Every season I track our days and nights spent in the Silvermine, the trips out of the driveway, and the total miles on the road. This year we had just as many trips as last year, but less over-all days and a lot less total miles. I guess that means we crammed just as much fun into a lot less time and distance as last year! Here is how it all tallied up!
With unlimited sunshine predicted and peak fall colors arriving, we worked up a quick trip to Tennessee for what will probably be our last camp-out of the season. A chance to visit with my sisters and brother, an opportunity to leaf-peep in the Smoky Mountains, and an excuse to stamp some of my childhood stomping grounds -- all good reasons to head south in October.
The drive is almost exactly 450 miles (Van Wert to Elkmont Campground) and a little over 8 hours with two speedy stops. We arrived at our favorite Smoky Mountain National Park campground at 2:30. . . just enough time to set up camp, take a long hike around the campground, and head back out to Townsend for dinner with brother Richard and his friends Barb and Paula.
Monday we had another sibling social as Richard, Johanna, Beccie and Rufus all met for lunch in Maryville. After lunch we climbed the driveway to Beccie's mountain habitat to see the new puppy Barney. He was full of puppy pep and and puppy breath, and was everything a puppy should be. And I got NO PICTURES!
On the way back to Elkmont we stopped at our favorite Little River Outfitters store where Tom found new boots in the clearance room. Back in the car we drove right past Elkmont another 7 miles to my other favorite mountain supply store on the very edge of Gatlinburg where I scored a new pair of shoes. Satisfied with the day's visiting and shopping we headed back to the campground for a dinner of Cornish Hens! For the second night in a row the temperature was down in the mid 30's, and with our Pendleton wool blanket and faux down sleeping bag, we were toasty, cozy, warm . . . without electricity or the furnace!
Tuesday our ambitious plan was to drive to Fontana Dam on the North Carolina side of the park -- a place we had not visited in 30 years. And, we proposed to do so on the little-known short-cut Parson's Branch road on the back side of the Cades Cove loop road! More about that in a moment -- first we had to make it around Cades Cove loop -- in peak season -- with bears creating "jams"! The park seems to have a new strategy regarding bears -- they set up orange traffic cones and use yellow tape to mark off areas alongside the road for the bears! Mostly, these areas are under a walnut tree that offers the bears good foraging as they prepare for winter hibernation. Keeping cars moving, and preventing people from approaching the bears (duh!) are Park officials. All of this counts for a back-up of traffic that is bumper-to-bumper and moving only a couple MPH. The 4 miles to the Parson Branch cut-off took well over an hour!
The alternative route took us back out of the Cove, through Townsend, to the turnoff for the Foothills Parkway to Chilhowee Lake. We were anxious to view Chilhowee Lake (location of many of my growing-up teenage boating memories) as the lake had been drained in an attempt to fix a hole in the dam, which was built in the late 40s! The beautiful, deep, mountain lake was reduced to a shallow mud flat!
Immediately past Chilhowee Lake we jumped on State Route 129 -- the portion leading to Fontana Dam known as "The Tail of the Dragon." It didn't have that name when I was a kid -- but it did have a notorious reputation for introducing our flat-lander guests from the North to a windy, dipping, puke-producing mountain road. Now, it is one of the famous dip-and-swerve scenic roads in the USA -- 318 curves in only 11 miles. It is a favorite ride for motorcycles and little sports cars!
It is so popular that enterprising photographers set up tents on the big curves and sit all day taking pictures of every car, truck, and cycle that passes. The real problem is stopping, turning around, and getting back to the photographer to check out the picture he just took! Here is my drive-by photo of the photographer . . . taking our drive-by picture!
Most of what I remember about Fontana Village as a teen, is the little community where the teen-aged workers lived and played during their summer employment stints . . . my brother worked there several summers. I made frequent trips back and forth for the weekend foot-stomping, barn-dancing, hoe-downs. I do remember one summer when my father wondered how we managed to go through one whole set of tires on my mom's little 1969 gold, two-door Camero!
With all of those miles under our belt, we made it back to Elkmont Campground by 5:30 for a grilled steak dinner. The "other couple" in a 16' Airstream happened by and accepted an invitation for a campfire, and we spent a nice 1 1/2 hours getting to know Tom and Maryann from Michigan. Their 2015 Airstream is almost identical to ours, and they understand our preference for camping small! We gave them one of our cards, and are hoping that they will check out the blog and stay in touch with an email! Guys?
Wednesday, our last day in the park, called for egg sandwiches cooked on the Biolite/Twig stove before a trip that included the highest point in the Smoky Mountains -- and a hike! The drive to Clingman's Dome from Elkmont follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River, past the Chimney Tops and Newfound Gap, and then follows the North Carolina and Tennessee border up to the impressive observation tower that sits at 6,643 feet. Along the way are beautiful mountain vistas with valleys often hidden in thick fog.
During our last visit several years ago we had been so sad to see that a majority of the pine forest on the top of the mountain was suffering from some sort of blight. Also on that trip, the top of the mountain was shrouded in deep fog causing us to cancel a hike to the observation tower. This trip found the pine trees recovering and the fog deep in the valleys. The hike was on! It is by no means a long hike -- but it is relentlessly steep and requires frequent short stops for most hikers. The observation tower is massive and the views from the top are unparalleled.
Driving back down we had planned to park at Newfound Gap and eat our sandwich lunch. It was not quite noon, but traffic was lined up and ringing the parking lot in a slow circle -- waiting for a car to exit so another could enter. We passed that by and drove down to the mountain to a pull-over viewing spot for our lunch. It was only 2:00 as we passed by Elkmont campground, and we drove past and right through Gatlinburg, and into the tourist trap of Pigeon Forge. Specifically -- Margaritaville! We had visited this new shopping mecca earlier in the spring, and I was keen for another walk-thru.
