What’s Going On:
*Warning* This will be a LONG post covering a week-long trip with lots of links, photos, and me rambling on for a while.
It was nice to return to a 3-day weekend after a week on the road last week (more on that later). Besides getting the tent out to dry off, I haven’t unpacked much since all my camping gear is in stackable tubs. I still need to move it back into storage & get it out of the garage…
Where I’ve Been:
Last Saturday, I returned from a 1500+ mile loop that took me through KY, TN, NC, VA, WV, and OH. I left on Monday morning and traveled to Asheville, NC. South of Lexington was a new Buc-ee’s that I wanted to stop and check out. Everyone in a 100-mile radius must have had the same idea as this place was PACKED. Every pump had a vehicle parked in front of it, and the inside was wall-to-wall people. There were even lines to the men’s restroom, which you never see. I heard one person say they had been waiting for over an hour for their food, so I saw myself out and headed down the road.
I arrived in Asheville in the early evening, and even though I was driving all day, the weather was beautiful, and the traffic was light. I chose a place near the Grove Arcade called Carmel’s Kitchen & Bar to have dinner. The Pimento Cheese sounded great, so I ordered it along with a bowl of Shrimp and Grits (with a cream sauce vs. a brown gravy which was different and not as good as the traditional) and a cold glass of Chardonnay.
Tuesday morning, I spent some time in downtown Asheville taking photos. I stopped at City Bakery for some coffee and a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and left full and happy! They know how to make a proper biscuit in the South!
I was waiting around for East Fork Pottery to open at 11 am so I could pick up some coffee mugs I’ve had my eye on for over a year. I had every intention of stopping at Buxton Hall Barbecue for lunch to try their legendary fried chicken sandwich, but I was too full, so I hit the road and drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Mt Mitchell State Park, the highest mountain peak east of the Mississippi.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has got to be one of my favorite drives ever; this was my first time driving it. I was only on it for less than 100 miles, but I’m very interested in driving the entire 469 miles and visiting sites along the way. I stopped in a town called Little Switzerland, NC, for a snack, but just about everything was closed on Tuesday.
I made my way to Spacious Skies Campgrounds – Bear Den near Spruce Pine, NC. This is a private campground right off the parkway, and being early in the season was very quiet. I felt like I had the entire place to myself!
I packed up camp Wednesday morning and went to start the car… Click, Click, Click, dead battery. I knew I was about due for a replacement and almost did it before I left, but luckily I was at a place where I could walk up to the front office and ask for a jump. Once underway, I made a beeline to the closest Advance Auto and picked up the AGM battery I had my eye on weeks earlier. This thing should outlast the car, and it ought to be for $250. The employee offered to swap the batteries out, and I was on my way 10 minutes later, only delaying me for an hour from my originally planned departure time.
Today’s destination was the Red River Gorge Bridge and a Bed-and-Breakfast in a small town called Clifton Forge, VA. I had no idea what to expect at the Gorge, but the pictures I saw looked incredible. As my GPS told me I was getting closer, I kept looking for the bridge. I didn’t see it until I was practically ON it!
That crossing was pretty unimpressive, but I noticed on the map that I could go down under the bridge, so after stopping at the visitor center (and picking up a sticker), I did that!
After playing around down by the water, it was time to load up and head to the evening’s accommodations. The Red Lantern Inn was a great little Bed & Breakfast that was in the middle of downtown Clifton Forge, VA. Not much in the town except a few restaurants, bars, and a HUGE train yard. I unloaded my gear and went down the street to Jack Mason’s Tavern and Brewery for dinner. I ordered a Mushroom Swiss Burger and the House Cut Chips, dusted in Old Bay. The beverage for dinner was a local ale the waitress recommended when I said I wanted something light. It all hit the spot, and I was ready to settle down for the night.
The Red Lantern Inn was clean and spacious, and I had the whole place to myself. The owner was off-premises attending to other things, and we exchanged a few text messages to get the code to enter the building and the WiFi password. I never met her, but I would not hesitate to stay here again. It was clean and VERY quiet. Just what I needed after all the driving I had been doing.
Thursday’s activity was what prompted the trip in the first place. The Green Bank Observatory houses the world’s largest 100-meter (330 ft) fully steerable single-dish radio telescope. Located near the middle of the National Radio Quiet Zone, the telescope is the newest and most significant of many at the facility, topping out at over 400 feet in height and housing a dish of over 100,000 square feet. I purchased a tour ticket online and arrived about 30 minutes before the tour to use the facilities and check out the museum and gift shop.
We took a bus to the telescope and got up close and personal. Unfortunately, the only camera you can use is film because anything electronic is forbidden within a 1-mile radius. We were even asked to put our car key fobs in a Faraday Cage to block spurious emissions. Our tour guide was from Ireland, and she had been working there for several years. Her husband was a scientist working at the facility who had passed away, so she started doing tours and stayed in Green Bank.
After geeking out at the Observatory, I needed to find some lunch. I saw on Google Maps a Ski Resort called Snowshoe about an hour away and learned it is pretty active in the summer months with Mountain Biking, so I headed west to check it out.
I had already been to the highest mountain peak east of the Mississippi, but it felt like I was going even higher as I made my way to the top of Snowshoe Mountain. The road just kept going up and up, with switchback after switchback, until I finally reached the top. And what a surprise it was to see a village with a hotel, grocery store, and what looked like 4-story apartment buildings (pretty sure they were hotels).
I walked around for a while, checking things out and dodging many mountain bikes riding around the area. I can only imagine what this place is like in the winter, with skiers everywhere. I grabbed lunch at the Junction Ale House—nothing special here, just a little pub with staff that acted like they wanted to be elsewhere. I definitely do not see myself returning here, even if I visited in the winter to ski.
