My Experience Volunteering at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, flags

I shared earlier, as a lead-in to the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics, how I was involved as a college student in the efforts to win the rights to host the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.  Once again, though not exactly a travel topic, I use my blog to share my experiences related to the 1996 Olympics.  In this installment, I will talk about my experience in preparation for and during the Games.

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, flags

ilivetotravel in full Envoy uniform

Becoming an Olympic volunteer

Let’s rewind to around 1994, when I was informed about a role that was going to be seeking volunteers for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and that I should apply as a natural follow-on to my involvement in the efforts to win the Games.  The role was called Envoy and there would be one per participating delegation.  The purpose of the role was to be the liaison between the Organizing Committee and the particular country’s delegation focusing on the relationship with the head of the delegation, or Chef de Mission as they are called in Olympic lingo.

I interviewed and was named to be the Envoy for Chile, perhaps because having found no candidate from that country, I was next best since I had lived there for 3 months a few years before (and, of course, I spoke the language).  The requirement for the role was that we would attend weekly meetings from 1994 to 1996 and that we would be full-time available a total of 6 weeks before and during the Games.  My employer at the time (Andersen Consulting) allowed me to use up my vacation to cover these six weeks and, when my vacation bank ran out, they graciously offered me 50% of my pay as their way to show support for my involvement and I took the rest of the time without pay.  More importantly, my employer allowed me to be staffed in an intown project (vs. traveling every week which I had been doing for almost 3 years up to that point) so I could participate in the weekly meeting which took place Tuesday nights.

Two years learning about the Olympics

The weekly meeting for two years was required as there was a lot to learn.  From the processes the delegations would have to deal with (registration, arrival, drug testing, ordering box lunches for training sessions, and on and on) to the sports venues, the sports themselves, the workings of all aspects of the organizing of the Games, etc.  Every week for two years close to 200  of us gathered at the Georgia Tech electrical engineering building auditorium (where I sat many times during my college years!!) for these sessions.  We, the folks who represented Latin American countries tended to cluster together and have a blast during all this.  A couple of others joined us because they also were fun though they did not represent Latin American countries (the envoys for France and Canada come to mind!).

It was fascinating to understand the workings of this complex endeavor.  And, as we reported to the Olympic Village organization, it was fascinating to understand how you launch a small town of 20,000 for a 6-week life span (delegations can arrive as early as two weeks before the start of the Olympic Games, hence why we had to be available for more than the duration of the Games).  Many Georgia Tech dorms and frat houses were refurbished, new mattresses were brought in, and the security zones and mechanisms had to be installed.  Delegations were strategically scattered around the campus based on many factors like delegation size, threat levels they could have (think the Israeli delegation… also of note, Iran was placed right by the highway – no threat likely to them!), and proximity with like or unlike countries (big Latin –read, party- countries were placed together in an area north of campus separate from the rest; think Italy, Spain, etc.), etc.

The Atlanta Olympic Village at Georgia Tech

The Village was a phenomenal place.  It had a zone open for visitors who got invited by delegations or Village officials.  This included the main cafeteria.  And then it had a higher security zone with restricted access to the residential part of the Village and other more private areas for the athletes and officials.  Envoys got to stay in the residential part of the Village too so we could be close to our delegations if need be.  We probably got the worst spots.  Ours was a frat house that, while I am sure had been cleaned up some, was still a little on the not-nice side so I opted to stay home and just deal with waking up super earlier to make our daily 6AM meeting.

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo

The frat house where I was able to stay at the Village

Georgia Tech, Olympic Village, Chile delegation, photo

My delegation’s house and my Chef de Mission on the left

We did get to dine with athletes at a number of facilities around the Village.  There happened to be a McDonald’s tent right behind my delegation’s house.  You could smell the hundreds or thousands of burgers cooking!  And athletes from other countries, especially those without any or many McDonald’s, absolutely loved it.  Not sure there coaches did…  The main cafeteria was great.  I ran into a few famous people whether athletes, coaches, or visiting VIPs.  Two that stand out were Dolph Lundgren (who was there as a coach and who SO patiently stop his meal to get up to have his picture taken with athletes), and the Queen of Spain.  Towards the end of the Games, my delegation let me have two of their limited guest passes so I could have my Mom and stepdad come visit and eat at the Village.  To his last days with the use of his memory, my stepdad so enjoyed telling people about the time when he ate at an Olympic Village – I was so blessed to be able to give them the opportunity to be at the Village!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, cafeteria

My wonderful Mom and I at the main cafeteria at the Village

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Georgia Tech, photo, cafeteria

Meal tickets for the cafeteria

My job as an Envoy

I had a small team working with me as my delegation was not big but it was not tiny.  There were to associate envoys and two drivers in the team.  One of the neatest things about this was that I got to invite two good friends to apply for these positions and work together during the Olympics!

