<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Postcards Library 20
Little Log


Stephanie is one of those persons who can fit a lot of words onto a standard size postcard -- usually by writing sideways, around corners, and even upside down if she can find some extra space. Most of these go to family and friends. But some of them -- those which document our RV adventures -- find their way onto this portion of our website.

Postcard: From the Windows of the Train

April 28, 2000

We arrived at Cherry Hill RV Resort, just outside of Washington DC, on a Monday around noon. By 3 pm, we had found a place to board the dog, made Amtrak reservations, and discovered how to take the bus/metro combination to get ourselves to the train by 7:30 the next morning. Most folks probably don't act like this when they come here, as Cherry Hill is perfectly situated for exploring Washington DC. However, since the weather report was for "more of the same" (read cold and rainy), and New England wasn't due for this weather for a couple of days, we figured that the weather would be good in Vermont, and also here again when we returned. It didn't work out that way, but we had a wonderful Amtrak ride.

We took the dog to Cherry Lane Kennel, in Laurel, MD. This is the most unusual place. While they are a boarding kennel, their main business is "doggy day care". Each morning, dozens of dogs, small and large, come for the day while their owners are at work. You see a car drive up, with a dog in the back, tail at the wag, hardly able to contain himself until he can get out and into day care. In the two times I was there, to bring Missy in and again to pick her up, I never saw an unhappy dog. The owners are equally enthusiastic. I met one woman who carries a bunch of kennel cards, and gives them to anyone in her neighborhood who has a small puppy. "You will thank me for this," she will say. "Day Care" works like this: the dogs are divided into sections according to size, so Miniature Poodles aren't playing with the Great Danes, and they all romp for several hours. By the time their owners come to get them, the dogs have had a lot of exercise, and sleep extremely well that night.

Afraid we might be late, we boarded the 5:50 am bus to travel from the RV park to the Metro. It is fortunate that the dirver knew exactly where she was going, because she drove in what seemed to me to be circles. Into and out of various apartment complexes, past at least one Metro station, around the campus of the University of Maryland, and, just when I was about to ask her if she had forgotten us, into the College Park Metro station -- the one we wanted.

Our next hurdle was buying a ticket. You need a $5.00 bill for this, and guess who didn't have one? But we managed to make change, managed to find a train going in the correct direction, managed to make the transfer at the correct spot for the correct train, and wound up at Union Station in Washingto DC with time to spare. Which was a very good thing. Unlike any of our previous experiences, this Amtrak train runs on time! Because it is used by so many people as either an intra-city commuter, or as the most convenient way up and down the "eastern corridor", if the schedule says the train is leaving at 7:30 -- it is.

We found our seats, and our adventure began. I was intrigued by the other passengers. Business suited, computers at the ready, cell phones and Wall Street Journals in hand, they were off to do battle with their various corporate dragons. Tom and I felt a bit countrified in our blue jeans and tennis shoes, but we have "been there, done that", and our current style is the life for us.

There is no observation car on the train, but you get a good view out of the windows on each side, (unless the person at the other window has drawn his curtain to keep the sun off his computer screen). So I looked out my window and was most interested in what I saw. I saw the poverty of the inner city as we went through Baltimore. Except for a few upscale suburban commuter villages, train tracks typically don't run through the more upscale parts of cities, and my view was of garbage strewn yards and buildings with broken windows -- empty eyes staring into a bleak future. Not all was this dismal, however. In one area, there was a building which must have been a nursery school. Along the back fence were drying several large, gaily painted pictures, obviously done by the children.

As soon as we left Baltimore, the tracks ran right along the Chesapeake shore. Here were green lawns stretching down to the Bay, gray and still in the morning air. Ducks and geese paddled along between the rows of dinghy laden piers jutting into the water. As we cut through Delaware, the view was similar; the upper reaches of the Bay seem much enjoyed by those who live along it.

New Jersey gets a bad rap. The sign which reads "Trenton Makes - The World Takes" epitomized to me what I thought this state was like -- industrialized and not much more. I was wrong. Neat homes and gardens, beautiful small parks, enjoyed this morning by myriad walkers and joggers. Lovely wooded areas, with the trees just getting their springtime leaves. Small lakes shimmering through these woods. The fact the sun was shining at this point made things all the better.

