"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Callaway Gardens, GA: Day One

Here we are for two weeks in the Georgia hills, at the Pine Mountain RV park in the town of the same name.  Our main purpose for being here is to visit Callaway Gardens, so that's what I'll be sharing in the next couple of posts.

We started our visit at the Discovery Center (their name for the visitors center) to get oriented and determine how to proceed. Callaway Gardens is a very large place, with several sections that we wanted to be sure to see, and several that we thought we'd put off for another day.  Admission to the park during this high season for the azaleas is $25/person ($20 for seniors) so we wanted to make the best of our time.

The Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center (above) is beautifully situated right on the largest of about eight lakes at Callaway.  In addition to an orientation film, a gift shop and a cafe there is an awesome display of hand crafted local wildflowers made completely of copper. Very impressive.

Although one can bike or drive around the grounds, we chose to walk it on this first day, to get a close up sense of the place.  (We also didn't have a good grasp of just how huge the place is!) There are boardwalks and docks surrounding the Discover Center, and various kinds of attendant local wildlife. We were there early, with almost no one else around, and as we walked out onto the bridge that spans one side of the Center to the other, a whole flock of turtles rose up from the bottom of the lake to greet us.  We were kind of puzzled about why they were paddling along with us as we crossed the bridge, behaving not at all turtle-like. Then we noticed the turtle food dispensers situated along the railings.  (Readers may recall how I feel about feeding the animals.) Hmmph. We must have been their first feeders of the day.

Our walk took us along the many well marked trails winding through lots of woodsy areas...

as we headed for the Callaway Brothers' Azalea Bowl, where we expected to see gobs of spectacular azaleas.

Not bad...There were quite a few bushes in bloom, but many were past their prime (as you can see the the foreground of the above photo), and we hypothesized as well that many of the blossoms had been hit by the bouts of cold and even freezing weather Georgia has had this spring.  

The native azalea species were doing much better than the exotics and Asian species, and we enjoyed the range of colors and more airy bush shapes of those as we walked through the woods. We also enjoyed three (!) snake encounters. That's more snakes than we saw the whole time we were in Florida. We saw a banded water snake near the visitor center, what I think was a black racer crossing the road, and this unidentified guy near one of the walkways. 

Another loop of the trail took us around a lake and out to the oft photographed and painted Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. (Most of the park features seem to be named after Callaway family members.)

The inside of this nondenominational Christian chapel was small, peaceful and colorful.  All of the stained glass windows had purely natural motifs, as seems fitting. The four side panels represented the four seasons. Rick got this nice picture of one of the two largest windows.

Then on to the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center, which houses a variety of wet and dry environment tropical plants, as well as a changing display of flowering garden plantings. I especially liked this hanging garden arrangement.

There were some tropicals, like this one, that I don't recall ever seeing before, not even in Hawaii.

The conservatory is a nifty indoor-outdoor building with these enormous paneled doors, as well as walls and ceilings that can open and close as needed to maintain the right temperature and humidity. 

The succulents were planted in an unusual way along a stone wall that you can see in the photos above and below. 

It looked like it might have been inspired by the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns, (pictured below).

The conservatory housed some orchids too.

We took a lunch break back at the Discover Center Cafe, which was not noteworthy, but gave us a needed rest before we hiked over to the Day Butterfly Center.

It was very similar to the butterfly house we recently visited in Gainesville, but we both liked it better. It was aesthetically more pleasing, and they weren't so fussy about the rules. (The Gainesville museum was a little overbearing - giving you a lecture before you entered about all the things you couldn't do.) And yet, I  didn't see anyone visitors brutalizing the butterflies here. 

My favorite part of these butterfly places is the nursery. They almost always have windows through which you can see the chrysalis supply, and watch the butterflies emerging. The one above is a blue morpho - very popular at these places because of its large size and bright blue inner wing color. Rick got this incredible close up of this butterfly, but I don't know its name.

Hanging in the round foyer of the butterfly building was a spectacular naturally themed chandelier - just one part of what I meant by aesthetically pleasing. 

Our last hike of the day just took us back through the wooded areas as we headed for our car. The woods is sprinkled with blooming domestic azaleas, dogwoods, red buckeyes and this tree that I'm not familiar with. The blossom is only about 1.5" in diameter and kind of hidden under the leaves. Anyone know what it is?

After a lot of walking, we were pretty pooped and ready for a restful evening back home.  The RV park overlooks two beautiful small farms and we get a great view of the sunset most nights. 

Until our next visit to Callaway...

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