Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Helen - A Rustic Alpine Mountain Village in Georgia (No, really!)

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: November 2011 (More)
On this particular trip to Helen, we were camping at Vogel State Park. Being Thanksgiving weekend, we  knew there would be a lot of Christmas lights and decorations in the streets. Additionally, Unicoi State Park was having their "Festival of Trees" this weekend. We'd hoped to see both, but time would not allow.

We pulled into Helen mid-afternoon, and the Sun was already low in the sky. We made our way down the crowded sidewalks, and visited several shops. The candy shops and toy stores were the most popular with the kids, and there are plenty. There was a street side musician playing a violin, and I sat and listened to that for a while. He was incredible. People were lined up to ride in the holiday adorned horse drawn carriages. Toward one end of the downtown area, a bridge crosses the Chattahoochee River. Here is where the kids had the most fun. They even caught a crawdad (crayfish) the size of a small lobster.

After visiting a few more shops, we settled into an outdoor café area where a musician performed various classic rock tunes with his band in a box and a guitar. As the sun set, the thousands of Christmas lights began to glow and blink. It was a beautiful sight, but the view (and ability to photograph) was hampered by the constant flow of traffic through town. We considered having our evening meal and Helen, but the crowd made that prospect unappealing. We decided to head back to Vogel and an evening by the campfire.

The appeal of Helen varies in our family. Rebecca loves it, and the kids seem to like it as well. Me? I'd have rather spent the day at Vogel. But that's just me. For lots more pictures of Helen, plus details of places to go and things to do near Helen, click here.

Nearby destinations include Vogel State Park, Unicoi State Park, Gold n Gem Grubbin', Blairsville, Brasstown Bald, Enota Mountain Retreat, Hiawassee, Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, Dahlonega, Amicalola Falls State Park, Tallulah Gorge State Park, and much more.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vogel State Park - Blairsville, Georgia

One of Georgia's Oldest and Most Popular State Parks
Vogel State Park is located near Blairsville in the north Georgia mountains. As one of the first state parks in Georgia, Vogel was constructed primarily by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s. Vogel is also one of the most popular state parks in Georgia, so reserving a campsite there is sometimes difficult. The park features a beautiful lake with a sandy beach and pedal boats, two playgrounds, miniature golf, a CCC museum (call the park for museum hours), and a very nice camp store and gift shop. Regarding the park's campground, Vogel upholds Georgia's high standards by providing large RV sites with water and electric hookups (sorry, no sewer).

The park has plenty of hiking, biking, and other outdoor recreation opportunities. A small creek runs through the campground providing a nice soundtrack for family adventure. If you take bikes, be aware that the ride from the campground is a breeze, but the ride back is all uphill. Vogel is in the Chattahoochee National Forest, so wildlife abounds. Be aware of black bears. They're very common.

Being just minutes from Blairsville is very convenient, especially considering the numerous events and festivals that take place in the small mountain town. Other local attractions include the Appalachian Trail, Brasstown bald (the highest point in Georgia), Helton Falls, Track Rock Gap, Helen (alpine village), Unicoi State Park, Cleveland (Gold and Gem Grubbing), Hiawassee, Blue Ridge, Franklin North Carolina (ruby mining), and much more.

For detailed Adventure journal entries and dozens of pictures of Vogel State Park, click here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wild Animal Safari - Pine Mountain Georgia

 Serengeti of the South - More
Wild Animal Safari is a 200 acre animal preserve located near Pine Mountain, Georgia. The Richardson Tribe has visited the park several times, which is a pretty powerful endorsement in itself. Maybe it's because we love animals so much.

The park has two attractions:

The Serengeti Adventure is most publicized part. This is an hour-long drive-through safari that brings you face-to-face with dozens of very unique animals (see pictures). You can drive your own car (not recommended), ride in a tour bus, or rent your own zebra safari van. We prefer to rent the van because we have control of our pace and when and where we stop. The vans are nasty, but you can always shower later. If you decide to drive your own vehicle, be aware that some of the animals have large horns and are very clumsy. Additionally, you will certainly
get some mammal slobber on your car's interior at some point during the tour. Food can (and should) be purchased in the visitor center when checking in. Feeding the animals is a major part of the attraction.

The second attraction is called the Walk-About. This part of the park is more like a typical zoo, loaded with incredible specimens. You will certainly be impressed. The animals all seem to be very well cared for, fat, and happy. You'll get a little closer to the animals than most zoos allow. The park features ligers, a cross between a lion and tiger. They are the largest cats, and trust me, they are huge.