My day to day work was to be of service to the Chef de Mission and accompany him wherever he needed to go.  (In reality, his number two really ran the delegation so I supported the delegation through him but I spent more time accompanying the Chef de Mission around).  Because of this requirement of the role, that meant we had to have the same access as the head of the delegation which gave me access to any space, seating area, etc. in the Olympics.  There was only one place he could go that I could not:  the field of play (being the boxing ring, the basketball court, or the area immediately around a swimming pool).  But these access rights allowed to sit in the area reserved for officials if I wanted to watch an event.  As long as a delegation official did not need a seat, I could take it.  Often I was with him but sometimes when he didn’t need me, I took advantage of this to watch some event or another.  It was cool.  I saw quite a few good and important events!

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Medal ceremony for men’s handball

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, tennis, Atlanta, 1996 Olympics, Olympic Games, photo

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario playing

Eraser, Arnold Schwarzenegger, premiere, 1996, Atlanta, Olympics, Olympic Games, Georgia Tech

The premiere of Schwarzenegger’s Erase was held at the Olympic Village!

The Atlanta Opening and Closing Ceremonies

One super neat privilege this role gave me was the ability to go to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies without having to buy a ticket as I was expected to accompany the delegation to those events.  For the Opening Ceremonies the delegations were sat in an old stadium neighboring the Olympic Stadium (Fulton County Stadium which was demolished after the Olympics were over).  There they awaited the start of the Parade of Nations when they would walk into the Olympic Stadium and then stand in the field for the rest of the ceremony.  I sat with the Chilean delegation as they waited their turn.  Someone missed cuing the delegations in a timely manner at the start of the process and we ended up having to run between the two stadia to get them there on time.  This was a scary moment as our Chef de Mission was in his 70s and not necessarily fit.  It was a bit terrifying but we made it. At the point they would enter the stadium, the Envoys broke away and ran through inside tunnels to then re-join the delegation for the last third of their march.  I am not fully clear why we were not allowed to just march with them the whole way but I am grateful we were allowed to do some of the march as it was an experience to march in the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games!

Atlanta, Olympics, Opening Ceremonies, Olympic Games, 1996, Parade of Nations, pass, defile des delegations, Olimpiadas

The pass that allowed me to march with a delegation!

One of my biggest regrets is that I did not lug my camera around all over with me.  Things were too busy and these were days far from smartphones and social media so you did not feel the need to capture every moment of life – back then we just LIVED life.  I ran into famous people (royalty, politicians, famous athletes, etc.) but there are no pictures.  I got one photo of me in the Opening Ceremonies thanks to the envoy to Ghana who had a disposable camera at the Opening Ceremonies and graciously took my photo!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Opening Ceremonies, cauldron

Clearly not the best quality but my only photo at the Opening

The Opening Ceremonies took place on a hot day (July in Atlanta…) and that evening it was hot and humid especially in the field in the stadium where there was less chance of a breeze.  Having all these people stand waiting for a couple of hours or more was a bit like torture.  I kept myself busy trading pins (my delegation had given me, like they do every member of their delegation, a bag of Chilean pins so I could trade!), taking in the entertainment, etc.  Sadly, an official in the Polish delegation had a heart attack during the Ceremonies and would die from it due to the stress to his body that night.  Olympics since have gone ahead and provided seating so the delegations do not have to endure this two hours or more of standing – it was highly inconsiderate to have required them to stand in 1996 and earlier especially since the athletes will be competing in a few days after the Ceremonies (the ones who would compete the next day seemed to skip that night so they could be well rested).  I presume they did not give them seating before so they could sell more tickets to the public (the dirty little secret is how much a business the Olympics really are and even corrupt as later events would reveal about members of the International Olympic Committee – a pseudo-royalty who lives in a world of perks and political intrigue…).

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Closing Ceremonies, Gloria Estefan

Me awaiting the start of the Closing Ceremonies! (the one waving!)

Anyway, the Closing Ceremonies were a different affair because seating was planned for the delegations.  Of course, as soon as the opportunity arose (when the official business of closing the Games and passing the flag to the next host finished and the musical part of the show began), many delegations jumped “the fence” and got into the field to dance and enjoy themselves.  Go figure!  I did not miss a beat and followed my delegation though I pretty quickly lost them in the mayhem in the field.  It was a fun time and we had some disposable cameras this time which allowed us to take a few shots to remember the night by.  I recorded the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at home and watching the recording of the Closing Ceremonies always makes me smile.

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Partying during the Closing Ceremonies in midfield!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Closing Ceremonies, Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan performed at the Closing Ceremonies

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Closing Ceremonies, Gloria Estefan

Bringing down the Olympic flag during Closing Ceremonies

Remembering the entire experience makes me smile.  To me the Atlanta Olympics were nothing like the negative image portrayed.  Everything worked as well as any city can with tons of visitors.  The spirit of Atlantans was evident in the welcoming attitude, the staying away from driving as much to minimize traffic, and the incredible number of people who served as volunteers in every possible job imaginable.  I was and am proud of my city.  The Olympics may be a weird animal but it certainly allows the world to come together and change the conversation for two weeks every two years.  I am glad I got to see it from the inside and have the experiences I did!

