Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spring Trip 2016 - Part 8: WESTWARD TO BAKER CITY!

PART 8:  WESTWARD TO HOME!

5.8.16 Sunday
Sylva, NC to Columbus, IN
432 miles

            Well, today rather shifted in nature around 10am.  Rick was checking the weather forecast again for the next few days, especially in regard to a massive storm system that is brewing over the middle of the country.  The lead point of the storm (dark red on the storm chart) was set to strike tomorrow evening right at the point of Kentucky and our reserved campsite!  So….we discuss the option of leaving a day early and heading north to try and outrun the storm, or at least just get wet on the northern edge rather than encounter hail and tornado warnings in the middle! 
       
Ohio River bridge at Louisville
     Decision made, especially since nothing is really set in terms of any meals or get togethers with family.  We pack up in record time, check out by 11, having left a message for the campground manager as to why we had left.  Hoping for a refund, but we might be eating that night’s costs. 
            Randy, Patty, and Mom came by just as we were getting ready to leave.  So we drove up to the hotel, parked the trailer and hopped in with them for the trip back up to the cabin.  Randy had called Rob and he said to come up because they had plenty of food in leftovers from Friday night!  So….we got a chance to say goodbye to everyone except Matt and Kristen.  Randy and Patty were taking off for Atlanta and their flight home, Kurt and Megan driving back to Pittsburgh today (Kurt has to work tomorrow). 
            We altered our intended route to travel north into Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa before hitting I-80 and the long haul across Nebraska! 
            So….we left at 12:30pm and pulled into Woods n Waters Kampground about 40 miles south of Indianapolis, Indiana at 8pm!  Rick did most of the 430 miles, but I drove from Knoxville, TN to London, KY!  We encountered a lot of hills, green trees and construction.  More flatlands once in northern Kentucky and Indiana!  Gas prices are climbing – trip home will not be as cheap as the trip east!  Chatted with Luke for awhile around Louisville, KY and then with Jed after we arrived at the campground. 
            I had a call from Paula at Fort Tatham right before we arrived at the campground, advising that she had just given us a credit for tonight on our card.  Hurray!  Now we will only have to ‘eat’ the cost of our reservation Monday night at the COE park.  At least it was only $15. 
            We crossed the Ohio River north of Louisville.  The bridge is beautiful.  I can honestly say the rest of the drive was fairly uneventful!!  Guess that’s the way we would like it for the next 2000 miles!! 


5.9.16  Monday
Columbus, IN to Waukee, IA
545 miles
     
       Whew!  That was a day’s travel!  We went further than planned because we drove right through the front just at our stopping point!  On the phone with the boys to read weather radar for us to tell us if we were going to come out of it!  Rick just kept plowing through and fortunately, it wasn’t the softball size hail they go in Nebraska, nor the few tornados that spun off later in the evening! 
            We put all our eggs into a campground just west of Des Moines, largely because I couldn’t get on the internet on the phone to check out a couple of others.  So…it is very nice but we ended up paying a pretty price of $40!!  For a ‘less than 12 hour’ stay! 
            We cruised during the morning up through Indianapolis (ok, missed one freeway exit, so had to take a longer way closer to town instead of the whole bypass!), traded drivers and gassed up.  Seems like we stopped for gas a lot, but often just to top off from the halfway mark.  We gained an hour entering Illinois which
helped us make an 11:30 lunch date just east of Peoria with CHRPA friends Walter and Lorene Good.  They were so surprised and pleased to get my email asking to meet for lunch!!  We spent an hour and half eating and visiting and catching up.  They had moved, but just 30 miles or so to the north, so were actually closer to I-74 than before!  !  They have moved to a Mennonite retirement community, and a little closer to their four kids.  Solid rock people and Walter was still wearing his sweater vest.

            After lunch?  We pass Peoria and then I drive us into Iowa.  Iowa is a wider state than we thought – 300 miles!! 
            We have definitely moved from the rolling tree-covered hills of the Appalachians to the flat fertile soils of the mid-west!  Also had a good tail wind at times today which meant we moved right along!  However, the interstate is one construction site after another, however!!  UGH! 

Tuesday, May 10
Waukee, IA to Sidney, NE
513 miles
 
            Well, I think the horses are RACING to the barn, because we logged another 500+ mile day today.  Of course, it again helped that we changed to another time zone again, so picked up another hour of driving time.  But we stopped today around 5pm which was MUCH earlier than the last two nights! 
          
  We had a bit of a scare during the night when we woke up and I checked the radar again.  A good band of green and yellow heading our way.  Mostly worried about hail, but Rick went out and unplugged the trailer just to be sure.  Went back to sleep.  I did hear a pretty good rain fall for a short while, but that was it.  The thunder never got too close.  It was foggy at first leaving Waukee, but soon we drove out into blue skies! 
            Our hundred miles to Nebraska were marked with bluffs and wind turbines!  We passed two large turbine farms.  Rather ironic to see the power farms sitting in the middle of the agricultural farms – double use for the land! 
            We pass over the Missouri River at Council Bluffs and enter Nebraska and the half million large town of Omaha.  BIG.  We stop at a rest area just on the other side of Omaha and I take over driving for an hour or so….or until we need gas again! 
       
     Nebraska is 445 miles wide to drive across.  We didn’t make it all the way today, although we considered it!  (Adding on the 117 miles in Iowa killed that idea!)  I told Rick that if he had to drive I-80 in Nebraska, he could at least thank God for blue skies and a pretty day!  We stopped at rest areas with neat sculptures celebrating the Centenniel, plus we passed under the I-80 Platte River ARCH, a tourist boondoogle that went bankrupt but is still open and run by the city of Kearney.  We saw corn fields and cattle.  We saw fields waterlogged from recent rains and storms.   We stopped at a rest area near Grand Island to grab a bite to eat. 

