Monday, January 23, 2017

Where Do You Go From Here?


If you’re planning on staying at any of the popular state or Federal campgrounds up north this summer – meaning not in Florida – make your reservations now. Yes, I know it’s January. Most campgrounds north of Georgia – and many in Georgia – are closed during the winter while most Florida campsites are packed to the absolute limits, at least until the Easter holiday. After Easter, most campers head north, vacating the Sunshine State and filling every available slot you wanted to stay at north of the I-10 humidity corridor. Now is the time to get serious about your summer plans up north.

Seriously, if you have your eye on a specific campground our campsite for August, make your reservations now! Many campsites have reservation “windows,” which means you can only make reservation within a given amount of time prior to your planned stay, such as 90 or 120 days in advance, or conversely, past a certain cut-off date. Remember, at most if not all Federal or state campgrounds, two weeks is the most you can stay in any given four week period. Having your wife reserve the next window may not work as the rules stipulate “per family.”

The window for most campsites that open after Memorial Day are open, or will be by the end of next month. And if you're looking for distant future bookings, remember the dates on the windows "roll." For example, today, January 23rd, 2017, you can’t make reservations at A. H. Stevens near Atlanta past Friday, February 23, 2018. If you want a site there for Saturday, Feb 24th. 2018, you have to wait until midnight tonight to log on and grab, er, reserve your campsite. Believe me, if you are trying to pick one of the desirable sites, such as those at Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania, or Lake Lanier in Georgia, be prepared for fierce competition. If you get in to Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida keys, there’s a good chance you made reservations as soon as the window opened. You will, of course, find gaps of availability for many of the available sites, depending on the popularity of the campsites. The popular sites will be snatched up as soon as the reservation window opens and I guarantee they will all be booked for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day before I finish writing this blog.

Several things we’ve found and base our plans on:
  1. Weekend dates are grabbed by locals
  2. Three day holidays are grabbed by locals
  3. Locals tend to to arrive in large tribes
We have friends who stay up until midnight on the first days reservations open on the sites they want just to insure they are first in line. Even then, they occasionally aren’t fast enough. Let me ‘esplain why.

Our travel trailer is five years old, yet it was among the oldest trailers we saw the entire two months we traveled this past summer. We were the “old-timers” everywhere we went, and not just because of our age. The explosion of recreational vehicles is far greater than anything we could have possibly predicted. The current popularity in RVing is astounding, and as a result, there simply aren’t enough campsites to fit everyone in all at once.

For Federally run campgrounds, such as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), go to https://www.recreation.gov/, to research locations and make reservations. First, create an account – there’s no charge – and bookmark the page. Trust me, you will use it often. You can research locations, and specific camp pads or sites within a campground.
Click on the page, then:
  1. Click Find Places & Activities from tabs at top of screen
  2. Click Sign In or Sign Up to log in to your account or create a new one
  3. Use search box to find perfect campground, facility, park, forest or tour by searching by city, state, zip code or name of facility
  4. Use filters on left to refine search, such as by category or by availability
  5. Click See Details when you've found the perfect site
  6. Select dates of stay by using the Availability view
  7. Click Book these Dates
For state parks or state run campgrounds, click on https://www.reserveamerica.com/. The websites may look similar – they are designed and run by the same company – but they do not interact with each other and they do not share information. The rules and procedures, however, are the same.

There are many RV and camping associations with reservation and booking assistance, one of the most popular is http://www.goodsamclub.com/. Their camp-guide book looks like a New York telephone book.

Grab you calendar and your road maps and start drawing in your trip. Now is the time to get started.

George





Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It’s All in the Wrist

Being a curious person who occasionally finds answers to questions I didn’t know I was asking, I came across the odd fact we’ve towed our twenty-one foot travel trailer over 21,357 miles in just a little over five years. Add that to the 5300 miles we towed our first trailer, a thirteen foot Cikira, and you find that nobody cares but me, and perhaps a few polite friends who suddenly remember they left the kettle on.

So, how do I write a blog that tells the truth about towing an RV trailer and not bore the reader who really, really wants to take the leap into RVing but still has trepidation about taking the financial and, yes, social burden of being unhinged, er, uh, unanchored. Maybe unfettered. No, on second thought, RVers are still fettered, just to a different anchor. Well, let’s say a different attitude. One that is hard to explain to anyone who thinks towing a trailer around the country is folly. Now, there’s a really appropriate, underused word. And, yes, it is a leap. A rather large leap for most people. For example, where do you park or store your expensive alternative universe when it’s not in use? We are fortunate to live in a county that allows us to park one RV/trailer adjacent to our domicile if certain requirements are met, and most people who visit us have no idea we have our trailer tucked away a few feet from the house. Most people must pay for storage of their RV when it’s not on the road.

