At the southern and western end of the Blue Ridge Mountains a tall, lonely peak guards the foothills of the Appalachians. For both white men and Cherokee before them this ridge has held an enigmatic secret. Piles of non-native rock, many of them large, form a wall that runs more than 800 feet.
We begin our journey traveling State Road 52 to the north and west of Ellijay. The road rises gradually at first, until we are past the turn for Forest Service Road 68 (to the Cohutta Loop). From here the gradual climb becomes more dramatic, and the curves sharper and more frequent. A number of turns and pull-offs grace the road on both sides. After ascending more than a thousand feet the entrance to the park appears suddenly to the right. The first right inside the park takes us up to the park office. The Park Superintendent recounted the early days of "The Fort."
Built on land donated by former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, much of the original work in the park was completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930's. Based in Eton, Georgia, the workers used local materials whenever possible to construct buildings, pavilions, including many of the stone steps in the park. A fire tower at the tallest point in the park allowed the first rangers to spot fires up to 40 miles away. These men constructed many of the paths in the park, including the wall loop trail.
Built by the CCC, this fire tower stands at Fort Mountain State Park
After leaving the park office our journey to the top of Fort Mountain. We climb the road by car, wishing we had saved time to make the trek along the Gahuti ("Mother Mountain") Backpacking Trail, an 8.2 mile loop trail entirely in the park. This is an excellent walk, with many spectacular views and although not recommended, it is possible to walk this trail in a single day. At the peak of the mountain our destination calls, a wall of stone and the fire tower above it.
If you choose the direct trail to the wall, the path ascends stairs built by the CCC. A better choice is to circle the mountaintop on the Loop trail, heading for the fire tower and overlook first. This is a more gradual climb and offers an excellent panorama of the Cohuttas and the Ridge and Valley area of Northwest Georgia, especially in the winter (if you can get to the park). The loop is blazed with yellow rectangles and it is easy to follow. At the beginning of the trail to the stone wall, take a right instead of going straight. About three-quarters of the way around the loop (just under a mile), a short trail to the right leads to an overlook. It is well worth the walk as it opens to an unimpeded view of Georgia's Ridge and Valley section. To the left is the fire tower. Over the past several years we have become enamored with the work of the CCC and have made trips just to photograph the remaining pieces. The original tower on top of Brasstown Bald (replaced by a taller metal structure in 1947) was similar to this, although larger.
Enigmatic. Puzzling. Mysterious. These words are frequently used to explain a nondescript stone wall at the top of a mountain in Georgia. The wall runs 855 feet and varies in height from two to six feet. When built, it was probably significantly taller. Why was it built? Who built it? When was it built? These are the questions puzzled hikers ask.
The time frame for construction ranges from 500B.C. to 1500A.D. The current commonly accepted date for construction is 500 A.D. The myths of the culture who built it abound. Local Indian culture speaks of a race of "moon-eyed" people. Some choose to interpret this as "white people", inferring that the dark eyed Indians would select this as a description for a light skinned blue eyed race. If the "moon-eyed" people myth can be believed it would more likely be a reference to the god they worshiped than to the shape of their eyes.
Locations of similar walls
Stone Mountain, Dekalb Co. Alec Mountain, Habersham Co. Sand Mountain, Catoosa Co. Ladd Mountain, Bartow Co. Rocky Face, Whitfield Co. Pigeon Mountain, Dade County Lookout Mountain, Tennessee deSoto Falls, Alabama
Another myth revolves around the Welsh prince Madoc. He arrived in Mobile Bay around 1400 AD and moved north from there. Several petroglyphs support the existence of this legend. Critics of this theory quickly point out that the English were trying to lay claim to the land in the late 1600's and this may be a product of somebody's fertile imagination.
Currently, most scholars believe that the wall originated about 500A.D. and has a spiritual purpose. Many early cultures built structures related to astronomical events. In this case the wall runs east to west around a precipice. The effect is that the sun illuminates one side of the wall at sunrise and on the other side at sunset. North American Indian cultures generally spiritualized the sun and all things in nature. The absence of religious icons at the site actually supports this theory since it was common practice for American Indians to take ceremonial objects with them when they moved.
Big Rock Nature Trail
Having seen the wall we return down the mountain and make a right toward the camping area. A small man-made mountain lake is near these campgrounds. Past the lake is the recently reworked Big Rock Nature Trail. The trail is named for a boulderfield through which it passes, and for a brief time it shares the footpath with the Gahuti.
Fort Mountain State Park,
Chatsworth, Georgia, 30705
Fee charged, yearly pass available
From the west, take GA 52 7 miles east of Chatsworth
From the east take Georgia Highway 515 to Ellijay. Turn left at US 76 and continue straight when US 76 makes an immediate left. Cross a bridge and turn left at GA Highway 52. Travel 18.5 miles to Fort Mountain State Park on the right