Pride RV Resort is in Maggie Valley, a valley between the Smokey Mountain Range and the Balsam Mountains about 25 miles from the TN border. It is a 5 star resort right on Jonathan Creek which is running pretty high. I was surprised there were so many Rvs here but we are parked at the very end of a row so not too close to anyone. The first day here we had chores to do - laundry, cleaning, etc. and it was pouring and cold.
The next day we had to go to the post office and then - guess where - Wall-Mart to return some stuff. Bob then decided we needed to go to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park Visitors Center which was fairly close. The Great Smoky Mountains are the southwest part of the Appalachian mountain range which is the oldest range in the world. On our way to the Oconaluftee Visitors Center we went through Cherokee, NC, which is on the Cherokee Reservation. The Visitors Center included the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of 19th century farm home and buildings, that was really interesting.
The next stop was at Mingus Mill which is one of two water-powered mills still in operation at the park. It was built in 1886 which replaced a mill powered by a conventional water wheel that had been built in 1790. The Mingus Mill is powered by a unique turbine that operates by water moving through its vanes, developing eleven horsepower at 400 RPM, rotating a vertical shaft that powers all the machinery in the mill, along with taking less space than a water wheel. It also has the advantage of lower maintenance. The turbine gets its water through a horizontal flume that feeds a vertical flume, the bottom of which is attached to a large horizontal pipe that supplies the water to the turbine. I had trouble walking that day so Bob walked down and the millwright was actually grinding wheat into flour which meant Bob had a great time.
After leaving Mingus Mill we decided to try and go to the highest point in the park, Clingman’s Dome. (the highest peak in the Smokies at 6,643 ft. and actually in TN by about a mile or so). It is also the 2nd highest point East of the Mississippi and the highest point in TN and 2nd only to Mount Mitchess in NC, which is 6684 ft. While we were at the Visitors Center, the ranger told us the road to Clingman’s Dome was closed that morning due to ice on the road, but didn’t know if it was still closed. Since the sun was out we decided to see if it had opened yet and it was The road is pretty steep and crooked, but it was a beautiful drive and we ran into snow about halfway up. I thought I had seen mountains, but the Smokies are undescribable and since it had snowed the night before made it seem more unreal. When we got to the top there is a scenic viewpoint and the snow was still very much in evidence. We got out, but it was cold (28 degrees) and the wind was blowing, so a few quick pictures and then we headed back down. We were very happy that we decided to try the drive as the scenery with the snow was spectacular - there is just no describing it.
Blue Ridge Parkway - The Appalachian Mountains extend from Maine to Georgia and the southern portion includes the Blue Ridge, a mountain chain extending from Pennsylvania to Georgia. In 1935 the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway was built, which ends at Cherokee. We only went on a short portion of it. After the Smokies I didn’t think I was going to be impressed - wrong! It was pretty awesome. The southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center. The northern end is at Rockfish Gap, near Waynesboro, Virginia, We started at the southern end (milepost 469) and had to quit at Soco Gap (milepost 444) as the road going north from there was closed due to ice on the road. If the road opens before we leave we will try to cover some more of the Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the United States. It connects the Great Smokey Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park, running along the ridges and crests of the southern Appalachians. After we got off of the Parkway we headed home. We still got home before dark.
The next day we discovered the Smoky Mountain Trains Lionel Train Museum in Bryson City, NC. Bob was in 7th heaven. We were headed somewhere else when I ran across it in one of the brochures. So It was a change of plans and on to the Trains. On the way to Bryson City we stopped for lunch at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel located on the Cherokee Reservation (no alcohol). It is huge with 3,550 machines and tables, 4 restaurants, plus a 1500 seat pavilion with top name entertainers. It is very attractive and the food was delicious, but I lost $10 in 5 minutes. Their “Texas Tea” slots are entirely different than ours and I couldn’t figure them out before losing.
After lunch, we went on to the museum, which features a collection of 7,000 Lionel engines, cars and accessories, including pre-war, post-war and modern trains. There is a 24' x 45' operating layout that includes a freight yard holding over 400 cars, an operating roundtable with roundhouse, cascading waterfall, buildings and many animated operations. I have to admit it was really awesome. They had everything and anything for sale regarding trains, but since we have no room Bob wasn’t able to buy anything. He didn’t sulk too long though. (That’s Merry’s opinion, I’m still sulking. When you can’t buy trains, it’s a terrible day). The museum was located in Bryson City, which like all the other towns in the area, is very picturesque and tourist oriented. Since this is a narrow valley with mountains on both sides, all the businesses are located on each side of the street, so are spread out lengthwise for a couple of miles. Along the roadsides between the towns and particularly in the mountains are multitudes of Rhodies. They bloom in June and July and are supposed to be an awesome sight.
