Saturday, June 20, 2015

Southeast Road Trip Day 6

Day 6 once again dawned bright and early (we determined nature wakes up around 5:30am).  We were still loving the Cumberland Gap park in the morning.  We ate some oatmeal, drank some coffee, made some bathroom trips.  I chatted with a lady who is raising her granddaughter about traveling with kids and encouraging them to get outdoors and look around.
After pretending to be a bird with her little sister most of the morning, Sedona sat down to do some journaling
We stopped back by the visitor's center on our way out since it wasn't open when we arrived the night before
They had a small informational section and a cool place where the kids could dress up

Before we added Cumberland Gap to our travel plans, we were going to camp at Crosby in Smoky Mountains, but with the change, we headed for Gatlinburg and the Sugarlands visitor center.  I feel kinda dumb for never considering it before, but the Smoky Mountains.......they look smoky

The visitor's center was PACKED.  The rangers seemed stressed out.  The junior ranger program here isn't free and is more involved than others we've seen (even at big parks, like Yellowstone), so we decided to skip it since we were only spending one night in the park.
Sedona was VERY upset to get back in the car.  She thought when we'd arrived at the park, we'd arrived at our destination.  We tried to explain to her that we were going to drive the Newfound Gap road, stopping at interest points along the way and stopping to hike to the top of Clingman's Dome before camping on the other side of the mountains at the Smokemont campground.  She was skeptical, but the planned hike to Clingman's Dome got her back in the car

Mountain roads are mountain roads.  More tunnels (though short ones here)


And mountain rivers.  This is where Sedona really perked up.  Rocks to climb over and water to play in, she wanted to just set up camp right there.



Everyone was suitably impressed with Newfound Gap

Though, a lookout near here is where Sierra got in trouble for leaning over a wall (with a steep drop on the other side) after she'd been told not to.  She was sent back to the car and was still stewing over it when we moved on to the nearby Newfound Gap parking lot
If you're on the Appalachian Trail, you have only 1,972 miles left to go once you reach Newfound Gap!
Next up was the twisty, curvy road to Clingman's Dome.  This one is carsickness inducing, but it's short and there are places where you can pull over for a few minutes.

The hike to Clingman's Dome is only half a mile, but it comes with a big elevation gain along the way.  Unfortunately, it's also paved, which royally ticked off Sedona.  She complained bitterly, "this isn't REAL hiking!!"
Until she found some rocks along the way and made her own trail.  I'm not so sure the grown adults sitting down for breaks and looking like they might just have a heart attack before they made it to the top appreciated her scampering by...


With a slow pace to accommodate Secora's little legs, we eventually spotted the observation tower!
To me, the scariest part was the ramp up to the tower.  I wasn't so sure it could be trusted
You're supposed to be able to see for 100 miles from up here when the view is clear, but unfortunately, it's usually not clear
The trees are being killed off by an imported insect they don't have defenses against

Heading back down from the tower
The walk to Clingman's Dome isn't super easy.  We saw plenty of people quit and others that were having a very difficult time with it.  It's doable if you're a reasonably active person though.  Secora made it up on her own.  Despite the warning signs not to do it, we saw a couple of strollers and one person in a power chair...I'd definitely recommend against taking anything like that.  Parts are of it are too steep to really do that safely.

The trail to Clingman's Dome crosses the Appalachian Trail, so stopped to hike just a little bit on it.


Josh and I very seriously considered thru-hiking the AT back before we got married.  The kids are asking about it now, maybe that dream will come back around later in life.
More scampering on the way back down to the car.  I can't exactly blame them, it's probably in their genes
Soon, we were at the Smokemont campground.  We checked in, paid for our site and Sierra started setting up the tent while I worked on a fire.  I felt a few drops of rain and told her she better put the rain fly on.   When Josh got back from the camp office, he helped tie out the fly

Drops of rain soon turned into a torrential downpour.  I still managed to build a truly awesome fire.  Nothing will boost your camping confidence more than building an awesome fire in pouring rain.  The kids started calling me Sparky.
We even got to make and eat a hot dinner: chicken from a pouch, with precooked rice, black beans, corn and spices
It was raining hard and conditions were less than awesome, but we were ready to sleep through it.  I took the girls for one last bathroom run and when I came back, Josh pointed out that the tent pad had created a small lake that our tent was now sitting in.  When we were picking a campsite, we didn't think to pick a tent pad well suited to water drainage.  I took a peak inside and the edges of the tent already had water coming in from underneath.  We could've avoided this several ways: bringing a tarp to put over the whole tent pad, or bringing tarps to line the inside of the tent with on rainy days, or being more aware of the topography of the tent pad.  But we hadn't done any of these things and it was now dark and the rain was still pouring down.

We made a quick decision to do something we hadn't done in a very long time, bail on a camp out.  We've made it through rain, thunderstorms, below freezing, boiling hot.....shoot, even when the tent was overrun with ants and Sedona had an allergic reaction to bites on her face, we didn't go home or to a hotel, we "camped" in the car outside the ER.  But sleeping in an inch of water with 3 kids at the end of a week of camping just didn't seem worth it.  We put the kids in the car and Josh and I broke camp in record time.  We thought we'd have to drive a long way to find a hotel, but there were several right outside the park and it was very nice to put on dry clothes and crawl into a dry bed.

So that was the abrupt end to the camping portion of this trip.  We enjoyed our night of indoor sleep and had plans the next day to check out a few more things before heading to grammy and grandpa's house.  

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