Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Maggie Valley Revisited

Yes, it’s been way too long since I’ve updated our trip progress. Let me just say that I haven’t been “inspired” to write anything. That’s partly due to the fact that we’ve been here in Maggie Valley, NC, several times before and we haven’t done much that was new or different. But here goes…

We arrived at Creekwood Farm RV Park on Tuesday, July 19. We love it here and it’s a bit like a homecoming each time we pull in. Several friends were already here and gave us a very nice welcome. We got set up and joined everyone for “happy hour” on the creek, a nightly event starting at 4:30pm. (Most of the time it lasts longer than an hour, but who’s counting?)

We spent the next day getting groceries and finishing up all the setup around the camp site. And then it was off to the casino. (Yeah, we’re bad.) We had a good time, but there were no big wins to report.

Several of our friends here had joined the Waynesville Rec Center where they do a variety of exercises, including a senior yoga class three times a week. This intrigued me AND Julian, so we went to one of the yoga classes. All of the postures are done either sitting on or standing by a chair. We both really liked it. Plus there is a really nice walking/jogging track in the building which we felt would be better on our bodies than the gravel around the campground. So we joined the rec center for one month. We’ve gone to a number of the classes and walked several times afterwards. Julian says it’s helped his back some and that’s a really good thing. I may have to try to find something similar once we get home.

We took the long way to Black Mountain, a great little town east of Asheville. And I do mean the LONG way. But it was a beautiful trip. We headed south of here to jump onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’ve been on this section of the Parkway several times before, but it’s always a great drive and the weather was perfect for it. We made a couple stops, one was at Devil's Courthouse. We’d been there in 2007 and climbed to the top. (Not sure we could do that today.) The weather back then had been pretty cloudy, so I took advantage of the clear weather and got another picture of it.


After more than twice the time we could have done the trip on the interstate, we arrived at Black Mountain in time for lunch. There are two major reasons to go there, in our estimation. 1) Berliner Kindl, a really good German restaurant. They serve moderate portions and the food is great. 2) Town Hardware & General Store, where you can find the most fun and interesting things from old time toys to real hardware to garden flags and beyond. It’s SO much fun just to walk through the store. It’s hard not to buy anything!

We went into Asheville for Belle Chere again this year. It’s a terrific (and large) street fair. We walked around all the booths and really enjoyed the time spent. Afterwards, drove to a favorite Thai restaurant, but the streets were blocked off and we couldn’t get there. So we went to our favorite Latin restaurant outside of the downtown area. It was as good as we’d remembered.

We decided to take a drive up the mountain into the Smoky Mountain National Park to see the elk. We’d heard about this drive for years and finally did it the afternoon after we’d been to Asheville. We spent many years in Colorado and the mountains there, so mountain driving wasn’t new to us. I’m not sure we’ve ever experience hairpin turns quite this sharp, or curves in the road that were quite this blind!

The first part of the road was paved, but that didn’t last. And once it turned into dirt/gravel, the road became VERY narrow. There were places where meeting an oncoming car would have been a problem. It took nearly an hour to drive the 12 miles to the end of the road. It was beautiful – even if a bit scary in places. We stopped at an overlook on the way up and this was the view.


Here’s a friend we met while at this stop:


We made it all the way up without seeing one elk. I guess they like the mornings and evenings better than mid-afternoon. But on the way back, we saw this guy:


This barn was outside the Ranger’s home, so we didn’t know if this elk was living there or if he’d just jumped the fence to come in for a snack. Click the picture and check out how big his rack is! WOW!

One Sunday afternoon, three of us ladies went to a program at a local church. The musicians all played wind instruments. I guess you would call it chamber music. They played for about an hour and we really enjoyed it.

We had dinner “on the creek” at Hurley’s in Maggie Valley one night. Here’s a picture of Julian and our friends at our table.


You can barely see the creek to the very right of my empty chair. The weather and the food were both awesome.

We went to “Mater Fest” with this same couple. It’s a very small festival in Canton, which we’ve been to several times. It’s always fun and you never know what fun stuff you might find in the craft booths.

We’ve been back to the casino a couple times, but still no major luck. They seem to have tightened up the machines this year.

We tried the new Thai restaurant that has opened up in Waynesville. It’s very good and we think it might be better than the one in Asheville. It certainly is closer. We’ve been a couple times already and really do enjoy it.

We’ve had rain off and on, but never to a point of keeping us from doing whatever we have planned. It was pretty hot here, just like everywhere else, until about a week or so ago. The days are still warm, but not oppressive. And the nights are cooling down into the high 50s sometimes. We love it and it sure beats Florida at this time of year.

That’s it for this time. We are planning to arrive at home on September 10, 2011. So there will be at least one or two more posts to close out the trip.

