Day 3 – Great Smoky Mountains NP

Today I spent touring the Cades Cove area of the park – which is where I’m camping.  A “cove” here in the Smoky Mountains is essentially just a valley between two mountain ridges.  This area was first settled around 1820 – of course the Cherokee hunted these lands long before, just didn’t live in the area.  Interestingly, Great Smoky Mountains NP, is the only park (or one of very few at least) that was created out of almost entirely privately owned lands – most other parks were originally government owned land.   There are a few historic buildings (farms and churches) along the route, but given the volume of traffic on this route and the very limited parking areas, I didn’t visit any of those.

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Instead, I hiked out to the falls on Abram’s Creek.  It’s about a 5 mile hike round trip that takes you through the woods along the creek and eventually down to the falls.  I’ll post some pictures in the next few days.

That was all the excitement I could handle for the day – I got back to my camp and did a little reading.  I’m currently reading “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson – which is a story of his travels on the Appalachian Trail.  I’ve read a couple other books he’s written and, as usual, this one doesn’t disappoint.

Day 2 – Driving

Well today was a driving day just getting over to Great Smoky Mountains NP.  It was about a six hour drive which was mostly uneventful.  The only excitement came about half way when I noticed some dark clouds along with a few flashes of lightning up in front, but off to the north of my route.  I was planning on stopping for gas and lunch anyway so wasn’t too worried.  I was driving with the top down though, so I did want to get there and put the top up.

I can now honestly say that, at speed in the rain (at least a little), you will still stay dry with the top down.  That’s right – I got rained on and stayed dry without a roof!  It may have been just the leading edge of the rain and a few stray drops, but the outside of the car was completely wet and there were maybe two drops on my seat when I pulled under a gas station canopy a minute later in London, Kentucky.  This was perfect timing however, as I stepped out of the car and started to pull the top up, the sky let loose and for about 30 seconds there was a torrential downpour.

From there I drove the rest of the way with the top up.  I arrived at my campsite about 6 this evening and got my campsite setup.  I’m staying at Cades Cove campground which is at the eastern end of the park.  There’s an 11 mile scenic loop drive that I’m planning to take tomorrow along which there is a short hike to a supposedly nice waterfall.

Time to hit the tent…

Day 1 – Mammoth Cave NP

I didn’t follow my plan as well as I should have.  Because I wasn’t really tired, I ended up driving for nearly 10 solid hours to start off.  I finally pulled into a rest stop about 2 a.m. and slept for about two hours.  Then it was back on the road with a quick stop for breakfast.  Pulling the trailer, I’m keeping the speed down so the trip took a couple hours longer than I planned, better safe than sorry – plus it helps with the mileage!

After a little confusion regarding the time zone, I was able to take the Grand Avenue tour of Mammoth Cave.  This is one of the most extensive tours available, taking about 4 hours to cover approximately 4 miles underground.  This route includes scaling several underground “mountains”.  It’s a pretty amazing place – there are over 370 miles of cave in the network, but nobody really knows how much more might be connected.

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After the tour, I hit the campground and got situated.  It’s cooling off now and is pretty comfortable, it’s about 7 p.m., but it was around 90 when I got started a couple hours ago.  At 8 I’m heading over to the amphitheater for a ranger discussion of myths and legends surrounding the cave area – should be interesting.

Updated 6/10 – so I actually fell asleep and missed the presentation thing – it had been a very long day.

On the road again

Like my 2006 road trip, this one too is beginning on a rainy note.  Hopefully, the rest of the trip will see sunny skies, or it could be a long two weeks;-)  I’ve just finished packing the car and trailer and am getting ready to hit the road in just a little while.  This first leg on the way to Mammoth Cave is going to be an overnighter.  I figure I’ll drive for about 4-5 hours and then break for a couple.  It’s about 13 hours to Mammoth Cave, so with breaks I’m figuring to be there sometime late Sunday morning.  I’m going to try to take some tour through the cave and then get to my camp site and relax.  Monday will be a short hop over to Great Smoky Mountains which is where I’m staying until Thursday when I will head to Georgia and then on to Florida on Friday.  The launch is still on for Saturday the 13th.  Unless I happen across some wifi access, this will be the only post until Thursday when I reach the the KOA campground in Georgia.

A little revision

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So after giving it some thought, I’m revising the itinerary just a bit.  I’m now going to depart on Saturday the 6th and drive to Mammoth Cave National Park.  I’ll spend that Sunday night there and then head over to Great Smoky Mountains on Monday as planned.  This just breaks up the outbound leg of the trip a little better.  As you can see in the above picture, I’ve got my trailer assembled and hooked up.  It pulls quite nicely and more than doubles the cargo capacity of the Solstice and I don’t have to remove the passenger seat.  I’m still working out some glitches with the wiring (brakes and signals work, but the running lights don’t).  Should get that squared away tomorrow.

Road trip firming up

I think I have my schedule worked out for my upcoming road trip.  I’ll be departing on Sunday, June 7, heading for the the Smoky Mountains.  I’m going to drive straight through in order to get there late Monday afternoon.  I’ll relax that night and then spend Tuesday and Wednesday touring the park.

On Thursday, the 11th, I’ll drive to Stone Mountain Georgia and camp somewhere in Southern Georgia.

On Friday I’ll push on to Kennedy Space Center.  If everything stays on track I’ll see STS-127 lift off bright and early on Saturday.

Sunday I’ll head up towards Appomattox Courthouse, probably spending the night somewhere in NC.

Monday I’ll head up to D.C. after touring Appomattox.  I’ll spend Tuesday to Thursday touring D.C.  I want to try to see all the major monuments and then a couple of days in parts of the Smithsonian.

Friday the 19th I’ll head for home, driving straight through again.  I should make it home late Saturday afternoon at which point I’ll crash…

It’s coming together

So my road trip is coming together.  I’m going to take two full weeks off, the week before the scheduled launch and the week after.  On the way down, I’m planning to spend a couple of days at Great Smoky Mountain NP and a quick stop at Stone Mountain, GA.  After the launch it’s up to D.C. for a couple days then home.  I installed my trailer hitch on Monday – I still have to get the lights hooked up though.  I ordered a trailer today which should be here by Friday at the latest.  It’s nothing spectacular, but it beats pulling the passenger seat like I did in ’06.  I may try to get it painted to match the Solstice later this summer, but for now black will do fine.

Giving it another shot

So I’m going to give it another shot this year.  Endeavour is already on the launch pad as the emergency rescue shuttle for the Hubble Servicing Mission (STS-125).  The chance of delays should be minimized since it had to be ready to go in the event of damage to Atlantis during it’s mission.  The launch is currently scheduled for June 13.

I’m going back to Plan A, which is a road trip allowing me more flexibility in the event of delays.  I’m planning to take two or two and a half days to get to KSC.  Given enough time, I’ll try to swing through Great Smoky Mountain NP and Stone Mountain, GA.  If everything goes according to plan, after the launch I’ll head up the coast and spend a few days in D.C.  I’m thinking I’ll spend a day seeing the monuments and then a couple days at the Smithsonian before heading for home.

We’ll see how it goes…