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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

It is a full day’s drive from Pigeon Forge, TN to Diamond Caverns, KY.  Diamond Caverns RV & Golf Resort is located just outside of Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky.  With all of the Cave Systems that riddle this part of Kentucky, you sometimes wonder if you will just fall through the earth as it must look like Swiss cheese just below the surface.  The TT park here was acquired with the Mid-Atlantic purchase.  When arriving at the park, don’t be alarmed by the fact that there are no RV’s visible from the registration building.  The park is up an unmarked road that is located across the street from registration.  The registration building is bright and pretty and is located in the same parking lot as Diamond Caverns, a privately run caverns.  The clerk at the desk directed us to the campsite, and once in the campground a camp host helped us find a very nice and suitable site.  The park has two sections of 50 amp. and a larger one of 30 amp service all with full hookups.  It is well maintained and has good drainage (which we appreciated as the rain continues to plague us).  We were able to get wifi (Milenecom/Verizon) and Direct TV without a problem, however, most of the state of Kentucky is roaming for Verizon.  This is of little consequence if you have a Verizon contract, but since we have been trying to cut back on our phone bills, we are using Verizon’s $50/month unlimited service without a contract.  Unfortunately, this means that we are subject to a roaming charge at 20 cents a minute.  Therefore, we made few phone calls, but texted a great deal as roaming did not apply to texting.  The park has a pool (not opened yet) a workout room, a hot tub (closed), basketball courts, walking trails, and a nice miniature golf course.  It also has a nice golf course that is open to the public across the road and down a bit from the park.  We occasionally had a hard time finding someone in the office, but after complaining the manager and camp host stopped by to let us know how to get a hold of them.  We appreciated their prompt responsiveness and it more than assuaged our concerns.  We would probably give this  park a 10 on the Moore scale of 1-10, but since the pool and hot tub were both closed, we have to award them with a solid 8.  Here are a few pictures of the park.

The Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor’s center is just a short drive from the park and we had a wonderful time visiting the cave.  The Cave is the largest in the world with over 365 miles of surveyed passageways and another 600 miles that geologists believe are not yet explored*. In addition to the underground wonders, the surface areas of the park should be explored.  The park was named a World Heritage Site in 1981 and became the core area of an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990*.  It boasts 53,000 surface acres of land.  There are self-guided and ranger led tours both above and below the surface, bicycle trails, walking trails, bird watching etc.  Plan on spending at least a few days for exploration.  Here are a few pics.

After you have seen the park, plan on moving on as there is not much more in the immediate area.  There is a Walmart in Glasgow, KY about 15 miles away and a few small restaurants in Park City or Cave City, but your best bet for shopping and dining is in Bowling Green, KY about 20+ miles south of the RV park.  We went over to the Walmart a couple of times, and while there Lynda had her first (and apparently last) White Castle.  She supposes that it is an acquired taste … but kept biting past the burger.   Here’s a picture of Kim savoring the oniony 2X2 treats!

Until next time, keep doing what you love.

*From the Mammoth Cave National Park Brochure

*From Mammoth Cave Brochure – U.S. Department of the Interior

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pigeon Forge & The Smokey Mountains

A quick hop over the Appalachians on Interstate 40 brought us to Pigeon Forge, TN.  We looked at numerous campsites, including those associated with our various memberships, but finally settled on Creekside RV Park because the membership parks were either too far away, under construction, unable to take a reservation, or had reviews on RV park reviews that were unacceptable.  Creekside is a “pay as you stay” park and cost us $195.33 for six days.  This price includes the extremely high Tennessee tax of over 13% … so don’t be fooled by lower quoted rates that do not include tax.  We don’t usually stay in parks of this sort, as we prefer our much more affordable membership parks, however, Pigeon Forge had been a favorite of my parents, so I wanted to see what the attraction was (more on that later).  The park itself was satisfactory.   We had a very nice pull-through site ($2 extra per night for pull through) with 50 amps, a cement porch, and good free wifi.  There was a pool, but it was closed and there were not any other amenities … just good basic parking.  The staff is friendly and very helpful, both with finding the right site and with information on the town.  There is a free trolley that will pick you up at the front of the park and take you into town (and back again), but we didn’t use it.

