We are living our dream. We have been traveling the country in our travel trailer for the past seven months visiting state and national parks. With COVID-19 ever present, we take precautions by following social distance guidelines. We wear a mask in public, and other than the necessary trips to the grocery store we pretty much stay to ourselves. On rare occasions we will dine outside if we see a place with ample space between tables. In our minds it’s been a safe lifestyle during the pandemic.
However, for the past six days we’ve been in Grammi’s hometown. If you’ve read our last post, you know we were there to attend a funeral for Grammi’s aunt. It was a small service limited to just the family. Afterward we all gathered to reminisce and share all the food spread out on all the tables. Close contact during this time of grieving was simply unavoidable.
The events of the past few days has intensified our desire to go home. We miss our children. We miss the grand kids. Although we see them almost daily using apps like FaceTime, Zoom, and our newest favorite…Marco Polo, we’re feeling a little homesick. Simply stated…we need a hug! We’re not going to rush home though. We’ll take two weeks to make sure we didn’t catch something.
Our first stop after leaving the family farm was an uneventful two nights at Horseshoe Lake RV Campground in Indiana. It is a Thousand Trails campground built around several small spring feed lakes. As is true with most Thousand Trail Campgrounds, it is mostly seasonal or full time campers. We stayed here last year on our way to the family farm. There really isn’t much to do around the area, but it worked well for us as a place to stop for one or two nights. There is no cost to us with our membership. Check-in was easily done over the phone so there was no contact with anyone. We spent our time going on walks around the lakes. We didn’t leave the campground.
From Horseshoe Lake RV Campground we drove five hours south to Diamond Caverns RV Resort and Golf located in Kentucky. Not far from Mammoth Cave National Park, this is another Thousand Trails Campground where we stayed last year for a few days. Although the campground is dated and the sites are too close together, the staff was some of the friendliest we met last year. Unfortunately, this year with COVID, the potluck dinners and other social activities were canceled.
We went on a couple of cave tours last year at Mammoth Cave National Park so we weren’t looking to repeat that experience this year. Besides, the park service is only offering a limited number of self guided shorter version tours at this time. There is still plenty to do above ground though. You can paddle the Green River or you can hike or bike the many miles of backcountry trails. We opted for a couple of hikes.
Our first hike was the Heritage Trail Loop located near The Lodge at Mammoth Cave. It is an easy boardwalk and paved trail through the woods. The 0.8 mile trail passes by the historic entrance to the Mammoth Cave and continues to an Old Guide’s Cemetery, where Stephen Bishop, an African-American slave who became famous as an early cave explorer and tour guide in the mid nineteenth century, is buried. The trail continues around the loop to Sunset Point that offers an expansive view of the Green River and the beautiful valley below.
Next we drove to the Cedar Sink Trailhead located 7.2 miles from the visitor center on Park Boundary Road. This was a lovely 1.8 mile out and back hike to a sink hole showcasing stunning vertical cliff walls. The first part of the hike was a gentle rolling trail through the forest. When we came to a fork in the trail…we took it. (Remember the Yogiism quote “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”) Anyway, it doesn’t matter which way you go, it’s a loop. More than 100 stair steps make for an easy climb down but the climb back up took some effort. Be sure to spend time exploring the side trails while in the sink hole. We found great views of an alcove. We also found a viewing platform overlooking the creek. We were deliberately leisure walking along this trail and still managed to complete it in 1½ hours. We saw maybe four other people on the trail. I would give this hike high ratings.
After two nights at Diamond Caverns we continued south to Marion County Park Campground near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Located on the Tennessee River, this is a hidden gem. We didn’t get a waterfront site, they were all full, but we had a great view of the river from our site just a little ways up the hills. For $20.00 per night, I was quite happy to stay there for two nights.
We did venture out to Chattanooga, keeping in mind our intent to stay away from people. We feel we don’t have to stay locked inside our camper to keep socially distanced. I mean after all, it’s what we’ve been doing for months now. We went to Bluff View Art district. We didn’t go inside anywhere. We just strolled the sidewalks admiring all the outdoor art.
