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Grayson Highlands State Park, VA, West Jefferson, NC, Blue Ridge Parkway, & Davidson River Campground 7/27-31/18

Wow! What a fabulous 9th anniversary celebration we had. Instead of a 5-star Hotel, we did a 5-billion star one, camping in the Virginia Highlands. Grayson Highlands was a bucket list state park. I am so happy we finally made it there, what a magical place.

We camped at the overflow Chestnut Hollow Horse Campground, because the Hickory Ridge Campground was full when we called to reserve a spot. We ended up being pleasantly surprised and were happy with the campground and campsite. It was heavily wooded and shady, although the spots were a little close. Thankfully, we liked our tent dweller neighbors, a precious family from Greensboro with four children, boy age 10mos, and three girls 3, 5, & 7yo. The girls wanted a tour of the van where the 3yo gave the bed the jump test. It was so cute! The girls adopted us the rest of the weekend and had a hard time when we left. We’re hoping to see them at LEAF Festival in Black Mtn. in October. The parents were interested after we told them about it and recommended it as “Woodstock for families”. While camping, you meet the nicest people.

After getting set up in site #12, we had time for a quick hike from the campground to Massie Gap before dark. We took the Horse Trail East, to the Cabin Creek Trail, to the Massie Gap Parking Area. We were greeted by a field full of wild ponies just below the parking area. They were absolutely beautiful and so tame. It was such a thrill! My favorite was a tiny gray 14yo stallion, who, I later learned, the rangers call, Fabio. He is the smallest, but the leader of the herd. There were also, two little foals with the herd. It was such an amazing experience seeing them in their natural habitat, albeit too close and familiar with humans. One pony did get a little frisky and run off another when someone was giving the aggressor food. I wish people would not do that, but people will be people…

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Black Mountain Campground, Pisgah National Forest 7/7-9/18

We had a perfect few days at my favorite WNC campground, Black Mountain Campground on the South Toe River, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the base of Mt Mitchell. It was just the right place to recover from the house full we had July 4th week. We were totally unplugged, just soaking in the peace, serenity, and beauty. Loved our riverfront spot, campsite #6.

I had a foot injury, so the 5 mi. hike from the campground up to Mt Mitchell was off the table until next time. Fortunately, there were so many easy level hikes right from our campsite that I was able to do. One of the most lush and beautiful places on earth, a mere 1/2 mi from our site, the 75ft Setrock Creek Falls is absolutely magical. We saw a red newt, who posed for closeups, then Nigel swam and played ball in the shallow water at the base, while Pippa hunted, and I protected the salamanders from her.

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Linville Falls-Blue Ridge Parkway, Catawba Falls 6/1-3/18

We spent the weekend at one of our favorite places to camp, Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. It is truly unplugged. We had no cell service or internet all weekend. It was just what Wiley needed after a stressful few months of work.

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Blanchard Springs CG, AR 10/16/17

 

Some of my earliest memories are of being with my family, camping at Blanchard Springs Recreation Area in the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas, being in the campground, playing in the crystal clear creek, skipping rocks, hiking, seeing the springs, and exploring the caverns. In my child mind, this was a magical place, full of wonders. Camping now, as an adult, it’s always there, as this mystical place by which to measure, all other campgrounds and adventures.

We were taking I-40 west on our trip to the Grand Canyon. I looked at the map in plotting our route, Blanchard Springs wasn’t anywhere near the interstate. If I was going through Arkansas, I was going to Blanchard Springs. I wanted so much to share it with Wiley. I told him it was a non-negotiable and planned the detour. As it got closer, I started to worry, what if my childhood memory was inflated and exaggerated, and this park and campground wasn’t anything special?

As soon as, we arrived in the park then made our way to the campground, fording the crystal clear creek to get there, all my worries were laid to rest and all my memories came flooding back. It was magical and we were there!

Our campsite overlooked Sylamore Creek. It was the beautiful wooded campground right on the creek, I’d remembered. We parked and immediately started hiking from the campground along the creek. The creek is so clear and beautiful, shallow enough to walk in. The puppies loved it! The beaches are made of smooth rounded rocks of white. It looks like another planet.

We hiked from the campground to the picnic area, where there was a cave, that I remembered standing in and marveling about as a child. We hiked the Sylamore trail from the picnic area, up the ridge, high above the campground and canyon below for a great view. Headed back, when the sun started going down.

We pulled out all the party leftovers, Peyton had packed for us, and had a gourmet dinner at the campsite overlooking the creek. It was perfect! Had a campfire and s’mores for desert for old times sake.

The next morning, we packed up and drove Happy to see the Blanchard Springs. We saw deer on the way. Nigel and Pippa were both in my lap looking out the window, Nigel squealing and Pippa quietly pointing, as usual. In the wild, he’d be a vegetarian.

The Springs shoot out of the side of the rock cliff, like nothing, I’ve seen anywhere else. It was beyond my expectations, and greater than my memory of it. It’s gorgeous! We left the springs and drove up to the Caverns. Sadly, they didn’t open for another hour and we were ready to hit the road. We decided, we’d be back and see them another time.