Having a trailer instead of a self-contained motor home means I don’t have to insure it or register it as a motor vehicle, only as a trailer. But, let’s back up. Why are you towing a trailer or driving a motor home in the first place? Are you a traveler or a camper? Yes, there is a difference. Travelers rarely stay in any campground more than a day or two, usually as a respite from their journey from one place to another. Campers, on the other hand, travel to get to the location they want to spend time at, and once they’re there, their stay is usually as long as possible. [Smiley face goes here]

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of being campers who travel or travelers who camp. There are those extremists so enamored with the thought of real estate freedom that they actually forsake a permanent residence altogether just to be “free.” Selling a house, which normally is an appreciating asset, for an RV, which is a depreciating asset, is a financial decision that takes far more than just a belief you’ll one day win the lottery or a rich relative will someday send you a check to make up for your financial loss. Those who sell everything to shed the shackles of noblesse oblige may be placing themselves at the mercy of trailer assemblers somewhere in Indiana who really don’t care who buys their efficiently assembled masterpieces. Worse yet are the self contained RVs such as the Class A and popular Class C’s sitting in repair shops with blown transmissions, overheated engines, or dented front ends. So much for your pop-up fire place if you can’t get to it. Don’t forget to add hotel rooms to your emergency expenditures budget.

Do you like having your mail picked up by a neighbor? Do you care if they forget to tell you there is a jury duty summons that came three months ago? Then traveling from campground to campground may be for you, hooking and unhooking water hoses and power cords, raising and lowering jacks and pads, emptying black and gray water holding tanks, and trying to remember if the reservation for your next campsite starts on Sunday or Monday.

When, you ask, does the good part start? It starts before you pick up your first trailer. The anticipation of what is ahead of you will cause wild dreams and childish glee. Your first night in the Smoky Mountains with a campfire with only you and yours is something you won’t forget, and probably very close to what you envisioned. Kayaking in the streams and lakes of Georgia with no one else in sight ranks right up there. As the reality of those dreams come true, the joys of traveling in an RV come to fruition. There is no other way to vacation or travel that comes close.

Privacy to us is paramount, and we shy away from commercial campgrounds that find space utilization is more important than solitude. Sardines in a can have more space between them than given to most commercial campsites. We have slept only three nights in commercial, private campgrounds of the 448 nights we’ve camped, and then only because we had no close-by alternatives. All the other locations were lakeside at U.S. Army Corps of Engineer campsites, or at state parks from Florida to New York, or U.S. Forestry campgrounds in the Appalachian mountains. Or in our daughter’s driveway, although we now have a perfect designated camp site adjacent to the house thanks to our son-in-laws efforts to get us as far away as possible. He is so considerate!

We certainly have our favorite campgrounds and there are several we’ve visited many times. There are several we won’t return to as well, but the adventure of going in the first place has always been worth the trip. We have grown to our trailer size limit. People have told us every camper you buy will be bigger and better than the one you owned before, but we maxed out on our second unit. The thirteen footer we started with was just big enough to get us hooked on camping, but having to convert our dining area to a bed every night convinced us to go bigger. Twenty-one feet has proven to be our size. We have looked at longer units, and those with slide outs that increase width instead of length, but none offer benefits to offset the cost of replacing our current unit.

We upgraded from our first tow vehicle, a V-6 GMC Jimmy with a tow package, to a V-8 Toyota Sequoia, also with a factory tow package, so we could handle the extra weight of the bigger unit. Gas mileage remains the same, with an average of about 9 miles to a gallon. We get from 10 to 11 miles a gallon under good conditions, and around 7 miles a gallon in Florida on flat roads, always doing less than the 65 mile per hour speed limit. I’m convinced the ethanol added to Florida gas kills my mileage as it always increases as soon as I get to Georgia and North Carolina. It is a paradox my mileage goes up when I get to the mountains.

We don’t want a bigger trailer because we don’t need a bigger trailer. Many state parks have size limits, usually 24 or 26 feet, something we don’t have to worry about, and it is far easier to tow a small trailer through a crowded gas station. We’ve learned the limits of using our gray and black water tanks, and have learned how to extend our setup to over two weeks without unhooking and heading for a dump station. Those secrets will not be shared here. Let’s say utilization of available facilities becomes paramount.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the experience here, and if you’re interested, I’ll post the next installment of the narrative for the benefit of all. Well, for the benefit of those interested in watching a black bear drop out of a nearby pear tree, or having to coast in a kayak while a twelve foot alligator swims lazily across your bow. How about waking up to a fog covered Florida prairie being watched by a Black Crested Caraca? 

