Asheville and the Biltmore Estate

We’d heard Asheville was cool and the rumors were true. We made our way from Savannah, through South Carolina, and on to Asheville.  On the way we made a quick stop at Conagree National Park. Located just outside of Columbia, this relatively small park features the largest contiguous expanse of old growth hardwood forest left in the United States. A lot of cool stuff grows here!

We did a quick walk on the raised boardwalk to get a feel for the landscape but the rain cut our time a bit short. Luckily, though, the bugs weren’t as bad as they could have been. We got another stamp in the NPS Passport book!

On to Asheville we traveled with two purposes: the Asheville Marathon and the Biltmore Estate. In between we checked out the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs right through Asheville. Considered “America’s Favorite Drive,” the road runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We did about 20 miles and enjoyed the views. Maybe we’ll do the entire thing on a future trip.

Saturday brought the big event: Steve’s 34th marathon in his 24th state. We enjoyed the warm Asheville hospitality and the finish line festivities at one of Asheville’s many breweries.

Steve finished the race in just over four hours and finished second in his age group. 

Sunday took us to the famed Biltmore Estate, built by George W. Vanderbilt in 1895. Over the course of the day we explored the grounds, the house, the winery, and the farm. Even the dogs enjoyed the property.

The 250-room chateau is considered America’s largest home with 16th century tapestries, 10,000 volume library, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, and an indoor bowling alley. 

The 8,000-acre property was home to the Biltmore Dairy and now the Biltmore Winery. We enjoyed the complimentary wine tasting and then Bob joined us for a glass at the wine bar afterwards.

We only scratched the surface of this incredible place and it was certainly a nice day exploring one of the most incredible estates in the US.

We’re now on to new adventures as we close out our six month road trip. Stay tuned for at least one more blog before we’re home!

Moving Northward in Florida State Parks ++

Since finishing our time in the Ft Lauderdale area we’ve been slowly working our way northward and beginning to think about the final portion of this six-month journey.

We left Ft Lauderdale and traveled to the northern part of Florida over two days. Overnight we stopped at a very cool Harvest Host, Organicaworld, where they are growing hemp that is being converted to “hempcrete” to build houses. They also had a cool farm store, a mean brisket, and some very friendly donkeys.

Our next stop was a visit to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a unique property just south of Gainesville. Paynes Prairie is the only place in Florida where wild-roaming horses and bison can be found. We didn’t find them, but we enjoyed the paved 16-mile Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, which runs through the park. 

Florida is so different from our home in Arizona. You can see from the photos that the Spanish Moss is prevalent and the forest is thick. Yes, we’ve run into bugs once in awhile but nothing a little bug spray won’t take care of.

From there we headed to the coast and to one of our favorite Florida cities: St Augustine. We stayed in this area for about 10 days last year and were lucky enough to score a seven day reservation this year at Anastasia State Park, which is located in the middle of the action. We were even warmly greeted by a local critter when we pulled in.

From our heavily wooded, secluded site, we could easily bike into town, kayak the nearby waterways, and walk to the Saturday Farmers Market.

We toured the famous lighthouse and took in the sweeping views. Overall though, we weren’t very touristy…just enjoyed the nice weather and beautiful area.

We continued the laid back vibe during our four days at the Jekyll Island Campground. We visited here last year as well and wanted to explore a little more. We rode our bikes around the island and visited the local museum to learn about the impact of the Rockefellers, Morgans, and Vanderbilts on the island in the early 1900s.

One day we took in the local art festival. I even had a chance to learn to weave.

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate during our final days there but we kept busy in the trailer with reading, taking in a night of Bingo, and news-watching. The inclement weather also made for some spectacular sunsets.

We’re now in Savannah for a few days to take in the country’s second largest St Patrick’s Day festivities. We will actually be on our way west on the big day, but the fountains are dyed green and the party has started. 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve kind of shifted into traveler mode, rather than tourist mode. It just means we aren’t trying to see everything and do everything possible. Traveling in the RV gives us the option to slow down, soak in the places, and go at our own pace. That’s the mode we’ve been in recently…and it’s kind of nice! 

Harvest Hosting our Way West

After five months of eastward movement we turned back towards the West with the ultimate goal of reaching home in Arizona by the end of April. We’re taking our time. And we are using this part of the journey to explore new places using our Harvest Host membership. We’ve mentioned Harvest Host in the past, and this post will highlight three very cool locations.

Harvest Host is a membership program that provides overnight locations for self-contained RVers at wineries, breweries, farms, museum, and other sites. Harvest Host now has over 2000 hosts in the network, and they are adding more every day. We’d never be able to enjoy them all, but we’ve found a few good ones!

For example, after leaving Georgia we stopped for a night at Golden Acres Ranch in Monticello, Florida. At the ranch we were introduced to their friendly herd of Tennessee Fainting Goats and a number of other farm animals including sheep, chickens, guinea hens, and the sweetest pregnant dog, Honey.

We shopped the cute country store, checked out the garden, fed the goats, and chatted with fellow RVers who were also parked in the large pastures. 

A few days later, while continuing our traverse westward, we stopped for the night at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point, MS. Yes, we parked right next to Boudreaux’s enclosure, home of the 13 foot alligator. It was a bit disconcerting until we learned he was “friendly” and blind.

Because we were there after-hours, we were given private access to the property and strolled the gator grounds on our own. The ranch holds 60 adult gators in the main pond and another 20-30 juveniles in tanks.

At one time they had several hundred but many were washed away during Hurricane Katrina. The goal now is to build the population to about 100. Once a true farm for alligators, the facility now focuses on conservation and education. 

The next morning we joined Captain Tim (aka In-Tim-i-Gator) for a tour of the property via airboat. We spotted a few alligators and drew them closer with marshmallows.

Tim also took us on a fast, wild ride in the swamp on the airboat. What a thrill! This Harvest Host location was probably the most unique one to date. 

But then we stopped at the International Petroleum Museum, aka The Rig Museum in Morgan City, LA. The facility is a tribute to the offshore oil and gas industry and its impact on the world.

“Mr. Charlie” is the first offshore drilling rig that was transportable, submersible, and self-sufficient, allowing it to drill more than 200 oil wells along the Gulf Coast between 1954 and 1986. Mr. Charlie was the first moveable rig and has been preserved for training and educational purposes. 

We were lucky enough to get a personal tour of Mr. Charlie by Virgil Allen, the museum’s founder. While telling us about the history of the museum it was apparent that Mr. Allen was a visionary when he lobbied to save the rig when it was slated for scrap. Now The Rig Museum is an educational place where Harvest Hosters like us can expand our horizons. 

We’re headed for Lafayette, LA, the heart of Cajun country and can’t wait to share our experiences in the next post.