We Finally Have An Itenerary!

It’s not until Joe and I start mapping out the places we will go, that I actually start to believe in my heart of hearts that we will actually LEAVE on these crazy trips!  And last night, we started mapping it out.  So I think we may really go!  Here’s our itinerary so far. 

Of course it’s only halfway done and I’m certain that the entire thing will change 100% before we get back.  But still, here it is, yahoo!

So our planned departure date is January 3rd.  But in all honesty, even I know that won’t happen.  I mean, we will probably still be recovering from our New Year’s Eve hangovers on that date, and it’s highly unlikely that we will get our shit together in time to leave by then.  So, our fall back (much more likely to happen) leave date is January 24th.  Yeah, I know that’s 3 weeks later than January 3rd, and no I won’t by that point still be hung over (at least not from my New Years Eve partying), but it gives us 3 weeks to settle from the holiday craziness, and a little extra time to get outa here.  So for this itinerary purpose, lets say we leave on January 24th…

1/24- LEAVE
1/25- We have no freaking idea!  It’s winter, so it will probably be cold.  Thinking about bumming around TX, maybe even staying at Pecan Groves in DT Austin for a week?
2/1- ???  Texas?  Oklahoma?  Arkansas?
2/8- ???  Texas coast?  Just need somewhere not too freezing.  Ideas please!!!

Not looking like much of an itinerary so far is it?  Well it gets better!

2/15- Baton Rouge, Louisiana to visit Aunt Jil and hopefully find some other cool stuff to do around there.
2/22- Dauphin Island, Alabama to visit family friends and it’s a really cool destination!
3/1- Sugar Sand Beach in Florida (not sure which one exactly)
3/8- Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park in Florida
3/15-Somewhere in Florida?
3/22- Disney Land!!!  Loralai would never let us leave the state without seeing this one!  Also, I have an Aunt I’d like to see while here.  And my sister might come this week!
3/29- Savannah, GA- I have a cousin here and it sounds like a pretty cool town and on the coast to boot!
4/5- Atlanta, GA- Joe has an aunt here and teenage cousins to BABYSIT THE KIDS!!!!  Yahoo!!!!
4/12- Myrtle Beach, SC- heard it’s gorgeous, but mostly have to go here cause I watched “Shag” as a young girl and it made such an impression that this town made my bucket list!  I plan to learn how to “shag” here, throw water filled condoms at strangers car windows while driving, and experiment with heavy eyeliner.
4/19 It’s Easter!  And all I’ve got for this week so far is we will be in North Carolina.  Fail!
4/26- Shenandoah National Park, VA and Blue Ridge Parkway

Hopefully the weather is warming up by now, cause we are getting pretty far north!  Us Texans are deathly scared of cold weather!

5/3- Washington DC and Gettysburg stuff
5/10- Milford, Ohio to visit my Aunt Yancy!
5/17- Niagara Falls
5/24- New York City to see Joe’s family and also some train trips to Philadelphia, NJ for Joe’s work.
5/31- New Haven, Connecticut to visit Joe’s other sister.
6/7- ???  Figure we will spend a week seeing parts of all those little bitty states, you know; Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts?
6/14- Portland, Maine- Come on Nikki!!!!
6/21- Acadia National Park Maine
6/28- CANADA Bitches!!!  I know NOTHING about Canada, except what I learned from Barney making fun of Robin on “How I Met Your Mother”.  So HELP!  Plan on being there for 4+ weeks if it’s awesome.  I keep thinking, the north woods, like in “The Great Outdoors”.

So that’s all we got so far.  Tips, advice, experiences PLEASE!!!

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The Great Smokey Mountains, TN and Graceland!

This post is embarrassingly late.  Like, a year and some months late!  But, I did write most of it much sooner after taking this trip and just finally added the rest of the pictures and a tiny bit more of the story.  Enjoy.
 

After our somewhat rocky arrival, we took a day at our campground, Twin Lake RV, in Gatlinburg to relax and get settled. 

Gatlinburg is a very cute, tourist town.  The whole town mainly consists of the little shops and restaurants, all geared towards tourists, stretched out along the main drag.  There’s a big Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and an aquarium also, neither of which we visited.  Gatlinburg is also the closest, little town to the entrance of The Smokey Mountain National Park, so you have to drive down the main drag,  which is always PACKED with people walking and crossing the street and cars moving about 5 miles an hour.  It turns a very short drive into the park, into a 30 min+ trip real quick!  There was always great people watching though and the stores were all interesting as well.  We did eventually find an alternate route into the park, along the Pigeon Forge Pkwy much later into our stay which especially came in handy over the weekend with the traffic was practically at a stand still in Gatlinburg.

