Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Since...

I am currently drunk on wine that I bought there.

I figured I'd post photos of our visit to...
 
Chateau Morrisette where yew kin git drunk.

Chateau Morrisette:

It was a hoity toity place where you had to cover yer mouf when you sneeze or use a towel when you blow yer nose.


We bought three bottles of wine.

Peeples gittin' drunk.

I got drunk on them.

Drunk as shit.

The fukkin front part.

Yer welcome.





Monday, January 26, 2015

IN PRINT!

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS is now officially in print! Order your copy now!

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS by James Robert Smith.

Digital Memory

The last time I went out west with my family I had to deal with the fact that the disks in my camera would run out of space. Back then I had four 8GB memory disks, plus a couple of 1GB. Yellowstone National Park was the destination, so you can imagine that I kept running low on image capacity. I was able to deal with this by dumping the images onto the laptop computer I'd carried along and then wiping the disks clean and starting over. But I was worried that I would lose images in the process, so there was some stress involved.

These days memory disks are getting really cheap. The prices have begun to plummet. What once cost $90 are now running around $20. So the problem we encountered in 2010 are not going to be an issue. To this end I've purchased two 32 GB disks that I found on sale at rock bottom prices, plus I still have four of 8GB from older purchases. I foresee no problems in running out of imaging space with my principle camera. I also have decent memory capacity for the new GoPro video camera.

I am really looking forward to this long trip to Glacier National Park.

These hold a wealth of digital information...
...so that I can take thousands of imagines like this one.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fred Clifton Park

One thing that we like about our trips is discovering unexpected places. We were driving toward the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mabry Mill when we passed Patrick County's famed Lover's Leap and saw a sign for a county park at the top of the 3,000-foot ridgeline. So we pulled into the place to have a look around.

There were a number of signs warning park users not to feed the bears. Apparently the park is a gathering place for wannabe Yogi Bears. The park is small but exceptionally nice. It has a few short trails that lead to overlooks and through the exclusively hardwood forests at the summit. It was cold up there and I had to walk through patches of snow and ice left over from a recent winter storm.

One of these days I'd like to go back there in warmer weather to see if any of those local bears show up to try to panhandle the tourists.

A stitched panorama I made from the Fred Clifton Park. Along VA 58 where you find yourself at about 3,000 feet above sea level. Looking out over a vast plain of forests and fields.

A nice overlook in the park. There was still a good bit of snow and ice on the ground from a recent winter storm.

Walking through rhododendron from one overlook to another.
 
Another view taken from a second overlook.

There is a very nice picnic area in the park, most complete with grills.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Crowded Mountain

I sometimes go to hike at a local state park called Crowders Mountain. People who go there for solitude will mainly look in vain because its nickname is "Crowded Mountain" for good reason. Not only are there almost always a lot of people there hiking, you can never really get away from the sound of automobile engines due to the park's proximity to major roadways, including Interstate 85.

So I don't go there very much. (Only when I'm desperate.)

Similarly, I no longer go on extended hikes on the famed Appalachian Trail. It was never really a place to find true solitude. There have always (in my experience) been too many people hiking on it to find any real silence and peace. However, when I was younger you could travel it at certain times of the year and find yourself alone for a day or so. But as the years have passed I've found that this is no longer the case, with literally hundreds of people using stretches of it on any given day.

The last time I hiked a multi-day trip on the AT I swore would be my last. This is because I found it to be just way too crowded. Groups of people hiking together. People hiking with their freaking dogs. Camping areas and shelters packed to bursting with humans. The stench of human feces blasting for many yards in every direction at overused pit toilets. Bothersome creepy through-hikers with their annoying nicknames bugging the crap out of you.

This was not the Appalachian Trail of my youth.

But occasionally I would still venture there to day-hike. Sometimes I'd even find myself alone on the Trail with complete silence all around me and no pesky humans to bug me. This year I even entertained the idea of an overnight backpack on a section of the AT where I figured I might find some solitude if I went when the weather was cold.

But something is about to happen that I've feared for some time. The long-rumored movie to be produced and starred by Robert Redford is going to hit the screens. Yes, Bryson's excellent A WALK IN THE WOODS is going to be seen in movie theaters and home systems in the near future. After that, everyone who ever had even the slightest inclination to backpack the Appalachian Trail is going to go out and buy equipment and hit the Trail. It's going to be one long wait at the mountain range's checkout line. Yes, your local REI and Dick's Sporting Goods are going to rack up massive sales, but any chance one might have to enjoy the Trail are going to be gone. At least until the coming fad withers away.

Oy.

May of 2011 on the AT on Unaka Mountain. Actual solitude. I saw not one other hiker.

On the AT, same day. Soft grasses and cool mists. No voices.

May 2010. My last multi-day backpack on the AT. Everything I hate about what the trail has become. Dogs. Crowds (there were, eventually, about three dozen people at the shelter). Annoying folk. Fecal stench. No thank you.
And here come Redford and Nolte to compound the problem. Alas.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Recovery From Exploitation

Stuarts Knob is a minor summit even in the relatively low-profile hills around it. The only reason I even noticed it is that it's obvious from the lakeside below the cabin where my wife and I stayed in Fairy Stone State Park this month.

