We enjoyed this campground on our first visit heading north. Not so much on our second visit heading south to Florida. They gave us the first space on the right as you pull in—directly across from the office, restrooms, pool, etc. Lots of light and noise at night. There was some major repair project going on, as they had a large section of the campground roped off. We didn't protest or ask for another spot as we were too tired and Rick was in a lot of pain from his fall. An uneventful stop along the way home. We took just one photo, and that is it above.
A postscript to our Smoky Mountain trip, something we've said before. Had we not seen the Rocky Mountains, or had we visited the Smokies in the fall with all the colors of the changing season, we might have enjoyed this trip much more than we did. The American West has spoiled us!
We had been on the road for less than a mile when we came upon some elk. There was no place to stop, so Linda took a quick photo as we went by.
We couldn't check in at our next stop, Black Forest Camping Resort, until 3:00 p.m., so we decided to take our time on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We made multiple stops at pullouts along the way to take in the beautiful scenery. It was clear to see that the Smoky Mountains were aptly named…actually it wasn't clear to see—there was always a haze on the horizon, topping an expanse of green made up of millions of trees. We would love to return in the fall, when the leaves start changing colors.
We stopped at the Blue Ridge Visitors Center. A couple from Australia had stopped there as well. They had the most amazing RV (see photos). It has been to several continents and dozens of countries. Can't imagine how much it costs to float that thing across the Atlantic Ocean! We didn't get a chance to talk with them, but we saw their RV close up. True world travelers.
Rick and Zoe headed up the path to the scenic overlook at the Blue Ridge Visitors Center. It was a strenuous and challenging hike, over large rocks and logs. Zoe was a great hiking companion, as she stayed right by Rick's side and had no trouble finding her way on the path. The view at the top was stunning. But then, on the way back down, into every life a little rain must fall. Well, it didn't rain, but Rick fell. It happened so quickly that he's not certain what caused him to fall. He was holding his camera in his right hand and Zoe's leash in his left, so all that was on his mind in the split second before he landed on the rocks was not damaging his camera or hurting Zoe. He succeeded on both counts, but he was damaged and hurt. His left foot was extremely painful, and he immediately thought he had broken a bone in his foot (having had nine previous fractures, he usually knows when a bone is broken). He hobbled back down to the RV, and within the hour ugly bruises marked his right hip, right forearm, and the right side of his abdomen—see photo of the bruise on his right hip. (UPDATE: After getting back home, Rick went to his podiatrist for x-rays. He did indeed break a bone in his left foot—a closed fracture of the first metatarsal bone requiring a boot for six weeks and no running for three months, but he started running more than a month early…)
Rick was able to drive, though, so we continued on, taking in the beautiful scenery. We drove through the Pisgah National Forest. Showing that his pain had no effect on his humor (or lack thereof), Rick joked that the people who lived in the forest were called Pisgahpalians. We parked the Viva so Linda could walk to the waterfall for a photo op while Rick stayed behind to nurse his wounds.
We made it to the campground by 3 o'clock. The place was huge! Our campsite was nestled on a hill in the woods. Very private. Rick was hurting all over, so the most he could do was just sit in a chair and enjoy the campfire. We were scheduled for two nights, but due to Rick's pain we decided to stay just one night and head home the next day, with a stop midway in Savannah.
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We were not meant to see Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in the Smokies, the highest point in Tennessee, and the highest point of the Appalachian Trail. Well, we saw it a little, but you would think for such a large mountain we would have seen more of it. Confusing, we know, so here is the explanation.
On the 11th we drove the 7 mile Clingmans Dome Road to the parking area, but once there we found no place to park. We circled the loop in the parking lot a few times, but no one was leaving and the tight spaces made us uncomfortable anyway. We were disappointed because we had heard the view from the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower was breathtaking. As we would be camping in the area for two days, we decided to return early the next morning when finding a parking space for the Viva would be much easier. That visit will be detailed after we tell you a little bit about the campground.
The drive to the campground was scenic, but nothing that we hadn't seen already on this trip. We both suspected that a drive through the Smokies in autumn, when leaves were changing and colors exploding, would be spectacular.
