Where Have We Been?

It’s been awhile since I have blogged so I’ll update you on what we’ve been up to all winter.

We made our way down the east coast of Florida, stopping in Fernandina Beach, St. Augustine and then a really nice county campground near Melbourne Beach. Long Point Campground is on the Indian River and only a five minute drive to Atlantic Ocean beaches.

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Many of the campsites at Long Point are directly on the water.

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There were tons of birds out on the river and surrounding marshes. We saw herons, egrets, storks, osprey, ibis and pelicans. One morning I looked out our front window and could see dolphins swimming by out in the river. It was a very quiet, peaceful spot right out in nature.

The McLarty Treasure Museum was nearby and told the story of the story of the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet that was shipwrecked just off the coast in a hurricane.

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Treasures from the eleven lost ships have been recovered over the years some of which are on display at the museum. We learned that the silver pieces become tarnished and encrusted over years on the sea floor but any gold artifacts recovered are as shiny and gleaming gold as if they were dropped into the ocean just yesterday.

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The hunt for the motherlode of the lost treasure is ongoing to this day in case anyone wants to invest in the salvage company.

We stayed a few extra days, hoping to catch a SpaceX rocket launch from Cape Canaveral but after two delays in the scheduled launch dates we were forced to move inland to Arcadia, FL to our first reservation.

We spent two weeks around Christmas at Cross Creek RV Resort in Arcadia. It was a bit more expensive than our usual spots and our first stay at a resort campground but we had won a free week at the Tampa RV show last year so it was affordable. Our site also came with its very own palm tree.

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Cross Creek had nice amenities, a big pool and hot tub, tennis, pickleball and shuffleboard courts and lots of activities. We swatted the ball around the pickleball court, played a lot of shuffleboard and went to water aerobic classes a few times a week. There was music by the pool every Friday for Happy Hour.

Arcadia had just about everything we needed as far as groceries and other shopping and had some interesting buildings downtown. Most of the downtown storefronts have been taken over by antique shops making Arcadia a destination for antique shoppers.

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We spent Christmas Eve at cousin Bob and Linda’s in Port Charlotte and Christmas Day at Cookie and Bud’s, our other cousins in Port Charlotte. We also visited Mary Ann’s brother Tom and family who were visiting their son Jason in Delray Beach out on the east coast of Florida. Visiting with everyone made for a very nice holiday.

On January 1, after two weeks at Cross Creek, we moved twenty minutes north for two months at the Florida SKP Resort in Wauchula, FL. I’ll follow up with another post on the SKP Resort.

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Wauchula is in south central Florida, out in cattle country. There isn’t much going on out there except for cattle ranches and orange groves. The land is as flat as could be with miles and miles of Florida prairie and range land as far as the eye can see. We caught the end of the orange harvest with tractor trailer loads of oranges driving by on their way to the orange juice processing plants.

My sister Diane flew down from Connecticut with my Dad to visit for a long weekend in mid-January. The warm weather they were hoping for didn’t really work out. Though it was nice and sunny during the day, it was cool and windy and got downright COLD at night. We had a good time though just spending time with them.

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We spent a lot of time just hanging out at the campground but took some day trips out to surrounding areas. It seems that Wauchula is about an hour’s drive from almost anything else you really want to see in Florida.

We made a few trips to some beautiful gulf coast beaches, Siesta Key and Bradenton Beach.

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We went to Myakka State Park with Dad and Diane and took a nature tour of the Florida dry prairie and a boat tour on the lake where we saw hundreds of alligators sitting out in the sun on the shore trying to stay warm.

We also went to Highland Hammocks State Park in Sebring for a program on the endangered Florida panther. The panther population was down to about 20 individuals in the 1970’s and has since expanded to about 240. The struggle now is how to manage the expanding range of the panther population to co-exist with ranchers and suburban Florida.

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Public photo from internet

We took a long kayak trip down the Peace River where we got up close to a lot more gators including two huge monsters, longer than our ten foot kayaks, that quickly slid into the water as we passed by. Hopefully, they sank right to the bottom and weren’t stalking us in hopes of an easy meal.

