Meandering Around Murphy (NC)

I will admit – Murphy, NC was not on our bucket list. It wasn’t even on our radar until we were looking for campgrounds in parts of the Great Smoky Mountains that offered even the slightest possibility of seeing a black bear. Why? Because black bears are on Angie’s bucket list. (And sadly, they will remain there, at least for now.)

Murphy, NC is a town of about 1,700 people, situated in Cherokee County, at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Valley rivers. With two casinos, I would bet most folks come to Murphy to gamble. We came to relax, to hike, and to fish. (After arriving though, we opted not to pay $66 for the privilege of pretending we know how to trout fish.)

With no bears and no trout, you might think it was a complete bust, but you’d be completely wrong. Even my mom, who was a reluctant participant to begin with, had a good time.

We spent four very relaxing days at the Peace Valley KOA, sometimes doing nothing more than sitting on the porch of our cabin reading or watching other people fish.

The nights though…now, that’s a different story. Our cabin was awesome except for the futon. We gave my mom the bedroom, thinking “oh, there’s a futon, no big deal”. Yeah, futons were great when we were in college but futons over forty, not so much. We ended up double stacking the futon mattress from the loft on the futon downstairs just to manage a bit of comfort. Which is really sad…since we sometimes sleep on a 3-inch inflatable pad when we tent camp!

Not to be outdone by a mattress, Angie and I ventured out a few times to see what adventures we could find in the area. That’s how we found the Murphy Riverwalk. This 3-mile scenic walk follows the Hiwassee River. It poured rain on us halfway through our first attempt so we came back again the next day to complete the whole walk. Completely worth it…and a great way to work out the kinks from the futon!

We also played a few rounds of corn hole and horseshoes.

And took a slog in the river. (Well, I did, anyway…)

The highlight of the trip though was foraging. As we wandered around the campground we found scores of wild blackberries and even a few apples.

Murphy might not have been a first-choice destination but it’s a place we would definitely return to.

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A Ghostly Getaway

Our friends thought we were crazy when we told them that we were spending the night in a haunted hotel. Most of them said, NO WAY would they ever be convinced to do it, especially not in October, the most frightening month of the year. But we were not deterred, and since you are reading this, it should come as no surprise – we survived! And had a scary amount of fun.

The Thomas House Hotel was built in 1890 by Zack and Clay Cloyd, the owners of the local general store in Red Boiling Springs, TN. The hotel, along with two others, was built to capitalize on the area’s popular mineral hot springs and in its heyday, Red Boiling Springs brought visitors from all across the area – politicians, businessmen, and wealthy landowners. Before (and during) Prohibition, the city was a hotbed of drinking and gambling. Some folks even called it a mini Las Vegas. The original Cloyd Hotel was destroyed in a fire in 1924 and reopened as the Thomas House Hotel in 1927. The hotel is open year-round and hosts a variety of events, but none more popular than its Ghost Hunt Weekends.

Angie and I have had this on our “wish list” since we first learned about it in 2015. On October 12, we finally got the chance to go. We arrived at 5 PM and checked in to our room – #42. We later learned that previous guests in the adjacent room had once overheard a murder being planned in room #42 (at a time when there was no other guests staying there) and on multiple occasions, guests and staff have seen someone pacing in the room, turning the light to the bathroom on and off. We didn’t experience this, but…

Before dinner, we explored the old church across the street. It is inhabited by the ghost of Reverend Good. Despite his name, it is rumored that he is not a very nice ghost. Guests have reported being scratched by him and witnessing the front door flying open when it was chained shut. We didn’t experience this, but…

Old church across the street

All meals are included with the Ghost Hunt package – breakfast, dinner, and even a midnight snack. As a foodie, I must confess – this was my favorite part. The owners of the hotel (the Cole Family) live on-site and David is an amazing Southern chef. I know I’m not the only one there who may have over-indulged in the biscuits…and maybe the fried chicken too. During dinner, we watched the episode of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters that featured the Thomas House Hotel. The video showed a ghostly shadow making its way across the dining room. We didn’t experience this, but…

The actual ghost hunt started at 9:30 PM. Guests were divided into 3 groups to tour the 3 most haunted places in and around the hotel – the upstairs hallways, the seance room, and the church across the street. The lights were out during the tour but we were allowed to use flashlights when walking to/from each location. And to make it even more creepy, it was raining the entire time.

