The dog days of summer have set in, and, accordingly, Augusta's activity calendar has slowed to the pace of a worn-out basset hound lumbering across the porch.
The bottom line: There's not much going on in town and not much summer vacation left before school starts again.
But within a couple of hours' driving distance of Augusta one-day family entertainment abounds.
From White Water family water park in Atlanta's northern suburbs to Columbia's Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden to Paramount Carowinds near Charlotte, N.C., we've outlined some doldrums-beating day-trips to chase away the summertime blues.
For thrill seekers
Six Flags over Georgia, located about 15 minutes west of Atlanta on Interstate 20, has added another roller coaster.
The Georgia Scorcher, which requires passengers to stand, strapped into purple, bullet-nosed trains that approach 54 mph on 3,000 feet of twisted, looping track, debuted this season.
It marks the eighth roller coaster at the park, joining the Dahlonega Mine Train, the Great American Scream Machine, the Mind Bender, the Georgia Cyclone, Ninja, Viper and Batman the Ride.
Also new this year is Carnival of Chaos, a stunt show inspired by the Batman comic books. Other park attractions include more thrill rides, children's rides, games, water adventures and Broadway-style musicals.
Single-day admission is $32.99, $16.50 for children shorter than 48 inches and seniors, and free for children 2 and younger.
Park hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday through Thursday, Aug. 12; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 15-20, Aug. 22 and Aug. 29; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Saturday, Aug. 13-14 and Aug. 21 and Aug. 28. The park shifts to weekend-only operation after Aug. 23. For general information about Six Flags, call (770) 948-9290 or visit the Web site: www.sixflags.com/georgia.
Another amusement park roughly the same distance away from Augusta and also boasting eight roller coasters is Paramount's Carowinds, about 15 minutes south of Charlotte, straddling the North Carolina-South Carolina border.
It has movie-themed thrill rides, including a new roller coaster based on the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun, and a water park. Rides include the Drop Zone stunt tower, a 100-foot, 56 mph free-fall, and there are entertainment shows, a 12-acre water park and several children's attractions.
General park admission is $32.99 for one day, $20.99 for children ages 3 to 6 and seniors, and free for children 2 and younger. Admission for all ages after 5 p.m. every operating day is $17.99. Admission for guests with disabilities is also $17.99.
From Augusta, take I-20 east to Interstate 77 north in Columbia, then go north toward Charlotte and exit onto Carowinds Boulevard (exit 90), north of Rock Hill, S.C.
The park opens daily at 10 a.m., but closing times vary. Call (800) 888-4FUN or visit the park's Web site at www.carowinds.com for more information.
Reach the faux beach
Don't want to go all the way to the beach and worry about overnight accommodations?
At White Water, near Atlanta, four sections of water slides, wave pools, simulation rivers and beaches known as Wildwater Lagoon, Slippery Ridge, Pine Valley and Flash Flood Canyon provide a remedy for land lubbers.
Regular admission for anyone taller than 4 feet is $22.99. Children 3 and older up to 4 feet tall pay $14.99, and toddlers get in for $4.99. In the wake of last year's E-coli virus outbreak linked to the park, free swim diapers, which are required for diaper-aged children going in the water, are provided with admission. Admission for patrons who don't want to ride any of the waterslides is $9.99.
From Augusta, take I-20 west to northbound Interstate 75 in Atlanta. White Water is at Exit 113. (Follow the signs off the exit.)
Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Sunday, Aug. 22. The park also is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 28-29. The park is closed on weekdays starting Monday, Aug. 23.
For more information about White Water, call (770) 424-9283 or check out the Web site at www.whitewaterpark.com.
FOR NATURE LOVERS
Also in Atlanta are the Fernbank Science Center and Fernbank Museum of Natural History, nestled on 70 acres of woodlands in Druid Hills, one of the city's ritziest neighborhoods.
The science center has a planetarium, greenhouse, exhibit hall, library and observatory open to the public. Admission is free, but the planetarium costs $1 for students and children and $2 for adults. For hours and more information, call (404) 378-4311.
