Friday, March 25, 2016

Doing Chores

We have but one week left at our first post in NC. Each week we’ve presented ourselves to the rangers, begging for more to do. On Wednesday, Ranger Jamie visited our campsite with a short list of voluntary projects to fill our remaining time here.

The list consists of normal camp host duties such as making the Long Arm sites presentable once more after the inaugural guests of the season have departed on Monday. We are prepared to gather trash, rake tent platforms smooth and clean fire pits.

Other items, on the list, involved helping maintenance with the bath house project, answering phones at the day use area and steam cleaning of the locker room and showers at the Paddy’s Creek swimming beach.

The Long Arm Camping area is reachable only from canoe, kayak, rowboat or small motor crafts. There are 30 primitive sites with pit toilets and cold water. I’m looking forward to the trip.

There has been many housekeeping duties to attend to during our month here. Over the five years we’ve owned this camper ( can it be that long already? ) a few things have broken, come loose or needed a little TLC and it had been next to impossible to clean in February before we left with temperatures in single numbers. I’ve made good use of my leisure starting with the bathroom and working my way forward finishing with the bedroom. All that remains are the windows.

Three of our six day / night shades had worn through their strings and Carl has succeeded in restringing two of them with good success. While he worked on the shade, I worked on those windows both in and out.

We have spot cleaned the camper outside, removing grime and in some cases, mold. Carl has spray painted the new and beefed up bumper and then there was the sudden breaking of our awning due to a hasty out of sequence closing during the rising winds. This caused us to make one more trip to the local Camper’s World RV Store where I continue to look at all the gadgets, knowing I have no room for them and drooling over the multitude of new and slightly used campers in and around the parking area.

Oh, and there was the completion of one more project. Carl built us a sign to accompany us on our journeys. I was hoping for something that read “ Carl and Valerie Hill, Whitefield, NH ”. Carl went for a more simplistic approach. It’s a work in progress.

The photo attached is an American Sycamore tree. Notice it's already camouflaged...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!


We arrived at Brahmari Brew House about 45 minutes early and decided to enjoy their homemade sodas but which one? The answer was simple. The bartender set us up with a flight, one 4 oz. glass of each, of the four handcrafted and very uncharacteristic soft drinks. Carl and I both found one of the offerings not to our liking, two of them were ok and as luck would have it, we both thought the Thai Tea to be the most enjoyable.

Our driver / hostess for the 3 ½ hour tour was Jennifer who seemed both cordial and knowledgeable about the micro brewery business as well as the history of the area along with why Asheville has become the hub of specialty brews. I opted for the non-drinker experience since I would not call myself a drinker never mind a beer drinker. I did take a sip of two or three of the beers Carl thought I would like.

Our stops included Noble Hard Cider, Catawba Brewing, Hi-Wire and Green Man, the oldest of the breweries , established in 1997. Before I go any further, I have to tell you, in previous posts, I have misspelled Catawba and I want to apologize to any who might be bothered by this. Spell check didn’t honestly know what to do with the spelling.

Our evening ended back at the Brahmari House to enjoy a burger before heading back to Lake James State Park with me at the wheel. The non - drinker becomes the Designated Driver.

Biltmore House, Asheville, NC

Blog Entry For March 17, 2016

And so it was. After having breakfast and jumping into the truck we were off for the 52 minute ( by GPS ) drive to the Biltmore House. Amazed isn’t the word for the number of people milling about the visitor center, the cars waiting in line for the estate personnel to check passes, the parking attendants placing vehicles exactly where they wanted which reminded us of Disney World, the number of shuttle buses ready to take people from parking lot to the front of the house more than 2 miles away but it is the word I would use to describe the feelings when I caught my first look at the Biltmore.

George Vanderbilt was a single man who planned for his future and took 6 years to build the more than 244 room family home which officially opened on Christmas Eve, 1895. George and Edith’s daughter Cornelia was married to the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil in 1924.

The Cecils opened the Biltmore to the public in 1930, responding to requests to increase area tourism during the Depression, and to generate income to preserve the estate. Today, fourth and fifth generations of the Vanderbilt family are involved with the day to day operations along with a staff of more than 2,000 employees.

Showcased in Biltmore House, this season, are centuries of wedding fashions consisting of movie costumes and family heirlooms. The exhibit is entitled “Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns In Film” and has been paired with exquisite floral designs complimenting each film’s era.