It isn’t for everybody, but it is for us.

George




Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Grove Park Inn


"F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at the hotel for two years to write while his wife Zelda was in an insane asylum in Asheville. The rooms in which he stayed, 441 and 443, are available for guests. One is furnished exactly as it was during his stay in the 1930s. Rooms in which famous people stayed are marked by plaques on the door saying who stayed there and when.” 


They both simultaneously went “Oomph!” The Jamaican maid blindly pushing a fully loaded linen supply cart and my wife, Ilse, who was taking photographs of the old photos hanging on the sixth floor of the historic Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. 


The linen cart hit Ilse squarely in the back as she faced the wall taking photos. The maid thought she simply had to push harder to overcome the unexpected obstacle, and so she gave the cart another good shove, hitting Ilse again just as my wife turned around to see what had just run into her. The maid looked around the edge of the cart after the second impact to see Ilse staring back at her in amazement and immediately panicked. Ilse began to laugh, but the maid’s fear overwhelmed her. The thought of hitting a guest with a laundry cart, not once, but twice, terrified the young woman. I’m sure visions of legal actions and probable termination flooded over her. Ilse, still laughing, walked over and put her arms around the maids’ shoulders. The maid’s relief could be felt all the way over to where I stood with the elevator operator who had graciously taken time to give us a tour of the historic old section of the iconic Asheville landmark.

The original section of the Grove park Inn.

Ilse was standing about four or five feet from the wall of photographs, engrossed on getting her camera just right, when the maid pushed the cart into her. I was talking with Delores, the immaculately period dressed operator of the unique, 103 year old elevator, as Ilse took photos on the third level of the original section of the hotel. 

Delores told us the poignant story of the “Pink Lady,” the ghost of a young lady who fell to her death in the covered atrium from the upper floor. She was found dressed in pink, and, according to legend, her ghost has visited unsuspecting guests ever since the 1920’s. Apparently she likes to playfully flip unsuspecting ladies hair.

The Staircase leading from the main lobby to the world famous spa






The balcony from which the "Pink Lady" fell..


The lobby where she was found.

Trying to find our way out of the massive labyrinth and back to the car was an adventure in itself. We ended up in the wrong wing, but the right wing, just in the wrong place. Yes, it was that confusing. Ilse and I had walked from the lower parking garage specifically to enter the world famous Grove Park Spa through the long, impressive grotto. The modern, 40,000 square feet subterranean spa cost a whopping $44 million, and, placed in the top 15 spas worldwide in 2008. It was worth seeing even if we didn’t partake of any of its services.

I asked Ilse if anyone had flipped her hair while we were wandering around the hotel.
Why?” she answered, “Want to ask her if she knows where the parking lot is?”

I don’t think she would have found it either.



.







Thursday, September 22, 2016

Old Federal Campground


We had a teasing first view of Old Federal Campground back in April when we saw RVs camped on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Lanier while were were visiting the adjacent Lake Lanier sailing club. When we returned home, I made reservations for the US Army Corps of Engineer’s Old Federal Campground for the last two weeks in September. As with most Federal or State campgrounds, there is a fourteen day limit for stays. Old Federal is one of their most popular campgrounds and few sites go unreserved, even during weekdays. Getting one of the few sites at the end of the first peninsula means reserve early.


Using the map available on www.recreation.gov, I picked the spot I saw from the sailing club. The site is completely surrounded by water, but there is only morning shade. From noon until sunset, the site is in full sun. It really wasn’t a problem for us even though the average temperatures ran 8 to 9 degrees above average while we were there. We had to make several trips to nearby Oakwood over the first two days to resolve a tire issue, so there was little chance of getting cabin fever. 



 We eventually replaced the flat tire that delayed our departure from Bolding Mill and used the needed trips to look around the neighborhood. We really don’t like sitting in the camper when the weather is otherwise great, but we aren’t into needless suffering, either, so it was a great time to write blogs and catch up on news. We decided to stay close to home, or more correctly, close to the trailer, and kick back at one of the most spectacular locations we’ve camped at. Cellphone reception is great and a good reason to turn on the WiFi hotspot.