There are many appealing factors to Wild Animal Safari, but perhaps its location is the biggest plus. Wild Animal Safari is located near Pine Mountain, Georgia, a very quaint little southern town. Just a few miles up the road is Callaway Gardens, a popular southern family resort. Franklin D Roosevelt State Park and Roosevelt's "Little White House" are also popular destinations. We have camped at the state park and really love it. However, without full hookups in the campground, extended stays are difficult. We have also camped at Pine Mountain RV, a very nice PB&J endorsed RV park just minutes from all the local attractions.

For more details and lots of pictures, click here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chieftains Museum - Rome, Georgia

The Home of a Cherokee Leader
The Chieftains Museum is located in the former estate home of Major Ridge, also known as Kah-nung-da-tla-geh (1771-1839), a rebellious Cherokee leader born in the north Georgia mountains. At the rather plush upscale home's core is a very old log cabin, renovated by its wealthy owner in the early 1800's. At the time of the forced exodus of the Cherokee from North Georgia, the Ridge manor was of higher quality than most, if not all others in the area, including those of the white residents. His estate included a ferry, a store, hundreds of fruit trees, rich river bottom farm land, and sadly, well over 30 slaves of African and Creek descent.

 The home itself is a fascinating tour, but the stories associated to the home's previous owners are much more interesting. I won't attempt to explain the history of the Ridge family in this short article. It's simply too complicated. However, to spice it up a little, I'll say this: Major Ridge was a Cherokee warrior, hunter, business man, politician, and assassin. He and his son John were directly involved in the signing of the treaty of New Echota, which surrendered the remainder of the Cherokee's land to Georgia. Both paid the ultimate price for doing so. The official Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee tell the story best.

The Chieftains Museum is located adjacent Ridge Ferry Park on the banks of the Oostanaula River. Ridge Ferry Park is one of our favorite bike-riding and festival destinations. Ridge Ferry Park hosts a variety of events including an annual Cherokee powwow and one of our favorite art festivals, the Chiaha Harvest Fair.
The history of the Southeastern US is fascinating to me. I wish there were a movie about the Creek and Cherokee that told the whole story! The odd personalities and politics of the time, and the near-paradigm that took place. History certainly could have emerged quite differently had time favored the Cherokee. Discovery of gold in their territory sealed their fate.

If you would like a good post-Creek history of the region, the Chieftains museum is a must see destination. You should also consider visiting New Echota, the former capitol of the Cherokee Nation located in nearby Calhoun. For history about the natives that lived here prior to the Cherokee, take the short drive to see the Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville.

Few homes in the area were finer than Major Ridge's

The Chieftains' halls are lined with exhibits ranging from the days of Desoto through the Civil War.

Ceremonial masks and hundreds of other historical items are displayed at the Chieftains Museum.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Did You Do That?

Traveling with Seven
Sometimes, as we are rolling down the road, people will stare and point. Why? Maybe it's because we look a little like the Beverly Hillbillies moving across the country with all our worldly possessions strapped to the truck. The Richardson Tribe consists of two parents and four children. Additionally, Rebecca's mother (aka Mother Goose), also lives and travels with us. So, altogether, we are seven, and that presents some issues when it comes to travel. And yes, we might look a little odd, but we're prepared.

Homer - Our First RV
When we first started RV camping, the kids were very small. We started with a tiny "Class C" motorhome we named Homer. Homer had one chair, a dinette, a cab over bunk, and a small bed. Initially, the small camper was ok. We spent most of the time outside, and retired to the camper when it was bedtime. As the children grew, the tiny space became too cramped for comfortable travel and sleeping. We pondered the need to upgrade. We loved Homer, but we needed more beds, more seating, and more living space.

Upgrading - A Tough Decision
Deciding what would replace our beloved Homer was a very difficult task. We considered all the possibilities, including trailers and 5th wheel units. No doubt, either of these options were attractive from the living space versus cost standpoint, but there were issues. For example, a trailer requires a tow vehicle large enough to pull it, so a truck or large SUV is required. Additionally, we need seating for seven, and that really limits the options to a large expensive SUV such as a Suburban.. A 5th wheel unit requires a pickup truck, but our seating requirements eliminated that option immediately. Safety and comfort while traveling are most important.

Other factors influenced our choice of RV such as the convenience of a restroom and kitchen while traveling. I estimate that by not stopping to use the restroom, we save a considerable amount of time and money. Every time we use a restroom at a gas station, we feel obliged to buy a snack. With seven hungry people, that can add up.

So, after all considerations were made, we began shopping for a new motorhome. We had seen a Winnebago Access 31J at a Stone Mountain RV show in 2008, and it seemed perfect. Unfortunately, the price was well over our planned budget. I searched every resource I knew. RV Trader, Ebay, Craigslist, and various other online and print media. We needed something that would easily sleep 7 or more people comfortably, and was capable of pulling a tow vehicle. It was a frustrating search. Then one day, I stumbled across an ad for the exact model we'd wished for. A dealer had gone out of business, and Winnebago had repossessed an Access 31J with bunks in the slide. It was perfect, and the price was incredible. I drove to Colerain RV in Cincinnati, Ohio immediately to trade our beloved Homer in for a brand-new Homer II. We were sad to see our first Homer go, but we were ready for a good night's sleep.

