Monday, May 29, 2017

Heintoga Overlook Picnic Area.

Today, just a video and some photos of what has to be the most quiet National Park picnic area I have ever visited. And on a Memorial Day weekend, no less!

The picnic area has an older upper section and a lower more modern area. The top section has the funkiest, coolest picnic tables I have ever seen, constructed of tabletops that are solid sections of rock and built on rock and cement pillars. I would assume they were constructed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) back in the 1930s.

The lower section has more modern tables.

But both were devoid of people while I was there. None of the grills looked to have been used lately. There was an upper bathroom on top of the mountain that was closed, but the Park Service has built a nice new one at the bottom beside the parking lot.

I enjoyed the unexpected silence and solitude.

View from the picnic area's overlook.

The CCC had to have built these. Too cool to be otherwise.

The old bathroom at the top of the mountain. Closed tight, but it looks like it's still in good shape.
Gnarly old trees. Two different species here. The large tree is a hardwood (a birch?), the one on the left is a spruce.

The new bathroom.

Enjoying the unexpected solitude.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Naughty Bear.

Today I drove over to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had a great time, but did not see quite the wildlife I wanted to spot. For the first time since the elk reintroduction to the Smokies, I saw not a single elk in Cataloochee. But I did get to see a ranger release a naughty bear that had been darted and temporarily caged for lurking around a campground.

I also found the coolest picnic area I have seen in the park, so far. It looked like the Flintstones made it.

View driving in to Cataloochee.

The Park ranger invited us to watch him release the naughty bear.

Did the Flintstones build these?! Coolest picnic area. Ever.

Heintooga Overlook Picnic Area.

Waiting. Waiting. ACTION!

Friday, May 26, 2017


When I'm not hiking and kayaking and camping and backpacking and generally enjoying the outdoors, you can find me working on my short stories and novels.

Here, then, are my current published works.

First up, WORKING CLASS HERO: The Autobiography of Billy B., A Hyper Human.

First chapter in what is slated to be a trilogy all nicely bound and wrapped up by the end of the third novel. Hopefully, I'd like to even continue writing WORKING CLASS HERO novels for years. I could, quite actually, keep the series going for a long time.

What are you waiting for? Read it now! Pure fun for cool people! Available in paperback, ebook, and audio! Woo-HOO!

WORKING CLASS HERO by James Robert Smith.

Next up is FOUR FROM MANGROVE. When Hippocampus Press published my short story collection, A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS, they excised the four "Mangrove" stories for being too fantasy oriented. These stories are set in the mythical world of the city-state called Mangrove. The stories range over a period of hundreds of years, during which Mangrove might be a might continent-spanning empire, or a busy trading port controlled by outside forces. But it's always Mangrove and its citizens are always busy about the task of commerce and mischief.

Influenced by my love of the works of Karl Edward Wagner and Robert Ervin Howard, here are four fantasy tales of swords and sorcery, of humanity. FOUR FROM MANGROVE.

FOUR FROM MANGROVE by James Robert Smith.

Next up is LOVECRAFT'S COMIC. This horror novella concerns itself with some extreme Lovecraftian creepiness. Two old comic artist friends, one flush with success in the comics industry, the other left behind to live in poverty and failure, are taken on a ride straight to living Hell by the accidental discovery of something evil. One decides to translate the evil to comics format, and the other is caught between friendship and pure horror.

Available in print and ebook. (Warning: this ain't a pleasant fireside ghost yarn.)

LOVECRAFT'S COMIC by James Robert Smith.

And, last, some folk were clamoring for the next chapter of WORKING CLASS HERO (and it's not quite ready), so I offered up this short story of superhumans Billy B. and SHYLOCK HOLMES as they do battle with a particularly creepy outlaw.

Here, then, is TURN OF EVENTS. Available only in ebook format. (Alas.)

"Turn of Events" by James Robert Smith.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

My Campsite on Cattail Peak.

When I planned to do my first overnight backpacking trip of 2017 I was supposed to leave on Thursday night. But some household chores came up and I promised Carole that I would stay and do them if she would wake me up on Friday morning at 4:30 am (when she gets home) so that I could haul ass for Mount Mitchell State Park. That would put me at the trailhead at around 7:30 am and give me plenty of time to get to Horse Rock, or to Deep Gap if anything else came up to delay me or slow me down.

As it turned out, she forgot to wake me up. So I slept until 8:30 am and didn't get out of Charlotte until 9:00. That had me at the trailhead after 11:00 am, so thoughts of making it all the way to Horse Rock were right out. So as I set out I figured I'd erect my tent in Deep Gap.

However, for years I have wanted to camp on the summit of Cattail Peak. Right at 6,600 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest mountaintops where you can legally camp. Since I had gotten such a late start on my backpacking trip I didn't even feel like heading to my secondary choice for overnight (Deep Gap) and opted to just drop my pack and pitch my tent on the top of Cattail.

