U.S. Route 1 enters Georgia at Augusta and angles toward the coastline, passing through an area known for sweet onions, fruitcakes and rattlesnakes. Because the direction is toward the sea, included below are a couple of suggestions east of Route 1 before it meets Florida.
Take a ride along the Augusta Canal. The 11.5-mile Augusta Canal National Heritage Area is located along the banks of the Savannah River and canal. It offers views of the rapids from the scenic gravel towpath and an excellent opportunity for canoeing, as well as fishing. The Augusta Canal is one of 18 nationally designated heritage areas. Discovery: The new Interpretive Center showcases the life of the Savannah River and how the canal that was built in 1845 shaped the personality of the city. In addition to exhibits, the center also provides visitors with a film that explains the use of the harnessed water source and southern manufacturing power, the Civil War and the eventual arrival of hydroelectric power. (The Augusta Canal Interpretive Center at Enterprise Mill, 1450 Greene St. 30901.1(706) 823-0440,1-888-659-8926 or www.augustacanal.com)
Discover technology Southern-style. State-of-the-art, hands-on and tons of fun. The National Science Center (NSC) and Fort Discovery are located on the Riverwalk along the Savannah River in Augusta. A family-oriented math and science center with two floors and 270 interactive exhibits. The center provides plenty of ways to have fun and learn at the same time. Exhibit topics range from the fundamentals of electricity to the complexities of biomedical equipment. A high-tech theater experience traces the dramatic evolution of human communication from the caveman era through modern day advances. The giant Tesla Coil recreates an indoor lightning storm. (Fort Discovery One 7th Street, 30901. 1(706) 821-0607 or www.nscdiscovery.org)
Taste sweet onions. Who hasn’t sampled a Vidalia sweet onion? During the summer months the roadside stands purvey the best of the best. Free samples and sometimes local recipes are available just for the asking.
Fruitcake anyone? East of Vidalia is the sleepy hamlet of Claxton known by many as “The Fruitcake Capital of the World.” For fruitcake lovers this is heaven. Imagine the sweet aroma of fruitcake baking. The modern baking facilities produce more than six million pounds of sweetness annually. Tours are no longer available but they still provide samples at the bakery stores. (Claxton Bakery, 1-800-841-4211 or www.claxtonfruitcake.com and Georgia Fruitcake 1(912) 739-2683 or www.georgiafruitcakecompany.com)
Drop in on the power. For many of us the nuclear energy idea is a mystery. The controversial story is related with films, hands-on exhibits and interesting displays at the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant Visitor Center. (11036 Hatch Parkway, Baxley, 31513. 1(912) 367-3668)
See the swamp queen. Vast and mysterious, “The Land of the Trembling Earth” (A.K.A Okefenokee Swamp) must be seen to be believed. Measuring 700-square miles, the 412,000- acre refuge is a natural wonder. The welcome center at Waycross (There are two others) provides a quick syllabus of the refuge through a film, wildlife exhibits, serpentarium, a 90-foot high observation tower and boardwalk. Boat tours move along the original Seminole waterways while guides parlay local facts and tell stories from earlier times. There are wilderness walkways and an excursion train to Pioneer Island. Discovery: For more in depth tours park rangers can set up longer guided trips that include the headwaters of the Suwannee River. (Okefenokee Swamp Park, 31501. 1(912) 283-0583)
Lost in time. In downtown Waycross the Okefenokee Heritage Center provides both indoor and outdoor displays that focus on both the community and the Okefenokee Swamp. Artifacts include antique vehicles, photos, artwork, 1912 vintage locomotive, 1840s farmhouse and a friendly staff with oodles of trivia, some fact and some fiction. (1460 North Augusta Avenue, 31501. 1(912) 285-4260, www.okefenokeeheritagecenter.org)
Visit Obediah’s house. About eight miles from the center of Waycross, there is an old cabin at the edge of the Okefenokee wetlands. Visitors must follow a man-made boardwalk to get the full swamp life experience. Within the natural living history complex, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are many rural life tributes including a turpentine exhibit, a corn crib, sugar mill, potato house, smoke house and a two-seater outhouse. In addition to manmade items on display, well-marked trails in the area provide visitors with terrific wildlife viewing opportunities at strategically located feeding plots, watering stations and birdhouses. (Obediah’s Okefenok is south from downtown Waycross on Swamp Road. 1(912) 287-0090.)
Canoe the great swamp. Located at the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Mary’s Rivers the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly a half million acres and is the largest refuge in the Eastern United States. Original inhabitants called it the “Land of the Trembling Earth” because at times the peat-laden islands move causing the trees to appear to tremble. The Okefenokee Swamp is both amazingly beautiful and eerie at the same time. Moss-draped trees and fallen decaying logs define the water routes. Birds are everywhere. Frogs by the millions sing at the slightest disruption. Still, canoeing the tannic colored passageways with alligators slithering and turtles sunning is one of the best ways to experience the primeval wilderness. (Refuge east entrance at Folkston, 31537. 1 (912) 496-7836 or www.fws.gov/okefenokee)
And they wore kilts. Fort King George conveys a sense of place from both a historical perspective as well as an ecological viewpoint. Using old records and drawings, this 18th century frontier fortification on the Altamaha River has been reconstructed. Dioramas of indigenous plants and animals depict the area prior to European contact. Diary excerpts from Colonial John Barnwell dated from June to July of 1721 describe an almost impossible situation for the residents. In addition to the gallery area there is a ten-minute audio/video presentation that pulls all of the information together and explains the importance of the Scots of Darien. Discovery: This site is on the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. (Ft. King George Drive, Darien, 31305. 1(912) 437-4770 or www.gastateparks.org/FortKingGeorge)
Hear geechee- speak. Just off the coast of Sapelo Island is a secret treasure. The mainland visitor center brings to life both the natural and cultural history of Sapelo. Imagine when the pirate Blackbeard roamed the waters, hear geechee-speak, a native dialect and see what it takes to build a tabby house. On the guided island tours focus on the African-American community of Hog Hammock, University of Georgia Marine Institute, Reynolds Mansion and newly restored lighthouse. Discovery: There are guided beach and marsh walks conducted by docents. (The Sapelo Visitor Center and ferry are located in Meridian, 8 miles northeast of Darien. 1-800- 864-7275. Visitor Center at 1(912) 437-3224 or www.sapelonerr.org)
Just outside of Folkston, U.S. Route 1 and Highway 301 share space again as they connect with Florida just north of Jacksonville.
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