Monthly Archives: September 2016

Pigeon Forge: Clabough’s Campground & Lots of Jeeps

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’.

Obviously NOT a shot from this trip. No snow in August in TN.
Obviously NOT a shot from this trip. No snow in August in TN.

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.

Didn't put up the awning, or the camp kitchen. Too hot!
Didn’t put up the awning, or the camp kitchen. Too hot!

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!

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Shower room doors
Shower room doors
Showers
Showers

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.

Not pictured, huge counter for folding.
Not pictured, huge counter for folding.

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.

YUM
YUM

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.

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Jeep Parking Only

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Got to love it when your Jeep has its own matching toy!
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These are toys. Like the Little Tykes Jeeps got real!

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The Surry was my favorite. I think China A18 liked it, too!
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Where the rubber meets the road meets the dinosaur!

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!!!!

So, so happy.
So, so happy.

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.

Luckily, I had help.
Luckily, I had help.

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!!!

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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.

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They also have a huge crab on the ceiling.

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.

Conch Fritters. OH MY YUMMINESS!!!
Conch Fritters. OH MY YUMMINESS!!!
Sushi. LOTS of sushi.
Sushi. LOTS of sushi.

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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!

Panther Creek State Park Review

This year, I have discovered 2 Facebook groups that are SUCH a help to pop up owners, such as myself and Chad.
The first is Popup Camper Owners. If you can have it go wrong, it’s happened to someone here and they can tell you how to fix it in 2 seconds. They also post funny stuff, pictures of their campers (inside and out), great modifications they’ve done, etc. It’s like the Popup Portal in Facebook form. REALLY fun. Warning: there are a couple of folks on there with really dry senses of humor and some people don’t get it and get offended. Assume the posters are being nice, ’cause they are.
The second is Pop Up, Teardrop, HTT and Tent Camper Campground Reviews. The admin on that site works his butt off. As soon as you post a review, he will put it into a folder for that state, and they’re all searchable. Seriously, if you’re thinking of camping somewhere, there’s probably a review there. And, since no one is getting paid… the reviews are honest. It’s lovely.

That said, here’s the review of our latest trip. I posted it there, but wanted to share it here, too, with more personal stuff that people who are campground hunting don’t need. Like plastic dinosaurs.

Panther Creek State Park, Morristown, TN

First, let me brag a little. This is the first time I towed Pandora! Well, the Jeep towed her, I just drove, but still. I have some um… issues we’ll say… when it comes to driving in reverse. Mostly that I back up like a spastic duck that someone has blindfolded. Yeah, it’s not pretty. So, imagine my surprise (and Chad’s semi-terror) that I got the camper backed into the spot in 2 tries. I felt like a camping goddess!!!! Chad was wanting to drive the first bit (he says to make sure everything hitched up right before he had me tow. I think it was to keep his terror level down to manageable. He has some slight control issues). So, here’s the obligatory pic of Pandora following us on our adventure with me in the passenger seat.

It's following me!!!
Pandora, keeping up just fine!

Some background: We stayed here July 8,9,10. It’s a 50 site state campground. Small, but clean and quiet. They redid the campground a couple of years ago, so some of the trees are new and small, leaving many sites out in the open sun. But, if you get on the outer edge of the loops, and on the higher numbered sites, you wind up in a bit more shade. We stayed in site 37, and as luck would have it, I’m pretty sure it was the best site for shade. It has the woods on a hill behind it, and to the right side. So, shaded for a good part of the day. Site 38 is the same in reverse. They’re also near the bath house and picnic pavillion.

Our campsite with our friend Adam's truck and our Jeep. Notice the woods all around the side and back.
Our campsite with our friend Adam’s truck and our Jeep. Notice the woods all around the side and back.
The pavilion is super nice. HUGE fireplace in the middle, tons of tables. Not a lot of parking, though.
The pavilion is super nice. HUGE fireplace in the middle, tons of tables. Not a lot of parking, though.