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A completely new experience for us was a day at a polo match in Sarasota.

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Sarasota Polo Clubhouse

The Sunday afternoon match is a big social event with tailgating and parties. The match was exciting and competitive with the horses and riders thundering by, stopping and turning on a dime as they smacked the ball around the field with their mallets.

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Each team of four riders switch out their mounts several times during the match

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We also visited the winter home of the Royal Lipizzan Stallions in Myakka City. They put on good show/ training session and it was fun to see the skilled riders and magnificent white stallions up close.

We try to include local delicacies in our travels and made two teks to seek out some of Florida’s finest. The first was to Plant City for the best strawberry shortcake ever. Thousands of acres of strawberry fields surrounding Plant City supply the entire east coast with fresh strawberries throughout the winter months. Four dollars  bought us a big bowl with fresh shortcake and sweet, ripe juicy berries topped with fresh whipped cream. Delicious!  As we chowed down at Parkesdale Farm Market we could see trailer loads of berries coming in fresh from the fields.

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A good smoked mullet dinner is becoming a Florida tradition for us and the best we have found is at Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish in St. Petersburg. They serve up a huge piece of smoked mullet with delicious warm German potato salad and coleslaw. Throw in a frosty mug of beer and it doesn’t get any better!

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We got great news on February 25th – our second grandson was born in Richmond, VA. Hawthorne Windsor Jeffries was two days early but he and mom are healthy and happy.

We made another move about three hours north on March 1st to Wilderness RV Resort in Silver Springs, FL. Mary Ann took off for Virginia shortly after we arrived to help out with the new baby for a week or two. I’ll wait for her to get back and finish off the month of March here in Silver Springs before heading back north to spend more time with our grandsons and family.

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On to Savannah

On to Savannah! – General Sherman might have said this in 1864 after destroying Atlanta and much of Georgia on his infamous March to the Sea during the Civil War. Thankfully, he spared Savannah a similar fate as Atlanta, and instead telegraphed President Lincoln with the following message  “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah…” when he arrived here on December 22nd.

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Savannah was too valuable to the Union as a functioning seaport along with the 25,000 bales of cotton sitting in its warehouses to be burnt and destroyed. What he left behind is a beautiful small city, oozing Southern charm and grace.

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We weren’t in as much of a hurry to get to Savannah as Sherman was so we took the easy route down the coast on U.S. 17 instead of heading out to I-95. Our first stop after leaving Lake Mattamuskeet behind was Oak Island, NC. The Oak Island Elks Lodge offers free camping in their parking lot to visiting Elks so we thought we’d give it a try.

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What an awesome deal! Free camping literally three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean in a nice quiet parking lot facing a vacant field. We had a long walk on the beach and got to see the sunset. The Oak Island beach faces almost due south so the sun sets into the ocean which is a bit strange to see on the east coast. Oddly enough, we also saw the sun rise over the ocean the next morning.

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We posted some pictures of our walk on Facebook and it wasn’t long before some old friends from Massachusetts contacted us and let us know their new home was only three miles from us. Lynn and Jim were one of Chelsea’s first day-care providers so we’ve known them for almost 30 years. It was pure chance that we ended up so close to them.

We met them for breakfast the next day and had a great time catching up and hearing about their new life in North Carolina. They have a great spot on a marsh facing the Intracoastal Waterway and have enough room for us to park for future visits!

Our next stop was Buck Hall Recreation Area, a great little National Forest campground between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Buck Hall has about 25 roomy campsites and was a bargain at 20 dollars per night.  Buck Hall is also on the Intracoastal and has a fishing pier, boat ramp and a great view of the marsh and the yachts passing by on the waterway, like us, heading south to find warmer waters for the winter.

The Palmetto Trail, a 500 mile long mountain to sea hiking trail across all of South Carolina, starts at Buck Hall so we hiked a few miles of the trial through the pine and palmetto forest.

From Buck Hall it was a pretty easy drive around Charleston and further down U.S. 17 into Savannah.

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The Savannah Elks Lodge also offers camping with electric hookups for a small donation. It is an easy drive from the lodge into downtown Savannah and is a great low cost option for visiting the city. As a bonus, we met with up our friends Lee and Edie who were also on their way to Florida for the winter.

