Thursday, May 31, 2012

More Work by the CCC

Once again--as if I needed to be reminded--we were faced with how much we owe to the works of the old Civilian Conservation Corps. The Sherando Lake Recreation Area where we spent a full day of enjoying ourselves under a clear blue sky is itself the product of the labor of the CCC. You can't stand anywhere in this recreation area without witnessing the results of their work.

There are two lakes here, both dammed and created by the CCC. There are a number of structures, one of which is absolutely spectacular and which was built by the Corps. It serves as a bathhouse, a picnic pavilion (with TWO huge fireplaces), a vending building, and a camp store selling ice, matches, and anything else you may have forgotten on your way to enjoying a cookout at the park.

What is always foremost in my mind when I see these places built by the CCC is that when they arrived here there probably wasn't much to see but the ruined lands denuded by timber companies. I doubt that there were many trees here more than a decade or so in age. The southern Appalachians were pretty much totally denuded of forest cover by the 1930s, and I will assume this spot was no different. It wasn't just to build lakes and campgrounds that the CCC busied themselves. They were also instrumental in laying the groundwork for the restoration of our native forests that had been so terribly ruined by the timber companies.

The main bathhouse, built by the CCC.

Trees, buildings, facilities, brought to you by the sweat of the CCC.

Two enormous fireplaces in the pavilion.

Carole under the pavilion. Look at that floor!

This guy had a really neat pontoon boat, complete with electric trolling motor.

Bottom of the spillway. The creek below here is a stocked trout stream.

Staircase leading up the spillway to the top of the dam.

Water going over the top of the spillway.

I forgot to take a good photo of the dams in the recreation area. But I did manage to remember to take a shot from atop the dam looking out on the lake.

I took this one mainly to illustrate the detailed and meticulous rock work on the retaining walls.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sherando Lake Recreation Area

 Carole and I took a short vacation to northwest Virginia. She wanted us to see a spot called Sherando Lake Recreation Area. We're always looking for new places where we can take our travel trailer, and this National Forest site seemed to have the things we like in a campground and forest setting. But reading about it on the Internet and seeing it up close and in person are different experiences. So we opted to make the four-hour drive north to check the place out.

It actually ended up exceeding our expectations. The campground itself is very nice and some of the sites even have electric hookups. We like this option, as it means that we don't have to carry our generator along with us. In addition, each camping loop has bathrooms with hot showers, which is another thing we look for since it means we don't have to tap into our onboard water tank to use for our trailer's shower.

And, of course, the presence of a lake makes for a good place to go swimming, paddling, and fishing.

What I had no knowledge of at all before we arrived was the quality of the hiking trails around the lake. I needn't have worried about that, since there is an extensive system of trails that lead from the Recreation Area up to, and beyond, the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway. There are any number of trails one can use to create a vast combination of hikes of various lengths and levels of challenge.

After we ate lunch Carole went back to the lake to swim and I headed off to do a loop hike of about five miles. The hike I picked combine three different trails and a very brief road hike that would take me around the lake, up the heights of Torry Ridge, and back down to the lake. I was only expecting an average hike with average views, but I was rewarded with a loop that was far more spectacular than I had thought.

The trail follows the even terrain along the lake shore and then tackles the steep slopes of Torry Ridge. After a tough climb you come to the first overlook called, appropriately, Overlook Rock. This is a big quartzite cliff that affords a really impressive grandstand over the gorge and toward the high peaks surrounding the area. You look down from a considerable distance down on the lake.

After that, I headed on down the trail and came to the Torry Ridge junction and the high point of the hike. This spot was a forested spit of rock that was kind of neat, but I quickly headed on after making sure I'd hit the high point.Within about a half mile, though, I came to what I really wanted to see--a vast talus field that leads up from near the shores of the lake all the way to the top of the ridge. This talus field of shattered quartzite rock is impressive, and walking along it was a lot of fun.In addition,  it offered even better views than I'd seen from Overlook Rock.

