Art Meripol

Sound zen? A little out there? Yes—and yes. So grab your calendar, ink in August 21 (a Monday worth taking off), and read on.

That very day, a total solar eclipse of the sun is coming with distinction to North Georgia. Remember, it's that phenom where the moon slides directly in between the sun and earth—and this is the first occurrence in the continental US in the past 38 years. Its path swoops from Oregon on through 10 states before arriving in the upper reaches of the Peach State. At exactly 2:35: 45 p.m. EDT, The Totality—its dramatic nickname—will plunge you into daytime darkness just a tad longer than most anyplace else in the country. For 2 minutes 34 seconds.

You'll also be plunged into the before-during-and-after celebrations taking over Rabun County, Habersham County, and Tallulah Gorge which straddles both counties. It's party-party time with vendors selling the special protective glasses you'll need, other vendors with festive food, and yet more offering commemorative memorabilia. The air will dance with music. You'll want to be there—the next one to mosey this way is 265 years off. Yep, no time like the present.

Plan B

But what if you just can't be there? The consolation prize is a happy one. If your idea of zen is quieter than hoopla and your idea of out-there means literally being embraced by nature on all sides, stop by on any non-eclipse day to play. Tallulah Falls (the town) and Tallulah Gorge, once known as the Niagara of the South, are pure destination.

Since the Gorge, a geological marvel, is also a Georgia state park, you've got plenty of good ways to approach this 2-mile, 1,000 foot epitome of rugged terrain and opportunity. Start with a stroll across a suspension bridge 80 feet above the rocky floor for views of a cascading waterfall and rippling river below. Elsewhere a reconfigured railroad bed, smoothed and paved, appeals to walkers and the occasional runner.

Take a Hike

It's just walking with attitude—and sometimes altitude. Park personnel—who know their way back—lead you on a sunset hike (at the park's highest point, about a mile's journey). There's a gorge floor hike (involving 535 steps downward which, remember, must be climbed upward in return); and a full-moon suspension bridge hike (obviously offered on those bright nights when the amped-up moon does the lighting). You can also embark on a hike to watch whitewater paddlers brave the majesty of the waters. Or join in the twilight paddles, definitely comfort zone, or the more rollicking ones. Park rangers, never short of ideas, tempt you with lists of other activities—including boating on Tullulah Falls Lake, a women's wilderness weekend, and a ranger camp for youngsters.

Cue the Water

Or you could time the trip for a water release—that's when the Georgia Power dam releases huge gushes of water for recreational purposes. The Aesthetic release—14 weekends a year—increases the flow by 200 cubic feet per second. It's energetic enough a flow to halt the hiking and rock climbing on those days. The Whitewater release barrels thunderous water through the gorge, carrying happy kayakers on waters running 500-700 cubic feet per second. Unless you're a very advanced kayaking sort, opt for the North Rim to watch and oogle the first two weekends in April and the first two in November.

History Class (No Exams)

Pause to learn what came before you in and around the gorgeous Gorge. It only takes a nudge of imagination to envision the Native American tribes in these parts. The Cherokee called the soaring rock outcropping Ugunyi long before the arrival of fur trappers and traders (around 1820). The Cherokee lived peacefully—and even helpfully—near the newest residents. But there was one difference: the tribe feared the Falls while the settlers basked in its glistening glory. In fact, the latter were perhaps the earliest travel promoters and brokers, enticing others to make the journey.

And others did flock here. Artists painted landscapes to stir the soul, writers went all flowery with prose. People came to stay the summer in Tallulah Falls (small then, small now). And the extension of the railroad reduced the trip from Atlanta to a number of hours, far better than a number of days. The dam, used for hydroelectricity, came along around 1913. And now you know.

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The Big Picture

Hollywood's been here too. Granted, it's was 45 years ago that filmmakers discovered the tranquil mountain landscape in North Georgia with its fast-moving river and robust waterfalls. They drank in the beauty, then proceeded to use it to backdrop a...redneck horror flick.

Deliverence delivered—garnering Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing. You'll run into a few folks who remember the cameras and the action. And, even now, it only takes a few bars of "Dueling Banjos" to flood your mind with images of this Top 10 Film of 1972. But, unfairly, the film left a better impression of the scenery than the "loco" locals. A tourism office's nightmare.

But with its trademark North Georgia pluck, Tallulah Falls and Gorge—where, while we're on the subject, Karl Wallenda once strung a tightrope and walked successfully across—used the big picture publicity to advantage. The nearby Chattooga River won designation as a Wild and Scenic River after Deliverance came and went. A series of whitewater outfitters launched their still-thriving businesses as people wandered into the region to sample what they'd seen on the screen—the sporty part, not the plot. The rather shady reputation from the film quickly became a calling card to faraway visitors. Hollywood returned again to shoot Wander Lust (Jennifer Anniston/Paul Rudd), Killing Season (John Travolta/Robert De Niro) and Lawless (Shia Labeouf).

