Saturday, April 4, 2015

Destination: Unknown (and Some Discoveries Revealed), TToT #94

This post, as all posts in April will be, is part of the A-Z Challenge.

As far as I'm concerned, no-plans, back-road, road trip vacations are fantastic. The opportunities to see odd and rare and fun and beautiful sites are plentiful. And you can do it all without getting stuck in a traffic jam. If something on the side of the road catches your eye, you can stop, because you don't have anywhere you have to be.

If you are thinking of taking a trip like this, keep these things in mind:

1. First and foremost, travel in the off-season in off-areas.

For the most part, people from the north (east of the Mississippi) make a beeline to Florida for spring break. Do not do a no-plans type of vacation in Florida over spring break. Go to places that are almost into their busy season. You can still get nice weather, but you will avoid the crowds if you end up going to touristy-type places. Most importantly, you will be able to find a hotel when you decide to stop.

2. Let everyone have a say in which activities you do and not do, but adults get final say.

Most of my children are not fans of history tours through old mansions, so we have agreed to skip these on our spring break trips. Most of my kids wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding, but I made the executive decision that the water was way too cold.

3. Make sure everyone knows the most important rule of the road trip: Even if an activity isn't one of your choosing, you will not pout. You will find a way to have fun doing the activity.

'Cause this is vacation, and you are going to have fun whether you like it or not!

It works best if you say this with a smile on your face and sarcasm in your voice. :)

4. Bring a lot of (healthy) food.

Yes, it saves some money you would normally spend on all those lunches, but it also really, really helps when you are on some teeny, tiny little road with no restaurant and your 6 kids are about to eat each others' arms off. And make it healthy, because it's a lot harder to find healthy in restaurants. We pack applesauce, fruit cups of mandarin oranges, pineapple, or peaches, raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cheese sticks, apple slices, clementines, grapes, carrots, and hard boiled eggs. We also have pseudo-healthy granola bars (of various brands and flavors), fruit leather, pretzels with peanut butter to dip, and cracker snack packs.

5. Pack properly.

When taking this sort of trip, you will sleep someplace different almost every single night. Dragging the entire contents of the van into a motel each night, especially after a long day of fun, is just plain miserable. Help yourself out. Pack smart.

I packed 10 bags for this trip.

Inside one gigantic bag were 7 smaller bags, each containing all of one person's socks, underwear, pajamas, and bathing suit. A second bag held toiletries, shampoo, Band-aids, and meds. These two bags came in every night.

Bag 3: one pair of shorts and one t-shirt for each person
Bag 4: one pair of long pants and one long-sleeved shirt for each person
Bag 5: one pair of long pants and one short-sleeved shirt for each person
Bag 6: one pair of shorts and one t-shirt for each person

Etc. Etc.

This system has two benefits. First, only one of these bags needs to be brought in, and you choose it depending on the next days' weather. Secondly, once everyone is dressed in the morning, the dirty clothes from the day before can be put it the now-empty bag. There is absolutely no mixing of the stinky and the fresh.

OK, now that you know how to travel, I'll let you in on some of the places we found last week.

Blanche Manor in Copper Hill, Tennessee

This place is wonderful. The staff at the horse barn was kind, fun, helpful, and patient. The trails were interesting (We were able to trot and go through a stream, as well as up and down some serious inclines.) and the view was pretty.

This is also where we managed to stay in a yurt. (Well, with 8 of us, we needed both of their yurts.) The rooms and bathrooms were clean, the heaters kept us warm when the temps dipped down overnight, there is a hot tub on the deck, where you can see the sun rise, and there are no TVs or WiFi to distract the kids.

We loved it. However, we did make the observation that if other people were renting the bunk house nearby, or if we only had one yurt and another family had the other, it wouldn't have been quite as nice. Having the whole mountaintop to ourselves made the experience that much better.

The boys' horses started nipping at each other while we stopped for a photo. Ages 7 and up can ride the horses. There are ponies (that are taken in more than just a circle) for the younger kids.

The view from the yurt.

Wits and Wagers, one of the best games for parties or big families.

Fields of the Wood, middle of nowhere Tennessee, (30 minutes from Ducktown, which is a small town with a fascinating history and a sandwich/pizza place called Copper Station that has delicious food)

This is a park run by the church across the street.

That would be the 10 Commandments on that there far hill. 

from above the 10 Commandments, from left to right are the prayer walk, the gift shop/bathrooms, baptismal pool, replica of Jesus's tomb, and Golgotha (where the kids were standing in the other photo)
We did the prayer walk, and when we reached the top I asked the kids if they noticed anything. They all gave me a look like they were trying to come up with the right way to say what they were thinking. I helped them out. "It's not exactly Catholic is it?" They breathed a sigh and agreed. We then had a small chat about how it was OK. We can still learn things and appreciate what is offered. We Christians all agree that the 10 Commandments are rules to live by, and that Jesus did die and rise for us.

