Updated: May 6
Buckle up, cats and kittens, and join Trailheads as we discover the joys and macabre weirdness of Doll's Head Trail in Atlanta's Constitution Lakes Park.
Steve couldn't make this hike because his lovely bride tested positive for Covid. So, even though he is vaxxed AF, Steve was a good citizen and quarantined while Trailmaster Guy led George (back from Hawaii and not wearing a lei), Brad, Roy, and Patrick on a unique hike unlike any we've done.
The history of Doll's Head Trail is as rich as a bowl of New Orleans gumbo. Constitution Lake Park is a 125-acre thriving wetland and wildlife refuge popular with bird watchers. The site was home to South River Brick Company, a 19th Century operation that closed in 1907. The factory manufactured bricks from Georgia red clay and dug deep holes that eventually filled with rainwater. Shazam––Constitution Lake was born. (Keep this recipe in mind if you ever want to make a lake.)
DeKalb County bought the property in 2003 and constructed paved trails and boardwalks around the ponds. In February 2011, a carpenter named Joel Slaton began exploring the area. He made his way to the eastern end of the park, where he discovered doll parts– "mostly heads, arms, and legs, no torsos," he said.
Barbie’s boyfriend Ken had better have a good alibi. He’s our #1 suspect. Watch yourself, Barbie!
Slaton also discovered appliance pieces, bicycle parts, bricks, and trash galore. Being a man of imagination, the carpenter began assembling vignettes of the found objects and lining the trail with these curious works. He was worried Dekalb County officials wouldn't like his art project and was prepared to clean it up. But Dave Parker, leader of the park system, loved it. Soon, word spread, and people came and helped clean up the former dumpsite and lent their support.
Local artists joined the fun and began creating beauty with found objects, adding thought-provoking concepts to their work. The result of this effort is a fabulous outdoor museum displaying over 100 pieces of art in a beautiful one-acre area bordered by train tracks and ponds. The cool kids on social media began posting photos of the installations.
Some of the pieces are clever and fun or prophetic. Some are wistful or haunting. It can be as crazy as an Alice Cooper Billion Dollar Babies tour from 1973. Mother Nature adds her touches to the unprotected pieces with deterioration and age. What started as a crazy juxtaposition of doll parts, gears, bricks, and coffee pots scrawled with messages or lyrics become inspiring works in a lush natural environment. It makes you wonder if Norman Bates isn't hiking joyfully along the trail behind you, looking for Mother.
Don't get into the shower, Barbie—it’s a trap! Run, Barbie, run!!!
Enter five Trailheads with Elvis and Fio. The lake/ponds are beautiful, and the young forest the trails wind through showed off their new green wardrobe. We hiked into the section where Doll's Head Trail begins. Words can't describe what you'll discover along the trail (intrepid Trailheads had iPhones in their hands, capturing all the glory). The artists, including Slaton, Hunter Franklin, Joe Peery, Kyle Brooks, and Dee Claiborne, have created a magical space where buried discarded objects have come back to life in surprising, fun, and curiosity-provoking ways.
Honestly, we bought into the creepy legend and found many of the installations conceptually profound and charming. That's quite a tall order with a crew of cynical marketeers.
While we gawked and talked, Elvis and Fio made their way to the waterside. Elvis' Black Lab blood drove him to dive into the brackish swamp water and return to shake himself dry next to Patrick. The Eau de Stinky Swamp did not amuse the Trailhead. Honey Badger don't care, and neither does Elvis. The rambunctious pup wants everyone to experience the refreshing swamp water just like he did.
We strolled through the art and past the trunk remains of the largest willow oak tree inside the Perimeter (it sports a toilet seat framing the face of Speed Racer 2 now). Then, Guy led us off the beaten track into his "There is no such thing as trespassing" zone. We explored a train trestle, and Brad threw a stick into the clean water running beneath it, and Elvis fetched the stick toot-sweet. That's how you get a part-lab to take a bath. A freight train roared by overhead, reminding us that while the brickyard is long gone, the railroad is still running all the live-long day.
And who the hell is in the kitchen with Dinah?!
We encountered lovely, well-maintained boardwalks and paths on our return journey to the parking lot. However, we did occasionally have to straddle fallen trees. And step over the molted skins of what have become even bigger snakes lurking somewhere. We're assuming they are good snakes—helpful slitherers who eat bad snakes and maybe even Chiggers. Trailheads hate Chiggers––remember the tragedy at Chigger Holler? You can get the commemorative tee shirt here.
When we finished the hike, we were off for some barbecue. We selected Ray's Southern Foods in Forest Park, which opened in 2016, tucked in the corner of a large retail plaza. The woman at the counter was friendly and helpful, and we put in our orders just before the lunch rush.
Most Trailheads got the brisket. George, still in a Hawaiian state of mind, wanted his dressed in a tiny grass skirt adorned with pineapple slices––a no-go on that request. Roy ordered the chicken because he was watching his figure (as are we, Mr. Bearded Man–– and you look marvelous!).
Patrick sampled a smoked wing with his brisket while Brad and Guy did brisket and rib tips. We are fans of the rib tips––meaty goodness, the tasty cornbread, and creamy coleslaw. We also loved the barbecue sauces. They bring some heat.
The baked beans and collard greens were fine. But we wanted more from them. Have we become barbecue snobs? Probably so. However, all barbecues taste good––ancient Trailhead wisdom.
Do yourself a favor and get to Doll's Head Trail. You will never forget your visit. It is one of Atlanta's best on and off-the-beaten-path attractions.
Rating: Four Ribs*
Ray’s Southern Foods
4150 Jonesboro Rd. NE
Forest Park GA 30297
*About Our Barbecue Rating System
Trailheads do not claim to be food experts, epicureans, or sophisticated palettes. We are hungry hikers who attack a selected barbecue venue and ravage our way through whatever smoked fare and fixings they're dishing.
Our reviews feature what we believe are the highlights of the menu we sampled. So our intent is not to trash talk the saintly folks who tend to smoldering smokers on hot, humid summer days. They are sacrificing themselves in the noble art of smoking meats and feeding the drooling masses. Many are independent entrepreneurs who are the backbone of this humming American economy.
Now that you know our standards, you may wonder why every barbecue place gets a four ribs rating. The answer is easy: our group has acclaimed designers, and they think the ribs graphic looks cool.
Who are we to argue? Enjoy.