Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Camping in North Carolina

Our big vacation for this year was two weeks camping in North Carolina.  Daddy used to live in Research Triangle Park and wanted to head down to visit with old friends and check out old haunts (which he found had changed quite a bit in 20 years ;-).

Unfortunately I forgot my nice Canon Rebel T3i with the zoom lens and was stuck taking pictures with my cell phone the whole time.

Jordan Lake

We started out at Jordan Lake Recreational Area in Apex.  We had a lovely site right on the lake, with coves on two sides.

We had a blue heron (that the kids insisted on pronouncing here-on just to bug me) that was nesting in the cove.  We saw him every day we were there.

We also saw a bald eagle a few times.  He was eating a fish on the shore opposite our campground.  Unfortunately it was too far to get a decent picture with my cell phone.  :-(

The weather wasn't overly cooperative but the kids did manage to get in some swimming, including a couple times swimming in actual rain showers.   But we also spent a bunch of just playing games at the campground.

Evidently we were there at the height of frog mating season, and a certain species of tree frog sounds just like a baby screaming.   A really nice sound to hear in the middle of the night.  There were also a ton of toads hopping around each evening.   As always, Vicki was our critter kid and was catching them for a closer look.

Then came what the kids called, somewhat hyperbolically, THE DISASTER.

We dealt with quite a bit of rain while we were at Jordan Lake.  The first night, it was a light shower and we had some minor leaks in our sleeping tent.  This was the first time it ever leaked (and we've camped in thunderstorms before).  We pulled off the fly, sprayed the seams with some waterproofing spray and put it back on.

The next night it leaked a little bit more, so we picked up a tarp to put over the top of the tent.  The first night that worked great.  The next night we got to see the negative side to that lovely lake view - strong thunderstorms included a strong wind coming right across the lake.   A wind that picked up that tarp and pulled the tent stakes right out of the ground.  Three in the morning and Daddy was holding up the tent long enough for us to get out and run to our Suburban to spend the rest of the night.

After looking at the damage in the morning, we debated whether to cut our trip short and head home.  A couple of the tent poles were broken, the canopy frame was bent, everything was wet (and I had already spent a few hours at the laundromat this trip!).  But we decided to stick it out and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway to Davidson River.

Davidson River

Davidson River is in the Pisgah National Forest, part of the Appalachian Mountains.

With the help of lots of duct tape, we were able to set up camp at our new home-away-from-home.  Since we were in the middle of the woods, we figured we shouldn't have to worry about any strong winds.   We did tell Squidy that he could sleep in the truck if he felt nervous at any point. 

One of our first stops in Pisgah was Sliding Rock.   Sliding Rock is a 60 foot long waterfall with a sloping boulder that can be slid down like a slide.  

Squidy took one look at it from the stairway down and gave a firm NOPE.

I found out how cold the water was and I gave it a Nope as well.  Vicki went down together with Daddy and didn't care for it.   The coldness and the drop at the end left her feeling like she couldn't catch her breathe and that seriously freaked her out.

 We went for a visit to Looking Glass Falls, one of the many waterfalls in the area.  It was a little bit chilly.

Our campground is named after the Davidson River that runs along one side of it.  The river was EXTREMELY cold but the kids still were brave enough to do some wading and some tubing.   While tubing they sang some lovely songs about the "icy river of death" - just a little morbid.   Daddy went with them once and I went with them once.  Other than your butt hitting rocks at time, it wasn't a bad trip at all. 

We did some hiking and found a cute, little Methodist church in the woods along the river.  

And went to visit the Pisgah Ranger Station.   The ranger station had exhibits about local wildlife, maps and information on local hikes and waterfalls, and a store.   Squidy bought a fox hat and a little stuffed hat, while Jade and Vicki got wolves.

Since it was chilly, Squidy decided he wanted something that he could use to cover his mouth when it was cold.  Something made of soft, warm material but not a scarf.   On one of my trips to the local Walmart, I ended up grabbing a fleece remnant and making him a bandanna.

And once he had a bandanna, he wanted an eye patch.  For himself and his fox.  Then Vicki wanted a poncho.  And one for her wolf.  And Jade wanted a scarf.  And one for her wolf.   I love that fleece is super-easy to work with - just cut and your done.

I figured there would be lots of science and nature learning on this trip, but we were also able to throw in some history with our visit to the Cradle of Forestry.   The Cradle is an American Heritage Site for the Biltmore Forestry School, the first Forestry School in North America.  

The education center had interactive exhibits about the school, later developments in forestry, and conservation.  Outside there were hiking trails that took you among the buildings from the forestry school. 

I was mean, and to make sure the kids actually read some of the informational signs and didn't just race through, I had them take notes about interesting facts. 

Back to science - the hills in this area were known as the Pink Beds, due to the large numbers of rhododendrons.   They were easy for us to identify since we have a couple sitting right in front of our house.

One of the things we asked about at the Ranger Station were simple hikes with waterfalls.  We ended up choosing Graveyard Fields as a not too long, not too strenuous hike.  It was a beautiful day for hiking, sunny but not too hot.

We went first to the Lower Falls.  These were the stairs we had to walk down to get there, which means we had to walk back UP them to continue on our hike.  The falls were worth it.

We fond this grouping of trees that the kids called the "Narnia tree".

Lots of little creeks to cross over, and lots of muddy parts in the trail.  Vicki still is unable to resist stepping in every body of water or mud she sees.  She lost her shoe in one muddy area, then I lost my shoe helping her out of another.

We made it to the Upper Falls and stopped on a nice flat rock to eat our lunch.

The troll blocking the bride.  ;-D

On our way back from our hike, we stopped at some of the scenic overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  You definitely want to make sure your brakes work well driving there.

Back at our campsite, we caught a glimpse of the elusive white squirrel (another time I really wished for my zoom lens!).   We had seen a sign about the white squirrels on one of our trips out to Brevard, which was the closest town to the campground.  According to local lore, the white squirrels were escapees from a carnival truck that overturned.  These squirrels are not albinos since they have black eyes and are sometimes streaked with grey.

We took a trip to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.

Outside the center were two swallow nests with babies in them.  

Inside, we watched a video on the Hellbender Salamanders.  

and walked through exhibits about various other wildlife found in this area of North Carolina.

We fed the trout out at the fish hatchery.

One of the highlights of our trip was going to be an all day caving and rafting adventure.   We got up early in the morning and headed to Tennessee, where we waited at this little outpost for our guides to arrive.  And waited.  And waited.  And tried to call but no one answered.  Finally, we reached someone at their main office and found out they had lost our reservation.  And wouldn't be able to get anyone their for a few hours.   

We were not happy to say the least.   They, of course, were going to refund out deposit (but we still haven't seen it!) and sent a voucher for a rafting trip.  

We were able to book the rafting trip for the next day, lucky for us since we were only in the area for two more days.  It was supposed to be a Class 2/3 trip but our guide thought we hit some Class 4.

Despite some set-backs, we had a great time on our trip in North Carolina.  The kids survived two weeks without Wifi, although still had too much time on screens, IMO.