Happy trails!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nashville, By Way of Ohio (Again)

We headed south out of Elk Rapids and spent the first night in a Wal-Mart parking lot on the west side of Toledo, OH. This became something of a turning point in the trip. It got HOT! Real HOT! (It’s STILL hot as I write this from North Carolina.)

We had planned to spend the morning in Toledo and leave around noon since the distance to our next stop wasn’t far. But even by 9am, the heat was getting to us and we could see no reason to sit and bake in that parking lot. So we headed out. We called ahead and there was no problem with us coming in to our next stop early, anyway.

We arrived in Wapakoneta, OH, early that afternoon. The resort looked really nice and inviting at the front. However, the sites were pretty ordinary and fairly close together. We’d originally planned 3 nights here, but had already changed our minds to stay only two. After seeing the place, we decided that was a good move.

There wasn’t much to do in this little town. So we decided to enjoy the break and just hang out. We’d been on the go so much that a rest day sounded kind of good.

We did go out to lunch, though. We drove west to Celina and found a restaurant just across the street from the lake. It was a neat setting and I was mad at myself for not grabbing my camera before we left. So you’ll just have to take my word for it: the view was very cool.

We planned a stop-over between Wapakoneta and Nashville. But as we drove, it seemed like it wasn’t that much further to just do it all at once. We called ahead and they had room for us, so we went on to Goodlettsville, TN, just north of Nashville.

Now this was a nice park. I didn’t get a picture of our site, but it was nice there.

Our first full day there, we drove into downtown Nashville. We walked Broadway and some of the side streets. I guess we really didn’t know what all we were seeing – we learned that the next day. The heat got to us and we headed back towards the campground and had lunch at Calhoun’s, home of the “best ribs in America”. I can’t speak to the best anything in America, but the BBQ was very good.

The next day we were off on a combo-tour that would keep us going around the important sights of Nashville all day. (We were totally exhausted when we got home, but we saw most everything we could have wanted to see.)

Our first stop was the Ryman Auditorium, where The Grand Ole Opry began.



While here, we saw a short movie on the beginnings of the Opry, which was quite interesting… even for a couple of non-country listeners.

We drove past the state capital and other cool, official buildings. Then we went to one of the city parks. There are different sections to this park and one of the sections contains this replica of the Parthenon. It’s beautiful.


Our next real stop was at the Country Music Hall of Fame.


No pictures were allowed inside, but we saw people doing it all over the place. We only had about 45 minutes, but did enjoy seeing the different exhibits and displays. We were glad to have been able to see it.

Along the way we got all sorts of history and learned about the flood of May 2010. All of downtown was under water. It was hard to believe – you simply could not tell that just over a year ago, several feet of water engulfed the town.

We were dropped off at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. We had time for a quick soda and then it was back on the bus. There was a live performance going on, but none of us knew who the kid was. He wasn’t bad and it was another piece of country music history.

We were dropped off at a Shoney’s for lunch with the promise that we’d be picked up again for the afternoon portion of the trip. They were late, but the promise was fulfilled and our first stop was the Grand Ole Opry House.


We got the backstage tour which was very interesting. We started here, at the performer’s entrance.


Can you see the picture of Minnie Pearl on the left? I remember seeing her on TV when I was a kid. I guess that makes me old, right?

From there we went by the wall with all the names of those who are members of the Grand Ole Opry. It’s a major honor, not everyone is considered a “member”. There are currently 66 living members, so that gives some perspective.

We walked by a few open dressing rooms and then into the “green room”, the last stop before a performer goes on stage.


And then we all walked on stage. We heard a little more history and then the tour guide asked if anyone would like to sing. One lady did. She sang “Crazy” and was amazing. I overheard her say she came all the way from Australia just to do that. Wow!

Then the guide offered to take pictures. So we had to have ours taken.


Notice the circle of wood on the floor that is a different color. That circle has been under the microphone for EVERY Grand Ole Opry performance, no matter what venue, from the Ryman Auditorium to here. And we got to stand right there! Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s the stage from the back of the hall.


Our next stop was the Opryland Hotel. We’ve never seen anything like it! It’s about four and a half acres under glass! It’s beautiful.

This is one part of it, the first part we saw when our tour group entered on our way to the boat ride.


Here are some shots of the hotel from the boat ride we took.





Once off the boat, we walked around to other areas of this enormous hotel. It’s beautiful everywhere. Julian took this next shot and this little girl was SO cute.


Some other shots from around the hotel.




Remember, this is all under a glass roof. They keep the inside air temperature at 70 degrees year-round. It’s an amazing structure.

I mentioned the flood and this hotel was also struck by those high waters. There is a red line on the pillar in this photo that shows how high the water level was during the flood.


And in spite of that tragedy, everything around the hotel is spotless, clean, inviting. You’d never know that anything had happened at all, much less only a little over a year ago.

