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!