It's an attractive enough little mountain, but at less than 1400 feet above sea level it's really just an Appalachian foothill to the much higher summits just a few miles to the west. But I got out the park trail map and noted that there were a couple of trails that take you almost to the top and decided to hike up there and see what it was like.

What I found was a series of well maintained trails that were dotted with historical markers and discovered that the area had been ecologically raped and exploited in the recent past. Go back less than 100 years and you'd hardly have recognized the profile of this little mountaintop. It underwent a long period (in human terms) of exploitation that denuded it of trees and forest cover and then was heavily mined for the rich iron deposits that lay actually on its flanks and then below its surface. By the late 1800s the forests were utterly gone, and by 1920 the iron deposits had played out. Even the town that once lay at its foot vanished once the capitalists and industrialists had had their way with the place.

By the 1930s the land had been allowed to lay as the humans had left it. Enter the Civilian Conservation Corps who chose it as a spot to begin the effort at rehabilitation and the site of a new state park of Virginia. Erosion was mitigated, mines were sealed up, trails were laid down, trees were encouraged to regenerate.

Today, walking the slopes of this hill you would be hard pressed to understand the extent of the destruction that had once laid waste to its environs. Beneath the canopy of a vast hardwood forest you can find places where colliers had once felled and carbonized the trees to make charcoal. One can spot the massive grooves where the earth was moved in vast amounts in the practice of surface mining to get at the iron almost at the top of the ground. And there are sealed mine entrances to mark the places where men and machines once combined to shear out the guts of the little mountain.

Mother Nature can recover if she is allowed to heal. But only if.


Stuarts Knob as it appeared from the lakeside below our cabin.

This was the location of a collier site. Where men would take the trees they'd felled and slowly bake them, transforming the wood into charcoal which would be sold for 5 cents per bushel.
The mountain was covered in these deep "grooves", the result of early surface mining where the readily available iron ore was taken from the hill. When this played out the traditional shaft mining began.


A GoPro video I made at the summit of Stuarts Knob.

The entrance to one of the mine shafts, now sealed.

Sun rising over the summit.

The nice system of trails. Thanks, Civilian Conservation Corps!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Covered Bridges

Carole likes to seek out covered bridges whenever there are some in the vicinity of where we're vacationing. She always researches and finds out where they are and how to get to them.

There were two not far from Fairy Stone State Park, and both were close to one another and both were also very easy to locate and access. In addition, both of the bridges were adjacent to churches and, since it was on a Sunday morning, both were in service. I was surprised at how solid these bridges remain after so many years. Walking across them was a nice experience. These were quite a bit smaller than the last covered bridge we visited near Hot Springs, Virginia.

Jack's Creek Covered Bridge.

Carole on the other end taking photos.

A brief video of a walk across the Bob White Bridge.

The Bob White Covered Bridge. My favorite of the two.

Solid as a mass of granite.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Buffalo Mountain

For years Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve has been on my radar. Once before Carole and I had tried to locate the trail head so that I could climb the mountain and look out from the summit. But that was a number of years ago when the way to the preserve was not signed and you had to know the way there. I had directions but the gravel roads were unmarked and I was afraid that I was going to end up trespassing on private property. So that first attempt was a bust.

This time we found that the way to the Preserve was marked with Virginia State signage and finding our way there was a piece of cake. In no time we pulled into the wide parking lot in the middle of the forest and found the terminus to the trail leading to the summit.

Buffalo Mountain is unusual in that the peak is mainly exposed rock of a type unlike most of the nearby geology. This has resulted in a number of rare plant and animal communities that exist on and just below the summit of the the mountain. Also, here in the South, there is no true treeline, so mountain tops that are naturally treeless are pretty rare.

The trail to the top is relatively short--just about one mile. But it's also a bit steep, gaining about seven hundred vertical feet. That's not difficult by my standards, but some people think that makes it a tough trail to hike. The walk up is through a forest almost totally composed of hardwoods. I saw only a few evergreens along the way--they're pretty rare on those slopes.

When I did get to the top I was rewarded with spectacular views of the local Blue Ridge high country. Buffalo Mountain is a monadnock and stands out alone on the plateau, rising well over one thousand feet above the surrounding territory. The summit is broad and rocky with two peaks, one slightly higher than the other. There are also cliffs along one side of the mountain. Once you see it from a distance you can see why it was named for our American bison--it does resemble one as it stands dominantly on the horizon.

It was good to finally bag this peak. I wouldn't mind going back for another visit one of these days.


One of my first videos made with my GoPro. The last pull to the summit and to the highest part of the peak--3,971 feet above sea level.


The highest of the two peaks at the top.

Looking down from the cliff tops at forests and fields.


Walking along the top from one peak to the other.

Buffalo Mountain from a distance. The high point of Floyd County.