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Nature is freakin’ amazing

July 31, 2010

You ever have one of those times where your preconceived notions of something are proven totally wrong, and you’re okay with it?  That’s what happened to me this past week while on vacation.

When Dawn first told me she was going to take two weeks off in a row for vacation during the summer, half of me thought, cool- we can have a nice decent vacation–maybe go somewhere besides the usual St. Louis and Indianapolis (not that I don’t love going to St. Louis and Indianapolis), and half of me thought, oh crap, what kind of friggin’ household demolition and reconstruction project are you having me do THIS time?!

Luckily, I was right about the former, not the latter.

Dawn said she wanted to go somewhere we haven’t been, and I was okay with that.  So she basically did a Google search for “all-inclusive family vacation” or something like that, and stumbled across, among other things, the Earthshine Mountain Lodge.  I’ll be honest:  the way she described it to me, it sounded like some sort of commune camp or something.  I was figuring we’d have to hunt our own dinners, bathe in the crick, weave our own blankets, things like that.  I mean, after all, there are no televisions on the property, which was fine with me, but Adam lost his mind when we told him.  At any rate, I think my question of, “Is there indoor plumbing and electricity?” was valid.  I have no problem with camping, but if we’re to be living in a lodge, there are certain things to which I do expect access, electricity and running water being two of them.  So after being assured that this place did indeed have such luxuries, I hesitantly agreed to take a trip to Lake Toxaway, N.C. and see what this commune camp-I mean, mountain lodge- is all about.

We decided at the last minute, literally, to leave last Wednesday evening instead of early Thursday morning, to get a head start on the long-ass drive ahead of us.  So we left about 8:15 or so Wednesday evening and drove to Calvert City, KY, and spent the night in a Days Inn.  Shut up- it was what was available on such short notice.  Then we woke up the next morning and drove about another 5 or 6 hours to Chattanooga, which was originally the destination of our first day’s drive.  Arriving in Chattanooga, we ate lunch at a great restaurant, Big River, which is apparently a small Florida and Tennessee chain of which I’ve never heard.  The thing I liked the best about them was that they also brew their own root beer and, better still, their own microbrews.  You can order a sampler of all of their beer varieties for a mere $6 for seven 4-oz glasses, although we got eight because they had a summer seasonal available as well.

Mmmm... beer

The beers are served on a special placemat (I kept an extra) which describes each style of beer, from stout to IPA to brown ale to pilsner to the banana-flavored seasonal (and a few others which escape me right now).  Dawn’s not a beer drinker by ANY stretch of the imagination, and she gulped the banana beer.  It was awesome.  The food was pretty damned good too.  We ordered some calamari, and I had a New York strip sandwich that was phenomenal (bah-dee, ba-dee-dee).  Dawn ordered mahi-mahi fish tacos, which were very tasty as well.

After lunch, we headed across the street to the Tennessee Aquarium, which was the whole reason we chose Chattanooga as the Day One stopping place.  It was pretty cool in there- I’m completely enamored by any and all things marine anyway.  You first walk in and there’s a place to pet stingrays and sharks.  How friggin’ cool is THAT for a first exhibit?!  There’s also butterflies and hyacinth macaws (my favorite birds besides owls).  The place is divided up by ocean life and freshwater life.  The ocean side had a big ass tank right in the center which had sharks, rays, turtles, some really huge groupers, and other things in it.  Then there were smaller tanks with everything from seahorses to jellyfish.  The freshwater side explained about the Tennessee valley and its evolution through the years, and there were things like river otters, frogs, and fish both indigenous and non-indigenous to the area.  Pretty nice place, really.

Smile, dude!

Oh, and alligators.

After we were done there, we stopped for dessert at the Ben & Jerry’s, and decided we needed to make another visit to Chattanooga when we have more time to look around.  There is a lot to do there but we just didn’t have the time.  But we enjoyed the ice cream.  Obviously.

You've got a little on your face, buddy.

I’m obviously leaving out quite a few details, but I’ve got a lot left to talk about and I’ve already gone long as it is.  That also means I’m not going to be able to post all the pictures I want to, either.  Come to my Facebook profile to see them, if’n you’re interested.

Friday morning we woke up to drive the last leg of our journey, to our ultimate destination of Lake Toxaway, N.C. and Earthshine Mountain Lodge.  The drive up was very pretty, naturally, being nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, but the view from the lodge itself… WOW.  Absolutely gorgeous.

Regardless of the date-stamp, this was just taken last Friday.

Literally within 20 minutes of us arriving there- though not because of our arrival there, obviously- they set up a giant homemade slip-n-slide, consisting of a very large sheet of plastic upon which they spray soap and water, and the kids (and adults) can go zooming down the hillside.