We liked River Valley Campground, and we were fortunate to be assigned a spacious spot near the entrance. The campsites were closer together and nearly 100% occupied in the middle and rear parts of the campground. At the very back was a section reserved for permanent, or at least seasonal residents. We walked the dogs through that area a couple of times, and got the feeling that those residents didn't really like transient campers.
We had to climb a long, steep hill to get to the General Store to buy wood, and the trek wasn't worth it because the wood didn't burn when we tried to have a campfire the first night. The Raven Fork River runs alongside River Valley Campground. The water is sparkling, and if there are any streams you could still drink from, this might be one of them. Of course, Rick couldn't get Linda to try it! We hiked along the creek for a good distance, and saw the waterfalls. Nice!
Okay, back to Clingmans Dome, literally. We set out early on the 12th and arrived at the parking area to find only a couple of other vehicles. Unfortunately, we also found a dense fog bank. It was windy and cold, so we decided to send Rick to the top to see how far it was. Well, it was a long, steep climb to the top, and the fog was even worse up there. Rick didn't take his camera because he thought he'd be returning with Linda, so we have no pictures of the fog. Of course, if you've seen one fog you've seen them all. Rick trudged back to the Viva and Linda decided she wouldn't get to see Clingmans Dome on this trip. Oh, there was one memorable moment. On the way down from Clingmans Dome, Rick encountered a young couple who were heading to the top rather slowly. Not to stereotype, but the guy was definitely a good ol' boy. Rick stopped and talked with them for a couple of minutes. The guy was trying to impress with his country knowledge. He talked about a lot of things, but the only thing that was memorable was his warning to be cautious as Rick headed down the trail, because he said he smelled a copperhead in the area. Rick thought he was kidding, but he claimed he could smell a copperhead from a long distance away. Rick soon put some distance between himself and that guy, preferring instead to take his chances with the copperheads.
On the way back to the campground we stopped at the Smoky Mountain National Park Visitors Center. Rick stayed with the dogs while Linda visited the center and took some photos of the old buildings there.
We did have some late afternoon entertainment. A young couple with three children arrived in an SUV. They soon unpacked and started setting up two tents, one for the parents and one for the two boys and a girl. And then the heavy rain started! Instead of seeking shelter in the SUV and waiting for the rain to stop, they just plugged on, setting up camp. They were totally soaked as the rain didn't stop until they were finishing. Soon the mother was sitting in her chair, dripping wet and seeking solace in a glass of wine. We were in the cozy confines of the Viva, enjoying wine ourselves. Ah, the difference between being young and being not so young!
Before departing River Valley Campground we talked to the people in the Itasca Class A behind us. They were from Cortez, Florida, and very nice people. We exchanged stories from the road, recommended different campgrounds, and said goodbye with the hope that we might encounter each other again sometime.
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We said goodbye to Four Paws Kingdom after Zoe had one final romp in the big dog park. She's offended by being called a big dog—she is so touchy about her weight.
From the campground it was just a few miles to Lake Lure—of Dirty Dancing fame—and on to Chimney Rock State Park. Rick was going to climb to the top while Linda took the dogs on a nature walk. From where we parked the Viva, we could see a huge American Flag on top of a gigantic rock—it didn't look like it took a strenuous climb to get there.
Rick started climbing the steps. And climbing the steps. And climbing the steps. He walked around bends and up inclines and climbed more steps. When he finally reached the large rock outcropping and the American flag, he realized he was perhaps only halfway to the top.
It was hot, it was humid, and his clothes were dripping wet from the effort. Rick prides himself on being in reasonably good shape (Linda's note: for an old guy), but he had to admit it was not an easy climb. When he reached the top, though, every ounce of energy and all the beads of sweat were worth it. The view was beautiful from the summit. For Rick, nothing compares to the views he saw out west last year (The Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Arches, etc.), but for eastern U.S. topography, it was breathtaking.
We drove on to our next destination, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stopped at the entrance to take a photo of us standing by the NP sign, then went to the Visitors Center so Linda could pick up a brochure—she has one from every National Park we've visited.
