Party time at North Myrtle Beach, SC

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Lewis

Isn’t Lewis cute?  This guy enjoys posing for pics!

What do bloggers do when they meet? Well, they eat, drink, talk and have a ball – especially when they happen to land at the same RV park!  And that’s exactly what we have been doing here.  Heading toward North Myrtle Beach, we learned that Dave and Sue of Beluga’s Excellent Adventures were already settled in at Briarcliff RV Campground.  Then we discovered that John and Pam of Oh the Places would be arriving at the same campground the day after we got there.  None of us planned it that way, it just happened!  Following each other’s blogs helped us to track our movements, and – viola! – we all ended up here at the same time.  Now, how cool is that?

Oh the Places they go

Happy Hour at John and Pam’s site (John and Pam on the right).

This was our first time meeting Dave and Sue, and their very well-behaved black beauties, Lewis and Sasha.  We had met John and Pam earlier this summer at Lake Erie, NY.  Both couples have been on the road longer than us and had lots of stories to tell and experiences to share.  There were a lot of laughs as we got caught up on our adventures.

Briarcliffe RV Resort

Happy Hour #2 at Dave and Sue’s

Good times with good friends was the main affair here.  Happy hour in the afternoon…

Briarcliff RV Resort

Happy Hour #3 at the Lowe’s

…and dinner in the evening at the excellent restaurants that were just a short walk away.  All we needed were hungry tummies and the gate combination – “lower, middle, top”, according to Dave.  We had themed dinners – seafood night first, then Italian and finally pizza.  I forgot to bring my camera to our unexpected family-style Italian dinner.  That doesn’t happen very often!

Joe's Crab Pot

Seafood night at Joe’s Crab Shack

California Pizza

Pizza night, and we were happy to have leftovers of this pizza!

Each night, Steve and I arrived home with full tummies – oink, oink!  We don’t normally go out for dinner so often, but we had a blast enjoying good meals with our friends at these excellent restaurants.

Hungry Warriors

Hungry travel warriors heading out for pizza – don’t get in our way!

Just like the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Myrtle Beach is pretty quiet this time of the year.  And to quote one of the servers we talked with, “it’s boring here now”.  Wasn’t a problem for us!  Unlike at the OBX, we had to drive just over a mile to access the beach here.  But parking wasn’t an issue, and it was free.  So, we made the most of our time, hanging out at the beach whenever the weather permitted.

North Myrtle Beach

Looks like someone’s ball left behind from busier times

Myrtle Beach

Each stop on our way south is getting a little warmer – in about 500 miles we should be down to shorts and tank tops every day – yay!

North Myrtle Beach

North Myrtle Beach, SC

These guys seem to be enjoying the quiet times

I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have asked about my family in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated my country.  Mom and the rest of  my family in Cebu are safe and out of danger.  However, as of this post we are still unable to contact my nieces and nephews who live in the province of Leyte, which bore the brunt of the powerful storm.  We’re praying for them as we wait for communications to come back up.

Update: As of today Nov 11, the fourth day after the storm we finally heard from my nieces and nephews. They are all alive, safe but are now homeless. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.

Next up:  Charleston, here we come!

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Betsy’s “ferryfull” adventures – Outer Banks, NC

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Hatterras to Ocracoke Ferry
Outer Banks, NC

The Outer Banks, NC

Leaving Virginia behind, we were looking forward to our next destination – the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Our friends Joe and Judy (who are North Carolinians) gave us heaps of information about the Outer Banks.  But what and where exactly are the Outer Banks?  Referred to as OBX by locals – it’s a long string of narrow barrier islands that run along most of the North Carolina coastline.  Over 130 miles long, it arcs into the Atlantic Ocean like a taut bow, forming many beautiful pristine beaches.

We made two stops on the OBX, one at Kitty Hawk and the second at Buxton.  To get back onto the mainland, Betsy had to take two ferry rides.  First, a 40-minute free ferry transported us from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island.  The second was for a reasonable fee and took over two hours to go from Ocracoke Island to Cedar Island.  But I am getting ahead of myself a bit here.  Let me tell you about the fun things we did after reading Judy’s excellent suggestions.

She didn’t have to tell us to take long walks on the beaches – we figured that out all by ourselves!

Kitty Hawk RV Park

Betsy was parked so close to the beach that we could hear the waves at night from Kitty Hawk RV Park – loved it!

Of course, our major goal in the Kitty Hawk area was to visit the site where air travel was born.  The Wright Brothers National Memorial encompasses more than 400 acres and marks the spot where brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first four powered flights.  And lucky for us, we had just seen the actual plane they built while at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC.