Route 64, which runs across the bottom of Tennessee

It is one of the most beautiful drives I've ever taken. I was actually perturbed that I was the one driving, because I couldn't look around much. (The road is really, really curvy.) I just kept hearing people say, "Oh, look at that!"

We just happened across this park while driving along Rte. 64. We spent over an hour in the river hopping from rock to rock. That's my mom on the bridge, which leads to some hiking trails. The kids were a bit bummed that the alarms didn't go off to alert people in the river to get the heck out, as the dam was being opened and would be flowing through this area shortly.

Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee

When driving into Chattanooga, signs advertising for Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain are everywhere. The admission for these two places was ridiculously high, and the reviews had lots of people saying it wasn't worth it. One lone reviewer said to keep driving past Ruby Falls and head to Point Park. It is only $3 and you get the same, if not better, view. We would have to agree with that guy.

Plus, besides the view, there weren't gobs of workers there to herd us from place to place. We were free to roam. Within reason.

To top it off, there was a hiking trail. The kids decided they wanted to take Craven's Trail and hike halfway down the mountain.

The village that time forgot, middle of nowhere, Tennessee

We stopped at this little village's gas station, (Another tip for back roads vacations: Fill up the tank whenever you get the chance!) and it took me a minute to open the door to get out of the van. When I finally did, I saw that a guy was there, and he was taking my gas cap off. I was baffled. I asked, "Are you going to pump my gas?" "Yes," he replied.

I closed the door and looked at my mom. "There's a guy out there who said he would pump it for me. Do you think he works here?"

Another car pulled up and the elderly gentleman sauntered over and started pumping that guy's gas, too.

After we paid and were pulling out of the lot, we saw the sign:

That's the guy!
Seriously, when was the last time you saw a full service gas station?!!?!? I think I was 16.

Stone Mountain, Atlanta, Georgia

We were originally in Atlanta to go to Six Flags, which is a giant amusement park with lots of big roller coasters. Unfortunately, it is only open on weekends, and that weekend was rainy and cold. We found something else to do.

There is a place called Stars and Strikes, which is one of those bowling alley/arcade games/laser tag places. On the day we were there, the specials were 99 cent bowling in the morning, and $1.99 laser tag in the evening. So, we bowled in the morning...

went to Stone Mountain in the afternoon...

(where I discovered that Stone Mountain Park has a whole lot more than the touristy mountain and little "village". There's a whole, beautiful park!)

I'm sure it's beautiful when it isn't 55 degrees and raining.
and played laser tag in the evening.

I would have taken a photo for you, but I was way too busy trying not to be shot by lots and lots of kids, some of whom weren't even mine.

All for WAY less than Six Flags would have cost. :)

Escape Experience in Chattanooga, Tennessee

This was one of the best things we did last week. Phoenix would say it was THE best. Basically, up to 10 people (it was us and a couple we had never met) are handcuffed together and locked in a "cell" (that had no bars but a steel door). The team is given 60 minutes to use the clues in the room to get themselves out. 58% of teams do NOT make it out.


It was pricey, but I would do it again if given the choice.

As you can see by the sign and our smiling faces, we made it out with almost 17 minutes to spare.
And I am thankful for all of it.

Have a lovely day!

Ten Things of Thankful

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  1. awesome trip and all the smiles are so worth it in every picture that is...gearing up for our spring break i'm taking 4 days, i need to be in the office for one day, for our month end, clean up some odd and ends then 4 days off (can you hear the angels sing) have a Happy Easter!

  2. It was a fun trip, for sure.
    Four whole days! What will you do with them? Regardless, have a wonderful time!

    Happy Easter to you!

  3. Golgatha... You are now leaving Golgotha .... amazing.... kind of a cool place huh? anyway... chicken food? DO you know there is no self serve in NJ... well wait there may be now.... there never used to be when everyone else was self serve. We have two fulll serves here! I love it in a rain storm.

    1. Huh? At first I thought you were telling me I spelled it wrong, but I looked it up, and I didn't, so... Huh? It was a cool place. No chicken food. Chicken was consumed, but not chicken food. :)
      WHAT?!?!? Now that you mention it, I've never been to NJ. I did not know that! In all of the traveling we've done, in so many states, I've never seen one before.

      A rain storm is awesome, as long as it is a warm one. Cold rain is miserable. (I hope Lizzi doesn't read this, seeing as how she is so anti-rain.)

    2. No you didnt spell it wrong... IM lazy and didnt even look how to spell it... I was just thinking bumper stickers... I kinda pulled a disconnected Clark speak on you there!

  4. OMG YOU WENT TO ALL MY FAVORITE PLACES...well almost I would disagree and say ruby falls is worth it but I do like the view from the park so I may have to investigate that if we ever get back there. STONE MOUNTAIN... omg I don't know what it is about that place but I absolutely adore it. We went when the kid was two it is way past time to go again.

