Branson Rally

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Friday, June 27, 2003

Diana & I finished all the prep. Since February we have been planning for this trip and today all tasks were completed and we are now ready to depart for our 1 month tour to Branson.

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Saturday, June 28, 2003

Departed home at 7:00 am. Weather was ideal for travel with the morning temperature in the low 60’s and the afternoon predicted for mid 80’s and clear skies. Our route across the PA turnpike to Carlisle and then heading I81 south worked out well. Rebecca, our miniature schnauzer, was her usual nervous self. It always takes her at least 30 to 60 minutes at the beginning of the trip to settle down and relax. She also likes to take frequent Rest Stop breaks......at least every 2 hours. That worked out well for me because it gives me a chance to stretch my legs

We arrived at Yogi Bear Jellystone Campground, Natural Bridge, Virginia at 4:00 pm after driving 373 miles. The drive went well and the distance was just enough for a one day drive. I don’t think we would want to travel much further in a given day.

                                      

The motorhome performed well and we were thankful for that. I computed the MPG to be 8.8 mpg and that was fully loaded with the toad and tow dolly behind. Gas prices were pleasantly low compared to what we pay back home. The Sheetz Market was selling regular for the price of $1.35 per gallon for regular gas and that compares to $1.53 back home.

The only bad news for the day was a 15 minute delay and traffic backup on I81 caused by an RV. When we finally came upon the accident there were at least 4 ambulances, 5 police cruisers and a fire truck. It was difficult to determine if someone had been injured. It looked as if a 30 foot travel trailer came loose from the Ford Expedition tow vehicle.

The Yogi Bear campground is quite nice. All sites were level and most are decent size. Our motorhome, tow dolly and car fit nicely on our site with lots of room left over. We use our motorhome bathroom facilities but we did a quick check on the campground showers and they looked to be very clean. All roads are gravel and sufficient shade. The pull through sites were out in the open. The campground is about 12 miles off I81 so there is no road noise what so ever. The electric, water, and cable hookup\s are at the front of the site and the sewer is middle location. Our electric cable did not reach so I had to add a short extension cord.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Started the day with a 20 miles drive to a Wal Mart Super Center to purchase a 25 foot electric extension cord. As usual a great Wal Mart. The drive to Wall Mart took us through some beautiful Virginia country side on some beautiful roads winding through the hill side. To reach Wal Mart we traveled through the old, very small, historic town of Lexington, Virginia. We stopped to walk through the beautiful grounds of the Virginia Military Institute and also Washington & Lee University.

               

 

                             

We returned to the motorhome for lunch and to allow Rebecca to take a walk and potty break. After lunch we headed to the Natural Bridge attractions.

               

               

                 

A combination ticket to the Natural Bridge and Caverns seemed to be a good bargain at $13.00 each. The walk through the Natural Bridge was beautiful, cool and good exercise for the two of us. After our 2 hours visit to the bridge we got into the car and drove a short distance to the cavern.

The interior of the caverns felt great, 56 degrees. This particular cavern is the deepest on the East Coast and when we reached the final cavern room we were 347 feet or equivalent to 32 stories below the earth.

For diner that evening we had a fantastic baked potato, grilled skinless chicken breast and fresh corn on the cob. During dinner we decided that we would only stay one more night and depart 1 day earlier than planned. On this trip we are interested in exploring as much of the country side as we can and we decided that there wasn’t much more to do in this area.

This was a great day and we enjoyed seeing some of the beautiful natural geography that Natural Bridge, Virginia has to offer.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Hills, hills, hills and more HILLS. Or should I say MOUNTAINS. This was our first experience climbing 7 degree grades with the motorhome. There were some climbs that I thought we were going to need to pull off to the side of the road and disconnect the toad so we could finish the climb. On one climb we slowed down to 35 mph but fortunately the grade of the road declined just enough so we could get our speed back up to 45 mph and finish the climb. The highest climb was to 3000 feet and then there was the other side of the mountain…….a 7 degree downhill grade extending over 5 miles. Wee!!! No need to use the gas pedal but did need to hit the brake quite often to stay under 70 mph. All this mountainous geography was encountered traveling from Natural Bridge, Virginia to Lexington, Kentucky via I64. The highest mountains were in Virginia and West Virginia portion of I64.

When we departed Yogi Bear Campground in Natural Bridge, Virginia at 6:50 am the weather was dry but we experienced dense fog for the first hour of driving. I64 roadway in Virginia is a very smooth drive but worsens in West Virginia and then improves in Kentucky. Beautiful mountain vistas for the entire 383 mile drive.

Arrival at Kentucky Horse Park Campground was approximately 4:15 pm. The campground is located just a short distance off I 75 exit 120. They have a rather strange registration method. You stop at the office and they tell you to drive around and find an unoccupied site to your liking. Park your RV and then go back to the office to tell them your site number and make payment. By the way the fees are $23 per night for water and electric. All sites are asphalt with some shade trees here and there. The sites are huge with lots of space on all three sides. If this campground had sewers I would give it a 10 plus.

