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.
After leaving the Smokey Mountains behind we headed for Crawford, Georgia. Crawford is a small town outside of Athens. Paul’s brother, his wife, and their two kids live on a small farm in Crawford and we parked the camper right next to their house and hung out for about a week.
Memorial Day weekend wasn’t spent hanging out in the pool or down on the beach, but fishing in their pond and smoking a big piece of pork in the wood smoker. Our days in Georgia were long and slow, but in a good way. Georgia gave us the time to relax, and get things done, we worked on the truck and camper, got some mail out, and caught up on all of other things we needed to do.
We spent Saturday night driving up into the northern mountains of Georgia to go to an auction. It wasn’t a car auction or an antique auction, but a farm animal auction. There were pigs, horses, mini ponies, donkeys, bunnies, chickens, and lots of other birds. Paul’s brother frequents the auctions and wanted us to experience it, and it was an experience. As people were bidding on animals, we ordered cheese fries and sodas from the snack stand, allowing us to really sit back and enjoy the show.
At one point during the auction Paul and his brother took a walk outside to see some of the animals that would be coming up, and that’s when Eric set his eyes on a one day old baby goat. As soon as they locked eyes Eric knew it was meant to be, he wasn’t going to leave the auction without that goat. We played with the goat and asked the farmer who brought him everything we could about him (what he ate, was it healthy, how to care for him, etc.). When baby goat got on that auction block it was Eric vs. some lady in the back, they went back and forth a few times until finally we walked away with a $80 baby goat.
As soon as we paid for the goat we headed out the Tracker Supply to buy some kid milk. We drove the hour and a half back to the house with baby goat sleeping in my lap. The rest of our time spent in Georgia was spent having lazy days on the farm, fishing, eating, doing maintenance on the truck and trailer and playing with baby animals.
After a week in Georgia we left the camper at Paul’s brother’s house and headed down to see my family in Florida for a few days.
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.
After having spent 2 nights at Hungry Mother State Park we decided to lock up the camper and head a few miles south to Damascus, Virginia. Damascus was having their annual Trail Days Festival, celebrating current and past thru hikers of the Appalachian Trail. This town gets together to throw a big party, and their hospitality was unreal.
Hikers were hitching rides into town from every direction. The town baseball fields, and sections of woods behind them, were temporarily turned into “Tent City”. The Damascus fire department, library, and local church were doing laundry for hikers, feeding them, giving free haircuts, foot massages and even had a movie night. There were two small strips of vendors scattered throughout the festival, all outdoor companies showing off their latest merchandise and fixing and replacing everyone’s gear for free.
After setting up our tents we took a walk around the festival, Purdy dropped his backpack off with the manufacturer to have a zipper replaced, and we got to meet his trail family. Everyone we met seemed surprised to know that Purdy is a ball busting, movie quote junkie not only on the trail, but off the trail too. Everyone of Purdy’s trail friends that we met were really awesome, we had a great time hanging out and talking, they were all hiker hungry and we sat and watched them eat for most of the daylight hours.
After the sun went down things started to get crazy in Tent City.
As the sun started to set people began howling throughout the festival, echoing off of one another. There were a few people set up in Tent City making food for everyone, and before long everyone had full stomachs and were well into their share of alcohol and other things. We took a walk onto the woods once the sun went down and witnessed a Alice in Wonderland/Mad Max party winding through the paths of the woods. As we walked through there were small groups of people huddled around fires singing, dancing and eating. As we went further into the woods the camp set ups became more elaborate and crazy. People had huge tents set up blasting techno music, with large bonfires. At the end of the path of parties we came to the mother of all bonfires where there was a drum circle surrounding it and people dancing and chanting around it. At one point I asked Purdy where he had taken me and his only response was a giggle, haha this place was unreal.
After having our fill of debauchery for the night we decided it was time to head back to our tents. In the morning we had a $5 all you can eat pancake breakfast from the church, picked up Purdy’s pack and before leaving gave one of his friends and her dog a ride to the food store to stock up for another night of Trail Days. We knew that one night was plenty of Trail Days for us, so we headed back to Hungry Mother State Park for one more night in the lap of luxury.