Gatlinburg

Joe and I’s biggest draw to take our vacation here, was of course the National Park!  So the first thing we did was load up the kids and Cody and drive into the park and visit the closest ranger station, Sugarland.  It was close to 7pm when we got to the station and they were close to closing.  We were able to walk through the small museum that showed several animals that live in the park, as well as get the park paper and map (essential items to navigate any national park).  We also got the girls Jr Ranger materials.  Our visit was so brief due to them closing, that we had some time and decided to walk around the building and found a trailhead there.  We still had some daylight and decided to walk the 1.5 mile trial.  It was a great little hike. 

Gorgeous little waterfall

The next day, we made a full day of being in the park!  We attended a ranger talk geared for the kids.  It was an 1.5 mile hike with a ranger that lead to an old, one room school house used over 100 years ago.  The ranger talked to the kids the whole time about what it must have been like to grow up in the Smokies back then and told us this was the exact trail the kids would have hiked along in those days, except they’d be barefoot.  We learned so many cool facts on that hike, including boys would often wear dresses, since they grew so fast and dresses were easier then letting out hems constantly, millipedes smell like cherry coke, little girls had the job of hauling the rocks out of the garden every spring and stacking them to make rock walls, and kids only attended school 2 months out of the year and during the winter.  Once we arrived at the school house, the ranger went over some of the lessons the kids would learn, how they would have only one book, and a notebook and pencil would cost 2 eggs at the general store.  He talked about the games kids would play at recess (stick baseball, and build stick houses, etc), and also talked about how kids were punished (switched, dunce caps, and keeping  your nose against the chalk board).  It was probably the best ranger talk we’ve ever gone to.  The kids were entertained the whole time and it was so fun to be inside a one room school house!  Maybe it’s just the teacher in me…

There was an old graveyard near the school house that we visited.  Half the graves were unmarked and another third of them were children or infants.  It was interesting to learn that it was not uncommon for people of the area to live well into their 90’s, but illnesses in infancy or childhood killed many. 

We walked back to our meeting place at Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area and ate our sandwiches and drank some of the gallon jug of water that Cody had carried the entire hike and back, and let the kids play in the river.  After that, we headed out to Cascade (one of the busiest areas of the park) to see what it had to offer.  This area of the park is mainly made up of a loop you drive that takes you past several historical homesteads and farms.  It also has some of the largest meadows in the park, so it’s a good place to spot wildlife.  I was REALLY hoping to see a bear!  Driving the loop took over an hour and we didn’t see much wildlife, but it was beautiful and I think the people watching was better than seeing a bear!

This is how some people drove around the loop!

We stopped at the major homestead on the loop and learned a lot about how people lived in this area over 100 years ago.

Unlike most of the national parks we have been to, this one did not have any grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, or any amenities beyond primitive camping, camp stores, and ranger stations.  Another major difference was that this park did not charge an entrance fee.  This all has to do with when the government purchased the land BACK from owners 100 years ago, they made certain agreements about how the park would be run, etc.  This park is unique in that it was once owned almost entirely by homesteaders, small farmers, loggers, and miners, and was actually reclaimed as a national park.   

It was a very crowded loop and took awhile to get around, but was worth the trip and although we DID NOT see a bear, and Loralai was in a terrible mood, we were glad we came. 

The next day we set out to tackle DOLLYWOOD!

But first we had to make the huge mistake of taking the Gatlinburg trolley system to try and get there.  We got on the trolley, waited at a stop for over and hour, missed our connecting trolley cause their station markings are terrible, saw a lady totally fall and eat it right in front of us, waited for our original trolley to return and 2+ hours and $4 later returned to our RV, where we all loaded into our truck and DROVE ourselves to Dollywood.  Ahhh!  NEVER AGAIN!

Don’t be fooled by the smiles and cuteness in this picture.  Our trolley experience was awful!

Parking is $10 and you are trolleyed to the front gate.  We opted to purchase the $90 package that got us 3 days at our choice of parks (Dollywood or Splashtown).  A child was $70 and 2 years and under were FREE. 