After Bryson City we headed to Cherokee, NC - The home of the Cherokee Indian Nation located on the edge of the Smokey Mtn. National Park and is loaded with crafts and history. The Cherokee were very advanced - in 1827 they established a governmental system with their own constitution, lived in log houses and had established their own alphabet that led to the publishing their own newspaper. This was, of course, before the government tried to relocate them to Oklahoma - “The Trail of Tears”. There are a lot of things we want to go back and see when we have more time. While in Cherokee, we stopped at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian that depicts artifacts, interactive scenes and talks and displays from their beginnings to present day and especially the “Trail of Tears” that was very emotional. It is the best Indian museum that we have toured. They are a very impressive tribe. The reservation is clean and well kept up. They even have a complete Cherokee Indian Village, where the Cherokees do everything the same way they did it in the 1700's. Unfortunately it is closed for the season. (That seems to be our theme song).
We stayed home one day and the next we decided to tour Asheville NC, which is a fairly large city. It is very disjointed, spread all over everywhere and very unappealing. The traffic was horrendous and parking almost nil. We finally found a parking spot and had lunch in a really interesting place that had great food. On the way back to the car we had to go into the Mast General Store which is on the Register of Historic Places. It had the neatest stuff from old-timey and traditional clothing, travel and trail supplies and rugged and casual shoes. I could have done some serious damage to the checkbook if I had been able to wrestle it from Bob. Before heading home we decided to swing by the Biltmore Estate to check out their entrance fees. We bought our tickets and toured a few things, such as the winery. We finally had enough and since we got there late in the afternoon our ticket enabled us to come back the next day, which we did.
George W. Vanderbilt traveled through NC and fell in love with this area which led to him wanting to build a became the largest private residence in America. Construction began in 1889 and completed Christmas Eve 1895. His daughter opened it to the public in 1930 and is designated as an historical landmark (it is still owned by the family). Boasting four acres of floor space, the 250-room mansion features 33 family and guest bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, an indoor swimming pool, 2 lane bowling alley and exercise room. It is filled with a priceless collection of furnishings and artworks (including a Renoir and Whistler) and equipped with every conceivable amenity, from elevators to refrigerators. The bathrooms had hot and cold water and the pool was heated which was unheard of in that era. The estate was entirely self-sufficient. Biltmore Estate is unbelievable and it takes a whole day to go through everything. It has 5 floors, but 2 can be accessed by wheelchair, so we decided that I would use a wheelchair on those 2 floors so that I would be able to walk the tour of the other 3 floors. It worked very well, but I was very self-conscious and it was very awkward because of the crowd, plus Bob is not very adept at pushing. After the mansion, we toured the grounds. The surrounding grounds are equally impressive, encompassing a 100,000 acre forest, a farm and dairy, a 250 acre wooded park, 5 pleasure gardens, a winery, an inn, 4 restaurants and 30 miles of macadamized roadways. You can tour the grounds by car, bicycle, horse, carriage, wagon and even by Land Rovers. The 5 gardens are the Italian, Shrub, Walled, Azalea and Spring Gardens. Of course, there was nothing in bloom at this time of year but the pictures were awesome. They also have there own conservatory where they grow all the plants for the estate. We went through it and bought a Poinsettia. Winery - What once was the dairy barn was renovated into a winery when they went out of the dairy business and started growing grapes. We had an informative film, a view of the bottling room, a walk through the cellars and then the tasting room - yum yum. They had some of the best wine I have every tasted, but we limited ourselves to buying just 3 bottles, but they don’t ship outside NC so if we had the room or the money I would have bought a lot more. Farm Village - The Farm Villagincludes the historic horse barn, farmyard and kitchen garden that depicts the way the estate was run back then. Another historic barn now houses the Deerpark Restaurant where we had a late lunch. It was very unique and although it was a buffet it was fine cuisine. Most of it I liked, but there were a few items I didn’t. They have a lot of receptions there and have weddings in the renovated barn next door. Close by is a horse barn where you can make arrangements for private carriage and trail rides. If we had been dressed more warmly we would have loved to have taken a trail ride. The 213 room inn also features an afternoon tea and has a formal dining room. This is to die for. The house and all the other buildings were heavily decorated with Christmas decorations, which made it more special. Along all the roadways were thousands of rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas that must be spectacular in the Spring. I almost forgot to mention that the grounds also includes a bass pond that includes a waterfall, and further down a lagoon, both of which are beautiful. Every plant and tree on the grounds were carefully planned. Part of the original estate included what is now Pisgah National Forest which was deeded to the governent in 1915.
