I am indeed retired. It does not feel real yet, more like a staycation but I did embark on the planned scenic drive from the book The Most Scenic Drives in America. The drive, as you may recall if you are following me, is the lookout mountain parkway that runs from Gadsden, Alabama to just South of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It includes Noccalula Falls Park, Little River Canyon, DeSoto State Park, Cloudland Canyon State Park (might have been recommended by someone I know) and Point Park.
This trip I decided to bring along the kayak and my bike. The set up is pretty good however, I didn’t make if out of the park before the bike was leaning backwards! A quick stop and a few bungee cords later it was more secure and off we go!
The “to do” window covering for the rear of the van got completed as well as replacing the solar controller. The cross bars did not get reinstalled yet.
I was still a little nervous about where to stay so I reserved the first two nights in the Tuskegee National Forest.
Day 1- Pretty much drove the whole day. Stopped to take a break and take a few photos of old abandoned homes.
I used the Apps RoadTrippers and Campendium to actually confirm that I was in the correct campsite. I didn’t stay in my assigned site as I found another that was more suitable and my cargo hitch bottoms out with steep inclines and the assigned campsite had a steep entrance. I did call and inform the rangers.
Day 2-I attempted to use my immersion water heater with my solar set up and blew a fuse!
The sites to see in Tuskegee include the Oaks, The home of Brooker T. Washington founder of Tuskegee University, the and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
The table was lower at the one end to accommodate Mrs. Washington’s short stature.
Brooker T. Washington knew that education was key to escaping poverty.
Many of the buildings, including The Oaks, were built by the students at the university. They even made the bricks. The clay for the bricks came from this site near the Carver museum. You can even see a hand print in one of the bricks.
It was a super hot day and but we walked through the park then decided to drive down to the museum that was in the hangers by the airfield.
Navigation seems to always have it s glitches. Every time I went back to the campsite Google took me a different way. Once, after driving a few miles down a semi-paved gravel road google maps was indicating for me to continue driving 0.2 miles straight and them turn ride.
This is what i saw in front of me…
Day 3 I headed towards Gadsten, AL to start the scenic portion of this journey. I first stopped in Auburn AL at the Chewacla State Park.
There are miles of hiking/biking trails, a lake and beach front with a playground and of course cabins and campsite. Camping is kinda pricey though.
It has been extremely hot, so I drove around to the far side of the lake where the water fall is and Daisy and hiked down into the gully about 100’ down a steep incline the falls were pretty cool and we walked on the rocks down the stream a bit. Daisy did pretty good navigating the rocks for a one eyed little dog!
After we recovered from the hike and had a snack we began the drive to Gadsten. I was unable to find any free sites so I planned on staying at Noccalula Falls Park and Campground and as usual I took the “avoid highways” route which did indeed avoid highways. It was very hilly and curvy and on one particular portion of the trip there were four caution signs- school bus stop ahead, curvy road (in the shade of an “S”), fire station ahead AND narrow bridge! And by the way it was raining! This Florida girl isn’t used to sharp curves and certainly not hills! I did see a car that had driven off the road at one point, yikes! First responders were already on the scene.
Anyway I spotted a sign for the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. I took a detour and drove while and thought I had missed it. I came upon a picnic area and canoe launch on the Tallapoosa River that was very nice so I stopped and looked around.
Then over the bridge I found the park! It was great with a small museum, a video about the history of the park, super friendly rangers and the obligatory stamp!
The really cool thing in addition to hiking tour there was a driving tour with 6 stops along the way and a phone number to call with a monologue about each stop.
I don’t know about you but I don’t really like reading the boards that are posted so this is perfect for me.
Stop # 1-Arriving in Gadsten I located Noccalula Falls Park and checked in. The site was $17.
I rode the bike around a bit and checked out the falls and the public portion of the park. History states that an Indian maiden hurled herself off the falls rather than marry someone she didn’t love.
Noccolula Falls park didn’t have a lot of water so the falls were pretty meager but kinda cool none the less.
The campsites here are VERY close and lack privacy.
Day 4 Leaving the Gadsten I drove Northeast towards Little River Canyon. I saw a sign for a thrift shop and couldn’t resist stopping.
The shop was very nice as was the shop keeper. We had a nice conversation and I spent a grand total of $1.00, for a bracelet and a air freshener (Hello Kitty- of course).
Stop # 2-Litter River Canyon was a very steep winding drive on Tabor Road Route 89 park of the Lookout Mountain Parkway along the western rim of the canyon with stops for overlooks with spectacular views.
Couldn’t resist taking a video of this bird soaring high above the bottom of the canyon.
You can hear the river below and some of the overlooks are natural stone paths with uneven steps. I may have taken a spill attempting to heft myself and Daisy up a medium size boulder on the way back to the van.
A scrapped knee and a few bruises but otherwise ok. I was extremely careful for the rest of the trip.
It was raining by the time I got to the top and I was unable to see the last over look. I took an 11 mile drive down the other side that came with a warning- only to discover that had I not turned I would have ended up back where I started! What is the saying? – “It’s not the destination it’s the journey”.
