It was late July 2004 and we hadn't taken an RV trip for quite a long time. Joyce saw a show on Travel Channel about North Carolina and suggested we might want to take a trip there sometime. That's all I needed! I asked when do you want to go and where do you want to go? How about last week in July and we start with Asheville?-- sounds great to me. We'll visit the Biltmore and whatever else we can find in Asheville, then move East to one of those Emerald mines where you pan your own, then to the High Point area to look at the furniture that North Carolina is famous for, then whatever. Sounds like a plan ... off we went! Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina ... and back again.
Firstly, let me apologize to all the friends and family that we passed by. We decided that this would be a real vacation trip, without visits to friends and family along the way. So don't be offended that we missed you -- you were one among many. Mostly, we just wandered along, stopped when we felt like it, moved on when the mood struck us, and had a rather enjoyable vacation.
Florida Citrus Center and Souvenir World on I-95
The Riceboro park water view,
My afternoon photo of the main house
Our first stop was one of those ever-popular Florida fruit stands. This was the Florida Citrus Center and Souvenir World, somewhere along I-95. Doesn't really matter exactly where -- they're all generally the same. You can get a fairly good deal on fruit, buy a bunch of silly souvenirs, and fill your gastank. We looked around, didn't buy anything, sat in the RV and ate lunch, then rolled on northward.
As usual, click any photo to see a larger version
Our first campground was a Passport America park in Riceboro, Georgia, just South of Savannah. Nice little park with lots of shade trees and a neat little nature walk along the river or lake or swamp or whatever it was. Saw a few long-necked birds and enjoyed the view.
From there we wandered on up toward South Carolina, with only a few stops. One day, we managed to stop at a little antique store along the road -- Joyce spent an hour or so browsing, while I stayed in the RV and ate some lunch. Worked out great for both of us!
Ornate decorations on outside of main house
Another overlook from Blue Ridge Parkway
Stolen off the website, taken by a pro
Gargoyles loomed everywhere
Beautiful grounds all around the main house
Three Knobs Overlook (at 3879 ft I think)
But, on with the trip. The main thing we wanted to see when we got to Asheville, NC was the Biltmore Estate. Wait, one more whine -- we stayed at Wilson's Riverfront RV Park and weren't too impressed. It's a Passport park, but the discount is only good July 18-24 and Nov-Apr, so we ended up paying full price. Good news is they had cable and were close to the Biltmore.
On the right, you see my photo of the Biltmore main house and one I stole off the internet. I took mine in late afternoon, which I later discovered was a bad idea since the home faces East. The stolen photo looks much nicer, taken on a clear Autumn morning.
The Biltmore is really impressive -- it's advertised as the largest private home in America. The basic tour costs $39 per person and $7 for the cassette player tour guide (recommended). You're guided through 53 rooms and told details of each one. Some people were just using the book they give out, but it missed many of the details provided on the tape.
There are several additional "private" tours that you can pay extra for, where you get to go into areas that the rest of us peons didn't get to see. There's also a free wine-tasting at the onsite winery, which we decided to check out. They have a large number of wines and you're offered as many tastes as you like. We each consumed about 5 small glasses and had a nice time. We also had the option to tour other areas, like the stables, gardens, etc., but we had walked enough when we finished the main house tour. On the right are more Biltmore pictures. No photos were allowed inside, but you can visit their website to see some great pictures of all the rooms.
After wandering through a number of downtown shops in Asheville, we decided to pick up and move East toward the Emerald mines that Joyce had seen on TV. We were going to go to a little town named Hiddenite, but happened to stop at a Visitor Center in Marion. They told us of several nice spots to visit North of them, around the area of Little Switzerland. We drove on up there -- a very scenic drive, but also a very mountainous, curvy, narrow, unnerving drive. We got up to Little Switzerland (very little) and drove on down the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway to a rustic little campground whose name I've forgotten. But ... a surprise! They had no hookups -- primitive camping only -- no generators allowed from 10PM to 6AM. By that time, we were in no mood to drive back down that mountain road. We were at a slightly higher altitude, so could supposedly do without A/C from 10 to 6 -- so we stayed.
