2019 – Shortstop: Holly Point Campground – Wake Forest, NC

Our one night stop at Holly Point Campground in Wake Forest, NC was an unplanned one and it came just in front of one of the hardest weekends of the year to find a campsite: Memorial Day weekend.

Our motorhome was scheduled for a front windshield replacement in Winston-Salem (following my run-in with a tree in South Carolina). The replacement took longer than I had anticipated and by the time we were ready to travel it was too late to make the longer drive we had planned.

While we were waiting on the windshield repair I was searching the internet for a suitable spot for one night. This campground gets good reviews and, even though it is booked up starting Friday, we were able to pick from several vacant spots for a Thursday one night stay.

Honestly, I wanted to find an “interstate campground” that caters to people just wanting to stop for a night, but came up empty on my search. Holly Point is farther from I85 than I wanted for just a one nighter, but (1) not finding a RV Park along the interstate and (2) it being the lead in to a holiday weekend I decided to go for it.

My biggest mistake, though, was the route I took from Durham. I left I85 onto Highway 70 and then traveled Highway 98 out to the Falls Lake Recreation area which is where Holly Point is located. Bad choice. There was construction and congestion the whole way, making for a tiring and slow conclusion to a long day. I’m not sure what route would be better, but this isn’t a good one.

Now, the campground is quite good. The sites are generally long with good spacing and reasonably level. They are 30 amp/water sites. The roads are paved and the sites are gravel. There’s a big lake. One of the highest compliments I can pay a campground is this: it reminds me of a Corps of Engineers campground.

My Verizon signal was good. Didn’t try to put the satellite up but I’m pretty sure I would have struck out at least from the site we picked.

Tell you what, it would, indeed, be a nice place to spend Memorial Day weekend.

2019 – Forest Lake Thousand Trails, Lexington, NC

It has been a few years since we visited Forest Lake Thousand Trails, near Lexington, NC. I think we appreciated the campground more this time than we did before. That’s mainly because we are more seasoned Thousand Trails users and better know what to expect at these properties.

Here’s a previous review of this campground – honestly, there are few, if any difference for better or worse. The pictures I took then are still representative of the campground. With that in mind I’m only adding a few with this review.

Forest Lake has a wide variety of campsites. Some will only accommodate a smaller rig while others are big enough for even the largest ones. Recently, the campground has started making an effort to assign sites based on the size of the rig. This is counter to long standing Thousand Trails policy, but in a campground with such a variety of campsites it makes a lot of sense. In the past a person with a smaller camper could pick one of the most spacious sites. When the bigger rig arrived there was simply no place they could fit.

Now, having said that, let me add that if Thousand Trails would stop selling so many annual sites much of this problem would go away. Still, I noticed that there were vacant sites throughout our stay, although many spots that might be considered prime are permanently taken.

Although the temperatures were over 90 at times, the pools (there are two big ones) won’t be open for a few more days yet, over the Memorial Day weekend. Also, for some reason, the community buildings were left locked up until later in the morning – I’m not sure why.

All in all, we like this campground and will be happy to return when we travel this area again.

2019 – Sightseeing – Billy Graham Library – Charlotte, NC

I thoroughly enjoyed our visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC. The Library takes visitors on an audio-visual journey of Billy Graham’s life from the time of his conversion until his death in 2018. He attended Wheaton College where he met and married a missionary’s daughter, Ruth Bell Graham. One room is dedicated to his wife Ruth and her many accomplishments as wife, mother and writer. There are movie clips from various crusades and many personal items from his years of ministry including what looks like the sound room where he recorded his radio broadcast, The Hour of Decision, produced from 1950 to 2016! Near the end of the tour we saw a wall mural by Thomas Kinkade named “The Cross”. In the final presentation of the tour we heard a short video of Billy Graham preaching the gospel message. At the end of the sermon, as “Just as I Am” is being sung, his son Franklin appears on video, encouraging those of us in the room to respond to that invitation. The overwhelming theme of the library continues Graham’s lifetime calling of leading people to Jesus.

2019 – Sightseeing the North Carolina Piedmont area

2019 – Murray’s Mill Historic Site – Catawba, NC

As a lover of American history I was pleased to find Fort Dobbs since it actually predates the American Revolution. By the date of the Revolution the Fort had been disbanded and was in ruins. Construction of Fort Dobbs was begun in 1755 and completed one year later. It was designed like a British Fort by order of Royal Governor Dobbs in response to the French and Indian war that was threatening the Colonies. It was to be the area military headquarters and a safe place for settlers.

All buildings are reproductions based on historical information. As was the original the Fort is built of local white oak. The rebuilt Fort will be complete and opened to the public in September. There’s a garden, brush arbor, and an outdoor bread oven. In the gift store/museum there are many artifacts that were found on site, along with other items representative of those used at the Fort.

I also enjoyed visiting Murray’s Mill Historic District near Catawba NC. The centerpiece of the area is the Mill and Murray & Minges General Store. The Mill was built in 1913 and operated until 1967. The store was built in 1890s and relocated to the area.

