Sunday, April 29, 2012

Meeting other full timers the Henson's

Steve used Passport America for our stay at this nice little RV park, Creekwood Farm, near Cataloochee in the Smoky Mountains.  Our site was kind of diagonal from another rig that had a small pink bike that Genna instantly spotted.  She was speculating on what kind of small child/new friend might be living there!  Steve was convinced that surely it was a grandchild staying with grandparents for some reason, but alas, he was wrong!  Genna took Alyssa with her to go meet the little girl that had the small pink bike, and lo and behold, we discovered another full-timing family, the Hensons!

Kylee and Genna had lots of fun wrestling.
The girls enjoying the Henson's comfy chairs, the same type their dad said he would buy but never did.
The Hensons are the first full-time family we've met on the road that we didn't "plan" to meet.  I think we thought we might naturally run into more families than we have.  And I have to say, having been out of our house for nearly a year, the sense of community is definitely the biggest thing I've missed.  I love the way that there is an instant sense of community when we meet other full-timers; there's an instant connection even though we've just met because we share common experiences in spite of not knowing each other.

Thai pizza and Thai curry
Our girls and Kylee had fun playing together, Jake was delighted with trying to swipe Kylee's toys (she wasn't though!), and Kyle, Lisa, Steve & I had the chance to indulge in adult conversation.  We shared dinner (Kyle's yummy Thai pizza and my chicken curry) and a late night around a campfire.  Good times!!  Sooo glad we met you guys!  We're looking forward to catching up again at the Full-time Families Rally in Pennsylvania in June!

Good times had by all.
We even ran into them again at the Deep Creek area of Smoky Mtn Natl Park after we left Maggie Valley.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Smoky Mountain National Park -- Clingman's Dome

Since we spent much of a family vacation in the Smokies nearly two years ago, we weren't originally planning to visit again.  Nonetheless, it really was right on our way as we were heading east to South Carolina.  Last time, we weren't able to hike Clingman's Dome because the road was closed, so this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

From Maggie Valley we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The views from the parkway were incredible.

The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny & great visibility.  The scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway were spectacular!  It was a steep half-mile hike up to the observation tower that overlooks both North Carolina and Tennessee at Clingman's Dome.  At 6,643 feet, it is the highest point on the Appalachian  Trail, the highest point in Tennessee and the second highest point east of the Mississippi.

Maybe Jake and I will hike the AT together one day.
Jake walked the entire way up the concrete walkway to the top, holding my hand of course.
The sky was clear and we could see all the way to Mt Mitchell 73 miles away.
This is the highest point in Tennessee
So glad that we had a chance to go here.

After braving crowds to find a spot for a picnic lunch (hazards of visiting a beautiful place in perfect weather on the weekend), we began our trek back and stumbled upon a little roadside stand where Steve met some good old country boys who were selling fresh boiled peanuts, totally a southern thing.  Steve still doesn't like them, but boy, the offspring sure do!  Jake & Genna were both yelling for more; I could barely shell them fast enough!  Even Shanan & Alyssa liked them, though probably not quite as much as the littles.

We enjoyed visiting a restored water powered mill while in the park.
When we were here 2 years ago, the girls never got their badges, so we made that right.
Near the visitor center, there is a homestead made up of buildings moved here from other nearby locations.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Smoky Mountains National Park - Cataloochee

Even though we camped in Cataloochee the last time we were in the Smoky Mountains two years ago, the RV park we stayed in was so close to Cataloochee that we decided to make the drive up again.  The best time to go is in the evening because that is when the elk are active.  The drive up is always a little harrowing because the roads are so narrow and the drop off is so dramatic.  I'm always amazed that there are a couple brave souls that bring a rig up the mountain to camp there!

Exploring the old time barn
This house is open to explore inside
As before, there were plenty of elk grazing about. We walked around and checked out the other sites you can view--the church, the old house, the schoolhouse, and this time we walked up the steep hill to the cemetery.  It was a bit sobering to see all the unmarked gravestones, as well as all the gravestones with common family names, and so many graves of babies, toddlers, small children, and young adults.  Life on the mountain was no doubt very challenging.

The old school is still intact.
This is the old church.
The kids had a blast in the old church!  There was preaching, singing, and dancing!
The cemetery was really interesting.   It was sad how short their lives were.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cumberland Gap National Park

We wanted to visit Cumberland Gap but were disappointed to learn the campground was under construction and not open yet.  There were no other nearby options for camping, so we called the local Walmart to make sure we would be able to overnight there.  Despite the posted signs saying no overnight parking, the manager was great and had no problem with us parking there.  We were able to drop the rig in the parking lot at the visitor center in Cumberland Gap and do our exploring, then go fuel up and eat before coming back to retrieve the rig and head back to Walmart.  So glad we were able to do that because the parking lot at this Walmart was one happening place, so it was great to be able to arrive late when things had cleared out a bit.