Outside the estate he also built a village for the workers that included the cottages, school, infirmary and post office among many other things. It was designed as a picturesque prelude to the estate recreating the quaint atmosphere of an English community. The streets were laid out in a fan shape. Later the Cathedral of All Souls and Biltmore Depot were added. Biltmore Village now is home to 30 unique shops and 10 restaurants. The traffic was horrible and no parking so we just drove through taking pictures.
For Thanksgiving the RV park had a dinner that was catered and it was delicious. I still bought a small turkey so I could have leftovers, but the microwave decided it wasn’t getting enough power to work. We decided to deal with it the next day. Then disaster struck again. Around 4 am Bob got up and we had no power; therefore, no heat. We had blankets, but poor Wuzzy was ready to come to bed. Bob was so mad he would never get back to sleep and since the stores opened early he left around 6 to get a battery charger. There’s definitely a short somewhere that is draining the house batteries, which pretty much controls everything. We have to leave the charger on full blast full time and the batteries still don’t charge all the way - and they are brand new. He has written a blistering letter to Winnebago, but can’t do anything, including calling, until Mon. because of it being a holiday weekend.
Sat. we decided we had better go to Dollywood since we might have to leave here early, which at first seemed like a big mistake. We were doing fine and took the Foothills Parkway over the mountain that drops right into Gatlinburg. The road leads from there to Pigeon Forge (where Dollywood is located) through a narrow valley and we hit a full time traffic jam. Gatlinburg is a fairly large town and spread out forever and because of it being so narrow there was traffic backed up forever and it took us 45 minutes to get through town. We finally got going again and hit another traffic jam just before Pigeon Forge. It took us as long to get from Gatlinburg to Dollywood (6 miles) than it took to get to Gatlinburg (55 mi), but finally got there. There were trams to get you from the parking lots to the entrance, but since the handicap lot was the closest the trams were always full when they came by. After the first several trams had gone by we decided to hoof it. We were not happy campers (along with the rest of the people waiting with us). Then we got in a long line to get tickets only to find out a while later that we were in the wrong line. By this time we were both cranky. We finally got in and because the place is huge and a lot of walking Bob decided I needed a wheelchair. Because of it being a holiday weekend the place was packed and I am here to tell you Bob is not a safe wheel chair usher. He ran over one old man and almost 3 kids in strollers. Going downhill I decided I had better work the brake or I’d end up having a thrill ride and really hurting someone. Dollywood - It really is a fun place and we ended up having a good time. There were several shows going on, but the main one we wanted to see was Christmas in the Smokies, but in order to get we would have had to stand in line for an hour because of the crowds, so we pulled the wheel chair trick. Handicap people get in a separate entrance and don’t have to wait in line. I’m really getting the hang of this. Anyway, the show was spectacular. There were several other shows we wanted to see, but we weren’t able to see the whole park and leave at a reasonable time. The park goes on forever with a lot of tourist shops, theme food places, replicas of old time buildings and glassblowing, lye soap making, woodcarving, etc. demos. There was Valley Carriage Works where you could buy handcrafted buggies and carriages made to order, a beautiful chapel named for the doctor that delivered Dolly and Eagles Nest which is home to a lot of unreleaseable eagles. They were magnificent. My personal favorite was Dolly’s Closet which was full of the greatest clothes, but only for thinner people. I could drool through. At one end of the park was amusement rides for the kids, but Bob was too tired pushing me to let me go there. By the time was were ready to leave it was dusk and all the lights were on, which were absolutely beautiful. We wish we could have stayed for the Parade of Lights, but didn’t want to go through the canyon in the dark. As it was there were still traffic jams and it took us forever to get through Pigeon Forge. Once we got out it was smooth going until Gatlinburg. The road going the other way was totally stopped for several miles. It was slow going in Gatlinburg also, but the Christmas decorations in both town were absolutely stunning.
In fact we had to stop in Pigeon Forge for a huge display in the park. They really go all out and there were huge displays everywhere. Once we got out of town we looked for a place to eat and finally found an Italian Restaurant and the wait there was only 20 min. (as opposed to 2 hrs. in town). We were glad we waited. I had pizza and Bob had baked ravioli. Both were absolutely delicious. By the time we got home we went straight to bed. We forgot to put the charger on high and by 5 it was pretty cold so Bob had to get up. Not a happy man. The nights get in the mid 20's, but the days lately are getting in the high 60's. Quite a range, but beautiful during the days.