We really didn’t know much about Savannah so we took a tram tour from the Downtown Visitor’s Center. The tour gave us a nice overview of the city and its history. It was surprising to learn that James Oglethorpe, Savannah’s founder, set forth four prohibitions for the colony of Georgia. Slavery, hard liquor, lawyers and Catholics were all banned from the new colony. I guess those rules were all made to be broken.

Oglethorpe’s lasting gift to Savannah was his layout of the city’s streets. Savannah is laid out on a grid interspersed with 22 squares. Neighborhoods are centered around these squares, which are like small parks with green grass, fountains, statues, gardens all shaded by beautiful moss draped live oaks.

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The downtown historic district is great place to walk and explore because you come upon one of these little jewels every few blocks.

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We got off the tram down by the waterfront and spent the afternoon with Lee and Edie. The waterfront area is the main tourist spot in Savannah with shops, restaurants and a riverwalk on The Savannah River. We really liked sampling the pecan pralines at several of the candy shops along the riverwalk.

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Savannah is still a very active port, there was a constant parade of massive container ships heading up and down the narow river.

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Factor’s Row is also in the waterfront area. The cotton brokers had their offices and warehouses in these brick buildings and could easily walk out on to the catwalks to bid on the wagon loads of cotton that were driven along the sunken alleyway below. The price of cotton throughout the world was based on the bidding of the Savannah cotton brokers.

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Lee and Edie left us the next morning but we had plans to head back downtown for the holiday walk and fireworks on the riverfront. First we made a side trip out to Tybee Island, a great beach town only 30 minutes from downtown Savannah.

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We had time to explore some more of the squares and Forsythe Park before heading to the City Market area for the holiday walk.

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We ended our visit to with Christmas lights, hot buttered rum, carolers and fireworks.

Along the Way

We escaped the cold weather in Virginia after Thanksgiving and started another slow meander down to Florida. We are trying to take the winter off from any type of workamping, hoping to just hang out and enjoy ourselves for the winter. We’ll see how well our finances survive that idea. Our first reservations for the winter started on December 13 so we had about three weeks to play with to get to south Florida.

We stopped to top off our propane and gas tanks in Providence Forge so we didn’t get on the road until almost noon which was ok since we only had a four hour drive to our first stop in Fairfield, NC.

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Osprey Nest Campground lies on the shore of Lake Mattamuskeet out in the middle of vast coastal North Carolina farmlands. The campground is a small quiet family run place, the majority of the campsites were taken by seasonal or permanent campers with a few nice level sites left for transients like us along with a few duck hunters and fishermen.

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Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest natural lake in North Carolina, 18 miles long and 7 miles wide with a long causeway splitting it pretty much down the middle. Unbelievably, the entire lake averages only 2-3 feet deep. We stopped at a viewing area about halfway across and soon picked out a bald eagle sitting atop a distant patch of trees.

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The lake was purchased by the U.S government in 1934 and is now the home of Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. It is a major wintering site for migratory birds on the Atlantic Flyway. November and December are prime months to view thousands of ducks, Canada geese, snow geese and tundra swans that overwinter here.

The refuge has several water impoundments separate from the main lake where massive amount of birds can be viewed from the road. Other impoundments are closed to the public during this time so the flocks are not disturbed.

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The impoundments were teeming with a wide variety of birds and their cacophony of calls filled the air. Most noticeable was the honking and squawking of the huge white tundra swans. Long V-shaped flocks of 10-30 swans were constantly swooping down with their long necks extended to land in the ponds or awkwardly running and flapping across the water to gain enough speed to take off to feed in the surrounding farm fields. We sat for hours just watching and listening to this amazing gathering of nature.

Try this short video we posted on Facebook,  you may have to play with the volume settings in the lower right corner.

The weather was brisk but bright and sunny for our two days here. We went for a few hikes along the shoreline of Lake Mattamuskeet and drove around the lake to see more of the countryside.  Many of the enormous grain fields surrounding the lake were dotted with hundreds upon hundreds of snow white tundra swans.

