It was a sunny summer day in Atlanta. And as it had been since I arrived for my vacation, the city woke up early, flaunting its ethereal beauty and its peculiar freshness, the type you can only get from the lush green forest of the amazon. Are you thinking of the Brazilian amazon? But this is no jungle. It is a modern, picturesque city, one of America’s best, ever beckoning visitors to its enthralling belly.
Having spent my first days, on this trip, indoor, catching up with sleep, and whiling time with the television and organ music, my brother-in-law, Ken Orji, and his wife, Helen, my first cousin, thought I should ‘know’ Atlanta. And where else would I be able to ‘know’ Atlanta better than the Stone Mountain landscape, a classic tourist destination, one of the very best America offers the world. To Ken and Helen, if Ii must enjoy this vacation, then a pilgrimage to the Stone Mountain is non-negotiable.
Haven been born in Idanre, Ondo State, a city fortified by the Almighty with its intimidating rings of rocky mountains jotting into the skyline, threatening to touch the sky, I never thought any mountain can waoh me. Not even Everest. Not even Kilimanjaro.
I held fast to this believe even as we began the journey to the Stone Mountain. As we drove along, I pondered on the name: ‘Stone Mountain’, and asked myself, ‘which mountain is not made of stone or rock?’ Is there any mountain made of sand? Are stones and mountains not members of the same family, the same community of hard and rugged creations? I kept wondering. But was I confused? I leave that to your imagination.
Now, the driving distance between Atlanta and our destination, the Stone Mountain, is 25 miles or 40 kilometres, and it will take at least, 28 minutes to drive, barring any traffic snarl.
The answers to my inquisitiveness came pouring in as we drove closer to our destination. There are stones along the way to the mountain. Though the stones got to where they sit by nature, they have been turned into stones of wealth.
Sighting the mountain afar off invoked the vivid memories of my ancestral home, Idanre. It brings to vivid view, even if in my subconscious, the great Orosun Hill which you need over 300 steps to climb to reach the top. I love heights. I love Idanre and its hills. I love Orosun Hill, and climbing it is often a pleasurable experience.
Suddenly, we are at the foot of the Stone Mountain. As I tilted my head almost 90 degrees to view this behemoth, I remember what we were taught in secondary school about the Stone Age. I mused. I told myself, Boy this is not Orosun. And no Jupiter would force me to climb this one let alone get to the top. But, I was wrong. Once I entered the cable car, I began to soak in every bit of this spectacle sprawling before me. In the cable car, I saw nature at its best. I saw another wonder of the world.
Boy, this is a mountain. And, it’s not just a mountain. Trust the Americans. They have turned this spectacle to a money spinning resource, raking billions of dollars in revenue for the State of Georgia, a state with a large concentration of Nigerians, compatriots contributing their quota to Atlanta’s development.
We drove into a sprawling ground of the size of a city populated by over two million people. The whole area is so designed to cater for all genders, irrespective of age. The place is made a home for those who crave privacy and comfort and can stay for as long as their purses can carry them-days, months, even years. Here there is no age barrier for the use of facilities at the site. Indeed, campers have more to choose from in terms of facilities that will suit their dreams.
The Stone Mountain, our tour guide told us, is more than eight kilometers in circumference; that is-at its base. It was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1959, as a memorial to the confederacy; and was officially opened on April 14, 1965.
Interestingly, Stone Mountain is also temporary residence for retirees, male and female, most of who renew and relive their ages of gold gone by. For them, the Stone Mountain is one rendezvous retired but not tired folks cannot afford to miss. It’s their campground.
There are over 440 sites to behold at the Stone Mountain. Individuals or groups rent sites under the lush green trees most especially when any festival or public holidays are approaching. They move into the ground with various shapes of camp vehicles, popularly called Home Vehicles, fitted with conveniences like convertible beds, kitchenette with coolers, microwave, fridge, air-conditioners, 3 Ds Television, among others. Fitted with the vehicle is a canopy to enjoy the fresh air outside while listening to the chirping of birds.
Additional amenities for campers include a general store, swimming pool, volley ball court, and laundry facilities. Rates for each space range from $35 to $100. Just a stone’s throw from the campground is a golf course managed by Marriott Golf. The Stone Mountain Golf Club offers 36 championship holes, as well as practice facilities. The golf course hosts international competitions and attracts the best golfers from Professional Golf Association PGA. There is also a man-made lake that is large enough to host sailing and boating competitions, apart from private boat expedition. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed on any of the privately owned boats.
The Stone Mountain premises has a four star hotel managed by Marriott with facilities for 336 guest rooms, restaurant, bar, fitness centres, whirlpools, swimming pools, event halls, and good and well-secured parking lot. It also has a confederate hall that also serves as Historical and Environmental Education Centre.
Around the Stone Mountain is the design for 1996 Centennial Olympic Archery and Cycling venues. It has also been developed into songbird habitat- two kilometres of songbird habitat, one mile meander trail, and two kilometres for wood park with a wide array of plant life food for a variety of birds. These stated amenities are some of the things campers enjoy at the ground level of the Stone Mountain.
Getting set for the mountain, you prepare for Summit Sky Ride by purchasing your ticket. You don’t need a ticket if you want to hike it by foot. Doing it by foot is a Herculean exercise as there are no steps but four hours through winding road to the top of mountain. The high speed Swiss Cable car provides a stunning view of the Confederate Memorial Carving that was completed on March 2, 1972.
The cable car moves every 20 minutes and can accommodate 20 passengers per trip. It moves at a fast speed of ten minutes to 825 feet above the ground to the top of mountain. Your journey begins at the train station by climbing into a full size locomotive. It is a lively five- kilometre excursion around the mountain as you marvel at the beautiful views of Stone Mountain and the surrounding landscape. At the top of the mountain, you can see every part of Atlanta sprawling inside lush green forest. I understand that the trees are part of the city’s plan to add to healthy living of the dwellers. The spectacle that you see down below are green leaves and not roofs. This makes you wonder: where is the city. At the top of mountain you have food and gift shops where souvenirs, films and sundry items are sold. There is not much to see on top of the mountain except the breath of fresh air. During Christmas and New Year festivities, people host parties there.
The lessons that I brought back from my trip to Stone Mountain are: one, the turning of inanimate object like this mountain into a veritable source of internally generated revenue (IGR); two, turning an artificial habitat into a natural ambience for many Americans, both young and old. The organizers’ targets are those looking for comfort and quietness away from home. To them, change of environment brings freshness into creativity and innovation. No wonder, scientists and technicians populate the campground.
Coming home, I keep wondering why Nigeria has not broken into making tourism another source of big revenue aside from petroleum. There are thousands of sites in this country that need the ingenuity of some eggheads to turn them into money spinning ventures. Instead, government is daily sinking money into oil exploration in the desert. The era of rejoicing in oil boom is fast ebbing. Many countries, especially in the Middle East, are frantically looking for alternatives to oil and tourism is their number one target. In the developed countries, reliance on oil is fast diminishing. They are seriously capitalizing on bio fuel and electricity to power vehicles and other things that oil has been doing for them. This is the time the leadership of this country should start committing huge money and other resources into areas of diversification of our economy. In no distant future, our oil will cease to be attractive to the world. Then, we would have no other choice than to put on our thinking cap and do the needful. The time for that is now.