            It looked like a big storm was due to hit Sidney right about 5pm, so we decided to go ahead an stop and get a place snuggled in next to some ‘big boys’.  But the rain never came and we got a fiery sunset instead.  The clouds were there, but the rain didn’t fall.  NOT disappointed!  We saw enough pictures on the news tonight of tornados in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and across the mid-west states….just where we had come from!  Agh! 
            We are camped at Cabela’s RV Park, a 70 site lot sitting right next to the huge Cabela’s store in Sidney, NE.  We are 55 miles from the Wyoming border.  Our goal tomorrow?  Salt Lake basin!  Baker City by Thursday evening! 


5.11.16 Wednesday
Sidney, NE to Brigham City, UT
553 miles


            Our longest day of driving yet and we didn’t even get the advantage of an added hour!  But a good day, albeit long.  We pulled out of Sidney just before 8 in clear blue skies with the temps in the 40’s.  It got down into the 30’s last night and we were grateful to have pulled back out the heater since the lightweight sleeping bag is on the bed.
  We are greeted with a good head wind that is our ‘friend’ for the next 250 miles!!  It meant we stopped for gas in every major Wyoming town (Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, and Evanston!)  I drove the stretches from Laramie to Rawlins and Rock Springs to Evanston.  Thankfully, as we turned southwest at Rawlins, the wind abated abit and the poor Honda didn’t have to work quite so hard!
Rock formations bet Cheyenne and Laramie
            We stopped in Rawlins at 1pm to grab a bite to eat at Denny’s.  A good break. Even better that Rick found a Spenser Audio Book to purchase.  We'll listen and then donate to library. 
        
Some beautiful Wyoming clouds
    We haven’t driven this stretch of I-80 for some time.  I had forgotten about the rock outcroppings that line the freeway between Cheyenne and Laramie, the statue of Lincoln at the top of the pass (elevation 8640’), the vast stretches of rolling hills with snowcapped peaks in the distance.  I don’t think we have ever driven it in the spring when patches of snow still line the roadway in places.  It was beautiful. 
            We passed huge windfarms – harnessing for power that terrific wind that constantly blows!  Dropping down into the Green River area between Rock Springs and Evanston is like entering red rock canyon country with unique formations and rock sculptures. 
Wind farms
            But by far the most beautiful portion of the trip was from Evanston down to Brigham City.  The hills were lush green, it was mostly downhill, and the Wasatch Mountains were gorgeous reflecting the afternoon sun. 
Tiny town in the green
 hills of Utah
  I called ahead to the Golden Spike RV Park from the canyon and we secured a spot for the night.  Probably good I called as we would still be driving otherwise.  She was filling up! 
            Another cool night with lows in the 30’s, but due to heat up tomorrow! 




THURSDAY, 5.12.16
Brigham City to Baker City and HOME!!!
409 miles
Click HERE for all photos from trip home

            Ah, there’s no place like home!  No smell like when you walk into your cool, clean house and know you are back at HOME!  But first, we had the shortest of our five days to travel! 
            We took the opportunity with full hook-ups to clean the sinks, tubs, and toilet as we won’t have water when we park.  Rick emptied all the holding tanks.  By 8 we were ready to roll and the office was open so I could pay our bill for the night.  Brigham City is far enough north of the Salt Lake center that traffic isn’t bad in the
morning, especially heading north! 
            Rick drove to the Sweetzer Pass rest area, and I took the wheel for the next 100 miles to Jerome where we gassed up.  We noted that the distant hills didn’t seem to have as much snow as usual for this time of year.   On through southern Idaho, listening to the end of our audio Spencer book.  That purchase sure helped the miles pass by the last two days! 
Sweetzer Pass area
            We welcomed the Oregon sign at the Snake River crossing!  The last state of our ten state journey home!  And then a quick stop at Walmart for a Subway sandwich and a few groceries to restock the fridge at home.  Perhaps it was the Walmart stop we were going to make last Sunday and never did? 
            Hills down near Ontario looked dry for May, but greened up as we neared Baker City.  As always, the sight of the Elkhorn Mountains as you crest Pleasant Valley hill is the most welcome of views! 
       
Most welcome of sights!
     Luke had the car moved and the gates open when we rolled into the driveway at 3:15, having gained another hour during the last leg from Ontario.  Welcome back to Pacific Time Zone! 
            Quick hugs with Luke before he was off to tennis practice.  He returned later with a pizza and we enjoyed an evening together.  Zach E came over with thank you gifts for Rick and I, as he stayed in the house for three weeks while we were gone.  By 9:30 we were fading, having unloaded most of the trailer plus the cumulative effects of five days of straight driving.  

TRIP WRAP UP AND SUMMARY.....Just for the record!

Mileage Facts -
TOTAL MILES: 8320
TOTAL TRAILER MILES: 6008
TRIP HOME MILES (all trailer): 2454
TOTAL NIGHTS IN TRAILER: 75

Expenses Roundup -
TOTAL GAS/TRUCK: $1384
TOTAL HOUSING/RV PARKS: $981
TOTAL FOOD: $1489
TOTAL MISC.: $841
TOTAL TRIP COST:  $4695
AVERAGE COST PER DAY FOR TRIP: $63

Route Maps - 




Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spring Trip 2016 - Part 7: NORTH CAROLINA

