Monday, September 30, 2013

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

On our last full day in North Carolina, we had no set plans other than letting the kids do the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Junior Ranger program.  Many years ago, when we lived in Florida and camping was something we did only on weekends and holidays, we would go up to the Smokies twice or so each year.  We didn't know anything about the Jr. Ranger program then, so even though we've been to that particular park many times, this was something new for the kids to do there.

Since we were staying in Cherokee, our first stop was at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.  We have the annual National Parks Pass, but we didn't need it...admission is free.  However...the Ranger told us because admission is free, the Jr. Ranger books aren't (??).  Huh.  Ok.  So...we paid $2.50 per book, which isn't a huge amount of money, it was just strange.  Are lots of the parks this way?  I hope not...

Fees aside, the Ranger that showed us where to buy our books and then went over the age requirements with the kids was really friendly and nice.  She pointed us in the direction of the Mountain Farm Museum, which was right behind the vc, to start our Jr. Rangering.

I loved this place!  It is a museum that consists of an old homestead cabin and all the different outbuildings and such to go with it.  Wouldn't you love to live in a place like this...

...and have a garden like this...

...a barn like this one...

I think it would be so much fun :)!  Nowadays, anyway, with modern conveniences to go with it ;).  The best of both worlds!

One of the things the kids were required to do was identify a variety of trees.  We all enjoyed this and spent a crazy amount of time walking the shady path along the stream in front of the cabin with our heads tilted back and our eyes focused upwards at the leaves above us.  The books had identification guides in them to help us out, thankfully :).

Next, we drove the road that goes through the park from North Carolina to Tennessee.  We didn't go all the way to Gatlinburg, TN, this is very touristy and not what we were in the mood for on this day.  We just drove around for a while, admiring the scenery, and finally decided to stop at the state line pull off area to stretch our legs for a bit.

The elevation was just high enough that the temperatures were cooler and it had that "mountain feel" that I love so much. 

The kids had to check out a viewing tower...little sillies :)...

Right next to that was a sign marking a portion of the Appalachian Trail.  Only 1,972 miles to Katahdin, Maine.  We've always wanted to visit Maine.  Better get to walking, kids...

The next place we stopped turned out to be way more interesting than anticipated.  Mingus Mill...we had been there before and I just remembered it being an old grist mill, you see it and that's it.  Well, if you take the time to follow the path along the stream of water that feeds the mill it really makes the experience so much fun!

As my husband pointed out, there was a lot of work that went into making the sluice for the water to get to the mill.  The entire thing was leveled, sloped, and lined with wood...

We were the only ones on the path, that's always nice :).  The kids were free to explore and just be kids without having to worry about getting in anybody else's way...

The sound of running water is so soothing, isn't it :)?

Inside we found a very nice attendant who was happy to show us the workings of the mill (it all still works!).  You can actually buy bagged corn meal that they grind right there in front of you, pretty neat :).

that's corn meal coming out of the spout into that bin

To see the turbine (water powered) that runs the stuff inside, you have to go under the mill.  Yes, under.  Eeekk!  I would have happily skipped this part, but all 5 of my kids darted under there and so I went along after them.  Ya'll...the whole entire building is held up by stacks of rocks.  For real...

(okay...i see at least ONE timber brace, too...phew!)

I didn't stay under there very long.  I may have promised snacks to get the kids to follow me out ;), hehehe.  Actually, that is what we did next.  A quick stop at the vc to finish up the Jr. Ranger books and it was time to go find some food.  We ate some burgers at a little place in town, the kids did some shopping (they bought pea shooters...what was I thinking???), and then we went back to our campground for the kids to play outside and for me to do some laundry.  Yay.  I do have to say, Cherokee KOA has very affordable machines...only $1 to wash and the same to dry :) (the things that make me smile these days, ha!...).

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Unwinding in Cherokee, North Carolina

Our first day in Cherokee, North Carolina, was spent at home...aka our current campground:).  We were all pretty tired from the push of getting everything in order to go back on the road, so a low key day was just what we needed to recharge.

We didn't leave the campground, but we certainly weren't lacking for things to do.  The Cherokee/Great Smokies KOA was awesome.  Because we were there in September we pretty much had the place to ourselves...their peak times are the summer months when school is out and October when the leaves are changing through Thanksgiving, so we hit it just right :).

To start our day, Dan made us a yummy breakfast of blueberry pancakes.  Remember all those blueberries the kids and I picked a few months ago?  Well, our RV freezer is about the size of a small ice chest and the berries filled it to the, there has been some serious blueberry eating going on over here to try and make room for any other foods we may want to keep frozen.  Pancakes, smoothies, cobblers, and plain frozen berries for a snack.  We've still got at least a half dozen quarts to go through...a good problem to have, I suppose :).

After breakfast, Dan took the kids to the pool to swim while I stayed behind to finish putting away and organizing the last of our things.  This is something I enjoy, making our home functional and comfortable (and hopefully nice to look at, too), so I was grateful for the time alone to really focus on my doings.

a little sneak peek at the changes we've made to our interior...

...i'll show ya'll more soon :)

When they were done with their swim, we all grabbed a lawn chair and vegged in our little yard under the shade trees.  So.....nice!  I can't remember the last time that all 7 of us have been completely content to just sit quietly and rest like that.  No books, no games, nothing.  Just happy to be together and enjoying the beautiful surroundings :).

Hungry tummies ended our resting time, as they have a tendency to do.  I can't remember what we made for lunch...probably sandwiches or something similar.  Rested and refueled, the kids had energy to burn.  Out came the scooters and their new 4-square ball, they played with those while Dan washed the camper and both of our vehicles.  I supervised...hehehe ;).

We only have 2 scooters and 1 ball for the 5 kids to share.  We learned a long time ago that less is once again more.  If all 5 each have their own, they aren't nearly as appealing to them.  Give them a couple to share and take turns with, and they will play with them way more!  As parents we want to give our kids everything we can, sometimes the best thing we can give them is simply less (when it comes to material things).  So anyway, they took turns with the toys but they also played with good 'ole sticks and rocks :).  I love watching them explore nature and find simple things (like a seed or stick) to play and imagine with.

practicing his fire making skills ;)

The kids had spotted a giant chess set on their way to/from the pool earlier.  They all wanted to go play, so I walked over with them while Dan washed (and washed...) getting all the nasty love bugs off of our camper.  The chess board was made out of tiles and the pieces were huge!  The kids all enjoy the game and really got a kick out of the size of it :).  A tournament of sorts commenced with Tristan taking the lead up until the last round when Trevor claimed the final victory...

Just as we were wrapping up our chess tournament, Dan finished up his stuff and walked over to join us.  He had told us earlier about a little wooden bridge leading to a path in the woods that ended at a creek.  We had a little bit of time before it was dark, so we all headed over to check out the path.

with the camera set on auto (green box)...not so good

simply turning the flash off...way better!  **i so need to learn more about my camera**

Days like this are awesome :)...I love this lifestyle!