Geo. S. Smith SP, Watsadler CG
At about 8:45A on Friday, April 16, we rolled out of Low Key Hideaway, headed north on our return trip. The expected rain never showed, and our final chore was to empty our gray tank at our full-hookup site.
We drove back roads for 5+ hours to arrive at George S. Smith State Park, near Twin Cities, GA. The temperatures dropped significantly as we headed north, and it was a lovely, laid-back journey.
Rolled into site #20, taking in our first experience of this extraordinarily pretty SP, with huge sites, many right on an enormous (412 acre) lake that looked like a kayaker’s dream: no large boats allowed (10 HP max).
There were plenty of folks fishing from the shore and from canoes & kayaks amongst the cypress trees in the lake.
They have one circular hiking trail (Deer Run Trail) cut into two portions, and to get the kinks out, we took a brisk hike around the smaller section, listed as ~2 miles long.
To start, we had to take a path through the woods, past the canoe and kayak rental area, and across the lake’s dam. Atop the dam is a covered bridge-cum-museum called Mill House Museum, that also housed the flow control for the water in the lake to exit to the downstream channel.
With those add-ons to hike the smaller nature trail, we walked 3.5 miles total.
Elected to have dinner indoors: on either side of us were campers that were somehow connected, most likely related. Our presence interrupted their physical connection and the children especially, had a difficult time adapting to our presence. We ate an easy leftovers meal and cocooned around 9P with temps in the mid-50s and slept with the ceiling fan for white noise.
Experimented with the Pudgie Pie Irons for meals on Saturday, April 17. For lunch, we grilled onions in the pie irons (over the Solo stove campfire) and then used crescent roll pastry to combine the onions with ham and cheese for pocket sandwiches, cooked and melted over the fire. For dinner, after lamb chops, we fixed apple pies with the Pudgie Pie irons for dessert.
In between lunch and dinner, the temperatures rose into the 70s, and we hiked the long circle of the Deer Run Trail, making 4.5 miles, with the walk from our site, across the dam and to the start of the trail (and back).
It would be nice to stay at George S. Smith State Park for a longer stretch, although the bicycling options are quite likely limited. But we headed out on Sunday, April 18 to meet up with John and Mary at Watsadler Campground near Hartwell, Georgia. This Army Corps of Engineers recreation area is on a portion of the enormous Hartwell Lake, which has many access points for recreational activities all around the lake.
Hartwell Lake is one of the southeast’s largest and most popular public recreation lakes. Built by the US ACE between 1955 and 1963, the authorized purposes are flood risk management, water quality, water supply, downstream navigation, hydropower production, fish and wildlife protection, and recreation. Each year millions of people utilize the many public parks, marinas, and campgrounds conveniently located around the lake to pursue a variety of outdoor recreational experiences, making Hartwell one of the most visited Corps lakes in the nation.
Bordering both GA and SC, the lake itself extends 49 miles up the Tugaloo and 45 miles up the Seneca rivers, comprising nearly 56,000 acres of water and 962 miles of shoreline . . . Hartwell Lake’s many recreation areas, rivers, and local communities bear Indian names of the names of the early settlers and pioneers who first inhabited the area.
Watsadler Campground is one example. Early maps of Hart Co. in 1903 and 1928 show a family of Sadlers who lived in what was called Sadler’s Place, near a branch near the Smith McGee Bridge. The branch was named Watsadler, apparently for Wat Sadler, who lived near the branch on the Old Dooley Ferry Rd. Watsadler Campground is located just off the Old Dooley Ferry Rd, which crossed the Savannah River via the Dooley Ferry in the early 1900s.
We arrived somewhat before J&M, landing at about 2PM. Check-in was 3, but site #14 was empty and so we moved right in and did a “Big Setup” since we were staying for 5 nights—that included hammocks, the outdoor kitchen, and the Clam sited on the “lawn.”
A goose family came onshore to graze, including 6 cute goslings. While I watched, the adults began making the strangest alarm call I’d ever heard from a goose (a strangling noise, between a honk and a hiss) and they quickly herded the babes into the water. Shortly, while they continued sounding the alarm, I saw a raptor fly away, out over the water, and they immediately calmed, but stayed in the water. A bit later, they repeated the noises and I identified a red-tailed hawk chased over the water by crows. Once it was gone, the geese came ashore again.
John and Mary rolled in around 6P and we hugged one another for the first time in 18 months!
After dinner we sat around the fire and I used the popcorn popper Mary had given us, cooking it over the fire (2 Tbsp of oil and just under 1/2 c kernels). While we missed real butter and salt on top, the “popcorn salt” was fine and we enjoyed the treat enormously. It reminded me of cooking popcorn in the same sort of box cooker over the den fire when Charlie and Mom first got married, back when I was in high school.
On Monday, April 19, I went to the dentist, to get my crown glued back on (it had popped off on Saturday). Not exactly my idea of a good vacation activity, but the folks at Hartwell Dentistry Associates were very friendly and accommodating and I was in and out within an hour.
Significantly, on the way back from the dentist, I noted a sign out front of the Ingles Grocery Store that said their pharmacy would give Covid vaccinations by appointment. After lunch, we returned to Ingles for provisions and I made an appointment to get my second Moderna shot, for which I was eligible starting April 22. So I made the appointment!