On Mon. we called the closest authorized Winnebago service dealers and found one that could take us Tues. am that was just 60 miles from here (Tom Johnson RV) in Marion NC. They have a huge dealership, repair facility and RV park. They found the problem. A broken circuit breaker. All that grief over a defective circuit breaker, but it was the one that controlled the inverter, micro and fridge. With our track record we decided to stay at their RV park just to make sure everything worked okay even though they charge $30 a night. Every time we have to go to a repair facility it costs us extra money with having to eat out and higher park fees. The next day we hi-tailed it back to Pride RV Park and this time we got to park close to the creek. It is a pretty creek and about the size of some so called rivers. It had rained and it was really rolling.
We were not in the least impressed with Marion and the surrounding towns. There were a lot of single wides, both being lived in and abandoned. They did have some great stores though, but since they got us in and out the same day, I didn’t have time to explore. So the next morning we headed back to Pride RV.
Sat. night we had plans to go to a Christmas dinner show here in town, but as with plans of mice and men we didn’t make it. I had been having more problems with my low back and hips that usual, but it wasn’t until I started to get dressed for the show that the pain hit. I couldn’t move or walk. I was just a carrying on something fierce. The pain was really bad and after Bob yammering at me I gave in. We found a Chiropractor that would meet us at his office, but because I couldn’t sit or lay down all he could do was put electrodes on me. They helped just enough so that I could at least walk by bending over. He sent us to the emergency clinic mostly to get the medicines I needed to relax the muscles enough so that I could lay down for him to work on me. My lowest disc has moved into a nerve and until I can lay down long enough to get an ultra sound to what needs to be done. That is the worst case scenario. With all the pills and constant icing down I will be good enough to go back to the Chiropractor Mon. If it goes well we will continue on our way to PA. If not then we will have to stay here and get the tests and, if need be, go back to Spooner to my doctor. I think with all the icing down and the hi powered pills I should be good to go forward.
In the morning, December 4, 2006 we are heading out for Champion, PA with overnight stops in Virginia and West Virginia. The weather is not supposed to be good so we will take it real easy. The temperatures will be in the 30's(high) and the teens (lows), so we have broken out the heavy coats. Before we leave in the morning Merry will go into the chiropractor for a last adjustment before leaving. So we’ll sign off for now and the next update will be from PA. Ya’all (as they say down here) have a very Merry Christmas. Before we leave behind NC - just a few more observations: The people here are some of the worst drivers we have ever encountered. They don’t believe in speed limits and love to tailgate. We have had to pull over more than once to let them by - even in the jeep. Also, NC is the 2nd largest exporter of Christmas trees which really surprised us. I was able to get into the chiropractor before we left Mon. morning and he was able to do a minimal adjustment (pinched sciatica nerve) because I still couldn’t sit or lay very well, but it eased the pain just enough (plus a lot of pain pills) so that I was able to sit for the drive here. After leaving NC our first stop was Fort Chiswell RV Campground in Max Meadows VA. which was a very nice flat campground and even though there was only one tree per camp space ours was just in line with our satellite eye, but we had cable so not all was lost.
On the way to our next stop we stopped at New River Gorge National River in WV. that was absolutely gorgeous with the rugged old mountains, gurgling streams and mighty rivers (Gauley, Bluestone and New River) and old coal-mining structures that still dot the landscape. The Teays River (the forerunner of the New River) is purported to be the oldest river in the world. We would have loved to have spent more time here as the history also includes the formation of the Appalachians and Alleghenies.
That night we stayed at Flatwoods RV Park in Sutton WV which is an excellent campground. It was clear and cold that night with a beautiful full moon. There was only one other RV there and was parked several tiers above us, but sure enough along came another RV and parked right next to us and was, of course, diesel so it woke us up bright and early the next morning. There was a nice little discount store outlet there and the book store was having a closeout sale of all its books ($2 paperback and $4 hardcover). Both of us were very low on books so that really made our day. Even though I couldn’t walk very well I still managed to get into a few other stores. VA was mainly rolling green hills and very pretty even though the trees were bare. WV was a lot more mountainous with some neat tunnels, but just as pretty even though our gas mileage really suffered. There were little towns one after another all along the route and all seemed to be fairly old, but really well kept up so was quite intriguing. It was still cold out and all the rocky hillsides were covered in icicles. The highways through VA and WV were great, but turned lousy as soon as we got into PA.