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June 22-30, 2007  Smoky Mountain Camping Trip

June 22-25: Camping at Jellystone Park, Cherokee, NC
We arrived in Cherokee late Friday afternoon and were greeted by two elk at the welcome center. All I can think about when I see these horse-size deer is what it would be like to hit one on a motorcycle, or even a car.  We were excited about staying at Jellystone Park in Cherokee. They advertised a wooded environment with lots of activities for the kids.  When entering the campground, we drove by crumbling homes with trash and junk in their yards.  Our site had a dumpster on one side and a set of hand-made pens housing lots of dogs and a cow on the other.  The sites were narrow so our view was of the next camper's sewer hook-up. 

Luckily, we were able to move to a site on the river the next day which was much better.  The kids were able to ride their bikes on the gravel inner roads, and they swam in the pool until we spotted a little brown floater.  It was like the scene from Caddy Shack with everyone piling out of the pool.  Unfortunately, it wasn't a Babe Ruth bar, so the pool was closed for the duration of that day.  We played ping pong, caught a crayfish, and fished for trout.  It rained (hard) on Sunday, but it didn't dampen our spirits.  Then came the gypsies.  Two or three trucks with 15' trailers loaded to the gills with coolers and containers.  They started moving the big rocks that divided our campsites and pitched three huge tents next to us.  It took them hours to establish their camp, but they had plenty of booming music to accompany their efforts.  The only positive was that the billowing black smoke from their 30 or so tiki torches kept the bugs away.  Although we had paid for the fourth night, we packed-up Monday morning and headed for Maggie Valley and Ghost Town in the Sky.  I'd like to point out that Jellystone did not offer a refund for the last night, and when asked about a refund, they refused.  I'm quite certain that they rented the site that night, so they made double their money.  Perhaps that's how they can make a little extra cash.  I know that a campground has to make a profit, but our experience with these commercial campgrounds is that the sites are half the size of what they should be.  They try to cram as many sites into their limited space as possible.  Positives- Pool, WiFi, cable TV, good roads for bike riding, and the river.  Negatives- too crowded (we love kids, but GEES!), poo in the pool, sites too narrow, and a loud PA system that cranked-up first thing in the morning blasting kids music all over the campground.  We wouldn't recommend Yogi in the Smokies, but there are attractions locally that we would recommend.  The Oconaluftee Indian Village and the outdoor play Unto These Hills depicting the events that led to the trail of tears.
Note: While I wouldn't recommend Yogi in the Smokies, I'd like to point out that we didn't see anything else more appealing.  Perhaps you should visit Cherokee while en route to another camping destination. 
An added note: With no cellular access at the campground, pay phones are are the only method of making a call.  We used one for four calls totaling about 15 minutes.  The bill on my credit card was just over $91.00.  American Express worked with me and refused the charge.  I called Yogi about this and they seemed shocked.  According to them, they'll be posting signs warning campers of the excessive costs charged by the phone company/crooks.

June 25-27: Maggie Valley Camping and Ghost Town In The Sky - Maggie Valley, NC
You know, I have passed by Maggie Valley many times in past years, but I'd never actually visited.  It's really a cool little town.  There are lots of restaurants and things to do (including skiing in the winter).   We stayed in a quaint little RV Park called Stone Bridge.  Although the sites on Jonathan Creek are kind of narrow, there was plenty of room behind the camper for the kids to play.  There's a pool and game room, and a very nice clean laundry.  The roads are paved and very level, so the kids could ride their bikes a lot.  My only complaint was that the site was kind of muddy after the rain, something that could have been remedied with a few dollars worth of gravel or mulch.  Otherwise, we loved Stone Bridge.  The people there are really friendly (there are quite a few full-timers there).  We have already booked two sites on the creek in October, and it looks like "Super Dave", "Carly Sue", Dianna, and Carson are joining is for the long weekend.

Our first stop in Maggie Valley was Ghost Town in the Sky.  The theme park, which has been around for over 45 years, has been closed for several years pending sale.  This year it has reopened with a fresh coat of paint and a new crew.  Some of the rides have not opened yet, but those that were open were very nice and clean.  The shows such as the gunfight on main street, and the Silver Dollar Saloon are very well done.  The music was great at the Red Dog Saloon, and everyone enjoyed the Indian dance and blow-gun demonstrations.  Unfortunately, it started raining hard that afternoon, so the chair-lift closed and they had to shuttle everyone (and I mean everyone) down the mountain in passenger vans.  I heard someone say they had six vans, but I'd say it was closer to two.  It took two hours to get out, and we were some of the last to leave.  We saw Ghost Town as a real Ghost Town.  Positives, fun kiddie rides, clean, fresh, professional shows, great view, good prices (once in the park).  Negatives- Not all rides opened, bad transportation/evacuation plans, charged full price although some rides were unavailable.  It is a bit pricey, especially with four kids.  I believe it cost us around $140.00.  Fortunately, we got a rain check and are planning to go back in October.  Hopefully they will have opened the rest of the rides by then.  Even with the negatives, we'd still recommend Ghost Town in the Sky.