This is the first time we got to use our groovy new Coleman Deluxe Camp Kitchen. I got it on sale and with free shipping at Target. It is AWESOME!! As I’ve pointed out, the tiny thing that is Pandora is NOT conducive to cooking. This bad boy has a place to put your Coleman stove, a place to wash dishes, store your pots/pans, even racks to hang up measuring cups, etc. And, as it turns out, one of the baskets holds our current favorite glasses.

Folds nicely for storage. We keep it in the floor of Pandora when we pop her down to travel. Fits perfectly along side the EZ Up.
Folds nicely for storage. We keep it in the floor of Pandora when we pop her down to travel. Fits perfectly along side the EZ Up.
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Notice the super cute platter. It doesn’t match the blue on Pandora, but it was $1 (I already had the vinyl and the file, so it was almost free!). It isn’t functional, just for cutes!
In use!
In use! Husband not included. 

Pandora does not have a water heater, so we take an electric kettle. One of those full into a dishpan and mix with room temp water to wash. We use the pan on the kitchen to rinse. The kettle works like a dream! Here’s the one we have. Well, ours is older, but this is the newest version. We’ve had ours for about 7 years. Love it!

Bath houses: There are 2, each has 4 units. Each unit has a sink, toilet, tiled bench and shower. So, it’s like your own private bathroom. Each shower has a short and tall shower nozzle, and a pull down bench). They were pretty clean, but the curtains were mildew city. Also, there are no flat surfaces or hooks in the shower stalls, so no place to lay your shampoo bottles, etc., except on the bench. There was a huge fan in each unit. They were cleaned at least daily, I think maybe twice daily. Again, pretty clean for as much as they were used. In the bath house block there was also a laundry room. I didn’t use it, so not sure about them.

A pano of the bathroom. Lord, they were hot. But, relatively clean for as busy as it was.
A pano of the bathroom. Lord, they were hot. But, relatively clean for as busy as it was.

Sites are paved, relatively level and many have a tent pad that’s graveled. Most have a large, grassy area good for tents, as well. Lots of sites had tents as well as campers. The sites are HUGE compared to most campgrounds we’ve visited, even other state parks in East TN. Each site had electric hookup and water at the site. No sewer. Dump station and dumpsters were located at the campground entrance, by the campground office (which is closed, more on that later). Water pressure was enough that it made me happy we had a pressure regulator! Our power had regular power, 30 and 50 amp. I think all sites do, but I don’t want to say that for sure. Each site has a nice fire ring with an adjustable height, swing out grill, and also has a park type grill (the tall, metal kind).
The only issue I had was that the campground seemed to have no staff. It had a campground office, but it was closed, and that appears to be permanent. There’s a sign as you come in telling you to check in at the office, but it means to check in at the Visitor’s Center. It’s only open a few hours a day, closing for lunch. And, it has NO camping stuff, just gift shop stuff. So, no ice, no firewood, etc. They require you to have “certified” heat treated wood or downed wood from the park. But, the closest place to buy any firewood is a BP several miles away, and it’s not certified. So, not sure how that works. There are no campground maps available, but there are maps of the trails, and they’re only $1. Very worth it if you’re hiking or biking. I never saw a site that said camp host, but did see Rangers coming thru in trucks pretty often, just keeping an eye on things. They were super nice. I’m just used to having a small camp store. Next time, I’ll know to bring more ice, and remember the firewood situation.

