Well folks, if you’ve been following along, you know that we are very behind in our travel updates. Oops! Unfortunately for the blog, our focus shifted once we stopped being tourists and started visiting family and friends. And contrary to popular belief, we have been very busy working for Natural Retreats.
We certainly don’t want to cheat you out of hearing about our adventures though! So here goes an overview of our selected stretch of road between Tybee Island in Georgia, and Swan Valley in Idaho.
Nuptials in Greenville
Leaving Savannah, we got caught in another storm. Well, really the same one, as Tropical Storm Alberto continued up the Eastern seaboard. What should have been a four hour drive took us six. Becca missed a dress appointment at a bridal boutique in Columbia because the timing just didn’t work out. Lesson # 19 learned. Bummed but excited for the weekend, we carried on toward Greenville, South Carolina.
Becca had the honor of serving as a bridesmaid in a college friend’s wedding over Memorial Day weekend. If you ever find yourself in Downtown Greenville, we highly recommend Sticky Fingers Ribhouse. I ate lunch there on Friday while Becca was busy getting her nails done with the girls. As luck would have it, that was the rehearsal dinner venue, so I got extra barbeque that day! We also enjoyed Pour Taproom that night, which offers the ability to taste beers by the ounce, listen to live music, and play pool or darts.
The wedding ceremony took place at the breathtaking Pretty Place Chapel on Cedar Mountain. We witnessed some of Becca’s dearest friends exchange vows and wedding bands with the most incredible backdrop.
Dinner, drinks, and dancing ensued at the reception. Including a very strange, seemingly choreographed dance to Arms Wide Open by Creed. Still not sure what was going on there. But the venue was mostly empty by that point and the bridal party seemed to enjoy it.
Into the Carolina Mountains
We checked out of the hotel on Sunday morning and headed to a delicious farewell brunch with friends. From there, we drove northwest toward the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway headed for Asheville, NC.
Before hopping on the parkway, we made a few pitstops in Pisgah National Forest. We noticed a ton of cars pulled off on the side of the road around the signage for Looking Glass Falls. We hopped out of the car to check it out and quickly jotted down lessons #20 and #23 of things we learned on the road. Feeling a little claustrophobic, we had a gentleman with a nice Nikon snap some photos and moved on.
Next stop, Sliding Rock – literally a giant rock worn smooth by the river flowing over the top for centuries. Two of Becca’s friends that were also in the wedding wanted to check out the natural attraction, so we met them there. Unfortunately, with all the recent rain in the region, the actual slide activity was closed.
The water flowed too quickly for sliding down the rock to be considered safe. Disappointed but anxious to get out of the rain, we took a few more photos before saying our goodbyes and linking up with the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We highly recommend only taking this route in clear conditions. That darn storm was still on our tail, which made driving stressful. But the low hanging clouds and mist made for some breathtaking views. Don’t forget to use your blinkers when pulling into the numerous overlooks!
The clouds parted as we finally dropped into Asheville. We opted for a hotel here instead of a campground since we wanted to experience downtown Asheville. And because the one campground nearby required a full Memorial Day weekend booking.
The hotel turned out to be a beautiful resort. Complete with a shuttle to take you downtown. We hopped on and treated ourselves to a delightful evening of pizza and craft beer at Asheville Brewing Company. Exhausted and wanting to get up early the next day to explore Biltmore, we admitted defeat on staying out that night. We hopped on the shuttle back to the hotel and crashed hard.
We found Asheville delightful. A sweet Southern town that would be incredibly easy to settle down in. The folks are friendly, the beer is plentiful, and the music never stops.
Exploring Biltmore Estate – The House & Grounds
The next day, we toured the Biltmore Estate and fell in love with the gardens. We highly recommend a visit. Keep in mind it’s a full day experience and, while you’ll want good walking shoes, you’ll also want to look nice as the home itself and scenery provide excellent backdrops for photos.
Give yourself time to really explore the estate! We’ll begin with the home tour. Becca paid thirteen dollars for the self-guided audio tour. She stood in each room much longer than I would have listening to the tape.
We found most of the information was the same as what I was reading in the free pamphlet available at the entrance. Once she admitted that, we were able to skip past all of the other people loitering in each room with the audio guide pressed to their ear. Without rushing, the tour can take up to three hours, and it’s a one-way track through the home.