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Lake Mattamuskeet is a bit off the beaten path but is a worthwhile stop along the way to warmer weather.

 

Visiting in Virginia 

We arrived back in Virginia on November 3rd for a long awaited visit with Chelsea, Damon and especially Duncan, our grandson. We were able to stay at the Forestry Center in Providence Forge again, it is becoming our second home since we are often in the Richmond area. We had the volunteer campground to ourselves and really enjoyed the quiet, peaceful setting surrounded by Eastern Virginia’s peak fall foliage.

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It was great to see Jeff and everyone else at the Forestry Center again and we helped out a little to earn our keep. I did the last lawn cutting of the year around the office and Mary Ann did some cleaning and some filing for Lisa at the office.

I also had the chance to help out at a deer hunt for disabled veterans which the Forestry Center has hosted since 1994. The day started at 6 a.m. with breakfast as the hunters arrived. There was a drawing to assign hunters to their deer stands and the vets all moved out to their deer stands around 8. Deer hunting with dogs is allowed in Virginia so the dog handlers kept the deer stirred up and moving to give the vets a better chance.

It was only twenty minutes or so before we heard the first shots and one of the guys bagged a nice 9 point buck. That first one ended up being the biggest deer of the day.

I ended up helping out with gutting, skinning and quartering all of the deer that were brought in through the day. I worked all day with Mac, a retired biologist from the Virginia Division of Game and Fish. He was a real character and it was a fun day listening to his stories from years of studying deer in the field. He had done this a few times before and said his record time for fully skinning out a deer was 58 seconds.

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Everyone took a break for lunch. One of the local churches volunteered their time and served up pulled pork, barbecued  chicken and lots of delicious side dishes. They even put together gift bags and hand made pillows for all of the vets to take home.


There was a lull in the action right after lunch but several deer were brought in towards the end of the day. It was a successful day, the guys ended up taking  ten deer and one coyote. They really seemed to have a great time spending the day outdoors and some were lucky enough to go home with some fresh venison. They were really appreciative of everyone helping out and it felt great to do this for them.

We had the chance to bring Duncan down to spend the night with us so Chelsea and Damon could go out for the night. It was fun to have some one on one time with him and he was a lot of fun. He has changed do much since we last saw him in May with lots of new words and personality.

We did our job as grandparents giving him cookies for breakfast. We went for a ride and he got to see the trains going by and look at all the big trucks and equipment. Trains and trucks are Duncan’s current passion. He even got to play on a real caboose that is on display up by the office at the Forestry Center.

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We spent a lot of time up at Chelsea and Damon’s house helping them with their kitchen remodel project They finally have a useful functional kitchen in time for the holidays but there are still a lot of final touches to finish up.

We ended our visit spending Thanksgiving with the Jeffries family up in Fairfax, Virginia. Damon’s aunt and uncle, Jeff and Lisa, are wonderful hosts and treat us like we are part of the family. It’s so nice to spend the holiday with friends and family even though we are away from home.


We were planning to move on the day after Thanksgiving and that’s a good thing since temperatures plummeted down to 26 degrees, our last night was a chilly one even with all of our heaters running. With temperatures like that, it’s time to go and we started our slow meander down to Florida in search of warmer weather and new things to see.

The King

No, not Elvis. 

The other king, Richard Petty.

1984 STP Pontiac, Richard Petty’s record setting 200th win


 Driving across North Carolina took us through the heart of old school NASCAR country. This is where many of the original NASCAR drivers lived and developed their skills and knowledge of how to build and drive a fast car from hauling moonshine.

The Petty Enterprises race shop was based in the small town of Level Cross, NC next door to the Petty’s home. The famous racing compound is now home to the Petty Museum, which we visited after leaving Ironhorse. We camped at Hagan Stone Park, a county park in nearby Pleasant Garden and headed over to Level Cross in the morning.

Lee Petty was there at the beginning, driving in the very first NASCAR race at Charlotte, NC in 1949. Lee, driving his 42 car, was also the winner of the first Daytona 500 and three Grand National championships. It wasn’t long before son Richard followed in his footsteps, starting his own driving career in 1958. The rest is history as Richard Petty became NASCAR’s most successful driver with 200 wins, seven Daytona 500 wins and seven championships.