PART 7:  NORTH CAROLINA

4.28.16 Thursday
Paintsville, KY to Bryson City, NC  
FOUR STATE DAY!
279 miles

            It never ceases to amaze me how closer together some states are in the Eastern United States!  We can drive for 500 miles and never leave Oregon!  Just over half of that today and we were in four different states! 
            But at first, we wondered if we would go anywhere today.  The rain picked up again last night, thunderstorms again around midnight and 2am, then rain again in the morning.  We debated and decided to let the weather make the choice for us!  Around 9:30 the blue skies appeared with some white clouds, the rain had stopped and we started packing up!  I like it when God makes things so very clear! 
            Left Jenny Wiley around 10:30 and headed south on US 23 toward the Virginia border.  We didn’t expect the good quality of the four lane road, but we also weren’t prepared for the steepness of the hills!  I definitely got the feeling we were leaving the rolling hills of central Kentucky and entering the Appalachian Mountains! 
            Gas Buddy had showed Pikesville gas at around $2.10 a gallon, but we didn’t find anything close to that!  Ended up with a trip high of $2.36!!  Good thing we only needed just over half a tank!  Went into the Food City to pick up a coffee and found the price of it just as high!  Quick!  Time to get out of town! 
      
      We drove into Virginia, climbing steeply to the top of a 4000’ (roughly) summit.  At the very top are two gas stations selling for $1.99 a gallon!  Go figure!  We are only in Virginia for 60 miles – all of it up and down.  The air quality is not great….hazy
Hazy skies
mountain vistas.  Over another crest and back into Tennessee at the town of Kingsport.  We hoped to gas us here, but found ourselves out of town before we knew it.  US 23 turned into I-26 at this point and any gas advertising on the highway was nil and I didn’t have any wifi on the phone to check ahead.  So….we finally pull off in Johnson City around 1:20….the truck needs food and we need food!  We gas up and then pull under a tree in the Walmart parking lot to grab some lunch from the trailer. 

            And then it is my turn to drive!  It is another 35 miles or so to the North Carolina border and then about 40 more down into Asheville.  Lots of route changes around Asheville, but Rick gets me in the right place at the right time.  I can’t say it was my most enjoyable driving, but good for me to do it on occasion.  We are on I-40 heading west briefly before taking off on US74 west toward Sylva and Bryson City.  We pass the exit to Sylva.  We’ll come back to that on Sunday!  Another 20 miles takes us to Bryson City where we exit to follow the directions to the campground, just 2+ miles off the highway. 
            What a winding, narrow 2 plus miles they are!  In one place I think the road was only 1.5 lanes wide.  I just thank God that I didn’t meet another trailer or RV coming down!!  Told Rick HE was driving the trailer back out on Sunday!! 
We find the little Presbyterian
Church in Bryson City
   
The brook runs right behind the trailer. 
         Campground is rustic, but a peaceful setting and we have a spot that backs up to the little creek.  I love going to sleep at night to the sound of a babbling brook!  We get set up and then drive back into Bryson City to grab a bite to eat, mail postcards, and get the lay of the land.  We have some exploring to do in the next couple of days! 
Gorgeous iris in campground
            I am thrilled to find that the internet works amazingly well, even from my more remote site!  Good thing because the cell service isn’t so hot!  


4.29.16 Friday
Hiking in the Deep Creek area, 
Great Smoky National Park
Road to Nowhere Drive

Buttercups at the camp-
ground
            Ah, a good night’s sleep!  No thunderstorms or lightning, no rain, just the gentle babble of our little brook behind us!  I didn’t get up until nearly 7 and Rick had a leisurely morning as well!  By 10 we were ready to start some action.  The weather is supposed to deteriorate tomorrow afternoon, so we wanted to get our hiking in today!  There are great trails close by that enter into the National Park just a few miles from Bryson City.  Perfect! 
Going into the park!
            We drive back into town and then to the end of West Deep Creek Road.  A trailhead  gives us several loop options for a hike.  We decide to go with the 4.5 mile loop that will take us past all three waterfalls, plus get a good climb and a little mileage in as well.  The trail is wide and well graded, although our first mile or so is on the horse trail which will loop us around to Juney Whank Falls.  The forest is beautiful with the sunlight filtering through newly opened leaves.  The rhododendrons are early – we can barely make out buds on a few.  Lots of wild geranium pink though.  We have a small map that SHOULD have been enough, if we had actually followed the signs instead.  But no, we were trying to make the map make sense, so….we took a wrong turn.  The trail quickly deteriorated into a leaf covered path that climbed steeply up a ridge along a small creek.  (We later learned Hammer Creek).  It was obvious it wasn’t well trod because Rick was busting through lots of cobwebs!  Between a half and ¾ of a mile and after a VERY steep section, we suddenly find ourselves at an opening with three headstones.  Violeta Wiggins, Theodore Wiggins, and Guy Wiggins.  No dates, but simple square stones.  After that the trail petered out.  At that point we finally decided we really were on the wrong trail!  This was not going to loop around at all!  So….back down! 
      
      We figured out our mistake (and the confusing map) and decided we had already hiked an additional amount with good elevation gain, so let’s now take the shorter of the two loops!  We crossed over the Deep Creek bridges and in a short distance found Indian Creek Falls.  Beautiful wide cascades.  The main trails here are old roads, so very wide!  Kids are tubing down the creek from here on down and there are lots of hikers.  We found some different sorts of trilliums – the flowers grow UNDER the three leaves! 
            Overall, I saw the wild
Wildflowers and Critters on trail
geraniums, buttercups, Solomon’s seal, vanilla leaf, phlox, violets of white and purple nature, the trilliums, and fleabane.  We also had a deer walk right up to us on the trail, saw a river otter, a centipede, cardinals, and a very dead turtle in the middle of the trail (cemetery section!)  Not a bad day for wildlife! 
            We drove back out past old farms and homes on East Deep Creek Road and headed into town and up the Road to Nowhere.  This road actually leads up to the high school and many homes, but then enters the national park.  The road now goes through the park for another 7 miles to deadend at the entrance to a tunnel.  Trails take off from this point into the remote sections of the national park backcountry. 
         