                                    

Because there weren’t sewer connections it was necessary for Diana and me to use the bathhouse for our showers. It was the first time for us to use public showers in over 20 years. The shower water was abundant and could be adjusted to be as hot or cold as you desired. The shower stalls could have been cleaner and it would really be a nice touch if the bathhouse was air conditioned. With the high humidity it was impossible to get dry after showering. The campground gets an "8" because of the bath house.

Had to replace a head light today and also the handle of the antenna fell off and needed to be repaired. Fortunately I had a spare headlight and was able to do the replacement in about 30 minutes. The antenna handle simply needed the hex screw tightened and now seems to be working just fine. We continue to hope that only minor problems such as these occur during our trip.

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Another very pleasant day weather wise, however, tomorrow might be a different story. Tropical storm Bill has moved its way up the Gulf coast and now the remnants of the storm threatens to affect the weather here in Kentucky. The worst case would be some rain and thunder showers later this evening and into tomorrow.

                       

The main attraction for today was a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park. The Park is located adjacent to the campground and very simple to get there. The Horse Park is a working horse farm and educational theme park sprawling on over 1200 beautiful Bluegrass acres.

               

You can wander through the Horse Park looking at all the extremely well groomed horses of all breeds, sizes, and coloring. Each hour there is a show or demonstration that provides insight and knowledge about horses. This day was fascinating, relaxing, informative and well worth the price of admission. We have a totally new understanding, appreciation and admiration for horses. If ever in the Lexington area don’t miss this unique one of a kind park.

               

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Wake up time this morning was 7:30 am and that was a somewhat later than the past few days. The extra rest was welcomed since the schedule has been very busy and the days have been long. After breakfast we took a 4 mile walk on roads to the rear of the campground. After walking the road for a short period of time, we realized that this area was part of the Kentucky Horse Park. Our walk took us to the stalls where many of the horses are kept. The workers were busy cleaning the stalls and hauling away the old straw. We turned around and headed the other direction and came upon two very large polo fields. There wasn’t any activity on the field so I walked over to pick up and examine a polo "ball" that had been left on the field. I always thought these "balls" were wood but this one seemed to be of some sort of a softer material.

After showering and changing clothes we headed for the main attraction of the day……a tour of the nearby Toyota plant in Georgetown. A short 9 mile drive on I75 North brought us to the Toyota Visitor’s Center. The day before we had called Toyota to make a reservation for the Noon tour and it’s good that we did. They conduct only 3 tours each day and the tour size is limited to 64 people.

                             

This Toyota plant produced it’s first car in 1988 and also this plant has the distinction of being the first Toyota plant in North America. The facility is huge….and I mean massive. They employ approximately 7000 people and have about 3000 contractors on site. Each day they manufacture 2000 vehicles. Did I say the facility is HUGE ?

The tour was awesome. I expected some sort of a walking tour, but was surprised to board a small tram that comfortably seated 16 people. The tram drove right on the factory floor where we were able to get close to all the work operations. The sights and sounds were overwhelming. This was like nothing I have ever seen before. Everything was on a grand scale and continuous action. More was happening that you could possibly see, let alone remember. It takes 20 hours to produce each car…..and the process is incredibly fascinating. The entire manufacturing facility is spotless clean….everything from the restrooms to the factory floors are immaculate. Also, everything is in its place….total organization. Very, very impressive and this tour is a "must do" if ever in the Lexington area. By the way, we rode on that tram for I hour and it moved through the factory….so that might give you some sense of the factory size. This was one of the most unique days that we ever had vacationing. The Toyota factory is just awesome

After the tour we stopped at a small picnic park near a small stream in Georgetown. We then drove through Georgetown University on our way to……you guessed it….Wal Mart. Georgetown University is the preseason practice location for the Cincinati Bengals. After a short shopping spree in Wal Mart we returned to the Campground for an evening of relaxation.

The menu for the evening dinner was chicken parm, baked potato and fresh corn on the cob. We decided to take another walk but this time stayed inside the campground and walked both of the inner and outer loops which total about 1.8 miles. Then it was off to the bathhouse for a shower.

On our return from the bathhouse I spotted some horses running in a field at the rear of the campground. We drove over to investigate and much to our surprise we discovered a polo match in progress. This was our first time to see a polo match. What an impressive sight when all the horses charge after that "ball" at full speed ahead. A great ending to another splendid day of RV’ing.

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Hundreds of horse farms surround Lexington and today we took advantage of this beautiful scenery. We traveled in our car for nearly 65 miles on the Lexington Bluegrass Country Driving Tour. A brochure outlined the various routing options and gave specific information about each of the horse farms that we passed along the way. Today we have seen more horses than we have seen in our lifetime. It’s interesting to see the horses out in the pastures just leisurely grazing. We spotted a few horse laying down, rolling on their backs and kicking their legs in the air like you would see a dog do. Then we spotted two horses chasing after each other, playing like two kids having a good time.

We went through the town of Lexington and found it to be quite small. Be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Center in Lexington because it’s different than any we have been in before. When we entered I immediately noticed the décor was quite different……it looked like someone’s living room with nice couches and chairs. The 3 elderly ladies that managed the center where extremely helpful, informative and made us feel most welcomed. The one lady, Martha Parks, could have talk with us all day. What a nice person.

