This is part campground review, part Jeep lust and part food review. So, not even sure what to tag it. Just hope you enjoy reading it!
In August, we went to the 4th Annual Great Smoky Mountain Jeep Invasion. It’s an amazing Jeep show/rally. Tons of vendors, some seriously fancy-pants Jeeps and (the best part) lots of Jeep Owners, or as I think of them… Jeeples!
Last year was our first year going to this show and we took Miss Behavin’.
She got a LOT of attention in the parking lot. But, this year we wanted to camp, so we took Lil Red Wagon (our Jeep Grand Cherokee), as she tows the camper a bit easier.
As we entered Pigeon Forge the day before the show (Friday), it was evident it was going to have an impressive turn out. The parkway going in was half Jeeps! Old ones, new ones, in betweens. I Jeep waved ’til my wrists hurt.
As always, going in to Pigeon Forge was a nightmare. They’re really trying to get the infrastructure beefed up to handle the traffic. But, lunch time on Friday, they had the lanes going in to PF down to one lane at times. SIGH. So, we had plenty of time sitting still to play spot the Jeep. My favorite part was that the signs announcing lane changes were about a mile PAST where the traffic stopped. Due to the winding turns on the roads, you couldn’t tell which lanes (if any) were the issue. So, that did not help conditions a bit.
But, we made it in! And, shortly we made the turn onto Wears Valley Road, waved Hello the nearby Kroger and pulled into our home for the weekend: Clabough’s Campground. We camped here when I was a kid, straight up thru adult-hood, in Mom and Dad’s campers. My favorite story from here is when they left their 5th-wheel camper set up for us for a week. Myself, Chad and my cousin Valerie were camping, and it poured down rain. So much that the rivers and creeks overflowed. Did I mention we were on a creekside site? They came by to tell us we were going to have to move the camper or get flooded. Um… we are driving a small car. It’s a 5th wheel. Panic??? Nope. They had someone come and help us pack it up and tow it to another site. The guy was PRO, too! He hit that hitch in one try in the rainy dark (my poor Dad never had the kind of luck, LOL).
So, it was neat to be checking in here with OUR camper. Kind of a nice addition to our family history. Check-in is super fast, and so friendly. The office is at the end of a gas station/convenience store/camp store/restaurant. Yes, you can get everything in one place! If you need matches or tacky lights or a fuse or a candy bar or a bag of ice… they got ya covered! We paid $38 per night, and I think I got the Good Sam’s discount, too, but I don’t remember and can’t find my receipt! They handed us a map with our site number circled, gave us the wi-fi password and away we went!
I had picked our site in advance, thinking it was one I remembered. I was wrong. Still a great site. It was site C10 and it was in the right hand side, front of the campground. It’s on the creek (no rain in the forecast!), but also right beside the road. It had a tree on the site, so decent shade. We ran the AC because it was in the mid-to-high 90’s all weekend with bright sun. So, the road noise didn’t bother us at all. But, if you weren’t running it, you’d hear it. Since we knew we’d be back, we cruised the whole campground and found the sites we like the best. The veeeeery back right corner has the best spots, to me. Lots of shade, right on the water, and a nice bathhouse nearby. Sites 145-154 seemed ideal to me.C1-3 are also great sites, closer to the front. Almost every site in the campground has shade, so you can’t really go wrong.
We are definitely getting faster at setup. I think I have finally figured out how to get that stupid door on without tearing a hole in the ozone from all the foul language. I get all of it fixed except actually latching the bottom to the top, and I open it a little latches SO much easier that way! And, closes super easy. So, I think I’m getting it!!!
Even having everything done in about 30 minutes (inside and out), we were drenched in sweat. It was miserably hot. So, a quick trip to the showers was definitely in order before lunch. They were so clean! It’s an older campground, but the bathhouse is not showing its age. There’s a row of toilets to one side, a row of sinks down the middle and a row of shower rooms to the other side. All of them SUPER clean. Tons of hooks in the shower parts, so nothing has to go on the floor (I’m a nurse and am a little psycho on the germ front). Shower curtains, floors, stalls, all clean as can be. Also, at the sinks is a hand dryer that has a blue light on it. It actually dries your hands. Completely. No need for a pants-leg-wipe when you’re done. Pretty sure it’s black magic, but I liked it!
You can’t tell from the pictures, but there’s a nice bench, towel rack, and the aforementioned hooks in the little part before you step in the shower. And, in the corner of the shower is a fairly large, built-in shelf. Also, great water pressure, which amazes me in a huge shower house like that.
In this same block, there’s a laundry room. I didn’t use it, but here’s a shot.
To me, the best part of the bathhouse/laundry room was that it is climate controlled! Heated in the winter and blissfully cool in the dog days of August. Also, whatever exhaust fans they have in there really work. No steamed up mirrors in the bath house! YAY!