After the breakneck pace of this full-day tour, we opted for a quiet day at home to follow. We groomed Heidi – well, that’s not so quiet as she really doesn’t like it. But we got r done! I did some laundry and we went to Red Robin for lunch (Yum!).

Our last day in the area found us driving south of Nashville, to Franklin. We’d read where it was in the running for prettiest small town or something like that. When we got there, we could see why. The downtown area was spotless and very pretty. Lots of brick – in buildings and on the streets. Very “homey”. We walked the shops and bought a couple things. Then we had lunch at an Irish Pub, which was really good. (Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures, there.)

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Nashville area, and would recommend it to anyone.

On Tuesday, July 19, we pulled up stakes and headed to Maggie Valley, NC. So stay tuned, there will be more to read about as our time in NC continues.

Happy trails!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Michigan – Part II

Wow! Have we ever enjoyed being in Michigan!

We arrived at Honcho Rest Campground on Wednesday afternoon. When checking in, our host mentioned the Evening on River Street event which takes place every Wednesday evening through the summer months.

We headed into Elk Rapids a little after 6pm. The place was already jumping – for a small town, anyway. There were two blocks roped off and all sorts of things going on in between.

A juggler was entertaining a group.


There was a large circle of people playing various drums and other percussion instruments. (Never quite figured that one out.)


Kids were playing with hula hoops.


And ribs were being smoked/grilled right there on the street. So we went inside where we could order the ribs. Julian and I split a full rack of baby backs. They were pretty good, too. We were going to get ice cream cones, but the line was just too long. We had ice cream at home, along with some Kahlua. (Yum.)

The next day we headed to Traverse City to take part in the National Cherry Festival.


I think events were scattered around the city. We did find the main booth area. We quickly decided the prices were inflated for the Festival, so we didn’t buy anything there.

We stopped at a road-side market on our way back to the campground. What a cool place it was and the proprietor was so nice. We bought several items including fresh cherries (oh, they were good) and, of course, chocolate  covered cherries.

We discovered that there was a casino about 10 miles from our campground. So on Friday, we headed over there. We had some luck early, but then it went a bit downhill. So far, our casino time hasn’t given us any additional money. Darn!

On Saturday we drove up the Old Mission Peninsula, primarily to check out the wineries there. Since it was early, our plan was to drive out to the end of the peninsula first then make stops on the way back.(BTW, this peninsula is only about 15 miles long, sticking into Lake Michigan.)

This is the old lighthouse on the tip of the peninsula.


Julian caught me in this photo, which also tells how we were standing on the 45th Parallel, half way between the Equator and the North Pole. (We crossed that line at least a half dozen times while in Michigan.)


Our first wine stop was at Chateau Chantal. We liked a couple of their wines and took some with us. That’s Lake Michigan in the background.


We stopped at two other vineyards, but didn’t see much of interest. So we headed off to find lunch. We stopped at one place, but it didn’t “wow” us, so we kept driving. We then stopped at the Jolly Pumpkin. Here’s the view from our table on the patio.


The food here was awesome. We shared a Warm & Cheesy BLT that was way better than your average BLT. We also had Crab Tater Tots, which were more or less crab cakes formed to look like tater tots. They were SO delicious. Great food!

Our last full day in Elk Rapids was spent driving around several of the smaller lakes in the area. Our “friend” at the roadside market told us where to go and the scenery was fantastic.

Sometimes you save the best for last. About a half mile from our campground was a restaurant that always (and I mean ALWAYS) had their parking lot full and overflowing. That’s always a good sign. Our “friend” at the market told us to be sure to eat there. So our last night in town, that’s where we went.

Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen served us what we both consider one of the best meals we’ve EVER had. (And those of you who follow this blog know that we’ve had some fantastic meals in all our travels.) Even on a Sunday we had to wait about 45 minutes to get a table. So we sat at the bar and ordered Fried Green Tomatoes with our drinks. I swear I’ve never had better! The batter was crisp and crunchy and had a fabulous mix of spices.

When we got to our table, a delightful waitress took our order. Julian had crawfish Etouffee and I had Bronzed Shrimp Alfredo. This was no ordinary Alfredo dish. The shrimp was seasoned perfectly and the Alfredo sauce had that New Orleans flair. Totally yummy!

We hated to leave Michigan. We’d enjoyed it thoroughly and the weather could not have been nicer the whole 10 days we were there. We just may have to go back again some day.

Until next time, Happy Trails.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Michigan – Part I

We arrived at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping on Friday, July 1. We’d worked out our travel so that we could arrive by about 1pm, giving us a bigger part of the day to get set up and acclimated. Mosquitoes greeted us while checking in and I was NOT happy (they seem to love me). But I must say that they weren’t very much of an issue after that first day. Thankfully!

