Camping, Travel and Learning

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photo by @_zphotoz_

Growing up my family moved a lot. I lived in several places in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Nebraska and now in Tennessee. However it wasn’t until I was with Ian in my twenties that I really got the chance to travel and really see places. Places that were out of my comfort zone like Mexico, Italy, England, Portugal, and Spain. Now Ian is gone but he passed a love of travel, learning and exploring along to me and our children. As a single parent, I enjoyed finding new adventures with my children and made it a goal to travel with them out of the country to get out of my box. Now with our new blended family, I’m so happy to have found someone else that shares my desire to camp, travel and learn. We’ve only been a new family for about a year but at the end of this month we’ll have camped in 10 different states together. It’s been a real blessing.

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Photo by @_zphotoz_ on Instagram

My favorite part about camping is the opportunity to be out in nature and away from the hustle and bustle. I try to lead a simple life at home, however with 4 kids it still ends up to be busy and hectic at times. I welcome the change of scenery and pace of life that camping brings. I love the chance to connect with nature. Being in the trees and near the water makes a world of difference for my mental well being. The kids tend to put down their electronic devices, get on their bikes and seem to be open to more conversation. We are able to work as a family/team to set up the camper and do the cooking. There are less distractions and more focus and quiet time which we all enjoy. There is something about being away that gives you a new perspective on your everyday anxieties.

Traveling opens our eyes to the world around us. I have found by visiting different areas we become more tolerant and accepting of differences, as well as each other. Traveling teaches patience, you can’t just snap your fingers and be at your new destination, it takes time. Our kids enjoy their electronic devices on the way, don’t get me wrong. When we first started taking trips together there would often be frustrated huffing, and complaining along the way. I’m pleased to say they seemed to have found a way to enjoy the process and give up the negativity (most of the time). We’ve also found ways to use the car ride as a bonding time. We sometimes play games together, or listen to songs or books on tape. Just a little bit of effort and planning can make a world of difference for a long road trip.

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Taken at Croft State Park by @z_photoz_

As I’ve stated a bzillion times before, learning happens all of the time. It’s not contained by the walls of a classroom. Learning happens everyday, you just can’t stop it. I find traveling and camping to be an exercise in teamwork, cooperation, patience, and simplicity. There are valuable skills that will last a lifetime. When life slows down I’ve noticed that often new books are pulled off the shelves and read in an afternoon, and new projects are started and new skills learned. This is done by their choosing, at their will. This kind of learning stays with you and changes who you are, makes you a better person.

 

We have some big changes and exciting things planned for our family over the next year. It makes me nervous and excited to see things coming together. We hope to keep expanding in our travels and spend more time with our kids learning and exploring every step of the way. I have enjoyed this past week participating in the Write Tribe challenge. It has given me the chance to catch up in sharing our camping adventures over the last year. I hope you will keep joining us for our journeys.

What are you favorite places to travel with your family? What have you learned? Suggestions where we should camp next?

 

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Croft State Park

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photo by @z_photoz_on Instagram

We were on our way for a convention in Orangeburg, SC but we had a few extra days we could add to the trip so we thought we’d test out a new state park along the way. Poose came up with Croft State Park which was in Spartanburg, SC.  It was a good decision. We didn’t realize it at the time we made our reservation, but it’s an equestrian park. So as we were pulling in we noticed everyone had horse trailers, and we we saw a show arena for horses, so Big Z and Pee Wee were particularly excited about this. They had taken horse back riding lessons this year, and have a fondness for horses.

 

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Pee Wee and Big Z testing out the waters

Croft State Park has a unique history to it we would learn. It was originally a military base in it’s early years. There was an army infantry training camp that at one point hosted over 250,000 soldiers, it closed in the 1940’s and was opened up as a state park afterwards.  It was called Camp Croft after a military general, and prior to that the area served as a prisoner of war camp for World War I, and held approximately 250 Germans POWs. Now this beautiful state park has over 7,000 acres of trails, farmlands, old homesteads, cemeteries, lakes and woodlands. It’s become a popular destination for hiking, biking, fishing, boating and for bringing your horses. There are trails made for horseback riding and an arena for horse shows. We were fortunate enough to get a glimpse at one of the horse shows.

 

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Poose and Lil’Z fishing 

We rented kayaks for the big kids, and then a John boat for me, Poose and Lil’ Z. It was March but the weather was beautiful, as so often seems to be the case in South Carolina. The sun was shining and the skies were blue. We all spent the afternoon rowing around Lake Craig. We were able to get Lil’ Z a bamboo fishing rod at the welcome center and he was able to give fishing a try. Compared to other state parks we have visited, we found the rental rates for their boats to be very reasonable. The Park Rangers were extremely friendly and helpful in answering all of our questions.

 

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Serene Fairforest Creek 

The campground itself was a nice little loop where the kids could ride their bikes. It was just a short walk from the show arena. Most campers in our loop had their horse trailers with them, and were clearly there for to enjoy time on the trails with their horses or there to show their horses.  There was another loop closer to the lake, where we will try to stay if we stay there again. It would be nice to camp so close to the lake. The facilities were nice, the showers and bathrooms were always clean and they are located central to all of the camp sites.