The skyline of New York City is simply impressive -- there is no other word for it. The train managed to make a semi-circle around the city, so that we could see the outline of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State, and others whose names I do not know, looking north at them, and later, looking south. I enjoyed looking at the strings of commuters stretched out along the throughways, bumper to bumper to bumper, just to get past a tollgate. Been there/done that too...

A little past the sign "Welcome to the Bronx", the city simply seems to vanish. One minute I was looking at tall brownstone high-rises, the next we were traveling through sunny wooded areas again. We passed through New Rochelle and Rye, enjoying the first signs of New England, those small towns with picturesque town centers, buildings which look like they have been there a hundred years or more, as indeed many have. Everything is neat and clean, fresh white trim on red brick buildings, just like my imagination (fueled by Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses), tells me it should be. And on the horizon, across the Sound, was Long Island.

And so into Connecticut. More and more like the New England of Grandma Moses. Small towns where the church steeples are the tallest structures. Small streams pouring into the sound, crossed by low stone, arched bridges. Shorebirds, geese,ducks and gulls paddling along. At New Haven, the tracks turn and head north, away from the waterways, into the mountains. Now we started to see hills, rising toward the status of mountains (by eastern standards, at least). We passed several small lakes, (the couple behind us referred to them as "ponds"), ringed with houses.

North we went. Signs of spring faded out, replaced with winter's remnants. The snow was gone, but flattened, marshy areas showed distinctly where it had recently been. Many birch trees were struggling to regain their upright position, after a winter of being pushed around by the weight of the snow. The sun was shining brightly, and I saw one woman sitting in a folding chair, wearing sunglasses against the glare, enjoying the afternoon. The fact that she was wearing jeans, a warm jacket and rubber boots didn't matter. It wasn't the temperature, it was the sunshine.

We were headed to Brattleboro, Vermont, and, as we crossed from Massachusetts, we could see the frosted hills around us. Winter hasn't given up here quite yet. And, overnight, there was a dusting of snow, disquieting to many of the locals, who, while used to the contrairiness of spring, dislike seeing snowy lilacs and daffodils.

Brattleboro is a charming little town, with many refurbished old buildings, a lovely town center and several good restaurants. (Without the rig, I cannot fix dinner!) It is "artsy"; there are stores selling Indian fabrics and artifacts, and other stores selling art supplies. Advertisements for musical productions, operas, chamber music, and folk exhibitions, appear in many storefront windows. If your interests run more to the outdoors, you can outfit yourself for a hiking trip in the woods, clothe yourself from head to toe, and fill your backpack from top to bottom in several of the stores in town.

We stayed at the Latchis Hotel, just a short walk from the Amtrak station, and I explored the central area for a short while before dinner. We plan to drive the Vermont and New Hampshire hills for the next day or so, and then head back to DC, where we hope the weather will allow for a leisurely walking tour of the Capitol.

Postcard: Picture Postcard Country

April 21, 2000

Even when the sun is uncooperative, the Shenandoah Valley shines. We are spending several days at the Walnut Hills Campground, 7 miles south of Staunton, VA, in an idyllic setting. We are camped on top of an oak laden grassy hill, overlooking "Kerplonken" Lake, a small fishing pond, the delight of many of the children here. This 45 acre park is well away from the noise of I-81, and, from our site, we can see the green rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley.

This is spectacular country. Spring is just arriving here, but the Virginia dogwoods are in full bloom. Resembling pink and white "butterflies", their leaves bring loveliness to the newly awakening woods. Some hardy lilacs also show their lavender hues, and soon there will be rhododendron to add to the color.

Homes in this area all seem to be set on large, well groomed acreages. (The riding lawn mower and the grass trimmer businesses must be great here!) Long winding roads lead to long winding driveways, with large grassy lawns on each side. Homes sit atop small hills, each with a pastoral view. There are so many hills that practically each home has its own private hilltop.

Staunton escaped most of the destruction of the Civil War, so has one of Virginia's finest collections of 19th century architecture. If some of the old homes are a bit "down at heel", many others are in mint condition. Across the tops of the Staunton hills is Mary Baldwin College, with lemon colored buildings and creamy white columns, fairly gleam in the late afternoon sun. Staunton's railroad station area not only houses Amtrak (we have noted that Amtrak stations are very easy to find, unless you are looking for one), but also various restaurants and antique shops. I think I will have to return to this area one afternoon -- without Tom, who has a limited time tolerance when it comes to shopping.