Next up, a slow walk about the gardens. There were so many unique flora species to see!
We walked all the way to the Bass Pond at the far end of the map, which took us about an hour round trip.
The pond was nice to see, but you can also see it from the car on the drive over to the winery. We chose to walk back to the house on the prairie trail and got a unique view of the house from the hilltop. Our shoes green and wet from the rain-soaked, fresh cut grass.
Walking back to the car, we saw signs for Diana… Wanting to get our money’s worth and be sure to see every inch of the property, Becca wandered off to check it out. The signage isn’t very good approaching Diana, so she took a few wrong turns before stumbling upon the sprawling lawn. It turned out to be a gorgeous statue of Diana, goddess of the hunt, with her canine companion under a vine covered gazebo overlooking the main house.
A nod to a pastime enabled by the reforestation of the area by George Vanderbilt and his landscape architect, Frederick Olmstead. Behind the statue stood what appeared to be the makings of a beautiful event venue. We joked about hosting our wedding there, before deciding it was most likely over our budget.
Exploring Biltmore Estate – Antler Hill Village
Once Becca hopped back in the car, we drove over to Antler Hill Village. You really get to see a lot of the estate on this meandering drive. An intentional element of the landscape design that we really appreciated!
When you get over to the village, make sure to hit the farm and petting zoo first (if you’re into that stuff), as they close earlier than the other activities. We missed them by about 30 minutes, resulting in a sad Becca because those baby goats were “seriously so stinkin’ cute”. Although we still got pretty close to them after dinner.
Take advantage of the wine tasting included in your admission at the winery. They have quite the variety of wines and the pours are generous. The staff is very knowledgeable about each one as well, or at least our server was.
After that, I wanted a burger, so we had dinner at the Bistro. We had a bit of a miscommunication at this point in the day that led to lesson #22. But quickly overcame our differences by stopping in the Wine Bar for some cheese and delicious chocolate truffles before heading home, exhausted once again.
Pro tip: Let the chocolate melt in your mouth, then take a sip of wine before swallowing. Talk about a flavor explosion!
Another pro tip that can be applied to any destination, is to learn as much as you can about a place before seeing it in person. Becca listened to a few podcasts in the months leading up to our tour that really made the experience special for her. She learned about the Vanderbilt family, the estate itself, and some paranormal activity reported on the property.
Being able to retell things she knew about the family history or construction of the property while walking around enabled us to piece together a more vibrant picture of the estate. It wasn’t just some old building, it was a family home steeped in history. A masterpiece of chateau and landscape architecture. A refuge for famous paintings and political figures. Although admission was steep, we both left in awe, and thankful that such a beautiful place has been preserved for public viewing pleasure.
That night and the next day, we checked out a few breweries, but found ourselves exhausted from the weekend’s festivities. We spent much more time in the hotel room catching up on sleep than originally anticipated. Another lesson learned that didn’t make it into our top 25 at the time – give yourself some recovery time!
Crossing the Border – NC to TN to VA
With campsite reservations already made in the mountains of Tennessee and Virginia, we had to get a move on. Our next stop was Bristol, where the main street through the town straddles two states’ border. Wanting to see as much of the mountains as we could, we took the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast, instead of the main highway straight north. The tunnels and water gushing over the craggy mountainside next to the road were spectacular!
We made a pitstop at the visitor center for Linville Falls and Duggar Creek and hiked to the upper section of Linville Falls. Our exploring stopped there. Each of us had already slipped on the muddy path and the trail ahead of us leading to the lower section of the falls looked even more steep and torn up. Besides, we could hear thunder in the distance.
We hiked back to the trailhead and started down the Duggar Loop trail, but didn’t get very far before turning around as the rain set in. Sopping wet, we hopped back in the car and set out on a northwest trajectory. Sadly leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway behind us.
Shortly after, we made it to Bristol. Chris was hoping to get some good fishing in, so we stopped in the local fly shop for advice. Unfortunately, the rain that followed us up from Florida washed out most of the hot spots. So we took advice on restaurants and local hangouts instead.
We ventured over to Elizabethton the next morning on the recommendation of the couple sitting next to us at dinner, at a restaurant that was recommended by the fly shop folks. Becca had to get some work done, so we holed up in a little coffee shop on main street for a few hours.