The wide, spacious campground, just outside Flowery Branch, Georgia, is located lakeside at the end of Old Federal road. It is a seasonal park, closed from late October until spring. The dates fluctuate, so check the website for the exact schedule. In typical Corps of Engineer tradition, the sites are clean and the facilities are well maintained. Most of the campsites on the three peninsula campground face the water, although we noticed several that were drive-in head first instead of back-in. Your awning and hookups are then reversed, which isn’t a major problem for a self-contained unit such as a class “C”, but a trailer ends up backwards. Double check the site before you reserve it or you may find yourself facing the access road instead of the lake.



While all Corps of Engineers campgrounds prohibit alcohol, this was the first campground I had to sign my initials to the park pass amendment attesting I understood the rule. Hopefully the camp volunteers don’t ride around in their golf carts with breathalyzers.

-More to come-




PLAN AHEAd


Taz barked earlier than normal on Sunday morning, our last day at Bolding Mill. He always barks just once to let us know it’s time for his morning bathroom break, usually just about daybreak. He used to lick me on the arm or on my face to wake me up, but those days are over. Ilse dressed and took him out but was only gone a few minutes when she stuck her head back inside the camper and said, “Honey, it’s sprinkling.”

How does the Christmas Carol go? “I jumped out of bed and threw open the shutters...” We had done nothing to prepare for departure as we had a late 3:00 pm checkout and only a 25 mile ride to our next campground. We couldn’t check in before 4 in the afternoon, so why not take it easy and enjoy the morning. There was no rain forecast, so we saw no reason to pack the camper early. Well, so much for leaving everything until the last minute. I couldn’t help but think of the three little pigs and why I built my house of straw.

I had to race to beat the approaching rain storm. I almost got away with it, folding up the screen room, rolling up all the carpets, and packing all the outside gear away, but I made a mistake by assuming a lull in the sprinkling would give me more time and I foolishly took a break. Wrong. The rain came down in earnest as I cranked up the dripping wet awning. By then it was raining hard enough to wear one of my 99 cent disposable raincoats. I keep a supply of the little rain coats tucked in various places around the camper or in the car just for emergencies like this. We finally abandoned everything and retired to the camper to watch it rain hard for the next two hours. Ilse always packs away the inside of the trailer, but now all I did was get in her way.

Finally, another lull allowed us to hitch the trailer, but by then I had to stand in two inches of water to hook up the load levelers. For the coup de grace, the rain started again as I raised the trailer levelers, which are really scissor jacks, and the trailer promptly sagged down on a flat tire. So, after a few choice expletives, I jacked the trailer back up and pulled the flat tire off and mounted the spare. In the rain, of course. Another mistake was I hadn’t tested the tire pressure in the spare tire before starting this trip, and while it worked fine, it appeared under-inflated. It was, it only had 25 pounds of pressure. My always trusty tire inflater died last year, and I replaced it optimistically with one of those 12vdc units you plug into the cigarette lighter. You know, the ones with the real short cords that won’t reach behind your car. Like, all the way to your trailer.

The soggy trip to Old Federal Campground was uneventful but certainly not boring. The rain continued all day and we sloshed along the twenty five mile trip wondering how we missed the rain forecast. I always pack up ahead of time if bad weather is expected, but we got caught off guard badly this time. So much for Atlanta television weather forecasting. So much for goofing off first and working later.



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bolding Mill Campground

Lake Lanier, Georgia

Bolding Mill Campground was plugged into our summer camping itinerary as a filler, a one week slot that allowed us to wrap up our camping summer on October 2nd in Old Federal Campground on the south side of Lake Lanier. One of six campgrounds run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Lake Lanier – seven if you count Toto Creek which has no RV sites – Bolding Mill campground is just nine miles from Gainesville on the north side of the lake. I found it while searching the Internet and thought it looked like a great place to spend the week between Vogel and our final stop of the season at Old Federal. It turned out to be one of the prettiest, best kept campgrounds we’ve ever lowered our stabilizers.



 An easy, down hill tow – if downhill from Blood Mountain is easy – the campground is in the foothills of the Georgia mountains, just south of the pretty town of Dahlonega, and just outside the expanding urban limits of Greater Atlanta known as Gainesville. This time the GPS was correct with its odd cross-country shortcuts and we were at the campground two hours before check-in time.

We stopped at the modern, spacious gate house, and found it was unattended. A sign on the window states if you have reservations, simply proceed to your site. Corps of Engineer parks have later check out and check in times than most state parks, but if your reserved site has already been vacated, they usually let you check in and set up without any problem. Our problem this time was our site was still occupied by a large, fifth wheel camper with piles of chairs and paraphernalia strewn around, but no sign of life. We were early, it was an hour before the mandatory check out time of 3:00 pm, so we towed the trailer into nearby Gainesville to get a late lunch and just kill time by site-seeing.