From there I only expected a typical hike through second-growth forests back down to the lake but I was again surprised to find that the trail follows a very long cliff as it initially only slowly descends the mountain slopes. For about a mile one is rewarded with great views from pale quartzite spots along the trail before it finally begins to head down the mountain and into the valley.

My final surprise of the day was when I began to notice some vaguely familiar leaves in the forest around me. At first I barely noticed them, but then I realized that I was probably looking at American chestnut leaves. So I stopped to examine them more closely. Sure enough, I was pretty darned sure I had stumbled upon a patch of our native chestnuts. This isn't as rare as you would think, as the trees do occasionally pop up from root systems that have managed to survive over the decades since the chestnut blight killed off the vast chestnut-dominated forests of the Appalachians. But what did surprise me was how many of the trees that I was seeing. In quick order I counted a dozen or so of them, most of them less than ten feet tall. I have no doubt that this young grove will eventually succumb to the blight, but it was nice to see so many of them growing so thickly.

Sherando Lake Beach.

First good overlook.
Self-portrait standing at the big talus field.

Looking down from the talus field toward Sherando Lake far below.

Standing at the top of the talus field.
Great signage and infrastructure along the trails.
Along the line of cliffs on the way down.
American chestnut trees.
And the mountain laurel were in bloom.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Back Home!

Carole and I took a brief two-day vacation to a part of Virginia that Carole has wanted to see for some time (to scout out for an extended vacation in our travel trailer). So we headed up to the spot to see what it had to offer. I'll post details later.

But one thing I will say is that I had one of the best day-hikes I've taken in a long time today! The trail had so much interesting eye-candy that I was floored. I wasn't expecting anything like what I saw. We will DEFINITELY go back for an extended camping trip!

This is a self-portrait taken near the top of an enormous landslide on Torrey Ridge. This is a vast quartzite landslide leading down from the top of the ridge almost to the bottom of the valley. There are a number of these sites in that part of Virginia. I've never seen precisely this kind of thing anywhere else.

Sherando Lake. Taken today.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Short Vacation

Heading out to the mountains for a couple of days. To an area in Virginia where we've never been.

Also, keep in mind that I'll be appearing at the local science-fiction show this coming weekend. Look for me at ConCarolinas.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Goodbye to All That

I'm trying to finish up a zombie trilogy I contracted to write. I've enjoyed myself and it's some of the best writing I've ever done. But after this...I'm done with zombies. Most of the zombie books I encounter are political tracts for gun-crazed right wing racist maddies--that seems to be the audience for these books. Quite frankly, there's not a whole hell of a lot of difference between your average zombie novel and THE TURNER DIARIES. So, after this, I'm done with the zombie fiction ghetto.
I've talked about this subject before and took quite a lot of heat for it. I've only ever deleted a few comments to this website, and those were all racist screeds and personal threats I received for writing about how most zombie fiction is right wing and racist, or at least particularly appeals to that crowd.
So, after I finish these stories, I'm going to avoid the zombie apocalypse as a subject for my fiction. It was fun for a while, but it's obvious to me where it ended up and I don't want to work in that little subset of horror fiction any longer. As with most of the self-published books I see, I don't want to be associated with most of the zombie novels I've read. There are some genuinely creepy folk walking around in that field.
Talk about your mindless, undead monsters ready to kill and eat you...

 A pair of racist gun-crazed fuckwads.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Schmuck Love

I enjoy reading the work of Chester Brown. I was shocked to learn that he's a Libertarian, which disappointed me and placed him fairly low on the intellectual totem. I wish I'd never discovered that about him, but he's so deeply involved in that unfortunate neo-fascist scene that he actually runs for office on the Libertarian ticket in his native Canada.

Since I do have a lot of his work, I was amused at the pathetic quality of this pair of illustrations when placed in conjunction with one another.