The mill has the original one ton millstones that ground corn and the roller mills used for grinding wheat. On the main floor we saw carts, scales and other equipment used in the daily operations. Down a flight of stairs the big gears are being turned by the water wheel just on the other side of the wall. Outside, I was impressed with the beauty of the water flowing over the dam and turning that big mill wheel.

Visiting the Murray & Minges General Store is a step back in history with dry goods, stick candy and other candy in jars along with local honey for sale. On display are examples of handmade lace and quilts made from original flour sacks. We enjoyed sitting on the porch swing while sipping bottled soft drinks from the antique Coca-Cola machine.

With my love of Chocolate I enjoyed the tour and tasting at the Black Mountain Chocolate Factory in Winston-Salem, NC. On the forty minute tour we learned how they make their chocolate from “bean to bar.” This is a small factory and much of what is done is hands on. Our guide showed us a cacao pod and explained the process needed before the beans could be shipped for making chocolate. We saw the bean roaster, the machine used to process the ground beans, with other items that combine to make the chocolate. The bar molds are filled by holding the mold under a metered stream of chocolate, settled on a shaking table, and moved to a cooling rack. I enjoyed a peanut butter cookie from the shop where various chocolate items, pastries and coffees as well as other gift items can be purchased. This is a fun and tasty place to visit in downtown Winston-Salem.

2013 – Mountains of western North Carolina and vicinity

This has been a week of beautiful views of untouched woods, waterfalls, amazing mountains, and cultivated, settled valleys. On Tuesday we drove south into the mountains surrounding us and went as far as the edge of South Carolina. The views were wonderful but with all the curves and switchbacks Scott didn’t get to enjoy them as much as I did. We went through small villages and stopped at a restaurant overlooking a dam in the Lake Toxaway area for lunch. After a short break we drove to White Water falls which is well worth the walk even down the many steps and back. Later we drove the Cullasaja Gorge where we actually drove under Bridal Veil Falls! We also stopped off at the Dry Falls that were not dry at all.

Thursday we decided to go to revisit Catalouhee Valley where we visited eight years ago. I didn’t remember the gravel road which is narrow and twisty with drop offs. This drive isn’t for those who are challenged by heights. Once we arrived we visited the historical buildings which are within easy walking distance of the road. The area boasts lots of hiking trails and, depending on the time of day, elk viewing. There are signs warning of bears but we didn’t see any. Near the entrance of the valley there’s a beautiful turnout with a picnic table where we ate lunch. It was a nice break before driving back up and over the mountain and back to our campground.

On Friday we took a trip to Gatlinburg, TN. We drove west on interstate 40 through the Pigeon River Gorge. It’s a narrow, twisting few miles of interstate with a fairly long tunnel and very nice views. In Gatlinburg we picked up a pizza and had lunch in a pretty park where we found a table near the stream. We went back into town hoping to catch the trolley but got tired of waiting and walked in a few blocks. I stopped in a few shops to look around and then window shopped our way back toward the truck. From there we took Highway 441 through the park. We stopped at several of the overlooks to enjoy the wonderful views.

Leaving the National Park we took the Blue Ridge Parkway.  There were more stunning views and interesting tunnels to drive through.  At one point we turned off of the parkway a little too soon and almost immediately realized our mistake.  We turned around headed back to the Parkway and, to our delight, saw a male elk with a large rack right beside the road we had driven down just minutes earlier!

This is such a wonderful area and we are looking forward to future visits here.

Campground Review: Pride RV Resort, Maggie Valley, NC

Our F350 diesel handled the long I40 climb up and over Black Mountain just fine although I had my foot in it all the way up the five mile steep climb.  The scenery is wonderful and just the beginning of the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Our home for the week is Pride RV Resort that offers super easy access to I40 and the mountains of western North Carolina.  We’re here using our RPI membership.  That’s supposed to be $10 a night for us but by the time the mandatory “resort fees” (includes cable TV which I don’t need) and “50 amp fee” was added in we ended up at $18.50.  Of course, if we just drove in and paid the nightly rate we’d have paid over $40.  I think this is lesson learned and in the future I’ll budget with the add on fees expected and be pleasantly surprised with the parks that honor the $10 RPI rate.  Also, I understand that we’re in a premier area.  We’re in the mountains with wonderful views and mild to cool temperatures.  It’s not unreasonable to pay for such things.

This place has some nice features.  The facilities are quite good with a big building for events, plus a “pavilion” for either open air or enclosed activities.  The mini-golf is nice and there’s a playground for the children.  There’s a pool and spa.  One of the nicest things is Jonathan Creek which borders the eastern side of the property.  It’s a nifty mountain trout stream.  There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the creek.  Also, the WiFi is the best we’ve had on our entire trip; it is also included in the resort fee.

At the same time there are some frustrating things about this park.  For one thing the water pressure is noticeably low.  When I asked about it I was told that the park is on a city water system that is being upgraded.  Hopefully, the upgrade will be completed soon.  Also, through no fault of it’s own it is placed between two lumber processing facilities.  Opposite the beautiful gurgling creek is a saw mill with heavy equipment making lots of noise.  A short distance across the highway is another mill with, I assume, some kind of big saw that makes a low pitched, penetrating whine that is pretty mush inescapable throughout the workday.