Mountain driving is always a challenge with the steep grades and hairpin turns, but there wasn't the sense on driving "on the edge" with a drop of thousands of feet just inches away, like in Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn't stop at any of the scenic overlooks because most of them were on the other side of the road and it would be easier to pull off on the way back. We also wanted to get through Gatlinburg before traffic got heavy. That didn't happen. Gatlinburg was crowded with tourists, five to ten deep on both sides of the street, and traffic was creeping at best—no fun when driving an RV. It took 90 minutes to get through town, and as we were leaving we saw the reason for the bottleneck. The city had a crew repairing several patches of sidewalk, and had closed a lane of traffic—which affected everything. Why they chose the week of the 4th, and rush hour as well, who knows?
We stopped at Krogers to restock groceries, then found our spot at Up The River RV Campground. A very nice shaded site with a patio and table and chairs provided, with a stream at the back of the site. We had time for a glass of wine before the thunderstorm rumbled through.
We ended our first night here by watching the final episode of Royal Pains. We don't watch much TV, at home or on the road, but we have followed Royal Pains from the beginning. We'll miss it.
Thursday was not a good day. We were already sad over the deaths on consecutive days of two African-Americans who died as a result of police shootings, and then we awakened to the news of the deaths of five police officers in Dallas. The violence in this country is way out of hand. So, for most of the day, we sat inside the Viva and followed the breaking stories.
In early evening our neighbors decided to play Cornhole, and for some reason set up their boards directly behind the Viva. Had we been sitting outside they would have been about ten feet away. We're used to occasionally encountering inconsiderate people in campgrounds, so it was no big deal. What was worse, though, is that they fired up their grill (also right next to us) and the smells were overpowering in the Viva. Former smokers often cannot tolerate the smell of cigarette smoke when someone is smoking nearby. It works that way when you become a vegan, at least it does for us. Meat cooking on the grill used to smell good because it was just a piece of meat—we blocked that it was a once-living, sentient being. Now, when meat it cooking, it is a smell of death and disgusting to both of us. That's another thing that we can't escape in campgrounds—most people still eat meat, and you can get faint smells when someone is grilling. However, this smell was like they were grilling inside our RV. Too much for us. Fortunately, when we booked this reservation we had two nights in this spot and then moved for three nights on a site by the creek. Linda checked and that site was open, and the office said we could make the move a night early. We unhooked the Viva, moved to the new site, and hooked up just before a thunderstorm came through. We were glad when the evening was over.
We unhooked and headed out early Friday morning to drive the Cades Cove Loop, a scenic mountain drive that came highly recommended. We stopped at the entrance for a brochure, and Linda inquired and was assured that we would have no trouble driving the loop in our Viva. That was not the case. There were low hanging branches throughout the drive. We avoided as many as we could, but some brushed the top of the Viva and even turned the antenna (we can hear that when it happens). No damage, but disconcerting.
The paved road was one-way and narrow. It was a steady stream of cars and trucks—we didn't see any other RVs. There were pull-outs that were too small for the Viva; the larger parking areas next to the historic buildings were filled, so we didn't stop once. It was nothing special—we have driven through woods so many times, and many of those places were much more scenic. We did see one black bear about 100 feet from the roadway. That was it. We were glad when we finished the loop. Our trip out west last year spoiled us—other than checking off two more National Parks, this trip has been disappointing.
Rick was going to stop and ride the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster, but the parking lot was crammed, the entrance had a dip that we couldn't have driven over, and the place was packed. Par for the course on this trip.
We returned to the campground where Rick walked the dogs and took a few photos of the ancient farm machinery that is on display throughout the grounds. Thunder started rumbling, so he headed back to the Viva. This storm didn't approach slowly…within seconds the wind went from calm to whipping the awning violently. We barely got it retracted before the heavy rain started. It went on for about 45 minutes. We spent the rest of the night inside—too soggy to sit outside—and Linda read while Rick worked on his book. More storms are forecast for each of the next few days, so we considered just heading home in the morning. No decision yet, but that is a possibility.
Saturday was Linda's birthday and she got up with a smile on her face. For a woman of 67, she doesn't look a day past 40 (Editor's note: Rick originally typed 66, Linda changed it to 40). The morning rains didn't come, the sun was shining, and we put our thoughts of heading home early on hold, at least for awhile.
We ate breakfast outside today, our first outdoor meal of this trip. It's been too hot, raining, or we were just too tired on other days.
