Monday, March 31, 2014

The Big Rock! THE BIG ROCK!

When I don't have time to go off to the mountains I look around for smaller local parks that I haven't seen. One county park that I'd heard about for years but had never visited is Big Rock Nature Preserve. It's a 22-acre patch of hardwood forest on a hilltop in the south of Charlotte. And it's called "Big Rock" for a reason...there is a freaking big-ass rock there.

It was cool to see it, and to walk around in the forest and take a look at the creek that runs through there. They say that arrowheads and other ancient Indian tools sometimes can be found along the forest floor. One thing that struck me about the little park was the level of noise from motor vehicles from the nearby outerbelt (I-485). When you're walking around in the trees you can hear the vehicles. But when you climb up on the big rock, the noise is almost deafening.

It was a pleasant excursion. I think I'll go back and see it again one of these days.

Below the Big Rock.

Park entrance.

Historical information.

Recently installed footbridge.

And there it is! That big ol' rock! The black marks on it are to cover graffiti placed there by local assholes.

There's a very large poplar tree growing, wedged between two of the big rock formations.

Base of the gnarly old poplar.

From atop the biggest rock. If you fell from here, it would hurt you to death.

Little grotto between the biggest rocks.
The constant noise of vehicle traffic (from I-485) is maddening.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

So Many Places. So Little Time.

In my hikes and travels I often run across a spot to which I dearly wish to return. They are too numerous to mention. But, life in the USA being what it is, so much of my life is taken up by labor that I can't fit in the time to go back to these magical spots. What happens is that when I can budget the time and money for a trip, I generally opt for a new place that I've never seen at all, figuring to find something new in place of revisiting that which I've already witnessed.

But there are some really cool places where I want to go back.

This spot is a waterfall along a trail that borders the Chatooga River just above the Ellicott's Rock Wilderness Area where Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina all converge. The place is a pleasure to experience. A great forest (although now bare of the native hemlock trees), steep and rugged terrain, rushing rivers and streams, and numerous waterfalls.

On the main trail we were using we came upon a waterfall that had a great plunge pool which emptied via a set of cascades into the Chatooga River. The spot all but begged me to return to set up camp and spend a wonderful 24 hours.

Someday, by Jove, I'll go back.

A great waterfall with a fantastic swimming hole.

The lower cascade leading down to the Chatooga River.

Small upper falls.

And the Chatooga River, surrounded by dead hemlocks. (I hear banjo music.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Counting Down...

Only a few more weeks until our first big vacation trip of the year. High in the running was a trip to Pennsylvania, an area where we've never taken our travel trailer. But for years we had been discussing a long trip to a part of our own state that I've never seen, and which my wife hasn't seen in decades: the Outer Banks.

The main reason I have never hauled the trailer there is that it's basically a pain in the ass to access those vast barrier islands. If you go in from the south you face a ferry ride. And there are no big Interstate highways or freeways leading from the central part of the Carolinas to the coast. The closest I've ever been would be Wilmington. The nearest spot to them that we've ever camped is Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina.

So, we're heading to the Outer Banks.

It'll be all new territory for me. We're going to take the kayaks and get in some time on some blackwater rivers in the Croatan National Park. And we're going to stop at the Alligator Wildlife Refuge to try to get a glimpse of the packs of Red wolves who live there.

And, of course, we'll travel to see the lighthouses, Kill Devil Hills, and Jockeys Ridge where the Wright Brothers had their first flight.

This was our campsite at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina. To date, this has been the closest we've ever camped to the Outer Banks. This was also an exceptionally pretty campsite at what, to me, is the finest unspoiled coastal area that is easily accessible in South Carolina. And that's our old Nissan Frontier...the only motor vehicle for which I ever developed any kind of emotional attachment..
Getting the little travel trailer ready for a long road trip. That's part of the fun, too.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Private Strong!

I'm not even sure how I ended up with this comic! But it turned up in my stuff as I was organizing my collection. My suspicion is that I bought it when I was still a retailer of old comics and I brought it home to take a close look at it, never having seen a copy.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG was part of a superhero resurgence at Archie Comics of all places. Kirby and his longtime partner Joe Simon had resurrected older characters and created a few new ones for Archie who were, apparently, interested in testing the superhero waters after DC's then-recent success. So Kirby helped them bring back the old Shield character (which they already owned) under the title of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG. Why they went with such a long-winded title is beyond me. Seems something like THE SHIELD would have been better.

Some of the art and story are by Kirby, and some of the material was at least illustrated by George Tuska, if not written by him. I've never read who wrote each story, so I can make no comment on that aspect of the book.