And so, that's where I camped. I had brought lots of water. Because one thing I had learned after five previous hikes on the Black Mountain Crest Trail is that you can't bring too much water. Since the trail follows the absolute crest of the Black Mountains, you don't pass any springs or creeks since the route is always far above any access to the aquifer. The only reliable water source on the whole trail is at Deep Gap, and even there you have to drop off the slope somewhat to locate the spring.

I have to say, the quiet and solitude were striking. Only two small groups of people passed me after I got to the peak. A couple of guys heading to Mitchell, and a group of four young women who had hiked to Deep Gap and were also going back to Mount Mitchell. Other than that no other person passed by. I had the mountain to myself.

While I'm glad that I camped there, I later read in a news article that 2,000 additional acres had been added to Mount Mitchell State Park and it indicated that the summit of Cattail Peak was now within the park borders. Which means that I may have camped illegally. I'm not sure. The park map still shows the park boundaries ending before you reach Cattail Peak. So I'm not sure.

The most level and protected area that I found on the summit. Some enterprising camper had even erected these windbreaks there.

Grarly old spruce trees. I suspect these are true old folk of the mountain.

At my campsite looking out at all of the dark spruce forest.

Relaxing in the tent as the last rays of the sun paint the summit.

Finding my campsite, setting up, and enjoying the solitude.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


When I go hiking and backpacking I am usually slow. Very. Freaking. Slow. On many hikes I will average about one mile per hour.

This is because of two things that have nothing to do with whether or not I am out of shape. One reason for my slow pace is that I like to take lots of photos. On a day-long hike I might take three hundred to five hundred photos. A blessing upon us from the digital camera gods. I love digital cameras and have pretty much figured that they are one of the finest benefits of the computer age.

The other reason I move so slowly is that I stop very darned often to meditate. As soon as I see something that I feel is beautiful or noteworthy or peaceful, I will halt in my tracks and contemplate it. Some people refer to this type of thing as "Zen" or "meditation" or "transcendence" or something of that type. It's not a religious experience for me, so I prefer to think of it as, and refer to it as, simple meditation.

It's probably the main reason that I go out into the wilds to find solitude.

One of my pals likes to visit Yellowstone National Park where he will plop himself down in Hayden Valley just to watch the bison for hour after hour. He finds it soothing, peaceful, restful. Similarly I can find such feelings in almost any wild, quiet spot where I go to separate myself from the drone of modern society and its never-ending swell of machine blather.

And are a few images of things that stopped me in my tracks. Call it zen. Transcendence. Meditation. I don't care what term you use.

Moments of thoughtful peace.

A testament to a struggle of life in a hard place.

A dab of alien color amidst the chlorophyll mass.

A path, bordered by native grass, two thousand meters high.

Mother Nature unfurls her flags of green.

I lived, I died, my corpse lingers.
Escape the cities. Venture out. Sit and listen. Watch.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Secret Panorama.

As I was hiking from Mount Mitchell to Cattail Peak, I noticed what appeared to be a small paper sign tacked to a tree to the left of the trail. So I decided to go look at it to see what it was all about. Apparently the state park folk thought that it was a good spot to tell backpackers that it is illegal to camp inside Mount Mitchell State Park except at the official campground.

But as I stood there looking at the sign, I noticed that there was a crude side trail continuing on past the sign to what appeared to be an overlook. So I pushed on through some limbs to see what it was. And what I discovered is the most striking and beautiful view I have so far stumbled upon in my six hikes on the Black Mountain Crest Trail (also known as the Deep Gap Trail).

Across the gulf of space between the cliff on which I now found myself was a deep gap and the looming summits of Balsam Cone and Cattail Peak. I have seen both of these summits rom numerous points along the trail, but none of them so impressive as this one.

This is one reason why I keep going back to the Black Mountain Crest Trail. While it always punishes me physically, I continue to get a jolt of pure beauty whenever I hike it.

As for the sign, I can see why someone would want to camp there, but I saw absolutely no way for them to do so. There was no room to pitch even the smallest of tents. And it would even have been difficult to string up a hammock anywhere around the view. But you never know. There are always people willing to break the rules and abuse a park space.

The Secret Panorama.

A gulf of space looming between me and the summits of Balsam Cone and Cattail Peak. (Click to embiggen.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Thank You, Locke Craig!

I'm just home from a two-day overnight backpacking trip to the Black Mountains. Once again (sixth time) I tackled the infamous Black Mountain Crest Trail. I didn't end up doing the hike I had planned, but I'll leave those details for tomorrow.

However, here are some images and video I took on my trek across the eastern USA's second highest summit on my way to the parking lot where my truck was waiting (on the highest summit in the eastern USA).

Hikers are not supposed to step beyond the wooden trail borders. In order to protect rare plants.

Typical view from the top of Mount Craig.

Mount Mitchell from Mount Craig (with Clingman's Peak in the distance--with radio and microwave towers).
Hiking over the second highest peak and headed toward the HIGHEST peak.