Entrance to tunnel at end of Road to Nowhere
   Why a road that doesn’t go past the tunnel built for it?  In the 1940’s the TVA built a large dam on the Little Tennessee River that formed Fontana Lake.  County road 288 used to travel to several small towns that were flooded when the lake was filled.  The road was covered up in many sections.  The government promised a new road.  With a great deal of negotiations, environmental problems (the tunnel revealed an acidic soil released that would have killed much of the area), 60 years later….just the 7 miles were built.  The county settled with the national park service for 50 some million dollars over a 10 year period.  The national park boundaries were extended to the lake shore.  (Apparently the park never really wanted the area.) That is a VERY brief summary of a complicated
The end of the road....trails. 
subject! 
            We walked through the quarter mile long tunnel.  It was very black inside!  Found the trails at the other end.  Considerable graffiti mars the walls and face of the entrances.  Beautiful stonework.  There are dozens of small family cemeteries scattered throughout the hills above the lake that are rather inaccessible now.  Driving back we stopped to look down at Fontana Lake – at least a couple arms of it!  It is a huge sprawling reservoir. 
One arm of Fontana Lake. 
            Back to Bryson City.  Rick goes into the pizza place for a cold beer while I stop in at three shops to browse for abit.  Back to grab my cold glass of wine and we enjoy a appetizer together.  Rick was having fun getting caught up on the sports news at the bar. 
            When we arrive at the campground we find several tents and an Airstream trailer have joined us along the creek.  Quiet evening though.  


4.30.16 Saturday
Nantahala Gorge & Stecoah Artists Community

            Today was a day for driving tours!  And the weather is supposed to turn WET by the end of the day.  (In fact, as I write at 5:15pm, it is a veritable downpour outside.  I am feeling sorry for those tent campers at the moment!   A bit of a thunderstorm is rolling through and that rain that makes the Smoky Mts. such a lush forest is accumulating!)
Sections of Nantahala River, bamboo, and
kudzu! Plus a rhoddie in bloom!
            We took off for the kayak famous Nantahala Gorge, an 8 mile stretch of the river known for a steady water flow (dam controlled) and white water.  I can’t say we SAW stretches of good rapids – the river seemed pretty mild to us.  But rafting companies abound and people were taking off for trips.  Right in the center of town the ‘gates’ are up for kayak competitions.  The railroad tours right along this stretch of river.  We got out at the first parking spot available and walked back along the river toward the ‘hubbub’ section.  A look around, and then we drive on down to the put-in park.  Interesting history on the settler populations and the Cherokee ‘removal’ of 1838.  I was fascinated by a thick stand of bamboo bordering the park – some so big I couldn’t put my hand around it.  Where did this come from?  It isn’t native I don’t think!     
            We turn up Hwy 129 to the little town of Robbinsville.  It is a mecca for the motorcycle crowd, as all these little curvy mountain roads attract cyclists like crazy.  There are even campgrounds and resorts JUST for motorcycle riders.  We stopped at Wendy’s to grab a bite to eat.  My stomach was a little weird (I suspect my egg mixture has spoiled from the up and down temps in the fridge) so I just had a frosty.  Rick had a more normal meal!  Also took the opportunity with some cell coverage to call his brother Rob just to check in before Rob and Karen head down on Tuesday. 
          
Stecoah: view from gap, cross where AT
crosses road, Stecoah buildings in decay;
quaint buildings.
  Then it is over Stecoah Gap (8% grade on either side!) and past the Appalachian Trail to the little community of Stecoah.  This is now well known as a little artisan village.  The school was closed in the 1990’s and turned into a community art center.  The auditorium is used for plays and concerts, they have a little cafĂ©, art classrooms, and a large gift gallery.  We poked around for nearly an hour, as there was also a good history of the Cherokee people from the area.  I wanted to buy something,  and we finally found a little nativity nightlight from stained glass for a reasonable price!  Perfect! 
            Back to the trailer around 2:15.  I tumbled into bed for a long rest and read to finish my book.  I did rest my eyes a little.  Around 4 the raindrops started falling, first very lightly and gently.  Then circa 5:15 the heavens opened and it rained HARD!  Some of the tenters, I believe, went up and rented one of the little cabins for the night.  They have a Chinese Laundry out front with everything hanging from the railings! 
            Our creek is a little fuller and muddier, but the rain has tapered off.  A nice coolness to the air, although the trailer still says 71 degrees inside. 
            Tomorrow we drive over to our week long stay at Fort Tatham RV Park south of Sylva.  
                 Addendum:  Two more heavy rainstorms during the night, but only a couple rolls of thunder.  We are dry!!!  


5.1.16 Sunday
Bryson City to Sylva, NC
34 miles

            Well, this was a strenuous travel day!!  We had to be out of Smokey Mountain Meadows by noon and I think we pulled out at 11:30!  Good timing to avoid the church traffic coming up the hill, however!  (Altho I did say a little prayer as we headed out that we won’t encounter any uphill traffic on the way down….and God provides!)
            Couple more heavy rain storms during the night but no thunderstorms nearby.  But by the time we were ready to pack up, the sky even had some patches of blue!
Courthouse top! 
            We drove through downtown Sylva, just to get the lay of the land.  Cute little town with an awesome courthouse set up on a hill.  It was behind me so I couldn’t get a very good picture.  Actually, it looks like a picture of the trailer tipping over and the courthouse tower sticking up from the top! 
            We stopped at the Walmart to pick up some groceries and then found the windy little cut-off road to take us back over to US23 south to our campground.  It is not the fastest cut-off and definitely not convenient for heading south as we had to head north and make a U-turn to head south!  Hmmmm. 
Fountain pond across from campsite. 
            No one in the office at Fort Tatham, but as I am calling with Rick’s phone, we see the information on the counter with REMBOLD written across it and site #35.  I did talk with Paula, however, and she said her husband was somewhere on the grounds.  He came down as we were backing in.  A short site, but right on the creek, so once again the beds are close to the white music of the water!  By the time you add the splash of the fountains in the pond across from us, you think it is raining all the time!  Only in the trailer, you can definitely tell when RAIN is hitting the roof! 
     