The Petty’s prepared their first cars in the Reaper Shed, an old farm building with a dirt floor. Richard and his brother Maurice eventually poured the concrete floor themselves. The building remains and houses a re-creation of what Lee Petty’s shop might have looked like. It is now a designated historic landmark.


The area under the peaked roof is the original Reaper Shed, it has been added onto many times over the years as the race team grew.


The rest of the museum houses many of Richard Petty’s iconic and most successful race cars along with trophies, memorabilia and items from Richard’s personal collections.



Plymouth Barracuda drag racer from the 1965 season when the Petty’s boycotted NASCAR in response to the Hemi engine being outlawed by NASCAR.


This 1971 Roadrunner Richard drove to 21 victories including the Daytona 500.


Early Daytona 500 trophies.


Ten NASCAR championship trophies won by Petty Enterprises, three by Lee and seven by Richard.

1974 Dodge Charger, one of the first STP sponsored cars. It took a lot of negotiation to convince the Petty’s to paint their cars anything other than the traditional solid Petty Blue.

Richard’s last race wasn’t very successful. The engine area went up in flames as he wrecked on lap 94. The crew managed to repair the car and get it back on the track for Richard to take his final checkered flag. He finished 35th in his last race.

Four members of the Petty family have been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame:

Richard Petty, driver.


Lee Petty, driver.


Maurice Petty, engine builder. Richard’s younger brother.


Dale Inman, crew chief. Richard and Maurice’s cousin.


Richard’s SVO Ford Taurus, he was on site when we visited but was busy in the office, unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to get one of his famous autographs.


Our visit to the Petty Museum was well worth the minor detour we took to get there. It was cool seeing many of the cars we had gotten used to seeing all through our years of going to the races and being reminded of the years of history and accomplishments of this family that has always been dedicated to racing. 

Cade’s Cove

We woke up to a beautiful crisp and cold fall day after working our last shift. The sky was a bright clear blue and the mountain tops had a dusting of white from last night’s snow. We went over to the lodge where a fire was roaring in the fireplace to warm up and have our breakfast.

Instead of spending such a nice day packing up we took a drive over to Cade’s Cove, an area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that we hadn’t visited yet.

Our route took us over the Tail of the Dragon one last time and up the Foothills Parkway. The parkway runs along the ridgeline and there were still remnants of the light snowfall we had received.

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We could see across the valley to the distant mountains still covered in snow. It was a pretty drive with the snow accenting the fall foliage.

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Cade’s Cove is a wide valley ringed by tall mountains and was a thriving community back in the mid-1800’s. It was once home to approximately 700 people mostly living off the land on small farms.

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There is an eleven mile loop road that circles the outer edge of the Cove. Some of the open fields have been maintained providing great views and opportunities to see wildlife out in the meadows. We saw lots of deer and some wild turkeys.

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Several churches and homesteads have been preserved from when the Park Service acquired the land in 1934.

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Methodist Church

The first homestead on the loop road is the John Oliver Place. The log cabin was built in the 1820’s and remained in the same family for over 100 years.

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We took our time meandering along the road, stopping for a few short walks to see the churches and homesteads.

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Primitive Baptist Church

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Elijah Oliver Homestead

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There are restrooms and a small visitors center/ gift shop at Cable Mills. The grist mill is original to the site and was the social center of the Cove where farmers would meet up when they brought their corn in to be ground into cornmeal.

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Cade’s Cove is notorious for being overcrowded with bumper to bumper traffic crawling along the road. Though busy, we didn’t find it too crowded. It took us over three hours to travel the entire eleven miles and was very enjoyable.

We stopped for some delicious gourmet coffee on our way home and enjoyed our last awesome views of the Smoky’s at Lookout Rock back on the Foothills Parkway.

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It was a great way to spend one of our last days in the mountains before packing up to head back to Richmond.