Well, I must end this journal and begin to prepare the motorhome for an early departure tomorrow morning for St. Louis. Many memories have been made here in Lexington Horse Park during our short stay and we are thankful to have the opportunity to visit this part of America.

                         

Happy Fourth of July !!!!

This morning we departed from the Kentucky Horse Farm Campground at 7:00 am. We wanted to get an early start so we could avoid traffic congestion at the end of the day in the St. Louis area. Our drive today took us through Kentucky, into Indiana, Illinois and finally across the Mississippi River into St. Louis, Missouri. We arrived at our destination, Sundermeier RV Park, ahead of schedule at 3:45 pm and 365 miles. Total mileage for the trip so far is 1, 118 miles.

For some reason the trip today was the most grueling day. Rebecca, the miniature schnauzer, was a constant pest all day. For some reason this day was grueling for her too. The terrain was flat…..very flat for the most part and the roadways were straight. Plus the road surface was rough in many sections of I64. Very rough....like scrub board rough. Maybe that is what made the drive feel somewhat monotonous and boring. But in any case, we are thankful and grateful that we arrived safely without incident.

From distance on I64 the large St. Louis Arch could be seen. The closer you get to the Arch the more you are impressed with its massive size. We drove through St. Louis and on to St. Charles where the campground is located. The weather upon arrival was an oppressive 96 degrees, with a heat index of 111 degrees. By the time I finished the motorhome set up I was soaked from preparation. The campground is small, only 106 sites, but immaculately groomed. Each site is a cement pad sufficient in size to easily accommodate the motorhome, car, tow dolly and picnic table. All hookups are like new and the grass was nicely groomed. No shade trees are available and fire rings are not provided. The sites are small but perfectly clean and well maintained.

                                    

Following dinner we took a drive into the historic St. Charles district. What a pleasant surprise to find this treasure. Main Street is a red brick roadway lined with shops, pub and fine restaurants on both sides. After a quick drive through town we returned to the motorhome to get some rest and begin to make our plans for visiting in St. Louis.

St. Charles was having a 3 day Fourth of July Celebration so we decided to return to town this evening to view the fireworks display. So glad we did. Our lawn chairs were placed on the banks of the Missouri River and the fireworks were launched from a barge on the river. A fantastic, colorful and sound deafening display. Diana & I hadn’t been to a fireworks display for probably 10 years, so this was a special treat.

                              

Saturday, July 05, 2003

In an effort to beat the crowds we started off toward St. Louis at 8:00 am this morning. First on the agenda was to visit the Gateway Arch and ride the tram to the top.

                       

We thought we would be one of the first to arrive but the crowd was already beginning to develop. Fortunately though we only had a very short wait to get a tram ride to the top of the Arch. Hard to believe that this Arch was constructed in 1965, but yet still has a modern and futuristic appearance. The method for getting to the top was at first unknown to us and then we saw the "containers". Literally, a train of 8 small capsules transport people to the top observation deck which is 630 feet above the ground. Each "container" snugly holds 5 people in close quarters. If you are claustrophobic then this ride is not for you. The "container" takes 4 minutes to reach the top and is not air conditioned or ventilated in any special way. Not what we expected but we made it OK like thousands before us. Once you arrive at the top the view is magnificent and you are welcome to stay as long as you like. The ride down is accomplished the same as the ride up. Into the "containers" and down you go. Truly a unqiue experience.

               

               

Following the Gateway Arch we decided to search out the location for the Anheuser-Bush Brewery Tour. It took us a good 30 minutes to find this place that was just a short distance from the Gateway Arch. With the assistance of a police officer we were able to finally locate the facility.

The tour consisted of a walk through the various Anheuser-Bush buildings where the beer is brewed and packaged, or as they say, "the bottles are crowned". The tour guide told us the walk would be about I hour in length and a distance equivalent to 17 city blocks. The buildings are all old but maintained in perfect condition and rich with history. Whether inside the buildings, or outside, everything was in perfect order and clean. The grounds surrounding the buildings were beautifully landscaped and even had water gardens. At the conclusion of the tour an air conditioned bus, trimmed in Anheuser-Bush décor, transported us back to their hospitality center. During the short ride I asked the bus driver if they had a employee discount store. He said, "No, but each employee receives two free cases of beer a month". Once at the hospitality centered you are permitted to sample any of there products which tasted real good after a tour on this sweltering hot day.

                         

At conclusion of the Anheuser-Bush tour we returned to the motorhome to care for Rebecca, the miniature schnauzer, and take a short rest. The hot, humid weather is draining our energy and the short rest was refreshing. We then went to Cracker Barrel for dinner.

               

The evening was completed with a short walk in Historic St. Charles then a visit to the Bass Pro Shop Warehouse and the Ameristar Casino. The Bass Pro Shop had a huge of fishing and hunting supplies. I’m not into these sports but I could see that if you enjoyed fishing this place would be a real "candy store".

A short distance from the Bass Pro Shop is the Ameristar Casino. We arrived about 7:30 pm and the parking garage was starting to fill up. When we tried to enter the gambling floor we learned that you must first stand in a long line of people waiting to register. Rather than stand in the long line we decided to leave and return to the motorhome and call it quits for the day. When we went out into the Casino parking garage it was now just about full and a steady stream of cars were entering the Casino property. We conclude that this must be a popular hot spot for Saturday night entertainment.