Atlanta, Olympics, 1996 Games, volunteer, Envoy

With some of my favorite people (but not all!) from my time as an Envoy

 

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My Grain of Salt in Atlanta Winning the 1996 Olympics

German Rieckehoff, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, Puerto Rico

My blog is about travel and this post may seem a bit off-topic but I hope you will indulge me because it is the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics and because my fascination with travel is related to all these places on Earth we call countries – which, in turn, get together every few years in peace for an event we call the Olympics.  And I am fascinated by seeing all those places…

A Georgia Tech student volunteering for the bid

As a college student at Georgia Tech in the late 1980s, I heard that Atlanta was going to bid for the right to host the 1996 Olympic Games.  It sounded a bit far-fetched but, at the same thing, it sounded so exciting.  I quickly learned that fellow students had created an organization to help greet the International Olympic Committee (IOC; they would choose the host city) members when they visited Georgia Tech which was suggested as the Olympic Village.  This was back in 1989 and the movement was grassroots way before social media existed and people developed hysterics about grassroots campaigns being enabled by social media.  The Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition (GTOC) was set up by students and was, initially, staffed by students getting ready for the first IOC visit to the Tech campus in May 1989 when IOC members from five countries would come to check out Atlanta and OUR campus (I only remember Japan, Sweden and Finland of the five but remember creating a massive banner in all the languages!).  We not only created the massive banner (an all-nighter) but had students in several locations with balloons ready to show the spirit, and a student from each of the visitors’ countries ready to greet them in their native language.

I left that summer for an internship out of town but when I returned faculty and staff had joined our student-launched coalition.  And we loved having the support -and wisdom- of our faculty and staff.  We got to work side-by-side, no patronizing the students, with amazing individuals from a EE professor, to the head of Registration (and her awesome staff), to the landscape and physical plant folks, and many more.  It was an incredible experience to continue to support visits by the IOC VIPs to our campus (even if some of them turned out to be corrupt as later scandals revealed…).

In any case, my main job consisted of finding students at Tech or at any university in the Atlanta area from the country of the IOC visitor and then get them prepped so we could be sure and deliver the personal touch.  That personal touch in everything done by the AOC (Atlanta Organizing Committee) and GTOC, I am sure, won the day after the first round of voting took place in Tokyo in 1990…  One thing I will say is that, while GTOC was still a student-only organization, we came up with the idea of selling bid t-shirts for $5 to raise funds to support our expenses!  (Namely, helium, balloons, banner raw materials, etc.)  Not even the committee organizing the bid had come up with the idea of selling t-shirts!  I like to think we were first in commercializing the Atlanta Games…

Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, welcome

Working hard to prepare the grounds at GT for the IOC visits!

Olympics, Atlanta, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, welcome

Entrance to the Wardlaw Center on North Ave. with the flags of visiting IOC members

I personally got to welcome the IOC members from Puerto Rico (Germán Rieckehoff Sampayo; because I grew up in P.R.) and from Hungary (Pal Schmitt, a future president, because we could not locate any student from Hungary; thanks to Frau Venable, my German teacher, who spoke some Hungarian and taught me a greeting that made Mr. Schmitt think I was Hungarian!).

German Rieckehoff,IOC, ilivetotravel, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition

Luckily for me, someone snapped and gave me this photo of Mr. Rieckehoff’s visit!

German Rieckehoff, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, Puerto Rico

Me giving Mrs. Rieckehoff a pin or something!

German Rieckehoff, Olympics, Atlanta, Raul Pino, bid, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Olympic Coalition, Puerto Rico, IOC

Mr. Rieckehoff being greeted by GT President Crecine with Billy Payne looking on (me, front left)

Celebrating winning to be the host city of the 1996 Games

Anyway, fast forward to the day when the 1996 host city decision was being announced in Japan (September 1990).  The announcement was expected right before morning rush hour began that day in Atlanta.  I had been up most of the night inflating balloons (I actually can be seen in an WXIA Ch. 11 news clip that morning!) for the celebration should we win the bid at Underground Atlanta.  I went home for just a little bit and was back early enough to be on the steps of Underground Atlanta as the announcement was made.  It was an incredible feeling to see the dream of Atlanta hosting the 1996 Olympics come true!

Atlanta, 1996 announcement, Underground Atlanta, Olympics, host city, 1990, ilivetotravel, Raul Pino

Waiting, in the wee hours, for the announcement (me toward the left)

Atlanta, 1996 announcement, Underground Atlanta, Olympics, host city, 1990, ilivetotravel, Raul Pino

iivetotravel in the middle of the cheering!