We walked across the Walnut Street Bridge. Built in the 1890’s, it’s one of the oldest surviving bridges crossing the Tennessee River. Today it’s a popular pedestrian bridge connecting downtown to the Tennessee Riverwalk.
For lunch we went to the Look Out Winery and sat outside on a terrace with a magnificent view of the river. Grammi and I each sampled a flight of their local wines and shared a pizza baked in an authentic wood fired oven. I was so glad not to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again.
The next morning we drove to another campground for an eight night stay completing our self imposed two week isolation. Carolina Landings Campground is your typical older Thousand Trails campground with seasonal campers that I’ve described so many times before. Although the campground may appear nearly full, it remains pretty quiet during the week. It comes to life on the weekends as people stream in to their “get-aways” on Friday night.
We went exploring a few times during our stay. One day we drove the western part of South Carolina Scenic Highway 11 where we saw a sign for u-pick apples. Always eager and willing for u-pick, Grammi shouted her enthusiastic plea for me to turn in the direction the sign pointed. Thirty minutes later we found ourselves in the middle of an apple orchard toting a bucket of apples we just picked from a variety of trees. Along with the half bushel of apples, we also bought some homemade apple cider vinegar and a jug of cold apple cider.
Next we went to Chau Ram County Park where we sat and enjoyed the view of Ramsey Creek Falls. The forty foot falls was not all that impressive but it was still a pretty place to visit and explore.
We then drove to Stumphouse Mountain Park where an easy hike took us to the top of Issaqueena Falls. Now we’re talking, at 200 feet, this is pretty impressive.
Also located at this park is the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel. The digging of the tunnel started in the 1850’s to connect Charleston with the midwest. It was never completed as the Civil War caused the end to its construction. An old flat railroad car is on display outside the entrance to the tunnel. We climbed on top like a couple of kids.
The next day we went to Station Cove Falls near Walhalla, South Carolina. It’s a 1.6 mile out and back hike to a beautiful waterfalls with plenty of rocks and boulders to sit on. We sat on a large flat rock at the base of the falls and enjoyed the spectacular site.
We went for another drive a couple of days later to Cashiers, North Carolina. We wanted to see what the autumn colors were looking like. We weren’t the only ones with that idea. The town was very crowded and traffic was heavy. We stopped at a farmers market called The Market Basket. It was decorated for fall with pumpkins stacked on hay bales and dried corn stalks leaning against the porch railing. Colorful flowers displayed near the entrance invited us to come inside. We bought a few items but we mainly stopped to take some pictures.
From Cashiers we drove Highway 64 toward Highland and I remembered a hike we went on about twenty years ago. I drove right to the trailhead. Wow, that’s a really good memory I thought. The memory of the hike was a little less clear. After all it has been twenty or more years ago. Whiteside Mountain Trail in the Nantahala National Forest is a two mile loop trail with nearly 600 feet of elevation gain. The hike starts up an old logging road through the rhododendron leading to the top of the mountain where there are several overlooks along sheer cliffs with vast panoramic views. The trail continues for about a half mile along the edge of the continental divide (that’s the part I didn’t remember) before descending down a series of switchbacks. The views were breathtaking as the falls colors were beginning to appear. I bet I heard Grammi say, “Wow! This is a nice hike,” about a half dozen times. It was a nice hike.
The last couple days it rained at the campground as the remnants of the last hurricane passed by. Thankfully it stopped and we hooked up the camper and headed south again. We went as far as Fort Valley, Georgia before stopping at a Boondockers Welcome site for the night. Boondockers Welcome is an app that connects RVers with people that offer an overnight place to stay on their private property. We hadn’t used the app to find an overnight place since the beginning of this adventure and I find it funny that we use it again for our last night before getting to our daughters’ house.
We started this adventure March 1 by stopping at our daughter’s house. We’ve come full circle. We have so many wonderful memories and we’ve seen some really amazing sights the past few months. But nothing compares to what we saw when we pulled back into her driveway the next day. Our granddaughters were sitting on the front porch steps. Their mother had her arms wrapped tightly around them. When we came to a stop she let go and they came running toward us. IT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SIGHT OF ALL! The swell of emotion was overwhelming. Seven months is a long time. Needless to say…we got our hugs.
Until next time…happy days and safe travels.