    Also NUmber three is my favorite!

    1. There were a lot of people saying Ruby Falls was interesting, but so many said that the cave has been made very touristy and they pack people in tight. We've been to lots of other caves that don't cost nearly so much and don't have all of the lighting and things added to them. It just didn't seem worth it to us.
      I've been to Stone Mountain a couple of times. I love it every time.

  5. What a great vacation! Beautiful pictures, too! We were on our 'spring break', too, not too far from where you were in TN. It is such a beautiful state with so much to see and do.

    1. Thank you.
      We have vacationed in several places around Tennessee, and each time it has been fun and beautiful. It is a great state to visit no matter where you go.

  6. You were right to skip the kitschy stuff. It's fun in a way, but too expensive. Point Park is great. Do you remember the balancing rocks you can see on the trail down? I think it's cordoned off now, but I have a picture of some cousins and me on it. And a fabulous picture of my grandfather standing on in a full suit on his honeymoon with my grandmother. Always love the pics from your trips! And your packing plan is absolutely brilliant!

    1. We heard the same thing. For the 8 of us to go, it would have been a couple of hundred dollars. Not worth it to me.

      There wasn't anything cordoned off when we were there, and there were lots of balancing kinds of rocks. I want to see your photos! Especially the one of your grandfather. How awesome that you have been to the exact same place where your grandparents honeymooned!


  7. Happy Easter. You know how to pack. I love it - and a bag for the dirty clothes. You are a genius. The family memories you are making with each trip are oh, so, special and wonderful.

    1. Happy Easter to you!
      I do know how to pack. With the number of road trips we've taken, it is imperative to figure out a good system. Of course, there is a different system for each kind of trip we take... :)

      I am looking forward to the conversations the kids have when they are all grown and talk about our trips. What will they remember? It will be fun to watch.

  8. What a great post on how to travel. The first thing that stuck out is no pouting if you're not where you'd like to be. Just enjoy the experience. Saves a lot of agony.

    The packing was the second thing. That's brilliant.

    The third was the healthy food. Unhealthy food can make folks cranky in an of itself.

    Have a fabulous day. :)

    1. Thanks!

      I don't have much patience with pouting, so there must be a rule forbidding it.

      We have taken so many road trips, being good at packing is a necessary skill. :)

  9. How fun!!! Sadly G likes to travel from point A to point B with the fewest stops possible so we never took random trips like this. Rest stops also have to be on the same side of the highway; preferably close to the on/off ramp as you know...we wouldn't want anybody that we passed to catch up. ;)

    1. Oh, I'm sorry. Just fly to my house and we can go on a road trip, stopping wherever you want. :)

      Although, your comment about not wanting anyone you previously passed to catch up made me laugh. I know exactly what you mean, seeing as how that is how we travel home to Ohio.

  10. Hi, I'm here for A to Z and I'm taking notes! Great travel tips. I am curious: what made the park stand out as being "not Catholic?"

    1. Hi Shonna! Thanks for stopping by!

      I probably should have explained that better in the post.

      The prayer walk wasn't really prayers. There were maybe 30 stone markers to be read as we ascended the stairs. On one side of the path were markers with scripture. After the scripture wasn't a prayer, but a point about how that verse affirms their beliefs. It's not what we believe, but it doesn't hurt to learn about other people's beliefs. But the most glaring "not Catholic" part was the left side of the path. Along the way, there were 5 or six markers describing the Reformation and how it was a blessing to break away from the Roman Catholics. :)

  11. "Fruit leather". Damn! Sounds weird but I like the sound of it LOL.
    What a fabulous vaca show & tell! My kind of road trip vacation:) I'm in total agreement about just going without a preset schedule. My 2nd (and last trip) to Europe, my friend had booked our 1st and last nights only. In between we stayed wherever we happened to wind up that day.
    Great pics Christine. What wonderful memories for the kids and you and your Mom!

  12. Oregon also has no self-service gas stations. I felt like such a fool the first time I tried to fill the gas tank in Utah, because I had no idea how it worked.

    You have such great advice! I've had similar conversations with my kids when we've been introduced to different religious cultures.

  13. so….. don't keep us in suspense!! what was the clue that go you out so quickly?? ( I immediately thought of an old Star Trek episode… actually I think it was a couple of Star Trek episodes).

    A lot more (and higher) hills than I would have thought to be in that part of the country.
    (excellent band/album cover photo …Craven's Trail photo)

  14. I love your spontaneous spring break trips! Next year, you need to go a little west and a little south, if you know what I mean.
    I try to implement a "no pouting" rule, but I get overthrown.
    We vacation on the cheap and eat out of the cooler at least one meal a day. Lunch meat and cheese, Pringles (the only chips to take on a trip), stuff like that.


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