A traveling exhibit Africa: One Continent, Many Worlds, runs through Sept. 2 at the Museum of Natural History.
The exhibit, intended to broaden the Dark Continent's image beyond news of famine, war and tragedy, features video tours, photo murals, multimedia presentations, a replica slave ship and a life-size robotic rhinoceros.
The museum also features permanent exhibits highlighting Georgia's landforms and natural history, a collection of pre-Hispanic Peruvian artifacts and a 315-seat special effects IMAX theater.
Museum admission, which includes the Africa exhibit, is $8.95 for adults, $7.95 for students and seniors, $6.95 for children 12 and younger.
The IMAX theater is showing Africa's Elephant Kingdom, featuring larger-than-life footage of elephants in their natural habitat of Kenya and Zimbabwe shot from a helicopter, hot air balloon and a specially designed crane.
The film shows at 11 a.m. and 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 5. Admission (which is separate from museum charges) is $6.95 for adults, $5.95 for students and seniors and $4.95 for children 12 and younger. Call (404) 370-3060.
To get to the Fernbank complex, take I-20 west to Atlanta and exit onto Moreland Avenue (Exit 28A), turn right and go through Little Five Points, then turn right on Ponce De Leon Avenue. Take a left on Clifton Road. The museum entrance, 767 Clifton Road, is on the right.
More animal-oriented entertainment is available at Zoo Atlanta, located just east of downtown in the city's Grant Park.
The zoo's collection includes nearly 1,000 specimens, representing 250 species of animals from all over the world. The main attraction is Willie B., a western lowland gorilla who came to the zoo in 1961.
Admission to Zoo Atlanta is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for ages 3-11 and free for children 2 and younger.
For more information, call (404) 624-5600 or visit the zoo's Web site at www.zooatlanta.org/.
Also located in Grant Park next to the zoo is Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum, home of the what is billed as the world's largest painting, The Battle of Atlanta, and home of the historic Civil War locomotive Texas.
It is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for children ages 6-12 and free for children younger than 6. Call (404) 624-1071 or (404) 658-7625.
To get to Grant Park, take I-20 west to Exit 26. Proceed south about 1/2 mile until the first traffic light. Take a right at the light on Berne Street and follow the signs through the park to the zoo's main parking lot on Cherokee Avenue.
A little bit closer to Augusta is Columbia's Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens, on the banks of the Saluda River.
More than 2,000 animals are housed in natural habitat exhibits that use psychological barriers such as moats, water and light instead of bars and cages. Also on site is a 70-acre botanical garden with native- and exotic-plant exhibits.
It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission, which includes the gardens, is $6.25 for adults, $3.75 for children ages 3-12 and free for ages 2 and younger.
From Augusta, take I-20 east toward Columbia. Take Exit 64A onto Interstate 26 east. Take the Riverbanks Zoo/Greystone Boulevard exit and follow the signs. For more information, call Riverbanks at (803) 779-8717 or look it up on the Internet at www.riverbanks.org.
A mixture of nature park, amusement park and historic marker, Stone Mountain Park, 16 miles east of Atlanta, features the Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad, a 363-acre lake and recreation area, museum, a paddle-wheel riverboat, antique car and treasure museum, wildlife preserve and petting zoo, a laser show and an antebellum plantation.
Patrons can hike up the mountain or ride a sky lift.
The Confederate memorial carving, billed as the largest relief sculpture in the world, features the likeness of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson carved into nearly three acres of the mountain's north face.
The park is open 6 a.m. to midnight daily. Attractions are open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily in the summer, weather permitting.
Admission is free, but one-time parking permits are $6 per car. An all-attraction "Rock-N-Roll" pass for Georgia residents is $10. Individual attraction and parking fees vary. For 24-hour park information, call (800) 317-2006 or visit the Web site at www.stonemountainpark.org/.
Stone Mountain is on U.S. Highway 78 in DeKalb County. From Augusta, take I-20 west to Interstate 285 North to Exit 30B (Stone Mountain Freeway/Highway 78 East). Travel 7.7 miles and exit to the Stone Mountain Park East Gate Entrance.