Room #37 is supposedly the most haunted room in the hotel. It is inhabited by the ghost of a little girl named Sarah. Guests leave dolls in the room for Sarah and in a voice recording taken during the Ghost Hunters episode, you can hear the voice of a little girl talking about toys. There are also two other ghost children on the property – Edwin and Robbie. When we were on the hall with Room #37, our guides tried to coax the children to come play with a ball. A fearless 10-year-old girl in our group even stepped up to call out for them. Sadly, we didn’t experience this either. But…

After midnight snack (which was hot dogs, chips, and snack cakes, by the way), we met as a group to try to talk one of the ghost children into playing the piano. None did but we did hear a very distinct child’s voice singing at one point. Everyone in the room heard this and there was only one real child in the group, who happened to be sitting right in front of me and was definitely NOT singing. But that’s not the only experience we had.

Back of the Thomas House Hotel

As Angie and I toured the property on our own, I got a severe, stabbing pain in my temple. It happened out of the blue and faded just as quickly. We learned later that this can happen to people who are sensitive to paranormal phenomena when they are near the site of something tragic. Then, as we stood in the blue hallway during our tour, I know that I saw a dog walk in from the veranda and lay down by the door. There were no real dogs on the property but one of the ghost children reportedly had a dog named Buster. I didn’t tell anyone about this and later on, as we were laying in bed, Angie laughed and said, “For a minute, I thought Caesar was here. I just felt something jump up on the bed.” I felt it too, so I told her about the dog. We may or may not have slept with a ghost dog at the foot of our bed that night. Good thing we like dogs…and ghosts.

There was absolutely nothing scary about our experience at the Thomas House Hotel, which was great. The owners were welcoming and friendly. The Ghost Hunt staff were knowledgeable and professional. They didn’t try to create a cheesy Halloween experience and we really appreciated that. We had an awesome time and would definitely go back or even try another Ghost Hunt Weekend event. (Angie has her eye on a haunted prison in Ohio.)

Disclaimer: Angie and I both believe in ghosts and have for a very long time. When I was 14, I saw a woman writing on the calendar on the side of our refrigerator early one morning. When I spoke to her, she disappeared. I later learned that our elderly neighbor had died that night in her sleep. To this day, I believe she came to our house to leave a note of her passing. Together, Angie and I witnessed a spirit close the door to the bathroom in a haunted restaurant in Fort Collins, CO. There was no one in the bathroom and staff later told us that this happens frequently. 

A Pit Stop in South Pittsburg

South Pittsburg, TN may not be considered a destination city (unless you’re going to the National Cornbread Festival in April) but it is worth a pit-stop if you’re travelling between Nashville and Chattanooga on I-24 E. I’ve passed this quaint little town several dozen times on my way south over the years and have never taken the time to stop, despite the fact that I once misread the road sign for Russell Cave National Monument as the Russell Crowe National Monument (which if it were a real place would be worth a visit just to take photos for his biggest fan – my mother).

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Seeing what’s cooking…

On our way to Cleveland, TN last weekend, we decided (on a whim) to stop at the Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg. After learning more about the eco-friendliness of cast iron, Angie and I had been talking about getting an iron skillet. Lodge Cast Iron is made in South Pittsburg, at a foundry (Lodge Manufacturing) that was originally established in 1896. The factory store is one of the coolest places I’ve been in a while. When we walked in we were greeted like family and given snacks. (Everyone knows the way to our heart is through free food!). After snack, the wonderful Lodge Ladies directed us to the area we were most interested in – the factory seconds. These items have small, indiscernible blemishes in them that make them unsalable as first quality merchandise and are therefore discounted. Seriously discounted in some cases.

We bought a Dutch oven (for camping), 2 skillets, and 2 pizza pans (or griddles, I suppose) for less than $60. I still can’t find the blemishes in any of them. These items will last our entire lifetime and then some.

After leaving the Lodge Factory Store, we made our way to Russell Cave. And by “made our way”, I mean it was quite a scenic drive to get there. Russell Cave National Monument is part of the National Park Service and if you collect passport stamps like we do, you’ll be happy to know, they offer two of them. The second is for the Trail of Tears, of which the park is a part.

The walk to the cave is relatively short on a completely shaded boardwalk. The cave itself is huge. Primitive settlers used it for shelter and archaeologists are still excavating tools, weapons, and remains from the site. You can’t enter the cave but you can see inside the mouth of it from the platform at the end of the boardwalk.

If you have extra time, there’s a 1.2 mile nature trail that’s worth a look too. However, USE BUG SPRAY! Douse yourself in it like it’s cheap perfume. Or take a bath in it. I don’t care – just don’t casually spray just your ankles and socks like I did. The mosquitoes are fierce and they will bite through your clothes, leaving you looking like a leper. Trust me, I know!

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Effective for knocking down spider webs, no so much for swatting mosquitoes!

While you’re hiking, be sure to look for the “J” tree. I’m pretty sure this is the most photographed spot in the park.

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