It was raining yesterday morning as we started out on a Shenandoah National Park loop trip. We joined Skyline Drive at Rockfish Gap, and headed north. As we drove along, the weather improved, and, when we looked west from the many overlooks down into the Shenandoah Valley we got some wonderful views. If we looked east, however, the view was quite different. Ghostly wisps of fog streamed up the hills, through the Gaps, and across the Hollows. Only occasionally could we see down into the valleys on the eastern side of the mountains. Spring hasn't arrived up here yet, only a few brave dogwood blossoms showed among the branches of the dormant trees. At one point, a hen turkey crossed in front of the car, and we did see two deer, but there were very few people about.

There are several hiking areas off the Drive, but the cool, weather dissuaded us from more than a few vista stops. We left the Drive at Swift Run Gap, and headed down to Harrisonburg, Staunton and the beauties of the valley.

This morning, we again drove up to Rockfish Gap, this time to sample the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the first vista pullout, we looked down into Rockfish Valley. A beautiful valley of small farms, neatly tilled fields, with wandering lanes between each; this was straight out of Norman Rockwell.

There was no rain, but it was cold -- in the middle 40's, with a brisk wind blowing. This road seems (perhaps due to Easter weekend) much more "civilized" than the Shenandoah Drive. We were passed by a dozen or more motorcyclists, all hurrying along, perhaps thinking of a warm fire at the end of what must have been a very cold trip. At each pullout, there was at least one car, and we saw several families, red-cheeked with cold, backpacks at the ready, preparing for an Easter overnight. Since the Parkway is not a National Park, people can live on either side of the road, and seeing a "private driveway" sign is not uncommon. In several places, we could look down onto large homes at the end of winding drives, visible now only because it is too early for the springtime foliage.

Leaving the Parkway, we headed down the Tye River Turnpike. Not my idea of a turnpike, but a narrow 5 mile road which wound down, down and down -- past drives and lanes with picturesque names -- Turkey Hills Trail and Narrow Way Lane. In Vesuvius, we passed several homes where the front yards were decorated with Canada geese decoys, complete with obvious valve stems. Perhaps to invite a visit from the real thing?

I spent the afternoon at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton. Many of the early American settlers in the Shenandoah Valley came from Scotland, Ireland and Germany. Here there are four authentic farms moved from each country and painstakingly reconstructed. At each farm, persons in period dress explain what farm life was like in the various countries in the 1700s. As I walked between the various farms, I saw how the farmers lived, worked and played in that century before migration. The fourth farm, an American farm, shows how all the others, merging together, made an American "melting pot" farm. Today, the day before Easter, the German, English and American "farmers" were dying eggs. No Paas, here. Natural colors were used to dye the most beautiful eggs. A mosaic brown was done with boiled onion skins. A Mother of Pearl white came from gorse blossoms. There were deep red, purple and some vibrant yellow eggs.

Children were having egg throwing contests; and some, who under other circumstances might have felt "too old" for this sort of game, were having a great time. Some were even rolling hoops. I had only seen this game in old pictures, but here were the kids of the 21st century, playing 19th century games. Picture book games in a picture postcard country...

Easter Sunday is a perfect time for an afternoon drive, and we rounded out our Shenandoah stay with a drive along a "Virginia Byway". We took our official state map, (the one we got at the visitor center) and traced some of the lime green roads in the Staunton vicinity. For us, this trip was at least as scenic as the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive, and far less crowded. This was the true rural Shenendoah.

We started in Middlebrook, a small town lining the sides of county road 876, where the Russian Orthodox Church was just getting out. The road became progressively more narrow as it climbed into the George Washington National forest and the Shenandoah Mountains. For several miles, we paralleled the Maury River, a lovely stream which had collected several fly fishermen. We drove through Goshen, where the town fathers had labeled the town land, of course, "Land of Goshen"! At Buffalo Gap, the road turned and wove its pastoral way back to Middlebrook. The sun was (finally) out, and cattle laden fields were green, and it was a picture perfect day in picture postcard country.

Postcard: Navigating North Carolina...

April 18, 2000

...is not so easy as you might imagine. We have been sent "round robin's barn" several times, trying to get to a grocery store, "It's just down the road", --to a post office, "the post office is right in the same area as the grocery" (read 3 miles and several turns away). Part of the problem stems from the friendly and helpful direction giver knowing just where something is, but not being able to communicate just how far, "right down the road" actually is. Today we learned another trick about the rural NC roads. They often have no directional signs; you must read the street signs to get from one town to another. Follow the sign which reads "Whortonsville Road" and you will probably wind up in Whortonsville. The only problem here is when you come upon this picturesque country lane, there's no hint to confirm whether Whortonsville is to the right or left.

