Friday, October 24, 2014

Heading Out!

Posting again in about two weeks. Until then, new territory to explore at the Big South Fork River and National Recreation Area.

Casita, dogwoods, and azaleas.

From October of 2013.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2015 Vacation Plans

Well, I had several options for my big vacation for 2015. We had already planned a one-week vacation to visit some springs in the panhandle of Florida. So that one was set.

But then I wanted to do something far more adventurous later in the year. So I sat down with maps and books and began to seriously consider doing a solo backpack of the John Muir Trail in California. But the more I thought about that one the less likely it seemed to firm up in my plans. For one thing, it would take every bit of four weeks, and even that might not have been enough time to accomplish my goal of hiking the entire Trail. So I thought about other options.

Carole loves Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor Maine. We talked about flying up there and spending a whole week there. The idea of that was attractive to both of us, and I'd get the chance to hike all of the mountains there that I hadn't had time to climb on previous visits.

But we both want to hit another western National Park. Crater Lake has been high on our list for years. As has Yosemite and Redwood. But the one both of us really want to see above all of the others is Glacier National Park. Not least because of its sheer beauty and vast scale, and not just because of the amazing variety of wildlife and scenery--but because the glaciers that are the reason for its name will soon be gone.

I keep talking in my essays about how our wild world is coming to an end. Mankind is pretty much wrecking what little remains of our untamed wilderness and our relatively intact ecosystems. Nothing illustrates this more than the fading of the glaciers that once dominated Glacier National Park. They're saying now that if you don't see them by the middle of the next decade then you'll have missed your chance. So...we want to see the freaking glaciers in Glacier National Park while there are still a few remaining.

Therefore, Glacier has moved to the top of the list. Things could change, of course, but for now it's what we're going to plan. We were all very impressed (beyond words, actually) with Yellowstone National Park. And from what I've been told, Glacier is even more spectacular than Yellowstone. One more to be seen before I croak.

Grizzly Peak. They say there's a walking route to the summit.

Good ol' Bob, hiking in the Absarokas.

Hiking up Avalanche Peak, looking south into Wyoming.

Along the summit ridge, looking north in Montana.

Don't laugh at my pitiful photo of a grizzly bear. He didn't want anything to do with us and moved off at a good clip. And that's okay. I really don't want to get too close to a griz. While you can sometimes never see a grizzly bear in Yellowstone, they say it's almost impossible to visit Glacier NP and never see one.

From the summit of Avalanche Peak.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Comic Collection Additions.

I haven't had much time to devote to my comic collecting hobby lately. In fact, I've had quite a dry period for that because of my workload. I've been way too busy to work on the collection very much.

But I have picked up a couple of comics recently.

Adding to my early Marvel collection I grabbed a copy of STRANGE TALES #112. Jack Kirby cover. One of my pals has made the pitch that if the cover for these early superhero stories was by Kirby, then he likely did the plot also. He'd hand in the art for the cover along with the plot. Of course the plot would later be credited to a certain asshole editor who wrote nothing and created nothing and who slapped his name on everything to pad his paycheck and to ensure that the company retained copyright.

This issue has a story illustrated by Dick Ayers. When I was a kid I never liked any of the Human Torch stories that Ayers illustrated. There was something in those days that I found crude about his art style and I always found it an effort to read any story that he illustrated. Of course now I have a greater appreciation for him, but there's always that nagging memory of my childhood feelings coloring my opinion of his work.

The story dialog is credited to someone named "Joe Carter". I didn't know who this was, so I asked around on the Internet about him, and was informed that Mr. Carter was, in fact, Jerry Siegel, one half of the creative team who gave us Superman. In the early 60s he was still writing for the industry and he did the dialog on a number of these Human Torch yarns.

There's also a good Steve Ditko science-fiction story in the mix. All through the first few years of the superhero renaissance at Marvel there was a backlog of science-fiction and monster stories written and illustrated by the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, and the rest of the Marvel bullpen in those days. So Marvel would pad the issues out with these unpublished stories that had already been commissioned and paid for. It's actually for these monster stories mainly by Kirby and Ditko that I started collecting comics again.