Our trip here started out a little bumpy.  Despite all the info and blogs I’d read about the place, it took us some time to figure out their systems, etc.  We went straight to one of the kid sections of the park.  The first ride we got in line for, BROKE, after we had waited for some time and we had to leave without getting to ride.  Then I went to take Bean on a ride and right as we got to the front, the man told me she was an inch too short to ride!  That’s when I noticed that all rides were color coded for height requirements and Bean was not going to be able to ride ANYTHING!  Then we tried to hunt down the real train that rides though the park and runs off real coal….it was out of service that day.  So I got a little pissed at this point!  I might have cursed Dollywood and seriously considered asking for my money back.  Luckily Joe was in better spirits than me and suggested we go eat and figure things out better.  I’ll admit, the burger and listening to Dolly music in air conditioning did help.  After that I was ready to try again.  Joe took L on some rides and I found some “baby” rides that Bean could go on.  And best thing about them….NO LINES! 

Daddy rode some of those baby rides too!
So did Uncle Cody!  Hehehe

Beyond this part of the park, Bean was actually very content to sit and ride in the double stroller we had rented for the day ($12 for a double and a nice ride), thanks to Uncle Cody who spiced up the ride with some CRAZY fast driving while pushing the girls around.  Joe and Cody (The Boys) went off and rode a couple of hair raising roller coasters while I took the girls to a splash pad.

Lu was fearless and would have ridden EVERY ride there if only she was 2 inches taller!  The only ride I was able to go on was the merry-go-round since I was obviously preggers.  Boo!  But we all ended up having a good time and we got our fill of Dolly music (that plays all throughout the park all day) for a very long time!

Whoo!  My one ride!

Joe and I nailed them with water guns as they rode by!

The next day it was back to the national  park, to a new section we had yet to visit.  We attended a Ranger program on water creatures and water quality.  It was geared to children and fine, but would have been better if we had been on time and both girls hadn’t needed to leave to go to the far away, bathrooms right as we arrived.  But whatever, we did learn SOMETHING and got credit for another ranger class (of which you need 3 to get your Jr Ranger badge).  After that we walked around an old homestead farm that was located in the same area.  It had pigs and everything!  We really enjoyed this.  It was really interesting to see how people stored their crops and worked their farms 100 years ago! 

There was also a ranger station here that we visited with a museum that told more about how people lived during this time. 

It was here that I struck a deal with the store manager to give us his employee discount if I bought several jars of Smokey Mt preserves.  These are delicious preserves that are made by Mennonites that live in the area.  There are so good!!!!  And made great gifts to bring home. 

We stopped for a picnic on the way home and took some photos of The Smokies and some look out points.  Still, no bears!

Somewhere in here we took a day just to relax at the RV park.  Joe worked on RV repairs and I took the kids swimming and did laundry.  We went out to eat in Pigeon Forge at a family style restaurant.  It was pretty good. 

It wasn’t long before we were ready to try out Dolly’s Splashtown!  It was a nice, although I thought kind of small water park.  There were 2 large kid water playscapes, a wave pool, lazy river, and several big water slide type rides.  I pretty much hung out with Bean at one water playscape and on our walk to the second water playscape, took a dip in the lazy river and then the wave pool.  And that was our day.  The boys took off to do a few of the more daring water slides and took Loralai on one as well, while Bean took her afternoon nap on me and I watched Netflix on my phone.  Gotta love technology!  It wasn’t too long before Joe returned that we saw an older man that worked there slip and fall.  This fall was pretty serious as he was bleeding and appeared to have passed out for a few minutes.  Lifeguards and Medics rushed to help him and eventually took him away on a stretcher.  Why Joe and I seem to witness more falls on vacation then anything else, I don’t know?  We hope he’s okay.  Once that passed, Bean woke up and we took turns playing with the kids on the water playscape and going down the water slide there with Lu.  Yes, even me!  Yahoo!  And then it was time to go home. 

Ready for the water park!
Tired Baby!
Water and phones don’t mix  So that’s all the pics I got.

We took another relaxing day after that and just hung around the RV.

They next day was a BIG HIKING day!  The most exciting hike of the day for us was hiking a very small, 3 mile piece of the Appalachian Trail.  This is a very famous trail that people often take 6 months of their life to hike!  The trail runs from Maine, down all the way south to Georgia.  Of course this sounds like and awesome thing for Joe and I to do and we are already discussing when we think our youngest (still a bun in the oven) will be old enough to join us.  12, 13 sound about right?

Had to climb EVERY rock!

