This part of our Southern States tour will include Caves, Mountains, Islands and beautiful people. When we left the Castor River Shut-ins conservation area we headed toward Illinois on a path to easily get into Kentucky. Kentucky is a beautiful state with tons to offer in the way of sightseeing. National Parks are some of our favorite places to visit and in Kentucky that includes the Mammoth-Flint Caves National Park. Thankfully, even in COVID they were open, requiring proper masks and distancing of course.
Mammoth Cave National Park is an American national park in west-central Kentucky, encompassing portions of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system known in the world. This was another gem we discovered by just scanning our Rand McNally atlas. I was shocked to find out these were so huge, they go on for miles. We spent most of the day cruising through the caves and learning more about this amazing country we call home.
Kentucky has plenty of waterways to check out and camp near, we picked Barren River Lake State Park. We happened on this as we randomly cruised around. In this area there were quite a few places to park, it was getting dark so we pulled in to this spot that was lower than the road and we felt pretty good about not being bothered. Another vehicle had pulled in so Darin of course struck up a conversation with him. The guy had moved to Kentucky from California... This was our view...
What a great find this was! Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall Kentucky has many beautiful sights to see. We were cruising through in early November 2020 and had the best weather for us. We travel with our K.I.S.S. Airflow window bug screens to get maximum fresh air without the insects. Since we like to see the country side of our Country they are the perfect van accessory. However, they are just as important for when we are parked right smack-dab in the middle of NYC too.
As we entered rural Tennessee we saw signs indicating horse & buggies may be present on the road. Sure enough, there it was!
We checked the DDD app (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives) for some good food and sought out the Pizza Palace - they were closed. We came across a drive-in and saw that we actually fit, so we tried them. Nope, there were folks inside but they were busy doing something that did not include customers. So eventually we left and found Habaneros, which hit the spot.
Tennessee means the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. We have seen some beautiful National Forests and surrounding communities in our travels. Nothing had prepared us for what we were about to encounter! We were envisioning rolling bluegrass hills and mountains and trees and the smoky effect as described in what one reads... Check out the views, WARNING! Explicit language will be used in the video.
What we got was sensory overload of Vegas style buildings and crowds. The circus was totally unexpected. It was like Vegas puked at the entry way to the Smokies. Which brought back drunken memories but that is another story.
These videos do not show the grandiosity of the strip leading into the forest. It takes all kinds, nothing wrong with that I guess. It was just unexpected.
Darin and I got a real laugh out of how surprised we were but Shadow... he did not care.
After we toured around a bit and entered a neighborhood by accident we continued up the mountain and found a large turn-out parking area for the night. Another curious event was that when we were in that neighborhood, a lady stopped to chat and suggested we sleep in the yard of an abandoned home... Nope. We didn't do that.
We crossed the TN/NC stateline and headed toward Banner Elk, NC. Why Banner Elk you ask? Because we had to see this beautiful and sassy Princess Delilah!
And of course Delilah's awesome Mom, Aunt and Grandmother were so great at showing us true Southern hospitality.
After Banner Elk, we headed to Mechanicsville, VA for a long overdue visit with my cousin. We try to never overstay a visit, just in case we need to return for a longer one. So typically we pull in, share some family time, stay the night and take off before Darin annoys anyone. This keeps us off that dreaded list of, oh no it's them.
What a great neighborhood! Anyway, the Outer Banks are calling and we must go. We made a great time getting to Cape Hatteras and luckily found the Frisco campground on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
I've wanted to see the Outer Banks for years and highly recommend it! You will not be disappointed. We drove over a bridge to get to the north end of the islands and looking at the atlas, I couldn't see a bridge to get off at the south end. No problem if we have to turn around, we're in no hurry. The best part about this part of our trip is we were able to drive right out onto the beach and have a fun day in the sun. Remember - this is November.
As it turns out - there are ferries that connect a couple islands and that will get us back to the mainland on the south end. Here is Juggy on her first boat ride:
We toured around Okracoke Island for a while and considered staying at another National Seashore campground. We investigated the ferry schedule and opted for a Sunset cruise instead. This gave us time to go see the descendants of the Wild horses and see a few more sights. Check out these shots and of course watch Darin's intro to the cruise. He always promised me a cruise...
Darin hasn't spent much time in the south and never really encountered some of the downsides of the environment. So we top off this beautiful last couple of days with him and Shadow discovering sand spurs AKA stickers. Once he experienced that I decided I should maybe tell him about a couple of other negative nuances... NAH. I'll wait. So when in the south, if you want to avoid the sand spurs for yourself and your pets, proper shoes are recommended:
The Outer Banks did not disappoint in any way! We will likely put that on our return to visit list. In the next segment we will get to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Please join us.
When traveling and having fun in and around water you absolutely need one accessory: