Sunday, July 31, 2011

Upper and Lower Rock Creek Falls

I'm in a bit of a hurry today. I have to run off to pick up some old comics I bought from a friend.

In the meantime, here are some photos of my double-hike to see the waterfalls on Rock Creek in the Unaka Mountain Wilderness. The first time I hiked in I got caught by a heavy downpour. I got soaked and was afraid that I'd get my camera wet so I was really careful. I got to the falls after a very long two+ mile hike (the guidebooks said 1.5 miles, but that was SO wrong!). I took photos and video and headed back to camp, not realizing until the next day that I'd only hiked to the Lower Rock Creek Falls and had entirely missed the more impressive Upper Rock Creek Falls. So of course I had to hike the trail again two days later to see the other falls.

At any rate, here are some shots of the falls and the hike in. I'll post details later.

The wilderness boundary sign. I took this on the subsequent hike when it wasn't pouring down rain.

There are literally scores of little cascades like this one along the trail.

The lower falls. I was already so soaked that standing in the creek for photos wasn't a problem. The conditions for waterfall photography were great, though.

My later hike to the Upper Falls. Much more impressive than the lower ones. I'm glad I went back to see them, since I don't know when I'll get back to that area. There are a LOT of waterfalls in the Unaka Mountain region. I didn't have time to see them all.

The Upper Falls

The Lower Rock Creek Falls

Saturday, July 30, 2011


We're back from Tennessee where we went to visit a part of the southern Appalachians where we'd never been. Now to unpack and rest up from the drive back home. Until then, an image from the trip:

Roan High Bluff, one of the highest peaks in Tennessee.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Well, we're headed out for vacation. Fortunately we don't have to board the cats this year because Andy is staying home to take care of them. Huzzah!

Just a few photos more here from our trip last summer to Yellowstone. It occurred to me as I stood on a high bluff above Hayden Valley looking down on the herds of bison that this is as close as a human can get to seeing Pleistocene North America. Most of our megafauna are extinct now, and the day is on the horizon when they'll all be gone, but for now you can get a glimmer of what it was once like.

Be sure to click on the panorama shot, as it displays the valley and just a part of the massive herds of American bison who live there today.

There I was, at last. Looking down on Hayden Valley, seeing the huge herds of bison living pretty much as they have for hundreds of thousands of years.

The rut hadn't quite started, but this bull was already making it plain that this cow was on his turf.

This bull was dusting up in a dry wallow.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Smiths in Yellowstone

Time's short, so my posts will be short, too. Vacation calls!

The Smiths do Yellowstone/Grand Tetons National Parks!

Andy at Firehole River, one of the first places we stopped in the Park. I love this photo of my son.

Friday, July 22, 2011


For some reason I've had a fit landing a copy of DAREDEVIL #16 for my collection. It's not particularly rare, but because it guest-starred Spider-Man, it's in higher demand than other issues of that title. Daredevil was never one of Marvel's best selling books in the early days of their transition to superhero comics. It's one of the few characters that wasn't obviously created by either Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby. Bill Everette did the artwork. Everette, best known for creating Namor, the Sub-Mariner was not one of the core creators of Marvel's superhero renaissance.

I suppose that, arguably, Daredevil might actually be a superhero that Stan Lee did create, although in this one Jack Kirby did the initial character designs (including Daredevil's unique "billy club" device) so even here Lee's creator credits are highly suspect. At least in very basic concept, it's barely possible Lee did some work. The character name was not new, however. In the Golden Age of comics there had been a relatively popular superhero named Daredevil. This book had been published by an outfit called Lev Gleason that went out of business in the mid-50s. The original character had been published by a man (Leverette Gleason) who had been accused of being a communist sympathizer in the 1950s. I don't know the hows and whys of Marvel having ownership of the trademark for "Daredevil", but apparently Martin Goodman figured they could use it and the story goes that he instructed Lee to create a new character around it.

DAREDEVIL #16, in excellent condition. I have to say, a pretty nifty and typically dynamic cover from Marvel. Lee excelled in getting these kinds of efforts from his stable of artists.