At this point our drive took us out the other end of Pigeon Forge to the Wear's Valley cut-off to Townsend. Then, on a whim, in the middle of Wear's Valley we detoured off the cut-off to take another shortcut! This one went right over the Mountains and right into Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area -- saving at least 1 1/2 hours of driving in just 15 minutes! Thus we arrived back at the camper in time to enjoy an afternoon nap in the 0-gravity recliners before heading into Gatlinburg for supper.
I am sure that at some time in my visits to the Smoky Mountains I had begged to ride the Sky Lift to the Gatlinburg overlook- but, I do not remember every actually riding it! So, Tom and I took advantage of a perfect evening and bought the tickets for a pre-dinner ride! The ride up was visually uninteresting with a close-up of the mountain at a steady 25' off the ground -- but mentally motivating as we enjoyed feet-swinging and the anticipation of the view at the top.
Dinner at our favorite Bar-B-Que restaurant, and the 7-mile drive back to the Silvermine concluded the 4-night stay in the Smoky Mountains. Except for a spur-of-the-moment Christmas camp-out depending entirely on the weather, this winds up our 2015 camping season!
October is that time of year when we begin winding up our camping season. Usually, our end-of-the-year episode is the Airbiscuit Anniversary Rally. This year the rally had a new location, (Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Cleveland) a new time, (the first weekend in October instead of the last) and a new baby (the celebrating couple introduced baby EL to our Silver Family)! Congratulations to our rally planners Mike and Loren (parents) and Lou and Larry (grandparents) on the addition of this little silver miracle to the family. Can I just say that EL is cuter than a little silver button?
We landed at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds by 12:30 on October 1st, with chilly temperatures, but no rain. Wasting no time, we grabbed our Airstream allies and took off to patrol the area. Larry had grown up in the town of Berea, and Lou had attended Baldwin-Wallace College, resulting in a narrated drive-by of the college town and the unique little urban area tucked right into the "Crooked River" (translation of Indian Ka-ih-ogh-ha) valley.
The little town of Berea was put on the world map by it's highly rated sandstone. It is world famous for grindstones and local and overseas building.
I won't venture a guess at how long ago Larry used to patrol this area on his bicycle -- but he says it was before the instructive sign kiosks, the wooden deck river overlooks, and the paved bike paths and walking trails.
The families that had gathered at the Fairgrounds before suppertime opted to go out to eat at the local Olive Garden restaurant less than 2 miles away. The "buy one entree and get one boxed to take for the next day" special was a popular option, and plenty of us left with an OG boxed carry-out for tomorrow's lunch!
Back at the fairgrounds we officially moved into the pole barn community building that would be our headquarters for the weekend. It was complete with a large area for our crafting and chair circle, and another furnished room with a kitchen, bathroom, and eating area.
It was a nice little driving tour and we decided we want to go back sometime and see it all by scenic railroad!
We checked in at headquarters to grab lunch and to see if progress was being made on the clock craft! I have been designing the faces for these little clocks and my sister Tink has been making them for her Rpod friends. Lou and I came together to sponsor it as a craft for the Anniversary rally. I tried to design a variety of faces so that everyone could have a unique Airstreaming or camping clock. Here are pictures from our craft studio!
Knowing that the clocking was going smoothly with Lou in charge, Tom and I set out again for the West Side Market. It happened to be Friday and the market was open until 6:00. We were cautioned that much of the "good stuff" was sold out early in the morning, and many of the vendors were gone in the afternoon. Not to worry -- there was plenty of "good stuff" left!
After a beans & weenies supper and brief indoor chair/campfire circle (without the fire!) I retired somewhat early to the camper for a "first ever" in the Silvermine! That's right . . . I watched a movie on the TV! Never done that before!!! Tom stayed in his bed with his book!
It rained all night, and was still drizzling in the morning. The incentive to get out of bed was that Larry and Lou were cooking pancakes. On their big grill. Inside the dry building. Tom and I were first in line!
Then, Tom spent the rest of the morning making his chili for the chili cook-off -- outside -- in the sprinkles -- huddled under the Silvermine awning. He cooked his chili from scratch using a new recipe and cooking it in a dutch oven hanging from a tripod over the propane turkey cooker. (Might I mention that all the other contestants were heating their chili up in their crockpots in their campers?) Tom knows and understands the true spirit of a chili cook-off contest!
Judging began at 11:30 --- and as always, Tom came in 2nd! Guess what was served for lunch?
Rain continued and offered Tom and I the excuse to drive to the local theater a few miles away and see The Martian. I had just finished the book and was thrilled with it, and hoping that the movie would be as good. It was excellent. They are now crediting the movie with raising interest among school-aged kids in the sciences. That is certainly what hooked me on the book -- the use of scientific ingenuity to solve seemingly overwhelming problems. Go see it!
We dropped by headquarters to make sure the circle chat group and craft station was still going strong, and Tom snuck off to watch the Buckeyes. At 5:00 we all gathered for the silent auction raffle followed by a pot luck. In my blogs over the years I have had so many pictures of games and pot lucks that I put the camera down and just enjoyed the pow wow.
Sunday morning we were up early and heading out by 8:00. Our guilty pleasure on these homeward bound trips are listening to Rangr Bob and his side-kick "Sidemeat" as they host an hour of cowboy music on Willie's Roadshow Serrius radio channel. Can you even stand it?
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown