park in Clayton, Ga., near the North Carolina border, has the cabin with the best view around. If you reserve Cabin #3, there’s no need to go further than the back porch.
There are multiple reasons for the appeal of state parks and their cabins or camping facilities. The surrounding countryside is beautiful. All the activities are close at hand, so that means less driving. You can prepare your own meals. That’s a big plus. Dining out, even in the boonies, can be expensive and downright unhealthy (I have the fat to prove it). If you schedule during off times, rates are much cheaper and crowds are down.
We recently extended our park stays to another state. Grayton Beach State Park on the Florida Gulf Coast is a wonderful place for kids and adults of all ages. The park is situated in the middle of the hamlet of Grayton Beach (above), a small remnant of old Florida. There are campsites, 30 cabins, a private white-sanded beach and even a short trail through the dunes. One of the joys of staying here is the ability to cook one’s own meals. And the meal of choice for this flying family is the locally caught shrimp fondly known as Royal Reds. Sweet and succulent, they are like indulging in miniature lobsters. I recommend dropping them in boiling water seasoned only with a lemon. They need no other flavorings. Yum.
Did I mention this park is about an hour from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola?
In this economy, even small trips — not to mention flying — can be hard to justify, but I have found some help for these two retired folks still raising a teenager. Check your records. Many people belong to some club, group or organization that offers discounts on travel. We belong to the Georgia Farm Bureau, Woodman of the World, AOPA and EAA. These organizations offer 20% discounts on certain hotel chains and discounts on car rentals. It adds up. I have used a particular chain in our travels receiving the discount, and I have also signed up for that chain’s club and now receive points. I have used those points for free nights in Orlando, Savannah, and Destin.
One of those stays in that chain hotel was in Franklin, N.C. The appeal of Franklin is that it is centrally located. It’s near Smokey Mountain National Park. Beautiful waterfalls surround it. Hiking trails abound, and the Macon County Airport has new facilities. It is a short flight or drive depending on the weather. But the best part of going to Franklin is the gem mining! Yes, we paid good money to dig in the dirt all day. It was hot, dirty, and exhausting but more fun than two pigs in a poke. We were digging for real treasure, and it was just as much fun for the grown-ups as the kids. This area has some nice restaurants as well, but the greatest treasure we found (besides my 8-carat sapphire) was the local mom and pop breakfast diner.
I have rolled out my sectional, measured the distance to destinations within an hour or two and flown north in and around the Southern Appalachians, south to the Gulf Coast, and all that’s left is our favorite Atlantic destination, Savannah. There is so much to see and do in this area. I love this city, but I also love the quirkiness of Tybee Island, the smell of the marsh, and the history of all the surrounding area.
Keely actually enjoyed the tours of Wormsloe, Fort Jackson and Fort Pulaski, but her favorite was the Paranormal Tour inside the Sorrel-Weed House on Madison Square (left). I thought the ghost hunting part was rather lame, but her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. What the heck, not all adventures have to be educational and taking the tour was the only way I could get inside of this fabulous house.
Did I mention the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum is close by? This museum was built to “honor the men and women who helped defeat Nazi aggression by serving in or supporting the greatest air armada the world had ever seen — the 8th Air Force.” It is the most moving aviation museum our family has visited to date.
Not all adventures have to be large, so if you’re looking at your budget and the rising cost of fuel and think your airplane is not part of a family getaway, think local. Every part of this great country has something to see and experience. Put your local sectional on a table and pick a spot. It doesn’t have to be far. It just has to be an adventure.
Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport (JZP) in Georgia. She can be reached at ShortFinal@GeneralAviationNews.com.