At least one day a week, if the weather is decent and I have no pressing issues to deal with, I go exploring in Georgia. I might visit places only a few miles from my home in Decatur or as far away as the coast, which usually means an overnight stay in a cheap motel.

Often, I have no idea where I’ll end up. On any given day, my rambling might take me to small towns, wildlife preserves, swamps, state parks, funky museums, covered bridges, white-pillared mansions, old cotton mills, quaint farms, peach groves, apple orchards, rushing mountain streams, tidal creeks, meadows, gardens, lakes, and on and on.

I’ll take lots of photos—hundreds of pictures of old barns, country churches, tumbled-down sharecropper cabins, courthouses, produce stands, old stores, horses and cattle grazing in pastures, tractors, wildflowers, birds, turtles, butterflies, cotton fields, junk cars, and on and on.

People ask why I do it. My honest answer is: I don’t have a clue. I just know that I love it.

Perhaps one reason, though, is that I am immensely curious about Georgia. Even after living here nearly 50 years, I still haven’t seen it all: I still come upon profoundly beautiful scenes that leave me breathless. To me, Georgia may be just as beautiful, fascinating and history-rich as the places in other states and around the world that I travel thousands of miles to see.

A year or so ago, I decided to explore one of Georgia’s longer state highways in its entirety, taking time to absorb everything worthy of attention along the way. I chose the longest state route of all, Georgia Highway 11—376 miles long, mostly rural, running north to south through the middle of the state. It starts at the North Carolina line 10 miles north of Blairsville in the Blue Ridge Mountains, runs through the rolling Piedmont and across the flat Coastal Plain. It terminates at the Florida line near the Okefenokee Swamp in perhaps the remotest section of Georgia.

In essence, it cuts the state in half, a dividing line of sorts between east and west Georgia. (The Fall Line is considered the dividing line between north and south Georgia.)

Along its route, Highway 11 runs through 20 Georgia counties and almost as many county seats with their old courthouses. (In some stretches, it is concurrent with some more familiar highways, such as U.S. 129, 41 and 78, but in many areas it is all by itself).

In short, Highway 11 traverses Georgia’s heart and soul, offering a slice of the state’s rich culture, history, and natural beauty. Few other highways can match 11’s motley mix of quaint towns, peaceful farms, serene mountain valleys, meadows and forests lush with wildflowers, old barns, historic churches, antebellum mansions, old stores, waterfalls, jungle-like rivers, and even scenic swamps with bellowing alligators.

It’s like stepping back in time across Georgia—a soothing balm for one’s wanderlust.

Charles Seabrook

Charles Seabrook wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than three decades and is a regular contributor to Atlanta Senior Life.