Meet Homer II - Winnebago Access 31J
Homer II is a "class c" motorhome with two slide-outs on a Ford F3500 chassis with a V10 powerplant. There is a queen size bed over the cab, a queen size bed in the master, two twin bunks in a slide, a sofa that folds into a bed, and a dinette that folds into a bed. Technically, it will sleep 10, so we are quite comfortable with 7. The furnishings are more plush than our old RV, but still not overly luxurious. It's a very functional layout with warm colors and a cozy feel. We have two flat-screen TV's and  DVD player that can be viewed on both screens.

The main living area is in a slide out, and it has a sofa, dinette, and a relatively compact kitchen. It suits our needs, but we could always use more pantry space and a larger fridge. The cab-over bunk is a very spacious. Our oldest son has that bed to himself usually. Sometimes, our youngest boy will join him when "Mother Goose" is occupying his bunk. The sofa and dinette can both be converted to beds, but we never fold the table down. There are two bunks in the hallway between the main living area and the master, and across the hall from the sizeable restroom. That entire back right half of the camper, including the bunks, slides out for added floor space and access to storage. The master bedroom features a queen bed, lots of closet space, and another flat screen TV. Some living space and storage is sacrificed by having the bunks, but adequate sleeping space is a necessity.

The size and weight of the Winnebago Access pushes the 3500 chassis to its limits. It is easy to drive, however, and everything works well. Homer II averages about 10mpg on the highway when not towing a vehicle. When we pull our Jeep, it averages about 7mpg. Yes, it hurts when fuel prices are high, but it's still cheaper than flying. Remember, we're carrying seven people and a lot of supplies and toys. I also want to mention that the V10 power plant is very reliable and does a great job pulling.

Our Toad - A Jeep Named "Willie B"
If you are not familiar with the term "toad," that's what motorhome owners call the vehicle they pull behind them. Our "toad" is a 2009 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited X. The Jeep Wrangler is the only four-door convertible available, and I like convertibles. I have always wanted a Jeep, and when the four door wrangler came out, I was excited. Unfortunately, I soon learned the Wrangler accommodates but five passengers. Fortunately, I found LittleSeats.com, a company that manufactures third-row seats for Jeeps and other SUVs. It wasn't a cheap addition, but was well worth the investment. I made the mistake of ordering the seat with lap belts only. Rebecca wouldn't hear of it, so I quickly added four point off-road safety harnesses. The safety harnesses may be overkill, but still cheaper than the shoulder strap option from LittleSeats.com.

The Toys - What About The Toys
When we take our bikes on adventures, I can fit all six on the back of Willie B using a combination of a bike rack and flat rack, both attached to the receiver hitch with a dual adapter. We also travel with two Canoes occasionally. This presented two problems. First, how to carry two 15' canoes, and second, how to load them by myself. I usually have help, but I can't rely on that. I solved the problem of carrying the canoes by removing the handles from one and nesting them together. Then I installed  Warrior Products Safari Watercraft Rack which supports the canoes at the front an rear of the cab.. To make loading easier, I ordered a Cabela's Canoe Loader. It makes loading much easier, and provides additional support at the rear of the vehicle. With regards to the Warrior Products watercraft rack, it's really not very strong and it took some major modifications to install. Unless they have since made some design changes, I cannot endorse it. The Cabela's Canoe Loader, however, performs exactly as advertised.

Pulling the Toad - On The Road
We have tried a couple of methods for pulling the Jeep. I considered flat-towing Willie B, but I wasn't interested in adding a brake apparatus to the Jeep. I initially used a tow dolly, and that worked fine, but limited the places we could go. It's virtually impossible to back a vehicle on a tow dolly, and more than once, that disability cost me valuable time and unnecessary work. We now use a trailer to haul our toad. It can easily be backed, and it provides some additional storage while we're on the road. The only negative of the trailer is finding a place to store it when we have reached our destination. Sometimes, a long pull-through will accommodate the entire 50' rig, but I prefer back-in sites. Typically, the host campground will provide a parking spot for us.

So, there you have it. The Richardson Tribe may look like the Beverly Hillbillies traveling down the road, but we're comfortable and prepared. Wherever we go, we have what we need. Everyone has place to ride, sit, and sleep. We are pleased with the Winnebago and Jeep, and plan to keep them both for some time to come.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Echota - Cherokee Capitol

The Pride and Shame of Two Nations - More
The original courthouse where the elders
met still stands at New Echota today.