At any rate, the book made an attempt to resurrect the Golden Age superhero character using the same basic story types that had worked in the 1940s, with the addition of a little bit of cynical humor. I like the stories, but it doesn't seem to have worked with the fans of 1959, when the books initially appeared. DOUBLE LIFE lasted for a grand total of two issues. It's hard to say why it was cancelled, but I can only assume that the sales must have been awful.

One of the other Simon/Kirby creations about this same time  (THE FLY) did much better for Archie, lasting for 30 issues, only a few of which were done by Simon and Kirby. I suspect that Kirby jumped ship when he began to create/write/illustrate the various superhero titles at Marvel Comics and couldn't continue at Archie.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Stop That!

I just wanted to post a single photo today. It's of a spot that was one of my favorite places to visit when I was a young man: the Ichetucknee River State Park. It's an amazing place that features a river of crystal clear water emerging whole-cloth from a series of vast springs that gush many millions of gallons of pure water every day.

This particular spot on the resulting Ichetucknee River was, when I was a lad of 20 or so, a favorite place of similarly young folk who were canoeing, kayaking, and tubing the river. People would stop here on this limestone bluff to leap into the cold, quick current of the Ichetucknee. No longer. I suppose all of that tramping around damaged the flora that needs to grow on that bluff, so the Park officials have now posted it against such activity. But you can still paddle there and snorkle there and swim there. You just can't climb up on the ledges and use them for a diving platform.

Many a grand moment spent here, leaping like a kid into the water.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kirby Monsters

Even Jack Kirby's monsters have proven to be intellectual property that Marvel has continued to use. Long considered throwaway creations, they have instead become more valuable commodities from the mind of the man from whom they were essentially stolen: Jack Kirby.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rough Weather

We've had a tough winter, for a change. I've actually had to wear my cold-weather gear a lot this year. In the past few weeks we've had really grinding cold, snow, sleet. And the most recent couple of days we've had to deal with delivering mail in freezing rain. There aren't a lot of things more miserable than having to deliver mail in the freezing rain.

Today, on my route, I found this note clipped to a mailbox as I walked from house to house. It was nice to read.

I clipped the name out for privacy.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hidden Waterfall

I mainly hike alone these days. By my choice. However, sometimes I have to forgo certain things when I'm hiking by myself. You can't take chances when you're alone and far from help. So it was last Sunday when I hiked down a trail I'd never been on in the area between Linville Gorge and Wilson Creek.

Climbing back up toward NC 181, I could hear a lot of water falling. So I knew that there was some kind of cascade or waterfall through the heavy growth of rhododendron, but I couldn't quite get a good look at it. What I finally did end up realizing was that it was a very high series of cascades and drops that--if you could find the right safe spot--might make for an impressive photo.

However, I was alone and in no position to try to find my way down into that little gorge to find such a spot to take a photo. What I could (barely) see through the brush were two big drops that would add up to quite a nice waterfall. I'm certain it's a noted falls/cascade, but I don't know if it has a name or if there are lots of photos online featuring it.

I did the best I could under the circumstances. Even so, I did take a risk and had a hard time scrambling back up to the trail.

A nice little cascade on the creek. Not sure why someone tied flagging to that limb.

I'm pretty sure that this is a fisherman's trail carved over the years through the rhododendron by fly fishermen.

This video in no way shows the falls. You really can't see it, except for that small trough that acts as a transition between the two big drops.

This trough splits the two big drops.

A very nice campsite along the trail.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fantastic Four #56.

Somehow, I hadn't bought a copy of this issue for my collection. I suspect I know why I missed getting one, and that is because this was during the absolute explosion of creativity that had come from Kirby on the FANTASTIC FOUR title. Beginning around issue #44 he had proceeded to come up with one mind-boggling concept after another, creating characters that are generating hundreds of millions of dollars in income for Marvel Comics to this day.

This explosion of creativity did not taper off until issue #67 when, I am convinced, Kirby just go sick of handing his intellectual property off to the thieves for whom he labored. There are so many comics in this run (from #44 through #67) that blew my mind as a kid that I just forgot to add this one. It features one Kirby villain that I just never cared for: Klaw, the master of sound energy. Like most Kirby characters, he has a singular appearance, but the concept just fell flat for me.

What I had not recalled was the artwork from this issue! It is amazing! Kirby and Sinnott were on a tear with this one. I'll have to photograph pages and panels from this issue and post them later. For now, just the cover.

My copy of Fantastic Four #56.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Popular Destination

I stopped going to some of my old favorite hiking destinations because, frankly, they just got too damned crowded. One of those is Panthertown Valley. It's just so crowded that I might as well be in town sometimes. So I stopped going.