Another book that I picked up was an EC. I don't focus on collecting Golden Age comics, but I do enjoy buying EC books now and again. I've bought a number of them this year, and this one was a real find. It's in decent shape and is currently the oldest EC comic that I own, published in 1950. It's #16, but is in reality #2 of the title. It used the numbering from a previous title and after #17 the numbering started with #4. So there are actually two "#15 through #17", which can be confusing.

Owning this book, I'm reminded why EC is considered as having the highest quality stories and artwork of any mainstream comic book publisher in the history of the format. I hope to keep buying ECs over the next few years.

HAUNT OF FEAR #16 (actually #2) with a great Johnny Craig cover.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New Awning

Well...we picked up the travel trailer from the service department. The folk there were kind enough to have a guy show up and open the joint just for us on Sunday! Nice people!

They fixed the leak in the on-board water system, and the new awning looks great. However, the second I got it home and opened the awning, a plastic locking piece broke off in my hands. Like...well, like cheap plastic. Because of my work schedule this week I can't take it back in before we leave for vacation. So we will take the trailer with us to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and deal with the broken awning part when we return.

I'm happy with the look of the new awning and the way in operates, but major-league upset over how such an important piece broke in my hand as soon as I used it for the very first time. And why would a manufacturer make something out of flimsy plastic that has to be used in such a manner?!

Hopefully they'll fix it when we get back. Stay tuned.

Casita-girl at the service center! We missed her!

I open the awning at home to get the feel of how it operates.

And the locking piece snaps off in my hand! DAMN!!!

The other leg. This is how it's supposed to look. NOT BROKEN!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Big South Fork!

Our next camping trip is going to be an area we've never been on the Tennessee/Kentucky border. We'll be staying in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Just looking at photos of the terrain and maps of the area, and reading about the territory, I think it's similar to places we've visited in the past on the vast limestone plateau in east Tennessee. But I won't know until we get there and explore the place.

I plan on doing a lot of hiking down into the gorge, and I've picked out one summit that I want to try to at least see, if not actually climb. This kind of terrain is not truly mountainous in the classic sense of the term. Instead, it's composed of a plateau that is deeply cut by numbers of rivers and streams. There's still a lot of vertical to be seen and conquered, but it's not actually mountains.

We're not sure if we'll see a lot of wildlife. The Forest Service did reintroduce black bears into the area some time back and there's supposed to be an expanding population of them now. But beyond that I haven't read much about the animals who inhabit that area.

Since we're going in cooler weather we're not taking our kayaks and from what I understand there's not a big demand this time of year for rafting trips down the main river through the Recreation Area. I am hoping that there will still be some Fall color to see and photograph.

We've also booked a night at the Charit Creek Lodge. It's one of the lodges that one must reach on foot or horseback. We've stayed at a couple of such lodges and always enjoy the experience.

Also, one of the attractions of the area are the natural arches that have formed. Here in the east coast you don't find a lot of arches (as you do in many western states), so I'll be picking out some of those to visit. And the countdown has begun. One week to go.

Down on the river in the gorge. (National Park photograph.)

We'll see this arch on the way to the Charit Creek Lodge. You have to pass by it along the trail. (Internet photo--not mine.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014


When I was a kid I discovered the work of Jack Kirby before that of Steve Ditko. I was very young indeed when my mom gave me a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #4. But I didn't see anything by Ditko until around late 1965 (perhaps early 1966). And over the years I think it was Ditko who influenced me more than Kirby. Jack Kirby's work was all about raw power to me, and Ditko was about taking chances. I've often said that Kirby was every kid's rabbi, and Ditko was every kid's philosopher. I still hold with that.

One of the companies where Ditko ended up working after he walked away from his creations at Marvel Comics was Warren Publishing. For a time Jim Warren was apparently paying very attractive rates to comic artists, drawing in the best talent in the industry. In fact, he managed to corral most of the old EC artists. During the time he was paying those inflated rates, Ditko worked at Warren where he turned out some of the most daring efforts of his career.