Hartwell’s Ingles store was enormous, clean, and held a wide, beautiful variety of groceries, produce, a butcher and deli, a bakery, and cuisine styles of the world. It was truly a luxurious grocery shopping experience.
J&M hosted us for the evening, and we cooked brats over their Solo stove fire on our campfire forks for dinner.
I had spent yesterday afternoon prepping for making us a breakfast quiche in the 8” Dutch Oven with a “crust” of bread points arranged along the bottom and around the edges. I cooked our breakfast on Tuesday, April 20 and it turned out beautifully (and deliciously).
This was our pre-scheduled evening to go see Dale and Jane, who lived in Hartwell (we’d known Dale from our gatherings in Floyd at Dogtown Roadhouse, and kept in touch after they moved). To make up for getting hardly any exercise yesterday, we took a round-and-round bike ride through the various loops of the CG while John and Mary went for a paddle. Just as they were launching, a kayak with a big dog in the bow paddled past.
John and Mary heading into the lake:
After our loop rides (rinse and repeat) we prepped ourselves and our site to host Dale and Jane for nibbles and drinks before dinner out. The wind had risen and we were all a bit cool, but when D & J came, we sat at the picnic table rather than inside the Clam. After one beer (with J & M also) we left for the Southern Hart Brewery in Hartwell.
Full but not shoulder-to-shoulder, the brewery’s bar and dining tables were in the same large, warehouse-like room as the brewing barrels, and the brewers and assistants were working the brews as we watched. On the recommendation of the brew master, Jack and I ordered their “flagship” brew, called Only A Day—it had good body and was dry-hopped and quite good, but a higher ABV than I usually care for.
Jane and I ordered their “build your own” burger plate while Dale and Jack got their Philly Cheese steak sub dinner. The burgers were excellent, and on a truly beautiful bun.
For “afters” we went to D & J’s home in a great neighborhood, that had been built by a sailor or navy captain and had anchors along the front. Dale and Jane were still unpacking from their recent move, but the feel of the home was comfy and interesting (it had been added onto by owners through the years). Dessert was a lovely pound cake topped with strawberries and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
Additional goose families (including the first group—differentiated by the ages and numbers of their progeny) visited our site on the morning of Wednesday, April 21. The goldfinches were also numerous and noisy, having a great time in the nearby trees.
We drove to the huge dam visible from our site to see if the recreation/picnic area surrounding it was worth loading the bikes on the truck to ride around. We could see people walking across the dam from our site, and so we parked to explore the path’s surface and interest. From atop the dam it was easy to see the complexity of the power station below, the Savannah River it feeds (before another dam impounding primarily the Savannah River creates the Richard B Russell Lake) and Rt. 29 highway’s bridge across the river.
The walking path to the gate atop the hydro-production part of the dam was paved and fairly straight, wide enough for both pedestrians and bicycles, and made for nearly a 3-mile round trip. There were no signs indicating the path was pedestrians only, nor that bicycles were prohibited. We saw a bald eagle flying over the wider parts of the lake, and a large island that is quite obviously a goose roost and nesting area (it was quite loud with honks and chatter). By the time we reached the gate, the wind was positively howling across the huge part of the open water above the dam.
The best part of our drive was a quick exploration along a back road that we discovered meets busy Rt 29 just on the Hartwell side of the entrance to Watsadler. We made a plan to ride that back road on our bikes to get to the dam path.
For our Dutch Oven dinner on a rather cool evening, we fixed American Goulash (in the 10” over the Solo stove campfire) and cornbread with scallions, green chiles, and cheese. I used our electric skillet to sauté the meat, etc, for the goulash before heating it for ~1.5 hours (adding the pasta and a bit of extra water about 30 minutes before finish) starting slowly with the pot high on the tripod and lowering it over time.
For the cornbread over coals in the 8” DO, I should have begun earlier, as the wind had a profound affect on the cooking time, and it came out slightly wetter than I’d anticipated when I took it off after 40 minutes, when it could have used 50 or 60 I thought. Shared the meal with J&M and tucked into bed satisfied.
It was good to have our bellies full of a warm, satisfying meal as the temps plummeted overnight (upper 30s) into Thursday, April 22. We stayed warm overnight under the Rumpl blanket, but turned on the heater to warm up in the AM. At least the wind had died overnight.
We began the site break-down early, primarily because I was due to get my #2 Moderna vaccine shot around noon, and didn’t know what I might feel like or be able to do on our departure Friday.
I only waited about 5 minutes after checking in before a nurse came and injected me. I stayed in the pharmacy area for another 10 minutes before being discharged, and I joined Jack, who was wandering around Ingles collecting groceries.
After eating lunch from a fast-food place, we returned to get the bikes out and ride our backroad route to the dam. Put in about 14 miles of good (including 2 tours of the dam path) hard cardio work, especially across the dam in the wind.
- Temp = 60
- Ride time = 1 hr
- Distance = 13.85 mi
- Average Speed = 13.7 mph
By the end of the day, my arm was beginning to hurt as if it had been deeply bruised, although I was still feeling pretty good. The exercise had not been any kind of worry, and I’d taken one piece of advice regarding the second shot and consumed vast quantities of water during the day.
As the temps dropped and the wind arose, J&M cooked dinner for us all (roast pork loin, mashed potatoes, and salad) which was quite a welcome (and delicious) treat. We opted out of a campfire for an early evening to be ready for departure day.