The first one he did to illustrate his deep love for his woman, someone named Sook Yin. It was the closing panel of a saccharine bit of drippy love stuff to show how much she meant to him.

This last one is the first page of his graphic novel, PAYING FOR IT, describing his descent into the world of prostitution as a paying john. In this initial page, the love of his life tells him that she wants to fuck someone else.

I wouldn't have laughed, save for the fact that he's a Libertarian. In that case, I could not stop myself from laughing. That said, the book is quite good. The best of the comic artists who work in the realm of autobiography are either very honest (guys like Joe Matt), or open the door enough into their psyche that you can infer enough about them to achieve the same effect as bald-faced honesty. I'd put Chester Brown in that second category. The fact that I was able to place these two illustrations together shows the power of his work. That I recalled that initial image at all says a lot about his skill, and that I think enough of his sequential art to have it in my bookcase after so many years.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Having grown up with parents who let me read as I wished, and in a home packed with books of all sorts, I have always been horrified by people who believe in mythical origins of life. Evolution has never--to put it mildly--been a problem for me.

One thing that I have wondered about over the years is the European brown bear. It is, in just about every way, the same bear that we have here in the North American west; the animal we know as the Grizzly bear or North American brown bear. Eurasia and North America share many of the same basic species that roamed the northern hemisphere, crossing and recrossing the Bering Land Bridge when it existed.

However, the brown bears of Europe are not widely known for their ferocity. The Grizzly bear is, though, famed for its demeanor. Its scientific name is, after all, Ursus arctos horribilis (the "horrible bear"). It got the name for its reputation for being a bad-ass. The European brown bear, with the same physical appearance of our Grizzly bear, is not known for tearing people asunder.

So, I have wondered about this. There are always slight differences in bears based on geographic locations and their general habitat. For instance, a Brown bear in Montana would be considered huge if it weighed 800 pounds. The same bear on Kodiak Island in Alaska would be no more than average sized and a wimp when stacked against a really large male bear who might weigh in at 1500 pounds (or more). Similarly, the Brown bears in Kamchatka (in Russia) are on a par in size and demeanor with Alaskan brown bears (both living in similar habitats and eating similar diets).

But the bears in places like Austria, Finland, Yugoslavia, etc. are the same basic animal but are not widely considered to be particularly ornery, nor have the reputation for mauling humans when encountered. Indeed, they're said to be rather shy creatures.

So, is this because humans have selected the survivors? That is, have the brown bears of western Europe been pacified on an evolutionary basis because humans went out of their ways to kill off the more aggressive bears? Leaving only bears of a relatively mild temperament?

I wonder if any scholarly studies on this subject have been done? I'd be surprised if such had not been conducted.

A European brown bear in western Europe. Pretty much indistinguishable physically from a North American grizzly bear.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cove Hardwood Forests

 I've visited many wild places in my life. But I reckon that, so far, my favorite places are southern Appalachian cove hardwood forests. Unfortunately, there's not quite the variety of trees in them that there was when I was a young man, but they're still amazing places. Even if two of the cornerstones of such forests--the Eastern and Carolina hemlocks--are gone now from that scenery.

I never tire of going into such forests and just sitting still and listening to the place and watching it around me as I am small and quiet beneath the green canopy.

 Following are some photographs I took in 2011 on a hike into the Mackey Mountain area where the forests are old and magnificent.

Click to embiggen.

Alone on the slopes with the big trees.
One of the best poplar groves I've visited outside the Great Smoky Mountains.
We followed the stream up and up the mountain slopes until we found the big trees.
Andy Kunkle and Boone the dawg.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The "Tuck"

The Ichetucknee River is affectionately called "the Tuck" by many who love her. If you've never been there, I pity you. Like some other rivers in Florida, it appears whole-cloth from the earth in the form of a series of gigantic freshwater springs that disgorge millions of gallons per day of gloriously clear, pure, fresh water. The State of Florida has been buying up these springs over the decades. In the past, many were in private hands, but gradually the State has been taking possession of them through buyouts and tax packages until now only a small handful of them remain in private hands.