To get back to adding this book to my collection, I had a hard time landing a copy, but finally managed to get one in much higher grade than I was willing to settle. This one is in the very fine range and presents well. Initially, when it came to Spider-Man books, I only wanted the issues written and illustrated by the character's creator, Steve Ditko. However, I eventually settled on some conditions--one of them being to get all of the books in which the character appeared while Ditko was working on the main book. This included some peripheral appearances that Marvel would publish from time to time to pump up the sales of other titles. In the case of DAREDEVIL #16 and #17, the use of Spider-Man was apparently to give the Daredevil artist, John Romita a chance to try his hand with the character. Because by this time Stan Lee either suspected that Ditko would soon leave Marvel (he did) or that Lee and Goodman would just take the character way from Ditko (they did).

Romita handled Spider-Man well in the two-issue storyline, which is understandable because both Daredevil and Spider-Man were very similar characters, physically speaking. They both used similar methods for moving about the cityscape, and both were hand-to-hand combatants. The action in both books was similar, as were the villains that each faced.

I liked this issue when it first appeared when I was a little kid, and the story isn't too bad when I revisit it as an adult. However, knowing the history behind it--the fact that it was part of the writing-on-the-wall for Ditko's exit from Marvel, makes it all rather sad.

My copy of DAREDEVIL #17. I didn't have any trouble at all getting a copy of this book, although I settled for one in lesser condition. I do, after all, like to actually ready my old comics. It was this two-issue story arc that settled Lee and Goodman's concerns over who was going to follow Steve Ditko on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. One way or the other, Ditko was going. And this tryout settled it for the publisher and his nephew.

Some people figured that Daredevil #16 merely featured Spider-Man as a guest because The Amazing Spider-Man #16 featured Daredevil as a guest. But there were more nefarious reasons afoot. I always laugh when I see Ditko doing covers like this one. Apparently one of Stan Lee's bugaboos was butt-shots. He hated having his artists show the heroes in ass shots. So of course Ditko did them anyway. I've always assumed he would get away with some of them by turning in the art too close to deadlines to allow Lee to have the art redrawn.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another Mountain Trip

Well, we're gearing up for our first camping trip since our jaunt down to DeSoto Park near Tampa. This time we're headed much closer to home and into the high country. I'm hoping to test out the knee some more on some trails and will do my best to get to the top of a mountain or two and find some waterfalls. The area where we're headed is supposedly packed with great waterfalls.

I'm looking forward to the trip, as we have never visited this specific area of the southern Appalachians. I hope to bring back some good photographs. But, in a way, I feel I'm really mining the dregs of what this part of the country has to offer. I've hiked and scrambled and bushwhacked all over my native mountains, and it's time to start venturing farther afield more often. I repeat again that there's nothing more beautiful than a southern Appalachian cove forest, but I'm past ready to experience other habitats and other vistas.

Our initial goal for this summer was to head up to the Adirondacks. But my surgery put that on hold, as did the soaring price of gasoline. Since I wasn't likely to be able to hike up the larger of the high peaks in the Daks, we fell back on more local options, thus our plans to hit eastern Tennessee instead of New York state.

For next year, though, we're going to aim much farther afield. We're thinking of one or more of the western parks, again. We're looking at a range of them. Everything from Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, to Lassen Volcanic Peak, or Yosemite, or Sequoyah-King's Canyon. We'll know more, but as with our trip to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons, we want to set everything in stone before we head out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Having a molar removed today. Heading out to the oral surgeon in a few. Until tomorrow, here is a brief post about some of my favorite webcams:

Katahdin, Spring 0f 2011.

Mammoth Cave National Park, July 2011.

Purchase Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, July 2011.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Sometimes I'll buy an old book based on the cover and the possibility that it might contain an interior story by an artist whose work I admire. So it was this issue of BATTLE GROUND, a war comic published by Atlas Publications, the company that later became known as Marvel Comics. The cover looks to be by John Severin, one of the greats of comic book art, so that was a plus. Also, this issue (#17) came out in 1957, the year of my birth. With all of that, anything inside was just going to be a bonus as far as I'm concerned. But I bought it online and wasn't sure what the interior stories would be.

