Wow, I can't believe we actually took a month long vacation. That is the first time ever we had the guts to take that much time off. We headed out on our wonderful adventure July 14th and finally returned home on August 15th. Over 4800 miles were logged on our 1996 Ford 250 Van.
Our first destination was to head to the mountains to find some cooler air. We ended up at Queen Wilhelmina State park in Mena Arkansas. It is the second highest mountain in AR and it was great to escape the blistering summer heat. The next night, we camped about 1 hour away from Memphis. It was hot and we were blasted by hungry mosquitoes as we set up camp. After putting on the trusty "Off", we were serenaded by our daughter Melanie as she played her guitar. Great night sleep in our air conditioned tent. Only one night there then off to our next destination "Graceland" in TN.
I was young when Elvis died and thought at the time he was old. It struck me to learn that he was only 42 when he died. We toured the mansion as we listened to all the facts and information given to us via recorded headsets. My favorite room was the Racquetball room that had all of Elvis’s awards, gold records, guitars, and costumes. Truly amazing how this one man gained so much popularity in a day and age where there was only three main TV networks and there was no such thing as the internet. He accomplished so much only to leave the earth at such a young age.
From Memphis, our next destination was Nashville. We had every intention to hit some touristy sites but with the long drive and after visiting Graceland we decided we’d save that for the next time we’re in the area. We found a private campground on Percy Priest Lake in Nashville. This camp was really awesome. A cold front came through and lucky for us as there was no electricity for our air conditioner. The camp site was right on the water and it was so beautiful. We felt like we were there all by ourselves albeit the campground was quite full. Best campsite so far. Melanie was so inspired by this location she composed a new song about camping in Nashville. Again, only one night there and off to some real mountains – The Smoky Mountains.
What an adventure…trying to get to the Smoky Mountains was hilarious. Driving through Pigeon Forge was something else. Guy referred to it as Penguin run. I think we hit every red light. Seemed like it took forever. Gatlinburg was almost the same. I never thought this would be so touristy. Every other street corner was a restaurant with "Pancakes" signs. Melanie made the comment that people must eat a lot of pancakes in Gatlinburg. Finally we plowed forward and ended up at Smokemont National campground. All sites full, except for the handicap site we had reserved for the following night. Sweet, we were in! It was so much cooler, about 68 degrees from the normal 80’s. We actually were a bit chilly! We explored a bit of Gatlinburg on day 2 but couldn’t wait to get back into the mountains and visited some of the overlooks in the park. We totally were relaxed now but also were looking forward to spending time on the beach. Off to Topsail, NC.
A long drive from the Smoky’s to Topsail, but so worth it. Meeting up with family in this great rental home with a beautiful view of the Atlantic ocean. So beautiful! We took one day out and went to some local wineries. Muscadine wines. I now know I do not favor Muscadine wines. In Topsail I also had the opportunity to photograph my niece Kelly for her high school senior portraits. She also was with her best friend Molly so we did a few "friends" shots. Sweet girls and we had so much fun! Here are a few shots from that session.
We left Topsail on a Saturday and headed to Yorktown, VA to visit with more of Guy’s family. We visited Colonial Williamsburg and old Yorktown. So much history all around that area. Again, we took one day and went to some wineries in Charlottesville, VA. My favorite one was Jefferson. Loved how they had the wines displayed and they had an awesome Chardonnay. Beautiful area and great wines!
Not letting any dust settle under our feet, we were off again headed to Northern Virginia, Fairfax Station once again to meet up with family. We celebrated Guy’s birthday at the local watering hole "Fat Tuesday’s". It reminded me of "Cheers". All the locals come gather to share a cold one or two. We were welcomed there like we were family. Really nice people and a great hangout. We also made a few day trips to our Nations Capitol and Annapolis, MD.
On a Sunday morning we packed all our gear and headed to another family vacation home on Smith Mountain lake. This was an absolute blast as Guy and his three brothers were all together on vacation. The first time in many years. The home has about one hundred steps from the house down to the lake but the guy’s carefully brought Guy down so we could all go on the boat. Guy took the captain’s seat and off we were for a seven hour tour of the lake. It was awesome to see Guy really relax driving the boat and smoking a cigar.
Three days on Smith Mountain lake and our journey back to Houston has now begun. We really wanted to spend two more nights in the Smoky’s so we chose a camp that was really out of the way. Cataloochee National campground. Driving through 12 miles of curvy dirt roads and white knuckles later, we arrived about 3pm to find only three of the 24 sites open. Within hours of arriving, the site was full. This was on a Wednesday too. A lot of the locals like to come camp at this site because not many tourists go there. The people were so friendly offering us dry wood for our fire. We stayed for two nights and explored the area and saw beautiful Elk and even a baby black bear. The park ranger told us all about the Elk community and how successful introducing Elk to the Smoky’s has been. Beautiful animal.
As we said our goodbyes to the Mountains, we were off once again on a twelve hour trip headed to Baton Rouge - LSU. Brianna found a ride back home so we had the opportunity to visit with Justin and get him set up in his new apartment. We arrived back home Saturday night and were greeted by Brianna’s smiling face. She and I turned around on Sunday and headed back to LSU to get her set up and settled in her apartment. Boy that was exhausting.
In reflecting back on our trip, we had so much fun camping and visiting with family. We now wish we took more time out when the kids were little to camp. We realized how inexpensive it can be when you have the right gear. We are already thinking about our next adventure. Definitely we’ll pick the mountains again. Perhaps it’ll be Yellowstone.