Let’s take a Sunday ride

Published 3:37 pm Tuesday, September 15, 2020

These weekly newspaper visits were initially conceived of as a series called “Sunday Rides”. I thought it might be fun to see how many interesting places could be reached in a lazy afternoon’s drive and then to discuss those places with you.

It turned out there were many, but it also turned out that the world shifted and the writing took a different route. As you know, lately we’ve spent our time talking about things of the day and generally getting our blood pressure up.

Let’s use this visit to do just the opposite: to lay aside controversies, ideas, and verbal fisticuffs to revisit the original idea. In short, let’s drop our blood pressure by a few points. Let’s take a Sunday ride.

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So—how long has it been since you’ve been to Callaway Gardens?

I was there this weekend. Even though it was anything but crowded, I noticed car tags from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, South Carolina, to name a few. If you go to the Discovery Center and read the guest book, you will find that they host visitors from all across the world.

A remarkable 750,000 people a year go through the 2500-acre park. And yet it never seems the least bit crowded.

One of the most amazing things about those numbers is that I almost never encounter Valley folk there. Maybe its time we looked at it with fresh eyes.

If Google Maps is reliable, Callaway Gardens is only 21 miles from Lanett. It opened in 1952 as Ida Cason Gardens. To her dying day, my mother only referred to Callaway Gardens as Ida Cason.

At 65 acres, Robin Lake is the largest man-made white sand beach in the world, and since 1959 it has been the site of the Master’s Water Ski Tournament. I imagine about a thousand suntans—and many more sunburns—take place there during the summer months. Being at Robin Lake is like being at the ocean without the jellyfish.

The Florida State University Flying High Circus has put on a remarkable acrobatic show in the modified circus tent at Robin Lake every summer since 1961. Circuses are a dying breed, and you’d best catch this one before it goes away. They did not perform this summer, though I expect a certain virus caused their absence.

The Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center opened in 1988. It is named after the founder of Day’s Inn, and its initial funding came from his wife. Their more than 1,000 butterflies are made up of 50 species from around the world. Watching a child’s eyes light up when a butterfly lands on their hand is an absolute delight. They are in the middle of what they call their Home School Science Days series that includes not only the butterflies, but they use the historic log cabin on the property to teach children about the life of a pioneer. They also have sessions on both geology and owls. Homeschooling never seemed more fun.

Mountain Creek Lake is inside the gardens. It is 155 acres and it sits beneath enormous hills. As you ride around it seems more like you are in a mountain lake than it does you are in western-central Georgia. The Discovery Center sits on its banks, and it is worth a visit. This month they have put together classes on how to weave a ten-inch tall basket; filling an autumn container gardening; a painting class (much like the ones Tawana Bradford Henson has taught locally for so long): a workshop about owls—and who doesn’t love owls; outdoor photography; and they end the month with a sweet introduction to beekeeping.

Fantasy in Lights has become a Christmas tradition. This rather remarkable show boasts more than 8 million lights that take more than 3,900 man-hours to put it up. It is no surprise that National Geographic calls it one of the ten best light shows in the world. If you ride through and look carefully, you can see that they’ve already begun preparations for Christmas 2020.

We haven’t even discussed that Callaway Gardens is adjacent to the FDR State Park, famous for its spring-fed rock pool, and for the increasingly-famous Pine Mountain Trail. All of this is just a stone’s throw from the Little White House, where President Franklin Roosevelt took refuge from the politics of World War II and where he died.

So why don’t we see more locals at Callaway Gardens? It is so close by that we likely simply take it for granted. And probably because it costs about $25.00 per person to get in. But if you are in one of the surrounding counties, you can get an annual pass for less than $100.00. We have one of those, and we go over there often enough that our per-visit cost is next to nothing.

Why go? Every time I ride through, I see the tall trees, the gentle waters, the happy people, and it brings my blood pressure down and just feels good to my soul.

Take a ride to Callaway. Have a picnic, take a walk, take a bike ride, take a swim. And let me know what impact it has on you.