Since we left Branson at Christmas rain has followed us all over the South, and Pigeon Forge was no exception.  It rained three of the six days we were there.  Our first impression of the Pigeon Forge area is that it is a duplicate of Branson, Mo.  If offers many of the same shows such as: Dixie Stampede (owned by Dolly Parton in partnership with the Herschend Family Entertainment under the HFE division - The Dollywood Company), Redneck slapstick comedy, murder mystery theater, etc. as Branson.  However, we did not see the same high-end entertainers (Oak Ridge Boys, etc.) that Branson hosts … at least not during our stay in late April/early May.  The town does have considerably more kid-friendly attractions including arcades, go-cart speedways, water parks, and assorted carnival rides.   If our kids were still at home, we would choose Pigeon Forge over Branson, which caters to an older crowd.  Of course Pigeon Forge has Dollywood (formerly Silver Dollar City - Pigeon Forge) while Branson boasts Silver Dollar City… once again a draw.  We took advantage of the many places to eat including Smokey Mountain Brewery … a great place for sandwiches, fries and beer.  We split a Reuben with water … very nice, if on the pricey side.  We enjoyed our visit to the Mellow Mushroom Pizza restaurant.  We split the large, house special pizza.  Ate half of it then and got another meal the next day.  It ran around $25 for the pizza … tax and tip brought the bill to $33.52 (remember the extremely high Tennessee tax!).  Mel’s Diner was a nice place for dinner (and breakfast if you get there before 11 a.m.).  I had the meatloaf sandwich and Lynda enjoyed a chilidog.  It is a fun place with a great 50’s theme including appropriate 50’s music and lots of neon.  We ate on Monday night at Carino’s Italian special.  On Mondays you can get the family sized platter for the price of the regular meal.  The family size will feed four easily.  We split the spicy shrimp and chicken with penne pasta and still took home enough for lunches for the next two days … this is a great deal and Carino’s  is a chain with stores across the U.S.  Here are a couple of pics.

On the fireplace at the Mellow Mushroom

Kim at the Mellow Mushroom

Mel's Diner

We drove to Smokey Mountain National Park and stopped in at the Visitor’s Centers at Gatlinburg and Sugarland.  Sugarland is the main Visitor’s Center and is worth the stop.  It has a very nice display of flora and fauna in the area and the rangers are available and willing to answer any questions you might have.  We took the Little River and Laurel Creek roads to the Cades Cove Loop Road.   This is a beautiful drive with plenty to see and many pull-offs for sight seeing.  Cades Cove is an 11 mile-long one-way loop that takes you by many historic homes, churches, and a small replica village.  It is very interesting as you can visit any or all of the homes along the way.  In addition, the village has a blacksmith shop, gristmill, and visitors’ center.  We saw deer and wild turkeys on our visit along with numerous smaller bird species.  We considered the Smokey Mountain National Park trip the highlight of our visit to this area of Tennessee.  Here are a few pics.

Deer are found all over the park

Typical two-story  cabin

Air Conditioning

Baptist Church

Methodist Church

Grist Mill - Outside

Grist Mill - Inside


Cantilevered Barn

Blacksmith - Note lack of chinking provides ventilation

Another two-story house

Beautiful scenery

Gatlinburg is altogether different from Pigeon Forge.  While Pigeon Forge caters to families, Gatlinburg is definitely aimed at adults.  There is a place to sample whiskey and another to taste moonshine and the main street is lined with shops that would drive any kid to whine … antiques, souvenirs, jewelry, etc. etc. etc.  Parking is expensive in Gatlinburg running from $5 to $15 depending on how lucky you are.  We drove off the main road thinking we would get a better deal and pulled into a $10 lot … we turned around and pulled out.  We finally found the $5 parking in a lot under the Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery.  Since we were there already, and we planned on staying in Gatlinburg for a few hours we sampled the moonshine.  They offer 10 samples of various flavors …  we did not try them all … we are too lightweight and experienced for that.  After walking around town for a couple of hours we returned to the Distillery with sore feet and tired bodies.  We decided to eat at Dick’s Last Resort because it was handy and we didn’t want to walk anymore to find another place … this turned out to be a mistake.  Dick’s is advertized as serving its meals with sarcasm and insults.  It is located right next to the Moonshine place and is obviously there to cater to those who imbibe in too many samples.  Since we were sober, however, we found the place annoying and trashy … although they serve a good burger and fries.  In Dick’s case the atmosphere outweighs the food and we would not recommend this restaurant for anyone over 30 or under 21.

Entertainment in the Holler

Until next time … keep doing what you love.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Northwest North Carolina

The drive from South Carolina to North Carolina is pleasant and although this was a long drive (250 miles) we made it in good time and arrived at Green Mountain RV Resort in Lenoir, NC in good shape and with plenty of sunlight left for setup. Green Mountain is a Mid-Atlantic park that is now a part of the Thousand Trails system.  It is set in the Appalachian Mountains within striking distance of a number of interesting sights including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville NC & Biltmore Estates, Boone, NC & Appalachian State U, etc.  We stayed three weeks and thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  The sites at Green Mountain are separated into several sections with many of the sections up steep inclines.   In fact, the park is one big incline and most of those in the know, including staff and maintenance, get around in gas-powered golf carts.  We requested a site with 50 amp. and were give a number to choose from and an escort to show us around.  Most of the sites are rather narrow back-in sites with cement pads and wooden porches equipped with a picnic table.  We selected site #91 and are really glad it was available.  It is located at the end of section 1 (known as the downtown section) and the back-in was fairly easy, although the coach rocked and tilted going over some uneven pavement.  Once in, we had nice fifty amp, a beautiful view of the creek and mountains, and a wonderful wooden porch.  Since there are trees everywhere we opted for cable TV.  The charge was rather steep at $40.00 for our stay.  Wifi and phone service are difficult to get in the park with some sections having a bit better reception than others.  We found it easier to leave the park and go into nearby Lenoir to make calls.  Green Mountain’s staff is friendly and the maintenance department works very hard to keep the park nice.  On the negative side, it is hard to find a suitable site, especially for a big rig and the cable is a bit high.  We would definitely stay at this park again and give it a solid “8” on the Moore scale of 1-10.  Here are a few pictures of the park.