Anyhooze, let me just zoom to the point of this post and say, I was wrong about Earthshine.  This place was in-frickin’-credible.  The rooms were very nice and rustic without being “old dirty log cabin rooms”.  The food… holy crap… the food was amazing.  Artichoke dip.  Chicken pot pie.  Meatloaf.  Salmon.  Trout.  Banana and blueberry pancakes.  Blueberry cobbler.  Chocolate cream pie.  French toast.  Roasted chicken.  Quesadillas.  All hand-made, all friggin’ delicious.  Even the cheeseburgers were wonderful.  Most of the potatoes and vegetables we had were grown on site, and some we even picked.  Three huge meals a day (all you cared to eat), with hors-d’oeuvres served for a half hour prior to each meal.  If you left the table hungry, you’re an idiot.

There were activities galore there too- some having age limits, some not.  There was a zip-line course that was an absolute blast.  Ian and I did that twice, Dawn once.  There was what was called a high-ropes course, which is kind of hard to describe but even harder to do.  One of those things with which you are only challenging yourself, rather than competing against someone.  It culminates with the Leap of Faith, which is essentially a jump, from a platform in a tree 30 feet in the air, to a trapeze 5 feet out from and 7 feet above the platform.  Doesn’t SOUND that hard, but let me tell you, it ain’t easy either.  Dawn and Ian and I all did that as well.  There will be video on Facebook of Dawn and Ian doing their leaps once I finish this post and get over to Facebook.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to have anyone film ME doing the Leap of Faith, so even though I did it, since there’s no proof, most people will say “then it never happened”.  Likewise with my successful scaling of the rock wall.  Ian was like Spider-Man going up that wall, and he made it to the top of the 30′ wall in about 6 minutes or so.  Me, I took a while longer (I’m old and fat and out of shape), but I also made it.  Again, I didn’t think to have Ian film my climb.  SHIT!  Even Adam did the wall- he made it roughly halfway up before he got tired, but he zoomed right up there like a spider monkey.  I was SO proud of both boys.

There were other things like turtle tracking, where the kids are given antenna receivers and they literally track turtles through the woods.  (These turtles have radio transmitters attached to them.)  There is Pioneer Morning, where kids (and adults) learn about blacksmithing, candle-making, making yarn, from cleaning the wool to carding it to spinning it on a wheel.  Not only do they learn about it, but they actually get to do it.  Ian and Adam and Dawn each made iron hooks in the blacksmith shop, Dawn and Ian and I each made candles, and we all found some “gems” in the little stream that runs through the pioneer village.  There is Cherokee Morning, where guests learn about life as a Cherokee Indian, and they can make clay beads, crack corn to make grits, and throw tomahawks.  Guests are also able to choose a Cherokee “name” for themselves and have a little ceremony with face paint and everything. (If you’re wondering, I copped out and went with Soaring Hawk, since I figured that, while certainly more fitting, Farting Ox probably wouldn’t have been appropriate at the time.)  There are campfires, S’more making, creek hikes, fishing… I know I’m leaving some things out.  There is also the Rabbit Hole, a room containing snakes, lizards, turtles, and frogs, and they hold occasional feedings you can attend.

What makes this place so great, though, is the staff.  Owner Benny and manager Josephine have assembled an outstanding staff of only about a dozen or so people whom you can tell really, really love what they do, and that they genuinely care about the people for whom they do it.  Mo, Mike, Steve, Trisha, Selena, Erith, Marnie… (so sorry to anyone whose names I’ve misspelled, and even more so to those I’ve omitted- certainly neither was done purposely)  All of you made our stay into quite possibly the best vacation we’ve ever had.  We all are already looking forward to coming back again.

We were also fortunate enough to have some really good fellow guests staying there at the same time we were there.  The Nikolakises and the Brinkleys, specifically, were terrific families that I was lucky enough to have the good fortune to have met.  Ian and Adam hit it off with their kids, and Dawn and I had an instant connection with Marinos and Andrea especially.  It was almost scary how much we had in common with them.

Anyway, bottom line, Earthshine Mountain Lodge was absolutely incredible, I am thrilled we went, I can’t wait to go back, and I heartily recommend it to anyone and everyone.  Unless you’re just 100% a city slicker that is permanently attached to technology, Starbucks, and hustle-and-bustle, you will love it.  But even if you are that way- step outside the office for a few days and live a little bit.  You won’t be sorry.

(Again, if you want to see more pictures, I’ll have them on my Facebook profile shortly.)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Johann permalink
    July 31, 2010 12:47 pm

    Oh… I completely forgot to mention stopping at Holiday World in Indiana on the way back from North Carolina. That was a pretty good time as well- the only thing I wasn’t real impressed with was the restaurant at the Santa Lodge. It was buffet-style food, but it just didn’t taste good at all. Even the breakfast buffet was lacking. Granted, we were quite spoiled by Marnie’s cooking at Earthshine, but still. Anyway, it was a great eight-day trip all the way around, but it was also very, VERY nice to get home. I can have insomnia in my own bed now!

  2. Jayette permalink
    July 31, 2010 5:34 pm

    Wow! Great testimonial. Sounds like a wonderful family vacation. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I will have to remember this when we get ready to take a family vacation the next time. Seems like something our family would enjoy, too.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. Johann permalink
    July 31, 2010 11:08 pm

    It WAS a great vacation and we did enjoy it immensely. I would be happy to talk with you and Chris about it some time, if you’d be interested enough to consider going.

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