The tour encompasses several rooms on 3 floors of the residence along with the basement recreation area and servant’s quarter. Our tour began with the Entrance Hall, continued along the outside of the Winter Garden, a short detour through the Billiards Room and into the Banquet Hall complete with a sampling of music from the Organ Loft. This room has a triple fireplace on one end of the room, cathedral ceilings which support two massive chandeliers which I can only describe as looking like birdcages.

Other rooms on the tour were the Breakfast Room, Salon, Music Room, Tapestry Gallery, Library, Second Floor Living Hall, Both Master and Mistress Bedrooms with a joint Sitting Room, Third Floor Sitting Room, Van Dyck Bedroom, Morland Bedroom, Madonna Bedroom as well as a view of state of the art bathrooms, at that time.

I could go on about the wonderful lunch we had in the Stable Café or the immaculate gardens we wandered through but a friend once told me the shorter the blog entries, the more likely someone will read them. And yes, the Stable Café is situated in the most beautiful of “barns”. Even the horses lived like royalty.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Thursday Plans

Today, I booked us on the Asheville Brewery Tour which meets at Brahmari Brew House on South Lexington Street and visits four of the many microbreweries that have sprung up in and around Asheville. The first, of what was to become Brewery Central, appeared in 1994 while the other relative newcomers followed with the boom in specialty beers about 5 years ago. I never took into account that it was for Thursday, March 17th.

Also today, Ranger Nora gave us a pair of admission tickets to the Biltmore Estate and a 20% off coupon for souvenirs and dining. She explained she is a season pass holder which entitles her to gift two admission tickets to family or friends. She set them aside meaning to give them to family members visiting from out of town but plans changed, people got busy and suddenly, it’s March 16th . The tickets are only good through March 18th . She had even considered driving to the estate and handing them out in the parking lot. Admission to the estate is $60.00 per person. I’m seeing a trip to Asheville in our very near future.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Cleaning Up In This Town

Today is the annual Lake James Cleanup and we’ve elected to help more than 100 volunteers and 5 boats to cleanup the watershed and shoreline. This chore is made easier by the water level having been dropped over the past two weeks. One of the rangers told us the mountains, in the area, had more snow than usual and when it melts, it all runs downhill into the three rivers that drain into Lake James causing a higher than normal shoreline.

Each spring, area residents fortified by civic minded high school students and prisoners on a work release program remove tires, sheet metal, Styrofoam and anything else found in the lake that would prove to be an eyesore or a hazard to navigation. Work crews are also sent to high use areas like canoe portages and picnic sights to remove trash that has been left behind. I can’t help but be disgusted by the juxtaposition between people who enjoy the out of doors and those that are too lazy to carry out what they carried in.

My satisfaction grew with each orange bag that was cinched closed and readied for a ride back to the State Park picnic area where two huge roll off containers had been set to receive everything collected. Lunch was provided by all of the area fast food restaurants including Wendy’s, Burger King, Hardee’s, Dominoes, Little Caesar’s, Bojangles and  KFC.

An hour later, I was beginning to stiffen and could tell I had muscles that would be screaming at me by morning. I don’t care. We did good today!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Lake James Touring

When visiting any park, state or federal, one should always check the information board for activities happening during your stay. Here at Lake James State Park, the rangers publish an informational brochure available at all kiosks with details of these events. Today, we were able to enjoy one of those activities by getting out on the lake with one of the  park rangers. These hard working guys are a wealth of knowledge, not just a uniform who enforce rules.  

Once a month, Ranger Earl hosts 8 visitors on a waterfowl and wildlife tour. These tours fill quickly and we were only able to get on board because two people didn’t show up. Nature dictates what will be seen and today the Loons were camera shy although we had a wonderful view of the many nests in the Blue Heron Rookery. A check on the two eagle’s nests revealed no one at home even though high in the sky above, a eagle soared out of the reach of my camera lens. The highlight of the trip, for me at least, was spotting 3 raccoons playing on the rocks near the shoreline. All of their bandit like faces were wet and Earl thought maybe they had been searching for crayfish, a favorite of theirs.

As I’ve mentioned before, Lake James is the reservoir for Duke energy’s Hydroelectric transmission. The water level, on the lake, has been slowly dropping since we arrived. This has exposed many downed trees and miles of shoreline debris. Ranger Earl kept one eye on his depth finder since he wasn’t keen on wading this time of year to push the boat off a sand bar or free it from a snag.