The Linville Gorge is similarly popular. However, for some reason that I can't quite figure, I can still go there when I absolutely know the place is full of humans, and yet see no one else. And it's a pretty constricted space when you figure that most folk stay on the trails. So it isn't as if most of them are bushwhacking and that's why I don't bump into them. I reckon there is just enough wilderness so that the people are fortunately widely spaced and I'm free to enjoy my solitude.

So it was on Sunday. I had feared that the Gorge would be heavily used that day, and I was right. Everyone, it seems, has Sunday off. And everyone who wanted to be there, it seems, was. I wanted to hike the Rock Jock Trail, staring at the northern terminus, then hike to the southern end and back to my vehicle. I figured the parking lot for the trailhead would be popular, and I was right. I couldn't even park in the fenced lot and had to place my truck outside the barrier in a clear spot along the road.

After that, I began my hike. And I neither heard nor saw anyone for several hours. I finally did end up encountering eight other hikers at various spots, mainly near the parking area on my way back. But for most of the hike I had a lot of space all to myself, and lots of free time to sit and ponder the world in human-free silence.

The parking area I chose to use. My truck is at the far end.

I love National Forest wilderness signs.

The intersection of the Rock Jock Trail with the Conley Cove Trail. Go right and stay on the rim of the Gorge. Take a left and plunge down to the bottom.

The Rock Jock Trail is great for the vast, open views.

Looking across the Gorge at the aptly named Tablerock Mountain

The trail moves in and out of the forest.

After a couple of miles of hiking, I had my lunch spot.
The view from where I had my lunch.
Just about the only wildlife I can always count on seeing in the Gorge is the Turkey vulture. They abound there. I caught this shot with a telephoto lens, camera set for action shots.

Across the way, and north, Hawksbill Mountain.

A nice telephoto shot of Tablerock Mountain.
Video of my lunch spot.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Two days ago I was a blanket of snow and ice covering the entire Gorge from base to summit, end to end. Half a foot deep and holding the wilderness in a frozen grip.

Today. A blot of sleet and snow no larger than your fist. That fist you shook at the skies on that last, cold day. And I? A skein of ice. Sublimating to the air. Melting slowly into the forest loam.

Spring is here. The sun is warming the air and nourishing the earth.

But I am not undone.

Wednesday night. Wednesday night. I will return.

15 degrees and heavy snow.

A last hurrah? You never know. There's the rest of March, and April is not out of the question.

Along the Rock Jock Trail. 3400 feet.

Blue Jay Falls! (Again.)

One really nice spot along the Rock Jock Trail is a place called Blue Jay Falls. Now, calling it a waterfall is a stretch. I liken it to a similar area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park called 'The Place of a Thousand Drips'. That's what you have here. The water filtering down from the top of gorge emerges atop the rock face here and drips and trickles down the little cliff on its way down to the Linville River.

Every time I'm here I'm tempted to just drink right from the little falls and springs. When I first started hiking and backpacking back in 1973 I wouldn't hesitate to drink the water in such a spot. And I never got ill from doing so. However, these days the back country is cheek-by-jowl with people and dogs; all of whom shit in the woods. It's just not worth drinking unfiltered or untreated water. Maybe it would be okay, but maybe you'd hit some water infested with giardia or e coli, etc. It just isn't worth the risk today with the popularity of hiking and backpacking.

The section with the heaviest flow. The most likely spot to use for filtering water to refill empty bottles and flasks.

This is what most of the falls is like: just a series of dripping springs.

Self-portrait at one end of the falls.

The "falls" extends for quite a way along the trail.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Our High Country!

Sometimes I'm amazed by the scale of the mountainous territory that we do have here in North Carolina. Our mountains are often considered with contempt by people who live in places where the definition of "mountain" is different from what we in the East have figured. Today I visited the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. The highest peaks there are about 4,200 feet above sea level. Many folk who live where there are mountains three or four times higher than that often don't even think of our high country as mountainous. How wrong they are. The peaks around Linville might only be 4,200 feet in elevation, but a number of them stand 3,000 feet or so above the surrounding territory. I've been on 12,000-foot peaks in the west that stand far less than that above the plateaus on which they sit. And, yet, those are easily considered as mountains, whereas some don't think of the peaks I climbed today as mountains, at all.

In the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, North Carolina.

Saturday, March 08, 2014


I'm going hiking tomorrow. I'll probably only hike about six miles or so, but I'll be in one of my favorite hiking destinations, the Linville Gorge. I hope it's not crowded. I've chosen a trail I've hiked before (twice, actually), and that will keep me mainly around the rim. I'll post some photos and video when I get back tomorrow evening.

This actually passes for a waterfall along one of the trails. It's called "Bluejay Falls".