Today involved a lot of driving and not a lot of walking (not ideal as I could definitely have done with walking off the burrito I had for lunch!)
So as you already know, we visited the graves of JFK and his family at Arlington this morning then drove past Mount Vernon. We didn’t stop as it would have cost $40 and there were 12 coaches and 10 school buses so to say it was going to be busy was an understatement!
We then began the 8 hour drive to our campsite in the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. We stopped for lunch at Taco Bell as Nathan seems to have become rather accustomed to the soft tacos here! We also proceeded to purchase some sleeping bags from Walmart as if you recall our last camping trip wasn’t the most successful. Whilst looking for a Walmart. I say to Nathan “there’s one if you come off on the 311.” “Wait what side of the road are we on.” “Right.” “What side of the road would we be on if we were on the other side?” “Left”. “Right”
I’m sure you can figure out which one was me in the above conversation 😂.
We crossed the border from Virginia to Tennessee as the Great Smoky Mountains straddle the bored between Tennessee and North Carolina. Our campsite, Smokemont was in North Carolina. The drive was absolutely stunning and they even had viewpoints on the highway to stop and take in the views. They also had plenty of “runaway truck ramps” which was a ramp at a slight incline, covered in sand that branches off the main highway, designed to stop trucks who are going too fast out of control down the hills. I understand the concept behind them, just not sure where they go once they’ve stoped as there is just a big drop one end, and another potential out of control truck coming up behind you….
We grabbed some snacks from the gas station when we filled up and then finished our journey to the campsite. Not before driving along the worst road that we have come across so far…if you can even call it a road. It was more like a gravel track full of rocks and dips where at times your wheels weren’t even on the ground! To top it off the corners were so tight! The sat nav said we had 17 miles to go…surely not 17 miles of this! It definitely sounded like some serious damage was being done to the undercarriage of the car.
Nathan is sat saying he’s Colin McRae and I’m there saying “slow down” or “move away from the steep slope” right next to me! Thankfully, it was only a mile we had to endure it for…albeit it felt like 17 by the time we returned to civilisation! The Bluepark Ridgeway is probably the most scenic drive we have done so far! You can see for miles as you meander along the road, keeping your eyes peeled for elk and bears! We only stopped once on the way to the campsite as we wanted to pitch the tent before it got dark but we did see elk grazing on the side of the road!
We got to the campsite at about 8pm and had no idea whether there were any free sites. I asked a guy filling out a permit how do we know if there are any free sites? He said we just had to drive around and see if there’s ones without permits on. We found one pretty quickly, C5. I forgot to bring the permit from the “check in.” Whilst Nathan was pitching the tent (I got the easy option 🙊) I walked back to check in to fill out the permit. Took a note of our car registration And walked back to check in. Forgot to bloody site number so back I walked to the car. When I had finally filled everything in I walked back to check in and posted our permit and money. By the time I got back to the car the tent was up 😊.
Dinner consisted of salt and vinegar Lays crisps and some water. We hadn’t purchased the relevant materials to make a fire yet as we’re still in the novice stages of campers 😂. Maybe next time? Nathan was watching a series called ‘The Ranch’ on his iPad.
I can tell you now, there is nothing better than falling asleep with the moonlight above you, listening to the gentle strum of a guitar and the deep tones of a harmonica with birds singing every now and then. It was truly truly blissful. And the sleeping bags worked wonders. A decent nights sleep was had by all after 545 miles!
This morning consisted of another trek through the woods to get our juices flowing 😊. Most of the campers had already left by the time we packed everything in the car so we sauntered around the campsite before stumbling upon a nature trail. It was only a 3/4 mile loop but it was steep and narrow and we were, as we had been since we arrived, on the lookout for the animals that inhabit these lands. Coyotes, bobcats, otters, elk and bears! None were seen though 😔. We even pondered where the animals were at this time of day, where they lived, how do we know they exist here? All really philosophical questions for 930 😂. We did see what to me looked like a bears scratching post though…until Nathan pointed out it was just where the tree had fallen, and the rest of the tree was lying on the ground in front of it. Observant me! 😂
The trail took us over mountains and up into the trees. You couldn’t see anything except for the trees as we were climbing and it looped round taking us back down to the river. I’m actually sat here typing getting excited because the photos just don’t do this place justice. The sky is bright blue, the odd wispy cloud dotted here and there, the sun is beaming down, colours are brightened, it is just beautiful.
We drove back along Bluepark Ridgeway, avoiding the dirt track we arrived on last night thankfully! We pulled into the visitors centre, which had all kinds of information on the Smokies as well as a gift shop, toilets and nature trails. We stopped at the viewpoints along the way. First overlook, Thomas Divide 3735m elevation…Big witch overlook 4160m elevation. So much green and blue! Below is the Lickstone ridge overlook, elevation 5150m.
As we were driving out of the Smoky Mountains towards South Carolina, we can across a 9-storey tower which was allegedly the most photographed view of the Smokies. We stopped here paid our $1 and climbed the 9 flights to reach the top…You’re probably thinking all these photos look the same but as I said, no photos do this place justice. It truly is so beautiful! My third favourite place so far, and we mastered the campsite 💪🏼.
Our journey now continues for 4 hours to South Carolina…