Our home for the next week. 
       A lazy afternoon.  Rick has cell coverage, I do not.  So we use his phone to call Moms.  Short walks around the park, which is half short-term sites like ours, and many full-time park model trailers.  New owners.  Bathrooms are immaculate and grounds well maintained.  Internet, however, has been very spotty so far, and no cable TV.  Rick was disappointed.  We did find a TV up in the lounge, rec room.  He might not have a lot of competition for it!  Lots of books for exchange though! 
My bed once again hangs over a stream -
this one doesn't babble, it sounds more
like steady rainfall! 
            But we did pull out the little electric grill tonight and actually cook a dinner meal!  We had picked up some huge chicken breasts which I cut into tenders and marianated.  Along with a sweet tater and some very moist and seedy bread, we dined well. 
            I tried re-booting my phone and got coverage!  AT&T, but at least I could call Marg back! 

5.2.16 Monday
Hiawasee, Georgia Excursion
Hamilton Gardens
Circa 110 miles
 
Green islands! 
            Off on another adventure today to the state of Georgia!  It is just an hour drive south (about 50 miles) from Fort Tatham and just across the Georgia-North Carolina border.  The surprise of the trek was the up and down nature of the road.  These mountain ranges must not run in an east-west corridor where you can drive up a river valley.  No….up one hill to a ‘Gap’ and then down, only to climb back up again.  Each seems to be at least 6% grades and many are 8%!  Again…at one of the Gaps, the Appalachian Trail intersected the road.  The clouds of the morning were eerie – at one lookout we had a view over the tops of the clouds to a sea of green islands.  On another section of road we were IN the cloud.  But… no rain!
Rick, Margaret, Elizabeth and Ron
            We pulled into the Hamilton Gardens exactly at 10am!  Ron, Margaret, and Elizabeth were waiting for us (we might have been early, but we missed the turn the first time! Oops!)  The gardens sit atop a hill overlooking Lake Chatague, a reservoir of the Hiwassee River.  (Don’t ask me why, but it is Lake Hiwassee, Hiwassee River, but the town of HiAwassee!)  Many of the rhododendrons were transplanted here over 20 years ago.  The hillside sloping down to the lakeshore is literally covered with trees, moist forest underplants such as trilliums, Solomon’s seal, columbine, etc., and hundreds of rhododendrons and azaleas of every imaginable color, size, and variety.  No entry fee this year as they are in the process of trying to upgrade some areas.  We made a donation, but I was sorry they didn’t have a little shop because I would have liked to purchase a few postcards and a souvenir pin! 
Hamilton Garden flowers
            We wandered the trails…all of them!  None of them long, but just wide easy graded paths winding through the flowers.  Memorial benches are EVERYWHERE!  No lack of a place to sit down and just enjoy the view, rest, or meditate.  We wandered, took a TON of pictures (we gals, Rick and Ron just looked!) and exclaimed over the colors or size or details here and there! 
       
Me and my big sister! 
     Back for lunch in the shelter at the top of the hill – Margaret had packed sandwiches, and I had brought fruit and chips.  No one starved!  Then we attempted to plan our next move and found a short mile hike close by.  But by the time we drove over, the rain started to fall and a rumble or two of thunder.  We decided right along a lake wasn’t the best place to be caught in a T-storm.  So…a drive through ‘downtown’ Hiawassee which didn’t really reveal a place to window shop, gift stores, etc.  No museum or craft market.  So…we ended up at McDonald’s, Rick and I bought everyone hot fudge sundaes, and we sat and talked for another hour!  Lots of exciting things happening at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, just not on the first Monday of May!  The Eggfest is in two weeks!  What in the world is an eggfest?  I don’t know!  But it sounds interesting! 
Caught on the rock!
            `So around 2:45, Taylors headed south and we went north!  I drove Rick and I back up to Fort Tatham, this time taking the bypass through Franklin just to check out the town.  Hoping to find the little brewery Rick wanted to visit or the Scottish Tartan Museum I would like to see.  No such luck.  Home at our little trailer by 4. 
            Evening spent reading, listening to two more thunderstorms hit between 6:30 and 10pm and once again going to bed to the sound of the pitter patter of raindrops!   Rick escaped for awhile to watch the Pirates on TV up in the rec room/lounge.  He came back AFTER the deluge but still in a good rain. 
            Tomorrow we head toward Asheville, Montreat, and perhaps a journey along the Blue Ridge Parkway on a section we haven’t done before.  Should be exciting! 
            Raindrops keep falling every night!!!  


5.3.16 Tuesday
Blue Ridge Parkway-Appalachian Folk Center-Montreat
Circa 210 miles

            Wow!  We did a lot of miles today for a non-travel day!!  And except for a short 8 mile section, ALL of it was on non-interstate, much of it two lane back country roads! 
Our circle route for the day of SW North Carolina!
            We left around 9 heading up to Sylva and a short drive to the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway section south.  Three years ago we did the north section from here to the entrance to Smoky Mt. National Park.  This time we wanted to do the longer 65 mile section to the Folk Art Center outside of Asheville.  The morning was cloudy, but the rain had stopped and blue sky was even poking through in places!  As I went to take my first picture, I realized I had left the media card in the laptop after drawing this morning’s picture.  ARGH!!!  The spare is NOT in the glove compartment, so I will have to use the phone today!
        