We have come to Chocowinity, NC. to do some exploring of the north-eastern Carolina coast. Since we are ferry addicts, we chose a route which would take us on two of the seven routes in the NC ferry system. Leaving our coach at Twin Lakes RV resort, today we started off toward New Bern, a pretty little town snuggled along the banks of the Neuse River. The first thing I noticed here was that the steeples of the New Bern churches are the tallest things in town. No glass and brass hotels here; even the Sheraton is a low, brick, southern looking building. Just like (I think) it is supposed to be.

We drove through the Croatian National Forest, but did not stop to hike the pocosin, the "swamp on a hill" where we later learned that plant life, including the Venus fly-trap, is to be found. Next we passed a Marine Corps Air base, where I noted a plane which appeared to have an enormous satellite dish mounted on its top -- Tom informed me it was an AWACS aircraft.

Our ferry's capacity was 18 cars -- today there were only 5 on the 20 minute ride across the Neuse River from Cherry Branch to Minesott Beach. Talking with the ferry crew, I learned, or think I learned, that there are several private ferries in North Carolina. They cross Core Sound, between Harker's Island and Cape Lookout and travel out to the Core Banks portion of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. However, I am only somewhat comfortable with the accuracy of this information, as the North Carolina accent in these parts can be incredibly difficult for a confirmed Northwesterner to decipher. I caught the words "private" and "Harkers Island", and the rest was a combination of equal parts interpolation and guesswork.

As we neared the end of our ferry trip, I saw a small boat cruising slowly through the waves, with a large pole attached vertically to its bow. One of the ferry passengers was wearing the uniform of the Department of Fish and Game, so I asked him what in the world was going on. He looked through his binoculars, and caught sight of the emblem "Wolfpack" on the side of the boat. Carolina State operates a marine laboratory in the area, and this was probably either a fish counting expedition, or they were charting the bottom of the River.

Off the boat, we had 90 minutes to drive 35 miles to get to the next ferry. OR -- we could take a side trip. For the first time, I realized that the tiny blue lines that run through the NC map were not rivers, but were rural lanes. This is where we got our lesson about rural NC roads. There was a most intriguing loop which would take us to the towns of Oriental, Pamico, Whartonsville and Florence. Then we would rejoin our highway, and be only a few miles from the next ferry. You would think we would learn...

Finding Oriental was the easy part. This is a beautiful little village, with several marinas, a couple of enticing restaurants and well cared for homes -- almost all with front porches. And, the furniture of choice for each front porch was a rocking chair! Every porch had one or two.

There were no signs to Whortonsville, but we found street sign that read "Whortonsville Road". Following that, we eventually came to Whortonsville. But it took longer that we had anticipated, and time was getting short if we wanted to make the ferry. So we opted not to go to Florence, and instead took the opposite road -- and, in about 5 miles, wound up in Florence! Now we were getting concerned, not only about missing the ferry, but also spending the rest of the day going around in circles, arriving in Florence about every 30 minutes or so. But this time the road did what it was supposed to, and took us through Stonewall, Bayboro and Aurora, and we arrived at the ferry with 6 minutes to spare.

This time we crossed the larger Pamlico River, a trip of about 30 minutes. On the other side, we drove the charming streets through the town of Bath - North Carolina's first town, incorporated in 1705. It was the first port of entry into the colony, and had the first public library. It also established a free school for Indians and blacks. Visiting in 1925, Edna Ferber was entertained aboard the John Adams Floating Theater, the inspiration for "Show Boat". Bath was also the haunt of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard,and he is well celebrated here. In the Visitor Center, you can buy Blackbeard T-shirts, and one of the antique stores calls itself the "Pirate's Treasure". In the spirit of things (pun intended), the quaint A.B.C. package store here calls itself the "Olde A.B.C." store.

We drove around town, enjoying the restored St. Thomas Church and several homes dating from 1790 and early 1800s. But we had one thing left on our list -- to visit Goose Creek State park. Would this be a good camping spot? Could we fit our coach in? Being old timers at North Carolina roads by this time, we turned off on Goose Creek road, and followed it, and followed it, and followed it -- and eventually came right back onto the highway. The location of Goose Creek State park remains a mystery to us. We definitely need a follow-up lesson on navigating North Carolina's little charted, charming rural country lanes.

