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Fruit and Fire on Blackjack Mountain


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Fruit and Fire on Blackjack Mountain

  1. 1. DenaeEagenDr. Anne RichardsPRWR 7900 Travel Writing11 December 2011 Fruit and Fire on Blackjack Mountain The chestnut Tennessee Walking horse heaved a sigh as I tightened the cinch a final time.Then I took hold of the leather reins and saddle horn in one hand, tipped the toe of my left bootinto the stirrup, and vaulted myself onto the seat of my beat-up black saddle. In one fluid motion,my worldview changed. Being 15 hands higher brought me eye-level with the trees, a lifetimecloser to the sky, and a safe distance from the rest of lifes concerns. Joining my Grandmotherand her long-time friend, Carol McCauley, we approached the entrance trail to BlackJackMountain. We were in Carroll County, a predominantly rural area heavy with agriculture in thefar Northwest of Georgia near the Alabama border, accessible by taking I-20 West from Atlantaand then Highway 5. Carroll County is filled with rolling hills, horses and cattle, and deepstretches of woods. Among the county’s many natural caches are two passive nature reserves:one recently acquired and one long held, both steeped in rich history and wild beauty. Part of the intrigue and mystery that draws nature enthusiasts to Carroll County is therawness of land before the roads have been paved, the trees trimmed, and twists and turnsmarked with neat signage. Many of Georgia’s quiet roads and undisturbed woods can be foundby exploring the area. If finding your destination is part of the adventure, Blackjack Mountain inCarroll County will appeal to your rugged sensibilities. Acquired by the county in 2005, 1
  2. 2. Blackjack Mountain is now a publicly protected territory, ensuring the stewardship ofover 312acres of plant and wildlife habitat. Little has been done with the land since its acquisition, savefor the creation of a flattened earth road at the peak and the installation of an emergencycommunication tower. The 1545 foot mountain, one of the highest points in Georgia, is asecluded gem for local equestrians and hikers in Western Georgia ( The localshave been caring for the land long before the county took notice and continue to maintain thetrails with a gentle hand to keep the going safe for horses and hikers. Blackjack Mountain isn’t easy to access. Tucked into the southwest corner of CarrollCounty, near Ephesus, GA, Blackjack Mountain requires is located off Highway 5. The hazymountain peak rises up into the distance as you drive through the country back roads; however,you might not notice you’ve arrived until you have passed it. The dirt access road is a subtledriveway, complete with adjacent home, that abruptly deteriorates into overgrown earth and alow canopy of sparkling sunlight and dark green leaves. Only properly equipped vehicles shouldattempt to drive further. Smaller cars should park on the side of the road.A jeep or sturdy truckand horse trailer can make it through to the small clearing within, low branches notwithstanding. Entering the small clearing at the base of Blackjack Mountain brings you into a world ofgreen that delights the eyes; leafy trees rise up on all sides and grass and low shrubs mottle thefloor with light greens and golden browns. Slender trees dot the center of the area, providingtieposts for the horses.The circular clearing is courtesy of a local farmer and horse rider, and theopen space offers a safe place to tie the horses while saddling up. The unmarked trail opens up atthe back of the clearing and leads to one of two small ponds before inclining steeply. Markedwith fallen trees and slabs of stone, the trail is uncultivated. Cicadas hum and sing, their voicesringing between the trees. The heavy overgrowth is rich with greens and browns, and in late 2
  3. 3. summer and fall the tree branches are heavy with muscadines. Their sweet perfume permeatesthe air and, while passing through the trees, horse and rider alike can pluck the plump fruits,hanging dark purple and black. Muscadinescan be eaten fresh while on the trail and are bestwhen you bite a small hole in the thick skin and suck the juice and pulp from the fruit beforediscarding the flesh. Jams made from the musky saccharine treats are stored throughout theseason and shared at church functions by locals such as Carol McCauley, a resident of CarrollCounty for more than ten years and owner of three Tennessee Walking horses. She frequentsBlackjack Mountain, often with cutters or a machete, with which she prunes the trail lightly, oras lightly as possible from the back of a horse, when the trail becomes impassible. The narrowpath permits only one horse to pass through at a time, and any rider passing behind Carol will begrateful that eye-level branches are cut down. Most horses can pick their way through the fewareas where trees have fallen across the trail, but the delicate footwork may cause some horses toshy away. Clearing out larger debris requires heavier equipment and an extra set of hands. Whenthe fallen trunks aren’t blocking the path, they provide striking scenery along the trail. Themountainside records the passage of intense weather artfully: trees broken against each other byheavy winds intertwine, new growth bending and twisting around fallen trunks and outstretchedbranches. The tormented structures form archways across the trail and tunnels of thick canopy.Daylight filters through the branches into cool shadows, and warm shafts of light speckle thepath. That Blackjack Mountain has a history is apparent as you climb the mountain. Rumoredto have been a prominent landmark on the East-West trading path, the land likely once belongedto the native Creek Indians. Native American tree markers, distinguished by sharp and dramaticbends in tree branches, point the way at regular intervals. Two such markers indicate a grand fire 3
  4. 4. pit. Even dusted with leaves, the purposefulness of the pit is evident in the placement of the mainstone pit and the large family of rock slabs arranged in loose amphitheater fashion. While thepeak of Blackjack Mountain may have once been used for sacred ceremonies, little officialinformation exists or is readily available. No matter what history hides in the stones, be it sacredor arbitrary, there is an unmistakable sense that others once stood here and that you pass in theirfootsteps. Blackjack Mountain’s summit offers views of faraway landscape. The trail opens into agentle dirt road cleared by the county. It’s an ideal spot for lunch and, while the comfortable roadoffers an easy path home with scenic views, there’s more adventure to be had off the beaten path.Unknown riders have marked off side-trails across the mountain, and Carol is slowly working toconnect them into navigable trails. The trails-to-be are discreet, subtle, and not at all easy toexplore.Butthey provide a thrill as you slither down the mountainside in pursuit of what may ormay not prove to be the right way—once you start, the only true direction is down, way down.Just when you’re starting to feel a little hazy about your sense of direction, the older trail appearsin front of you, a little overgrown but gently packed down from long use. The anonymous lowertrail leads past the second pond and edges up to the fenceline of a nearby cattle farm. Wary cattlepeer through the barbed wire, their soft eyes reflecting the sunlight while their mottled black,brown, and white coats soak in the warmth. Cattle calls echo through the small herds. Unripepersimmons fill the trees lining the fence, and the heavy scent of muscadines is finally fading.The way home is more level, but the path is still strewn with large stones. Somewhere there’s anintersection, only Carol knows where, and the clearing at the base of the mountain is suddenly inview, bringing the afternoon ride to an end. 4