 

IMG_6970We enjoyed a beautiful hike along Fairforest Creek. It was such a serene area tucked in the woods. There were sandy areas along the creek. The winding trail took us up and down where we were beginning to think we were lost. We were not of course, since we were still on the trail. It brought us back out on the road leading to the horse arena. Sunday morning the horse arena was in full use. There were beautifully groomed horses all around. It was a cool experience to see the horse show. I was surprised how young and small some of the riders were on these large horses. One girl got scared and fell off of her horse during the show, that gave me a fright. She ended up to be just fine and apparently lost control of her horse. Everyone clapped and supported her as she got back up.

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Photo by @z_photoz_.. her pictures are so much better than mine. I love this one! 

We drove into Spartanburg for dinner one night. As I’ve mentioned before, we always seem to have good success with small family owned ethnic restaurants when we travel. The food is usually healthy, delicious and affordable. It seems to work well for our varied preferences. We usually can find something for the vegetarians, the meat eaters and gluten free for Perry.  This time we tried a place called A Caribbean Sweetness.  The owner, Gaston, was a very outgoing and friendly man. We arrived right before closing, but he was kind and quick to serve us and guide us in our choices. Everything was delicious. The kids enjoyed the mango smoothies and we talked about how delicious and fun the experience was on the ride home. That is a sign of a good meal.

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Crazy girls in the water in March, they bet each other Starbucks, and couldn’t resist. 

We loved our time in Spartanburg, even though it was brief. Croft State Park was the refreshing nature break that we needed. We were so happy to be in some sunshine and we could feel that spring was in the air. We especially enjoyed our fun out on the lake.The girls took it to the next level, and decided to jump in the water. They challenged each other, and they weren’t about to back down. So in they went, silly girls!

When you camp what activities do you enjoy most? For us, we love being out on the water. This was so great to be out on the lake in the sunshine in March. I hope we’ll go back to Croft State Park in the not so distant future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unicoi State Park and Helen, GA

unicoi 1We were getting cooped up and we needed to get out for another adventure. We had been to Fall Creek Falls, Myrtle Beach, Breaks Interstate Park as a blended family so far. We had a long weekend over the winter holiday and we were ready to explore. Helen, GA and Unicoi State Park sounded like a perfect solution. They had outside adventures to hike and an adorable Alpine town to experience, so off we went.

Unicoi state park was beautiful even in the winter. The weather was cool, but perfect for hiking and sitting around the fire at night. We were able to get a campsite in  the Laurel Ridge part of the campground. The campground was full of campers ready to ring in the new year. For those who prefer to stay in a hotel there is Unicoi Lodge at the entrance of the park. There is a large lake that had some great hiking trails, and we had some great opportunities to see some birds and other wildlife in the area. The drive there was gorgeous, the views were incredible and there were plenty of places to pull over and snap some pictures.

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We enjoyed the campground, and met our hosts, they were extremely friendly and made a large fire for us to sit around at night and chat with other campers. The kids enjoyed a rousing game of hide and seek around the playground with one another . They also enjoyed riding their bikes around the campground and walking around the lake. A short drive to Anna Ruby Falls led us to a short, paved half mile hike to see the twin waterfalls. Curtis Creek and York Creek  meet up to make these falls. It cost a few dollars admittance fee to get into the park, but it is well worth it.

Helen is a unique town. Back in 1969 the townspeople were looking for a way to reinvent their town. They consulted with John Kollock, who had lived in Germany for some time and visited many Bavarian towns. He shared his vision for the town and everyone loved it. Thus the little dying lumber village was rescued and is now the third most visited town in the state of Georgia. It’s unique in its’ Bavarian styled buildings. You can find some wonderful German food and beers while walking through the town. King Ludwig’s beer garden was a nice spot for us to take a break. We had a few beers and the kids enjoyed some pretzels, beer cheese and some brats and sauerkraut. Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe can’t be beat for finding some scrumptious pastries. My very favorite is  their cream puffs, they simply can’t be beat. We had to load up on some sweet treats before leaving the town.

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Poose was overjoyed to be at Babyland General

Nearby in Cleveland, GA  is Babyland General Hospital. If you grew up like I did, you always dreamed to go to Babyland General. Even as an adult I was quite excited to visit the home of the Cabbage Patch dolls. You can walk through and see thousands of Cabbage Patch Dolls. Some handmade and quite pricey,  and some more traditional and affordable. You can see the cabbage patch dolls being born from the cabbage patch, and take your oath of adoption when you have chosen your perfect match. It’s free admission and made for some fond memories.

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Meet Kendrick, the newest member of our family

 

 

 

Helen also has a wine trail that we had to try out. Most of the wineries charge for tastings, which is different than I am used to, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Some of our favorites were the Frogtown Cellars and Habersham winery. We didn’t get to try them all, we had to save a few for our next visit, right? We also discovered Bulldog Hard Cider, it was very crisp and refreshing.

helen 1One of our last hikes was spent exploring Sautee Nachoochee area. There are several beautiful hikes in the area, many with gorgeous waterfalls and views. We had fun wandering in the forest and breathing in the fresh air. I enjoy hiking and being in the outdoors in the cooler winter months. It beats being stuck inside by a long shot. The kids enjoyed the waterfalls and views, there were a few spots where ice was still clinging to the rocks that were breathtaking.

We found our trip to Unicoi State Park and Helen, GA to be invigorating. It was a grand getaway that was close to home. It had the perfect mix of nature and culture. We noticed there were a lot of activities for the warmer months such as tubing and Zip lining. We hope to return in a warmer part of the year and have some more fun soon.

Where are your favorite waterfalls and hikes? Do tell!