Now Dark Horse has published CREEPY PRESENTS STEVE DITKO, collecting all of the Ditko stories that he produced during that brief period for James Warren. Here we see Steve Ditko experimenting with the comics form as he would never have been able to do for traditional comic book formats. He uses washes, and gouache, and fine lines to exquisite effect. As a kid I was overwhelmed by the stories Ditko illustrated for the Warren magazines and those stuck with me to a greater extent than those of any other artist who worked there during that brief flash of publishing genius.

I'm not sure if Ditko is receiving any royalties from this book, so there is that to consider when purchasing this volume. But here it is, some of the most visually striking work I ever saw from Steve Ditko, illustrating stories written by Archie Goodwin (with one exception, written by Clark Dimmon & Terry Bisson).


A man beaten to death, just at the moment of his final mortal breath. The image of the shattered teeth was nothing I'd ever seen in comics.

Ditko excelled in this kind of exposition within a single panel. I've never really seen any other comic book artist achieve this kind of effect within the confines of one panel.
This splash page amazed me as a kid and still does.

Words fail.

Grime and dissolution.

Ditko proves himself the equal of the best with pen and ink.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Close Call

During the first year we had our Casita travel trailer (2005-2006), Carole and I took it on a lot of winter camping trips. We were so anxious to enjoy the trailer that we didn't let something like cold weather dissuade us from heading to a state park or National Forest campground. (If you buy a Casita, make sure you get it with a furnace!)

So, one January afternoon after I got off work we hooked up the Casita and headed to the Davidson River Campground, a very popular Pisgah National Forest facility. In fact, it's probably the single most popular campground in the Pisgah National Forest. But, being that it was January, we pretty much had the pick of the campground.

Since we arrived just as it got dark, we figured the best course of action was not to try to back into our campsite but to park in the paved drive where we wouldn't bump into any trees trying to fit the trailer into its proper slot. Thus, we just parked on the driveway and figured that was that.

When we arrived the weather was overcast and the temperatures mild. But that changed very early in the morning when a very powerful cold front moved through. In quick order the winds began to pick up and began howling through the campground. Although we were safe and toasty in our travel trailer, we were alarmed at the savagery of the winds raking through the area. We later learned that the storm was packing sustained winds of seventy miles per hour with gusts up to 100 miles per hour. Hurricane force.

We got up and peeked out the windows and could see the trees whipping in the wind. In a little while I put on a percolator to make coffee and we fixed cold cereal for breakfast. As we were eating we heard a tremendous crash and thud. The ground quite actually shook. I opened the door to see what had happened and to make sure the truck was okay (we had parked it behind the trailer).

And where we should have parked--if we'd had more light when we arrived--a sizable white pine had snapped off at the base and fallen to the earth. If we had been there, it would have halved our travel trailer with us inside. Luckily, the failing light had saved us from having our Casita totaled and, perhaps, ourselves injured (or worse).

I've often wondered if the Casita would have protected us from the falling tree, or if the mass of it would have sheared right through the trailer.

Fortunately, because of the failing light when we arrived, I had parked in the drive instead of the campsite.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Art Loeb Trail

I've been trying to plan out a multi-day backpacking trip so that I can get away from the city for a little while. When you're living in an urban environment, you forget what it's like to have some real peace and quiet. I sometimes find myself with the need to get away from the noises of Mankind--music, voices, engines. There are nearby city and county parks where you can see trees and go walking, but you are never free of the sounds of traffic and gasoline engines.

Next month I have a three-day break. If I can keep my plans afoot I hope to tackle the Art Loeb Trail. I first heard about this footpath when I was a very young man and it has remained a possible goal for years. At a bit over 30 miles in length, it can be tackled as a two-night, three-day backpacking trip. My problem is to arrange to be dropped off at one end and picked up on the other. I'm not sure I can arrange that, but I'm going to try to figure it out.

