2018 October: Fall Foliage RV Trip to the Smoky Mountains

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10.14.18 – We picked up “Eddie,” our 25’ RV rental, from Harvey RV Rentals, which names all of its RVs. We wore the “We love Eddie” shirts that Stu had ordered for us and the owner, and presented her with her new shirt, then drove the RV back to our house to pack it up for our departure the next morning.

Eddie is a small, but very capable, home-away-from-home.  He has a comfortable bed, a generous shower, a fridge/freezer, stove, and dining area. Best part, as we traveled, we did not have to unpack every night and pack every morning.  Sort of a turtle on wheels.

10.15.18 – We drove to Jetty Park Campground at Port Canaveral and parked in our site, which was just a few feet away from the waters of Port Canaveral and a very short walk to the Jetty Park fishing pier that goes out into the ocean. We arrived with time to walk around before sunset and dinner.

10.16.18 – We left Port Canaveral reluctantly, because, in addition to being a beautiful place, there was to be a lift-off at the nearby Launchpad that evening, but we had campground reservations made for every night of our trip, and we had to stay pretty much on schedule. We drove to the Eagle’s Roost campground in Lake Park, GA, nothing special, just a place to stop for the night and get an early start to a campground that was quite special. Pork tenderloin for dinner from the grill of Stu, master griller.

10.17.18 – Our next campground was beside Lake Tobesofkee, a lovely place in Macon, GA. We took a very long walk, found Joan’s special spot for photographing the sunset, and after the sun did set, Stu cooked a Cornish Hen and built a campfire to enjoy as we ate. RV travel is similar to a journey on a magic carpet as it sometimes takes us to a magic place where the weather, campfire and dinner conspire to make it extraordinary. Makes up for a lot of rainy and windy days.

10.18.18 – We drove to the Raccoon Mountain Campground, on the outskirts of Chattanooga, and stayed for 2 nights at so we would have extra time to see the city. We stopped for provisions at Walmart along the way, and had a wonderful salmon dinner, grilled by Stu, of course.

10.19.18 – We went into the city to find a parking place near the starting point for the Chattanooga Hop On Hop Off Gray Line bus tour. We had purchased tickets weeks ahead and received a reminder the day before the tour. Unfortunately, upon our arrival, we were told that the bus tour had been shut down several weeks prior to our trip. The automatic systems kept selling tickets and sending reminders after the company had become extinct. The company didn’t even have the decency to inform us – and to not send us a day-before reminder. So we were on our own, but we did fine. The city offers a free shuttle around the town, and we took it to the riverfront, where we took a wonderful walk along the river and around the art museum with beautiful outdoor sculptures along the paths. The normally silent driver navigated the trip as he drove, sharing his knowledge of the city along the way.

After lunch at the Bluegrass Grill, we drove to the Incline Railway and bought tickets for the ride up (and back down) the incline, but the line to get on was quite long, so we went to the nearby Rock City (a “geological and botanical wonder” at the top of Lookout Mountain) while we waited. Rock City, with its long, winding paths through the giant rocks, was quite amazing. It was a 10,000-step day for both of us.

We then returned to the Chattanooga Incline Railway, built in 1895,  for our one-mile ride up Lookout Mountain on the steepest incline railway in the world, pulled by cables from the top. Interesting engineering. There are two cars connected by one long cable so their weight is balanced.  One goes up while the other is going down so only a relatively small motor is required to drive both cars. For most of the incline, the up and down car share a single track with two switches in the middle to divert the cars to individual tracks so they can pass.  At the top, the track splits into three rails so the top car can go to the left or right loading station.

We were glad to see in the Machine Room at the top a very large brake that would stop the train from rolling back down the hill in the event of a cable malfunction.

10.20.18 – It was time to begin our photo workshop. We drove to Townsend, TN, to the KOA Campground near the workshop meeting place at 3pm. John Slonina, our leader, had a 12-person van and drove us everywhere we needed to go in the Smoky Mountains for the next 3 days. We started at the Little River, which is narrow but very long, with cascades, rapids, and waterfalls all along the way – great to photograph. After dark, we had dinner at the Carriage Inn in Townsend with all our workshop buddies.

10.21.18 – Starting well before sunrise, we headed for the Foothills Parkway for early morning shooting. After a mid-day break, John drove us across the Smoky Mountains on Newfound Gap Road to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the other side where we were delighted to find that the field was full of elk.

We watched the male elk court his ladies, and when threatened by a rival male elk, he chased the invader away from the field.