New Echota, founded in 1825, was the first and final capitol of the "unified" Cherokee Nation. The park, now a Georgia Historical Site, is located just off Interstate 75 on highway 225, about an hour north of Atlanta. Here, in what quickly became a bustling little town, hopes of a sovereign government for the Cherokee were both nurtured, then extinguished. Here is where the leaders of a nation of proud immigrants signed a treaty that surrendered their land to a new breed of immigrants. Yes, you read that right; the Cherokee were immigrants. Cherokee migrated from the north and nudged the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the south and west. The Cherokee migrated south for the same reasons so many other northerners do: a warmer climate, and seemingly abundant natural resources (and a retreat from the European invasion). In 1825, the well armed and aggressive European immigrants were moving south at a rapid pace.

The 1830's Cherokee lived in log
cabins similar to this
The landscape and structures of New Echota capture a key period in the history of the Cherokee. A place where they almost overcame (or assimilated). They had a government very similar to the United States: a constitution, a written language, and, as a nation, a relative amount of wealth. There were those that opposed their "progress" and newly adopted European characteristics. The opposition came from the newly-formed state of Georgia, the US government,  and a good number of the Cherokee themselves. When the "friendly" European visitors discovered gold within Cherokee territory, the onslaught began. The end to any hope of peacefully coexisting with the white settlers was near.
The kids sampled old-fashioned hand-
churned butter and sweet buttermilk.
To make a long story short, the Cherokee leaders signed a treaty that either forsook their brethren, or the chieftains sacrificed their own lives for the sake of their people. They were outnumbered and outgunned. What choice did they have? President Andrew Jackson had ignored the Supreme Court's decision to let the Cherokee keep their land, and it would be taken either by force or coercion.

The Cherokee opponents of the treaty retaliated quite violently. The endorsers of the "Treaty of New Echota" were assassinated. The remaining Cherokee were removed. Within ten years of the proud founding of a capitol city, the Cherokee were gone. The endorsers of the "Treaty of New Echota" were assassinated, and the balance of Cherokee were marched West to Oklahoma. 

One of the fireplaces in the old tavern at New Echota.
The march west eventually became known as the Trail of Tears. Women, children, and the elderly were forced to walk much of the way. The cruel cold of winter took about 4,000 of the 15,000 remaining Cherokee. A once proud nation was suddenly silenced. Today, New Echota is an echo of the best of times, and a reminder of the tragic end of a legacy.

Visiting New Echota evokes a range of emotions from amazement and admiration to sorrow and shame. It's a place you must visit if at all possible. It's a history that must not be forgotten.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Georgia Mountain Fall Festival

The Fairgrounds are Fantastic!
A shady lane passes the exhibits as it winds around
a hill overlooking Lake Chatuge. It's beautiful.
 We planned this entire trip to Hiawassee, Georgia around a single event: the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival. We'd heard a lot about the fairgrounds, but we had not yet attended an event here. The Fall festival, combined with the Autumn colors, gave us a great excuse to visit the park.

The first task in planning this trip was to identify a good campground as a home base for our adventure. The Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds feature two beautiful lakeside campgrounds, but we need full RV hookups for a four night stay, and the fairgrounds do not provide full RV hookups, After doing some research, I booked us a site at Enota Mountain Retreat, a place that qualifies as a PB&J Adventures destination in itself. We camped at Enota in the Winter of 2008 when it was very cold. We wanted to return when the weather was better.

If you are an artisan and craftsperson of rustic
mountain life items, this is the place to be.
We decided to visit the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival on Saturday. Admission was half price, and Ricky Skaggs was performing in the afternoon. We were a little worried about crowds when we first saw the parking lot. I really dislike crowds, especially when I'm trying to keep up with four kids. Much to our surprise, the fairgrounds didn't seem crowded at all. Because the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds are so large, crowds seem to dissipate soon after passing through the gate. Honestly, it's the first fairground I've visited in which I felt relaxed and wasn't anxious to leave. We were always surrounded by beautiful foliage and rustic architecture.

This awesome wooden waterwheel was operating
during our visit. Very cool!
Soon after arriving at the fairgrounds, we were faced with the difficult but enjoyable task of choosing our lunch. The job proved to be more difficult than we'd anticipated. I think we ended-up purchasing food from 3-4 different food vendors. Lee Thomas and I had some exceptional clam chowder, and the others had hotdogs and various other yummy delicacies. Like the fairground, the food selection here is exceptional.

After eating, we wandered through a large variety artisan displays and exhibits. Rebecca and each of the kids got new pocket knives from the DirecTV booth, and we sampled honey at the beekeeper's association exhibit. We passed through the farm-life museum where the kids and I admired the massive collection of die- cast cars, trucks, and tractors. Rebecca and I had to explain some of the vintage equipment, tools, and kitchen appliances to the kids. As we exited the rear of the museum building, we discovered a large, fully functional wooden waterwheel. It has a strong resemblance to the one at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

From there, we continued to explore the exhibits. There are many old buildings on display at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Many have been moved from other locations and reassembled here. There are numerous cabins, farm buildings, and an old one-room schoolhouse. Demonstrations of mountain farm life were happening all around. The kids were engaged the entire time, and were never bored.

