Friday, November 20, 2009

Twin Lakes COE Campground, Lake Hartwell, S.C.

Off for another five-day trip with the Aliner. Normally, I leave on Sunday afternoons and return on Friday mornings, or early afternoons. That schedule is ideal, since it avoids weekends when the state and federal campgrounds are most crowded.

This time Thanksgiving Day changed the regular scheme. To be back by Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I had to leave on Friday morning. 

Main Sign Twin Lakes is one of the several campgrounds the Corps of Engineers maintains on the string of four lakes running from Jocassee in the north to Strom Thurmond [formerly Clark’s Hill] in the south. I’ve been to campgrounds on three of those lakes a number of times, but this is the first time camping on Lake Hartwell.

GatehouseAn experienced camp host couple was at the gate for check-in.

ScooterA scooter or golf cart parked near the gatehouse nearly always indicates that the camp hosts are on the ball, and will be an active presence in the campground.

The hosts mentioned that the campground was nearly full this weekend. “This is Clemson Country,” they explained. Seems Clemson football fans camp here to attend games. Since the stadium is only a few miles away.

Indeed, the Clemson football fan presence here is so strong that since last year Clemson alums have been able to persuade the Corps to keep this campground open through November. An additional month!

Road In I took the photo above from the gate house, looking up the road into the campground. Just before driving out to look at the boat ramp.

Right after getting back in the car, two very nervous deer crossed the road there, near the top. Glancing left and right. No time for a photo.

Deer here normally are more friendly. But this is hunting season! Judging from their jumpy behavior, these two young deer, a doe and a buck, must have been aware of that, and didn’t stick around to investigate.

Boat Ramp Dock Drive up this road a short distance and turn right to reach the Park’s boat ramp. It, like the rest of the Park, is beautifully maintained. Lots of longish parking spots for vehicles pulling boat trailers. Restroom facilities.

And the new fishing dock that you see in the photo above. Click for a closer view. It’s relatively new, and is even handicapped-accessible. Good news for everyone.

The camp hosts said a fishing tournament is scheduled for Saturday. So I may wait a few days to launch the kayak.

Site 31 Here’s the Aliner all set up on site # 31. Look at that view from the reading chair! Now, site # 31 is not at all unusual here. Nearly all of the campsites have a lake view as nice as this. Most, better!

Site Overview As you see in the photo above, this is a two-level site. With the picnic table, grill, and fire ring all down a flight of steps. An arrangement required by the steep bank to the shore.

Site View So no direct kayak launches from this site! But the view up the lake is spectacular. It’s worth the drive to the boat ramp.

Twin Lakes COE campground appears to be another winner. Have a visit while you’re in the area. Whether you plan to attend a Clemson football game or not.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dillsboro Pottery Festival. Part II. The Whistlestop Cafe

Click here for the first post in this series.

The trout stream murmuring over semi-submerged rocks just behind our campsite persuaded us to sleep well past dawn on Saturday, the 7th. We’d decided not to bring anything to cook in the Aliner, and to rely on local restaurants for meals. That meant we’d have to wait for breakfast until we arrived in Dillsboro. Including coffee!

It seems to be impossible in this part of North Carolina to drive more than a mile or so without encountering majestic Great Smokey Mountains scenery. It really must be seen to be believed. So I won’t rave on about it here unnecessarily. But click here for just one example.

Those of you used to the soaring peaks of the Rocky Mountains, and other dramatic mountains of the American West, won’t find that sort of grandeur here. It’s a different sort of scenery. But every bit as beautiful. No wonder people have chosen to live here for thousands of years. It’s hard to imagine the shock of being evicted at the point of a bayonet. More on that during a later visit.

So, the natural scenery encountered during a drive of just a few miles from Cherokee to Dillsboro on an early fall morning was, for me, worth the whole trip. Here and there tourist-directed commercialism intrudes near the road. And at one point a whole side hill was being planed away, probably for additional commercial development. But enough of the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains remained to make the drive well worthwhile.

We arrived in downtown Dillsboro around 9:00 a.m. Or even a little later. To find the whole downtown area choked with traffic and parked cars. So we followed the traffic, and eventually were directed by a helpful policeman to a parking lot not far from the south entrance to the pottery festival area. $3.00 rented us a parking spot for the entire day. Again, right beside a picturesque stream!

Cafe Front Walking from the car toward the Festival entrance, the first restaurant we passed was the Whistlestop Cafe. It looked too inviting to pass. So we stopped in for a late breakfast.

Cafe Sunday Brunch Well! “Inviting” doesn’t quite describe it. The food was delicious. Not just “good,” but really delicious. We ordered simple fare. But simple fare offers any cook the greatest challenge. It’s fairly easy to make “good” over-easy eggs, biscuits, fried potatoes, bacon, toast, and jams. But it takes a master to make them “delicious.”