End of Season

The season has wound down at Ironhorse. October 31 is usually the last day of the season but since that was in the middle of the week they decided to stay open through the following weekend. We have hosted large groups every eeekend in October and our last group was the Women’s Freedom Ride. It was supposed to be over 100 people but with cold and rain expected for the weekend it turned out to be about 60, mostly women. I wish we could say that dealing with the women as guests was easier than the guys, but no, the guys are much easier going and friendly.  Our last few dinner services were pretty relaxed and fun though. Serving Saturday night prime rib for 60 was much easier than the 100 or so we had gotten used to. 
The next day was bitter cold with temperatures in the high 30’s. The fall foliage was at its peak so I walked around taking a few last pictures as snow flurries started up. 


That night was forecast to go down to 26 degrees so we filled the water tank, unhooked and drained the water hose and brought our whole house water filter in to avoid any damage from freezing water. The plumbing on the rig is unheated but pretty well insulated so should be ok until the temperatures drop below freezing for a sustained period of time. 


Our last dinner service was Sunday night, we cooked fish and chips and chicken sandwiches for 21 people, most of which were employees. With very few reservations for the following weekend we were free to leave whenever we were ready. The season was done!


Ironhorse turned out to be a great opportunity for us. We really enjoyed our time there. Owners John and Charlene were wonderful to work for, generous, friendly, easygoing and helpful. They treat everyone like family. They said this years Workamper crew was their best ever. Everyone was dependable, did a good job and was willing to help out with whatever needed to be done. We all got along together well and there was no drama. Al and Tyler were our main helpers in the kitchen and by the end we had a well oiled system where everyone knew what needed to be done and helped each other out to be efficient and put out good food for the guests. They were great to work with.


Staying in the Smoky Mountains was also a great experience. The mountains are beautiful and we explored many of the small towns in the area. We had a lot of fun white water rafting in the Nantahal River. The area’s reknown as a mecca for motorcyclists is well deserved. The roads are unbelievable. As time went on, we started exploring some of the back roads snaking through the valleys and up over the mountain gaps and they were just as good as the well known routes like the Tail of the Dragon and Moonshiner. Best of all we met a lot of great people. We got to know our co-workers and some of the Ironhorse guests very well and enjoyed our time with them all.

We’ll spend a couple of days packing up before we head down the road, back to Virginia, to spend a couple of weeks with family. 

Little Tennessee

Fall weather has finally arrived in the Smoky’s. Although we haven’t had a frost yet, morning temperatures have dropped down into the 30’s. Monday was a crystal clear day with highs in the upper 60’s. It was a perfect day for a ride on the bike with a short hike thrown in.

We headed down Needmore Road which meanders along the Little Tennessee River and is an alternate route to Franklin, NC. There is a short section where the road turns to dirt but it’s not too rough and still rideable on the Harley.

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About halfway down there is a cool little suspension walking bridge. The double span bridge stretches 275 feet across the Little Tennessee. The bridge was built in the 1950’s to give residents of the village of Needmore access to both sides of the river in this isolated location. The power company bought up all the land for a hydropower project that never materialized and the village eventually disappeared.

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The bridge swings and bounces as you walk across it and with only a four person limit you have to wonder if the old weathered boards will really hold.

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We did make it across and had a nice walk down the dirt road on the far side.

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The fall colors are starting to show depending on the elevation. They leaves still have a way to go down in the valleys but we doubt they can rival the bright reds and oranges we are used to seeing in New England.

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After our walk we continued on our ride through the Nantahala Gorge on a nice twisty road along the river. We ended up staying out a little too long and with the sun setting behind the mountains it was cool and shady. By the time we got home we were pretty well frozen but had some nice hot soup waiting for dinner that helped warm us up.

Our time here is nearing an end with only two weeks or so left to the season. As promised, October has been pretty busy with large groups coming in on the weekends. We have consistently serving right around 100 dinners for our Saturday night prime rib dinners.

We were treated to an end of season party at the casino up in Cherokee. We had a nice lunch at Brio, an Italian restaurant, with Ironhorse owners John and Charlene and twelve other workampers and local staff members. It was very nice to be appreciated and thanked for all of our hard work and to celebrate a successful season. We have been working with a great, friendly group of people who all seem to work well together and get along well.