This is where we were at the Pinnacle Overlook, where the three states come together.
Both sides in the Civil War were prepared to fight here, but it never happened.
Not much to see today at Pinnacle Point!
Alyssa standing in two states, Virginia is state #25 for us.
The Gap is a very historical place as it was the lowest spot to cross the Appalachian Mountains.  We drove up to the Pinnacle Overlook where you can see Virginia, Tennesse, and Kentucky, but unfortunately, the view was mostly clouded over.  We did hike the Object Lesson Road Trail right to the saddle of the Gap.  We would have loved to hike the rest of the way to Tri-State Peak, but there was mild thunder rumbling and a few flashes of lightning, so we thought better of it and headed back.

This spot is the actual Cumberland gap.
Monument to the Daniel Boone trail.
This is the storm that nearly missed us.
The kids enjoyed hanging out at the visitor center while we waited for the weather to clear for better viewing; it never did.  They loved the pioneer dress-up area though!  We loved that the rangers at the visitor center gave us the kids' Junior Ranger books and badges to do our own ceremony upon completion.  Although it made it easy for at least one child to put off completing it, it was great to not have to worry about making it back to the visitor center before closing with completed books.  And yes, we did make them complete their books. ;)

The kid is quite a ham.
We stopped at this roadside overlook in Tennessee.  The view was incredible.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trout fishing right at our campsite

Our campsite in Natural Bridge backed up to a nice little creek.  We discovered there were plenty of trout swimming around in it, so Shanan & Steve took advantage of it and went fishing.  They did pretty well!  They both caught rainbow trout, and some were big enough to keep and eat!  I have to say I was one proud mama to see my girl clean those fish!  Seriously, she is the kid that prefers her chicken off the bone and is bothered if she has to remove any skin &/or fat herself.  She was determined though, and she did a great job!  The fish were phenomenal!  The first night I just pan sauteed them in a little butter, and the second night I grilled them.  Soo yummy!  Thanks Shanan & Steve!

This little guy is the first fish Shanan caught with her new fishing pole.
This trout was the first one we kept and ate.
Shanan was determined to learn to cut up fish.  Note the 'Fishing for Dummies' manual on the right side of the pic.
We were so proud of her for pushing through and cutting up all the fish we caught.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Natural Bridge State Resort Park

We camped at Natural Bridge State Resort Park in the Middle Fork Campground for four nights.  If you have a big rig like us, it could be tight going in the busy season.  As it was though, we were one of just a handful in the campground.  The bathhouse was heated, and the showers were clean and great!

Although we originally thought this would be one of those places where you stay in the park and have plenty to do right there in the park, we learned that Natural Bridge is just a portion of what is available to explore, so we divided our time between Natural Bridge and the Red River Gorge.  And although we thought winter was over, it clearly had a resurgence; it was cloudy and in the 40s when we arrived!  Fortunately, it didn't stay cold & dreary; the clouds gave way to sun & warmth.

We decided to hike to Natural Bridge even though there is a chair lift because the lift is rather pricey, and it's  just .75 miles to hike to it.  We took the Original Trail up to the Bridge and then hiked back along an assortment of trails to the Balanced Rock Trail and back to where we parked.

Once again, Jake had it easy on this hike.
The Natural Bridge from underneath.
They built steps to the top where you can walk over it.
The kiddos at the top of the bridge.
This is "Lover's Leap". it is a straight drop down at the end of the rock.
Steve and his little buddy
A bit of a squeeze to get through to the top of Natural Bridge.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kentucky's Red River Gorge

We discovered that the Red River Gorge area is an even bigger area to explore than Natural Bridge State Resort Park.  When the water level is high enough (& it wasn't), this area is a kayaker's/canoeists delight!  The area is so beautiful though.  I love how lush & green the forest is.  It was perfect hiking weather, even though the mornings started out cool.  We spent parts of several days exploring the area and checking out a few hiking trails and overlooks.  There were notices posted about how many fatalities and serious injuries have occurred here over the years from people falling off the cliffs.  It sure made me hold on tight to the hands of my little people, but the views were great!    

This tunnel was built by hand in 1910.   Needless to say we did not drive the rig through it :)
The kids got to try a real weaving loom in the Natl. Forest Visitor Center.
This is Sky Bridge.   This is the largest Natural Bridge in the area.
Shanan posing at the Angel Windows
Steve at the Chimney Top overlook
The view was spectacular from the overlook!
One of the park rangers told Steve about Rock Bridge Arch and said it was his favorite hike.  We saved this one for last, and we definitely enjoyed it.  It was an easy trail, super peaceful and so green.  The pictures don't really do it justice.  It really was beautiful, and it was the only bridge that was technically a bridge, with water flowing beneath it!
Nice little waterfall along the trail just before the bridge.
Very cool reflection under the bridge.