Reviews, Destinations, and Tips for your getaway from the routine
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Here in Western North Carolina we’ve seen our share of road closures this spring and the last year. I-40 was closed to TN (both directions) for a good part of the last year, stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway have been closed and parts of I-26 north of Asheville have been down to one lane for construction. This holiday weekend though (Happy 4th of July!!!!!) we have I-40 up and moving again (just one lane westbound though through the Pigeon River Gorge area near the TN state line, so heading west you’ll likely want to avoid the backup.) The construction on I-40 is continuing through the holiday weekend there. So, I think they are still suggesting alternate routes due to potential traffic backups. I-26 though, the construction north of Asheville is on hold until after the holiday and two lanes are open each direction there. (Very good, because that is one of the alternate routes to bypass the blockage of I-40.) I also saw word today that the last stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway that had been closed has reopened today. So, at the moment The entire Blue Ridge Parkway appears to be open!

The weather here in Western North Carolina has been as near to perfect as you can imagine for this time of year. Today we’ve had dry air and probably mid to upper 70s for a high with a light breeze. I hope you all enjoy safe and good travels this 4th of July Weekend and take a moment to stop and think about the meaning of this holiday for us here in the States.

As I write this we are in the midst of a week long stay at the beach at Ocean Isle Beach, NC. (Actually we’re staying very near the dividing line between Sunset Beach and Ocean Isle.) A short drive to the East or West will get you to the bridge to either Sunset Beach or Ocean Isle. The old bridge to Sunset Beach is nearing the end of it’s days of service. It’s an unusual and interesting pontoon bridge that swivels to one side on the hour to let boat traffic up or down the intra coastal waterway. The bridge is currently one lane and there is a traffic light at each end. The bridge to Ocean Isle has already been replaced with a large arching structure (which gives fantastic views btw.) Soon the bridge to Sunset Beach will be a similar structure (actually it looks mostly completed and I suspect that this fall will be in service.)

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I know it’s a couple days late for this idea for new years. But…. if you’re looking for a non alcoholic way to ring in the New Year (or really any special occasion…) I would recommend Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice (I prefer the Red Grape myself). Really a nice non alcoholic substitute.

We’ve got bottles of it for Anniversary for several years (since we don’t drink) and it really is good for any occasion. Although it’s hard to find it anytime but around the holidays. I know it’s not necessarily a travel or vacation idea, but I thought some families might appreciate the tip. Happy New Year!

I know we usually think of a family vacation as a happy time when everything “just works” but, many times that’s strictly not the case. If you’re setting out by car there are certain things you should pack to bring along anytime of year and then there are a few more things that you should make a point of in the winter. A couple weeks ago we had a strong snow storm come through and in part from the snow and another part from tractor trailer jackknifes on the highway there were many stranded motorists. There’s also been a story of a couple that was stranded 3 days after their gps led them off the beaten track on the “shortest route” and they wound up getting stuck in back country somewhere during a snow storm.

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Back in the spring of 1993 we had a blizzard leave lots of snow here in the mountains of western North Carolina. We had drifts of three feet and more. We were snowed in, with no power and the only water was from a well (which required power.) So, we broke a path through the snow to retrieve water from a creek to be able to flush the toilets. It was actually somewhat fun…. But, we talked about a lot of things including snowshoes…. that Christmas we each received a pair of snowshoes. I didn’t get a chance to use them until about 1998 and then only a little. This week though we had a good 13-17 inch snow and I got the most time on them that I’ve had. I learned quite a few things about them. First off, do snow shoes really work?

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I found this great article about how the Weather channel had come to Western North Carolina for the fall colors as well as for the waterfalls. Our region has numerous waterfalls and up until recently locating and taking a look at more than just a handful was a bit of a challenge. There is now though, a map of the waterfalls of North Carolina that makes it a lot easier to locate and get a good look at these wonders of nature.

I will say that most of the deaths you will hear reported in the summer in Western North Carolina are of hikers near waterfalls. Be careful, cautious and aware that wet rocks can be slippery. Don’t go into uncertain areas without a guide. Stay on marked hiking trails and be safe.

If you haven’t heard there was a major rock slide that has closed I-40 near the NC/TN border in the last couple weeks. There are detour routes, but they are saying it will take 3-5 months to clear the blockage and get two lanes running again. Given that we’re heading into winter I suspect it will be longer. Of course, that puts more traffic on I-26 (part of one both of the detour routes). It also will mean a little harder times for those businesses in Haywood county that depend on the interstate traffic for guests and customers.

Yes, Western North Carolina IS still open for business as many are trying to make sure that people are aware of. The catch is you should expect travel plans to take a bit longer and you will see a bit heavier than normal traffic en route to your destination.

We’ve spent the last several days just a bit over the mountain from our home. We’re staying in Sevierville, Tennessee at the Days Inn Apple Valley. Truth be told, we are close enough to Pigeon Forge that a well thrown walnut would probably land WELL within the city limits. Of course, Pigeon Forge is just a little ways (5 minutes or so) from Gatlinburg. It’s been a good stay and I think every time we come to the Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville area we see so many ways that they have just done it right. It reminds us why we’ve been here 4 times since our oldest son was born.

What do I mean by “they have done it right”? Read on…

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Long car trips can be challenging even for adults. The scenery can seem changeless for hours on end and can make the most patient people slightly irritable…. Our last car trip to Surfside Beach, SC for a family vacation was about 5 to 6 hours each way. This really isn’t that bad (it could have been 12 hours…) but with a 7 year and 14 year old we planned out quite a bit to try to make it a bearable trip. Realize that you should consider the personality of your children in planning activities for a long trip, every child is different and some things may work for a longer stretch than others.

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File this under tips…. We have three cars even though we only have 2 adults that drive. One of our cars is an older sporty Nissan Pulsar that does not have a backseat suitable for a baby carseat. It’s our spare for when another car is in the shop and it get’s pretty good gas mileage, so when the prices go up one of us will likely drive it for a bit better mileage. We have a subaru wagon (outback sport) that is our newest vehicle (1999 if I recall correctly.) It can fit us all in, but things are cramped by the time we get all our stuff in. (Suitcases, cooler, etc.) For this reason we got a luggage rack style carrier a few years ago which was before our youngest was born. Now with two kids and the requisite clothes/toys/playpen to sleep in/etc….. we’ve outgrown the subaru for vacation time.

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