Postcard: A World of its Own

April 10, 2000

We have come to the Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach to spend a week enjoying the South Carolina sunshine and drawn by the instant phone hookups -- a real benefit as we do last minute battle with our IRS forms "from the road". In fact, it was the primary raison d' etre for selecting this destination.

We have stayed in large parks (Voyagers in Tucson and Emerald Desert in Palm Desert), before, but none so large as this. And it's different from the several thousand site mega-parks in the Southwest (e.g. Mesa), in that a good portion of the grounds are well forested, which softens the effect of so very many sites contained within a single park. While I have not been able to find anyone who could tell me the exact acreage of Ocean Lakes, a security guard told me that it is approximately a mile square. There are about 3400+ sites, 900 allotted for camping, and the remainder mainly comprised of mobile and manufactured homes which have been syled into varous types of "beach cottages".

Even on our arrival, we were impressed with the size of this place. Highway 544 dead-ends at the entrance archway, where "Ocean Lakes Family Campground" is emblazoned in large red letters. Just under the name is a banner proclaiming this park the National RV Park of the year, as judged by the National RV Park and Campground Owners Association. Entering to register, we were routed through a "maze" reminiscent of an airline ticket counter line. We noticed a desk with a computer set into it -- "Web On the Run", where you can get your email for only 20 cents a minute! It was unused when I saw it, which is likely attributable to the fact that every phone site comes complete with its own site phone. Our glossy site map would wind us down Ocean Lakes Drive, past one of the 8 small lakes on the property. We made a left turn on Scallop Drive, proceeded up Salt Works Road to North Lake Drive and turned off to our site, a pullthrough, with a wide grassy area for parking.

This morning, I took an exploratory bike ride through this mammoth park. I rode out along Seaside Drive, which parallels the beach. This is a great beach, with hardpacked sand along the water's edge. Missy and I tested the water and found it wading warm. At various spots along the beach, you can rent umbrellas, chairs or boogie boards (I'm not sure what I'd do with one of those...). The umbrellas are an attractive green with yellow symbols, the chairs set out under them looking most inviting. There is a beachfront ice cream shop (currently closed ), and an elaborately constructed wooden beach viewing platform with telescopes to aid your observations. Next in line along the beach are volleyball and basketball courts, and two children's play areas.

I stopped in at the recreation center and, talking to the staff there, learned that this is indeed a very popular campground. Should you wish to visit in the summer, and especially on a summer holiday, you must have a reservation made 18 months in advance. "The 4th of July gets pretty wild around here". Fireworks, sold everywhere in North and South Carolina are reportedly illegal to discharge in both states. However, on the 4th of July, enforcement may be a bit challenging.

The recreation center has a large conference hall, set today with about 800 chairs and room for at least 200 more. The park is going to host the Southeastern States Airstream rally; in fact, we have been watching the Airstream rigs pouring into the park, finding their sites and setting up their flags. Presidents, vice and second vice presidents, past presidents of every chapter have their flags along with State and US flags. A most colorful sight brought to life by the prevailing sea breeze.

Behind the recreation center are several large pools -- today the only sun worshippers around the outside L shaped pool were 4 teenage girls and 2 Mallard ducks. There was no one in the "Mushroom Pool", a shallow pool with large, mushroom shaped yellow structure, which sprays water down on the heads of those kids, under 6, who are allowed in it. The inside pool was crowded with families.

My next stop on tour was the "city center". In this area is a snack bar where you can get sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers, all sorts of ice cream and other goodies and soft drinks. Next to the snack bar is a water stop. Here park residents may fill their water jugs with up to 4 gallons of water per family, per day. There was a waiting line.

Next to the water stop, I looked in on one of the 2 laundromats in this park. Just for fun, I counted the washers and dryers. In this multi-roomed hall dedicated to dirty clothes, there were a total of 39 washers and 48 dryers!

Next I visited the General Store, where all sorts of beach and camping equipment are available. Rows of T-shirts hang next to snorkels and masks. Bundles of boogie boards are stacked in boxes along the aisles. You can find tent stakes or propane lanterns, tie down cords and tarps. There is a small grocery store, stocking picnic goods ranging from milk to meats. In another part of the store, you can choose a flag to decorate the outside of your rig, or a shell item to add to your inside decor.