For those of you who follow our blog, you know we really enjoy eating out.  Of course to cut costs, we always order water to drink (a savings of $4 - $5), and split a meal when we can (another ½ off the potential bill).  In Lenoir we ate at Mayflower Seafood (made a mistake and didn’t split … seafood doesn’t do that well as leftovers and there were copious amounts of leftovers … should have split but eyes were bigger than stomach).  Their fish is excellent and their portions are good sized.  Of course we ate at the ubiquitous Waffle House (I can make a meal of the hash brown special for $4.50).  Fatz restaurant serves a good burger but we didn’t care for the fries (too fat – we prefer the thinner fries).  In Hickory we ate at the Old Hickory Taproom in the downtown area and split a cheeseburger with chili and slaw on it … good, but a bit strange.  We really enjoyed the homemade chips.  One of our favorite stops became Cookout.  They feature over 40 flavors of shakes … luckily we moved after three weeks to save us from ourselves.  We tried Fumiyoshi Japanese Steakhouse in Hudson … they had screaming fast wifi, but mediocre food.  Also on the poor side was Hong Kong Palace in Lenoir.  The last place for a cheap meal was the Coffee House where we each had a foot-long hotdog with fries for $6 total.  On the more expensive side was the Sagebrush Steakhouse in Lenoir.  We split the rib eye, loaded baked potato, and wedge salad ($19 without tip).  The steak was delicious, but the service was poor … a bit too pricey for poor service … we would not return.

We took a series of daytrips north to Blowing Rock, Boone, Grandfather’s Mountain, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The scenery was spectacular on the Blue Ridge Parkway with newly blooming flowers, and deciduous trees budding out with numerous shades of green.  The Dogwoods were in full bloom and the whole area was lovely.  We stopped at the Visitor’s center in Asheville for information.  Down the road from the Visitor’s Center is a wonderful folk art museum with artisans performing and a large display of Appalachian Folk Art on display and on sale … don’t miss this one!

Blowing Rock is a great place to stop for lunch on the way to Grandfather’s Mountain.  We ate at Storie Street Grill and split a sandwich of turkey, smoked Gouda, bacon and tomato supplemented with Yukon chips and a bowl of beef stew on our way out.  Grandfather Mountain is a wonderful place to visit.  There is an admission charge ($15 each), but it was worth it.   The museum about ½ way up has excellent displays and is very well done.   Also at the museum location is a fudge shop (had to stop) and the wildlife habitats.  The swinging bridge doesn’t really swing, but it does sing and offers spectacular views of the entire area.  On the way back we stopped at Six Pence Restaurant & Pub for coffee and pie.  The pie was Irish bash pie, made with Bailey’s Irish Cream and was excellent … the coffee was ordinary.  Unfortunately the bill was extraordinary ($14 including tip), so we probably will not return.  Boone is a nice little town.  The downtown area is a lot of fun to browse and has the feel and look of Boulder, CO in the sixties and seventies.  There are a lot of artists of all types and skill levels, but it is fun to browse the unusual offerings.  Boone has numerous small restaurants, but we stopped at Cracker Barrell (delicious as usual).

We spent a very full day at Biltmore Estates and saw 42 out of the 250 rooms.  This tour took around 2 ½ hours and was made more informative by the audio narration we purchased ($10 each).  The Estate is well worth visiting, but plan to spend some money.  It cost us $108 for admission and that is the cheap price you get for purchasing 7 days prior to your visit.  Following the house tour (no pictures allowed inside but below are a few outside pics) we took on the extensive gardens.  The tulips were in full bloom and beautiful!  We ate at The Stable CafĂ©… as the name implies the old stables have been converted into a really nice restaurant.  We split the Carolina Sampler for two (ribs, chicken, and pulled pork supplemented by greens, cheese grits, and cole slaw).  It was tasty and as inexpensive as most everything else on the menu ($30 plus tax and tip).

A few miscellaneous items here at the end.  We got Cody, our faithful companion, groomed at All God’s Creatures, Great and Small in Lenoir.  Unfortunately, the groomer had a problem with directions and our Shih Tzu looks like Frank the pug in Men in Black… not a pretty sight … but hopefully he will grow back into his Shih Tzu self.  We also switched from Verizon Mifi to Millenicom.  We were paying $120 for 14 gbs and now are paying $70 for 20 gbs.  In addition, Verizon seemed to find a way every month to put us over our allotment and charge us outrageous overage costs.  We also decided to turn in both of our smart phones for a month to month unlimited text and talk plan for a fixed $50 per month.  So for those of you who have our phone numbers … use Lynda’s number as that’s the one we kept.

Until next time … keep doing what you love.