This was after a 1 mile hike straight up to a look out tower.  Whew!  Exhausting!
Had to include this one!

Okay, so here is where I start adding photos and comments 1 year and some months AFTER this trip was taken…

Later that day we head back to Sugarland Visitors Center to collect Lu and Bean’s JR Ranger Badges!

And we got our “Not-so-Junior Ranger certificates”.  Cute and unique to just this park.

The last day of our time in Gattlinburg, was one, if not THE best day of the trip in my opinion!
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We went into town in the afternoon and just looked around.  I had seen these “sky lifts” and had a coupon for them, so we decided to take a ride.  Of course I would be the one that was TERRIFIED of them; my own idea!  But Lou comforted me on the way up and I was a little bit better on the way down.  Actually, I was probably worse!  Going down it’s harder to ignore how far you have to fall!  But having Joe and Bean in my cart, made it better!

 
 



After, we went to eat at this funky restaurant called, The Mellow Mushroom.  All psychedelic and trippy mushrooms all over!  Really cool vibe and Joe and I thought it might be an original establishment, but later noticed some other Mellow Mushrooms in other towns on the way home.  Good food!  I got this thing in the photo above, but they specialize in pizza.  And it was fun sitting up above the town and being able to people watch.  There was a haunted  house across the street from us and these actors kept jumping out at people as they walked by.  Hilarious!
 


From there, we did a little  more walking around and stumbled onto this place!  Where they happened to be giving out free moonshine samples!  Here’s Joe volunteering to drink those samples.  I mean, Tennessee Moonshine?!  Gotta do it!
 

And then we danced…  It was a pretty magical night!
 


 

And the next morning we packed up and headed out of Gattlinburg, TN!
 
 

We were headed home by way of Memphis, TN, with and overnight stay at Elvis’ Graceland and RV Park!  Eekk!!!  We got there late and the park was Whatever.  The next morning was all about touring Graceland.

 
The entire tour was given by audio recording.  Really good!
This was the first room, right when you walk in the house.

The kitchen was my absolute favorite room!  I can’t even really explain why.  It just seemed so cozy, and a little like my grandmother’s kitchen. 

This room was called the “Jungle Room” and was just out from the kitchen.  Elvis decorated it himself.  Several songs were recorded right in this room. 

Green carpet, waterfall, animal hides on all the furniture and a standing ashtray by every seat!  It was the 70’s y’all!
This was his lounging room, with 3 TV’s and a bar, across from the pool table room that was completely covered with fabric, walls to ceiling!



Admin offices.

Play scape that Lisa Marie played on.



After the house and grounds, we entered another building that held lots of Elvis memorabilia, like his records and window scenes of different periods and events in his life, like his wedding, etc.  This is where they also had all his elaborate Vegas costumes on display.

 Then we went to see all of the cars!  So, so many!!!  This does not even scratch the surface!

Kids were getting tired at this point, so we took a minute to eat some BBQ at a restaurant on the grounds, of which there were 2, and then headed over to see Elvis’ 2 planes!

Here’s his “little one”, Lisa Marie.

Later Elvis bought this larger plane, that I did not get and outside photo of, but check out the inside!  Lisa Marie had her 9th birthday aboard this plane.

Elvis’ bedroom on the plane

Seeing Graceland was amazing!  And totally worth the 100’s of $$$ we spent on the tour!  This trip would be followed by months of me being obsessed with the life of Elvis and reading several books on him!  Strange and very interesting man!

From there, we set back out on the road, headed for Arkansas for one more stop before we arrived home, at Diamond Fields State Park.  We were so impressed with Arkansas’ State Parks!!!  Inexpensive and SO NICE!  Clean and great RV sites that were flat, with picnic tables, grills, and trash hooks and well spaced.  Not to mention, Arkansas is BEAUTIFUL!!!  Trees, trees, and more trees! 


This was the park we had intended on staying at on our way up to Tennessee, but didn’t for various reasons.  I’m so glad we made it a stop on our way back!  Not too many pics, but the kids had fun mining for diamonds with Daddy and we hiked and ate at a restaurant near the diamond fields and spent a day at their little water park.  We loved it so much, that we stayed a day longer than planned!  It was the perfect end to our awesome vacation adventure!

Had to include this shot!  Uncle Cody loved playing with the felt board!

So this trip definitely had its bumps, but looking back on it from a year later, I have nothing but good memories!  I love the RV lifestyle!  And love that we were able to bring my brother along with us! 

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