Appalachian Adventures

A recounting of mountains, trees, and the occasional beast in the American southeast!

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Hey there, lovely readers!

   I hope those of you in the United States were able to enjoy the holiday celebrations recently, and I hope all of you enjoyed this past weekend!  I was on the road for most of the past four days, and that’s good for you, because it means I have more stories to share about my journeys.  I took the weekend to travel to South Carolina and back, hitting up some sights and other destinations along the way.  The excursion brought my U.S. state count up to 38 (NC, SC, GA), and I’m very excited to bring it to 42 in a couple weeks!  But without any further ado, here’s what went down in the Appalachians:

 

My journey started with the typical first day of heavy driving, which I always like to do so that the following days can include more exploration of new places.  I took the major interstate route through Peoria, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Lexington, and I stopped for the night in southeastern Kentucky.  My hatred for Illinois didn’t change at all; the state was still just a long and monotonous expanse of roadway to overcome along the way.  I found, however, that I have a weird pleasure with driving through cities.  In every major city I went through, I was nearly unhindered by traffic, even with it being a holiday weekend.  There’s an oddly calming sensation for me with being on a three-or-four-or-five-lane interstate or highway; I strongly prefer it to the miles in-between said metropolises.  Anyway, one surprise of the first day’s drive was that Ohio (which I hate almost as much as Illinois) actually has one spot of scenic views:  the southwestern tip of the state, near Harrison, actually has greenery and hills!  I found the same to be true of Kentucky, as I had only ever been in its western tip previously, but I still don’t find either state worth the drive.

To reach Falls Creek Campground, I traveled down through Daniel Boone National Forest and took Highway 90 east.  Though this way allowed me to see more of the forest, I wouldn’t drive it again, because the road was constantly winding and curving to the point where it was more annoying than enjoyable.  The campsite itself was pretty nice, but I headed out right away on Sunday morning, as Kentucky was never my intended destination for sight-seeing.  Plus, the overwhelming number of cicadas I encountered started to creep me out…

Day two was full of both frustration and joy for me.  As I came upon southern Kentucky and headed into northeastern Tennessee, I saw some amazing mountain overlooks from the beginning of the Appalachians.  I unfortunately don’t end up with many pictures on trips where I drive a lot, so I didn’t snap any.  I guess maybe you’ll just have to see for yourself how pretty it is? 😉  I also tried Waffle House for my first time ever, and it’s a pretty solid choice, as far as American fast-food chains go.  And since it’s in the South, you have to order the biscuits and gravy when you go (assuming you don’t order the chicken and waffles, of course).

As I continued past Knoxville, TN, I found my first and only unpleasant experience of Tennessee in my life.  I took the route through Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains, and let me say that it was not at all worth the drive.  I became frustrated very quickly with the traffic and gimmicks of the towns in southeastern Tennessee, and I had had no idea going in that Gatlinburg was a tourist trap.  All I had ever heard about was the massive fire damage, so the standstill traffic certainly took me by surprise.  And when I finally made it into North Carolina, there wasn’t even a welcome sign! Out of all the states I’ve driven to/through, that’s the first without a welcome sign.  Just who do they think they are!?  But I digress…

North Carolina was very similar to Kentucky for me; it had pretty, forested mountains and all, but it wasn’t any special location worth a long drive.  I made my short journey through the state in the late morning, and from there, I found the best parts of my entire weekend.

South Carolina is a true gem of the South.  The landscape is incredible, the historical influence is obvious and rich, and the wildlife is abundant, just to name a few of its qualities.  I drove down through Cross Anchor, a small town in the northwest portion of the state, and as I saw road signs and markers for plantation-museums, I realized that South Carolina is a very genuine and honest state.  Unlike much of the South, it doesn’t try to hide or defend the dark American history of slavery; the state displays it as a source of information and curiosity, just like it does with its forests and natural wonders.  While I didn’t stop for any of these attractions, I felt respect for South Carolina’s honesty.  And this appreciation for the state only increased when I saw its wildlife!  I drove through and stayed in Sumter National Forest, which is reminiscent of forests in northern Minnesota, Michigan, and the Pacific Northwest:  pine trees abound and smell heavenly, while all kinds of critters scurry and slither about.  I stopped exploring the forest only because I feared I might run into a venomous snake or spider and not see it before it saw me.  This might seem sort of silly if you’ve never been to the Midwest, but we simply don’t have many animals that can kill you, as do other parts of the country and world.