When we arrived the place was full of diners. Both local folks and obvious visitors like us, here for the pottery festival. I asked if I might take a few photos and was given permission. Take a closer look at the photo above. A white board describing tomorrow’s Sunday breakfast buffet. $6.99 for all you can eat. And look at the dishes offered. What a price!

Proprietor, Mr. Louis Blair, came out of the kitchen to say hello. We were able to ask him about the restaurant and who did all of that great cooking! Turns out that he’s not only the owner. He’s also the chef! Now, that man knows how to cook. Rail Photo 4Louis and his wife bought the restaurant a couple of years ago. While the railroad terminal was still in Dillsboro. Hence, “Whistlestop Cafe.” Both he and his wife come from a long line of railroad people.

In fact, both had grandfathers who were railroad engineers. This is Louis’s Grandfather, on the day he became an engineer, in 1951.

Rail Photo 1When you visit Dillsboro and the Whistle Stop Cafe, take time to look carefully at the photos and paintings on the wall. Lots of interesting material.

Rail Photo 6

Mr Blair All too soon, we had to end our chat with Louis to join the crowd heading to the pottery festival entry gate. More on that in the next post. So stay tuned.

Click here for scenes of the pottery festival.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dillsboro Pottery Festival. Part I

Table of Contents for This Series

  1. Introduction, trip over, and KOA Campground at Cherokee, NC.
  2. Breakfast at the Whistlestop Cafe, Dillsboro, NC.
  3. Scenes from the Pottery Festival
  4. Interview with Travis Berning, a Festival Organizer.

The opportunity to visit dozens of nearby interesting small towns is one advantage of living in the Carolinas. Both South and North Carolina are chuck-full of them. Many within driving distance of Columbia.

Most of those small communities have long and rich histories. Many now have recognized the economic potential of their history, preserved and interpreted. And take some pains to offer it in a way that attracts money-spending visitors.

Dillsboro, in the Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina, is one such community. We visited Dillsboro a decade or so ago specifically to ride its celebrated steam railroad. In addition to its terminal museum and the opportunity to view the steam locomotives up-close, the railroad provided rides through some beautiful Smokey Mountains scenery. Quite an experience.

Even then, Dillsboro offered visitors considerably more than the steam railroad. Especially interesting to us was the community of potters developing there, and the museum-like shops where they offered their wares for sale. We spent some time during that visit looking around, and even bought a piece or two!

It now appears that the steam railroad has moved its base of operations from Dillsboro to a nearby community. Though their excursion trains still run to Dillsboro during the summer months.

As if in compensation, the arts and crafts community of Dillsboro has expanded considerably. One example. For the past five years, potters in and around Dillsboro have joined to sponsor an annual pottery festival. We learned of this event on the internet. Click here for their site.

Rather than staying in one of the many nearby motels, this time we took our little Aliner. With one of us “campophobic,” it’s rare we both travel with the Aliner. So it seemed to me a good idea to make reservations at one of those large commercial campgrounds that offer all imaginable facilities.

The Cherokee/Great Smokies KOA campground in nearby Cherokee, North Carolina, was just such a facility. It’s huge! The largest I’ve ever seen. With hundreds of campsites. These range from small tent sites to those long concrete slabs required to comfortably park huge Class A motorhomes.

I called directly a week or so ago to make the reservation, and to confirm the available facilities. Ms. Victoria answered the reservation line, and was most helpful. She recommended one of the “premium” sites that abutted the creek flowing through the campground. We found the site just as Ms. Victoria had described it.

dillsboro route The drive to the Cherokee KOA turned into more of an adventure than we expected. The map above shows how simple it should have been.

Well, all was routine up through I-26 north. Until we neared the turn-off to I-40 west. Then blinking signs informed us that a major rockslide had closed I-40 in both directions west of the I-26 interchange, and recommended that we continue on north to I-81!

Since the I-81 interchange was quite a ways north it would have taken us considerably out of our way. So we watched for an alternative.

The GPS was little help. Or, more accurately, I didn’t know how to program the GPS to make it abandon its insistence that we plow ahead on I-40 west! I’d also forgotten to bring a hard-copy map that might have helped.

I did remember that Route 19 passed directly through Cherokee, and past the turn north to our campground. So, when a sign indicating Route 19 appeared I took it. Intending to follow 19 through to our turn-off.

Well! Route 19 in western North Carolina is a beautiful road. One I’d recommend to anyone traveling in the area. Unless they happened to be towing a travel trailer. Route 19 winds through spectacular mountain scenery. And a number of the historic small towns mentioned above. Offering an abundance of the natural and social scenery I often describe in this blog.

Rt 19But! Route 19 in this part of the Smokey Mountains was not planned as the ideal road along which to pull a travel trailer. Even a small travel trailer! We made it through, fortunately, without incident. Arriving at the town of Cherokee about 90 minutes later than expected. From there it was only minutes to the KOA campground.

Check-in was painless. [I’d confirmed the reservation that morning, after being reminded of the importance of confirming reservations before arrival during my last outing to Hunting Island State Park.] And we drove directly to our site.

