North Carolina

Ready for Christmas in Southport

Ready for Christmas in SouthportDecember 8-12 — Even though it doesn’t snow down here in the Carolinas, that doesn’t mean Santa’s sleigh doesn’t land on rooftops and Santa doesn’t come down chimneys to deliver toys to good children in 50 degree weather. No… we’re pleased to report that Christmas preparations and traditions still take place, despite the lack of snow, down here in North Carolina.

This past week we enjoyed a very relaxing visit with Daddy & Joan down in Southport.  It was wonderful visiting with them and it really looked and felt like home, which is special particularly this year since we have no home of our own to decorate and host friends and family at Christmastime.

Christmas in the SouthIt was a low-key visit – just the way we like it.  We read, walked, photographed, visited, and, of course, ate and drank well.  We took advantage of their carpet cleaner one afternoon and Fred gave a good cleaning to the couple of sections of carpet inside Charley – it almost looks like new!  A good mopping and scrubbing down, washing the duvet & duvet cover and all of our clothes… we are ready to keep on keepin’ on!  We’re not sure when we’ll get back here next, but we sure enjoyed this visit, and Charley sparkles, shines, and even smells clean!

Thanks, Daddy & Joan, for a great visit!

Christmas decor in the marsh

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Stunning view of the Appalachian Mountains
November 7 – 12 — Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain Chain.  Confusing?  Suffice it to say that however you refer to these mountains – the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smokies, or the Appalachians – they’re stunning!  They take their name from the rising streamers of a misty blue haze which so frequently envelopes the valleys and ridges of this magnificent mountain range.**

Atop Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome – the tallest point in the park at 6,643′

The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest on earth; older than the Himalayas and the Alps.  Ice Age glaciers stopped their southward journey just short of these mountains some 15,000 years ago, and this is one of the many reasons for the unparalleled diversity found in both plants and animals in the park today.

The border between Tennessee and North Carolina runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park, and the Appalachian Trail runs right down this ridge, as well; no doubt making this a popular section of the A.T. for hikers.  There are two main entrances to the park: Oconaluftee just north of Cherokee on the North Carolina side, and Sugarlands just outside of Gatlinburg on the Tennessee side.  A 30-mile road connects these two cities, following along the Oconaluftee and the Little Pigeon Rivers.  In addition to Oconaluftee and Sugarlands, there are two more Visitor Centers – Cades Cove and Clingmans Dome – each showcasing different elements of the park and offering unique opportunities to understand the rich biodiversity in this area, see the varying flora and fauna in the park (the Smokies are home to over 100,000 different life forms), learn of the pioneering spirit of the hearty farmers of yesteryear in what were once vibrant mountain communities, and marvel at well-preserved remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture that date back to the mid-1800s.

Channeling the river water at Mingus Mill
Mingus Mill – an 1886 turbine mill used to grind corn

We stayed in the town of Cherokee on the North Carolina side, which is actually on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.  Over 1,000 years ago, the Cherokee people wove their culture into this land, and names such as Oconaluftee are reminders to us of who was here first!**

Our campsite was wonderful.  We backed up onto the Raven Fork River (see embedded slide show, below, for photos) and thoroughly enjoyed watching anglers in waders fish for the Brown and Rainbow Trout in the cold river waters.  As mentioned in an earlier post (Perry & Dee Dee Come Visit), we really enjoyed hosting Perry & Dee Dee for the first two days we were in the area.  Then the remaining days found us driving through the park, visiting and learning in all four Visitor Centers, hiking a few trails on a couple of days, touring the Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee Visitor Center, driving the loop road through Cades Cove where we saw demonstrations of the old ways of life in the Smokies, and seeking out wildlife – we saw elk, wild turkeys, a hedgehog, a fox, and we even spotted a black bear in the woods – my Smoky Mountains visit was complete!

A bull elk with his harem in GSMNP
Bull elk (left) with his harem feeding in the late day


Geography, climate, and evolution combined to create this wonderful place.  Today, it is the most visited national park in the United States, drawing over nine million visitors each year; more than double the next closest park.  It is a place of peace, beauty, and recreation – a true sanctuary to come together with nature.

Hover your cursor over the photo, then click the arrows to scroll through pictures from our visit in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

** Sadly, much of the blue mist we see today is air pollution; ozone depletion and acid rain have reeked havoc here and elsewhere.

** In another sad chapter of American history… in 1838, as the Smoky Mountains became a destination for ‘new Americans’ to settle and set up their simple farm lives, most of the Cherokees were marched west by the U.S. Government into settlements in Oklahoma.  Thousands died on what was called the “Trail of Tears;” the forced relocation of Native Americans.  Today, the town of Cherokee is largely made up of direct descendants of the Cherokee people who have lived in these lands for hundreds and hundreds of years.


Charley about to have a BIG problem!November 13 — We thought one more drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway might be nice as we were leaving Great Smoky Mountains National Park today.  We found a 20-mile stretch that looked good on the map – thought we’d take it then link back up with the highway we needed to be on to continue on south.  Then all of the sudden… OH DANG!!!

Can you see the sign – 11’10” clearance?  Do you see the little tunnel in the center of the picture where the road ends?  Do you know how tall Charley is?  Taller than 11’10”!!!!