Off to the rental golf cart area. In this park, you have four options for getting around. You can walk, ride a bike, drive a car (speed limit 10 mph) or use a golf cart. This last is so popular that they are seen everywhere, and there are now 600 golf carts (up from 500) available for rent by the day or week. From appearances, it seems to be the travel mode of choice for a good percentage of RVers to come here.

Completing my tour, I stopped by the post office, looked in at the kid's Arcade, a room lined with every conceivable video game, as well as pool and bumper pool tables. I chatted with the salesman at the camping sales office, where you can buy a new or used rig, or get service on your own RV. Property management will rent you an RV or one of the homes in the park.

Then, hoping I wouldn't manage to get lost, I rode around the circumference of the park. Down Crayfish Road, across on Sanddollar Drive, across Magnolia Lake on Coral Drive, back up to Periwinkle Lane and then home down Salt Works Road. At last, there was the coach and Missy tied outside. I had ridden for well over an hour all within the perameters of Ocean Lakes Campground -- truly a world of its own.

Postcard: Bungee Jumps and Bumper Cars

April 5, 2000

We decided to base our Great Smoky discovery tour from Townsend, TN. -- which advertises itself as the peaceful side of the Smokies. There is truth in this advertising, it is incredibly more peaceful here than in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. This is a pretty town, nestled in a valley at the foot of the mountains. There is an outlet store, quite a few motels, a small grocery store and a whole row of campgrounds, many lining the Little River. We stayed at the aptly named Little River Village Campground, a good jumping off place for a toad expedition to Cades Cove. Cades Cove is an old farming community, first settled in the mid-1800s. You can drive an 11 mile loop road through the Cove (Smoky Mountain vernacular for a relatively flat valley between mountains or ridges). There are several places where you can walk to see the old homesteads of this bygone era. There are several trails, once Indian trails, to lure you into history. On Saturday mornings, in season the loop road is reserved for bicycles. Also in the season, the traffic is reported to be of the bumper to bumper variety.

Not so this morning. A heavy overnight rain and subsequent cold temperatures had kept all but the most hardy away. There were quite a few other cars, and two bicyclists were braving the cold, but we pretty much had the area to ourselves. To ourselves and the deer which could be seen in every field, much to the delight of the motorists.

We had heard tales of Gatlinbutg and Pigeon Forge --the incredible congestion of this area, and the non-stop tourist "attractions". How there was such traffic in the summer that it could take an hopur to drive a mile. Surely this was an great exaggeration. We just had to see for ourselves. Wow!

We turned left out of the campground and followed highway 73 along the rain swollen Little River. The sun had decided to show this morning, and everything was green and leafy. Moss covered rocks lining this beautiful little river gleamed in the sun. The birds were out proclaiming a fresh new day. At various places along the river, people were fishing. There were cars parked at every trailhead, here named "Quiet Walkways", as families enjoyed the morning. A picture postcard morning.

The change came whena we stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, about three miles outside Gatlinburg. Here were hordes of tourists, including one school bus of children, all learning about the area. Inside, they were buying shirts and postcards, or exclaiming over all the wonders they would shortly be seeing. Surely there could be no one left in Gatlinburg. They were all here.

So we turned left toward Gatlinburg. We opted not to take the bypass, but drove right into town. And came to a dead halt. There are 10 stoplights in the two mile length of town, and the traffic is such that you will stop at each one at least once. This does enable you to see the town. It seems completely comprised of hotels, motels and souvenir shops -- a seemingly endless line of water parks, go-cart speedways, gift shops and fantastic mountains through which hundreds of people are lining up to putt golf balls. And more is currently under construction.

Emerging from Gatlinburg, we were immediately immersed in Pigeon Forge. Here there are go-cart areas with facsimile NASCAR cars. I counted three dinosaurs, one pink, one green, one brown, each at least 20 feet tall, guarding amusement areas. In one place, a crane for bungee jumping towered above a series of bumper cars on a track below. That would add to the excitement. Just look up and see someone in apparent free fall just over your head.

Obviously, this area was not one of our favorites. But I can understand why it is popular with so many. Had our grandchildren, ages 10,9 and 4, been along, they would have infinitely preferred the amusements to a quiet tour of Cades Cove.

But for us, it was back to the "peaceful side of the Smokies". We have only sampled this lovely area, and it is already time to move on. Tomorrow we'll be going over the mountains -- like the bear, "to see what we can see".