All cleaned up, we headed into Gatlinburg. We ate at Luigi’s Pizza. We’d walked by one day, while waiting for breakfast at the AMAZING Crockett’s Breakfast Camp (so worth any wait… they have Aretha Frankenstein’s pancakes and killer country ham). The scents coming out of there were pure heaven, so we made a note to go back. It was pretty good. Not the best I’ve ever had, but certainly worth giving it a try. We just got a plain ol’ pepperoni pizza, since that’s sort of the standard for pizza in my world. It was hot, super cheesy and the crust was perfect. Not too thick, not too thin. Then, we just wandered around in downtown Gatlinburg. My favorite section there is the Village (totally on the other end of the strip from Luigi’s, naturally). I love the Spice and Tea Exchange, Lazy One, Zi Olive, and of course, the main reason to go… The Donut Friar. Beware, it is cash only, but they do have an ATM. Tons of other awesome shops, including pottery, shoes, candles, bath stuff, candy, paintings, etc. Also a pretty darn clean public restroom and some shady spots to sit.
Being so hot you could hear your brain fry, we headed back to the car, and back to the camper, where we got down to the serious business of napping. A rain shower (where did that come from? Are we gonna drown?) gave that wonderful rain-on-roof noise and we slept like the dead.
That night, we hit No Way Jose’s. Excellent salsa, even China A18 approved.
We also enjoyed the Carnitas, and hubby enjoyed some beer, since I was driving back to the campsite! It’s a really easy spot to get to, as you can access it from Wears Valley, via the light at Kroger’s and never even have to hit the Parkway. We were conserving energy and effort for the next day!
We hit the Jeep show a few minutes after it opened. The line was long, but moved quickly. Last year, it was slow and they were just figuring out how to handle the cards, etc. This year, so much smoother! As you headed to the interior of the Le Cont Centre, there were booths set up selling things, and highlighting area attractions. Also, my favorite booth, the one for Smoky Mountain Service Dogs! They’re an amazing group, training and placing service dogs with Veterans with disabilities. Last year & this year, the proceeds from the raffle went to this group. They also had a donation jar, and in the 20 minutes we talked to one of the gentlemen at the booth, I saw money flying into the jar. Not all $1s, either. I hope they made a small fortune. GREAT job, y’all!!!
Then, into the main hall. It was a mass of humanity, sales, Jeeps, Jeeples, and parts. Everything from Jeep tents to parts to earrings to stickers to t-shirts. I’m not even gonna try to explain. It was just amazing. Here’s the pictures. Keep an eye out for China A18. He put in some appearances. He’s a Jeep dino.
The Lecont Centre is located on the other end of the parking lot from The Island, which is a shopping/food/entertainment complex anchored by a Margaritaville restaurant and the Margaritaville Hotel. Tons of cool shops. It’s a nice place, and even nicer, there are little trams that run from the Centre to the Island and back. So, you don’t have to move your Jeep and lose your parking spot!
We ate at one of my favorite restaurants, which is odd. Why? Because I’m not a french fry person, but the fries here are the whole reason we go. Poynor’s Pommes Frites. They have amazing bratwurst and an ice cream dish that seriously looks like a plate of spaghetti. And, all that is well and good. But, it’s all about THE FRIES!!!!
If you get a combo, it’s one of the brats on a hard roll, a drink and a cone of fries. You also get to pick from a list of about 40 dipping sauces. I went with the BBQ and it was delicious. The fries are perfectly golden brown. I am a serious eater, in case you haven’t noticed. I still cannot finish all the food here.
We did some shopping and a pair of shoes may have followed me home. What?! They were on sale!!! And, I had been good all weekend. Mostly.
Then, back to the Jeeps!!!
A few weeks before the show, a local seafood place (I know that’s not something you expect in the mountains, but I swear… it was really good) announced they’d do an after-hours party. So, when the Jeep rally stopped, the party started. Harpoon Harry’s Crab House had specials, live music, etc.
We got there at an odd hour, so we didn’t see a lot of Jeep folk, but I heard it got a lot of business. We just enjoyed the food (I didn’t take a picture of my fried shrimp, but it was sooooo good) and got some shots of the cool truck bar upstairs.
So, feet killing us, bellies full and wallets empty (did I mention there were lots of T-shirts at the Jeep Invasion? Yeah), we headed back to Pandora. This was a strange camping weekend for us. It was more the type of camping my family did growing up: a tourist area, lots of shopping and eating out. Since we’ve been camping, we’ve gone for the middle of nowhere, and cooked every single day. I enjoy both kinds, but I missed sitting out with the campfire, I missed cooking together over the grill or the Coleman stove. So, even though we knew we wouldn’t be doing those things… I missed it. I’d like to come back when we can relax more, and not run as hard.
The next morning, we ate some cold pop tarts, broke camp and headed home dirty. Traffic was steady, but not at a standstill as it often is. When we got home, we popped Pandora up to dry, as the AC condensate had gotten all down the back window. I’m always worried about mold/mildew, so we never pack her away wet. She aired out in about the time it took us to put up all our junk and shower off the stank.
So, back she went to her little spot at the back corner of the yard. Hopefully we will get in some Autumn camping. That’s my favorite time of year. But, we have a beach trip planned that will be a hotel trip, since my Mom is coming, too. So, Pandora gets to rest for a bit.
ADD: If you want a ton more pics, click here to go to the Facebook page for the event. Lots of Jeep eye candy!