By the time we'd seen the main part of the fairground, the first half of the Ricky Skaggs concert was already past. We decided to head back to Enota for the remainder of the afternoon instead. On the way back, we stopped at Track Rock Gap to see some ancient Native American petroglyphs carved into rocks there. Very interesting. More on that later. For a detailed description of the fairgrounds including dozens of pictures, click here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Enota Mountain Retreat - Hiawassee, Georgia

PB&J Adventure Journal - October, 2011
One of several waterfalls at Enota Mountain Retreat.
Autumn in the north Georgia mountains is a colorful event, so the Tribe tries to visit the region as much as possible this time of year. The Fall leaves combined with the crisp cool air makes for great camping and hiking. Additionally, numerous seasonal festivals occur in the area, including the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival held annually at the legendary Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee. This awesome event is what brought us back to Enota.

We camped at Enota in 2008 (see PB&J Adventure Journal entry) when it was bitterly cold. Enota Mountain Retreat is very near Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in the state. The weather up there is different than anywhere else in Georgia, and on that visit in 2008, we awoke to nine degree temperatures and frozen lines our first morning there. Although it was miserably cold on that visit, we decided to come back when it was more pleasant.

When I made reservations for this trip, the initial fee for camping was reasonable. Enota is a non-profit preserve that focuses on ecology and the environment. They have imposed fees to offset the "environmental impact" of their visitors on the area. So, just be warned, they add $5 per day for each child, plus a flat $10, then $5 a day for additional vehicles (in my case, our car carrier), and $5 for a fire permit (includes wood). So, the total cost of camping at Enota Mountain Retreat for a family of 6 for 4 nights (with firewood)? Just shy of $275. One may get the feeling of being nickeled and dimed, or even punished for having too many children. I don't want to linger on this because the money is, after all, going for a good cause. I also feel compelled to mention that, once you've paid for your site, the amenities are, for the most part, free. The farm tour, most popular with the kids, was free, and we participated twice.

A simple rope swing makes for lots of fun.

On Friday, our first full day at Enota, we didn't leave the park. There were hardly any visitors, so the kids had the in-ground trampolines to themselves. They also discovered a rope swing that swung out over the creek allowing them to get good and wet. Thankfully, the afternoon sunshine kept them from getting too cold. At 4pm we joined other campers for the farm tour. This was an awesome experience for the kids (and Mom and Dad too). The animals are very tame and friendly, and milking the cow was an experience they will never forget.
In-ground trampolines. Ingenious!

On Saturday, we drove down to Hiawassee to attend the Fall Festival. It was our first event at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, and we were very impressed. Numerous vendors and exhibits made the visit an educational and entertaining experience. More on that later. On the way back to Enota, we stopped at Track Rock Gap to check-out some ancient petroglyphs carved into rock formations.

Sunday morning was cool, breezy and a little overcast. We decided to hike up to the first set of waterfalls. The hike isn't long, it's just a pretty steep climb. The reward at the end is well worth the huffing and puffing. After that, we took a drive up to Brasstown Bald. At 4,784, Brasstown Bald is the highest point in the state. It was very cold and windy, Rebecca had to buy a couple of extra shirts in the gift shop. The view was spectacular, and the fall colors were already brilliant.
After returning to Enota that afternoon, we once again attended the farm tour. By now, the kids were familiar with the animals, and the animals seemed to know them. What a great experience. We also grew to like the farm tour guide, a former Amish farmer with over 40 years experience. He was knowledgeable, friendly, and quite funny.
In summary, the weekend was one we'll remember forever. And, while the cost for camping initially seemed high, we'll probably be back for another visit in the Spring. For more details and lots more pictures, click here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jellystone Park - Cave City Kentucky

Yogi oversees the minuature golf course.
Never a Dull Moment
Rebecca had a training session to attend in Louisville on this particular week. We decided to head that way a few days early so we could visit Mammoth Cave National Park. I'd traveled through the area before, and I camped at Jellystone Park in Cave City. Frankly, I hadn't planned on staying here again. My image of the park was from the perspective of someone that really loves the natural surroundings and large campsites of state and national parks. Jellystone is all about amusement and fun. In all fairness, Jellystone Park does have some very nice surroundings.

As I researched and planned for this trip, I could find no better alternatives to Yogi's place. Questionable reviews and the lack of good photographs made the selection of another campground a scary proposition. In hind-site, I'm thankful. There might have been a mutiny had we stayed anywhere else.