Rick took the dogs for a walk and saw a Winnebago Trend on the other side of the campground. The Trend is a twin of our Itasca Viva. This one had the same floor plan as ours. The couple who owned it were outside, so Rick stopped to talk with them. Their names were Craig and Jenny. They've had their Viva for less than two months. Very nice, friendly people. We talked about the Viva/Trend, and I gave them a few tips. I told them to check out our blog to see our travels and adventures, and to share their travel stories with us.
Linda took the trolley to Gatlinburg while Rick worked on his book all afternoon. We couldn't be together on Linda's birthday—she wanted to shop, but Rick had to stay with the dogs—so Rick told her to buy whatever she wanted. That was a statement he will probably soon regret.
Linda came back late afternoon. She didn't buy anything for her birthday, and Rick was actually disappointed. She enjoyed the trolley ride and walking through the stores. It was an all around good day.
Rick bought two bundles of firewood and we ended the evening with a roaring fire and two glasses of wine—two for Linda, zero for Rick. Hey, it was her birthday! The weather was perfect all day.
After being down the last several days, we decided to continue our trip. Everything came together today, and Linda had a great day.
We spent our last day here relaxing and taking the dogs for several walks. Two more bundles of firewood made another nice fire, and a peaceful way to close our visit here.
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We again chose the roads less traveled, not only for the scenery but to avoid the heavy holiday traffic on the interstate.
Our route took us through Spartanburg, South Carolina, home of The Marshall Tucker Band. When Rick worked for Sisapa Record Company, The Marshall Tucker Band was one of the national acts signed to the label. He got to know Doug Gray, the lead singer of the band. Doug once asked Rick if he would consider moving to Spartanburg and running the MTB's recording studio. We didn't want to leave Ohio at that point so Rick turned down the offer, but we have often wondered what our lives would have been like had we taken that opportunity.
We pulled into Four Paws Kingdom just after noon. This RV park is Doggie Paradise! It caters to dogs—people are merely tolerated. Actually, that is not true, because Connie and Sandy, the hosts and owners, couldn't have been nicer to us or the dogs. But to be clear, dogs are kings (and queens!) in Four Paws Kingdom. No children are permitted—it's adults only and their dogs, no limit on number or size of dogs. Our site had its own little fenced area for Tybee and Zoe, plus a nice picnic table and fire ring. The campground is heavily wooded, thus there is plenty of shade. There are multiple huge fenced areas where dogs can romp off leash. There is a dog agility area. There is a pond where dogs can swim with their people. There are 16 acres of hiking trails in the back to wander. Truly, Doggie Paradise! We spent the first day checking everything out. We bought firewood, but were too tired for a fire the first night.
A big plus for this park was no fireworks—Zoe is terrified of them, so we thought it would be great to camp where that wouldn't be a worry. Well, there were no fireworks, but overnight a thunderstorm rumbled through, dumping lots of rain and producing numerous lightning bolts and thunder—which scared Zoe as much as fireworks would have. She spent the night huddled next to Rick.
We awoke on the 4th to a soggy campground. After it dried out a bit, Linda took Tybee to the small dog park, while Rick and Zoe went for a hike on the 16 acres of trails—really nice! Linda was surprised that he found his way back to the Viva without getting lost.
In the afternoon we went to the office to drop off a birthday card to be mailed. There were several people enjoying holiday drinks on the porch, and they invited us to join them. We went back to the Viva to get some wine and returned to spend a fun hour with our campground hosts, Connie and Sandy, and also Matt and Jennifer, campers from Asheville, NC. When people have the love of dogs in common, it's easy to make new friends.
Linda fixed vegan hot dogs and baked beans for our 4th of July meal. We made two more trips to the dog park with Zoe and Tybee. By the end of the day we were again too tired for a campfire.
Tuesday morning saw a steady stream of campers departing the campground after the holiday, hopefully giving Connie and Sandy a short break before more campers start checking in. We went to the large dog park, then Rick ran 1.5 miles on the back trails. An afternoon thunderstorm sent us inside for awhile, and also provided us with a temporary relief from the heat.