Tomorrow we plan to visit Historic St. Charles one more time and then prepare the car and motorhome for the trip to Branson on Monday.

 

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Cleaning and preparing the motorhome tomorrow’s departure for Branson was the number one priority for today.

Directly behind the campground is Katy Trail State Park. The park itself is small but nicely equipped with a basketball court, picnic pavilion and a complete playground that would more than satisfy any youngster. This State Park is the trailhead for a hiking and biking path that extends south into the town of St.Charles. This was our first opportunity to take advantage of the trail so Diana & I took a 2 or 3 mile walk before the heat of the day. Even at 8:00 am in the morning the temperature and humidity was unpleasant. Upon return to the motorhome we had breakfast.

Following breakfast Diana went to the main office and did laundry for about 1 ¾ hours while I cleaned the exterior of the motorhome and connected the tow dolly. Then we shared the chore of cleaning the motorhome inside. We then took our showers and decided to tour the St. Charles area some more.

It was right about this time that our son Jeff called to let us know that we had a water leak in our basement at home. It wasn’t anything real serious and he was able to stop the leak and clean up the small amount of water that had accumulated.

We did some grocery shopping at Walmart and one of the local grocery stores. There was still some time left in the evening for a short walk in on Main Street in St. Charles and then we returned to the motorhome to call it a day. At 9:30 pm we were able to watch another fireworks display from the window of the motorhome. What a nice way to conclude our visit to St. Louis and St. Charles area.

               

Monday, July 07, 2003

At 7:00 am we departed the campground headed for our destination in Branson. We drove 264 miles today, so the total miles from home is now 1,372 miles. At 2:00 pm we arrived at Treasure Lake RV Resort, registered at the office and headed back to the area where other RV.NET people were staying. As we were searching for the proper area we were very warmly great by Sonney Hinson and Larry Brandt. Larry took me in his car to search for a site for our motorhome. Then they both came over to assist me with getting situated. Two very nice fellas.

               

After getting set up we visited all the other people that were congregated at Larry’s site. Again, lots of very nice ladies and gentlemen. After 2 hours of getting to know each other, Diana & I returned to our motorhome for dinner. Following dinner we went for a short drive to scout the area.

We found places like Silver Dollar City, caught a brief glimpse of Table Rock Lake, and drove in the bumper to bumper traffic on "76". Definitely we will leave early when we go to the show tomorrow…..Lost in the 50’s. I almost forgot to mention that we also stumbled upon a Super Walmart.

 

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Rebecca allowed us to sleep in this morning until 7:50 am. We had our morning orange juice, followed by a brisk 45 minute walk through the campground. The Treasure Lake RV Resort is a nice camping destination. It is conveniently located to all the Branson shows and attractions, but yet secluded in shaded sites away from the highway congestion and noise. All sites are level and shaded with full hookups.

After our walk we leisurely prepared for attending our first Branson Show……Lost In The 50’s.

Prior to the show we parked in the theater parking lot and walked through some of the shops in Branson. We then spent some time in the theater lobby which is done in 1950’s décor with 1957 Chevy convertibles and even a 1950 ice cream parlor. The show started sharply at 2:00 pm and did not conclude until 4:20 pm. Over two hours of high energy performers, singing and dancing to the famous songs of the 1950’s. The show was nostalgic and brought back lots of memories of my youth. The performance was better than we ever expected and I would highly recommend this to be a "must see" when visiting Branson.

               

Following the show we quickly returned to the motorhome to let Rebecca have a short walk and then it was off to Walmart to find something for the pot luck dinner. At 6:30 pm we joined the rest of the RV.NET people that had already congregated at the campground lodge building for the pot luck dinner. What a thrill to meet people from across the USA that you only knew from prior internet conversations. We had a real blast!! I cannot explain how much fun we had meeting each other. We had many laughs together. This was a very special day for Diana & me to meet these new friends and this one evening alone made the long trip worth the time and effort to get here. A swell bunch of people

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Rebecca (a.k.a. "the alarm clock") woke us this morning at 6:11 am. Since we wanted to get some tourist things done today, we wasted no time in getting up and going out for a morning walk. Rather than stay in the campground for the walk we decide to head toward the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and continue along that route until we reached the Shoji Tabuchi Theater. At this point we turned around and by the time we returned to the motorhome we had finished a brisk 45 minute walk which probably totaled 3 miles. When we get home we want to get back into the routine of a 4 mile walk and 4 mile bicycle ride each day.

Following our showers we jumped into the car and headed to "old" Branson. There we visited the Veterans Memorial Museum. The bronze statue of fifty life size soldiers from WWII was an awesome sight to behold. We then did some walking along the streets of old Branson and came upon an old time Five & Ten Cent Store….Dick’s. This store was packed with everything just like the old 5 & 10’s back in the 1950’s. It was great fun to walk through this store. We then went back to the motorhome for lunch.

After a brief rest we headed to the Yakov Smirnoff show. He put on two plus hours of humor that is witty, quick, clever and clean. We had very good seats 8 rows back, center. We laughed from the time we sat down until the time we left and it was all good wholesome entertainment.