I have to confess...I didn't take this picture.
Just this is what it WOULD have looked like!
    So…our drive up and up, then down, then up and around, was in a fog much of the beginning.  There were overlooks everywhere, but looking out on a white world.  At times, we would drive above the clouds, but most of the time we were in them – at least on the first half of the drive.  Walls and walls of rhododendrons on steroids – HUGE trees of rhoddies.  Some of the azaleas were in bloom, but the rhododendrons need another month to be in full bloom. It was beautiful and eerie. 

A few parkway facts gleaned from the internet:
  • Begun in 1935, finished in 1987 with the Linn Viaduct in NC (which we traversed in 2013!)
  • Four hundred sixty nine miles through Virginia and North Carolina
  • High point is 6053’ at Balsam, NC (which we went over today!)
  • There are 27 tunnels, of which 26 are in North Carolina.  All are through solid rock. (We went through at least 10 of them today!)
  • There are 168 bridges and 6 viaducts.
  • The speed limit is never more than 45 mph, and sometimes slower.
  • It is the most visited National Park in the country with 19 million guests a year.
Typical views for first half of drive
on Blue Ridge Parkway
            We pulled off at Graveyard Fields, site of a violent wind storm that broke off trees, leaving ‘marker’ stumps covered with moss – until a 1925 fire burned everything and sterilized the soil.  Trees in places have recovered over the past 90 years to about ten feet tall.  Lots of trails available if you want to hike from nearly every overlook! 
Barren landscape of Graveyard Fields
Fortunately, the skies have cleared somewhat and we have good views for the rest of the drive!
            The parkway was a nice route through the busier sections of southern Asheville as we wound through the trees to the Folk Art Center at MP385.  This is the single most visited site on the BRP.  My only regret here is I can’t take pictures
and some of the artwork is incredible.  I found a print I loved with a quote on the pines.  Sadly it was $265.  (And no notecards available in that design!)  Bird sculptures made from pinecones – so realistic and animated!  Needlework, wood carvings, paintings, basketry, you name it – artists from all over the country have work showing, but largely over 900 artists from the southeast US.  Nothing very cheap!  So we visited the national park gift shop instead and picked up some Christmas ideas! 
Entry arch to Montreat
            Out highway 70 toward Montreat!  We stop at Burger King for a quick bite to eat, and then attempt to find a road that at least indicates ‘Montreat’ on the sign!  Finally stop at a visitor center to inquire!  The nice lady assures me we were on the right path and we head up the road!  Part of the confusion is that Montreat is a town, a conference center, AND a college all wrapped up in the same location.  Buildings are shared at
View across lake from shops
times, but belong to one or the other.  The college area was busy as folks are starting to arrive for the graduation this coming weekend.  The conference

center was hosting a ‘recreation and arts’ conference (that sounded interesting!)  You enter through a  set of rock arches that look like a giant M. We found the Moore Center (online search had revealed it was the site of the gift shop and Thousand Villages store!).  We explored both stores and asked a lot of questions about the conference center.         
Four inch high iris!
           Since it was 2:30 by the time we left the shops, Rick suggested we take a hike on the grounds rather than trying to hit the waterfalls on the way home. 
At Woodword Falls in Montreat
Great idea!  We drove on up the main road more, past the hotel and ‘lake’ (very small!), and to a series of trailheads at the upper end of the road.  We found a 2 mile loop that traversed 4 different trail sections and visited a waterfall.  It was mostly in deep woods walled with rhododendrons (again, not in bloom yet!)  Did find some tiny iris blooming!  And warnings about picking  galax.  The trails are all on Montreat property.  We had NO idea what galax was!  (Google later reveals a woodland plant that is being overpicked for sale to florists.  I don’t think we saw any!)

Whiteface Mountain near Highlands, NC
BridalVeil Falls
            Time to head home!  We don’t want to take the expressways or interstate through Asheville.  It is nearly 4:30 and getting close to rush hour time.  So a few miles on 70 and I-40 take us to US280 and travel southwest toward Brevard, NC.  There I told Rick I would drive for awhile.  Little did I know what I was saying!  US Route 64 from Brevard to Franklin, NC is the curviest section of road we have traveled this trip!  Tight curves!  Up and over ridges and through gaps.  Past small villages and huge resorts, golf courses, and housing buried deep in wooded hills.  I would laugh because the 55 mph speed (rare!) was immediately followed by ‘Slow to 20 for curve’.  The lowest speed curve was a posted 15mph!  I haven’t driven a road like that in years!  We opted to stay on 64, thinking it would smooth out toward Franklin and was a more major road than 107 heading north to Sylva, but…. I think 107 followed a river more so it might have been the smarter choice.  It was only 2 miles shorter though.  Oh well – beautiful country! 
            We got home at 7:20, VERY ready for a bite to eat!  I spend part of the evening trying unsuccessfully to get my phone pictures to transfer to the laptop.  Internet won’t do it, direct cable doesn’t seem to work – or I don’t know how! 
            After a cloudy morning, the day sure cleared off nicely!  It is forecast to be at least 10 degrees cooler tonight!  Hallelujah!



5.4.16 Wednesday
Visit to 'The Cabin' - Rob & Karen!

            A night without raindrops?  Yes!!!  I sit typing looking out my window at the sun rising over the hilltop, the sounds of the stream and fountain musical against the trucks on the highway! (J)   
            Good news from bad news!  In trying to open an email from Katy, I got my phone to sync and yesterday’s photos are now loading!  But prayers are on the wind for Mike and Judy.
       