And as it turned out, I did get lucky. This issue featured a story by Gene Colan, who recently died, one of the best artists of what we know as the Silver Age of comics. He later went on to become the definitive artist for both Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, and Dracula. When this tale was published Colan was already a comic art veteran of thirteen years! I was pleased to discover this story.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Thornburg Tract

There are a couple of trailheads where you can enter the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness. The most popular of the two is at the Thornburg Tract. This piece of land was a working farm in the very recent past. Some government agency--I haven't figured out which one--is keeping the property cleared as a farm, even if the fields only grow hay and weeds, now. The purpose appears to be mainly to keep it open as game land, since quail and white-tailed deer both do well in such country.

The farmhouse itself is still standing and must receive at least minimal care, but it looks to be edging toward dissolution if no serious work is done to preserve it. The barns are in better shape than the main house, as I suppose they are kept up to house working machinery from time to time. One shed at the very rear of the property is actually falling apart and will soon, I suppose, be going back into the earth.

You have to hike for a quarter of a mile or so through this property before you get to the wilderness boundary. Unlike some wildernesses where I have hiked, the trails in Birkhead are signed and are maintained to keep them free of debris and undergrowth. So in that way this is a different kind of wilderness and does not stick to the true wilderness aspect. All in all, though, I plan to go back, once the ticks are gone.

The parking lot at the trailhead at the Thornburg Tract.

The old farm house.

Barn and sheds.

As with every wilderness I've ever hiked, hunting is allowed here. However, there is a sign at the entrance to the wilderness reminding hunters that a house is very close to wilderness boundary and to take care not to shoot toward it, as it is inhabited. In addition, the home owner also erected this sign informing hunters that his children often play outside the house and to please not fire in that direction. You can see how the gun-humping sons of bitches have replied.

This is the building farthest from the house. The entire front fell off recently. I give the rest of the structure a few more months, at most.

I took this stitched panorama on my way back to the truck. You can see that the house was once quite a pleasant spot, with even a grape vineyard standing on the left.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Two Videos of Birkhead Mountains Wilderness

This was taken in a very nice bottomland hardwood forest on the Birkhead Mountain Trail.

This one was also taken on that same trail. Love the birdcalls!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Walk in the Woods

I decided to get out of the house yesterday and test my knee. I've hardly been anywhere since the surgery, so I needed to work my muscles a bit. The hike went okay. I chose to go to the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness which is about 60 miles from my door. I'd never visited the place so I thought it would be interesting and as they are very low mountains, that it would also be easy on my knee.

What I didn't count on is the fact that ALL of my muscles are out of shape due to the fact that I've gotten little exercise over the past few weeks. I hiked about seven miles and while there were only some moderate ups and downs on the hike, I was exhausted and sore when I returned to my truck.

Also, I was covered in ticks. There were four attached to me, mainly on my thighs. I pulled about a dozen from my clothing, including my socks and pants. Found them crawling on my arms. I never leave a living tick when I find them. I don't toss them back in the brush. I take care to completely kill them, which is a chore when you're talking about ticks. You have to take the time to crush them between hard or sharp objects. I don't stop crushing their bodies until I'm sure that they're pulped.

As for other wildlife, I saw a single white-tailed deer and an indigo snake. That was the first indigo snake that I've seen in many years. I've been told that they're not very common anymore, so from personal experience I'd have to agree with that. Both of these animals fled so quickly that I could not get any photos. The snake actually crawled between my boots as I stood and watched. It's amazing that something with no legs can move so fast.

The Birkhead Mountains Wilderness is made up of a bit over 5,000 acres of second growth forest. There are no old trees there, as this was all a working farm/plantation in recent history. Most of it was owned by a single family in whose name these old "mountains" were named. And they're not much in the way of mountains. The highest peak in there is just a whisker over 1,000 feet in elevation and only a few of the peaks rise as much as 600 feet above the Piedmont. But, as they're the oldest range of summits in the USA, I will cut them some slack and refer to them as mountains.