“After lunch, I made my way down the mountain to camp. I had two “First Come; First Served” sites in mind, Dry Run & Tea Creek campgrounds, Dry run was nice but pretty full. I drove down the road a little more and found Tea Creek to be just perfect. There were 12 sites, and only 2 were occupied. I nabbed a site near the entrance and set up camp.
An older gentleman came over, and we chatted about camping, cars, and the generator the other site was using (he was not a fan). The bugs died down at dusk, and I enjoyed a night of tuning through the shortwave bands tuning in signals from all over the world (the low noise floor in the Radio Quiet Zone helped a lot here.
I set out for Hillbilly Hotdogs (see below) and Wayne National Forrest in Southern Ohio on Friday morning. After lunch, I found my reserved campsite and had a problem. It was at the end of a cul-de-sac and about 10 feet down the side of the hill. The tent pad was about 10×10, and a drop-off on the backside. NOT a good site for the tent I use and not a good location if it rained like the forecast called for. I talked to the Camp Host and was informed there were no available sites, so I went to Ironton, OH, and used some Holiday Inn points to get a room for the night.
We were back on the road for our final day of travel on Saturday. I have been wanting to visit Serpent Mound again for years, I remember my Grandmother taking me here as a kid, and I wanted to see it again. Built a long time ago, Serpent Mound is a burial ground of ancient Americans that’s in the shape of a snake. The United States Department of Interior designated the mound as a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
It’s hard to see in the pictures, but the mound is over 1000 feet long and of great historical significance to the area. The visitors center has a nice display explaining the effigy’s who/what/why and, of course, stickers for my collection.
After the mound, I visited family and had lunch to celebrate Father’s Day a day early; it was the best BBQ I had eaten all week! I was left with a 2-hour drive back to Indy and was ready to get off the road! This is the 3rd year in a row where I’ve picked an interesting place to see and made a week-long trip out of it. It was nice to get away from the office and get out into nature before the high temperatures make it uncomfortable this summer. I’m already thinking about next year’s trip, and driving the entire Blue Ridge Parkway is on the shortlist.
What I’m Buying:
Stickers, lots of stickers. When I visit a significant location, I like to purchase a sticker to commemorate the occasion. right now, they’re being put on the cooler that goes with me on every trip, but I’m running out of room, so I need to figure out something else to sticker up.
ICE! You have to have ice to keep things cool when you’re off the grid. It’s nice to see that ice is still only a couple of dollars a bag, even in the middle of nowhere. The local liquor store gives away bags with any purchase, so I always have a bag or two in the freezer to get me started. I’ve been told you can get ice from fast food restaurants really cheaply, but I never think about getting it there (and I rarely eat fast food anymore).
What I’m Eating:
I had a few BBQ meals while traveling. Nothing that noteworthy and, honestly, a little disappointing with dry brisket and a side of mac and cheese where the sauce was broken and oily. I was expecting more and would rather eat the local BBQ at Traxx in McCordsville!
When camping, I normally dine on dehydrated meals from various manufacturers. Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Pakit Gourmet are in constant rotation, and I always get a solid, filling meal with just a cup or two of boiling water.
On this trip, I fixed my ever-favorite Chili Mac with Beef and tried a new meal of Chicken and Rice both from Mountain House. Both were very filling, and the Chicken and Rice could have passed for homemade; it was that good!
Since I was in the area, I had to check out Hillbilly Hotdogs in LeSage, WV. This place was one of the first places visited by the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show and features “The Homewrecker” hot dog that weighs 1 pound and is covered with just about every topping they have. I saw one come out of the kitchen, and it was ridiculous!
I ordered a Hillbilly Dog (Deep-fried Weenie, Chili Sauce, Mustard, and Onions) and a West Virginia Dog (Chili Sauce, Mustard, Onions, and Cole Slaw), along with an order of Deep Fried Pickles w/ Ranch. Everything was hot and fresh, and I would stop here again if I ever found myself in the area. It was pretty crowded for a Friday afternoon and a popular stop for the bikers traveling along the river route.
What I’m Watching:
I downloaded several movies on my iPad Pro to watch while camping, and I never even played them. I ended up spending my evenings reading, tuning in to distant stations on the shortwave radio, and relaxing to the sounds of nature.
What I’m Reading:
I’m still reading “Drowning: The Rescue of Flight 1421 “and hope to finish it this weekend. Several more books are in the queue, including one about Switchboard Operators during World War One.
The Fishers Health Department has released its “Inspection report of retail food establishments” which gives a letter grade for local restaurants (I believe they need to post their grade for people to see at some point). This is a HUGE step in transparency for the public. The letter grade system is used in a lot of major cities and does a great job of not only calling out places not meeting the standards but also warning the patrons of the issues. I was surprised at some of the C-grades from places I often frequent, and I will no longer be dining there until they get their act together. Kudos to the Fishwers Health Dept for leading the way with this program. Hopefully, other cities (looking at you, Indy) will follow!
I’ve been watching Mark Rober videos lately. In this video, Mark sets up a series of Olympic-style challenges for his backyard squirrels to compete in. From a balance beam to a diving board, these squirrels prove to be surprisingly adept athletes. Mark uses his engineering skills to create various contraptions and obstacles for the squirrels to navigate, such as a tiny zipline and a miniature pole vault. He also peppers the video with funny commentary and hilarious slow-motion replays of the squirrels in action. But beyond the laughs, this video is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of these furry creatures. So next time you see a squirrel in your backyard, give them a little respect – who knows what kind of Olympic potential they might have!