I stayed at Magnolia RV Park and Campground, and although the bugs are a slight bother, I strongly recommend it to anyone staying near Whitmire, SC.  As I’ve surely mentioned in other posts, Magnolias are my favorite species of tree (see below!), so sleeping underneath one was a treat.  The campground staff was extremely kind and accommodating as well, and the campground had trails to explore, if a person was brave enough.  It was on these trails that I found some colorful mushrooms (likely unsafe to eat…) and pretty rocks, but as I reached down to pick up one of the rocks for a closer look, I noticed a small green snake about two inches from my hand (see below!)!  I looked it up earlier and found it to be a relatively harmless Rough Green Snake, but it made me wary nonetheless and cut my forest exploration short.  I found the July humidity to be nearly unbearable in South Carolina, so although I enjoyed my time there, I didn’t find much rest or respite the second night.  I also don’t know if it was from the campground’s pool, the bugs in South Carolina, or a different cause altogether, but I developed a sort of rash, with red splotches on my midsection.  It went away in a couple days, but it alarmed me as well regardless.

MagnoliaShroomSCSnake

My third morning of vacation started extra-early, with a 5:00 a.m. departure, since I couldn’t sleep anyway.  I headed north before the sun had risen, and by the time I made it to my destination of Jocassee Gorges, the day was freshly underway.  Ironically, I passed through a town called Sunset right before the gorges, and I felt it would have made for a quality photo opportunity on a return journey.

The Jocassee Gorges could easily be renamed the Jocassee Gorgeous (okay, I admit that’s pretty cheesy, but it’s true).  As part of Sumter National Forest, the gorges are full of wildlife and quite a treat to see (as shown below).  As someone with an older luxury car, however, I should not have taken my car on their trails.  The trails were very rocky and windy, so I recommend a vehicle with some off-road ability, instead of, say, a Buick…  The view is incredible, however, and it was in the gorges that I saw a bear in the wild for the first time in my life.  While it was an exciting moment for me, it was simultaneously frightening to see a little black bear (probably a cub) come barreling across the road about 15 feet in front of my car!  I kept my eyes peeled and nerves steeled the rest of the drive in the gorges, because I really didn’t care to see the mother of the cub!  One careful note to make about the gorges is that the rocky, windy road through them does not actually go all the way through them.  It traverses about 10 miles, give or take a couple, before ending at a closed gate.  Anyone wanting to see the whole trail will have to do some hiking.  And if you hike where bears are, more power to you, because you are braver than am I!  The gorges had some nice lookouts of the Appalachians, and the pictures I took represent pretty well what you would see anywhere in the South.  From Kentucky in the northern portion to South Carolina and Georgia in the south, and west all the way to Mississippi, these views are typical of the mountains a traveler would see in America.  Speaking of which, let me tell you about the mountains in Chattahoochee National Forest!

JocasseeGorgesJocasseeFalls2

Chattahoochee is in northeastern Georgia, and it is one of the more beautiful portions of the American South.  The mountains give off an ebony or darker vibe, almost as if signifying the depth and history of the South.  The Forest stretches to about the middle of Georgia, and I skirted the northern border almost all the way to Alabama before heading north to Chattanooga, TN.  Georgia was less busy and no less beautiful than the rest of what I saw on my vacation, so I strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to see the South.  It was in Georgia or Tennessee that I decided to drive as far as I possibly could on Monday, with the ultimate hope of making it back home and not paying for a hotel or campground for another night.  I really enjoyed my vacation in the South, but I also wanted to return to everyday life and gear up for my next expedition.

As I left Tennessee and headed through Illinois, I realized one reason why I prefer driving in the South to driving in the Midwest:  the interstates are surrounded and almost crowded by lines of trees.  In Iowa especially, the interstates are border by nothing but corn and beans fields.  There isn’t any scenery worth seeing, and most of the state is as flat as can be, so the lack of trees almost seems like Iowa just doesn’t care as much as the states in the South.  But, again, I digress…

My attempt at driving from Whitmire, SC, to north-central Iowa all in one day did not succeed.  I found a second wind of joy as I drove through a nearly-deserted, sun-setting St. Louis, Missouri, at around 8:30 p.m. (Central Time, as opposed to my 5:00 a.m. start in Eastern Time), but my weariness set in shortly thereafter, and I called it quits for the day at 18 hours on the road.  It was a new record for me, and likely one I won’t try to break any time soon.  I stopped at a hotel in Hannibal, MO, and I finished the rather uneventful drive home the next day.

I hope to someday return to Georgia, if not also South Carolina, but in the meantime, stay tuned for posts about my travels from before I started my blog, my opinions on what states to visit/skip, and my next adventure in a couple weeks!  The destination will be a surprise!

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