We climbed a hill to a 60-foot granite monument which is perched atop the 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill.  It commemorates the achievements of the Wright brothers, who conducted many of their glider tests on the massive shifting dune that was later stabilized.  Then we drove around a loop to a display of bronze statues that re-enacted the first flight.  While there, I asked first flight photographer John T. Daniels to take a picture of me.  He was very accommodating, but sort of a quiet chap 🙂

Wright Brothers Memorial Monument

The Memorial Monument sits on the hill behind the bronze sculpture of photographer John T. Daniels

As if our morning walk on the beach and hike up Kill Devil Hill were not enough, we continued to Jockey’s Ridge State Park  and climbed sand dunes topping out at 80 feet. The park boasts that the dunes here are the tallest natural sand-dune system in the eastern United States.  Upon reaching the top, we were rewarded with unparalleled views of the central Outer Banks and the surrounding area.

Jockey's Ridge State Park, Sand Dunes

Hiking up one of the tall sand dunes – where is everybody?

Our days here were spent catching the sunrise in the morning while walking on the beach, and enjoying watching the surfers, fishermen and hundreds of shorebirds.  We listened to and watched the relentless swells of the Atlantic Ocean pawing away at the beach.  Oh yeah, life is a beach indeed.  Do we have to leave?

Fishermen at Outer Banks

Beats working!

Kitty Hawk Beach

Kitty Hawk Beach

Some crazy woman wandering aimlessly around the beach…

Kitty Hawk Beach

We watched an endless parade of pelicans gliding inches above the water and swooping down on their prey, while other shorebirds scurried along the beach looking for food…

Pelicans

Pelicans gliding above the ocean

…and the unobstructed sunrises were just gorgeous.  Yes, I got many pictures of them each morning!

Sunrise at Outer Banks

Sunrise at Kitty Hawk Beach

Sunset at Kitty Hawk

Sunset at Kitty Hawk Beach

From Kitty Hawk we move just 60 miles further south to enjoy more beaches along the OBX.  We also checked out a few historical sites along the way.  We believe this is a great time to be here – the “shoulder season” – as the summer tourists (and their noisy little brats) have already gone back home.

Highway 12vOuterbanks, NC

Cruising along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore- Atlantic Ocean on the left, Pamlico Sound on the right

Cape Hatteras National Seashore covers all of the coastline from Nags Head to Ocracoke, seventy four (74) miles of unpopulated, unspoiled, and always open beaches.  Cape Hatteras Campground would have been a great place to park Betsy, but it had already closed for the season. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Instead, we parked Betsy at Cape Woods RV Park in Buxton (Steve’s review is here).  We found the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse a few miles away.  At 208′ tall, it is distinguished as the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation.  Its unique diagonal black and white striped pattern really make it stand out.  Folks can climb to the top during tourist season, but it too had already been closed for the winter.

Beach erosion forced the relocation of this venerable landmark in 1999.  The lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet to its new location, the tallest brick structure in the U.S. to ever be moved.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

2,900 ft distance of lighthouse relocation, a huge and interesting project

Moving on to Ocracoke Island, we discovered it’s well known for wildlife attractions, especially its herd of ponies.  The ponies are called the “Banker” horses of Ocracoke, believed to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that were unloaded in 1585.  Physically, the Ocracoke ponies are different from others – they have a different number of vertebrae and ribs, as well as a distinct shape, posture, color, size, and weight – that sets them apart.  The park service has been taking care of the herd since 1960, and only seventeen remain.

Ocracoke Pony

Ocracoke pony

The highlight on Ocracoke Island is the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the oldest (1823) and shortest (75 feet tall) operating lighthouse in North Carolina.  It is one of four that dot the main stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  Over the centuries, some 1,500 ships have perished in this area, earning the Outer Banks the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The “guard kitty” at Ocracoke Lighthouse

At this time of year, thousands of migrating birds can be seen resting on the great Atlantic byway.

Migrating Birds

Migrating Birds, Ocracoke Island

Thousands of bird taking a break from their southward migration

On our way back to the mainland, Betsy was prepped for a long day of ferry rides – not one but two in a single day.  We always unhook the car and remove the tow bar when going on ferries, to avoid possibly dragging our hitch and to be more maneuverable on the vessel.  The first ride was easy and comfortable, as there weren’t too many folks going from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island.