When we returned to the boat launch, Ranger Clay was on hand to help Earl tidy up the boat and get it on the trailer.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Making A Check List

Over the week, we completed our cleanup and presented a list of maintenance issues to make the campground ready for guests. We were hoping the bathhouse would be finished and the campground opened before we leave but it’s not looking good.

Park Rangers have asked us to travel the surrounding communities looking for things that campers might be interested in doing while visiting the area. So far, we have identified a great Laundromat with wireless internet available in Marion. There are more than enough fast food restaurants as well as quite a few more casual dining options including what was our favorite, Golden Corral. Maybe it was the night we went or maybe the cooks were having a bad night. Suffice it to say, neither Carl nor I enjoyed the food. We’ve traveled to Morganton and attended the movies. In both towns, there are WalMarts and Food Lions for reasonable food shopping. We are too early in the season for many of the touristy kinds of things although the Linville Caverns did open last week.

Each day we get a bit more of the camper back in shape. Carl has been busy repairing hatch cover latches, replacing the water filter and tightening things that have loosened over the years, while inside, I’ve been removing several months worth of dust and generally getting things shipshape although with only 24 feet, there isn’t much ship to shape. We do, however, have one job neither of us is looking forward to and that’s the repair of our folding day / night shades. Over the five years we’ve owned the camper strings on two window shades have completely broken while a third hangs by the proverbial thread. The directions on the repair kit says “easy to follow” although it remains to be seen.

I’ve observed the stirrings of the season with the first blooms, dandelions. Daffodils are prolific but in the woodlands, not much is happening although we are noticing the Maple trees are waking from their winter slumber as evidenced by their bright red buds. And the pale but vibrant green of willows are beginning to be noticed. There are several walking trails all throughout the park, some even specifically for biking. Carl and I have walked a few of them to familiarize ourselves with the terrain should anyone ask.  We’ve just been made aware of the Fox Den Loop, aptly named for an active fox den. It’s a two mile walk but if I can get a photo or two of the little darlings, it will be worth getting up early.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Blue Ridge Parkway, Take 1

It rained in great torrents and the wind howled for most of the night and when we woke up this morning, it was only 26 degrees. Not wanting to sit around for another day without responsibilities, we decided to go north, drive some of the Blue Ridge Parkway and look for a couple of waterfalls with trails more befitting our age and general physical condition. The driving directions seamed fairly straightforward so armed with not one but two different maps, we left shortly after breakfast.

In a perfect world we would have driven to Little Switzerland, filled our gas tank, found and hiked to Linville Falls and Dugger’s Creek Falls, made our way back to Marion and had a nice lunch.  But not today. Today, we spent four hours on a fool’s errand and a cold one at that. Having snowed at higher elevations last night, the steep twisted road climbing ever higher had been salted to keep all vehicles safe. We never found Little Switzerland, I suspect because everything was closed or because we were not on the correct road. We took several wrong turns, got rerouted by Google Maps on my phone and ended up finding a Wal-Mart out in the middle of, literally, no where. Who knew?

After a couple of detours, we finally found the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the small village of Linville Falls only to discover the Parkway was closed in both directions due to snow and ice on the road. We were within a mile of the trail head
but I just didn’t have it in me after all the hassle. A quick stop at Linville Caverns was made for a few photos of the North Branch River. And I found this vine covered tree to be especially interesting.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Checking Out Our Work Detail

Our breakfast was interrupted by the rangers responsible for opening the park. Introductions were made and we chatted about our travels until maintenance arrived. The five of them, Carl included, stood around and discussed what could be done to get our water working. There were multiple comings and goings for this tool or that part until it came down to the inevitable, a state worker leaning on a shovel while the other one stands in the hole. I know, it’s almost too funny to be true but I have a photo to prove it.  Mean no disrespect to any workers, state, federal or otherwise, it just seems to always come down to that.

Just before lunch we walked the campground, checking out where each site was located and what might be needed for possible maintenance. We found several trees needing some trimming, broken and downed branches everywhere and the tent pads needing to have needle and leaf removal. Fire pits should be cleaned and there are a few water spigots that need some TLC with a little lubricant. Each site has a 12 x 15 tent platform, a picnic table, fire ring, grill and a metal box for food storage.

Water repairs completed, lunch consumed and a courtesy check in with Lisa at the day use area preceded Carl getting our water heater plugged, lines flushed and water flowing in the camper once more.