In Georgia we hit two National Park sites, one state park and one county park. Although not showstoppers in their own right, each one was worth a visit as part of our journey. This first post will cover the first two we visited, and our next post recaps the other two.
In checking the website for Ocmulgee National Monument, we realized that it had no camping facilities, so we drove to Macon-Bibb County’s Arrowhead Campground on the shores of Lake Tobesofkee for our overnight stay. Here on a Monday afternoon we had nearly our pick of campsites and chose a spot at the water’s edge on a little spit of land. On a nicer day it would have been the perfect place to launch our kayaks, but we were too wimpy to go out in the 50-degree weather and biting wind.
Instead, after a late picnic lunch we opted to hike several interconnecting trails that wound through the forest above the campground and back down to another section of lakeshore. We passed dozens of old concrete picnic tables covered in moss, broken by fallen trees, with many sites almost completely hidden by brambles. The place had an eerie feel. We couldn’t figure out why there would be an abandoned, overgrown and seemingly forgotten picnic area right next to our very nice campground. The eerie feeling stayed with us as we watched the full moon come up and the air grew very chilly, chasing us into the tent early.
At dawn, mist emerged from the lake and the chilly air lingered. On our way out of the campground, we asked about the old abandoned picnic area we had seen in the woods the afternoon before, and the woman at the office had no idea what we were talking about. Hmm. Do I smell a mystery?
Of course, history is filled with mysteries, so we were off for our next history lesson at Ocmulgee National Monument, a site that marks 17,000 years of human habitation. The first people to occupy the Ocmulgee area were nomadic Ice Age hunters followed by hunter-gatherers and then Woodland Indians who made pottery and grew corn, beans and squash. That seems to be a recurring theme at many national parks. We’re now surprised if we find park interpretive displays or films that don’t make reference to early inhabitants who made pottery and grew corn, beans and squash.
The Early Mississippians arrived around 900 A.D. with their culture of earth lodges and flat-topped mounds, the highlight for most visitors. Later the Creek (also known as Muscogee) Indians lived here and traded with the British until about 1715. Native groups continued to occupy the area until the Indian Removal Act of 1830. That law forced Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River to move to Oklahoma in what is known as the Trail of Tears, a so-called “land swap” during which more than 10,000 people perished on the journey west during that decade.
One interesting aspect of this site, so the ranger explained, was the extensive archaeological excavations that took place here in the 1930s. Providing a much-needed boost to Depression-era incomes, the government paid Civilian Conservation Corps crews (along with Works Progress Administration and Civil Works Administration crews) to excavate more than 2.5 million artifacts. The archaeological digs also generated a great deal of tourism interest, and additional government-sponsored construction crews built the Art Moderne-style Visitor Center that opened to the public in 1941.
We walked the mound complex and checked out the reconstructed earth lodge where village leaders met to discuss important business (about pottery, corn, beans and squash, perhaps?). A vaguely eagle-shaped stone platform in the floor designated where the three highest-ranking officials likely sat. The Great Temple Mound and other constructions for burial and ceremonial sites reminded us — on a much smaller scale, of course — of the pyramids in Mexico.
The park also has a nice network of short hiking trails on the grounds that surround the mounds, making this a worthy place to spend a full day.