Feeling accomplished and fully caffeinated, we ventured off in search of the Blue Hole – a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole tucked away in the hills. We didn’t stay long as the local kids had taken over the spot. Our quick dip in the cool water felt refreshing nonetheless. We would absolutely go back, but in the morning on a weekday.
That night, Chris took the paddle board out on the South Holston River. He didn’t get many fish, but had a good time paddling around anyway.
We cooked for the first time in awhile that night at our lovely campsite. Teriyaki soaked chicken kebabs. Yum!
Go Chase Those Waterfalls
The next morning, we turned north again to Eggleston, Virginia. A very small, friendly town in the mountains chosen solely for its proximity to Cascade Falls. The four mile round trip hike led us upstream to an incredible waterfall. That excursion was easily Becca’s favorite hike of the trip.
We probably ended up with 100 photos of cascading water…
…because she thought every bend of the river seemed even more beautiful than the last.
I brought my fly rod along and coaxed one of the native brook trout to eat. Combined with the small trout I caught at a random pitstop earlier that day before leaving Tennessee, I accomplished a first for me – landing two trout in different states in the same day.
We severely regretted not taking a dip in the pool underneath that waterfall once we got to our campsite. The overall location was beautiful, and probably great if you had a self-contained RV. However, we would not recommend this campground if you’re traveling with just a bed on wheels. The bathroom had a sign out front from the health department warning about water consumption. Thinking she had seen worse in foreign countries, and you should probably just not drink the water, Becca waltzed right in.
The entire concrete building was terrifying. Spiders and roaches inhabited every corner of the structure. The light bulb buzzed and blinked overhead. Not wanting to get made fun of for being afraid of a horror film set with a few bugs, she braved the surroundings and attempted to shower. The putrid smell of the dangerously sulfurous water coming from the moldy, calcified shower head was the last straw.
We noticed a towel missing when we unpacked here in Idaho. Starting to wonder if it wasn’t abandoned in her hurry to escape that wretched place. This was our most serious example of lesson #14!
Less Exploring, More Family Time
After (thankfully) only one night in Eggleston, we left for Charlottesville. Our savior neighbors in the Keys told us about one of their favorite restaurants in those parts, so we made a pit stop in Crozet to pick up a gift card for them. After that, it was on to spend the weekend with Becca’s best friend of twenty years and her husband. Oh, and their adorable pets.
We had dinner at a cool brewery our first night and walked through the Downtown Mall just to check it out. The next day, we went to a farmer’s market before getting rained out of touring Monticello. We made up for that with a few winery stops. Sunday called for a family dinner, so out to North Garden we went!
From there it was on to French Lick, Indiana. My uncle works at the hotel/casino/resort there, so we stopped for the night to have dinner and catch up. We had a great meal at the Power Plant Bar & Grill before making our way into the casino. Three hours later, we walked away from the craps table up $600. Pretty sure we helped one guy win over $10,000. Both of our rolls lasted through six points! Beginner’s luck? Or a couple math geniuses playing the odds? Either way, Becca had fun getting comfortable with the game despite not being a huge fan of gambling.
The Arch is Calling and We Must Go
Next stop, St. Louis. Our mothers and sisters had planned a couples shower for us that Saturday evening. Rolling into town on Tuesday, I left for southern Missouri to go fishing with some of my buddies at one of my favorite places.
Becca hung around town to eat Ted Drewe’s – erhm, I mean…. to soak up family time. She ran errands with her Mom and sister, got in a bridal appointment at a dress shop, and spent an afternoon swimming at her cousin’s house.
It was so great to get to spend time with everyone – those who lived there, and those who came in a few days early for the shower. All of Becca’s siblings and even her matron of honor (who we had just seen in Charlottesville) came to town for it. A wonderful surprise considering they all live so far away.
We weren’t so sure about having all of the attention on us, but the event turned out to be very special. The spotlight wasn’t too bright, even with the fun rule that the giver of each gift we opened got to tell a story about us. It was incredibly encouraging to hear some of our dearest friends and family members speak of memories with us and best wishes for the future.
Another highlight of our time in St. Louis – we got our dogs back! Unfortunately, our friend that took care of Wilbur and Becca’s car wasn’t able to join us for the trek west as expected. So we flew him home from the Lou and bought walkie talkies to use during our caravan west. Next stop: the Black Hills in South Dakota.