This picture was taken later, but this is our site.


Our site is very large and looks even larger since the sites on either side of us are empty. It’s beautiful here, lots of trees and a short walk to Lake Huron.

Saturday was spent exploring the area. We went into Mackinaw City and loved walking around all the shops and eateries. We picked up tourist info to pursue later to decide what all we wanted to do while here. When we went into the IGA for some basic food supplies, we realized we needed to go to Cheboygan and the Wal-Mart there. So that’s what we did after lunch.

We had dinner in town at the Admiral’s Table. I highly recommend this restaurant. We had great food! Fresh fish right out of the lakes. And our waitress was the best – efficient AND friendly!

On Sunday, we drove north all the way to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. If you get up this way, don’t bother. There doesn’t seem to be anything of interest and even with a GPS, we couldn’t find the 2 things we were looking for. Even the Customs Guard on the way back into the U.S. told us there was nothing there. NOW they tell us. (LOL)

We did enjoy Sault Ste. Marie, MI. We drove down to the waterfront and walked over to see the locks in operation. Lake Superior is 21 feet higher than Lake Huron. This is a picture of the locks as we went over the bridge into Canada.


The two locks happened to be operating at the same time. This large ship was heading down into Lake Huron.



These two smaller boats were on their way up into Lake Superior.

IMG_0067    IMG_0070


We’d been through the lock of the Panama Canal while inside the ship. That was awesome. This was every bit as interesting and gave us a little different perspective.

We had lunch and then decided to make a stop at the local casino. No, no luck there. Bummer.

We had crossed the Mackinac (pronounced mackinAW) Bridge earlier in the morning. This is a 5+ mile bridge completed in 1957. They all said it couldn’t be built because the distance was too great and the water too deep.

We saw a sign for a bridge view area just before heading back over it into Mackinaw City. So we took it and got our best shots of the bridge (so far).


On Independence Day, we drove for nearly two and a half hours to get to the northern part of the Upper Peninsula, to the town of Munising. From there we took a two and a half hour boat ride up the coast of Lake Superior to see the Pictured Rocks. “That’s a long drive for a boat trip” you say? Let me assure you: we both felt it was worth every second!

Unfortunately, the photos of the Rocks don’t really do them justice – it’s just never like really being there. We started taking pics almost right away and the captain said to wait and not use up our cameras as it all got way better up the line. And he was absolutely right. So I’ll just share the “good stuff”.


This is Bridal Falls:











This is called something like Battleship Row. As you look down the shore, the outcroppings look like the back-ends of battleships all lined up. (You may want to click on this one to see it full size.)


There was a bald eagle sitting in a tree.



This tree wanted so badly to grow on this rock that it spread its roots across to the left. Isn't nature amazing??


Can you see the people basking in this little water fall? I’ll bet that water was C-O-O-O-O-L-D.


All the different colors on the rocks are caused by different minerals seeping through the rocks. And we saw just about every color you could imagine. It was all so gorgeous!

When we first got to Northern Michigan, we saw all sorts of ads for “pasties” (pronounced pass-tees.) I learned that they are pastries filled with meat, veggies and spices. We hadn’t had the opportunity to try them until getting off this boat ride. We walked a block or so to the main street and found a restaurant that served them. We both ordered one and really enjoyed them. They remind me a little of Runzas that you can get in Nebraska, only a little more bland. They were really good and we’d have them again.

Our last day found us on the ferry to Mackinac Island. This turned out to be another real treat!

We chose a time when the ferry actually went under the Mackinac Bridge prior to heading over to the Island. It was overcast and raining off and on, but Julian braved the weather and went up to the open deck to shoot some pictures.




It’s a beautiful structure. They told us all sorts of facts about it, including that it was completed one year ahead of schedule and one million dollars under budget. That’s a lot of dollars in 1957.

The island was just fun! It’s a bit unique in that no motorized vehicles are allowed – no cars, no golf carts, no motor cycles nor scooters. To get around, you walk, you ride a bicycle, or you use a horse-drawn carriage. (I’ve never seen so many bicycles in my life!)

We had decided against an organized tour as the stops were not of real interest to us. So we walked the downtown area. It was beautiful, especially after the sun came out. There were lots of quaint hotels, tons of fudge stores and shops of just about any kind.





I have to post this one – Julian said so. It’s me coming out of one of the shops while he was snapping other pictures.


This was a real, live dog sleeping in the display window of one of the shops. It just cracked us up.


We returned to Mackinaw City where we had lunch at Scalawag’s. We had fresh whitefish baskets and loved every bite. We’ve had  a lot of fish since coming north and it’s all been wonderful.

We spent the afternoon sort of resting up. We’d been on the go for four days straight and there were things that needed doing. Heading into new territory on July 6. National Cherry Festival, here we come!

Happy trails.