Note to Ghost Town management:  Don't advertise your "thrilling roller coaster" before it's open, and you should make it clear that not all attractions and rides are opened at the base of the mountain before you take the customer's money.  You've got a good thing, don't spoil it!.

June 25- Biltmore House/Estate, Asheville, NC
While camping in Maggie Valley, we took a day trip to Asheville to visit the Biltmore Estate.  We spent over seven hours exploring the house (we plugged it as a castle to the kids), gardens, farm, and winery.  I followed the advice of the lady that sold me the tickets, and played a game of I-Spy as we toured the house.  I'd find some object in a painting, engraving, or sculpture, then have the kids try to find it.  It kept them entertained enough to make the house tour much more enjoyable.  Once again, it decided to rain on us, but we didn't care, we just kept on going.  At the farm, the kids got to pet some of the animals and saw a chicken lay an egg.  The attendants let the kids collect the eggs, and as you can see from one of the pictures below, John Micah had a little accident ( I believe that boy could break an anvil).  On the way out of town we stopped and visited Dianne, a good friend and co-teacher of Rebecca's that was visiting her mother in the hospital.  By the end of the day, we were tired and ready to head back to camp.  We did, however, stop at the Maggie Valley Rock Shop to browse and do a little gem grubbing.  When we got back to camp, the kids rode their bikes and watched a movie before calling it a day.

June 27: Sheffield Ruby and Sapphire Mine- Franklin, NC -
On Wednesday we went gem grubbing at the Sheffield Mine in Franklin North Carolina.  Mother Goose and Aint 'Net met us there.  
Although we had very little luck, we really enjoyed ourselves.  Aint 'Net found a tiny ruby, and the kids found lots of other semi-
precious stones in the enriched buckets, but otherwise, it was a bust.  One thing that makes the Sheffield Mine unique is the rubies and sapphires found there are actually from that location.  The dirt you screen is dug from that site, and it is possible to find a real valuable stone, what they call "honkers".  Although the visit was a little pricy with the number of kids we have ($10 for adults, $8 for the kids), I'd recommend this activity to others because the kids enjoyed playing in the mud very much.  Take a change of clothes!

Vogel State Park - Blairsville, GA & Helen, GA - June 27-30
Vogel State Park in an awesome place!  We were very lucky to get a big creek-side spot this week because many people reserve spots a year in advance for the 4th of July festivities.  The site was very nice an clean.  The park has a lake with a beach and peddle boats, a miniature golf course, and falls that you can hike to.  There is also a CCC museum where you can see how the young men that built this and many other parks across the country lived and worked (for a dollar a day).  The only negative is that the laundry room is way too small with too few washers and old dryers that do not work well.  Also, there is no full hook-up (no sewer), but that's pretty standard for state parks.  The roads are a little too hilly for our kids to ride bikes, but older, more experience riders would have enjoyed it.  A bear visited our site early Thursday morning, but we were sleeping late and missed it.  Personally, I think this is the nicest state park we've been to thus far.  Its only a couple of hours away, but it's really secluded.  It's close enough to attractions for day trips like Helen, Uniquoi State Park,  gem mining/grubbing, Tallulah Gorge, Dillard, Frankiln, etc.  We'd give it six thumbs-up.

While camping at Vogel, we took a day trip to Helen, GA, an alpine village (tourist trap) located in North Georgia.  We didn;t spend much time there because Lee Thomas wasn't feeling well, but I'd like to note that we ate lunch at La Cabana, a wonderful Mexican restaurant with very good food.  The owners/management were very nice and treated the kids like their own.  It was also very reasonably priced with food and drinks totaling about $5.00 apiece.

I'd also like to mention a barbeque restaurant we ate at on the way home on Saturday.  If you're ever in Blue Ridge, Georgia, stop by Blue Ridge Mountain BBQ for lunch.  I think it was some of the best barbeque I've ever had!  The service was great too!

June 16: Bike Riding and Rockhounding - Berry College, Rome, GA and Summerville, GA
This past week I made some modifications to Herbie's trailer so we could also carry bicycles.  I had them all loaded up, so we decided to give it a test run.  Lee Thomas had been begging to go rockhounding for agate in Summerville, so we made it a combination PB&J Adventure, rockhounding and biking.  Although it was very hot, everyone had fun While at Berry College, we saw a couple of very young fawns.  If you have not seen the deer at Berry College (Rome,GA), I'd recommend going over one evening (an hour or so before sunset).  If you drive to the back of the main campus, you will see a lot of deer.  I have counted over 200 in one field alone.

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