Trials and Tribulations in the American West
Not wanting to drive through the night, we planned to make a pit stop in Sioux City. Approximately 520 miles into that 525 mile leg, I got pulled over by a police officer for not having a tail light. Turns out we had been traveling across the country with only a reflective strip at the top of the trailer. Considering we weren’t sure whether we were in Nebraska or Iowa at the time of the stop, and didn’t plan to be towing the trailer at night again, we took the warning and let it be. Please don’t turn us in!
The next day, we traveled 360 miles from Sioux City, Iowa to the Badlands National Park on the western side of South Dakota.
I came very close to leaving Whiskey Bravo (Becca’s car) behind and continuing on to our campsite without her and Wilbur because she wanted to stop at every scenic overlook. Don’t get me wrong, the views were incredible.
And we got to see bison, mule deer, prairie dogs, and a few different kinds of birds. I think there’s just something different about that part of the world for someone who was raised by a geologist, that the rest of us can’t understand. Anyway, I did not abandon the caravan caboose and we got some stellar photos.
We made it to our campsite deep within Black Hills National Forest and had decent pizza for dinner at the restaurant on-site.
Becca had to spend part of our first day in the Black Hills completing some tasks for her contract position. I took advantage of the day to myself by fishing Rapid Creek just outside of Rapid City, South Dakota. I also had the pleasure of sorting through another bill with AT&T. After fishing, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up supplies for smore’s and Frito pies.
Once I got back to the campground, Becca was ready to go on an adventure. I suggested we take a hike up the trail from the campground. We leashed up the pups and headed out for what we would later discover to be Custer Peak. We watched the sun set dramatically over the surrounding hills from the structure at the summit. And hurried back down so as to not get caught in the woods at night.
We spent our first night under blankets in South Dakota that evening. Mentally thanking our friend Ross again for storing our warmer clothes in Becca’s car and driving them up from Texas. The smell of the pine trees surrounded us at the campfire. We dozed off early for the next day’s adventures.
The next morning, we made our way down to Mount Rushmore. We enjoyed the scenic drive through the national forest and a short visit. We did not partake in the walk up to the actual monument (thinking the best view was from afar) but hung around the amphitheater area for a bit. Complete truth, neither of us feel the need to pay admission again.
This part of our trip was a little rough. I was seemingly unrecoverably tired from all of the visiting and driving we had done over the past few weeks. And antsy to get to our final destination. Annoyed with being rushed around everywhere, and not wanting to be rushed around the Crazy Horse Monument, Becca let loose on me. Grumpy gills would not be tolerated any longer. We cancelled our Crazy Horse plans and took the afternoon off, stopping for lunch at the Mangy Moose Saloon in Hill City on our way back to camp.
Up Close and Personal with the Black Hills
In an effort to apologize, I suggested we check out Spearfish Canyon. As we neared the north end of the canyon, we pulled off to check out Bridal Veil Falls. This spot is right off the main canyon road and left us a little underwhelmed.
From there, we decided to turn around and hit some of the spots we passed with a fly rod. No luck fishing but we found some beautiful wildflowers.
We also witnessed some sort of mating situation with a bunch of bright yellow butterflies.
Disappointed by the waterfalls we had seen from the main road, we took the turn toward Roughlock Falls. We opted out of the hike up the riverbed, since you can drive straight to the falls. We walked every inch of well kept boardwalk around the different levels of the beautiful falls before settling on a spot to relax. This was by far the best waterfall in Spearfish Canyon.
After cracking a couple of beers, we watched trout swim in the stream. Attempting to let the sound of rushing water wash away our weariness. Ready for another nap, we nixed our original plan to have dinner in Deadwood. Instead, we headed back to the campground to hang with the pups.
Onward to Hi-de-ho
Our alarm clock went off the next morning at 4 am. And by our alarm clock, I mean a herd of cattle that was split in two by the fence lining the campground. We peeked out the camper window to see a stranded calf standing next to the picnic table at the edge of our campsite. Mooing like the dickens. Turned out about one fourth of the herd had somehow managed to find its way on our side of the fence and was now putting out the distress call.