Postcard: A River on Demand

April 3, 2000

We had determined to explore two parts of the Smoky Mountain National Park , and we started with the Southernmost area -- the Tennessee Overhill. This area is tucked into the mountains and valleys of Southeast Tennessee in the Cherokee National Forest and got its name because its towns were situated over the mountains from the Carolina colonies.

To get here, we drove northeast through congested, under-construction Chattanooga, and headed north toward Cleveland. Here we found a nice KOA, sitting right off highway 64, the main road into the Overhill. The weather was terrible, almost steady rain, but with hindsight we'd had almost no rain for the past several months -- and certainly much of the country we've passed through could sorely use it.

About 20 miles out of town, we began to drive along the Ocoee River. Well, not exactly along the river, we were driving along the river bed. We saw muddy river bottom, with several large pools of stagnant water, occasionally connected by small rivulets. But no running water. This is a managed river. All the water is collected in a flume and stored in a lake above a dam several miles above the river bed. When a river is wanted, an approved amount of water is released from the lake, and for several hours, there is a functioning river. And is it used!

Passing above the first of several Ocoee dams, we came upon a functioning, first class river. The Ocoee is full of rapids of varying degrees of difficulty, making it a premier white water river. This is one of the most popular of all commercially rafted streams. Only five miles long, " it serves up huge waves, big rapids and a roller coaster ride, and on summer weekends, you could walk from put in to take out by stepping from raft to raft." Today, on a very rainy Sunday in early April, it was already jammed with persons enjoying the water. There were people in large rubber inflatables sliding down smooth sheets of shale river rock over which only a small amount of water was cascading. This seemed to me to pose a problem for kayaking posteriors as they slide down the rock. As we drove upstream, the water flow seemed to increase. We passed several kayak "schools ". We paused to watch as, one at a time, students propelled their snub nosed, fiberglassed craft out from the relative safety of a back eddy into the rushing torrent. Their object was to approach a rock over which the water was pouring, and turn their craft in circles, without turning it over. Some were successful. Others had a more difficult time, turning upside down several times before successfully completing their circles. There were hundreds of people all enjoying the water.

Some 10 miles up the river, we stopped at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, where the Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom Championships were held in 1996. At this part of the river, there was again no water, but we could see poles set in the rocks along the river bottom. Here, in just a few days, the US team trials for places on the current canoe and kayak team will be held. For this event, the river will be allowed back in its bed for a full 10 hours. (A difficult concept for us Westerners.) For this period, there will be enough water in the river to cover part of each pole and allow the kayakers to see the poles as "gates" through which they must propel their craft. But this is such a popular spot that it attracts whitewater enthusiasts from all over the southeast.

The Visitor Center is a very attractive, glass and wood building, sitting right next to the area where the river will be allowed to flow. Today the parking lot was virtually empty (everyone must have been out on the river), but we noted that this visitor center's parking lot meters were operative. At least once every month there is an event here -- from the team trials in early April to hikes and nature photography sessions in October. A video on the lower level was showing the 1996 Olympic competitions and we could tell that this is a very busy place when there is an event going on.

This area is well equipped to handle what we understand are the hordes of summer. Frequent roadside pull out areas are marked with vertical parking stripes, and followed by additional "overflow" pull-out areas. Picnic areas are enormous, easily handling hundreds of summertime visitors.

We were driving our Jeep on this trip, although the map showed this to be quite a good road. What the map did not show, and what we are finding more and more as we travel, is that these roads are not geared for the large coach. In many places, rock walls have been blasted out to allow for a two lane roadway, if you are not driving a very tall vehicle. Ten feet up and the walls close back in. Wicked looking overhangs warned us that these scenic roads were good for toads only. Especially when hairpin turns are added, these roads are not passable for large rigs.

We left the river area and turned inland. We drove through hills carpeted with a mosaic of last season's leaves, and decorated with small cabins which might have been here when Daniel Boone roamed the hills. We passed through Copperhill, Ducktown, "a quackin' good place" ,Turtletown and Coker Creek en route to Tellico Plains and the road back to the campground in Cleveland. Maples are just beginning to get their leaves, the lacy looking hemlocks are pale green, and there are thousands of rhododendrons on each hill, promising a spectacular late spring bloom.

Now we will drive north to explore the "other" part of the Smokies. We have heard, and read, interesting things about the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg areas, so we will stay in Townsend, on the "peaceful side of the Smokies". But we look forward to exploring the whole area, tourist-y or no. After all, it is a rainy week in early April, not exactly the height of the tourist season...