We later took the dogs for another walk and a photo op in front of the 4 Paws Kingdom sign, then Rick and Zoe walked back to the agility area where Zoe did a few jumps and ran the obstacle course. It was too hot, and she lost interest quickly.
We closed our last evening here with a campfire that we enjoyed from inside the air-conditioned Viva—again, too hot! Not sure what we were thinking when we bought firewood upon arrival here.
If you're reading this blog and you have a dog (or dogs), Four Paws Kingdom needs to be on your list of places to visit. You will like it, dogs love it!
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We took the scenic route for the first part of this leg of our journey, then switched to I-95. Traffic seemed to get heavier with each mile. We passed several accidents—none that appeared serious, thankfully—but they added to the traffic slowdown. Plus, you couldn't help but think that their holiday plans were likely ruined.
We were able to check off another National Park when we stopped for a short visit at Congaree National Park. Linda walked into the Visitors Center for some brochures and that was about all we did. This national park was set aside mainly to protect virgin cedar forests and preserve natural habitat for native species, so access to most of the park requires hiking. That wasn't on our agenda, but we were glad we made the visit.
We arrived at Magnolia RV Campground and were assigned a level, shaded spot. It was already sweltering, so Rick rushed to connect the electric so we could extend the awning and turn on the AC. Unfortunately, when he tried to flip on the 30 amp switch, it wouldn't budge. Two stops, two problems with the electric! This problem was short-lived. The campground owner was on our site within five minutes to replace the defective switch, and all was well. Even our interior lights that weren't working at our last stop came on again here.
This campground had a salt water pool. We thought about taking a dip to cool off, but it was a small pool and was crowded all day, so we passed. We took the dogs to the dog park several times—it was a nice, tidy area for them to exercise. Rick got some exercise, too, as he went for a 1.5 mile run. Otherwise, it was a quiet, relaxing stop along the way.
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Last summer we headed out on a 70 night RV trip out west. This year, for multiple reasons including most recently Tybee's health issues, we weren't able to plan a lengthy trip. Instead, we opted for 15 nights on the road, to the Great Smoky Mountains. However, the preparation for 15 nights is basically the same as for 70 nights. You have to pack and take the same things, regardless of the length of the trip. You also forget to take some things, too.
As we were preparing to depart last summer, our neighbors, J.P. and Lois, came out to serenade us with "Happy Trails." Lois wasn't home this time, but J.P. Perry, a great singer/songwriter and entertainer, came out and sang "Smoky Mountain Rain"—check out the video. Thanks, J.P.!
We had reservations for the first night at Savannah South KOA, a campground we had visited last year. We could have taken I-95 and made the trip fairly quickly, but we chose instead to meander along the more scenic, less traveled routes.
The trip to the KOA was uneventful. We did pass the entrance to Jekyll Island, a place we want to explore on another trip when we have more time.
We crossed over the Sidney Lanier Bridge, named after the famous poet, musician, and academic. The bridge is architecturally striking, with long cables suspended from two towering pylons. We used the word "suspended," but it is not a suspension bridge, it is a cable-stayed bridge. We're not trying to impress you with our knowledge of bridges--we had to look up the difference between the two types. You can do the same if so inclined. Inclined…that would actually be a drawbridge!
We checked in, found our spot, and got hooked up. Well, sort of. Our electric suddenly went out in the Viva. We had a surge protector, and it didn't shut off or reset. We also lost one bank of interior lights, so we think a fuse blew. We won't know for sure until we replace the fuse, because there is no visual indicator to show its status. We unplugged the surge protector and plugged it back in, then everything was fine--except for the interior lights that still weren't working.
We took the dogs to the dog park that was only a couple hundred feet away. We later gave them a longer walk to the back of the campground. There is a small lake that borders the campground, and we saw well over a dozen large, beautiful swans swimming about.
The campground was almost to capacity because of the 4th of July holiday. No one was in the space to the left of us until almost dark, when a motorhome backed in. It was a young couple with 3 dogs and SIX KIDS! They were well behaved, but it's probably for the best that we will be leaving in the morning.
After a late dinner we went online to pay our bills. Ah, the ability to drain your bank account while on the road, from the convenience of your own motorhome. Make that the bank's motorhome. That was one of the bills we paid.
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