Gainesville is on the edge of two worlds: The mountains are less than an hour to the north, and downtown Atlanta is less than an hour to the south. Well, except Monday through Friday when the commute appears to be close to two hours, even with four lane I-285 running into I-85 south to Hotlanta. Yes, they call lovingly call it Hotlanta, which this week is not a misnomer. With a major college and medical center, plus the nearness of Lake Lanier which attracts summer fun seekers from all over Georgia, Gainesville is an interesting small city.


Nothing had changed when we returned over an hour later. Perhaps aliens had abducted the campers as there was no sign of life other than piles of artifacts left behind. I walked to the Campground host and asked if there was a problem I needed to know about. The hosts quickly sent a volunteer to the site to see if the current occupants had overslept or whatever, and by four o’clock, we were parked in the site at the very end of the middle loop. The gracious hosts explained that the entire campground is run by volunteers, there are no contractors involved.


The volunteers do a beautiful job as the wide, spacious campground is immaculate. So are the bath houses and public facilities. Plus, it is one of the few campgrounds this far north open 365 days a year, but we were told by the hosts that there will be a two-month shutdown some time in the near future to rebuild the septic system. If you’re planning on heading to Bolding Mill Campground, please check the on-line schedule at www.recreation.gov first.


 We are great fans of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds. Spotlessly clean and usually staffed with friendly, helpful hosts or volunteers, we haven’t had a bad one yet. True, we like some better than others, and we once had a grumpy greeter – only one out of many is amazing in itself – but they usually put most state campgrounds to shame, and they do it with competitive prices. Do not expect to find visitor centers or gift stores, USACOE campgrounds are designed and kept up for the people who use them. There are always more local license plates at a Corps of Engineer park than cross-country wanderers. You don’t have to be an Army veteran to use the facilities; they are open to everybody and the people who live close to the facilities make the most of them! If you have one of the Golden Age/Access passport or America the Beautiful Senior/Access passes, camping fees are half price.

Alcoholic beverages, by the way, are strictly prohibited. At least in public, so really happy campers wandering around on Saturday night are not an issue. What you do inside you camper is your business, although several years ago in a Corps Campground in Philpott Lake, Virginia, we were greeted by a warning sign that told us they reserved the right to inspect containers.

Bolding Mill campground has 87 well spaced RV sites and 10 tent-only sites spread across three major loops or peninsulas, plus a fishing pier that one time actually overlooked the water. As with the three TVA lakes further north, the Corps of Engineer’s Lake Sydney Lanier, is in dire need of water, and lots of it. The safety line at the swimming beach lies on the sand at the bottom of the retaining post that has 9 feet marked at the top. That is going to take a lot of rain to fill a 39,000 acre lake with 692 miles of shoreline.

The campground is spacious and well laid out, with a washer and dryer in one of the bath houses. The facilities were kept spotless the entire week we were there.


 We look forward to our week which has a finale on Friday night with a Harvest Moon. Our camp site faces the lake to the east, and weather permitting, it should be quite a sight.

George

Next: PLAN AHEAd - Our last day at Bolding Mill
 at http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2016/09/plan-ahead.html



Monday, September 19, 2016

Return to Vogel State Park






















Vogel State Park is a nice, easy ride from nearby Morganton Point, the US Forestry Campground where we spent the last week. Blairsville has a new intersection to ease turning onto southbound US 129 headed toward Georgia’s flagship state park. It’s a nice eleven or so miles further until you make the right-hand turn into the park itself. Luckily, the uphill side is two lanes wide at that point, so there is plenty of room to make the turn if no one is waiting at the stop sign trying to get out. Pulling back out of the park across the two lanes of traffic that appears at times to be rocket propelled is another story. Famous Neels Gap is at the crest of Blood Mountain, you may have caught a glimpse of it the recent movie, A Walk in the Woods. It’s where many first-time Appalachian Trail hikers quit after the first day.


The low stone wall entrance is confining enough, and if two big camping rigs meet further down the two lane twisty sections of the access road, traffic stops while the two gingerly try to get past each other. That doesn’t deter little sedans from speeding blindly in to or out of the park, however. The narrow, curvy access road is in dire need of speed bumps. Once you are in the park, or shire, as Ilse calls it, it is a whole different world. 


