Friday, March 1, 2013

Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort - Mentone, AL

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: February 2013
Long long ago, in the years BC (before children), Rebecca and I traveled out west to ski annually. We enjoyed skiing at Squaw Valley, Heavenly (Lake Tahoe), Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Loveland, Crested Butte (CO), and Taos (NM). So, when we first saw the roadside sign for Alabama's Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort on an afternoon drive along Lookout Mountain many years ago, we laughed. Skiing in Alabama? Really? We were ski snobs.
Fast forward 15 years. Now we have kids, four to be exact. The cost of an annual ski trip out west is not within this family's budget. We have taken a couple of trips to Cataloochee Ski Area near Maggie Valley, North Carolina where the kids have had lessons and learned the basics. Unfortunately, a southeastern ski trip like that can be pretty painful to the family pocketbook too.

So, one day we were eating at the Wildflower Cafe' in Mentone Alabama, and we started talking with a family that has just left Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. They were laughing and talking about how great of a time they had, and they were skiers. It sparked our interest, and so we had to check it out first-hand.
One of our favorite campgrounds is located at Desoto State Park, just a few minutes from Cloudmont Ski and Golf, so we booked a long weekend around President's day. It had been unseasonably warm weather, but several nights of cold leading-up to the weekend meant they were making snow (they need 18 hours of temps 28 degrees or less to open). We were waiting at the ticket window when they opened that Monday morning.

We rented equipment for the kids and paid for all-day lift tickets. The lift is a tow rope, but that's actually pretty good for beginners because they can exit the lift at any elevation of the slope. As I mentioned, the kids have had a couple of lessons, but their ski-time was limited. Fortunately (for us), there were very few people on the slope that day, so the kids were able to ski all day long with no waiting at the lift. By the end of the day, they were all pretty good. John Micah was even skiing backwards.

Now understand, Cloudmont is no Rocky Mountain ski resort. There is a mere 150' drop on their two parallel running slopes. It is what it is, but it is a load of fun and a great experience for the kids (and grown-ups too). It's also very affordable (compared to other ski destinations). Kids under 12 can rent equipment and ski all day for less than $40. Check their website for prices
because they vary based on weekdays, weekend, and holidays.

We've decided to make Cloudmont a regular stop in the winter, and maybe even other seasons. They have a very affordable golf course and there is even horseback riding available. Nearby Desoto State Park and a virtually limitless selection of other area attractions makes this an awesome destination. We give it six thumbs-up.
For more details including reviews of the destination's facilities and amenities, plus tons of pictures, visit the Cloudmont PB&J Adventures page.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Moto Mountain ATV Park - Fairmount, Georgia

Moto Mountain ATV Park is located near Fairmount in North Georgia. It's very convenient to Atlanta and Chattanooga, just about 20 minutes off Interstate 75 from Calhoun. It is also near some of our other favorite destinations like Fort Mountain State Park and Carters Lake. 

Check-in is at Motorcycle Bob's, a local icon situated on Highway 53 east of Fairmount. This little shop sells gas, rents motorcycles, ATVs, and helmets, serves food, and sells various other supplies and trinkets. The ladies behind the counter are very nice and eager to make your visit pleasant. Once you sign the release forms and pay-up, it's a short jaunt to Moto Mountain. As you enter the park, you will begin to see the many trails to your left. Pretty cool!
The area has obviously been logged, and I would assume many of the tracks are remnants of old logging trails. The large property is covered with snaking one-way trails that resemble motocross tracks in some places. There are mud bogs, jumps, and numerous play areas all for the powersports enthusiast. There are some places you may want to avoid with novice riders, but for the most part, the trails are in pretty good shape and not incredibly challenging. Don't get me wrong, when we first arrived for our visit, I was a little apprehensive about whether the kids could handle the mud and hill climbs, but they all came through wonderfully. It was actually a great learning experience for them. Additionally, all trails are one-way making riding much safer for everyone.

The environment itself is made for motorcycle and ATV lovers. There is a culture there that, if you are not familiar, could be a little scary at first. There is a lot of dirt and mud, and lots of machines running around, but it's all pretty safe. In fact, we camped at the back of the property near the Pee Wee Play Area and had a couple of nice long trails virtually to ourselves. Note: If you are a citified yuppy that doesn't like to get your fingernails dirty, STAY AWAY! 