The 'cabin' Robs rented for the week.
     We spend most of the morning cleaning house, fixing Rick’s window shade, repacking under the seat, and unwinding.  Rick calls Rob and sets up an 11:30a time to meet them, see the house, and then go to lunch together. 
            Back again.  A good day!  We met Rob at the Holiday Inn where he led us up the steep and windy road to the top of the mountain behind the inn (or at least it seemed like the top!)  to the house he and Karen have rented for the week.  And what a log cabin it is!  Lodge is more like it.  Only 3 bedrooms, but it will sleep 12 plus two couches!  Rob, Karen, Meg, Kurt, and most of Karen’s family will be staying there.  They are hosting a huge party on Friday night (circa 80
I think my favorite is the rock breakfast bar! 
expected!) so the two decks, game room, and large main floor will be welcome!  Let’s just hope for warm dry weather!  (But not HOT!)  The house is surrounded by trees, but you do have a view out one side to distant green hills.  Rick and Rob took the truck back down to the gates to pick up the flowers that had been delivered and left there.  Karen and Meg were in town having manicures when we arrived. 
            Rob drove the four of us down the hill to meet Karen and Meg at Kostas, a Greek restaurant in Dillsboro.  We had a great meal.  I tried something new – a Gyros Sandwich, which was beef and lamb, onions and tomatoes, with a tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt and cucumber).  I opted for fruit instead of French fries. (I’m TRYING!)  I really enjoyed getting to know Kurt, Megan’s significant.  He is a postman in Pittsburgh and very easy going. 
         
View from upper deck down to the flower
processing.  Fiance Kristen is far right. 
   Then we met Kristen, her sister Amber, and Heather a good friend from Oregon!  They had driven up to Sylva to process the flowers and check on a few other details.  We helped cut the ends and put them in water.  She will be getting another shipment tomorrow. 
            A chance to just sit and visit with Rob and Karen for awhile before we left.  They had errands to run and were driving Meg into Asheville tonight for Kristen’s bachelorette party.  (Two friends are pregnant, so Kristen said it would be pretty mellow!)
  
Abandoned barn on walk
          Back at the trailer and we took a short walk up the road and hill from the campground – there are more houses back there than you can imagine.  Some very old and others newer.  A little creek runs down along the road.  We went until the road ended in a driveway or at a gate to Cove Creek ‘Estates’ (I don’t think developed yet!)
            Agh….raindrops are falling, but at least they are again falling at night!  Forecast is for much cooler tonight.  Might have to get the heater out,….just in case.  We stowed the heavy sleeping bag away so no chance there!  


5.5.16 Thursday
Franklin Adventures

            Brrr!!  It did cool down again last night – trailer was a brisk 46 when I got up this morning.  We had every blanket on the bed, but did NOT get out the heater.  I might change my mind about that for tonight!  Hopefully things will warm up before Saturday’s wedding, but today was forecast to be cool and rainy off and on. 
Lower Cullwohee Falls
            Hence….we didn’t get moving too fast!  But finally around 11 we head down the road toward Franklin with the intention of waterfalls, lunch, and the Tartan museum! 
            Thankfully Rick got to drive the windy stretch of 64 today, at least for the 7 miles of twisty we had to drive to get to Dry Falls.  We stopped enroute at Cullowhee Gorge to see the lower falls.  Dry Falls was awesome.  About 75’ drop and the trail down goes behind the falls.  WET!  Plenty of water pouring over the top! 
Dry Falls
            Back into Franklin and we cased out the downtown.  Found the Tartan Museum on Main Street and then backtracked to the La Casa Restaurante to enjoy a Cinco de Mayo lunch!  We both brought home leftovers for tomorrow!  I tried a Quesadilla Pizza which was quite good! 
       
Rick walks behind
the falls
     The Tartan Museum was fascinating.  Rick went into the gift shop with me, but declined to pay the $2 admission into the downstairs museum.  Mostly it was a history of tartans and the garments of the Highland Scots (the lowlanders didn’t wear the same outfits!)  North Carolina has one of the highest concentrations of residents with Scottish-Irish-Celtic backgrounds.  I read through the description of how to turn the 5 yard long piece of fabric into the ‘skirt’ and pack, or in cooler weather to drape the remainder over the shoulders, etc.  There are different pleats patterns for the kilt as well as tartans.  The tartan plaids were not specific to a certain clan until well into the 1800’s.  I picked up a few treasures from the gift shop and then met Rick back down at the book store where he had been browsing. 
Highland Tartan wear
            A long HOT shower plus discussions with the campground manager (and a refund on our overpayment!).  Around 6:30 we met Rob and gang back at Kosta’s Greek restaurant for dinner.  Megan and Kurt are in Charlotte at Matt’s bachelor party.  First time Mom has been together with three of her sons and wives since Pop’s service in 2010!  We got a table out in the patio area, but Mom was RIGHT under the heater so she was warm enough!  Good meal and we visited for two hours!  Fun to just listen to the ‘boys’ reminisce – and everyone giving Randy a bad time about his eating habits (or limited menu!) 
            Time to hit the sack!  