 

 

Thursday, July 10, 2003

This morning at 9:30 am all the Branson Rally members met at Larry’s campsite in preparation for a short drive to Ride the Duck. The Duck is an old WWII amphibious vehicle with a capacity to carry 36 passengers. So the Rally members fill the Duck. For 90 minutes we toured the Branson area and learned some of the local history. Toward the end of the tour the vehicle rushed down a steep incline and smashes into Table Rock Lake. The Captain asked for volunteers to steer the Duck while on the lake and Diana was brave enough to display her nautical skills. The ride was lots of fun and the Captain’s narration provided lots of laughs.

                

                

                                    

This afternoon we attended the Shoji Tabuchi show which is conveniently located just outside the gates of the campground. The show was very professional and Shoji is an extremely talented musician. If you ever visit this theater you must stop to see the restrooms…..they are beautiful and spotless clean. The Men’s bathroom has a full size pool table and large overstuffed leather sofas and chairs.

                             

                

         

Friday, July 11, 2003

Before breakfast we took a routine 3 mile walk. After breakfast we mad e a trip to the Super Walmart to stock up on groceries. Then we took a short "power" nap before going to the show. Only one show was scheduled for today, the world famous Platters.

When we arrived at the Platter’s Theater we were surprised by how few cars were in the parking lot. The theater itself was the smallest and oldest of all the shows we had attended so far. The theater filled up slowly with a final audience of no more than 100 people. So this show was almost like having a personal private show. Our seats were in the fifth row center, so great view of the stage. The Platter’s gave a great performance singing many of their famous songs from the 50’s.

Around 7:30 pm this evening I took Rebecca for a walk while taking the trash to the dumpster located about 500 feet from our campsite. Rebecca usually walks on the roadway and stays off the grass and weeds and thankfully she did the norm this time too. I took a glance into a grassy area and spotted a large snake, approximately 4 ½ to 5 feet in length. I was able to get a few of the other Rally members to come over to identify the snake since I could not distinguish just exactly what it was. The others agreed that it wasn’t a copperhead and was most likely a black snake or rat snake. In either case it was more snake than I wanted to see or know about. From now on I’ll be much more cautious when walking through the weeded and grassy areas.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Since the beginning of our trip we have not experienced any rainfall until last night. Around 10:30 pm thunder and lighting moved into the area and stayed the entire night. High winds and heavy rain downpours made for an interesting night. A number of the RV’s in the campground sustained damaged awnings. Fortunately I had our main awning up and did not encounter any damage. This was one very noisy and long Midwestern thunder storm. After some clouds this morning the sky turned blue and the temperature returned to the high 80’s.

This was a day of relaxation and leisure with no specific shows or attractions planned. We took our morning walked and said farewell to a number of the other Rally members. Then some of the guys stood around and talked about tire pressure and all that technical RV stuff.

Brett Wolfe came down to our motorhome and spent a good 30 to 45 minutes giving the rig a thorough inspection. Brett is very knowledgeable about motorhomes and gave me a wealth of suggestions and ideas to improve the performance and life of our Georgie Boy Motorhome.

                        

We took a short ride to visit some of the shops and on the way back to the campground we stopped at the Fish Hatchery. Here they raise trout that are then released into the lake. This was a unique and interesting location with actually thousands and thousands of baby trout.

We returned home and were relaxing when there was a knock at our door. It was Brett Wolfe and he offered to do some more checking on our motorhome. He told me to get a pen and paper and he would tell me what needs to be done. He then got down on his back and slid under the front end of the motorhome. He continued from the front to the rear and showed me things as he spotted them. I showed him a hose that was loose on the engine. He found that this should have been connected to the fuel evaporator canister. He then proceed to repair the hose with items from his own supplies. In all, Brett worked on my motorhome for another 1 ½ hours. What a nice guy !!!

The Mexican Train Game was the highlight of the evening. About 10 of the people from the Rally, mostly Texans, met at Terry Nance’s campsite to play the Mexican Train Game. The game is played with dominos and up to eight can play at one time. We left at 11:30 pm and the game was still going strong. We all had a fun time with lots of good laughter.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

This morning Sonney and Donna departed. It was sad to see them go. The we walked over to Larry Brandt’s to see that it had been trashed with toilet paper during the night. Probably the work of those Texans.

Diana and I have been craving for pizza since we have had any for the past 2 or 3 months, so we found a Dominos Pizza and satisfied our desire. We then drove some of the back roads of Branson just to explore more of the Ozarks.

Later this evening we went to Terry Nance’s campsite and about a dozen of us talked the evening away. Of course we played Mexican Train according to "Texican" rules. Larry Ulmer brought his Mexican Train that he had just purchased at Dick’s 5 & 10 in Old Branson.

                

                

                       

This was our last night at the campground so we had to bid farewell to all the new fiends we had made. Although we had only known this folks for a short 6 or 7 days, it was still sad to say goodbye. This Branson Rally was our first and will be one that we remember our entire life.

Monday, July 14, 2003

We awoke at 6:00 am and within 50 minutes had the motorhome prepared for departure and were underway to St. Louis. During our rest stop for lunch we considered going to the Casino Queen Campground for a one night stay, but finally decided to return to Sundermeier Campground where we had previously stayed for the Fourth of July.