When we first pulled into the park, the kids immediately began to take note of the amenities. Statues of Yogi and other Jellystone characters suggested fun. And fun it was!  I had a pretty big problem finding a site that would easily accommodate Homer II (our camper) and the Jeep's trailer. Most of the sites are very high on one end or the other and/or from side to side. I watched as other campers arrived and began to set-up. Regulars seemed prepared to do some pretty major jacking to level their RV's. I also observed that the best sites are the first to be reserved by those that are familiar with the campground.

The kids were never bored.
When the setup job was finished, I rounded-up the crew and loaded them in Willie B (our Jeep) for a ride into Mammoth Cave National Park. The park was very impressive. We saw considerable wildlife on the way to the visitor center. After purchasing tickets for a cave tour, we headed out to explore. It didn't take long for everyone to start begging to go back to Jellystone Park. A "Hey Hey Hey" Ride was beginning very soon. And so it went for the rest of the weekend.

We did make the scheduled cave tour on Saturday, and it was fascinating. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We drove through the national park's campground, snapping some shots on the way back to the Jellystone Park where we spent the balance of our time.

This was certainly a favorite destination of Rebecca and the kids. We enjoyed the exceptional miniature golf course, painted ceramics, sang karaoke (Kara-Yogi), watched an outdoor movie, sang songs on hay rides, made s'mores, ate waffles, played bingo, and thoroughly sucked every bit of fun possible from Jellystone Park. 

For the rest of the story including lots of pictures and details, click here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mammoth Cave National Park

More Than Just a Hole in the Ground
Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.
Mammoth Cave National Park is located between Bowling Green and Louisville, Kentucky. It's a beautifully wooded and rugged part of the country. The park's limestone foundation is riddled with hundreds of miles caves. In fact, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world. Much of the cave is without mineral formations, but the sections of the cave with formations are quite amazing. At nearly 400 explored miles, the sheer size of the cave is hard to fathom, and makes the trip worthwhile.

Above ground, this 52,835 acre park is just as awesome as its Swiss cheese basement. The forest is open and clear underneath the massive hardwoods. The dense overhead canopy and abundant wildlife contribute to underbrush control. It's a very well preserved and clean national park brimming with natural beauty and furry creatures.

 Much of Mammoth cave has no formations,
but where they exist, they are awesome!
Near the park's visitor center is a the Mammoth Cave Hotel and the park's primary campground. There are many options for lodging within the park, but camping, while very picturesque and natural, is limited for the extended stay of this family of six. The lack of water and electrical hookups can make stays of more than 2-3 nights a little trying. If you need full hookups, there are several options in nearby Cave City and Park City. Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park, with its child-oriented activities and amenities, is always a hit with the kids.

The park's campground is beautiful !
There is plenty to do in the area. If you are here for a short visit, you'll have a hard time deciding which adventure to attempt. There are numerous caves outside the national park that can be toured, including one located in an Australia-themed park called Kentucky Down Under. This area possesses a "retro"  tacky tourist appeal reminiscent of Gatlinburg, Panama City Beach, and Ghost Town in the Sky. Rock shops, go karts, t-shirts, fudge, and zip-lines abound. Many of the attractions are seasonal, so do your homework before booking your accommodations. 

For more details including a Journal entry and pictures, click here,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mountain Heritage Festival - Blairsville, Georgia

A Fun-Filled Festival in a Charming Southern Town.
The first morning of our long Labor Day weekend trip was a sunny Saturday. The top was off the Jeep, and the air was a very comfortable temperature, a stark contrast to the stifling summer heat to which we'd grown accustomed. We swung into Vogel State Park on the way to Blairsville just to see what was happening. We have stayed at Vogel just one time, and really loved it. They have a lake and beach, and lots of beautiful campsites. We have reservations for a late fall visit, and really can't wait.

When we arrived at the Mountain Heritage Festival, I think we came in through the back door. I'm glad we did. That is where the old log cabin and farm animals are. The kids learned how to play marbles, and thoroughly enjoyed visiting with the 4H representatives and seeing/petting their animals. I think we may have a goat or two in our future.

The festival is held at the site of Blairsville's Mountain Life Museum, just south of the town square. We really enjoyed walking through the extensive exhibits of art and treasures. There was a vast variety of quilts, wood work, yard art, and yummy treats scattered across the museum's lawn. Had we more money, we certainly would have left with a load of goodies.

While at the festival, we enjoyed the musical interpretations of several folk music groups, and one especially talented young man on guitar. The music was the icing on the cake because it seemed to complete the experience. The fragrance of funnel cake, boiled peanuts, and scented candles mixed with hay and farm animals induces a peaceful feeling.