They're composed mainly of rhyolite which is a metamorphic rock of igneous origin. Apparently at one time these mountains were volcanic. Ryholite resembles flint and is easily worked and holds an amazing edge. I looked around in some cleared fields for arrowheads or other Native American tools, but found nothing. Not even worked chips or blanks. I also found a lot of quartz along the hike and sometimes quartz was used to make tools, but again I found no sign of worked quartz anywhere I looked. I know Indians must have lived here, but unlike the nearby Morrow Mountain, the signs of tool-making is not obvious wherever rock is exposed.

One thing that did surprise me about the wilderness is that there are large tracts of nice hardwood forests. It's not virgin forest, of course, and there are no really big trees, but the recovering habitat is pleasing to see. The bottomlands and the woods in the little canyons and coves are very nice. I'd like to go back in the winter and do some bushwhacking in there. But I wouldn't recommend it during the spring and summer. The tick population is just way out of control and I certainly don't want to emerge from these forests coated in these blood-sucking pests.

I had a good walk, but I realized by the time that I made it back to my truck how out of shape I've become. Fortunately, I haven't gained any weight since the surgery, but my muscles have atrophied to an alarming degree. I was exhausted and sore after the hike. But now I know that I can get out and start reconditioning the knee. More hikes are in the planning stages, and then it's back to work.

The hardwood forests, especially in the bottomlands, were surprisingly lush and impressive.

On some of the ridge tops there was a lot of quartz. In places the trail was composed almost entirely of crushed and broken quartz.

Signs of past human habitation are to be found throughout the forest. To be expected since most of the trails are old roadbeds.


Mushroom pushing up from the forest loam.

One of the more interesting rock formations along the trails. This one was composed of rhyolite, the capstone that forms these little mountains.

Standing chimney from one of the old farmsteads that made up this property once upon a time.

I think this is some type of centipede. I've never seen this particular bug before.

Bent tree.

The streams in the wilderness were either dry, or nearly so. I'd heard there was a drought going on in that part of the state, so it's obviously true.

Forest canopy.

A leopard frog that was in one of the isolated pools in the drying streams. I was overturning rocks trying to find salamanders. I found none of them, but lots of these leopard frogs.

More of the rhyolite capstone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kitties from the Loft

I like taking photos from the loft (which is now my office). Today I looked down on the new couch to see Cairo and Lilly napping there. We have matching throws coming in for the new furniture, but for now we have to keep them covered to prevent the cats from using them for scratching posts. I know some people have their cats de-clawed, but I think that is a cruelty beyond measure. Imagine if someone removed your fingers because they didn't like the way you handled things. A cat's claws are, in effect, its fingers. So we do things like temporarily toss blankets over the furniture until the covers get back from the seamstress.

Hey, Pop! What you doin' up there?

Cairo and Lilly often sleep side by side. Sophie, however, rarely allows one of the other cats to sleep near her.

Fast asleep. Lilly is one of those cats who can (and will) drift off into a very deep sleep.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I've written a bit about our cat Sophie before. Sophie is not right.

We don't know why, but she has always been a little off. She is extremely skittish. She doesn't even quite trust us. Not completely. Sophie has a crazy attachment to me, but even with me she gets frightened. If I move too quickly to pet her head she will interpret that as an attempt to pick her up (which is something she hates) and will race out of reach.

However, whenever I sit down or lie down she will immediately come up to me so that I can pet her or so that she can curl up beside me to go to sleep. She loves sleeping next to me and will not leave me alone until I acknowledge her presence and rub her head and let her know that she can lie down and sleep beside me.

If I walk down the stairs from the loft she will race ahead of me, throw herself down on the landing before I can get there, and start screaming at the top of her lungs. She will only shut up if I pause, sit down beside her, and scratch her head and rub her stomach. If one of the other cats walks up while I'm scratching her head she will get royally pissed off and either hiss at the other cats or run off and sulk. She doesn't do this with Carole or with Andy. Only me.