We arrived and Sundermeir at 2:00 pm, quickly setup the motorhome and then began to take advantage of the early arrival by doing 3 loads of laundry that had accumulated. Around 4:00 pm we took a 5 minute walk to an old time A&W Restaurant that is just 2 blocks down the street from the campground. We had a hamburger, chicken sandwich, French fries, onion rings, sodas and chocolate sundaes for less than $15. That was a neat experience to walk to a restaurant. The remainder of the evening we spent time planning the drive to Nashville, resting and catching up on national news.

 

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

By 7:00 am we were departing St. Louis and headed toward Nashville, Tennessee. We arrived at the Holiday Travel Park at 3:00 pm after a 340 mile drive. The trip went well and the motorhome continues to perform flawlessly. During set up at the campground the sewer hose would not reach the hookup so this gave me an excellent excuse to go shopping at the Camping World that is so conveniently located just ¼ mile from the campground.

                

While at Camping World we were able to look through several new motorhomes they had on display in the parking lot. Really gives us the "bug" to buy a new, larger coach with slides. While at Camping World we bought the Mexican Train Game.

After dinner we did a quick tour of the area in immediate proximity of the campground. The Grand Old Opry is just 1 mile from the campground next to the Opry Mills and the General Jackson paddlewheel boat. We returned to the motorhome and began to lay out plans for the next 3 days while staying at Nashville. Lot’s to do so early to bed tonight.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Every day since we left home over 2 ½ weeks ago has been busy with hustle, bustle activity. There has not been one day without a full day’s worth of fun and today was not the exception.

At 9:00 am this morning the tour bus departed from the campground to explore Nashville and surrounding area. The tour driver’s name was Sylvia and this was her fulltime job. But she told us of her younger days when she tried to become a star country singer. She had many stories about the many old time country singers she knew and worked with, but she never made it to the big time.

The tour included a stop at Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. The Ryman is the original location for the Grand Ole Opry since 1943. The facility was restored in 1994 at a cost of $8.5 million compared to the original construction cost of $100,000 in 1892. It is a beautiful building with acoustics said to be second only to the Mormon Tabernacle, surpassing even Carnegie Hall.

                

A tour stop at The Upper Room, a religious building that contained a wooded sculpture of the last supper. Then the tour went on to a stop at the full size replica of the Parthenon. Throughout the tour we passed many of the stars homes from the Grand Ole Opry….some of the names were familiar but many I did not know. Approximately 1:00 pm we return to the campground.

After allowing Rebecca to talk a quick walk we next ventured to the Opry Mills which is located a short 1 mile from the campground. The Mills is a very large shopping malls with many of the brand name stores and restaurants and also some unique. For example, there was a Gibson Guitar Store that also contained an area that actually made guitars on the premises. You could look through the glass walls and see Gibson guitars being handcrafted one at a time.

The weather for the entire trip continues to be hot and humid with temperature highs in the 90’s and lows in the 70’s every day. The only rain for the entire trip occurred that one night in Branson and that has been it for bad weather.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Like an alarm clock Rebecca woke me this morning at 6:00 am. I took her outside and then went back to bed for another hours rest. After breakfast we had to run errands for groceries and I needed some repair items for the motorhome. We found a Walmart, Kroger and Home Depot to satisfy the items we needed.

After lunch I spent some time installing rubber sheeting in the engine compartment to deflect air into the radiator. The old sheeting had become worn and tattered and needed this replacement. I also cleaned the car and the awning on the motorhome. The motorhome will need a good cleaning when we finally get home.

At 6:00 pm we left for the General Jackson Cruise located just one mile from the campground. We boarded the ship at 6:15 pm and at approximately 7:15 pm the shipped departed for downtown Nashville sailing on the Cumberland River. The river was rather narrow and had very little traffic. Around 9:15 pm we arrived at the Coliseum sports arena at which time the ship turned around and headed back to dock. We reached dockside at 10:30 pm. For part of the cruise we sat on the deck and viewed the scenery, but as soon as the sun set the mosquitoes began to find me as a tasty treat. We went into the piano bar lounge and spent the rest of the cruise there. There were two talented pianists that played and sang requests from the audience. We had a fun time enjoying the goods sounds.

                

Friday, July 18, 2003

We slept in till 8:00 am this morning. Today we plan to visit the Opry Hotel and then this evening the Grand Ole Opry.

Last night I called my cousin Carolyn Blocher. She lives west of Knoxville and our route to Pigeon Forge will take us right by her home. We made arrangements to stop at Carolyn’s home for lunch on our way to Pigeon Forge. Her home is located approximately 165 miles from where we are now located.

During the morning hours we caught up on laundry and did some cleaning inside the motorhome. I prepared the outside of the motorhome by disconnecting some of the hookups and loaded the car so we can get an early start tomorrow morning.

After lunch we drove to the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center. The hotel has 4 massive courtyards filled with flowers and vegetation as if you were in a tropical jungle. The complex is huge and has small shops and for $5 you can ride a boat on the river that meanders through the  courtyard. This place is amazing!!