 

 

Wanderings

Here are some pictures from our random wanderings around the Smoky Mountains.

The Cherokee Tribal Museum in Cherokee, NC had a well designed telling of the Cherokee story, including the Trail of Tears, from past to present.

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The Nantahala Outdoor Center, site of the 2014 Freestyle Kayaking World Championship, is the hub for rafting and kayaking on the Nantahala River. They have a restaurant overlooking the river and a kayaking practice course set up on the river.

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Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower – Highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a unique spiral ramp up to the observation platform. We were here on a nice clear day and could see forever once we survived the STEEP (I mean REALLY STEEP) walk up the path to the top of the mountain.

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Clingman’s Dome Visitor Center

 

Sunburst Falls passes under Route 215 through this stone arch bridge.

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Saco Falls near Maggie Valley.

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Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

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Bald River Falls near Tellico Plains, TN

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Unique diagonally sided barns in the neighborhood around Ironhorse. We stopped and chatted with an old farmer who said the siding was put on that way for added strength and bracing for when the barns were loaded up with the burley tobacco harvest. Tobacco is no longer grown here, since the government subsidies were cut off,  leaving the farmers without a decent cash crop.

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An Appalachian log cabin in a beautiful setting.

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The Road to Nowhere during Scott and Sandy’s weeklong visit. The road was started to provide access to the south side of the National Park left isolated by the construction of Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake. The project was abandoned and the road stops at the end of this enormous tunnel just a few miles in from Bryson City. The only access to the National Park past here is by boat or on foot.

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We visited this winery, just over the Georgia border, with Scott and Sandy. A nice afternoon in another beautiful setting with good friends.

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We also toured the Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum in Maggie Valley with Scott and Sandy. They had a mind boggling collection of antique motorcycles and memorabilia set up in interesting displays such as this vintage Harley dealership which was moved and rebuilt inside the museum. They had a wide variety of bikes including board track racers, hillclimbers, speedway and flat track racers, 1970’s choppers and some of the rarest production motorcycles found anywhere. It is worth a visit if you are anywhere close to here.

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Dry Falls near Highlands, NC has a walkway that takes you behind the waterfall as it cascades off the overhanging rock cliff.

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Of course the highlight of our travels has been sharing a lot of it with friends who have come to visit. Jim Cunningham, Scott and Sandy and our old friend Monika from our college days at Virginia Tech , along with her fiance Mark were all able to make the trip and spend some time with us here at the Ironhorse.

 

Jack Daniel’s

We had another two hours or so from Chattanooga to our campground at Tims Ford State Park. The park is on another huge reservoir built to bring stimulus to the local economy through recreation and development. There were marinas, walking paths and trails and a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course on the grounds. We settled into a nice lakeside campsite, set up our tent and relaxed for a bit in the shady woods. The campground was mostly empty so it was very quiet and peaceful. 

Later on we had dinner at the Bluegill Grill which was on a built on a barge floating at one of the marinas. It was a cool little place with friendly service, good food and cold beer. It looks like it really gets hopping on the weekends when everyone is out boating on the lake.

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We packed up the next morning and headed over to Lynchburg, TN for our visit to Jack Daniel’s. We went into town and coffee and a muffin at a coffee shop on the town square. Lynchburg is the county seat for Moore County and the impressive county courthouse sits in the center of the square. It’s a quaint setting with the square lined with a combination of touristy stores, a few restaurants and some local businesses.

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The Lynchburg General Store is owned by Jack Daniel’s and features every conceivable Jack related merchandise you could imagine, except for the whiskey itself. Moore County is still a dry county so you can’t buy their famous product or get a drink at any of the restaurants. The exception is that you can now buy whiskey right at the distillery which I understand is a fairly recent change.

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The visitors facilities at the distillery are top notch and very impressive.

The visitors center has tons of information on the whiskey making process, the life story of Jack Daniel and the history of his distillery. There are shuttles that run from the parking lots to the visitors center and reserved parking for Tennessee Squires (more on that later).