I think coming in on an affiliate membership in these places means that you’ll be treated like the park’s step-children.  We were assigned a spot in which we backed into a narrow site within 20 feet of the highway.  During the week when the one lumber processing plant was in full operation the sound of the trucks downshifting just outside our rear window was pretty loud.  We compensated by closing the roof vents and moving a fan upstairs for white noise.  I don’t know how much better it would have been a couple of rows over but I’m fairly sure it would have been at least a little quieter.  Because of the road noise and the closeness of our neighbors just a few steps outside our front door (very nice people by the way) we didn’t sit outside much during our stay.

As you can tell this place is quite a mixture of very nice and rather frustrating.  I think I’d return here simply because I love the area so much and because I think it would be easier on the budget than paying the rack rate would be elsewhere.  At the same time I’d lobby big time for a site away from the highway.

North Carolina Piedmont Region

This has been a restful week with a couple of fun trips. Those of us who remember The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD will recognize Mount Airy, NC as the birthplace of Andy Griffith and the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry. The real life Mount Airy is an up to date, modern town with a historic district made up of beautiful old buildings. It’s on the historic downtown Main Street that Mayberry is seen. There’s Floyd’s Barbershop, the Bluebird Cafe, Opies’ Candy Shop, and several other Mayberry-related shops. For those who like memorabilia there are Mayberry themed cups, foods, and clothing with photos of actors from the shows. We had fun looking and shopping.

image-004.jpgOn the way to Mount Airy we stopped at Pilot Mountain State Park for a short hike and picnic lunch. The park offers camping, hiking, picnicking, and canoeing. Pilot Mountain is awesome from a distance and from the top there are beautiful views in all directions. This mountain was used as a landmark by native American Indians and later used by European immigrants from the Northern Colonies moving South. Pilot Mountain is the name given by Moravian missionaries traveling the Great Wagon Road.

We enjoyed touring Lexington, NC which is just a short distance from the Campground. We visited the public library and I posted a review and pictures on my Great Library Ideas blog. We walked through a wonderful place to look and shop: Lanier’s Hardware store. They carry everything a hardware store should plus kitchen gadgets, fireplaces, wood stoves, sporting grear, sports clothing, and college memorabilia. One end of the store is full of toys for all ages ranging from Barbies to model trains with the landscaping to go along with it. They also carry radio controlled cars and boats for the “big kids.”

The Candy Factory is just down the street a few blocks and can be recognized by its red and white striped awing.  There was also an Art Pig out front; a great place for a photo op. The store is full of seasonal candy and various candies from the 50’s and 60’s.  They make and sell their own fudge.  I bought the dark chocolate caramel with sea salt but was very tempted by the pumpkin fudge that tastes just like pumpkin pie.  There is a small room in the back with antiques and antique books for sale.  On the book shelf were early readers, Trixie Beldon and other books published in the fifties.  A fun place to look and shop.

Lexington bills itself as the “BBQ Capitol of North Carolina” so we went to one of the many BBQ restaurants in the city.  We enjoyed the meal.  The pork barbeque with the vinegar based “Lexington-style” sauce we had is very different than the beef barbeque with tomato based sauce that we usually enjoy in Texas.

It was rather warm through most of our stay in the Piedmont and that discouraged us from doing as much sightseeing as we might have.  Still, we found this to be an interesting area with a lot to offer.

Campground Review: Forest Lake Thousand Trails, Advance, NC

Our 160 mile move from Lynchburg, VA to the vicinity of Winston-Salem, NC went quite well. Forest Lake Thousand Trails is just a few minutes from Lexington, which is a mid sized town that is famous for North Carolina barbeque.

We drove around the campground for a while checking out the available sites. Several are occupied by seasonal members and others had signs on them reserving them for some group that was coming in. I wanted to avoid the $3 a day fee for 50 amps, but the most desirable and available sites were all 50 amps. We decided to bite the bullet and pay the extra fee, not so much for the 50 amps as for the location right across from the adult lodge and pool. All in all, it turned out to be an excellent decision as the afternoon temperatures reached 90 several days and we were happy to run the a/c along with the washer/dryer, microwave, and anything else we wanted to run without worrying about tripping a 30 amp breaker.

All in all we like this place. There are several campers in the park but it is far from full. Unlike the Thousand Trails facilities in Virginia this one has the pools open (there are two of them) post-Labor Day. Sorry to say the spa is out of order but over-all things are in good shape. There’s a nice trail around the small lake, a worn-but-interesting mini-golf course, and laundry that gets a lot of use. There are also several cabins and a number of them are right on the lake.

My Verizon 4G signal couldn’t be stronger. From our campsite we can see the cell tower just east of the campground. Jackie’s T-Mobile is just a strong. That’s a rarity for us this summer.

We’ve done some sight seeing – Jackie will write about that shortly – but mostly we’ve tended to projects  “at home” and taken life easy.  Had we ended up in one of the more distant camp spots (several weren’t especially level or roomy) I think we would have been dissatisfied with our stay here. However, since we opted for the more expensive campsite right at the heart of the campground and with the 50 amp service, I give this place a thumbs up.