                

                

                

This evening we went to the Grand Old Opry House via the bust from the campground. After a short 10 minute ride the bus driver dropped us off directly in front of the Opry House. As soon as you exit the bus you can feel the electricity in the air. A large stage outside the Opry House had a group playing country music. People were standing, sitting on benches or just plopped themselves on the ground to watch the show. It was really a special atmosphere…..it felt like a festival but yet you could somehow sense that this area around the Grand Old Opry House was special. It had a nostalgic felling.

The Opry show was FANTASTIC. The Opry House can accommodate 4400 patrons and the place was filled. Instead of seats you sit in pews like those found in a church. The design of the Opry House seemed to be patterned after the original Ryman in downtown Nashville. The stage had a large circular portion inset that was removed from the original Ryman stage. This way all the current stars could stand in the same spot that all the once old and famous stars.

                     

Saturday, July 19, 2003

We departed Nashville at 7:00 am and arrived at my cousin Carol’s home at 11:30 am. She and Al had a nice lunch made for us and for dessert Al had made a blueberry pie using berries he had picked the day before. Delicious lunch. It had been about 2 years since we last saw Carol and Al and we enjoyed our visit with then very much.

                     

About 2:30 we got back on Route 40 East headed to Gatlinburg. We were doing just fine until we took Exit 407 onto Route 66 South toward Gatlinburg. The traffic was horrendous, bumper to bumper, moving at a snails pace. To travel that last 15 miles it easily took 90 minutes.

Once we arrived at Twin Creek Resort we decided to relax for the evening rather than get involved in the traffic again.

                            

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Twin Creek Resort is a nice campground located about 2 miles from downtown Gatlinburg. If you are not traveling slowly it’s very easy to drive right past the entrance to the campground. The sites are modest in size and some sites backup directly to the RV behind you. The nightly rate was approximately $35. The entire campground is kept in very clean, neat condition. I didn’t care for the extremely small walking area for pets. The area located near the main road and is fenced with one gate for entry. This walking area is only about 25 feet wide and 40 feet wide. Just entirely too small an area. It didn’t feel very healthy to walk into this area where dogs have been walked. Most people cleaned up after there dogs but I could not believe that some did not have the decency to clean up even in the small confined area. This limited walking area made it very difficult to stay here with Rebecca.

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge do not have a zoo but instead they are a "zoo". Just too many people and cars bumper to bumper. This morning about 9:00 am we headed to the drive into the Smokey Mountain National Park. We drove about 10 miles and finally turned around and came back because traffic was so heavy. We plan to return tomorrow in hopes that some of the weekend traffic will not be present.

After lunch we drove into Gatlinburg and found a free parking spot on one of the back streets. Parking is at a premium. Again the weather today was sunny, hot and humid. We rode the ski chair lifts and had a fantastic view of Gatlinburg from atop the mountain. We then walked the streets for about 2 hours. Most of the shops are typical touristy expensive junk. Around 4:30 pm we returned to the motorhome and had dinner. After dinner we relaxed and made plans for our ride into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park tomorrow.

                             

                

                

I’m disappointed with this part of our trip. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are more of a tourist trap than I expected and just too, too busy for our liking. Maybe Monday and Tuesday will be less crowded.

Monday, July 21, 2003

If you are reading this and have any plans or desires to visit Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge then let me share a secret with you. We learned something the hard way about these two little towns located in the foot hills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You will enjoy your visit here much better if you DO NOT arrive on a Saturday or Sunday. Today, Monday, we noticed the crowd has dwindled to less than half of what it was over the weekend. Now it is much easier to get around and enjoy these nice little villages. The crowds are still here, but not nearly like the weekend mob.

This morning we drove to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park Welcome Center which is located about 10 minutes from the campground. We viewed the movie and then headed up the mountain in the car. We chose Clingmans Dome to be our destination which was a 30 mile winding, twisting drive with many hairpin curves, tunnels and one turn that somehow makes a 450 degree turn. The ride through the forest was beautiful with many yellow, red, blue and white flowers in full bloom. The forest was extremely dense and formed an umbrella over most of the roadway. As we ascended the mountain we drove through clouds that were moving up and over the mountains. After driving about 1 hour we reached the peak at 6,300 feet registered on my GPS. We parked the car and then the difficulty began.

                

To reach the tip top of the mountain it was necessary to walk a trail. The trail was asphalt covered but long and quite steep at certain points. The weather here was quite windy and cool compared to the temperature at the base of the mountain. The air was chilly, at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler. The walk took us at approximately 30 minutes with a few brief stops. People much younger than us were struggling to make the climb up the pathway.

                    

                    

Upon reaching the top we realized the strenuous workout was worth it. The view was magnificent. A large lookout tower stood at the peak with a circular ramp to gain access. Too beautiful to describe. If you ever get the chance, do it.

                

Also, from this vantage point the Appalachian Trail is accessible after walking about 30 yards down a pathway. So being this close we decided to venture onto the Trail. This part of the trail was about 10 feet wide for a distance of about 30 feet in both directions. But then the Appalachian Trail quickly narrowed to a very narrow, almost unnoticeable path with dense weeds and trees on both sides. We saw some trees marked for the trail and also a sign that indicated the next trail shelter was 2.6 miles from where we were standing. We never even entertained the thought to hike such a narrow path. We gained great respect for those people that hike this trail.

