Almost a month was spent on the East Coast, we were ready to start the long haul out West, and our first stop was Arkansas.
After my Aunt’s husband recommending the Buffalo River area we decided it would be a nice stop on our way. It was never an intended stop on our trip, but then neither were any other places from here on. The green rolling hills and steep cliffs along the rivers were beautiful. Our campground was on the White River, recently bought by an awesome brother and sister team, who are working hard at fixing up the joint. The campground property backs right up to the river, which only a few weeks before had flooded out the land between their main house and the river.
We seemed to consistently be reminded this summer of the unapologetic forces of nature.
In our few days spent in Arkansas we visited the Blanchard Springs Caverns in the Ozark National Forest (Paul loves cave tours) and they were the biggest and most beautiful cave systems we visited. With large rooms and over a mile walk from one end of the system to the other, they were beyond impressive. After exploring the insides of the caves we took a drive to the top of them and explored the forest and natural springs surrounding them. Paul’s father and his wife were making a drive back to New Jersey when they decided to stop by and spend a few days with us, we fished, ate catfish and almost left with a dog, I’d call it a good stop on the journey.
My favorite part of Arkansas were the fireflies at night. At the time we were in Arkansas the fireflies were mating, and during their mating periods they do these crazy in sync light shows to attract mates. The thick trees of the Ozarks were the perfect backdrop for this amazing light show each night. Growing up in New Jersey we always had fireflies around in the summer time, but I had never seen this many moving and blinking at such a pace. Paul and I spent each night in Arkansas sitting in the middle of the road and just watching as the fireflies seamlessly blended with the landscape of the night sky.
The thick green Ozarks, like many other east coast forests, were something I was about to unexpectedly miss as we moved westward…
It rained on the drive down to Florida, it rain every day we were in Florida, and then it followed us home and rained some more.
After spending about a week in Georgia we headed down to Florida. We left the camper at Paul’s brother’s house because we had a place to stay in Florida and we also thought we might try to do some car camping. We headed down just in time to celebrate my cousin Micheal’s birthday for the weekend. My Uncle Bronco and Aunt Sue were kind enough to let us stay a few days, and it was nice to be able to take hot showers, do laundry and just relax in the pool in between the rain. My cousins Micheal and Bronco were both in a fishing tournament so we spent some time Saturday at the weigh-in having drinks and eating dinner. We were hoping to celebrate Micheal’s birthday that night too but he did enough celebrating out on the boat that day.
With everyone being off on Sunday we took the boat out, getting some fishing in and spending the day on an island in the river. We spent our lazy Florida Sunday, BBQing until the rain came back in again. It was a lot of fun paddle boarding, listening to music, hanging in the hammocks, and watching the dolphins swim by. Our weekend went by fast but we were happy to have been able to see everyone, aunts, uncles, cousins; and Paul was finally able to meet most of them for the first time. We even got some suggestions from Jeff on places to stop on our way out West, here we come Arkansas (thanks Jeff).
We were hoping to spend more time in Florida and explore the Everglades and Keys but with all the rain we decided to get away from it and get back to Georgia and our Camper.
We made it to the Smokey Mountains. The drive wasn’t too bad except for the road into to campground, which consisted of a 5 mile long dirt road with switch backs (my butt is clenched pretty tight on drives like that). We made it and got a beautiful camp spot right next to the creek. There were no hookups at this campground so we needed to relay on our golf cart battery to power our lights and the propane tanks to cook and keep the refrigerator cool. Overall we had no problems and it was a nice test for when we want to do more boondocking out west. We didn’t use the shower because filling the tanks with water and then heating it up with the propane would have wasted propane and weighed down the camper with all the water, and with nowhere to dump it we decided it was best not to take showers in the camper. (we paid $5 at a local campsite to use their hot showers, & it was totally worth it.)
After setting up camp we meet our neighbors who were fly fishermen and offered to take Paul out fishing with them later in the week. We drove about a mile down into the valley to look for some Elk before sunset, we found plenty grazing in the fields and even saw a bear walking along the tree line. Elk were reintroduced to the park in 2001 and have been thriving since. They like to stay low in the valley and because our campsite was in the most secluded part of the park the wildlife was abundant.
Day 1- We drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to one of the parks visitor centers and explored the nearby farm museum. The farm museum consisted of old buildings that had previously been on property before it became a National Park. After talking with a park ranger we decided to explore the city of Cherokee, an Indian reservation that reminds me more of the Jersey shore. There were tons of tourist shops, mini golf, amusement rides, ice cream shops, mining for gems stands, and tons of other Cherokee themed shops. We checked out the Cherokee museum which was very well put together and super interesting, local members of the Cherokee tribe work at the museum and are happy to answer any questions. After our stop in Cherokee we headed to Bryson City, not much of a city but a really cool little town with lots of shops and cafes. Bryson City also has a train that you can ride through the Smokey Mountains. Paul found a fly shop, got his fishing license and they even had a small fly fishing museum in town (boring).
Day 2- It rained the entire night before and on and off for most of our second day in the park. We got a late start but decided to stay close to camp and do some hiking and fishing. The camper still held up well with our battery life and propane. We ran one light at a time at night when we needed it and only used the propane to keep the refrigerator cool and do some cooking. Boondocking for us isn’t going to be a problem.
Before bed we decided to take a drive to see if the elk were out, they like grazing at sunrise and sunset. We stopped to look at a herd grazing on the side of the road and it wasn’t long until they were surrounding the truck. As cool as it was to see these animals up close, it’s unfortunate that they’ve developed these behaviors because of people feeding them from their cars.
Day 3- We spent our third day in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a cool little music and arts town with tons of breweries and some amazing restaurants. We walked in and out of the stores and spent some time using the Wi-Fi in a local pub to pay bills, upload pictures and do all of the stuff we didn’t miss doing.
Day 4- Our last day in the park we drove up to Clingman’s Dome, an observation deck on top of the highest point in the park. On a good day you have 360 degree views and can see for 25 miles, we weren’t so lucky. As we drove up the mountains the fog got thicker and thicker and visibility was nonexistent. Once you get to the parking lot of Clingman’s Dome we still had a 1/2 mile hike up hill. We did the hike, stood in the fog and rain for a few minutes and then headed back down. At the bottom of the hill there was a gift shop where Paul decided to do a good deed for the day and give some AT thru hikers a ride. (*Note to self: always ask where they’re going first). The 3 hikers were looking to go to Gatlinburg, we found this out on our way down the mountain, and although we had no intention of going to Gatlinburg we thought it was a good excuse to see the town. Once we got into Gatlinburg we realized seeing it was all we needed to do. We dropped the hikers off at an outdoor store and drove right through the town. It was busy and crowded with lots of chain restaurants, shops, and touristy stands.
This weekend we took the time to get out into nature and reset ourselves a little. Sometimes we get so wrapped up with our busy everyday schedules we wear ourselves out. One of the nice things about living in New Jersey is that we can take a short drive to the beach in one direction, or (like we did this weekend) the mountains in the other direction.