Elk chasing away his rival

We stopped at many overlooks on the way back and watched the sun set over the mountains. Then our group had dinner in Gatlinburg at the Cherokee Grill.

10.22.18 – We met at 7am for the drive to Cades Cove, a section of the Smoky Mountains that has beautiful landscapes, and, usually, lots of wildlife visible. On this day, however, there was not an animal to be seen, though we did enjoy the foggy landscapes. Even the absence of animals never stops the photographers.  One of the best parts of going on a “photo shoot” is the seemingly endless variety of people, equipment, and clothing at the site.  Thousands of dollars of specialized cameras pointing at beautiful but otherwise empty places. Lots to look at.

Fog at Cades Cove

Later in the day, we traveled on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, and enjoyed the waterfall called “the Place of a Thousand Drips.”

We then dined together at the wonderful Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge, TN.

10-23-18 – We returned to Cades Cove, hoping to see deer, and we were rewarded by a flock of them.

10-24-18 – We had said goodbye to our workshop group the night before, and skipped the final shoot at sunrise this morning, because we needed the sleep, and had laundry and provisioning to do before we entered the Smokies on our own (staying in campgrounds for 2 nights). We drove our RV on another mini-loop around Cades Cove before heading to the lovely Cades Cove RV campground for an overnight. Stu baked delicious fresh bread (from scratch, of course – unusual in an RV) and we dined in style on the bread, plus marinated chicken cooked with onions and bell peppers. RV travel does not have to be “roughing it.”

Freshly baked bread in an RV

10.25.18 – Our final mini-loop around Cades Cove, right next to the campground, was a lovely drive.

Then we headed for the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, Clingman Dome. The views from the Visitors Center were breath-taking.

View from Clingman Dome Visitors Center

I stayed at the Vistors Center while Stu hiked up the strenuous trail to the highest viewpoint, the Clingman Dome observation post.

The view from the top showed why these are named the Smoky Mountains.

Stu’s view from the very top of Clingman Dome

After the ascent to the Dome (and descent too), we headed for our second campground inside the Smoky Mountains National Park, Smokemont campground.

10.26.18 – We left Smokemont and drove to Bryson City for an afternoon train ride on the Great Smokies Railroad, a beautiful ride through the Nantahala Gorge of western North Carolina.

Stu got the best photo of the Gorge.

After the train ride, we drove to the Happy Holidays RV Park, near the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).

10-27-18 – The morning was quite foggy, but we could see beautiful foliage through the breaks in the fog, which was gone by noon.

Looking Glass Rock

We spend the night at the Lake Powhatan RV campsite in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

10-28-18 – Our destination was Greenville SC to visit my wonderful cousins Hedy and Rick Dreskin and my amazing 97-year-old Aunt Jeanet. After a tasty and healthy frittata and salad luncheon at Hedy and Rick’s, they gave us a tour of their wooded “garden,” which seemed to be the size of a football field. Hedy is a certified “master gardener,” and the tour was impressive.

Jeanet, Rick, and Hedy

Our next stop was at Aunt Jeanet’s home, where she has her art studio. She has been a professional artist all her adult life, and we were privileged to see her work on all her walls, and the studio where much new work is underway. She even showed us how she prints her own lithographs – a very talented and skilled and gracious lady. It was such a treat to be at her home with her.

Our overnight was a late arrival at the Colleton State Park SC, just a place to sleep on our way to Jekyll Island GA.

10-29-18 – We checked in at the Jekyll Island Campground and headed for the pier.

A spin around the Pier parking lot

After sunset photos, Stu grilled lamb chops, our one “traditional” meat meal of the trip, and corn, and Joan made a fresh salad, kind of a trick when we are traveling. We sat down at a picnic table at water’s edge next to the pier to dine. As we finished dinner, a little raccoon came ambling over to the table. He had no fear. I yelled at him to go away and he just kept coming. Stu picked up some metal utensils and banged them together loudly, until the raccoon turned and headed the other way – and we got everything safely back to the RV.

10-30-18 – We left beautiful Jekyll Island and drove to St. Augustine FL for a crab cake and jambalaya lunch at the Reef Restaurant on the ocean. Then we traveled to Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area campground on the ICW near Flagler Beach, where we took a long walk along the beach before calling it a day.

10-31-18 – We walked over to Flagler Beach Pier to take our final sunrise photos.

Flagler Beach pier

Then it was time to head home. We stopped at Daytona Beach for a walk on the boardwalk near the historic beach racing site,

had lunch in Melbourne with our good friends, the Glenns, and went home. The end of a very special trip (but I think I always say that).