Work has me in Columbus a good bit of the time, and the best way to get there is Georgia Highway 96, which cuts through the heart of the state in almost a straight line to the Chattahoochee Valley. While I love living in Savannah, home for the past quarter century, my heart still has a special spot for the red-clay, rolling landscape of middle Georgia where I grew up, and turning off the interstate onto this old bi-way is like a door opening to another time in life. If I had a dollar for every day I spent fishing on a slow running creek or on the banks of a stained-water river with my Mom and Dad, I could put a down payment on a new BMW. 96 passes through the Ocmulgee River basin and beside the great Oaky Woods, old haunts of mine until I grew up and moved away to college. I stopped by to take a picture on this last trip, and when I took in the sight of the Ocmulgee, broad and the color of caramel after a big rain, and breathed in the distinct and earthy smell of damp woods after a long winter, I could see as clear as day my parents waving to me from their bass boat as they started to launch for an afternoon of fishing. Wouldn’t be truthful if I said I didn’t tear up just a bit.
The highway then makes a crossroad in the little hamlet of Bonaire, home to White Diamond, where you’ll find hands-down the best BBQ in the state. But more about that Georgia classic on my next blog.
Continuing along, you pass through peach country, while the last third of 96 sits atop the Fall line, which is the boundary between the state’s Piedmont Region and the Coastal Plains.
I love this drive in the early spring because of the beautiful rural landscape. Alongside barren fields that held peanuts and cotton during the summer, you’ll find the roadside full of naturalized daffodils, which have sprouted from old farmhouses that dotted the highway a lifetime ago. These are my favorite flowers, and every time I see a clump of them I think of my Mama, and Carrie, my Nannie. On Sunday afternoons in the spring, when I was a child, they would put a couple of enameled wash basins in the trunk of the car, and we’d ride into the country to pick these flowers at old homesteads and on the back roads of middle Georgia. Back in town, we’d take bouquets of the flowers to family and friends. I can’t see a picture of a daffodil without smiling and thinking about Mama and Carrie…..
hwy 96 peach blossoms Orchards in bloom, Peach County, Ga.
Through this area there are also dozens upon dozens of peach orchards that stretch from the roadside as far as the eye can see in all directions. During mid-March, these trees are filled with delicate blossoms that are a gentle pastel pink in color – with a little imagination, the scene comes to mind of someone casting a gauzy, knitted baby’s blanket across a sea of trees.
(The view along Hwy. 96 in Taylor County)
Continuing west through Taylor and Talbot Counties, you straddle what I have heard are the highest points along the Fall Line, at least in west Georgia. While I’m not sure of the history, I would think that in the past this ridge would have been a trail for the Native Americans, and then a trading path for the early settlers. Looking south, the views across the pastures stretch out for miles, showing a horizon of grayish blue woods in the winter, and dark, verdant ones in the summer. Keeping you company as you drive onward to Columbus there are a number of picturesque lakes and ponds, fields full of cattle, thickets of the famed Georgia Pines, and a variety of small unincorporated towns.
(A natural lake on Hwy. 96; a flock of mallards took off when I parked to take the photo)
So when people say "Wow, that is quite a drive you have to make; it must be boring,” I surprise them by saying that I appreciate the time alone. I turn off my iPhone, tune in a little classical music, and enjoy a peaceful ride through one of the state’s most picturesque countryside’s.
Join me on my next blog, and I’ll share with you two of my favorite places to stop and have lunch with the locals, the aforementioned White Diamond Barbeque, and the wonderful taste of the South GLC Snack Shack in downtown Reynolds. Until then, here’s happy wishes to all of you.