Stop # 4- Desoto Falls Park was next on the adventure, so onward I went. No side trips this time. I made it to the State Park and since I still couldn’t find any free places to camp I reserved a site. The cost of the site was $42. Pretty costly. The sites were nice offered a fair amount of privacy depending on the site. The bathhouse was very nice and air conditioned. After I familiarized myself with the campground, found the site and posted my reservation tag on it, I drove to Desoto Falls which starts with a dam in the Little Forks river.
That evening on the way to the bathhouse I saw something i hadn’t seen in years, fireflies! The frogs were extremely loud too.
Stop # 5- The next stop along the way was Sequoyah Caverns which I was looking forward to seeing, however, when I arrived I thought Google Maps had struck again. It looked like someones driveway! But no, unfortunately, the caverns are permanently closed.
Winding my way along the scenic drive I made it to Cloudland Canyon State Park for a lengthy side trip.
They did not have any campsites so I paid the day fee and explored the park. There are a couple of over looks into the canyon but as I made my way to the day use area it started to rain pretty hard. Not to be deterred I loaded up Daisy and grabbed an umbrella went exploring.
The rain stopped so Daisy and I went back to van and ate lunch in the shade and then went back to over look #1 to take photos without the cloudy rainy look.
We then grabbed some water and headed for the Waterfall hike. Reportedly two miles and about 800 feet down a combination of metal stairs, gravel walks, natural stone steps and wooden boardwalks. I carried Daisy as it was a strenuous hike and it had just rained so there were mud puddles everywhere.
I chose to see Cherokee Falls due to fatigue and heat. It was beautiful but there were a lot of people there wading and swimming in the water, skipping stones, and lounging on the boulders.
Combination of stairs and natural walkways
It was a difficult hike back up to the rim of the canyon but with frequent rests I made it.
Stop # 6- The last stop on the scenic drive is Point Park the highest point along lookout mountain cresting at 2126 feet. More winding roads steep roads I paid to park and since it is a National Park I was able to use my National Park Pass to gain entrance for free! My first time and saving $7.
The view of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga River were spectacular. It was late (we had crossed the back over the time zone into EDT time) so the museum was closed.
I had completed the scenic portion of the trip and by the time I had done all this and with the rain delay and crossing back into EDT it was very late. I attempted to locate a campground but decided to get a hotel. That proved a little difficult too! I also was having difficulty with the solar circuits so my cooler wasn’t working (I later found out that I just needed to reset the controller with a push of a button!). While in the campground I was able to plug it in and while driving I could use that auxiliary port but when I turned off the car it turned off. I contacted Ron and he had some ideas (see above). So, I stayed in a Ringold at a hotel.
Day 5 we started to make our way home. I looked for a campsite somewhere South of Atlanta and had made plans to get there by nightfall. We made another side trip to Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth, GA. I thought it was kin of an odd name but it became clear as we visited the park.
Kind of a surprise to find both of our names carved into the overlook railing!
Very spectacular view!
I was tired and it again was getting late so I decided to stop in Gainesville, GA. at the Duckett Mill Campground, Army Corp of Engineers. The campground is surrounded by Lake Sydney Lanier.
The sites were very nice and provided ample privacy. The fee was $32/night.
Before we left in the morning I drove around the campground. All the sites were equally as nice. Not all were on the water. The bathhouse was basic. I am told that the fishing is good on the from the pier.
The nearly week long trip long, 1200 mile trip was wonderful despite my solar troubles. It was very hot and a lot of driving.
Van life thoughts:
I still had too much stuff! I used a flexible hamper with handles for my clothes and that worked well. I also bought a hanging hamper that I hung from the passenger “Clothes” hook behind the bed. Also worked well I just had to ensure that it didn’t get caught in the sliding door. At night since it was so hot I folded the comforter into fourths and laid it on top of the cooler and that is where Daisy slept. We both liked this much better as I turn a lot at night and she has to jump out of the way since the bed is small. It was awesome having the Dometic Cooler. Even when the solar wasn’t working I plugged it into the AUX port in the back of the van. I did notice that the fan seemed to draw a lot juice so was thankful for the backup fans. I paid WAY more for camping than I anticipated, never let my gas get below 1/2 a tank, ate out more than I wanted AND stayed in a hotel! So, I learned a great deal. I don’t think I will take another “test” trip as I need to stick around town so, for better or worse I hope I learned enough!
- Research to plan my nightly camping sites
- More clothes (my clothes were drenched every day)
- Less other stuff! (as usual)
- Don’t take the bike
- I didn’t use it much and I can’t open the hatch without taking the bike off the cargo hitch
- The hanging basket worked well
- The new potty worked ok
- Good idea to have the back-up fans and extra fuses!
- Plan to stay in sites at least 2 days
- Plan to drive less than 150-200 miles a day (especially when planning on staying at first come first serve campgrounds)
- Reinstall cross bars
- Replace 12 v device
- Replace immersion water heater
- Consider soft sided storage
- Consider adding another battery