The massive gray dome of granite, five miles in circumference, rises 825 feet above its surroundings just east of Atlanta. That's Stone Mountain, an unusual sight to say the least.
And at the base of the mountain is a 3,200-acre park, open year-year, that attracts Florida-bound I-75 travelers who don't mind detouring a bit off the beaten path for a little sightseeing and change of pace.
The prime attraction is the carving on the side of the mountain, hailed as the world's largest sculpture. Set in a niche the size of a city block, the carving depicts Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson, all riding horses.
Another idea of its size: The figure of Lee is the height of a nine-story building and his horse is 145 feet wide. The sculpture was started in 1923 by the man who later did Mt. Rushmore, but it wasn't completed until 1971.
Two hughe Swiss-made cable cars provide transportation to the top of the mountain. Or you can hike on foot up a 1.3-mile path to the summit. The scenic skylift gives passengers a close-up view of the sculpture as well as an over-all look at the entire countryside. The Plaza of Flags and museum are at the cable car terminal atop the mountain. The sculpture is on the mountain's northern face, and the hiking trail leads up the western side.
During the winter months, you can ride a 1910 trolley car around the base of the mountain. In spring and summer, replicas of three Civil War steam locomotives cover the five-mile rail route. Also located at the foot of the mountain and directly in front of the carving is the newly completed Confederate Memorial Plaza. It features a two-acre reflection pool, with 13 terraces.
The Plaza leads to Memorial Hall, containing a museum full of war relics.
And at nearby Confederate Hall, there's a sound and light diorama depicting war in Georgia. Both buildings contain information centers to guide you to other park attractions.
An antebellum plantation covering 14 acres depicts life in the early 19th century with oldtime buildings reassembled from throughout the state. Most interesting is "The Big House," built in the 1840s at Deckey, Ga., near Albany, and moved to Stone Mountain in 1961 with all its furnishings. Costumed hostesses welcome visitors.
The Clayton Craft Shop next to the plantation has a wide variety of Georgia crafts for sale -- pottery, jewelry, quilts, leather products, baskets.
Lakes provide swimming and boating during the summer, and a 500-acre campground is open all year. Also open, daily except Monday, is an 18-hole championship golf course, along with eight tennis courts. The Game Ranch, a 10-acre children's zoo, and an Antique Auto and Music Museum are added attractions. The park also offers a number of special events during the year.
Stone Mountain Inn, facing the mountain, has 90 rooms with prices ranging from $32 to $42 double, and you can sit on the front porch in a rocking chair with a view of the sculpture. The inn also has a pleasant dining room.
Scientists believe the giant piece of granite was almost 300 million years in the making. Intense heat, pressure and molten material simmered beneath the earth's crust, pushing it upward. And as the mass began to cool over millions of years, steady erosion on the earth's surface uncovered huge bald Stone Mountain as we see it today.
Three sculptors worked on the carving on the side of the mountain, including Gutzon Borglum, who later did Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Atlanta project was began in 1923. After two years, Borglum became frustrated with the whole thing and quit. Augustus Lukeman continued the work and by March 1928 had completed rough figures of Davis, Lee and Jackson. But financial problems stopped his work.
The monument went untouched for 30 years, until the Georgia Legislature established the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, giving it authority to complete the work, purchase the mountain and surrounding land and make it into a recreational-educational park.
Walter Krikland Hancock of Gloucester, Mass., was selected to finish the sculpture, and his crew went to work in 1964 with a totally different technique from the earlier years. Instead of maul, chisel and air drill, a thermo jet was used to cut through the granite and by 1971, almost half a century after the project was started, the job was completed.
If you plan to go, Stone Mountain Park is located 15 miles east of Atlanta. Take i-285 East to the Stone Mountain Freeway (US-78) and follow the signs seven miles to the park.
The park is open from 6 a.m. to midnight every day of the year. Attractions operate from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the winter and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer months.
Park entrance fee is $2.50 per car, with the skylift up the mountain costing $2.25 for adults and $1.25 for children. An all-attraction book is available at park information centers for $8.95 for adults, $5.50 for children. aOr you can have a choice of several attractions for $5.75 for adults, $3.25 for children. Both of these books include the skylift.