Happy Camping

Sleep in your RV or under the stars. Tallulah Falls State Park offers three backcountry primitive camp sites (full access to the trails) or 50 RV and tent camping sites complete with electricity and water. Sign up online; and queue up at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretative Center first thing any morning for permits for the Gorge floor (100 per day and free--stick around the Center for the good film about the park). Why go to the floor? Sliding Rock, at the foot of Bridal Veil Falls, is the only swimming area here—as the name implies, slide directly into the deep, cool water.

The Eaten Path

Let's just suppose you don't want to stick a toe or any other part of you in water or a hiking boot, in a boat or on an overlook. Though we implore you to dig deep and find your outdoor self, there's more to do in Tallulah Falls and the neighboring area. We'll lure you with food and a little shopping, both staples of the getaway life.

Happily, Rabun County loves to feed people. The Georgia legislature proclaimed it the state's Farm to Table Capital with chefs, produce, proteins and keenly curated meals to prove it. Think lush vegetables plump from fertile ground, strategic plantings with menus in mind, three vineyards and two distilleries. The Dillard House, which opened in 1912, was intuitively farm-to-table before the concept turned trendy. It's still strong on flavor—from the old-recipe fried chicken to the yeast rolls, candied sweet potatoes, grandma-style green beans and bubbling fruit cobbler. Go for breakfast, lunch or dinner and banish any thought of calories. It's a 25 minute, definitely worth it, drive to from the Gorge to Dillard.

A leader of the modern movement—and indeed there's a food movement here—is Lake Rabun Hotel and Restaurant which works closely with local growers. Pimento cheese fritters are flash fried with toppings of muscadine-mustard seed jelly. Chefs braise local lamb shank for hours in red wine, juniper berry and anchovy jus to present atop a fresh mint risotto. Any local catch is sure to come fresh from an angler's line—no doubt the same day. It's closest to the Gorge at a mere 8 minutes.

Beechwood Inn Bed & Breakfast sits near notable fly fishing, the Bertram and Appalachian Trails lacing through the countryside, and its own culinary garden. Saturday night chef-designed dinners, limited to 20 grateful guests, sell out quickly (menus are posted on the website three months early). Travel time from Gorge to table is just under 15 minutes.

Before we equal-time it in Habersham County, foodies take note. Beechwood offers cooking classes about three times a month and Wine-Thirty evenings with their own varietals. A series of local Grow-Cook-Eat Farm & Food Tours wind through productive croplands, ending at the county's new food bank. And, of course, a day touring wineries seems appropriately decadent (we suggest Tiger Mountain, Stonewall Creek and 12 Spies Vineyards).

Crossing the Line

The food scene on the Habersham impressively keeps pace with its neighbors. In Clarkesville, about 18 minutes away, Harvest Habersham serves braised pork belly starters, trout dusted with blue corn meal (along with jalapeño and carrot hash, topped with curry butter), and red beet citrus sorbet. It's all sourced from more than 25 growers just a deliver-it-fresh drive away.

There's an infusion of new energy at Glen-Ella Springs Inn whose roots reach back to the late 19th century (generously renovated and gleaming to heart pine perfection, it's listed on the National Register of History Places). In the restaurant, which consistently crops up on "best lists," the lamb may come from New Zealand and the salmon from Scotland, but the rainbow trout and seasonal vegetables have known Georgia soil and water personally. The French onion soup flaunts Vidalias. And the flavor-of-the-week fresh churned ice cream adds a sweet finale. Travel time: 13 minutes.

Or you can opt for Hawg Wild BBQ and Fried Catfish with its Carolina BBQ, Lexington style BBQ, ribs, brisket, chicken and pork. It's the sauces you'll remember plus smoked wings (Mondays) and hushpuppy sides (always). From Gorge: 17 minutes.

Stop to Shop

Can you go from natural wonders or food straight to shopping? It's pretty dang easy, especially if shops offer unique items as locally pleasing as that tasty trout from last night's dinner. Tallulah Point Overlook, true to its name with a swinging bench for sitting and gazing, has been around since 1912—it still offers nostalgic, largely regionally-made gifts: lavender lye soap, carved walking sticks, hand-made flags plus grits, syrup, habanero sauce and jellies. Even Davy Crockett hats and goods by the local blacksmith.

Likewise, Indian Springs Trading Post, under new owners, continues the tradition of boiled peanuts while adding candlestick tables (handmade with a lathe), sock critters (going beyond monkey to kittens and bunnies), and rag rugs. Proceeds from a room stocked with donated items go to the Children's Miracle Network—yard sale prices help you buy more and help. And Lakemont Gallery, which recently moved three doors down, features the work of artist-owner Ginny McClure and others—her red canoe series deserves wall space.

So, looking back and forward too, Tallulah Falls, Gorge, and surroundings can easily keep you in the dark (for The Totality of that almost 3 minutes in August) or provide daylight and moonlight times filled with exploring, eating and memory-making.  The call is yours. The reward too.