The folks that run Moto Mountain are down
to earth good-old southern country folk (and I mean that as a compliment) that bend over backward to make sure you visit is the best it can be. If you are camping, they'll come by and check on you, even dropping-off some firewood if you wish. Thanks guys! You made our visit to Moto Mountain feel safe and comfortable.

Moto Mountain is a purpose-made retreat that is designed for one thing: riding. Yes, there are other amenities they offer like a zip line, but off road riding is what it's all about. If that's what you seek, then you won't be disappointed. In summary., we can't wait to go back (but we'll need to save-up a little). We suggest a family plan.

For lots more pictures, a video, a review, and a journal entry about Moto Mountain, click here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: December 2012

When visiting Maggie Valley, North Carolina in past years, the Richardson Tribe has stayed at Stone Bridge RV Park. We had a bad experience there last winter, so we thought we'd try a change of venue. We began researching alternative campgrounds and came across a place called Twinbrook Resort. The website made the place look promising, especially the large RV sites and indoor pool. A friendly phone call to the park sealed the deal (nice folks).

Our primary objective this Christmas break was snow skiing for all the kids. They attended ski school at Cataloochee Ski Area last year, and fell in love with it. They had a wonderful ski instructor that had a lot more patience than the little guys are accustomed to. One of the first things about Twinbrook Resort that caught our attention (besides the indoor pool), was the proximity to the ski area and other Maggie Valley attractions. From the camp site, it takes about 10-15 minutes (depending on traffic) to reach Cataloochee Ski Area's parking lot.

When we arrived at Twinbrook, it wasn't exactly what we pictured. The website makes it appear more remote than it really is. In actuality, it's just about a block off the main drag, yet it's RV sites remarkably private. One benefit of being this close to everything is... you're close to everything. We were very glad to have site #5 because the other four sites would have been tough to back into. Additionally, site #5 is very near the indoor pool and playground. All the sites back-up to a small stream. While we were there, they flowed strongly providing a nice ambient sound all night long.

Our first full day was spent at the ski area, and we couldn't have asked for a better day. We once again enrolled the kids in ski school, and once again hit a home run with a most excellent instructor. On Saturday, we drove over the mountain to Gatlinburg. It's a beautiful drive, and it always amazes us how much the weather can change from one side to the other. Once in Gatlinburg, reports began coming in about snow. When it snows in the Smoky Mountains, many secondary roads are closed, so we cut our Gatlinburg visit short to head back to Maggie Valley.

That evening at Twinbrook Resort was awesome. As the snow fell, we built a big fire. The snow was falling hard and fast, laying on the grass and the bed of our car carrier. The kids played in the snow for a while, then would return to the fire for a little warm-up. It was hard to keep the snow from accumulating in the camp chairs, but all was good. We stayed outside until late in the evening, then retired to the warm cozy camper for a movie.

The morning sun revealed about an inch of snow. Hardly anything to write home about, but much more than these southern kids are used to. We walked around the resort checking out the frost covered cabins and icy streams, playing in the snow, and enjoying the crisp clean air. Maggie Valley is beautiful in the winter.

Our stay at Twinbrook was very enjoyable, but there are a couple of negatives. Winter camping involves lots of clothing, and a laundry room is very handy. Twinbrook has none, but there is a small public Laundromat just down the road. Also, the RV sites are relatively new, so they have yet to be "burned-in." In other words, I expect little details to be corrected as time passes. The sites aren't very well dressed (bumpy, uneven, small gravel that gets tracked into the camper, etc). Each site's driveway is at a 90 degree angle of the road, making backing almost impossible without pulling into the grass (probably not a big deal in the summer, but in the wet winter... sloppy!). Beyond the resort, Maggie Valley has some seasonal limitations. Some restaurants and attractions are closed during the winter months. For instance, the motorcycle museum (Wheels Through Time) is closed until April. It's a shame, because it's a really cool museum.

In summary, we really enjoyed camping at Twinbrook Resort. It's not a state park, but the sites are private (relative to other RV sites in the valley) and it is very convenient. We would stay here again, and we would recommend it to a friend. 