After visiting every booth at the festival, and sitting through many musical performances, we decided to walk around town just a little. There was supposed to be an antique car show here today, but we were apparently a few hours early. We found a Hole in the Wall, and discovered it was a popular deli. We also walked through a very old 5 and 10 cent store that reminded Rebecca and me of the old dime store from our childhood.

We enjoyed a late picnic lunch on the lawn, then headed back across the mountain for our campsite. We made a little side-trip to Helton Creek Falls for a little site-seeing and water play. We sure do love this area, but have to constantly remind ourselves about the presence of bears in the area. Remember not to leave food in your vehicle, especially if it's got a soft top, or no top at all!

For more details and lots of pictures of Blairsville and the Mountain Heritage festival, click here!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dunnaway Gap - Nothing, in the Middle of Nowhere

Dunnaway Gap isn't your typical destination. In fact, unless you're from the immediate area, you probably don't even know it exists. It's located near Armuchee (pronounced arr-merr-chee, with a twang) Georgia within the Chattahoochee National Forest. The view from the ridge to both the east and the west is incredible.

When I was a teenager, my buddies and I would ride motorcycles in this area, along an old petroleum pipeline trail, and over miles of winding mountain roads for hours. Perched on top of the narrow ridge,
we would watch Jeeps, dune buggies, and motorcycles try to climb the ridiculously steep western slope (I only saw one succeed, and it was my buddy). Other times, we would watch hang gliders launch from the ridge and sail across Armuchee Valley.
Dunnaway Gap Road is dirt, but it is graded well enough for the family sedan, at least to a point. If the weather has been dry, it will be one filthy sedan when you exit. The picture of the road "Willie B" (the Jeep) is on here is actually a secondary road that leads to the summit of the ridge. You can park the sedan at the bottom and walk up a hundred yards or so for the view.

Now, quite frankly, as a destination, Dunnaway Gap offers little more than a view. It's the ride that's the best feature, and the view at the ridge's peak along a petroleum pipeline is bonus. If you want to continue exploring once atop the ridge, you can drive along the forestry service road for several miles. It's a beautiful place year round, especially the Fall, but be aware of hunters during Deer season.

Dunnaway Gap is a pretty remote location, especially if you head on out along the ridge. Make sure someone knows where you are, and check to verify you have enough gas for the full trip. There is no restaurant or gas station up here, so bring what you need. Consider a picnic at the summit. Then you might head down the western side of the ridge for some fresh spring water coming from a pipe in the side of the mountain.

For more details about Dunnaway Gap including pictures and a map, click here.

Note: People ask how we fit 6-7 people in a Jeep Wrangler. Look for the answer to that and more in an upcoming article

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Labor Day Weekend 2011 - A Quest for Gold, Gems, Waterfalls, and Festivals

or this long Labor Day weekend holiday, we decided to re-visit Gold n Gem Grubbin' in Cleveland, Georgia for a rockhounding adventure. In addition to providing an awesome place to pan for gold, grub for gems, and generally rockhound, the campground provides a great home-base while exploring this part of Georgia. Some friends joined us on this trip, so the kids had friends to play with at the campground. And play they did. We were so happy they were getting exercise.

Our first full day was a Saturday, and we decided to spend it exploring the area. Blairsville was hosting a Mountain Heritage Festival, so that was our first destination. We had a hankerin' for some funnel cake, home-made ice cream, folk music, and farm animals. We swung into Vogel State Park on the way. We've stayed at Vogel just once, but we loved it. We're coming back Thanksgiving! The festival in Blairsville was a lot of fun, and we saw many works of art, and lots of folks working at it. All our expectations were filled before having a picnic lunch and heading for Helton Creek Falls to play in the water.

Eventually, we concluded our day back at the Gold n Gem Grubbin' campground by a nice fire. We knew tomorrow would be filled with treasure hunting and discovery, not to mention a little playing in the creek.

For the rest of the story, including dozens of pictures, details, and Adventure Journal entries about Gold n Gem Grubbin', click here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Autumn in Dixie - Simply Magic

The Tribe's Favorite Fall Mountain Destinations
Oh, how I savor the quiet joy of crisp cool air seeping through an open window, touching my face, whetting my appetite for adventure. Cool Autumn mornings exhume an energy the suffocating heat of Summer stifles. Primitive instincts induce ritualistic behaviors such as fire building, hiking, and sleeping under the stars. Even the children are aware of the changes. Already they know, life is about to get a little better. Autumn is a time of rebirth and recreation. Autumn is magic, and Autumn in the mountains of the southeastern United States is magic beyond description.

The Appalachian mountains begin right here, in the southeastern US. Altogether, this massive prehistoric mountain range features brilliant Autumn colors, unique wildlife, and sensational experiences. The majestic ridges begin in Alabama and stretch across Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and beyond. The range provides a variety of mountain destinations for the Fall season, and we have visited most. If you are considering a seasonal trek to the southern Appalachians for Fall, please, allow us to provide some direction.