***Since I put this review on the FB group, I actually got an email back from a park survey I did. Super nice email that addressed those issues. They’re getting better signage, and are in the middle of hiring for the park & campground. They’re also in works with a furniture manufacturer on getting them to do the certified firewood, which is probably already in place by now. I was really impressed with how quickly and directly they addressed the issues I brought up!***

Speaking of hiking and biking: The trails are great. Everything from beginner (easy) trails, to some pretty advanced and rocky mountain bike trails. The trails intersect with the campground, so it’s super easy to ride a while, come back and grab a bite to eat, etc.
The next entrance down from the main entrance to the park has free lake access, but no swimming there. In the main section of the park is a nice pool (fee to use), a playground, some ball fields, more picnic shelters, etc. The creek runs thru the edge of the campground, and saw a lot of kids cooling off down there. Now, we all know that I did not experience the mountain bike trails or anything beyond  walking to the bathhouse. It was a million degrees and so humid that you dried off after taking a shower and were immediately soaked again, but with sweat. Ick. And, I do not do heat. So, Chad and his friend Adam went and did a ton of riding that Saturday. Courtney (Adam’s fiancee) and I sat under the EZ Up tent and even made an impromptu trip to the Walmart in Morristown (about a 20 minute drive away). But, we did NOT hike. So, all the trail info is from hubby and Adam. Not me!

As far as electronic needs: If you use a Sprint mobile phone, you’re going to be doing good to get texts/phone calls. Courtney has a Verizon phone and had 4 bars. So, yeah… go with Verizon! We were one site over from the Wifi, but when we called and made our reservation, I asked about it, and the ranger told me the wifi is terrible. She did not lie. I’d get the little notice it was there, and 2 out of 3 rings, but I could NEVER get connected. So, if you’re an internet addict (guilty!), you’re gonna go cold turkey. But, it was so nice, I didn’t mind.
I’d give this a solid 4.25 stars out of 5. I am definitely coming back, and really, really enjoyed this campground.
TLDR: Clean, quiet, good amenities, no camp store, nice bathrooms. Great mountain biking/hiking.

And, since they don’t fit anywhere else in this review, here’s more pictures.

A Christmas gift from Courtney that fits perfectly in here!
A Christmas gift from Courtney that fits perfectly in here!
Awesome husband and super cute pillow from my friend Kim! If you can't tell, the lifhts around the camper on the pillow are owls!!!
Awesome husband and super cute pillow from my friend Kim! If you can’t tell, the lights around the camper on the pillow are owls!!!
Panther Creek Office
Panther Creek Office

Now, I may have mentioned dinosaurs. Well, it’s actually just ONE dinosaur. He’s a little plastic fellow that we found lost at Brews and Tunes in Jonesborough one afternoon. He has China A18 stamped on his belly, so we figure that’s his name. He now goes with us on many adventures. This was his very first time camping! He liked the air conditioning best (what? I speak dino! He told me! I swear!).  Here’s some shots of his adventures. Funnily enough, I think he’s the most popular part of my Instagram. I feel unloved, y’all. But, you can follow him by hunting up #chinaa18 on Instagram.

The giant TN state map made of wood. Has a small visitor if you look closely.
The giant TN state map made of wood. Has a small visitor if you look closely.
He was pretending he was Godzilla, rampaging through the Appalachian Mountains!!
He was pretending he was Godzilla, rampaging through the Appalachian Mountains!!
He loves grilled food, but much like me, he also loves carbs.
He loves grilled food, but much like me, he also loves carbs.
And, apparently, he likes Starbucks. He's a modern dino in a modern world.
And, apparently, he likes Starbucks. He’s a modern dino in a modern world.
He really was taken with the Coleman lantern. We didn't have the heart to tell him it runs on fossil fuels, and we may have been burning his ancestors. Shhhh!
He really was taken with the Coleman lantern. We didn’t have the heart to tell him it runs on fossil fuels, and we may have been burning his ancestors. Shhhh!

So, that’s it for our trip. Well, not really. There will be a separate post in which I explain what happens when you were being a cheapskate and don’t buy a new battery for your camper’s lift system, and think you’ll rely on your hand crank system… and it fails. I was all for sitting down and crying, but thankfully Chad has some serious ninja skills when it comes to cars and electricity and keeping his wife from having a full-on meltdown in Morristown. I want to get some pictures of how he did this, just in case anyone is ever stuck in a similarly sucktastic situation. He saved the day. So… keep an eye out, and when I can stage a photo shoot, I’ll post that little update, too!