The Ichetucknee River is one that has been public property for quite some time. You will encounter no houses along the river as it courses through the park. No buildings. No acreage denuded of forest cover. What you will see are the great springs that birth it, and the glorious course of "the Tuck". And as you kayak, canoe, tube, or swim the river, you will also see much wildlife. As with most of the parks of Florida, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is packed with native fauna.

We stopped along the shore here to go swimming.

When I was a kid, we'd jump off the limestone bank here. But the Park doesn't allow that now because of the damage so many people were causing to the shrubs and trees that grow there. The water appears shallow here because of the clarity of the water, but it's actually quite deep.

You might see water this clear and pure elsewhere, but I doubt it.
Others precede us downriver as we allow the current to take us along.

Old log on the river floor as I went snorkeling.
Native underwater grasses.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Biggest Waterfall...

The biggest waterfall I've ever seen. In Yellowstone National Park on the Yellowstone River. I know that there are bigger waterfalls, but this is the most powerful I've ever witnessed. It was actually frightening to stand near it and feel the thunder of the falling water.

There was a viewing platform above the falls on the opposite side of the river from where I was standing.

In this close-up shot you can see people on the platform, which gives you an idea of scale.
Everything about this waterfall is fantastic. I look forward to returning to the Park.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Weird Year for Hiking...

This has been one of the worst years for me in terms of hiking and backpacking. I have hardly had any time to go outdoors as I normally do over the course of a year. Part of it is the fault of my job as a writer. I am committed to completing a couple of novels and that has taken up time I would normally spend climbing a mountain or canoeing a river.

The other problem has been the increased difficulty of my day job. I'm losing physical momentum as I get older and I just can't push myself as hard as I could in earlier times. The old body is breaking down and there's nothing much I can do about that. Last night after getting off work and showering and eating, I ended up sleeping for over twelve hours. No writing done yesterday, at all. Any idea I would have had of going hiking today was so much fantasy. And it's back to work tomorrow.


When I have gotten out, it has been a weird scene this year under the skies. For instance, there were the two hikes I took one week apart, back to back in the Spring. One week was so warm it was actually nice enough to have thought about going for a swim. The following Sunday in the same general location the snow was falling. And the only thing that kept me from fleeing the scene was that I had tossed a few warm clothes in the truck just in case.

So, today, no hiking, but back to the latest novel. We'll talk later...

North Harper Creek. Considered wading after my hike to the big falls just above this little cascade.

The next week as I visited Hunt Fish Falls nearby, the temperature suddenly plummeted.

I ended up on the Parkway near Grandfather Mountain and the snow started to swirl!

In short order the snow began to cover the ground.

Grandfather Mountain hidden behind passing veils of snow squalls. (I think this was part of the last significant snowfall of the year.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

An Idea Whose Time has Returned

Almost everywhere I go hiking or backpacking or camping in our National Parks, National Forests, or State Parks I generally encounter the work of the old Civilian Conservation Corps. Everyone who enjoys our wild and rural lands tends to know what the CCC was. But a lot of folk don't know.

The CCC was implemented by the Franklin Roosevelt administration to provide work for the vast numbers of unemployed men in the USA during the Great Depression. And it was the kind of work that would create infrastructure for our parklands that would last, quite frankly, for many, many decades. It has now been almost 100 years since the start of work by those CCC boys and the trails and walls and ponds and shelters and buildings that they constructed are still with us and still in use.

It would  be nice to see the CCC reconstituted and people put to work again doing the kinds of things that were done in those desperate years of the 1930s and early 40s. It was socialism at its finest and it worked well for all. And this is why it will likely not be put into operation again; not as long as corporate interests run our nation. But maybe some day.

Here are some photographs of a building constructed in Florida by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It's still in use and can be seen in O'Leno State Park.


Think of the dances!
The kind of finishing touches only folk in the CCC thought about.