The second ferry was a little different, for there were many more cars and RVs taking the 2+ hour ride from Ocracoke Island to the mainland, disembarking at Cedar Island.

It was a long day of ferry riding and driving – fortunately the forecasted high winds did not materialize.  We experienced a slight rocking and rolling on the ferries, but not enough to bother our tummies.  We loved the Outer Banks and plan to come back in the future to spend more time.  We learned that the best time to go is late summer to early fall, because everything is still open and the huge crowds have already departed.  But we still came at a good time – the weather was mostly nice and we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves.

Next up:  Lots of relaxing and socializing at Myrtle Beach!

Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:

Charleston, SC
Savannah, GA

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More of the Blue Ridge Parkway – onward through Virginia!

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Blue Ridge Parkway

We were happy that we made it to Meadows of Dan in Virginia just before the onslaught of pounding rain for the next couple of days.  Then, after just one sunny day as a reprieve, along came a severe weather warning.  Our park host knocked at the door to make sure we had heard the warning and gotten ourselves ready by 3PM for what was to come.  We were fortunate that the brunt of the storm passed to the north and we had only a short but strong storm blow through.  Roanoke and points north did not fare so well.

When the winds and the rain decided to give us a break we ventured out once more to the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Virginia end, marked “B” on the map below.  The “B” covers milepost 154 to milepost 213.  We covered the “A” section during our stay in North Carolina, covered in our previous post.  There are so many places to pause along the Parkway…and on this stop our base camp was at Meadows of Dan, a small mountain town.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway – Americas favorite scenic drive!

Driving along the Parkway is not just about the built-in distractions – mountains, clouds, flowers and the curves – but also about the wines, area music and the hiking trails.  And so much more!

The music.

At milepost 213 is the Blue Ridge Music Center, dedicated to continuing and keeping alive some of the richest traditions of mountain music and dance.  Inside is an interactive exhibit “The Roots of American Music” that tells the compelling story of the region’s rich musical heritage.

Blue Ride Music Center

Blue Ridge Music Center

We listened to some old time music, mountain music and bluegrass tunes at one of the hotspots along “The  Crooked Road” in Floyd, VA.  Here we witnessed young and old alike jamming along the streets, showcasing the area’s musical heritage passed down through generations.  We enjoyed watching and listening to unfamiliar but beautiful music, which is what the locals provide all along Main Street on Friday nights during the summer months.  It was a very cool way to spend the evening after a nice dinner at a local winery.

The wine and chocolates

We missed the wineries in NC, so we visited two along the Parkway and took the time to taste local Virginia wines.  The husband and wife team at Villa Appalaccia Winery and Vineyards specializes in “italian inspired” Virginia wines.  We liked their wines so much that Steve came out with a few bottles in a box (gee, that’s never happened before!).  Then after a strenuous afternoon of wine tasting we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Chateau Morrisette paired with their yummy Chardonnay.  This winery was a bit more commercialized, and we found their wines to be just okay.  But wow, what a restaurant!

Some of you may know that chocolate is one of my life’s pleasures.  When we stumbled upon Nancy Candy Co., a local candy factory in the small mountain town of Meadows of Dan, I got in and out with my own bundle of sweetness!  Wine and chocolate – what more can I say?

The hikes.

With the abundance of hiking trails along the Parkway, we made sure to hit a couple along our route.  While following the Black Ridge/Rock Castle Gorge Trail, we came atop rolling hills and meadows that just forced me to put on the hat of Maria and sing …”The hills are alive …”  Steve took cover, but managed to get the photo below as he ran away.

Rock Castle Gorge Trail

The hills are alive…

We also tackled the Smart View Loop, where Steve saw a young black bear.  Unfortunately, it took off like a bullet before we could even aim the camera.

Despite a forecast of rain and fog we still trekked onto the Flat Top Trail.  This trail makes a fairly steep and constant ascent, and even though it was only about 2 miles one-way, it was one of the most exhausting we have taken.  Coupled with fog and a driving rain that started on our way back to the car and soaked us completely, not one of our most comfortable hikes.

At the Fairy State Park we hit four moderate trails; the Beach trail, Little Mountain Falls trail, Oak Hickory Trail and Stuarts Knob trail that led us to Little Waterfall, a ridge overlook and a beach overlook and very green trail.

And of course, the beautiful scenery…

As you can see, we only explored a sliver of the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  One can make the odyssey while experiencing many worthwhile attractions along the way, beginning at Mile 0 in Virginia and ending at mile 469 at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.