The Richardson Tribe

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Twelve Days of a Dixie Christmas #1

A Countdown to our Favorite Christmas Destination
The Christmas season is taken pretty seriously in the southeastern US, and the Richardson Tribe has a dozen suggested destinations to make your holidays more adventurous. Over the next 12 days, we will reveal each of our favorite RV camping and recreation spots until we reach our #1 Christmas Holiday Destination. Come back each day to see the places this southern family has grown to love.

1 - Home Sweet Home
We hope our #1 favorite Christmas destination doesn't disappoint our readers. But the fact is, as much as we enjoy travel, camping, and adventure, sharing Christmas day at home with our extended family is most important.

As a rule, the entire Richardson family comes together at Granny and Paw Paw Richardson's home for a Christmas day brunch each year, exchanging gifts, and visiting with brothers. sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles. It's a lot of fun, and it's a family tradition. We live next door to Granny and Paw Paw, so it's really easy to have our traditional early Christmas morning at home, then walk (or ride) up the hill for our late morning meal.

We are fortunate to live in a rural north Georgia setting surrounded by family where we can run and play to our heart's content. Many of the outdoor things we like to do on the road are also available right here at home. We can shoot our bows and arrows, ride Herbie (our golf cart), fish, and play with our animals (we have four goats, three bunnies, two cats, and eight chickens). 

This year, we decided to add some new outdoor goodies to our stable. Santa brought two motorcycles and two ATVs, perfect for our little family. I suspect these new toys may lead to a whole new set of adventures.

So, there you have it. The Richardson Tribe's absolute favorite place in the whole wide world to spend Christmas day is home sweet home. Now, the day after Christmas, that's another story. We'll be heading for the Smoky Mountains and some snow skiing at Cataloochee ski area, maybe Dollywood, and maybe the Biltmore Estate. We are excited to be staying at a new place in Maggie Valley this year. Who knows what other adventures we might discover.

Merry Christmas everyone. Now, go somewhere and do something!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Twelve Days of a Dixie Christmas #2

A Countdown to our Favorite Christmas Destination

The Christmas season is taken pretty seriously in the southeastern US, and the Richardson Tribe has a dozen suggested destinations to make your holidays more adventurous. Over the next 12 days, we will reveal each of our favorite RV camping and recreation spots until we reach our #1 Christmas Holiday Destination. Come back each day to see the places this southern family has grown to love.

#2 - Dollywood - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Considering some of the other Christmas destinations listed in our top twelve, our number two choice may be a bit of a surprise. Well, as I mentioned previously, this was put to a vote, and the kids were unanimous on this selection.

It's understandable. Dollywood has tons of Christmas decorations, shows, and music. Add to that dozens of amusement rides and games, crisp cool Smoky Mountain air, and a real steam locomotive, and the environment is perfect for unlimited holiday fun.

The park's general theme, besides the affiliation with Dolly Parton, is southern country charm. It's not a put-on. Folks that work here are typically real southerners, and in some cases, related to Dolly herself. There are numerous shops that sell the work of local artisans including leather goods, musical instruments, and candles. There is also a blacksmith demonstrating his trade.

Regarding amusement rides, there is a surprising variety from spinning tea cups to monster roller coasters. Most of the fast rides have cameras stationed at the most scary parts to capture your worst, most terrified expressions. Here we are riding the Mystery Mine, and Heath's expression is that of absolute terror. The funny thing is, after the ride was over, the first words out of his mouth were "let's do it again!"

There are many impressive things about Dollywood, but the park's cleanliness and staff's professionalism are perhaps the most obvious. Everyone seems to have a job to do, and they do it with a smile.

Dollywood is located in a very popular area on the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains National Park. Pigeon Forge and nearby Gatlinburg are known for their musical and comedy shows, go carts, helicopter rides, museums, miniature golf, candy shops, rock shops, and pretty much anything related to tourists and the Smoky Mountains. There is an awesome aquarium in Gatlinburg that must be mentioned.

When visiting Dollywood, we typically RV camp at nearby Townsend KOA. It's far enough away from the crowds to be peaceful, but near enough to be convenient. The campground has lots of activities for the kids, and the riverside campsites are very picturesque.