There was a gate in the fence right next to our camper, but we couldn’t figure out how to unlock it to reunite them. Before long, half the campers had come out to see what the raucous was about. One man experienced with livestock started herding the stranded cows and eventually shooed them away down the fence line. Evidently leasing national forest land to ranchers for cattle grazing is common practice in that area. Who knew?
That wasn’t our only encounter with those darn cows. Wilbur was obsessed with them. Twice he got loose and ran off into the field behind our camper to play with them. Resulting in a teary-eyed Becca until he came back because his collar had her old (but now reclaimed) phone number on the tag. If he were to get picked up by someone, there’d be no way for them to contact us. Serious conversations were had about how dangerous his behavior was, although we’re pretty sure nothing we said to him sunk in.
We took advantage of the early start and packed up the camper to head on our merry way. We stopped for coffee in Deadwood and drove down Main Street, although not much was open at seven in the morning. From there we headed west once again.
Just twenty miles past the Wyoming border, we pulled off the highway at the sign for Devil’s Tower National Monument and took a gander. The view from the highway on the approach was stellar.
But I was at my wits end with walking around rocks, so we didn’t pay the admission fee for the park. We snapped a selfie in the parking lot of the post office and hooked a U-ie. Even though we didn’t go walk around the tower, it was an impressive sight to see. I wouldn’t mind going back and hearing the lore surrounding the tower from the Native American perspective.
Once back on I-90, the trek west through Wyoming continued. We turned south in Buffalo and west again in Casper, in order to avoid driving through Yellowstone National Park. Highway 26 led us into Jackson but we only stopped for a photo with the Tetons as we were so close to our destination!
We made it over Teton Pass into Victor, Idaho. We could have stopped there and checked into our campsite, but I had to show Becca the lodge.
A Homecoming of Sorts
We drove over Pine Creek Pass into Swan Valley and north five miles before turning off, onto Conant Valley Loop. To my dismay, the South Fork Outfitters fly shop closed about a half hour before we arrived. So we stopped for a (very tired) selfie in front of the Conant Boat Ramp right next door before heading to the lodge. We drove by the Fisherman’s Cabins, Barn, and Office before passing the kitchen loading area and arriving at the lodge building. Pulling up, we saw a sign saying the lodge was closed for a private event. Duh… the rehearsal dinner for the wedding we were attending the next day was going on!
We were bummed about not seeing friends that night, but excited to have made it safely to our destination. We checked in to our campsite and celebrated the end of our road trip with… You guessed it, PIZZA! At the Wildlife Brewing Company back in Victor.
Another Round of Nuptials
The next morning, we wanted to set up camp before the wedding. However, our assigned site was the closest one to the highway. Thinking that probably wasn’t the safest option with two wild dogs, we went to discuss a potential move with the front office. They had to do some rearranging on their end, so we didn’t unpack anything. Instead, we did some laundry and caught up on communications with family and friends. When the time came, we got ready for the wedding and drove our whole operation over the pass. We parked the camper next to the barn and walked over to the lodge.
The whole venue looked beautiful. We took a selfie with the polaroid camera next to the guest book and signed our names before heading outside. Ten rows of white chairs graced the lawn between the lodge and the casting pond, overlooking the rambling South Fork of the Snake. Paper bags with baby’s breath lined the aisle. We exchanged hello’s with other guests before settling in for the main event.
A myriad of ooh’s, aah’s and awww’s later, we applauded the entire wedding party as they made their way back down the aisle. Considering both the bride and groom worked there, Becca met almost everyone who was anyone at the lodge that evening. For reception seating arrangements, the couple had each table labeled with a different species of fish they had caught together. Since we were going to live in Victor all summer, the sweet, thoughtful couple sat us at the Brown Trout table. With their other friends who lived in Victor.
This meant that we narrowly escaped the Whitefish table, where the rest of the lodge folks sat. While most people saw the humor in this, some people were bitter about sitting at that table. Whitefish are bottom feeders that no one really enjoys catching. They smell bad too.
We had a blast that night – me catching up with everyone and Becca getting to meet everyone. Drinks were imbibed. Dances were danced. Friends were carried safely home.
We recovered the next day with a greasy breakfast from the Anguish, erhm, I mean Angus, on our way back to Victor. We were able to move campsites to one further back in the lot. But the party the night before did not aid us in our effort to unpack and set up camp. It would be about another week before that happened, considering we started work on Monday.
Stay tuned for an update on life here in Teton Valley!