Atlanta, 1996 announcement, Underground Atlanta, Olympics, host city, 1990, ilivetotravel, Raul Pino

A few seconds after hearing the news (me in the center, half-hidden)

As a reward for our work, when the victory parade took place, GTOC volunteers walked along the Georgia Tech Ramblin’ Wreck in our loud yellow t-shirts – and, again, I can be seen in video from newscasts about the parade (yes, I have those news shows in DVDs now that I converted my old VCR tapes!).

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

GTOC volunteers awaiting to start the victory parade!

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

With fellow GTOCers waiting to start the parade – always clowning around…

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

With fellow GTOCers waiting to start the parade. I think am the only student in this pic.

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel

Me in the midst of the parade in downtown

Atlanta, Olympics, victory parade, AOC, ACOG, GTOC, host city, 1990, Raul Pino, ilivetotravel, Ramblin Wreck

GTOCers (me on left) parading along the GT Ramblin’ Wreck!

So, I end this write-up here but the best part comes when in 1994 I was selected, after interviewing, to be an Envoy for the delegation to the Games from Chile, where I had worked three years before.  The Envoy was a relatively new role in the Olympics and it was focused on being the liaison between a country’s delegation and the Games.  I would spend two years of weekly meetings preparing for the role and then 6-weeks around the actual Games as part of this role which afforded many, many wonderful experiences that will be with me as long as I have memory – or get to read this blog, as I plan to write about that in the near future.

It’s been twenty years since the Olympics transformed my city and left an indelible imprint in my mind.  Wow.

Chattahoochee River Hikes: Vickery Creek Trail in Roswell

flowers, Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Right by old town Roswell, a few miles outside of Atlanta‘s “perimeter” (an interstate highway that rings the city), is the Vickery Creek Trail.  There are about 7 miles worth of trails in this pocket of nature in the middle of Roswell.  A portion of the trails are near the creek (also named Big Creek) which hits the Chattahoochee River right by the entrance to the parking lot I used to hit the trailhead.  This area is also part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a collection of parks along the river which crosses Atlanta from the NE to the SW (sort of!).Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

The trail offers moderate hiking, with some fairly flat portions and a few climbs that I would guess are not too strenuous to the average person.  The trails are well marked (the blue square spray painted on trees) and well signed so one can make one’s way around pretty easily.  Because of the time of the year, what seemed to me to be mountain azaleas were in bloom (pinkish flowers). Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoVickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoflowers, Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo
What is cool about this trail is seeing the two waterfalls created by a small and a large dam.  The area around the larger waterfall is not large and one has to watch one’s step but it is a pretty spot.Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall Vickery Creek, Roswell, Georgia, Chattahoochee, river, park, Atlanta, hiking, outdoors, nature, trail, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, waterfall

There are also a covered bridge and a large span bridge further down which facilitate cross the creek to other trailheads and parking areas.   Whether you are here in Atlanta to go up to the mountains or just visiting the city, this trail is one of many easy to visit and yet offering a unique hiking experience!

How Can You See Atlanta’s Carpet of Green? Pine Mountain!

Atlanta, hiking, Georgia, mountains, nature, outdoors, creek, trees, forest

Atlanta is known for its crazy traffic and challenging airport.  But it is also known for the carpet of green that covers the city far and wide.  A week ago (or so), I was looking for a new hike not too far from the city and new to me.  Thankfully, we are not lacking for good hikes within 30 mins of the city (and if you expand that to 1.5 hrs, the possibilities are endless it seems!).

I opted to go north on I-75 to climb Pine Mountain in Cartersville.  The 4.6 round-trip hike was of moderate difficulty and not heavily trafficked.  When I arrived around 9:45 AM, the small parking lot of Main St. (not even a quarter mile from I-75) was pretty full.Atlanta, hiking, Georgia, mountains, nature, outdoors

The trail has a West Loop and an East Loop connected by a pass where the summit is found.  We hiked the southern end of both loops and the returned via the northern loops.  It was beautiful terrain and, with trees still not fully covered with leaves, one could see much further around which is one of the things I enjoy about hiking in colder weather.

hiking, map, Pine Mountain, Georgia, outdoors, nature, photo, Atlanta

Trail Map

What I enjoyed about this hike, beyond its accessibility for this city dweller was that it offered a great view of the carpet of green that is the greater Atlanta metro area.  In the distance I could see the faint skyline of downtown, Midtown, Buckhead and Sandy Springs with Lake Allatoona in the foreground.  I have to say, this was a neat hike easily fitting in a half day.  I leave you with pictures from the hike and the view though the skyline is too small for it to show well on the photos so may not even see in these photos.  Beware:  a lot that looks like just green forests actually hides neighborhood after neighborhood in greater Atlanta!