                

                      

Walking back to the car was much easier since the trip was all downhill but even a downhill walk can make your legs muscles ache. I happened to glance at Diana and noticed a little bug in her hair and the further investigation revealed it to be a tick. Then I found two on my clothing. When we finally reached the car we thoroughly checked each other for ticks and only found one more.

We returned to the motorhome to walk Rebecca and have lunch. Then we headed to Pigeon Forge to check out some of the shopping. Diana wanted to visit the Christmas Palace located between traffic light 3 and 4. She did some serious shopping there and at one point I suspected she was trying to take the entire store home with us. After some more shopping we returned home.

Rather than walking Rebecca in the Pet Area, I have found it to be much more convenient to walk to the main road, then along the sidewalk for about 40 yards to the local Post Office. There is a large grassy area there that is much more pleasant than be trapped in the small Pet Area provided by the campground. Now that I’ve found this alternate walk area it makes this campground much more tolerable.

This evening we plan to stay home and relax. The weather for the entire trip continues to be hot and humid with only one visit of rain while staying in Branson. The weather channel is suggesting that we may get some severe thunderstorms this evening and clouds are starting to roll in as I type this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

About 5:30 am this morning we had a short thunder storm with a brief cloud burst. Fortunately no heavy winds and it lasted only 20 minutes or so. Cades Cove was planned as our main attraction for the day.

A "cove" in Smoky Mountain vernacular is a relatively flat valley between mountains or ridges. Cades Cove is where we decided to visit today. The primary access to Cades Cove is the 11 mile, one way Cades Cove Loop Road. This particular cove is a showcase for some of the most inspiring natural and cultural treasures the Southern Appalachian Mountains have to offer.

To reach Cades Cove we drove 25 miles from Gatlinburg through the Smoky Mountains National Park. The road twisted and turned as it followed a creek. The creek was filled with rocks and contained many beautiful rapids. The entire drive was beneath an "umbrella" formed by the trees that lined each side of the road.

                            

While driving the Cades Cove loop we saw many deer which included two bucks each with 6 point antlers. Unfortunately we didn’t spot any black bear but the drive was well worth it. We didn’t have much extra time because we needed to return to the motorhome to take Rebecca for her walk and feed her lunch.

                

                

                

Around 1:30 pm this afternoon some black clouds rolled in which made it appear to be 8:30 pm at night. Some bolts of lighting followed by rolling thunder made it look like a serious storm was about to happen. At 1:45 pm the skies opened up and sheets of rain came down for about 45 minutes and then it tapered of and the skies cleared. Fortunately it was only rain and not hail or winds.

At 5:30 PM we met my cousin Carol and Al in Gatlinburg to share a pizza at the Smoky Mountains Brewery. We took a short walk through Gatlinburg and then bid farewell to Carol and Al. I do hope we get to see them again soon as it has been almost 3 years since our last visit and probably 10 years before that.

Once back at the motorhome we began to prepare for and early morning departure heading north toward home. We plan to take two days on the return since the total distance is nearly 675 miles. We hope to leave by 7:00 am tomorrow. At this campground I had to store the tow dolly in a special designated area so that we slow down the start up procedure tomorrow morning.

Both Diana and I continue to be very thankful that this entire trip has gone so smoothly. Neither she nor I have had any health problems. Rebecca the miniature schnauzer has adjusted well but will probably be glad to get home. And lastly, the motorhome has performed well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

It had rained a good part of the night, but when the alarmed clock sounded this morning at 6:00 am the rain had stopped. Fortunate for me because we were departing for home this morning. Because the site was so small I could not hook up the tow dolly or car last night so that had to be done this morning. All went smoothly and we were pulling out of the campground at 6:40 am. Our destination for today was a 340 mile drive for Walnut Hills Campground in Staunton, Virginia.

After driving for a short while I told Diana that I was thinking about driving straight through for home. I estimated that we could complete the 649 mile drive by 9:00 pm at the latest. Of course that estimate assumed that all would go OK and there would not be any traffic delays.

All did go well and we arrived home slightly ahead of schedule at 8:00 pm. We did drive through a terrible heavy thunder storm around Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but we kept moving at a slow pace of 40 mile per hour. The skies finally cleared on the east side of Harrisburg and we had clear weather all the way home.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   

TRIP  STATS

 
         
  From To Miles Driving Time
  Warrington, PA Natural Arch, VA 369 9 hours
  Natural Arch, VA Lexington, KY 384 9 1/2 hours
  Lexington, KY St Charles, MO 365 8 3/4 hours
  St Charles, MO Branson, MO 264 7 hours
         
  Branson, MO St Charles 264 7 hours
  St Charles, MO Nashville, TN 340 8 hours
  Nashville, TN Gatlinburg, TN 228 9 1/2 hours
  Gatlinburg, TN Warrington, PA 649 13 hours
         
         
  Gas & Tolls Restaurants Camp Groceries Misc Entertainment
  $ 495.77 $ 186.34 $ 678.96 $ 416.07 $516.07 $ 470.05