Saturday morning I head out long before sunrise. My quest is a part of the Bartram trail running through Clayton Georgia in the North East corner of the state. In Atlanta it is still raining but the forecast for Clayton is overcast but dry. I actually arrive in the area right at 8am. However, the road to the park and picnic area where I can access the trail doesn’t seem to be marked and I have lost my GPS signal. So I drive and drive…and drive some more. After a few miles I turn around and I follow a dirt road that has a sign point to the William Bartram WMA. This dirt road leads on forever and seems to just go deeper and deeper into the forest; at some point I realize this is not where I want to go. I turn back with my eyes peeled until finally I see a road side marker, marking the trail where it crosses the highway. The trail is found, but where to park? I turned into what looked like a private road but was in fact the road for the War Woman Dell picnic area.
Bartram, a botanist, made this trek from Augusta to visit with the Cherokee in the mountains and over the hills. While on his journey he was tasked with collecting specimens and cataloguing the wildlife and plant life of the area. He was one of the first Europeans to document his explorations of the Deep South. His travels took him through much of coastal Georgia and Florida, the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina, through the interior of Georgia all the way to Louisiana between 1774 and 1776. Bartram’s travels became a best seller and catapulted him to celebrity at the turn of the 19th century. By the middle of the 19th century however, Bartram had become forgotten. That is until a re-release of his travels accompanied by the illustrations of a young illustrator from Wilmington, Delaware named Howard Pyle. This brought Bartram back into the spotlight and as interest grew in our colonial past so too did interest in the work of Bartram. Again with the passage of time Bartram fell into obscurity except for those few botanist and naturalist who have read his work. Then in 2003 the film Cold Mountain based off the book of the same name sparked some renewed interest in Bartram as a chronicler of our southern colonial past. The book Ada gives to Inman, which he carries till the end of the film, is The Travels of William Bartram.
My own interest in Bartram stems from my fascination with southern colonial history as well Native American history in the southeast. I have been following in his footsteps for past year documenting the current landscape in the form of paintings. As part of my research this morning I planned to hike to Becky’s Creek Falls and Martin’s Creek falls. The night before I tried to locate trail maps online but I was unsuccessful. The written instructions seem fairly straight forward. So with my pack full of safety supplies and a little food and a camera I set off. I knew the falls were roughly three miles away and so I settled into a steady pace as I climbed higher and higher. As I descended the mountain I listened for water but heard none. I seemed to be further from the creek at the entrance of War Woman Dell. Upon reaching the bottom I found the only marker pointed War Woman Ford 10 miles ahead. At this point I determined I had made a miscalculation and decided to head back the way I had come. After a three mile hike back I stopped to analyze the map at the parking area. It gave no indication of where the falls where. Being later in the day, almost noon, and an extremely cool fall like day in August the parking lot was full. I made a few inquiries about the roadside marker and the best trail to it. The three hikers I questioned were part time locals who lived in Atlanta during the week. The commented they were heading to the falls. They kindly pointed the way and were gracious enough to allow me to join them to the falls….another three miles! It turns out I had hiked three miles in the wrong direction. It was definitely worth the day of hiking and my scouting mission was fruitful as I plan to return to do a few studies for future paintings. I am also considering a trek to the top of Rabun Bald where Bartram once camped on his way to Cherokee territory. While this adventure started off a bit rocky it did lead to new potential subjects for my paintings.