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The double hump mountain is Kennesaw Mountain, a famous Civil War battlefield

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Of course, the highway (I-75) is not too far away!

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Atlanta, hiking, Georgia, mountains, nature, outdoors, creek, trees, forest

Lake Allatoona

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Panther Creek: A Challenging and Rewarding Hike in North Georgia

Panther Creek, trail, hiking, Georgia, cascade, waterfall, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

I was looking for a hike that I could do within 4 hours that was not right on the outskirts of Atlanta.  A friend and I were looking for a more challenging hike than the usual so after selecting a few finalists, we settled on Panther Creek, about an hour and a half north of Atlanta.  We decided to hike 3.5 hrs in to the larger waterfalls and then back.  The entrance to the trail on Panther Creek is on Old Historic 441 in north Georgia, northwest of the town of Ellijay.

Soon after entering the trail, you go under the new 441. After that, you leave hearing highway noise and slowly, but surely, start hearing water running sounds…  The trail is more natural (read, not groomed) and that makes it quite a neat trail to hike.

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Towards the start of the Panther Creek trail – love the woods

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Lots of rock outcrops where one can imagine people ages ago taking shelter under them

You go down a narrow path and slowly go downhill. Eventually you are closer to creek level and closer to the creek itself.

Panther Creek, trail, hiking, Georgia, cascade, waterfall, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

Beautiful colors at the time of the year I visited

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Panther Creek, trail, hiking, Georgia, cascade, waterfall, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

More beauty

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Still waters

There are several low wooden bridges to cross and then one arrives to a first set of cascades with a space that is perfect for camping overnight.

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One of the bridges crossing the creek

Panther Creek, trail, hiking, Georgia, cascade, waterfall, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Love these cascades

A couple of times the markers for the path were not visible and we proceeded trusting that the wild we saw in front of us was just an overgrown trail (and, mercifully, we were right!).

Continuing on from that spot, another 30-45 minutes or so depending on pace, one arrives at the upper waterfalls with a sort-of sandy beach to camp overnight or just recover from the hike in. Right before arriving at this waterfall, the terrain becomes a little more challenging and fun. One has to hug the big rocks holding on to the steel-cable handrails. These handrails are anchored on posts, some of which are sturdy and some of which have come loose and are floating, being kept alive by the two neighboring posts! One does need to proceed with care as falling from this rock outcrop would not be fun.

Panther Creek, trail, hiking, Georgia, cascade, waterfall, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The steel cable handrail itself is precarious!

Panther Creek was both rewarding and challenging. The raw feel of the trails was a welcome change from some of the other trails I hike in north Atlanta (which are quite nice but well groomed). I highly recommend doing this trail – I sure hope to do it again!

Panther Creek, trail, hiking, Georgia, cascade, waterfall, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

A nice break after 3.5 miles!

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Read about these other great hikes in Georgia:

Sope Creek

Sweetwater Creek

Island Ford

Tallulah Gorge

… and more to come!

Sope Creek: A Hike, a Creek, and an Old Mill

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War, Paper Mill Road, rapids

I was looking for another spot in Atlanta to hike while also hitting some waterway AND hitting history after having enjoyed going to Sweetwater Creek and to Island Ford (on the Chattahoochee River).  Tall order, huh?  NOT in Atlanta!  Plenty of spots along creeks and rivers to find great hiking and reminders of the life in the South back when mills ruled the day.  Enter, stage left, Sope Creek.

I am training for hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain with Trekking for Kids, an organization that took me to Transylvania’s “Alps” in Romania and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.   As part of my training, I want to do more than Kennessaw Mountain or Stone Mountain.  So after some research and talking to friends, I discovered the many trails that are right within 15 miles of the city, like Island Ford, for example.

But on another weekend, I wanted to try something new.  I was taking friends’ kids out on this hike so it also had to be friendly enough for me and three other kids 🙂  That’s when a co-worker recommended Sope Creek, a creek where a Civil War era mill use to operate and whose ruins you can not only see but also get up close and personal with!

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War, Paper Mill Road, rapids

The old mill ruins

The kids, aged 14, 10, and 8, were excited to come for the hike.  I decided to take the longer way to the creek so that the “hard work” took place before we saw the creek and the mill which I figured would be the highlight of the hike.

Sope Creek, Paper Mill, Atlanta, Georgia, hiking, kids, lake, colorful, photo, travel

Early on the hike, we ran into a small lake.

The park has both hiking-only trails and hiking/biking trails so we did have to keep our eyes and ears open to approaching bikes but the mountain bikers were pretty much nice and careful which we appreciated.  The trails are well-signed and the younger kids enjoyed trying to figure out which way to with the map and the signage while the older kid and I allowed ourselves to be guided.

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War

Tadpoles in our midst!