So there you have it. Our second favorite Christmas destination is Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Tune in tomorrow when we reveal our absolute favorite place to be on Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Twelve Days of a Dixie Christmas #3

A Countdown to our Favorite Christmas Destination
The Christmas season is taken pretty seriously in the southeastern US, and the Richardson Tribe has a dozen suggested destinations to make your holidays more adventurous. Over the next 12 days, we will reveal each of our favorite RV camping and recreation spots until we reach our #1 Christmas Holiday Destination. Come back each day to see the places this southern family has grown to love.

#3 - Cataloochee Ski Area - Maggie Valley, North Carolina
We voted democratically, and the kids quite adamantly expressed their opinion: Snow skiing is awesome! Cataloochee Ski Area, just up the mountain from Maggie Valley, North Carolina (near Asheville), is a great southern snow ski destination. There aren't many that fit this category (southern ski area), but Cataloochee does a respectable job fitting the bill. Another benefit of Cataloochee is the snow. For our northern friends, this may seem strange. But southerners don't see much snow, so when we do, fake or not, it's a big deal.

Last year (2011) we visited Cataloochee at Christmas Break, and the kids all participated in ski school. They were assigned an instructor that worked with just the four of them, and he was awesome. He was so patient and great with the kids. By the end of the day, they were going up the lift and skiing down the big slopes (cautiously). We expected that they would be exhausted and ready to go back to the camper, but they didn't want to leave.

Cataloochee is a ski area, not a resort, so the "lodge" is actually just a place to rent equipment, eat, shop, and warm up. It's not a place to stay overnight. Don't worry, there is plenty of lodging available in Maggie Valley and the surrounding area. In past seasons, we have RV camped locally at Stone Bridge RV Resort, but we weren't pleased with the condition of the campground last time, so we're trying a new place this year (shhhh, it's still a Christmas secret).

Locally, there are many other things to do. There is a snow tubing facility, a motorcycle museum, gem mining, restaurants, the Smoky Mountain National Park, Cherokee, Asheville, and another of our favorite Christmas Holiday Destinations, the Biltmore Estate.

So, Cataloochee Ski Area is the Richardson Tribes third favorite Christmas destination. For lots more pictures and details about Cataloochee, click here. Come back tomorrow when we reveal our #2 pick.
The Smoky Moubntains are beautiful here at Cataloochee.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Twelve Days of a Dixie Christmas #4

A Countdown to our Favorite Christmas Destination
The Christmas season is taken pretty seriously in the southeastern US, and the Richardson Tribe has a dozen suggested destinations to make your holidays more adventurous. Over the next 12 days, we will reveal each of our favorite RV camping and recreation spots until we reach our #1 Christmas Holiday Destination. Come back each day to see the places this southern family has grown to love.

#4 - Fort Wilderness - Disney Resorts, Florida
Ok, we love state parks, nature, and low cost vacations, so why is a Disney property on our list? Well, it's because Fort Wilderness is actually an affordable way to visit Disney and other surrounding attractions. It's also an awesome campground with an incredible list of amenities. As a Disney property, you can imagine.

First, the full hookup RV campsites are large, level, and private with lots of surrounding tropical vegetation. There is a massive year-round pool (with water slide and entertainment), rental boats, a beach, stores, shows, restaurants, horseback riding, hiking, wildlife, golf carts, and shuttle busses that will take you anywhere within Fort Wilderness. I need to point out that golf carts, bikes, and shuttles are the primary modes of transportation within the park. Cars are expected to be left at the campsite. Perhaps the most popular mode of transportation at Fort Wilderness is the ferry that carries guests across the lake to the Magic Kingdom. No waiting in line here. If you are a guest of Disney resorts, you move straight to the front.

Returning to Fort Wilderness from Disney's Magic Kingdom is just as painless as getting there. Guests board the ferry at the Magic Kingdom back gate and are dropped-off just a few yards from their bikes and golf carts.
The pool is especially popular with the kids at Fort Wilderness. There is constant entertainment, music, games, all targeted at the youth. When was the last time you could relax in the warm sun and let someone elsse take care of entertaining your kids. Sorry folks. Everyone needs a break every once in a while.

The evenings are awesome at Fort Wilderness. The campsite decorations are incredible, but the Magic Kingdom fireworks are even more spectacular. There is also an amphitheater that shows movies after dark. This event is a lot of fun for the whole family because it includes a bon fire and s'mores.

If you would like to see more pictures and details about Fort Wilderness, click here. Come back tomorrow when we reveal our 3rd favorite Christmas holiday destination.