But things are not as they were. Or, more correctly, some things are exactly as they were. Recent repairs have been made to many of the tent and pop-up camping areas known as the red loop, but not to the main RV area. The camp site roads are still circa 1950, and the now decrepit toilet/shower facilities are from the same era. We saw mowers and edgers and clean-up crews constantly around the cabin area – there are 36 cabins available – the entire two weeks we were there. They’ve even added a second putt-putt golf course. Little attention seems to be paid to the camping area, however. With constant reservations pouring in for the RV camp sites, Georgia State Park Service seems to have little motivation to spend money for a product that sells itself. It is still one of the most relaxing settings we’ve camped at. We spent the next two weeks at Vogel, including the no-vacancy, three-day Labor Day Weekend. The park’s location is just 35 or so miles south of Murphy, North Carolina, and just a few miles from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest mountain.



We discovered nearby Alexander’s, a unique department store out in the country, while trying to find where my devious GPS had taken us while searching for a landmark. I did a GPS map update before we started this trip, but this was the third time we were literally taken out to pasture by the GPS’s directions. I always keep maps for backup, such as when I have no cell phone coverage, but here a state road map simply isn’t detailed enough. There is no substitute like local knowledge: find someone local and have them Google your destination. In the digital world I’d stick a smiley face emoji here
.

The sales girls at Alexander’s went out of their way to sign into the Internet and look up our destination. They headed us in the right direction, but we first spent thirty minutes wandering around the two floors of clothing, furniture and outdoor sports gear. Curiosity overwhelmed me at the checkout counter as I stood behind an Asian woman who was buying two sets of snake gaiters. What, I asked, are snake gaiters?
 
Edible? Don't ask me, but it is a mushroom

“Oh,” she answered, “We wear these while we hunt for mushrooms. They are like chaps for your lower legs. Mushrooms are coming into season now, and when we hike the Appalachian Trail, we go off the side trails looking for mushrooms and we like to be protected from snakes.” She pulled out her smart phone and started scrolling through a massive photo index of mushrooms. All of the text on her screens were written in Chinese.


“Here,” she said, pointing to a detailed photo of a mushroom “This is what I found this week. It is called ‘Chicken of the Woods’ and very delicious.”


You just never know who you will meet when your GPS takes you to never-never land.


We bid adieu to Kawliga, the wooden indian who stands guard to the outdoor sports section, and Elvis, who serenades shoppers looking for furniture, and headed to Blairsville for the best Cuban meal I’ve had in years. Dan’s Cuban grill in Blairsville is run by expats from Miami, and the Palomillo steak, smothered in long, skinny French fries and grilled onions, brought back memories from years ago.

For the southern traditionalist, there is “Jim’s Smokin’ Q,” whose motto, “You can smell our butts for miles!” is a definite eye catcher. It’s only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and we lucked out when our neighbors, Hill and Maryanne from Cocoa Beach, asked us to join them for lunch. It’s right on the road from the park to Blairsville. Best barbeque I’ve had in a long, long time.


We were visited at our campsite by our daughter and granddaughter who drove up from Athens for a wonderful afternoon, and by the very couple who started us on this RV experience, Richard and Arlene. Richard and Arlene camped in an adjacent site for three days, giving us the chance to catch up on our families, ruin our diets, and solve the world’s political problems. 


It was anticlimactic after everyone left, and we spent the last several days doing the laundry and just catching up on social media. There is spotty cellphone coverage at the campground, although there is free Wi-Fi everywhere near the cabins or the visitor center, We drove down to the visitor center daily the last few days just to catch up on e-mail and social media, which we found we didn’t miss as much as we did in Asheville where we had no in-park coverage of either cellphone or Wi-Fi.


We found the road noise from the nearby mountain highway to be an occasional distraction during the day, but weekends had us wondering if we had camped next to Road Atlanta by mistake. While we thoroughly enjoyed our two week stay this year, we looked forward to our next campground. 


George



Friday, September 16, 2016

Contradictions

Contradictions

Morganton Point Campground – Continued


A young, attractive blonde sat alone on a small, lake-side rock holding a hardcover book, watching the marvelous sunset unfold in front of us. A digital SLR camera was slung over her shoulder. Every once in a while she would put the book down and take a snapshot of the dramatic sunset, then pick up the book and continue reading in the fading evening light. With the chronic drought of the southeastern United States, the waterline has receded far from the edge of the campground and she was in the middle of a forty foot, barren beach. As darkness finally fell, she retired to a small canvas tent in the primitive camp site area of Morganton Point Campground.

