May 31, 2022-All Around Lake Michigan and Beyond

(click for today's pictures)

This might have been the best day of the trip-we have had a lot of good days, but this one has been really great. Here's the run down. We met the Hobbs this morning at Laurel Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains. We all slept just about as long as we could before leaving this morning. 

The parking lot to the falls was super crazy busy, but we were able to find parking spots a bit down the road. Anderson pretty much led the way the entire time with all of the kids behind him. The adults stayed back a bit-this was good because with the kids up front, we weren't around to hear any complaining. 

Though I don't think that there was a lot of complaining today on the hike. It was warm in the sun, but we were in the shade the entire walk. And yes, it was uphill-and I possibly might have some spots on my that are still wet with sweat, it was a great hike.

Fun fact-when Robby and I were here with baby Anderson and baby Reagan, we were told by a park ranger that this would be a good hike to do with a stroller. No, no it was not. We huffed and puffed pushing two strollers up the side of the mountain on uneven and cracked pavement.

And I guess that park ranger is still working because we passed many a strollers today. Craziness-I wanted to tell them to just park the stroller and carry the kid because that would definitely be easier.

We made it to the top where the waterfall was, and it was crowded, but I think that we were able to get a few pictures. Soon Anderson was leading the kids down the side of a mountain trail-well, it wasn't really a trail. They really enjoyed climbing over the rocks on the side of a mountain right by a rushing stream and waterfall-I did not enjoy them doing this at all.

After the walk back down the side of the hill, we drove on down to Elkmont camping area again. We were there yesterday, but after the hike we needed a bathroom and a picnic area. We found both. The bathroom was easier to find than the picnic area though.

We weren't able to find a picnic table, but we thought we would eat on the grass nearby. We immediately changed our mind because of the gnats. Then the kids walked into the woods and hollered that we should eat there. So off into the woods we went-to the most gorgeous picnic spot ever. 

We ate our lunches by a rushing little stream. It was a perfect picnic spot. Then we walked through the old houses nearby-the area was a resort area for the rich before the park service took over the land. I am now trying to find Robby some books about the history of the Great Smokys since he is so interested in it.

We explored every single one of those houses-they were all unique and old. The floors were crooked and some just had outdoor living spaces. It was all very interesting. After this we hurried back to the camper to let Bentley out.

After a good little break, we then met back up with the Hobbs at the Old Mill area. It was an old timey area with lots of shops-you could see the blacksmith working and the pottery man doing his pottery. The kids did stop in a candy store-Graham, Campbell, and Keaton bought some taffy. I think that they ended up with a pound and a half of taffy for about 8 dollars which is pretty good.

Then we explored The Island area. Imagine Branson Landing combined with every touristy store you could think of. We were pulled into the Tervis store where I bought a new water bottle lid. Then the Byrd's Cookie store was next. We bought some cookies and then ate those cookies all in about 10 minutes. That was a super fun little stop.

After this, it was back on the parking lot shuttle to go to our cars. Then we went to Chipotle to eat supper. So Robby and I had been to one, but the kids had not. We weren't impressed when we went many moons ago. Today, however, it was delicious. Reagan and I split a bowl and were stuffed. The kids portions were really large as well. The only problem I had with mine was that I added so many cold things (salsa, pico, corn) that it cooled off my warm things, but that wasn't the fault of the place at all.

It started raining a little bit tonight which kind of worried us for our next unplanned activity. Earlier this year, Robby had entered the lottery and lost. Yes, we do enter the lottery and lose occasionally, but this was not that kind of lottery.

This was the synchronous lightening bug lottery for Great Smoky National Park. So for about 2 weeks each year the male lightening bugs blink at the same time trying to find a mate. (They blink in a pattern and together so the female, who is on the ground, will light up and know they are possible mates and not an impostor firefly who will eat them.) There is a lottery to come and see them-we entered for the first day which would be Friday of this week, but we lost.

They only take in 100 cars each night of the 2 weeks plus each car can only have 7 people so I don't really know what we would have done. However, I was still a bit bummed that we lost. But after doing some reading and just hoping that the fireflies were unaware of when they were supposed to be lightening up (it is just an estimated guess by the park service), we decided to try it tonight.

It was really a 50/50 thing, and we weren't expecting to see anything. However, when we pulled into the parking lot there was a sign that said "firefly event." That was a good sign. Then at the start of the trail that I had read we were to walk on, there were park service people. 

So by now our hopes were set high. We walked along this trail which was a 10 foot wide trail with the roaring stream on one side and a mountain slope on the other. There were some good drop offs-it was still light when we arrived so we were able to explore some. After exploring we just walked and walked and walked down this trail.

When we came across some people, I did stop to ask. They told us what they knew, so we decided that we had a decent spot and hung out there. We had brought a mat and the Hobbs had a blanket so the kids had a place to land. But all the adults did was look into the trees for about an hour waiting to see a lightening bug.

Around dusk we started seeing one and then two. I was beginning to think that was all that we were going to see. This would have still been good, but soon it was dark. And that is when the bugs started putting on a show. At times we could probably see 100 bugs all blinking at the same time.

When the kids are impressed then you know you have seen something memorable. They were impressed! It was absolutely amazing. We could have stayed longer, but it was getting late. As we left, we all huddled together following Robby and Matt's red lights down the trail (white lights scare the bugs off). 

On the way out, we would still occasionally stop to see the bugs. At one point we were even able to see a bunch of the female lightening bugs glowing on the ground. It was the neatest thing-I kept reminding the kids that they would probably never see anything like this again. 

Despite getting in late, this was the best night. I am so thankful that lightening bugs can't read a calendar! I do feel like this was a bucket list type item that we did tonight.

After doing this, it was about 11 when we made it back to the camper. Keaton and Reagan went to the showers, and most everyone else started showering here while Robby and I walked Bentley. By midnight we had all eaten a snack and everyone was in bed-well, I still have to take my shower now, but other than that, it is bedtime. Tomorrow will be our last full day of the trip-and it should be another busy one.

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