Mabry Mill

Mabry Mill

Blue Ridge Parkway

Farm along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Several styles of very old fencing meander along the Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Yet another farm along the Parkway

We really liked the Meadows of Dan Campground, for it was quiet and the meadows were sooo green.  Click here if you’d like to read Steve’s review.

Meadows of Dan, VA

Meadows of Dan Campground, almost all to ourselves!

And lastly, a gorgeous sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sunset at Blue Ridge Mountains

Gorgeous Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Next up:  A visit to Monticello!

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Back on the road – Blue Ridge Parkway

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Rhododendrons

After surviving my jet lag and cooling down from the sweltering heat of the Philippines, we’re rolling down the road again.  My first order of the day is burning off the poundage I gained from guzzling those delicious, greasy Filipino foods.  Fortunately, the Lake Norman Motorcoach Resort is only a few minutes away from Lake Norman State Park, where entrance and usage are all free.  That is one four-letter word we love.  We are so used to paying park fees that we felt a little guilty using their beautiful hiking trails on several occasions.

Lake Norman lake

View of Lake Norman from our rig

When we were in Alaska we met adventurous and great people from all over the states.  One couple was Joe and Judy, whom we first met during our 18-hour Arctic Circle Tour and consequently bumped into again several places in Alaska.  We eventually exchanged addresses and they promised to host us when we got into their neck of the woods in North Carolina.  Fast forward a year later, here we were knocking on their door.  The door of their brand new class-A motorhome that is, as they met us at the lovely Bandit’s Roost COE Campground for a few days.  We’re so glad we took them up on their offer, as they gave us a wonderful tour along part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and also provided us valuable input for our trek to the northeast this summer.  They even celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary with us.  Congratulations, and thanks again Joe and Judy!

Bandits Roost Campground

Happy hour at Bandits Roost Campground

While driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway a ribbon of highway, we learned that the Blue Ridge Mountains are noted for their bluish color when seen from a distance.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great scenic mountain drive that extends 469 miles along the crests of the southern Appalachians and links two national parks – Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the north and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to the south.  There are nine campgrounds along the parkway, if you are so inclined.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway Stats

Blue Ridge Parkway Stats

Construction of the Parkway  began in 1935 as part of  FDR’s New Deal to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression era.  The Blue Ridge Parkway, also known as Americas Favorite Drive, was designed especially for leisurely enjoyment of the scenic wonders along the way which can be enjoyed from many overlooks.  There are several worthwhile attractions along the way, including short and long walking trails which give folks even more viewing opportunities.

The area of our drive between Mile 275 and Mile 316 is considered the High Country of NC.  It was tempered with fog, rain and overcast skies during the first part of our day, but things cleared up nicely later on.  For us, the crowning point of the Parkway was at Mile 304, the Linn Cove Viaduct.  It is a 1,243 foot long elevated roadway engineered to wrap around the mountains to minimize impact on the fragile environment.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Linn Cove Viaduct traverses Grandfather Mountain’s boulder fields

The S-shaped structure consists of 153 concrete segments, only one of which is straight.  Weighing 50 tons each and joined by epoxy and massive steel tendons, the segments form a deck nearly one-quarter mile long that is supported by seven piers.  This is an amazing achievement when you consider the technology at that time, and the effort required just to access this area for construction.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Underbelly of Linn Cove Viaduct that skirts around Grandfather Mountain

At Milepost 306 is Grandfather Mountain, best known for its “mile-high swinging bridge” that connects two of the mountain’s peaks.  Heavy fog shrouded the mountain that day, so we’ll save that stop for another visit.

Grandfather Mountain

If you believe me there is a Grandfather Mountain hidden by that thick fog.

Just off the parkway at Milepost 316.3 were trails that led to various overlooks for a wonderful view of Linville Falls, which can be seen roaring through a dramatic rugged gorge.

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Joe and Judy with the you-know-whos

There are plenty of stopping points, and everywhere you look there’s something else amazing to appreciate.  Each season provides an ever-changing appeal, and in our case we were just a little early for the blooming of the Rhododendrons that adorn the Parkway.  I captured a few early blooms along the way, but we will be driving other sections of the parkway during the next week and hope to see many more of these beautiful blooms.

During this stop we stayed at Bandits Roost Campground, a COE park at Wilkesboro, NC.  Click here for Steve’s campground review of Bandit’s Roost and the Lake Norman Motorcoach Resort.

Lastly, these Wood Thrushes were rustling on the leaves while Steve and Joe were busy planning.

Wood Thrush

Next up: More of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Virginia side.

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