Sophie's getting old, now. She's turning a bit gray but still has the same old power and speed of earlier years. However, I can see the age piling on.

Here are some photos I took of her a few years ago. She's a terribly difficult subject because she is so dark that photos rarely show any detail. But occasionally I get lucky.

"What's that? Did you hear that? Sounded suspicious to me! Go see what it is!"

This is a rarity. Actually catching her sleeping. She is the lightest sleeper of any cat I have ever known. The merest sound or vibration will wake her instantly.

Always concentrating. Always suspicious. But her attachment to me is striking. Easily the single neediest cat who has ever been with us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Latest Golden Age Disney

Here's the latest pickup of a Golden Age Disney comic for my collection. These old Dell Comics are amazing on so many levels. In this instance, we have a book written and illustrated by Carl Barks. Walt Disney thought that the comic book representations of the Disney characters was so important that he hand-picked Barks to do the lion's share of the Duck stories in comic book form. The ducks had become the most popular of his characters in every form of media that Disney was producing, and he wanted the kids buying the comics to have the best stories and art possible. In Carl Barks, what we got was one of the most talented guys to ever create comic book stories for kids.

For ten cents, a kid got a 28-page Barks epic, followed by a 20-page story by a couple of other journeymen Disney artists Paul Murry (pencils) with inks by Carl Buettner, along with one-page gag strips on the inside front and back covers. And with not a single ad in the book! It was all stories and illustrations from cover to cover! Yes, I know a dime went a lot farther in 1950 when this book was published. But, please! What a deal!

Four Color #300, featuring Donald and his nephews in a grand adventure!

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Favorite Book

I used to collect limited edition books. I would buy nice limited edition hardcovers from such publishers as Arkham House and Donald Grant and Dark Harvest, etc. Specialty publishers produce easily the most beautiful hardback books on the market. However, I soon discovered a nasty secret about the folk who collect such things:

Unlike me, they don't read these books.

I love to read my books. That's what they're for! But after a while it dawned on me that many of the people who purchase the limiteds are anal-retentive condition freaks who would panic at the very thought of human hands touching their books! Yeah, I know what you're thinkin':

That's totally and completely insane, Bob!

Yeah. Yer right. It is.

So after a while I just couldn't stand the thought of buying these books and knowing that one is not supposed to actually read these small print runs volumes; these finely bound editions in slipcases with tipped-in sheets and autographs by the author, by the illustrator, by the lady who proofread the damned thing, by the guy who swept the office when everyone else went home. Why was I buying these things if I'm not supposed to crack the covers (AAIIEEE!) and put my fingers on the pages and lay my eyes on lines that human eyes are not meant to see?

So, realizing how silly this all was, I stopped "collecting" limited edition books. And then I sold off every single one that I owned. Out went the Arkham House books. Away with the Donald Grant books! Off to auction houses with my Gnome Press novels and my Carcosa volumes and the rest.

Except for one.

In all of those books, there was one with which I could not part. It was just too damned gorgeous. Yes, I realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and believe it when I say I read and enjoy all of my books. But this one was just way too perfect to hand off to some other buyer, no matter if I could buy groceries for a month with the profits.

It was my Arkham House copy of 3 TALES OF HORROR by H.P. Lovecraft, illustrated by Lee Brown Coye, and edited (after a fashion) by August Derleth. This book is perfection, to me. The cover is wonderful to behold. The contents are a trio of Lovecraft's finest nightmares. The execution of print and paper and binding are unequaled in any book I have ever owned.

There is no way that I would ever part with this book. It will be with me until I croak.

Then my wife or my son can sell it.

Until then, however, it remains with me.

The place of honor for 3 TALES OF OF HORROR by HP Lovecraft (illustrated by Lee Brown Coye) on my oak office desk.

Buy a copy of my latest novel, THE LIVING END!

Available in trade paperback
and in Kindle!
Available soon in Nook format!