I'd been watching the weather all week and Saturday promised to be lovely. We planned to take the girls hiking. It's tricky planning a hike for a 2 and 4-year-old because they are so tiny. You really can't go on a long hike. We decided we'd go for the big reward (giant tumbling waterfall) instead of just rambling around the woods all day. Duke's Creek is up by Helen, the oddly German tourist town in the middle of Nowhere, GA. It would take us over an hour to drive there. The hike itself was 2 miles round trip. No matter, we want Kate and Sarah to develop a love of hiking.
Saturday morning arrived. I got up and took Lola on our usual 3-mile walk, because she's just too dang naughty around strange dogs on the trail to get to go with us and the kids. I felt bad for leaving her behind. A little. When I got home we got the girls dressed and psyched for a walk in the woods. We explained that (due to lack of time or sufficient planning) we needed to stop by Whole Foods to get our picnic lunch together, then we'd head to the mountains. Kate decided she wanted to bring her princess lunchbox to house her picnic lunch.
"Will you please get my lunchbox down [from the big, tall cabinet where it lives]?" she entreated her father. "And don't fill it up with beer, either! I will not think that's funny." I thought that was very funny. Jeremiah confessed to me that he'd used it once to transport cold beer when he didn't feel like going upstairs to get a proper cooler. So hiking clothing was applied ("can't I wear a hiking dress?" Kate asked.) and we all headed out into the world. By noon we arrived at the Smithingall Woods visitor center.
The visitor center is very nice. The girls were thrilled by the two live hawks and one horned owl who live out in the parking lot. They got to touch a red rat snake and a baby guinea pig (probably intended for the snake some day, we didn't ask). They also have a room filled with stuffed, real animals. A couple small bears, some foxes, a screech owl, river otter, beavers...I forget what else but we touched them all.
Finally we headed back out on the road to the trailhead, which was not to be found by the visitor center parking lot. By the time we arrived there we were all starving so we had lunch immediately. Then we hit the trail. I told Kate if she could walk the entire way herself she could have ice cream later. We allowed that Sarah would have earned ice cream if she made it even 1/3 of the way. Kate told me that, without a doubt, she would make it. "I'm kindergarten-ready!" she stoutly informed me. "Kindergartners go all the way!"
The trail to the falls is downhill the entire way. The girls frolicked like puppies and I worried about carrying Kate back up the hill. It's a beautiful trail. It's so well built that the place can host strollers and other walking aids. We saw people of all ages there. You catch glimpses of the falls the whole way down, which builds the anticipation. Kate and Sarah enjoyed all the bridges and large rocks as we made our descent. Sarah made it nearly to the falls before becoming too tired to walk anymore. Once we were there, however, she ran all over the 3 observation decks.
The falls truly are stunning. They're 250 feet high. It's amazing to think that this natural wonder is just the confluence of two creeks: Davis and Duke's. We hung out by the water for awhile and then, after Sarah fell for the second time, hitting her nose, we decided we'd better head back. Sarah rode in the backpack the whole way up. Kate walked. She stopped to rest several times. At one point she did ride on my shoulders, but it couldn't have been more than .10 of a mile, if it was even that much (thank GOD). As we neared the end of the trail she stopped more often. At one point, when we were mostly on the bridges, she got down on all fours and crawled. She never once complained though. She didn't stop going, either. She made it all the way back to the car. Jeremiah and I literally applauded her. "I want ice cream." she stated.
It took me 45 minutes to walk Lola 3 miles in the morning. It took us 6 hours to do a 2-mile hike, including travel, visitor center and dining time. As we rode home Sarah passed out hard in her carseat and Jeremiah called my attention to the fact that Kate had reached across the back seat and was holding Sarah's hand. Somehow, that little 2-mile jaunt left me as weary as a normal 8-mile dayhike might. We stopped at Mojo for pizza and then went to Nectarine, the new juice, etc shop in the Oakhurst Village, for ice cream, as promised. The kids objected wildly to being put to bed. They continued their protest for a few moments after we left them in their beds, then, like a switch was thrown, all was silent in their room.