Thursday, April 5, 2012

Springtime in the South

I need to resolve to make an effort to write more often. It seems like yesterday that I updated this blog, but looking back, I see it has been almost ten days since my last post. Part of the reason is that we have been in some remote places without internet access. In the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina cell phone coverage was spotty, at best.

The day after visiting the Little White House, we stretched our legs with a long hike in the FDR State Park. The Wolf's Den Loop trail took us through a variety of landscapes, from low hollows with a small stream and towering Rhododendrons to high dry hardwood forests with tall Long Leaf Pines. Along this 7 mile trail, we passed through areas where a tornado passed through just a year ago. The destruction that we saw was dramatic. The wind snapped large trees as if they were tooth picks and toppled even larger ones. Needless to say, we were impressed.
Numerous waterfalls

Tornado destruction
Twisted by the twister

While we were at FDR State Park, we met two brothers, John and Jack White, who were also camping there with their Airstreams. They told us about an Airstream only RV park, Top Of Georgia, in the town of Helen. They also recommended a scenic route to take that would take us around Atlanta. Driving the back roads was like taking a stroll through a beautiful garden. Flowering trees and bushes abounded everywhere.

We arrived at Top Of Georgia late in the afternoon and received a warm welcome from the caretakers and the other couple camping there. This campground is restricted to members of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI), an Airstream owners association. Members pay only seven dollars a night to stay here. The campground is maintained by the Georgia chapter of the WBCCI, and they do a great job. Situated on a small stream we enjoyed the babbling of a small waterfall alongside our site and a picnic table right next to the water in the shade of flowering dogwood trees.

Just a mile up the road, in the Chattahoochee National Forest,  we found the Indian Graves Gap Trail at the Andrews Cove Campground. The 1.7 mile trail climbs about a thousand feet to join the Appalachian Trail at the gap. We followed the trail south for about about three quarters of a mile to Tray Gap. We had hoped to be rewarded with a sweeping vista of the valleys below, but this high plateau between the adjacent peaks was wooded. We were able to get a glimpse though because the trees had not yet leafed out at this elevation.

The next morning we said goodbye to Top Of Georgia and crossed into North Carolina headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway. We turned onto the Parkway just north of the Soco Gap. This stretch of wonderfully scenic road was also the steepest and curviest of anything we had experienced so far. But, the views were wonderful, especially since the trees were only beginning to bud out. The different colors of greens and reds of these just forming buds created a wonderful mosaic of colors on the mountains and in the deep valleys. This portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway took us to the highest point on the road at 6,047'.

Blue Ridge Parkway highest point

Blue Ridge Mountains

At one point we saw a sign warning of the road closure 37 miles ahead. Checking, the map, we found a road that would allow us to get onto a parallel road and then rejoin the parkway further on. However, as we approached that side road, a the driver of a car passing in the opposite direction flagged us down. He warned us that we definitely did NOT want to take our rig down that road. He said that the curves were to tight for any trailer and tow vehicle longer than 30 feet, and if we tried we would either get stuck or scrape the trailer on the rock walls on the curves. We rechecked our maps and found another road several miles back that got us safely onto the road we desired.

We rejoined the parkway at Asheville, N.C. and immediately went to the visitor's center. We learned that none of the campgrounds had opened for the season. However, since we were in a National Forest and there were no posted signs to the contrary we decided to boon-dock. We found a small parking area just a few miles from the visitor's center that was just large enough to park for the night. The next morning we stopped and visited the Folk Art Center situated just north of the Asheville Visitor's Center. The Folk Art Center was begun in the 1930's to preserve the folk art of the southern states and to provide income for the people that made this art. Today, artists are accepted by juried membership. We were particularly impressed by some of the sculptures done in wood. Before leaving, we made sure to get the latest information on other road closings and suggested detours.
The Folk Arts Center - sorry no pictures allowed inside

The next detour was 110 miles ahead with a detour onto US 221 west of the parkway then onto I-77 and finally onto I-81. We stayed on these roads for about 190 miles even though we could have re-joined the parkway just 100 miles further along, however I was getting tired and it was afraid I might not be able to sustain the concentration needed to tow the Mary Joan on such steep winding roads. At Buchanan, N.C. we found a road that appeared to be an ideal route back onto the the parkway. However, when we turned off of I-81 we saw signs warning that SR 43 was not suitable for large trucks or RVs. I stopped at a gas station and found two men who lived in the area and asked about the road. They said it wasn't as bad as the sign implied and that many other people with RVs had traveled on that road without incident. They told me that if I went slow and was careful I would be all right. We took their advice and had no problems except that I must have come a little to close to the bushes on one very tight turn for I found a very small scratch in the clear coat on the curb side of the trailer. Hopefully, it should be able to be buffed out.

By the time we rejoined the parkway, it was getting late. We found a turnout for parking at the trail head that leads to Falling Water Cascades and boon-docked there for the night. Boon-docking on the Blue Ridge Parkway was pleasant. There were no bugs and very little traffic in the late afternoon. We didn't hear a single vehicle pass by after dark.

The next day we continued driving on the parkway until we crossed the James River then we exited at Indian Gap to make a little better time. We wanted to visit Monticello and Montpelier, the homes of President's Jefferson and Madison. We stayed at the KOA campground just south of Charlottesville and very close to Monticello. We toured Jefferson's mountain top home the next afternoon. In addition to the house tour, we joined the Garden Walk Tour and the Slave Tour. All of our guides seemingly had encyclopedic knowledge of Jefferson and the history of Monticello. In addition, the weather could not have been finer. Once again, we enjoyed brilliant sunshine that showed this beautiful place at its best.
Jefferson's Monticello

The following morning we left the campground with the Mary Joan in tow since Montpelier was more than 20 miles to the north. We found that at most major tourist attractions there is almost always bus and RV parking, so we felt that we could be more efficient on our trek north by towing the trailer. As at Monticello, we had an excellent guide for our tour and once more we had perfect weather. In addition to visiting the mansion it is possible to hike on the many miles of trails present in the forest on the plantation. Sarah, Scout and I took advantage of the fine weather and walked through the old growth forest. The red bud and dogwood trees were in bloom as well as many spring wildflowers such as the jack-in-the-pulpit.
Madison's Montpelier
Old Growth Forest at Montpelier

Crossing the Blue Ridge, we headed north and west on some small roads heading for Pennsylvania. The weather didn't look to appealing at home so we decided to delay for a few days. Sarah and I have wanted to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater, in southwest Pennsylvania for a long time. Wright house, Kentuck Knob. Since we were within a days drive we decided that would be our next destination. We found Ohiopyle State Park to be perfectly situated right between the two properties. Upon our arrival at the park, we learned that the campground would not open for another two weeks and they would not let us dry camp within the park (dry camping is when one doesn't hook up to electricity, water or sewer). Luckily, we found a private campground a few miles from the park. Scarlet Knob Campground wasn't officially opened, but its owner, Will Scarlet, said he had three sites with electricity but no water. Since our water tank was full we didn't need the water and told him we would gladly stay at Scarlet Knob.

We arrived at Scarlet Knob on Tuesday and the Frank Lloyd Wright houses are closed on Wednesday, so we hiked the Baughman Trail. It is 1.7 miles to the Baughman Rock which overlooks the Youghio River Gorge, the deepest gorge in Pennsylvania. The trail guide described the hike as strenuous, but for people accustomed to hiking in New England, we would describe it as moderate. The view from the top was well worth the climb.

We visited Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater today. But, I will write about that on my next post.

Stay tuned.