What are the odds of two German girls being the only people here
 We met her again the next morning while walking Taz, our golden retriever, and found out she is German, on vacation, and disappointed the rental office for stand-up paddleboards was closed except for weekends. With five weeks vacation, she had flown into Nashville from Los Angeles, rented a car, and was touring the Great Smoky Mountains. She was sleeping in a small, canvas tent with no power or lights. I have no idea what her impression of the campground was, but she was full of enthusiasm for future adventures in Asheville and Pigeon Forge.

"Bunk Beds" in the tent camping araea

The tent campsites – A through F – have the best views of the lake in my opinion, and the young German girl, who looked like she stepped out of a fashion magazine ad, was camped at F, right on the point. While she had the most scenic view, we could not see the lake from site 24, but it was just a short walk to the lake. I would not have picked any campsite beyond us although the next two sites could reach a small cove. They were downhill to back into, though, making unhooking from the trailer hitch a real chore. The sites beyond 31 are first come-first served and have no services. They are located on the one-lane road to nowhere we explored when we first arrived.

Morganton Point has 37 sites if you count the last six on the single-lane road. Several other sites, 11 and 14, have no water, while site 16 has water, electricity and even a sewer hookup. The paradox is the central toilet and shower facilities: they are among the best we have ever encountered in campground, even exceeding the few private campgrounds we’ve stayed at! Spacious, spotlessly clean, and with plenty of room! Five stars for the new bathhouse and the redesigned loop for the dump station. Now, guys and girls from the Forestry Service, take a look at the gravel pads that are a stinker to back into, and the deteriorating state of some of the pavement in the park.

We walked the short path to the beach every morning just to get some exercise, but we didn’t find any other trails in the area. For serious hikers or even just dedicated walkers, we recommend Lake Powhatan in Asheville, North Carolina, where outdoor activities are paramount to the area. The path at Morganton Point is simply a shortcut to the beach. It’s a pretty good beach, but it would help if the water were high enough to actually reach the safety rope.

We spent our first Monday just catching up and relaxing, not planning on going anywhere. But, not having cellphone coverage or Internet proved our undoing and we ended up at the Blue Ridge Walmart, sharing the Subway special of the day just to alleviate our craving for connectivity to the outside world. Not that it means much, though. Facebook has proved to be a self-induced narcotic that is easily dispensed with. E-mails have proven to be 99% nonsense, and most of the remaining 1% are not worth reading.

Tuesday was a stay at home day to relax, but Wednesday was one of those days when curiosity had its reward. Well, to me, anyway. Ilse was a good sport and tagged along dutifully as I went searching for a meeting I saw mentioned in a local newspaper article. 

Wednesdays, and only on Wednesdays, from around 10:00 am until whoever has the keys gets hungry and leaves for lunch, the Tri-State Model Railroaders have a work day on their 22 foot wide by 37 foot long HO model train layout at nearby Mineral Bluff. The layout is in the oldest building in Fannin County, Georgia, appropriately enough, the original Mineral Bluff’s Louisville and Nashville railroad depot. We were graciously given an in-depth tour of the detailed layout by Thomas Roskelly, a former U.S. Army Special Forces member turned model train enthusiast. The layout models the L&N railroad that serviced the area, and the detail on the layout is just astonishing. They have an official open house for the general public every 3rd Saturday.
 We toodled slowly up the road from there to the nearby McCaysville, GA/Coppertown, TN, area and returned on an alternate route to Blue Ridge, stopping by the entrepreneurial, renowned Mercier Orchards. This facility rivals many tourist attractions in Florida – well, except for Disney and its peers, perhaps, - for consumer consumption of country images and home-spun illusion. Tourists from Atlanta and points south dominated the parking areas. This place is a Cracker Barrel on steroids, without the restaurant.


One thing that we thought was odd, they’re are far fewer Florida license plates than the last time we were here. We noticed the same phenomena in Asheville. We saw very few Florida license plates the two weeks we spent there, while years ago they were everywhere. Where are they? Did they all go to Hiawassee or Murphy? Just an observation before we headed back to our tranquil little corner of Lake Blue Ridge.

Our German friend had checked out by the time we returned to the campground, headed for the Smoky Mountain National Park. I seriously doubt she was looking for a model railroad layout.






































George

Next: Back to Vogel – Is it what we remembered? at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2016/09/return-to-vogel-state-park.html


More information on the Tri-State Model Railroaders may be found at www.tsmri.org


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Morganton Point Campground

Morganton Point Campground

US Forest Service

Located on the westernmost of the three Tennessee Valley Authority Lakes in Northern Georgia, Lake Blue Ridge, the Morganton Point campground was our first stop headed south from Lake Powhatan in Asheville. Run by the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, the relatively unknown campground was different from what we expected in more ways than one.

I made the reservations three months prior to our trip, and using the online descriptions, picked a site that appeared to be close to the shower facilities and easy to back our twenty foot travel trailer into. Unfortunately, none of the waterfront sites were available for the whole week we were to be there so I went with what I thought was the best alternative. [Lakefront site 5 is the one we would pick now that we’ve seen the campground.] There are caution notes on several of the sites because of drop or rise of the camp sites from the access road, but the note and the photo of site 24 looked OK.

We originally wanted to head for Blairsville, Georgia, about thirty miles east, and stay at the nearby Vogel State Park, one of our favorites. Blairsville is in the center of the three TVA lakes, just south of Lake Nottely and about twenty five miles west of the famous Lake Chatuge which boasts the Florida refugee center of Hiawassee. Vogel has its own little, unassuming Lake Trahlyta, but it isn’t one of the major boating and water sports lakes in area unless you want to rent a paddle boat or a kayak. It does have a neat foot path around it, about a mile in length, that we walked every day with our dog.

Scheduling wasn’t on our side, however, as the fourteen day stay limit would have us leaving Vogel before the Labor Day Weekend, so we bumped our arrival at Vogel back by a week by adding a week beforehand at Morganton Point. We’ve spent time in the area around nearby Blue Ridge before and looked forward to a week exploring the area. We’ve ridden the Blue Ridge Train along the beautiful Toccoa river from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, but never seen the lake that feeds the river, Lake Blue Ridge. It would be great to actually camp by the lake.

The trip down from Asheville, only one hundred thirty miles away, was an easy, mainly downhill tow. Even the mildly twisty section through the pretty Nantahala gorge wasn’t difficult, even in a driving rain storm. Too bad we didn’t get to check out the recreation areas, but since the kayak and raft paddlers in the adjacent, fast-flowing river were in full wet-weather gear, we weren’t inclined to stop and take a closer look.

As with many Federal parks and campgrounds, you begin to question your GPS as you tow through narrow streets that appear to be in mainly residential neighborhoods blindly following instructions, when, viola, there’s the main gate. Same thing at a strange intersection on highway 60 known as the town of Morganton, which appears to have moved and not told anybody. The last right turn to the campground is a real indicator of narrow confines as the corner of the roof on the right hand building hangs in disrepair from being hit by turning vehicles. I assume most were either class “A” RV motor coaches or big fifth wheel trailers, but even my small twenty footer came awfully close to the splintered, dangling overhanging roof. Or the remains of it, anyway.

The entrance to the campground is another half-mile or so – after a left turn off of Lake Drive – and is another surprise; there is no gatehouse, just a stop sign and an afterthought speed-bump in the middle of the road. The residence of the Camp Host is on the right. Shades of when Ilse and I blew through a border crossing in Belgium back in our younger days. Was I supposed to stop there? At least this time I didn’t have to back up and beg forgiveness.

We chatted with Warren, the host, and got our paper work in order. Then he asked me if I’d like to change sites. That’s an ominous warning if I’ve ever heard one. We looked at site 24, it proved to be an uphill, back-in site that required an almost 45 degree turn at the top. A challenge to say the least. We decided to drive through the campground to see what else was available and promptly found ourselves squeezing past oncoming traffic on an access road that turns into a one-lane, bidirectional piece of poorly maintained asphalt without any warning. Luckily, it had a turnaround loop at the end allowing us to head back to our original site. We decided we liked the privacy and the nearness of the facilities of the original site and after two, tire spinning test tries, we took a running start – in reverse – and backed up the loose gravel incline, putting the trailer on the flat pad within feet of the water and electrical hookup monuments. We looked like we knew what we’re doing.

In less than an hour, we were unhooked and level, walking around the edge of the very pretty lake. As with all lakes in the southeast, water levels are dangerously low. I don’t know how many million or even billion gallons of water it will take to bring the reservoirs back to normal levels, or if it is even possible, but it is a sad sight to see. I can only imagine what these lakes will look like in ten or twenty years. Waterfront property will be a misnomer.

That, however, didn’t stop us from witnessing the most incredible sunset we have seen in years. We walked back to the camper, awed by the sunset, and looking forward to a week exploring the area.
George



Next: Contradictions – Morganton Point Campground






George

Next: Morganton Point Campground - Contradictions, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2016/09/contradictions.html