We’ve been at Vogel State Park for 13 days now. Upon our arrival I was immediately aware that the vibe here was totally different than that of Tugaloo but I found it difficult to define. Having spent a few days here exploring and working, I think I have finally put my finger on it: Vogel State Park is spooky.
There is an extensive list of contributing factors, the culmination of which creates a kind of energy that is both subtle and yet obtrusive. It’s the kind of energy that causes an almost constant conflict between the rational mind and the irrational heart. This feeling nagged at me incessantly for days before I finally consciously considered it carefully to determine why it has this quality.
The physical landscape is rugged and imposing. While Tugaloo was also wooded, it was more sparse, mainly young pines, and very, very flat. Here, the vast majority of the forest is made up of large, old hardwoods that soar upwards from the forest floor, looming ominously and covering the towering mountain peaks. They themselves hold both a threat of danger (if they should fall), and a sense of history about them. They are the keepers of the mountain, standing tall for many years through fierce storms, bitter winters, and scorching summers. They whisper the history of this land as the breeze tickles at their leaves and whistles eerily through the valleys. They bear the secrets of its violent and bloody past.
Vogel State Park was founded in 1931. The land was previously owned by Fred and Augustus Vogel who owned thousands of acres of land in North Georgia. They harvested the bark from the trees to use in the tanning of leather until a synthetic method of tanning leather was developed during WWI, rendering the operation obsolete. The Vogels subsequently donated the land to the State of Georgia in 1927. The park’s facilities were then developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Young men worked tirelessly to dam wolf creek and hand dig the 22 acre Lake Trahlyta, as well as other park projects.
Long before the arrival of European settlers, however, this land was fabled to be the scene of many gruesome battles between the Cherokee and Creek tribes. One such battle, according to folklore, was so long and gory that it turned the mountain red with blood, giving these peaks their names: Blood Mountain and Slaughter Mountain. Blood Mountain is rumored to have a hidden cave bearing treasure stashed by the Cherokee which many have searched for but never recovered.
These peaks are also said to have been home to an ancient spiritual people called Nunnehi, or the people that live forever. According to folklore the Nunnehi lived underground across Appalachia and protected the Cherokee, often warning them of impending danger, even warning them of their forthcoming removal from their land (known today as the events of the Trail of Tears where the Cherokee were removed to Oklahoma) and inviting the Cherokee to live inside the mountain with them.
It is undeniable that these hills are steeped in a rich history that sets the imagination on fire. Every curve of the winding road bears some relic of days past; the Indian Mounds at Sautee Nacoochee, the Walasiyi Inn (a backpackers’ Inn and outfitters on the Appalachian Trail), and the many arrowheads that litter the river and creek beds waiting for some lucky hiker or fisherman to stumble upon.
One of the particularly eerie places of the park is not actually unique to the park at all. It seems that each park has one and I don’t really know why but it’s becoming something of a favorite for me to visit. I call it the equipment graveyard.
At Tugaloo it was a dirt road off the main state road through the park. Here it is a steep dirt road behind the maintenance complex. It’s a dumping ground for anything and everything in the park that has served its purpose. There are the twisted metal frames of old picnic tables, huge rotting tree trunks of felled trees, giant concrete slabs broken and crumbling, pallets, wheels, engine parts and tractor wheels. They lay crumpled and mangled, vines and grasses of the forest smothering and reclaiming them. It’s tragic for me to see such an abuse of this pristine land, but also beautiful to see the forest slowly creeping back in, bringing new life and continuing the cycle.
This place really comes alive at night though.
The tree canopy is still thick enough to extinguish any light from the moon or stars that tries to penetrate, cloaking the campground in darkness. The only light is from campfires dotted around the park that send shadows dancing into the night. The shuffle of dry leaves and occasional snap of a twig from the lurking raccoons, deer, and sometimes bigger creatures can be heard between the pop and crackle of the campfires. Eerie owl hoots descend through the darkness and the sporadic eruption of howling coyotes over the ridge will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Driving through the park at night to do laundry is a good way to creep yourself out. The road twists down the valley between campsites and turns off the main road through the park onto a narrow track with an old wooden bridge that crosses Wolf Creek. The wooden boards twist and creak under the weight of passing vehicles, the icy water rushing beneath. A sharp curve on the other side winds the track along the creek toward the linen barn. The creek is lined with the gnarled and contorted wild magnolia trees with branches that slither and jut outwards like hands grasping at passersby.
The linen barn is where resident employees and hosts go to do their laundry in the evenings. It’s an old maintenance complex with block walls and no windows except for the small glass panels in the old metal roll up doors. Far from the campground, there are no campfires to light up the darkness.
The building houses old industrial washers and dryers with big tubs on wheels fit for some old haunted hospital from a bad horror movie. With stained concrete floors and a long dark hallway that every creak of each machine echoes through – it seems to have leapt from the pages of a Stephen King book.
The geographical location of Vogel contributes in no small part to its eeriness. Tucked high in the mountain it is isolated and lonely. Campers here, especially in the winter, are at the mercy of the mountain and the weather – which can be unpredictable and turbulent.
We seem to have arrived just as the vibe is shifting from Summer paradise to creepy ghost mountain. The campsite is still busy with tourists coming to gawp at the almost supernatural scenery of the changing leaves, but the buzz of summer activity has ceased and the place feels almost deserted on weekdays.
During the summer months the park’s 90 standard campsites, 18-walk-in campsites, and 34 cottages are usually fully booked months in advance. But this time of year the number of campers willing to brave the unpredictable weather and bitter nights becomes fewer and fewer.
As we walk the park during the day we are lucky to encounter some wonderful people who are friendly and always wanting to know who the young hosts are and what our story is. As we tell them that we are staying through the winter, possibly until the spring, it seems to always be met with a raise of the eyebrows and a “well be careful, it can get kinda rough up here”.
I’m not sure what to expect over the coming months. I know that the first hard freeze is coming in fast tonight and winter seems to be descending quickly through the mountains as the temperature plummets to 12 degrees tonight (about -12 Celsius). There is a definite change in the air and we are looking forward to whatever is thrown at us. Perhaps we will get to see Junior experience his first snow, or even his first white Christmas this year, maybe we’ll get to drink some hot apple cider by the fire or curl up together and watch movies when the weather is bad and enjoy some time inside for once. Or maybe this will be a winter of disaster that ends our short adventure of living in a camper and the mountain will triumph over us. Either way, we know that our first winter in these spooky mountains will be an adventure to remember.
If you enjoy reading about our adventure, you’ll probably enjoy reading about my parents’ adventure too. They are about to embark on a mobile living adventure of their own on a canal boat in England. Read along with them here: https://myblogfromthefrog.wordpress.com