On the way we passed the campground’s heavily stocked trout ponds and streams. The Tribal Authorities this time of year stock the streams twice a week with good-sized trout. So those fishing were having great success. Further on we passed a large heated swimming pool and one of those large inflated rubber pillows on which children enjoy jumping. We also noticed that this campground had many more cabins than was usual. They came in several sizes and types. Some right on the bank of the trout stream that flowed behind us.

Parked on Site Set-up on the large and level concrete pad was simplicity itself. We were done in just a few minutes. Just roll the Aliner back toward the stream, put down the four stabilizer jacks, connect electricity and water. Then raise the roof! Quick set-up and take-down is one of the Aliner’s great advantages. The process usually draws a small crowd of on-lookers.

We had dinner out that night, at a nearby restaurant recommended by the KOA folks, and then back to the Aliner to turn in early.

The campground reminded us of a small town, with street names and street lights throughout. No problem finding one’s way around, even at night. Just follow the map!

Morning Bath House As one expects in such facilities, the bath houses were clean, with plenty of hot water. There were even individual rooms for the toilets and wash basins. The first I’ve seen.

KOA Morning For me, though, the most impressive feature of this huge KOA campground was the views of the surrounding Smokey mountains. They were spectacular in nearly every direction. It was a treat the next morning to watch the sun illuminate the peaks, then down the sides of those mountains. Autumn color was past its prime in this part of the country. Many of the trees had already dropped their leaves. But the sight was still impressive, as you can see in the photo above.

We went to bed looking forward to the short drive from the Cherokee/Smokies KOA to Dillsboro for a late breakfast and a day viewing and discussing pottery.

Click here for Breakfast in Dillsboro.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Modoc COE Campground. Part IV. Two-Feathers’ Tipi.

+Click here for the first post in this series.

Last post I mentioned the appearance of an unusual shape on campsite # 11 here at the Modoc COE Campground. Even gave you a distant view of it to ponder.

Teeepee Well, here’s a close-up! Yes, it’s a genuine tipi. Fully sixteen or so feet high. The creator of this unusual shelter, Tommy Two-Feathers, kindly agreed to give me a tour. And even agreed to do an audio interview explaining its design.

This is the first time I’ve tried to integrate audio files into a Blogger post like this. But give a listen, as Tommy Two-Feathers describes his creation. Just click the white triangle at the left of the bar below to start the audio. Click it again to pause.

Reliable Sign Tommy Two-Feathers explained that he ordered the tipi from Reliable Tent and Tipi. It arrived without design on its white fire-retardant canvas walls. He also cut and cured his own tipi poles, from bamboo.

After extensive research, Two-Feathers painted the canvas with designs appropriate to a Sioux plains tipi. I asked him to explain the significance of some of the designs.

Wheel First, the “medicine wheel” design on the rear of the tipi:

Then I noticed that the background of the designs, so to speak, seemed to be carefully planned as well. From bottom to top.

Earth Green Tan Sky Black Here’s Two-Feathers’ explanation of their significance:

Moving counter-clockwise around the tipi, the next symbol was what looked like a cross.

Cross And, in fact that’s just what it was!

Next was an unmistakable buffalo.

Buffalo Two-Feathers explained the importance of the buffalo to Plains Indians, and why he selected it as one of the images on his tipi.

Moving around the tipi, the next design was taken from one of Remington’s most famous works.

Warrior Two-Feathers explains why he selected this Remington image for his tipi design:

We then approached the front of the tipi. That part facing the view of the lake. I asked about the complex arrangement of poles and flaps at the top.

Flaps Here is his reply.

Just below the smoke flaps you can see in the photo above two feathers stuck into the lacing of the tipi. An unmistakable name plate!

The tipi door was decorated with another interesting circular design.

DreamCatcher I asked Two-Feathers to explain its significance.

Two more designs drew my attention.

Coyote The first was a wolf, howling at the moon.

Sun And the second looked to be a stylized image of the sun.

At the end, Three-Feathers allowed me to enter his tipi to take a few more photos.

Inside View This photo should give you an idea of what the sides of the tipi look like. With the inside liner that protects from the wind and the rain, as well as the appearance of the painting and designs as they appear on the inside when the sun shines through. The circle on the right is the open door.

Peak Inside Here is a view of the peak of the tipi, looking up through the smoke ventilation hole, with the bamboo poles clearly visible.

Fire Pit And finally, the thing most remarkable to me: the fire pit inside the tipi. Out past the aluminum foil you can see the carpet that covers the floor. Two-Feathers told me that a genuine tipi would use buffalo skins there for comfort. But he didn’t have any around. And did have the carpet!

From Road So, there you have it. The unusual shape on site# 11. Thanks again to Tommy Two-Feathers for his generous contribution of time and expertise. Those of you who have further questions for Two-Feathers can e-mail them to me at I will forward them to him.

Let’s hope this experiment with embedded audio files is a success. If not, here are some direct links to the sound files that will play in your default sound player.