5.6.16 Friday
Wedding Welcome Dinner

            Today truly was a lazy day!  We hung around the campground and did laundry!  Light rain early in the morning and then the skies cleared.  Still cool, but the sun is shining.  Rick took a walk in early afternoon.  We visited with a seasonal gal doing her laundry as well.  I started checking for campgrounds for the trip home!
Walking Sadie
            We left around 3 to pick up wine and ice at Wal-Mart and then truck up the hill to the cabin.  The welcome dinner started at 6 but we wanted to make our delivery and then get the truck parked out of the way out of the driveway and down the hill.  Talked with Grandma and Patty for abit, and then offered for Rick and I to take Sadie on a walk before the festivities really started. 
            Rick and I headed UP the hill toward the top, finding three more very nice ‘cabins’ along the way!  Most of these are rented out through the agency.  The hill is steep!!  Last two roads we traveled were gravel, not paved.  A little good exercise before the dinner….
Rob, Meg, Matt, and Karen
            ….which was delicious!!  The caterers were two guys, John and Ron, who brought in BBQ pork, chicken, mac & cheese, cole slaw, fruit salad, baked beans, and two huge veggie and fruit trays with dips.  Rob and Karen had provided the beer, pop, and waters.  Rick and I picked up 4 1.5 liters of wine and someone in Kristen’s family showed up with another 6 large bottles!  Plenty!!  (In fact, Rick brought home our unopened Merlot!)  Grandma had spent the morning making scotcheroos – enough for 80!!  The same caterers are doing the wedding today, so I know the food will be great!
      
Kurt and Megan
      Rick took the van keys from Matt and Rob so they could enjoy their guests and he made two trips down the hill to pick people up and another two trips taking folks back down to the hotel.  The Holiday Express had nicely agreed to let people park there and get picked up for the narrow twisty road to the top of the mountain.  Same hotel where Mom, Ran, and Patty are staying.  On his last trip to bring people up, Rick was followed by a truck that had a full cab load AND the pickup bed filled!  Lots of Matt and Kristen’s friends from grad school, Matt’s from Cinci, and Chicago friends made the trip to NC for the wedding.  It was a great gathering of young people, relatives, etc.  Karen’s two sisters, plus two of her brothers came, Kristen’s aunts and uncles, both of her grandparent sets, plus all of us Rembolds.  Got a few pictures, but never one of Kristen and Matt together!  (They were making the rounds separately most of the evening!) 
            We stayed until 10:30, however!  Late night by the time we got back to the campground!  

Rob, Karen, Ginger, Mom, Rick, Randy, Patty


5.7.16 Saturday
WEDDING DAY for Matt and Kristen!
View PICTURES

            I’m not sure I could get much lazier this morning!  I didn’t even get ‘dressed’ until I showered at 1:30 to start to get ready for the wedding!  I spent time on my prayer drawing, I looked for campgrounds on line, I finished reading a book.  We talked with Luke on the phone as he drove down to Ontario for tennis, I talked with my mom on the phone. 
Pond and azaleas
    
Megan stands with her brother. 
        At 4pm we drove the short half mile down the highway to the turnoff for Betty’s Creek and followed the windy road up the hill to the Vineyard.  A beautiful setting on the side of the mountain looking to the east and the rolling green hills.  There were two sections of grapevines, a half dozen small buildings tucked in here and there, and a lodge and pavilion.  The wedding ceremony itself took place in a grove of trees in from of the wine cellar house, a towering rock chimney to one side.  It was simple – recorded music.  Matt had just Megan standing by his side.  Kristen three friends – all of whom picked their own dress to wear, as 2 of them were pregnant!  The third was her sister, Amber.  Below and behind them was a series of ponds and deep orange azaleas in bloom, which reflected in the pond surface.  It was shady and a little breezy at times, but lovely. 
The happy couple!
            One part of the ceremony which was a little different – they had asked two people to give advice on marriage.  One was a friend who had just married 7 months ago – a fresh perspective.  The second was Kristen’s grandmother, married for 62 years – what it takes to make it last.  Pretty special.
       
A wedding kiss...

     After the ceremony, while pictures we being taken, everyone went up to the lodge and the outdoor courtyard for cocktails, hors d’oervs, and the watching of the Kentucky Derby!  Mini hats were available and many of their friends were
wearing bow ties, etc.  Pretty cute!  The tables in the pavilion were set and labeled by the names of previous derby winners and cards with names and horse winners were available so you knew where to sit at dinner.  Rick, Rand, Patty, and I were all at ‘Gallant Fox’ the 1930 derby winner.  Cocktails were mint juleps and another that I can’t remember, but it was cranberry.  I had a virgin one of those!  Especially enjoyed the fried green tomato appetizers! 

The younger set!
            Several of Matt and Kristen’s friends had little children – two little girls were especially all dolled up in their Disney princess dresses with big hats.  So adorable to watch them play among the vine yard.  Another little 2 year old boy with suspenders and his bow tie. 
            Dinner was excellent, served family style.  Only problem was the entrees came rather separately so you weren’t sure how much to take of anything!  Mac and cheese, collard greens, trout and grits, pork loin with a fruit salsa, salad and roll.  The grits were the best I have ever tasted – thick and creamy! 
       
The cookie table
     A tradition of western Pennsylvania weddings is to make cookies rather than a huge wedding cake.  Karen and Megan had baked over 900 cookies which Karen brought down in two large coolers with dry ice.  A wide variety of fancy options!  Plus little take home bags afterwards! 
            They had a Derby photo booth set up in one corner.  Lots of fun props, including a horse head, a camera that you could set yourself and a little printer on the table.  We never did go over, but Karen and Rob got some terrific pictures. 
Matt and Karen on
dance floor
            Rick and I danced – the music was very definitely a younger set, but it was amazing how well this set knew the words to some of the older tunes.  Rick requested Unchained Melody, but alas, it never was played.  Still lots of fun – kids were having a very good time! 
            It was a beautiful evening – a little cool, but the pavilion had heaters in the corners.  We sat Mom down there!!  Dancing, I took off my sweater and was just fine in my dress only.  As we left at 11p (they were closing things down), the stars were bright in a clear sky.