The trail approached the creek by going almost parallel to it but up high.  It was a nice view and trail which then went away from the creek for a little bit.  We ended up crossing a trickle of a creek right after spotting three deer.

Eventually, we made it to the old mill and the creek.

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War

Looking south

The kids explore the ruins of the mill and then proceeded to walk towards the large rocks at the edge of the creek.

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War, Paper Mill Road, rapids

Kids climbing around the old mill ruins

It was fun climbing and walking on the rocks.

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War, Paper Mill Road, rapids

Two of the three climbing around the rocks

We hung there for a little bit enjoying the scenery and the climbing.  It was also a great spot for pictures and for a snack.

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War, Paper Mill Road, rapids

I love this shot: She looks Photoshopped in!

All that done, we proceeded to exit the park by following the trail that is parallel to the road.  It deviated from the road a little bit because the trail was under repair but it was easy to make it back to the parking lot.

After the hike, we were hungry and the kids had asked for Cracker Barrel (they love it because I keep calling it Crate & Barrel, accidentally!).  It was the perfect ending for a great hike!  The kiddos are definitely hikers and explorers!

Sope Creek, Atlanta, hiking, tadpoles, nature, outdoors, Georgia, old mill, Civil War, Paper Mill Road, rapids

Yours truly

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Read about these other great hikes in Georgia:

Panther Creek

Sweetwater Creek

Island Ford

Tallulah Gorge

… and more to come!

Chattahoochee River Hikes: Island Ford

Island Ford, Chattahoochee river, hiking, outdoors, nature, photo, Olympus, woods, National Park Service

Atlanta is well known for traffic, a massive airport, CNN, Coca-Cola, conventions, and Gone with the Wind.  It seems almost cliche-ish when defined in these terms and I can certainly understand that these form or inform people’s image of the South’s “Gate City,” as it was known in the mid 19th century.  What local residents and frequent visitors know, though, is that the city is a vibrant and diverse collection of areas.  The international farmer’s market by I-285 is a great example of this diversity that visitors don’t often get to see.

Another fact that may be surprising is how this city, so built up and loaded with cars, is actually in the midst of the great outdoors.  I shared already about how close Sweetwater Creek State Park is to the city (only 15 miles).  Here I want to shared another great nature spot, right within and right outside the city’s ring road (I-285):  the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, part of the U.S. National Park Service.Chattahoochee River, National Recreation Area, National Park Service, hiking, Atlanta, Georgia, photo

The lay of the Chattahoochee River

The Chattahoochee River, or the “Hootch“, starts up in the North Georgia mountains where the Buford Dam was established to control its flow and accumulate water to provide for the city.  It then makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico via western Atlanta then Alabama, then Florida.  The river does not cross the modern city center as rivers tend to do in other cities.  The city’s location was driven by railroad lines connecting the Gulf, the Atlantic ports and the Midwest back in the first half of the 19th century.  So, we did not end up with a river going through the city center (a shame!).

However, it does go through urban areas right outside the city of Atlanta proper and we were lucky that it became a protected area in the 1970s so we could enjoy this bit of nature.  All along the river, as it courses through metro Atlanta, there are parks and trails, offering great walking, running, mountain biking, hiking, picnicking, etc.  Here I want to share with you about one of them and hope to continue sharing other spots in the future.

Island Ford, Chattahoochee river, hiking, outdoors, nature, photo, Olympus, woods, National Park Service

Island Ford, Chattahoochee river, hiking, outdoors, nature, photo, Olympus, woods, National Park Service

I bet it looks very different in the middle of summer!

Island Ford

A few miles outside of I-285, as you head up on GA-400, you reach the headquarters of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s headquarters.  As with many parks, friendly staff and rangers are a phenomenal source of information and advice, both of which we enjoyed getting.

Island Ford, Chattahoochee river, hiking, outdoors, nature, photo, Olympus, woods, National Park Service

Park rangers are a great source of information to those visiting the park

Again, as with other parks like scene, they park service charges a nominal fee for use of the park in the form of a parking permit that costs only $3.  Bring singles as you make payment by putting the three dollars in an envelope and drop it in a box!

Island Ford, Chattahoochee river, hiking, outdoors, nature, photo, Olympus, woods, National Park Service

Incredible stones everywhere in the area, including in the river!

The trails around Island Ford provide both flat areas as well as steep hills to challenge hikers.  The circuit of trails here could take around 1.5-2.5 hours (depending on how many of the trails you hit and your speed!) and they are suitable for beginners.  Apparently, it is also a good spot for trout fishing – who knew!

trout, fishing, Chattahoochee River, Island Ford, Atlanta, Olympus, photo, hiking

Trout fishing fun

The trails ford a couple of creeks that feed the river and offer great views of the river but also of rock formations that natives are said to have used for shelter as far back as 1,000 years ago!Chattahoochee River, rock shelters, hiking, National Park Service, Olympus, photo, nature, outdoors Chattahoochee River, rock shelters, hiking, National Park Service, Olympus, photo, nature, outdoors

Island Ford, Chattahoochee river, hiking, outdoors, nature, photo, Olympus, woods, National Park Service

The star of the show working his way over a log

The Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy supports parks along the river in many ways to ensure our enjoyment of these natural areas.  Visit their site and become a member or supporter!   