All I can say is Blanchard Springs rose to the occasion. Sharing a piece of my childhood, having it be everything and more, to experience it and discover it again with Wiley, was the reason for the detour and so worth it. It was one of those times, you want to share something with someone, but you’re worried, you’ve built it up so much, that they’ll be disappointed and just not get it, but then they love it too, thank you for sharing it, and it becomes one of their favorites. This was one of those times. Blanchard Springs, I love you! Thank you!

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Roan Mountain State Park 8/4-6/17

The first weekend in August, Happy took us to TN to Roan Mountain State Park. WOW! So glad, we finally made it to Roan. It is one of my new faves. The campground is in a lush hardwood forest with the Doe River running through it. There are numerous trails from the campground, which is always a bonus. The park had live music at the campground amphitheater, both Friday and Saturday night. Both acts were really good, particularly Saturday night’s act, Marshall Bellew, of WNCW’s Frank on Friday. He rocked!

On Saturday morning, we decided to hike to the Miller Farmstead in the park. Little did we know, the road in was straight up a mountain with no switchbacks…It was one of the toughest hikes we’ve ever done. We hiked back on the Chesnut Ridge Trail, thinking it had to be easier, but it wasn’t really. The ridge went up and down and back up several mountains…It ended up being a 12 mile butt-kicker kind of day. All that said, the trip to the Miller Farmstead was well worth it. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The farm was settled in 1870 and the house was built around 1908. The farmhouse and outbuildings are an example of the Appalachian lifestyle of subsistence farming in secluded mountains from the early to mid-twentieth century with minimal alterations. The Millers never had a road into their property nor a motorized vehicle. The family lived there until 1962. Did I mention, we brought our lunch and picnicked, while two old bluegrass musicians played all the old timey standards?!! I want to live there!

So, you know how I said, the hike was extremely difficult? Well, think about the length of Nigel’s little legs and imagine how strenuous the hike had to be on him. Then imagine if you can, how said puppy, had the energy to bolt from the RV as soon as we got back from the hike…I started yelling to the neighbors all around us for someone to grab him, because he would go to them, but run from me. Fortunately, Nigel ran to the campsite next to us between their truck and trailer and their grandson was waiting at the other end and scooped him up. Whew! I didn’t have anything left at that point to go chase him. Thank goodness, I didn’t have to.

On Sunday, we packed up and headed to the AT at Carvers Gap on the NC/TN line. It was a short hike through a mossy, fir-filled forest to the first bald, Round Bald, and the beautiful Roan Mountain views. Truly, breathtaking panoramic views. We have now hiked on the AT in TN, GA, and NC. We are working on hiking a section of the trail in every state it passes through. After the short hike, we drove up to the famed Rhododendron Gardens, which was quite a let down. I imagine in June when the Catawba Rhododendrons are blooming, it’s nice…I guess we’re spoiled living in Sapphire, because our yard, neighborhood, and surrounding area are far more dense and plentiful than the sorry paved trail through the famous gardens.

We’ll definitely be returning to Roan Mountain. It is a gorgeous park with fabulous hiking. Want to do more of the AT there next time, but was too sore after Saturday’s 12-miler to do much Sunday. Can’t wait to go back!

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Chewacla State Park, AL 2/25/18

Left Rocky Bayou SP and Florida on Friday. Spent one night in Auburn, AL at Chewacla State Park, which proved to be a wonderful stop over and most pleasant surprise. Great park with more trails than any State Park, we’ve ever been. Most of them are really mountain bike trails, but they’re mixed use as well. The Auburn University Mtn Bike team practices there. The trails, jumps, and trick areas, were impressive.

Chewacla is another of the fabulous CCC era parks with historic buildings and cabins. It’s really nice and will be our new halfway stop from the Panhandle to the mountains for sure. Good campground with large wooded spots.

We hiked the Sweet Shrub Trail upon arrival. It followed along the lake, to the stream, and beaver pond. It was a nice little hike to stretch our legs after traveling. The puppies were glad to be out and to get some exercise. They’re not big fans of travel days. They’re used to their routine midday and afternoon hikes. When that’s interrupted, they pout.

We woke up Saturday morning and took at quick hike around the lake, to the Falls and river, on the Falls View Trail. We just thought the falls would be the result of the lake dam. We had no idea until we got to the dam that there were huge boulders, cascades, and a river beyond it. It was absolutely gorgeous! The spring trees, flowers, and grass, were just peeking out and made me so happy! Great hike before hitting the road to Greenville, SC to see our Bee.

We drove through Auburn University and downtown on our way out of town. Couldn’t be in Auburn and not see it, our first time there. Beautiful university and really nice town. I sent Miles a text after seeing it and said, he should consider it. He just texted back, “I’m not going to college in Alabama”. I guess that’s the end of that. 17yr olds have definite completely baseless opinions…