By Mike Steely

Sometimes you just need to take a break from home and work and get away. My wife, Lettie, and I have been working to restore a little camper and have been cooped up in and around our house for weeks. With government public meetings starting up again I get out now and then to do a news report but her only break is venturing out to grocery shop.

So, last week with most of the work completed on the camper, we decided to pull it to the Norris Dam East Campground. We were not sure how it would pull behind our Chevy SUV but it did OK and we climbed the hill above the dam with little effort.

The East Campground is older than the one west of the dam and I’d been there years ago. Once we set up, put the awning out, plugged in and hosed up I set out our camping chairs and we watched the people camped there. It’s a pretty small campground with water and electric.

A bit further along is a primitive tent site where a few families were cooking on campfires and visiting with each other without the benefit of power but with water from a one outlet.

Around our site I watched a family with three children just across the gravel road, the toddler running about until his parents filled a play pool with water and all three kids jumped in to splash and laugh.

Next to us was a family from Nashville who were there sharing a camp with an in-law from Winston-Salem. They were camping with electric and water in two tents and two large picnic tents. That afternoon they were in the middle of a water balloon war and chasing each other to soak family members.

One camper walked up the hill toward us, stopped at a nearby fire pit, and lit a fire. He walked back down to a site and came back with a skillet and a steak to cook over the fire. We were concerned the fire might be too close and would smoke up our camper while we tried to sleep. It was fine and died out before we retired.

We ate the supper she had prepared before we left, sat at the picnic table and watched people walking back and forth on the road next to us, many of them with dogs on leashes. The ranger came by and waved and later came by again and we asked him about where we could buy ice. We’d been having trouble with our camper’s refrigerator but eventually it worked and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Being a Coast Guard veteran I joked with my wife we were doing a “shakedown cruise” to find how the camper worked and what wasn’t working properly. We found a few things that we’ll need to fix but not many.

We have a bathroom in the camper but I wanted to see the camp’s bathhouse. I walked down there and found it basic but clean. Outside between the two bathrooms I noticed a “Little Library” full of paperback books and a bulletin board with camp and dam information. For an older campground I’d recommend it but it fills up fast and reserving a spot (about $30 each night) is a good idea. There’s a much larger campground just west of Norris Dam also operated by the state park system; the sites are larger and there’s a park office nearby with firewood, ice and coolers for sale.

That evening we played cards and Scrabble and she skunked me badly. We retired, her on one end of the fold down beds and me on the other. I thought I’d be awake for some time but slept straight through until about 5 a.m., about the normal wake time for older folks like us.

When I woke up she had the coffee made and I took mine outside the watch the other campers wake up. The daylight brought the birds out and they sang loudly for a while in different tunes and tones. The morning was chilly enough for a sweater, which I wore, and the coffee was warm and soothing. A large man walked by a bit later with a very small dog followed by a smaller man with a large white dog. One woman walked by with two dogs on two leashes.

My wife walked up to look at the tent sites and said the hillside there was beautiful. We still have a tent that we often take for company or my grandson to use and have talked about tent camping again.

Our trip was brief but restful for me. The campground has no internet but it does have very good cell service. The TVA power lines cross the campground and someone hooked a hammock up to the legs of one tower.

People are pretty inventive when need be and I saw lots of campers using makeshift tools, cooking food on grills and fireplaces, and hanging out clothing and such.

Sometimes a brief break from everyday life is enough to energize a person. Now I’m thinking we might take off again soon, she wants to go to Kitty Hawk and that sounds pretty good to me.

You can find information on Norris Dam State Park Campgrounds online at or call them at (865) 425-4500. You may also ask them for a senior discount, as we did. The website features a map of both campgrounds and it shows you which sites are available, a photo of the site, and what each site has to offer.

Norris Dam State Park is less than an hour from Knoxville, easy to find, and aside from the dam lots of trails there, fishing, a museum, mill and barn, overlooks and a marina. If you have never been there or haven’t visited for a few years you may want to plan a day away even if you’re not camping.