It was early afternoon, so we decided to take the toadie and go check out the nearest Emerald mine -- I think it was called Emerald City. We found it to be very picturesque and the people there were very hospitable. We spoke to several miners on the way out with their bag full of "goodies." They'd pick up a rock about 2 inches long and an inch square and say "this is an Emerald." Another gray rock about half that size "this is a Sapphire."
If you've read my latest book, you recall that in the final chapter I talked about taking some real RVing trips in 2004, where we "just wander along, stopping when we feel like it, staying as long as we like, and not worrying about how many miles we make each day." Well, this was one of those! And we also now pretty well agree that stopping at little shops and interesting places along the way is almost impossible when you're in a 36' RV towing a car. A better idea is to get to the campground, unhitch the car, and use it to do your wandering around. We did that several times and it worked out great!
Before going on in the morning, we stopped in Richmond Hill, GA and got an oil change. I should've gotten it back in Florida, but didn't get around to it. Joyce enjoyed the stop at the shop -- they had a very talkative parrot in their office. Joyce got real friendly with it, got it to sit on her shoulder, and it said several phrases very clearly.
Typical Blue Ridge scenery
We returned to the campground, ran the generator for the A/C and TV until about 7, then turned it off, played some cards, and went to bed. Slept with the windows open and the cool mountain breezes blowing on us. Joyce woke up with a sore throat and a headache. I barely got any sleep because of all the quiet, mixed in with the crickets, etc. Guess we're really not outdoor-type people anymore.
Next morning we awoke and immediately decided that a trip back to the gem mines probably wasn't worth the trouble. If we did find a valuable rock, we wouldn't know it, had to trust the mine people to cut it and send it to us, and would probably just end up with a sack of ugly rocks that we were told were valuable gems. And the sack would take its place among the similar souvenirs we'd gathered over the years -- like the flakes of Gold we panned in South Dakota years ago, that still sit in their little bottles in some drawer.
From there, we wandered on down toward High Point, where they're famous for their furniture stores. Joyce rambled through about a dozen or so furniture stores, I went along to a few. We did find some nice end tables that we wanted, but then we learned that they ship them to us in 6 weeks or so. We're more the "take them and go" types, so ended up not buying any. Joyce did manage to find a really great fabric outlet store there called 1502 and bought a bunch of fabric to do various things around the house.
From there we wandered on down through North Carolina and began to see signs advertising "South of the Border" -- a stop that apparently had everything a tourist could possibly want -- antiques, Africa shop, souvenirs, a variety of restaurants, T-shirts, beachware, etc., etc. After seeing the signs for about 100 miles, we decided we just had to stop -- as did everyone else on I-95. It turned out to be very crowded, with very sparse parking (nothing really dedicated to RVs), and somewhat high prices. Below are some photos. For future reference, I'd recommend not wasting your time unless you have kids that like alot of gaudy, colorful sights.
South of the Border
Giant sombrero on a tower and a bunch of signs
Joyce with the
I decided against posing with the giant Gorilla
Finally, let me put in a little plug for a really nice RV park that we discovered. We were planning to make it South of Savannah to return to the Passport park at Riceboro, but then decided to just stop a little earlier. Using our "Next Exit" book, we found one at I-95 Exit 53 in South Carolina. It's the New Green Acres RV Park and they advertise the longest and widest pull-thru sites East of the Mississippi. I'm not sure why they say East of the Mississippi, because these are the largest sites I've ever seen anywhere! Enough room to pull three RVs into each site. Really clean, plenty of shade trees, and cable, too! Check out their website for photos of the park. Now, if I can just convince them to join Passport America, they'd be the only Passport park on I-95 between Florence, SC and Riceboro, GA.
My Travel Log
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Click any photo for a larger view
Bottom line -- I couldn't tell one rock from the other and wouldn't know if I really had an Emerald or just a rock. When you do find a gem, you can leave it with them for cutting for $50 or so, then they send it to you 3-4 weeks later. hmmm ... not my conception of gem-hunting. I want to go out, find a beautiful shiny cut gem, and take it home with me. Doesn't work that way. So, we picked up a few shiny, pretty, colorful rocks and went back to the campground, planning to return the next day to buy one of their $15 buckets of mud/rocks. They had all sizes, up to $65 and $110, but we figured the $15 size would keep us both busy for a few hours, long enough to decide we had done the gem thing.