We left Albuquerque on a Thursday night and had about 12 days to make it to a work meeting for Kevin in Massachusetts. We were anxious to get to Maine but we vowed to make several stops along the way; to try to take our time and not rush. (If you recall, last fall we drove 24+ hours straight from Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas to Arizona and agreed that we would never do that again. Ever.)
First stop: Arkansas. One of our favorite fulltime families is taking a break from travel and is parked on family land in Arkansas. Since we had never really been to rural Arkansas before and Eloise loves to play with their son, it was an easy choice. Arkansas was very lush and green. We parked next to them and enjoyed the pretty pasture and the rain. We had fun chit chatting and taking a break from riding in the truck. We went to their family’s farm and Eloise and Eliza had their first horse ride; we thoroughly enjoyed their Southern hospitality.
Second stop: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This ‘resort’ city is home to “Dollywood” and is right outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Boy was this place built up; a true tourist trap. Parts of it resembled the styling and commercialism of Downtown Disney. There were so many chain restaurants, theme dinners, gift shops, etc. Part of me wanted to immediately go shopping but there are only so many postcards, t-shirts, and magnets one needs. (But its fun to look!) We skipped the shopping and hit the hiking trails instead. Great Smoky Mountain National Park has two unfortunate distinctions: the most visited and the most polluted/poor air quality.
Traffic into the park was thick by 7am. The hiking trails that were easy and nearby (i.e. kid-friendly) were packed and the parking lots were congested. Nevertheless we had a nice time checking out the sites. This was also the first park where we experienced an ‘auto nature trail’. It’s like a hiking trail for your car. It was interesting. After spending so much time in the truck, I can’t say that Eliza particularly enjoyed this trail and the slow pace of following other cars through the forest at 5 mph. We were able to see wildlife and the scenery from the road was beautiful rolling pasture. We stayed at a KOA here in Pigeon Forge and it was fun. It was hot, like 90 degrees hot and they had a pool. They also had a playground and a ‘jumping’ pillow and tons of kids; we enjoyed our stay. When traveling long-ish distances we typically drive at night from 7pm until we get tired and stay at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels for the night and then wake up and keep driving the next morning. Stopping at this KOA for 4 days was a pricey, but nice change.
Third stop: Southborough, Massachusetts. Our friends Katie and Brady live there. We dry camped at the Cabela’s parking lot (as we had in the past–its quiet there) and enjoyed visiting with them and their little boy. Kevin was able to get in a mountain bike ride too. After having towed our camper through numerous states where driving has been a nightmare Kevin can definitively say that driving in Massachusetts is still the most frustrating state for road rage. Some things will never change haha! We finally crossed the border into Maine on a Wednesday afternoon and immediately got to work: we had two weeks of camper repairs and upgrades planned and we were ready to get them over with so we could begin to enjoy our summer.