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The visitor’s is where you buy tickets for the various distillery tours. There are some souvenirs available here but nothing like the general store back in town. The White Rabbit Bottle Shop at the visitor’s center is the only place in the county to buy the actual whiskey. 

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We had already purchased our tour tickets online so we had plenty of time to check out all of the displays before our assigned tour time.

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Were introduced to Jed, our guide for the afternoon, loaded on a bus and brought way up the hill overlooking the distillery.

Jed first explained the aging process, pointing out one of the many barrel houses on the grounds in addition to many others scattered throughout the county. The barrel houses contain stacks upon stacks of oak barrels filled with whiskey and left to age naturally in the varying temperatures which help force the whiskey into the wood and give it its mellow color and flavor. Summer temperatures at the top of the barrel house can reach over 140 degrees and workers are only allowed to work in those conditions for fifteen minutes at a time.

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Jed did the math for us and said that this one barrel house would be converted to millions of dollars in tax revenue once the whiskey was finished, bottled for sale and Uncle Sam took his cut. That’s not even counting the value of the whiskey sold to the consumer.

We meandered down the hill to the rickyard where stacks of hard maple are carefully burned and converted into the charcoal used to filter the whiskey. This charcoal filtering is what defines Tennessee whiskey and differentiates it from bourbon. A cannister of 140 proof whiskey is kept close by to spray on the wood and get the fires roaring along with a couple of rocking chairs to keep the crew comfortable while they monitor the fire and wait for the piles to burn down to charcoal.

The next stop was a shed housing some old fire engines. Jed emphasized that alcohol and fire are not a good mix and with all the fumes and liquid all over the place the distillery takes fire safety very seriously.  Jack Daniel’s maintains its own fire brigade with the most modern equipment.

Just beyond was Cave Spring. As we walked back into the damp coolness of the cave, Jed explained that this was the source for every single drop of water that goes into Jack Daniel’s whiskey and was the key factor in Mr. Jack’s decision to locate his distillery here.

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The natural limestone filtering makes the water pure, fresh and clean. Perfect for making whiskey. This spring is so important that a statue of Jack Daniel stands guard over its entrance. The statue is affectionately named “Jack On the Rocks”.

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We were led on through Jack’s old office building and then the main distillery where the mash is cooked, fermented, distilled and filtered through huge vats of charcoal. Jed was a great guide with lots of interesting facts and stories about the company, workers and the area around Lynchburg. It seems like a great place to work with many families having multiple generations of experience in crafting whiskey here.

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We passed by the bottling line where  bottles of Gentleman Jack were being filled, inspected and packed. Next was the Single Barrel Room where multiple plaques designate individuals or groups who have purchased an entire barrel of whiskey selected and custom bottled just for them. The cost: $9,000-$10,000 per barrel which will fill approximately 240, 750 ml bottles.

The tour ended in another barrel house where we saw the massive oak barrels lined up in rows and stacked to the ceiling.

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This is the only spot in Moore County to get a taste of Jack. The tour includes a sample tasting of five different varieties of Jack Daniel’s products.

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Jed warned us against gulping the entire sample like doing a shot, taught us the proper tasting technique and talked us through the subtle differences of each variety. Our sampling included Old No. 7, Gentleman Jack, Single Barrel Select, Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire.

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We bought our commemorative bottle of Red Dog Saloon Old No. 7 and were given a ride over to the Squire’s House which is reserved for members of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Squire Association, of which I am a proud member.

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A Squire must be nominated by an existing member and is granted a ceremonial one square inch undeeded plot of land in Lynchburg. We receive a nice calendar each year and an occasional amusing letter about maintaining our square inch so the neighbors bull doesn’t wander over or chastising us about keeping the grass mowed. If anyone would like to be nominated please contact me for consideration.

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We received some nice souvenirs, had a cool drink of lemonade and enjoyed a nice chat with our friendly hostess about the distillery and life around Lynchburg. She shared some fun stories about Squires believing they actually owned the one square inch and how the lawyer for another Squire delayed settling his estate after finding the souvenir deed for his square inch of land.

The entire experience was a lot of fun. We learned a lot and were very impressed by friendly atmosphere of our visit to Lynchburg and the Jack Daniel Distillery.