The great thing about stopping and visiting people you know while traveling is that the locals always know the cool stuff to do. After departing the inferno that is Charleston, I made my way towards the inferno that is Atlanta, Georgia to meet up with an old work friend Kim and her family. Kim and her husband Chuck and their two kids Zak and Erika made for quite excellent hosts as they had planned an outing to a local park area named Stone Mountain.
Stone Mountain is a hybrid government-run recreational park and for-profit amusement park. Kim explained that a few years ago it was determined that the park could not be sustained on park fees alone, so an amusement park company was brought in to increase revenues. In addition to the rides and games they added for a fee, they also added a nightly laser light show set to music that is projected on the side of the mountain. People bring their blankets and kids and set-up on the lawn beneath the massive piece of granite and watch the show as darkness falls. Fortunately, this has remained free…or almost free…it is included in the $8 per carload to get into the park. The laser light show would prove later to be a very fun, southern and patriotic way to end the evening.
Kim, Zak, Erika and Chuck
Kim and her crew and I opted to bypass the amusement park and headed straight for the walking trail that leads to the top of the mountain. Now, some might argue that we were not in our right minds to embark on a 1.3 mile trek up a mountain in 100 degree heat. I might agree with them…but we made it and it wasn’t actually as hard as I thought it might be. Or, it could just be that by that point the endless heat had addled my brain to a such a degree that I just couldn’t feel it anymore. On the way down we encountered a bizarre phenomenon…the gum rock. It is just as you imagine…a repository for chewing gum from the past several decades. It’s as gross as it sounds and is definitely blogworthy so here’s what it looks like:
Stone Mountain is the largest exposed piece of granite in the world and it also contains the largest high relief sculpture in the world on its north face. The sculpture, pictured below, is of three major Confederate heroes from the Civil War. In the interest of making the Extravaganza Blog a bit more interactive I would like to implement the following pop quiz:
Extravaganza Pop Quiz #1 – Can you name the three Confederate war heroes pictured on the north face of Stone Mountain?
I’ll put the answer at the bottom…type me a comment and let me know how you did. No peeking!!
Since Kim is actually originally from Massachusetts she is well aware of how strange some things in the South are to we Northerners. Like the food for example. The next morning we loaded up into the car and headed for breakfast where I got to sample some true Southern favorites…Brunswick Stew…grits…biscuits and gravy. Then, back at home, Kim fried up some fresh okra out of the garden for me…yum…definitely my favorite. In order of descending preference, here is my assessment of the “southern food.”
- Fried okra – contrary to my prior belief, okra is not leafy like spinach but is more like an overgrown pod that is sliced, dipped in flour and fried (sort of like squash). Kim also tells me it has a natural thickening agent so is often added to stews for that property.
- Brunswick stew – I had never heard of this but it is a yummy thick tomato-based stew that includes multiple types of beans and vegetables plus some sort of meat. Apparently chicken is more favored in Virginia and beef or pork is preferred in Georgia.
- Biscuits and gravy – Not a huge lover of gravy to start with but this was better than expected with a nice peppery taste. And, of course, the fresh biscuits were awesome.
- Grits – I don’t know if I’m ever going to understand grits. Kim suggested a bit of butter and salt but I still think they’re too bland. Someone…anyone…please send me a recipe for grits with some flavor.
And now…the answer…to the Extravaganza Pop Quiz #1…..