Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Higher Up - Vogel State Park

After spending a week with our daughter and her family near Athens, Georgia, we resume our 2015 camping trip. We head north to Vogel State Park, near Blairsville, Georgia. This will be our first stay at Vogel, one of Georgia's premier state parks, in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. We've stayed at nearby Unicoi and Amicalola State Parks in the past and enjoyed not only the parks, but the surrounding mountains as well. We saw our first Black Bear just west of Ellijay while staying at Woodring Branch Campground at Carter's Lake.

We take a round-about detour off the direct route of US 129 at Gainesville, headed west instead of toward Ellijay, not only to avoid the left turn off of northbound highway 129 into the Vogel Sate Park entrance, but also to avoid the climb up the mountain from the south as well. Amicalola State Park, where we stayed several years ago, is just a few miles off our detour route to Ellijay, and it seems there are more Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee license plates on the road than Georgia plates. We enjoy the ride through Blueridge, sharing the highway with the traffic headed north from Atlanta. This is a busy highway, but a stress-free ride. We can't check in until after 3:00 in the afternoon so the trip becomes a sightseeing tour as well. We finally turn off the four-lane, divided highway in Blairsville, not far from the North Carolina state line, circle around the court house and head south on Highway 129 toward Vogel State park. It seems odd as we traveled north on 129 to get to Gainesville. We doubled our mileage instead of driving straight up US 129 from Athens, but the trip was worth it.

It's drizzling when I check in at the Vogel office a little after three in the afternoon on a wet, overcast day, and confirm our seven day reservation. Ilse and Taz sit in the car and wait as I check in. I called the office here a week ago from Stephen Foster State Park at the other end of the state after I tried to make on-line reservations through but couldn't find a way to apply the 20 percent discount Georgia offers campers over the age of 62. No problem, I was advised by a sweet, Georgia accent, just make the minimum deposit required on line to hold your reservation and the park ranger will apply any discounts when you check in at the desk and pay the balance. I did and it worked perfectly. I ask about campsites on the lake, and Lisa tells me there are no lakefront sites, but some campsites do butt against the creek. A male voice from somewhere in the back office laughs, “If this rain keeps up, they'll all be lake front.” He then adds, “32 and 51 on the creek are open, I was just up there. Just clip your yellow guest card on the post in front of the site you want.”

The Georgia State park system doesn't reserve individual camp sites so it is first come, first served. If they have 50 sites, they take 50 reservations and that's it until someone checks out. The sites are limited by size, though, so you will be assigned a color that corresponds to all the campsites suitable for your unit. Here at Vogel there are only two colors, red and yellow. The red sites are for small, van type campers, or units less than 25 feet in length. The access road to those sites has a warning about the narrow, twisty loop road.

After you check in at the visitor's center, you drive through the campground to find a spot you like – or, as we have found out, which of the few sites are empty – and back your camper in, or if you're lucky, pull through. Theoretically, you should be able to clip your guest card – it has your name and departure date written on it – to any empty spot just in case you have to go around the loop again. When it's busy, you can't be choosey because the guy behind you might pick the site you just passed and you won't get a second chance at it. Kind of like squatter's rights.

By the time I slosh back to the Toyota on the far side of the parking lot, it is pouring. It is coming down in the proverbial buckets. I have no choice but to slowly drive to the dump station as we have full black and gray water tanks from staying at our daughter's place. Not dumping there may help ensure our welcome next time we go back. We have to dump both tanks before we set up the camper, so I dig around in the arm of the Toyota's console for one of the 99 cent polyethylene rain coats I keep for just this type of weather, and after only one tour around the campground, find the dump station and I dutifully empty both trailer holding tanks in the pouring rain. No problem, I haven't had to setup or break camp in the rain since Rays Town Lake several years ago.

We slowly drive past site 32 and decide to pass; it is part of a communal ring of sites and the nearby creek is no benefit as it is on the opposite side of the camper from the camper door and the awning. Probably great for family reunions, but a little too cozy for us. We press on and immediately like site 51; no standing water in the site and it is a little staggered, or tiered, like Unicoi State Park. Ilse dons a poncho and using our little 2-way radios, backs me in to the site without problem. It is the first time I've backed the trailer up completely blind, I couldn't see a thing behind me from the rain and fogged up windows. We retire in just a matter of minutes to the trailer to open a bottle of wine, both still reasonably dry. No reason to get completely soaked, at least not yet.

We wait out the rain, and during a lull, I hook up the electrical and water connections and unhitch the Toyota. Our campground power box is right in front of our site, so we need our 15 amp extension electrical cord to extend our standard power cable, and a second water hose to hook up to the water supply. The box is too far way for the standard length cables and hoses. It is the first time since we stayed at Tioga we've needed either the extra electrical cable or the second water hose. Always nice to have both in case of emergencies.

From what we've seen so far, Vogel State park is a beautiful campground. We've heard nothing but good things about Vogel State Park, one of the oldest state parks in the Georgia system. While cellphone coverage is limited, Wi-Fi is available at the office and no sign-in is required. Hopefully we'll be so busy we won't need it. At just under 2,900 feet high in the mountains, temperatures tends to run a little cooler than just a few miles south of here. It's only 70 degrees as we relax, cook spaghetti and listen to the rain. The whole campground has packed it in for the evening as misty light fades into indistinct shapes and shadows. Rainwater runs down the road and off the camping sites into the creek just behind us. It is peaceful in the shire.

NEXT: Pouring in, at:

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