The first mountain destination that comes to mind is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. No doubt, the Smokies are an experience of which everyone should partake at least once in their lifetime. The western side of the Smokies can be accessed from Townsend, Tennessee, one of our favorite places to stay while visiting the park. We typically stay at the Townsend KOA because many of the campsites overlook the trout filled Little River, and the great activities the campground staff provide for the kids. From Townsend, we can easily access the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge, Dollywood, Gatlinburg, Cades Cove, and the ghost town of Elkmont.

The eastern side of the Smokies also offer a variety of Fall experiences. Cherokee, North Carolina is the home of the eastern band of the Cherokee nation, the last of the hold-outs from the notorious Tail of Tears. A must-see is the critically acclaimed outdoor theatrical production "Unto These Hills," the story of the Cherokee's forced exodus. When visiting this side of the Smokies, we like to stay at Stone Bridge RV Resort (now a NASCAR resort) in Maggie Valley. From Maggie Valley, it's a short drive to Asheville and the Biltmore House, an awesome Autumn destination. If rockhounding is of interest, the Old Pressley Sapphire Mine is also just a short drive. Within Maggie Valley, there are many great places to eat and entertain yourself, including an incredible motorcycle museum.

A bit south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Chattahoochee National Forest. There are a numerous places to visit within the Chattahoochee national Forest, but we tend to prefer the state parks. Perhaps the most beloved park is Vogel, located deep within the mountains near Blairsville. One of our favorite destinations, Fort Mountain State Park, is also an awesome destination in the Autumn season.

To the west, Lookout Mountain dominates the horizon. Way up on Lookout Mountain, near Fort Payne, is a rugged Alabama destination by the name of Desoto State Park. The park has a wonderful campground (full hookups), cabins, a lodge, pool, tennis courts, and lots of great hiking. While staying at Desoto, we like to visit the Little River Canyon Center, Desoto Falls, Mentone, and Sequoyah Caverns.

Due North of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee is the Cumberland Plateau and Fall Creek Falls State Park. Fall Creek Falls is loaded with so many things to do, you could easily spend the entire season and never get bored. There are great paved bike paths, tennis courts, playgrounds, horseback riding, and a top ranked 18-hole golf course.

So, there you have it. There are many other southeastern Autumn destination well worth the visit, but I only have so much space. Here is the official list of southeastern Autumn mountain destinations.

  Great Smoky Mountain National Park
   - Townsend, Tennessee (Townsend KOA)
   - Maggie Valley, North Carolina  (Stonebridge RV Resort)

  Chattahoochee National Forest
   - Vogel State Park, Blairsville, Georgia

   - Fort Mountain State Park - Chatsworth, Georgia

  Lookout Mountain
   - Desoto State Park - Fort Payne, Alabama

  Cumberland Plateau
   - Fall Creek falls State Park -

For more destinations, visit the "Places to Go" page. There's a map!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lake Allatoona - A Favorite Destination of North Georgia Natives

When the weather is hot in Dixie, Lake Allatoona is always a cool relief. On this hot trip, we stayed at McKinney Campground, one of our all-time favorite places to camp. Unfortunately, we decided to stay here at the last minute, so we got one of our last choices for a campsite. However, there really is no bad campsite at McKinney, so it was ok. No, we weren't directly on the water, but we had a very private pull-through site with wonderful view just walking distance from the beach and brand new playground.
While at Lake Allatoona on this visit, we had some great company. Some very good friends came and spent the day with us at the beach swimming, and on the boat tubing. All day long we alternated between the campsite (eating), the beach, and the boat. What FUN!

McKinney Campground has built a brand new playground near the beach. It's not as grand as the kids had hoped, but very entertaining just the same. (we'd been promised a new playground on our last visit)

 We always like to visit the marina at Allatoona Landing while at Lake Allatoona. They are our source for fuel and Slush Puppies (frozen drinks). However, thee are numerous marinas located all over the lake. On this visit, we made our obligatory stop at the marina for snacks and gas.

As usual, we saw deer and other wildlife on this trip to Lake Allatoona. McKinney is very unique in that aspect. Especially deer. Lots of deer.

Another unique aspect of Lake Allatoona is the abundance of rockhounding opportunities. Minerals abound -- quartz of varying colors, fossils, chert, and much more, maybe even gold! On this trip, we traveled up river to Kellogg Creek to check out Payne Campground. Kellogg creek is a known gold bearing tributary, and I figured Payne campground would be a great home-base for doing a little panning. Ideally, panning would be best in the Autumn and Winter months when the water levels are low. Unfortunately, Payne campground is closed in the Winter. Further investigation is required.

For more Lake Allatoona information and lots of pictures, click here.