 

Read about these other great hikes in Georgia:

Sope Creek

Panther Creek

Sweetwater Creek

Tallulah Gorge

… and more to come!

Piedmont Park: An Oasis in the Middle of Atlanta

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Midtown, outdoors, oasis, photo

Atlanta is a city of greenery and a lot of that comes from its many parks.  Many neighborhoods have a park and some, like mine, more than one.  The parks are mostly local to each area though open to anyone as they tend to be city property.  They range from just a wild natural area, to green open spaces, to those with playground sets for the kids.  What is good about Atlanta is that the local neighborhoods step in to help keep these parks clean and alive.

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Midtown, outdoors, oasis, photo

Piedmont Park forms the eastern boundary of the Midtown skyline

However, Atlanta’s centerpiece in the park category is Piedmont Park, located in the middle of Midtown, easily accessible from every cardinal point.  The park’s history is longer than Atlanta’s own. A land lottery in 1821 distributed the land just ceded by the native Creek Nation of Indians.  Early pioneers acquired a forest that would later become Piedmont Park to build their farm (the Walker family) before Atlanta itself was established!  It is interesting to note that the original cabin was built on what is now called “Active Oval” where an oval track’s center fields host any number of sports activities.  Another cabin was built a couple of decades after the first one in the area where the Driving Club sits now.

The Active Oval today looking south towards downtown

The Active Oval today looking south towards downtown

The area became the location of many expos in the late 1800s and that’s how the park as we know it began to take shape.  The Piedmont Exposition of 1887 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895 are the most important ones, with the latter being a World Expo to promote the southern states internationally and it ran for about 100 days and attracted 800,000 visitors, way before highways and planes facilitated bringing visitors to Atlanta.  Pretty impressive.

Statue, Gate City, Atlanta, Piedmont Park, southern history, travel, photo

One of the many historical “markers”, this one to the Gate City (as Atlanta was referred to in those days) Guard

The park was finally bought by the City of Atlanta in 1904 after hesitating many times because it was “so far” from the city (at that time, of course, Atlanta was just what we know as downtown).  A lake, steps, tennis courts, and other landscape changes (including carving out what is now the Active Oval to give it its current topography) were implemented in those years.  The Atlanta Botanical Gardens were established along the northwestern edge of the park (worth a visit any time of the year but especially for the winter night lights!).

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Midtown, photo, lake

Man-made lake installed decades ago

But this park never ceases to be improved.  In the last decade, the park underwent major “renovations” with paths being installed and a dog park being established.  Sadly, the old railroad line that used to run along its eastern edge has disappeared (at least part of it) — Atlanta may be one of very few places were destroying history is celebrated as “progress” (to be in the company of Beijing in this category is not a compliment, folks…).  I enjoyed climbing an old train there once in the younger days.  But all in the name of progress and of creating a better park space in the midst of the hustle-and-bustle that we call Atlanta.

Piedmont Park, train, railroad line, garden, Atlanta, Midtown, photo

Where the train use to run, at least the land has been put to good use (a garden)

The park sometimes hosts events like festivals, and is a great place for a walk, a run, a swim, or a picnic.  Back in my college days, a hot balloon race used to take off from the southeastern fields and it was quite the sight.  The movie in the green event allowed folks to come and watch a movie on a summer evening while bringing food and beverages to enjoy.

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Midtown, photo, walking, jogging

Great place to walk, run and be with friends

The park has evolved over the decades and is under good stewardship of the city and a conservancy group which will help ensure the park continues to be an oasis in Atlanta for current and future generations to enjoy.Atlanta, spring, flowers, Piedmont Park, photo

What parks exist in your town that serve as great outdoor gathering places?

Photo Ode to a Departing Winter

cardinal, Atlanta, tree, snow, winter, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Yes, it is spring already in the northern hemisphere.  However, as the news just shared with us, there is at least one more cold spell before we are free-and-clear from winter (right around when this post goes out).  Winter in the U.S. this year was pretty brutal.  From Boston, to Chicago, to Atlanta, it seems to have been unusually “wintery” to say the least.  So this post is my goodbye to Winter 2014 – in photos from its visit to Atlanta

Atlanta, tree, snow, winter, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Heading out from the house

I went “sledding”…

winter, snow, sledding, Atlanta, Samsung Galaxy

The tracks of my “sled”

winter, snow, sledding, Atlanta, Samsung Galaxy

Twas a fast ride down

winter, snow, sledding, Atlanta, Samsung Galaxy

The tracks of my “sled”

winter, snow, sledding, Atlanta, Samsung Galaxy

The “sled”. Thanks, Rubbermaid!

