If you read last year’s Spring Break post, you know that my BFF “Peaches” (I’m identifying her by her old CB handle, which is a story in and of itself but not mine to tell!) and her hubby invited me and my kiddos to vacation with them in Orlando. We had a great time, apparently great enough for everyone that she suggested a combined approach again this year. And so Operation Camping Trip began.
I should qualify this by saying Peaches has been camping many times and is not the novice I am. So any general cluelessness you pick up from this post (such as a reluctance to do hard-core, poop-in-the-woods with biodegradable TP to hand, cook-over-the-fire, no-showering, sleep-on-the-ground tent camping) should reflect solely on me and not on her, as she was uber-prepared, knew what she was doing and is usually pretty adventurous.
The car ride was fun. Despite the usual “How much longer?” inquiries you might expect with 3 kids on board, we enjoyed the time. We made stops in Cleveland at Creekside Deli and Babyland General Hospital, both of which were hits for all. Creekside Deli served up fresh and delicious fare from hot dogs to veggie subs. And the best sweet tea – delicious. As for Babyland General, birthplace (sort of – they moved from their original location several years ago) of the Cabbage Patch Kids, we’d thought at least 2/3 of our kid crew would be “too old” for the Cabbage Patch extravaganza. We thought wrong.
“I’ve fallen in love with this baby. Oh, I’m falling in love with this baby, too.”
Some time later, we made our way further up the highway to Helen, telling the legend (incorrectly, as we later determined) of Sautee and Nacoochee as we drove through “their” valley. Nora Mill (est. 1876) outside of Helen is an awesome place to stop. They were grinding corn for grits when we dropped in, and we were treated to an education from a kind and knowledgeable gentleman who let the girls start and stop the flow of corn onto the millstone.
Watching the corn flowing in to be ground
He also introduced us to Elvis, the 6-foot rat snake who was hanging out in the back. What a beauty. Priscilla wasn’t around, though.
Their corn meal makes out-of-this-world cornbread. I wish I’d purchased more than one bag; luckily I’ve since learned that you can purchase it over the internet.
Peaches had reserved a camper at Unicoi Springs and the kind folks there had it set up and ready for us when we arrived. It included a kitchen area, a separate bedroom, a tiny toilet and shower, and two fold-out beds that otherwise served as dining and seating areas. We were near the duck pond, clubhouse, playground and bathhouse, so it was super convenient. It was a great home base for us.
Home Sweet Home
Activities included hiking at Anna Ruby Falls, which was wonderful. I hadn’t been there in more than 10 years. It was a glorious day. Saw some wildlife – birds, a millipede, a squished millipede, a tiny salamander, some fish, trees, mosses & ferns, and this cedar growing from a rock.
The approach was paved, easy in some areas and steeper in others. The falls were worth the trip uphill, though.
After a picnic lunch we walked the Lion’s Eye Nature trail, which begins at the visitors’ center and runs along Smith Creek. This trail is designed to provide visually impaired individuals an opportunity to explore the creek and learn about the local environment. It is equipped with hand rails and informative signs in print and Braille.
Other activities included chatting with neighbors at other campsites, feeding the ducks at the duck pond, playing mini-golf and refreshing ourselves with ice cream afterward at Helen Alpine Mini Golf. This course was beautiful – plenty of sun or shade, whatever your preference, with lovely landscaping and challenging holes. The ice cream was scooped by such a nice and patient young woman; wish I could remember her name so we could call back and praise her to the manager/owner.
One thing that I particularly enjoyed was sitting with Peaches out under the stars in the evenings after the kids were asleep, talking and sipping the muscadine wine that my friend had had the foresight to purchase at Habersham Winery. With so much action during the day and the high energy level of 3 girls in the 6-8 year age range, that grown-up time to unwind was much appreciated.
Too soon our camping adventure was over, but we had one more thing planned. After a detour to the Old Sautee Store (the nickelodeon was a highlight there) and another delicious lunch at Creekside Deli, we went “Gem Grubbin.” At this place (which is also an animal rescue, so there were lots of puppies to fall in love with), you purchase a bucket of rocks and use their water troughs and screens to find precious stones. We found emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and other gems of various sizes. After you’ve finished, you take your findings into the office to be identified. The staff separate the gems from the not-so-interesting rocks and tell you what you found. I was amazed that M had ONLY gems! No rocks. What an eye! I’m not nearly as discriminating as she is, but I could still do this treasure-hunting for hours. It is both exciting and soothing.
It was good to get home, but we have lots of pleasant memories of the trip.