Fortunately the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway didn’t have many cars on it today!  Unable to go through the tunnel without searing off the top of our motorhome (and that would be SO BAD!!) we ended up having to unhook Toad in the middle of our lane.  Then Fred did an amazing five-point turn in Charley across both lanes.  [The drop-off off the edge was steeper than it looks in the photo, and there was no shoulder!]  Then we re-hooked Toad onto the back of Charley.  Then we retraced our steps back down the Parkway to where we had entered it 30 minutes before.

Now that’s a mistake you don’t want to make too often!  Lesson learned – check roadway clearances on scenic byways and highways/roadways built long ago before you plan on driving your 12’4″ RV on them!

Perry & Dee Dee Come Visit

Dinner for four inside Charley - cozy, yet comfortable!
Dinner for four inside Charley – cozy, yet comfortable! [And Chicago friends: note the mini orchid table decor. We saw this little guy and knew he was bred specifically for us!]
You know you have good friends when you tell them you’re a couple of hours away from where they’re heading for the weekend and they detour to come visit you instead.  They’re even better friends when they know they will have to sleep on an air mattress on your floor, take cold showers in the shower house at the campground, coexist together in tight quarters with you, have no space to put their personal items, and endure the chill of the November outdoors, and still agree to come visit you.  Meet our great and wonderful friends, Perry & Dee Dee.

Fred & Laura push what is deemed a 'reasonable' night for a campfire
We pushed what is deemed a ‘reasonable’ night for a campfire, but wanting to enjoy our campsite on the Raven Fork River, we donned hats, scarves, winter coats, blankets, and whatever else we had to stay warm and took our Happy Hours outside

It was another episode in our series, We Couldn’t Have Planned It Better If We Tried.  As we were driving in North Carolina en route to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and our campsite there, we texted Perry & Dee Dee and asked them where their property was.  We knew they had some land around these parts and were planning to build on it soon, and we sensed that we were nearby.  It turns out their little slice of heaven on the Nantahala River is within an hour of where we were, and when we told them how close our campsite was to their property, they turned their car in our direction and joined us the next day before noon.

Perry & Dee Dee enjoying the campfire
Happy Hour with Perry & Dee Dee by the campfire

Their stay with us, while unplanned, was absolutely fantastic!  Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday were filled with lots of spontaneous fun.  We enjoyed happy hour around the campfire both evenings and shared two delicious dinners, if I say so myself.  They showed us their property and the nearby surrounding area  – we can’t wait to come back to visit once their house is built!   In general, we just laughed and joked and ribbed and reminisced as old friends do.

Fred and Perry’s friendship dates back to 1979 – 35 years ago! – when they were stationed on the USS Albany together in Gaeta, Italy, while serving in the U.S. Navy.  On this Veteran’s Day, then, it seems appropriate to thank them both for their service to our country.  And to Perry & Dee Dee, thanks for a fabulous weekend!  We look forward to seeing you again next month in sunny Florida!!

Blue Ridge Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge ParkwayFor the first time in three days I have semi-reliable connectivity, so I’m hoping I can catch up on a few posts – hurray!  :)  This post dates back to Friday, November 7th. — We continue to make our way south.  We have a couple more national parks to visit before we take our Thanksgiving break back up in Chicago and Appleton with family and friends; visits we are very much looking forward to!  As we were planning our November travel, we learned that the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Scenic Byway, making it a must-see/must-drive on.  It connects Shenandoah NP in Virginia all the way to Great Smoky Mountain NP in North Carolina – how convenient as that’s exactly our itinerary!

Not so fast, though… upon further study, we didn’t think we wanted to drive the whole thing.  Even through this is an All-American Road noted for its scenic beauty, we didn’t feel the need to enjoy all 469 miles of the parkway as the maximum speed limit is just 45 m.p.h. – a bit slow, even for Charley!  It seems to be a dream for motorcyclists, though.  Driving along the crests of the southern Appalachian Mountains through ancient bedrock, rolling forests, and 200+ small towns… not seeing a single billboard or road sign… marveling at the 151 bridges built by the WPA/CCC over several decades (construction on the parkway began in the 1930s, but it was not finished until the 1980s)… stopping at some of the 275 scenic vistas along the route… experiencing an untouched and untamed oasis of calm… while all of this would be lovely, we don’t have the time for it to take four days!  We decided to drive a few portions of it, so planned our itinerary accordingly.

View from atop our mountain at our campground in Asheville, NC
View from atop our mountain at our campground in Asheville, NC

We spent a couple of nights in a great little campground on a mountaintop just outside of Asheville, NC.  We had a few ‘big city’ errands to take care of there – got an oil change for Toad at the Subaru dealer and had some PC issues taken care of at Office Max – places we hope not to be too near any more than we have to on this trip.  As we left Asheville, we stopped in at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center for yet another stamp in our NPS Passport books, then headed on down the road, er, parkway….  Next stop:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"Fransel" Adams at work
Fred, a.k.a. Ansel Adams, hard at work (note beer in hand) at our Asheville campground
Fierce clouds
Fred’s shot of the fierce clouds over the mountains – these are what caused our overnight temperatures to dip into the low 30s and, for the first time, have us unhook our water hose overnight to keep it from freezing
Sunset in the mountains
Fred’s capture of the sunset in the Blue Ridge mountains