Snow, Atlanta, street, winter, Samsung Galaxy

Snowy street

Atlanta, tree, snow, winter, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Loved my apple tree covered in snow

Atlanta, tree, snow, winter, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Atlanta, tree, snow, winter, photo, Samsung Galaxy

A beautiful field of snow

Atlanta, creek, bridge,winter, snow, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The creek that runs along that beautiful field of snow

Let’s bring color in – it isn’t all dark and white around here!

20140213_082418 (1280x720)

Atlanta, red, color, winter, snow, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Holly bush brings color to my yard

Samsung Galaxy, photo, camera, winter, snow, Atlanta, Olympus

My Samsung Galaxy and I partnered for these Photo Ode photos (except this one!)

cardinal, Atlanta, tree, snow, winter, photo, Samsung Galaxy

A beautiful cardinal brought color on this white day in Atlanta

cardinal, Atlanta, tree, snow, winter, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Another view of the cardinal perched on my apple tree

With that beautiful image, I am ready to close the book on winter 2014 and hope for more winter color in 2015!

A Great Hike Right Near Atlanta: Sweetwater Creek State Park

New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Geogia

Atlanta may not be what comes to mind when thinking for a place to go to enjoy the great outdoors. But our little known secret is how close we are to any number of incredible spots to be “with” nature and enjoy the great outdoors. I recently got to explore Sweetwater Creek State Park, a short 15 minute ride west of Atlanta, and was impressed at the place and shocked that I have been a resident of this city for close to three decades and I had never been.Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

The park sits along a reservoir (with all sorts of water activities possible, like fishing and paddle boats) and a creek flowing from it into the larger Chattahoochee River, as it makes its way down to Alabama, Florida, and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, GeorgiaSweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, GeorgiaSweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

A lot of work is being done around the park and its visitor center looks to be quite new.  It has some exhibits, a gift shop, and very helpful folks to answer any questions.  We got a map and were told to be sure to do the red trail as it has the more scenic views of the creek and the old mill.  Yes, as any self-respecting creek in the South must, Sweetwater Creek was the former home of a mill for the New Manchester Manufacturing CompanyNew Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

The ruins of the mill, burnt down during the Civil War are still standing which makes for some great photo opportunities.  The fact that its ruins are still there helps transport one to the times not long ago (maybe a century ago?) when mills and ferries were commonplace in this area.  So much so that many streets in Atlanta bear names like Howell Mill, Paces Ferry, Sewell Mill, Montgomery Ferry, etc.New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia

After doing the shorter red trail, we connected to the longer white trail.  At some point the white trail departs the shores of the Sweetwater Creek and head inland and uphill.  The whole circuit was around 5 miles and it took us about an hour and forty minutes.  It was a glorious morning in late winter in Atlanta and my first visit to Sweetwater Creek State Park could not have been any better!  And some folks planned ahead exactly how they were going to enjoy the weather and the view!Sweetwater Creek State Park, mill, hiking, nature, outdoors, Atlanta, Georgia, hammocks

 

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Read about these other great hikes in Georgia:

Sope Creek

Panther Creek

Island Ford

Tallulah Gorge

… and more to come!

Boarding Pass Series – Denver, Colorado

boarding pass, Delta, Denver, travel, air, flights

boarding pass, Delta, Denver, travel, air, flightsI first went to Denver right after receiving my undergrad degree.  Actually, I went past Denver and took a right hand exit to the road to nearby Boulder, CO where I actually was going to hold a summer internship at research labs in town.  But I visited Denver over my two summers in Boulder at different times.  Denver did not quite match Boulder in many ways so I tended to stick to Boulder and when I left town on a weekend day, I would opt for the Rocky Mountain National Park.  In fact, even now, I am not sure I could give someone much in terms of tips about what to do in Denver proper.

Fast forward some years and dear friends move to Arvada, right outside of Denver.  That made me a sort of frequent flyer to Denver, in the post-Stapleton airport era (I only flew into/out of Stapleton once – it was an old airport!).  The “new” Denver airport is rather weird but it has grown on me.  What does make it a royal pain in the ass is how far it is to anywhere I want to go when I go out there.  Seriously?  You couldn’t have placed it even five miles closer to things??  Also, why does it always seem there are strong winds any time I land in that airport??

Regardless, I will continue going to Denver because of skiing and, more importantly, because of my friends!

Photo of the Week: Tanyard Creek Reflection

Tanyard Creek, Atlanta, Civil War, battlefield, nature, sky, trees

Tanyard Creek reflection on a beautiful February winter day. 150 yrs ago this coming July, this area was a bloody battlefield during the Peachtree Creek battle in the U.S. Civil War.

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