The trail does pass through some genuinely wild areas so I hope that I can find myself away from the noise of so-called civilization for a little while every day. It's what I need and hope to find.

In past years I have actually walked on sections of the Art Loeb Trail, but never have had the time or opportunity to tackle the entire route. Here's hoping...

A few years back, near the Art Loeb Trail (but not on it).

Just short of the Art Loeb Trail on Sam Knob.

The famous Cold Mountain, which the Art Loeb Trial summits.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Campfires in the Backcountry.

When camping almost everyone loves a campfire. I enjoy them, albeit to a lesser extent than most of my fellow outdoor enthusiasts. There is definitely something comforting not only about the warmth and light of a fire, but just it's crackling life. It can almost be like having another companion along for the experience of being outdoors.

But what I often find when I'm in a developed campground is that so many people are burning wood that the smoke becomes overwhelming and choking. It's like living in a cloud of heavy smog (which it is), and then the pleasure becomes a torture.

When I'm in the backcountry on an overnight or extended backpacking trip I very rarely build a fire. I just don't want a campfire at all when I'm out in what amounts to wilderness. To me, in such places, smoke and flames seem out of place and intrude greatly on my sense of solitude and wonder of Mother Nature.

There are exceptions, of course. I once did build a campfire when I backpacked down into Linville Gorge. I was camped beside the Linville River which was packed with so much dry firewood that it was just too tempting to pass up gathering a huge pile of it. And the weather was cold (I'd hiked through freezing rain at the lip of the gorge). Also, there genuinely did not seem to be any other humans in the Gorge, at all. I had a couple of days off in the middle of the week, the weather was foul, and no one else appeared to be using the wilderness on that trip.

I built a campfire, and I have to admit that I enjoyed it.

But that was a very rare exception. I do my best to avoid campsites where other backpackers are camping if I think any of them will build a campfire. I once set up camp and just as I got ready for bed a couple of other backpackers arrived and began trying to build a campfire. The smoke drifted directly toward my tent and kept me from falling to sleep. Just as I was preparing to move my tent they gave up on trying to ignite the damp wood and I was able to fall asleep.

There's a certain writer of outdoor trail books (whose name I will not mention because I don't want to advertise his practices) who builds large, overwhelming campfires at every spot he camps. If you see his books there is an obligatory photo of a roaring campfire at every spot he stops to camp. I hope never to encounter this primitive moron in my travels.

My tent in the foreground at Deep Gap on the Black Mountain Crest Trail. I had arrived first and earlier in the day. Other backpackers came along and set up camp near me. Fine. No big deal. Until they began to try to light a campfire with damp wood and the smoke blew directly into my tent, choking me. Thankfully, the wood refused to fully ignite and they gave up before I lost my temper.

My campsite on the summit of Mount Sterling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can see a bothersome campfire ring in the foreground. But I had the site completely to myself and no one arrived to try to build a fire. The stars came out after a dusting of sleet and ice and I enjoyed the view of the night sky.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


I received a copy of NOMAD #1 created, written, and illustrated by Mark Masztal. Now, everyone here knows that I do not generally like the world of self-publishing. But I have always made an exception for self-published comics. I think this is due on large part to my experience in having found many self-published comics of high quality. Which is in sharp contrast to the fact that I have never found a high quality self-published novel (not even once).

So it's not a contradiction for me to enjoy self-published comic books or to promote them when I do find ones that I like.

Masztal has here created a fusion of space opera and the superhero genre. In this first issue we are introduced to the hero and given the origin for him and that of his sentient ship. (There's a nice twist to the origin that I quite liked.) Nomad is the classic champion with a dark slant (he's both implacable and not generous with mercy when it comes to his antagonists).

If you enjoy old-time space opera you should get a kick out of this book. I'm looking forward to the next issue and I hope it's a great success for Mark Masztal.

Origin issue. Created, written, and illustrated by Mark Masztal.

Inspired interiors!