Saturday, January 31, 2015

Another Old Photo Reviewed...

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will sometimes review old photos from hiking and backpacking trips and wonder what I was aiming for when I took them. And sometimes I will know what I was trying to capture but was unable due to problems such as lighting or distance or other factors.

So it was in Tower Canyon in Yellowstone. I had stopped along a trail and could see a tower of rock standing up from the canyon wall (what are commonly referred to as "hoodoos"). Atop this pillar of soft rock and soil was a vast osprey nest. I tried to take photos of it, but the nest and hoodoo were in deep shadow and the background of the canyon wall was in very bright sunlight. The contrast was just too much for my camera to handle.

But I kept taking photos because I could see two large osprey chicks in the nest and a parent arriving from a fishing expedition with a large trout. And I took the photos and tried to see what I had captured after I got back to our lodgings in the Park.

And, in one of the shots, I realized that I'd caught a photo of the two big chicks squabbling over the carcass of the lake trout just delivered by the parent bird. Maybe they were cooperating to tear it apart, or maybe they were fighting over ownership. Either way, each chick had a grasp on the fish.

I had to modify the photo to make clear what I'd managed to get in digital form, but there it was. A moment of small drama captured as an image.

Osprey chicks eating lunch.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Black Magic

I just added this book to my collection. It's one of the Prize Comics titles for which the Simon and Kirby Studios produced so many stories, assembling contents for the publisher's titles. In my estimation, Jack Kirby had a real talent for expressing dread and horror in his tales of mystery and suspense. In this book there are two stories written and penciled by Kirby and both of them are powerful. The second is particularly creepy as it deals with what we would these days call a "zombie". In the story a corpse in the morgue wakes up and begins a mindless rampage of violence and murder. I wonder if George Romero read this issue?!

BLACK MAGIC #25, July 1953.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Since...

I am currently drunk on wine that I bought there.

I figured I'd post photos of our visit to...
 
Chateau Morrisette where yew kin git drunk.

Chateau Morrisette:

It was a hoity toity place where you had to cover yer mouf when you sneeze or use a towel when you blow yer nose.


We bought three bottles of wine.

Peeples gittin' drunk.

I got drunk on them.

Drunk as shit.

The fukkin front part.

Yer welcome.





Monday, January 26, 2015

IN PRINT!

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS is now officially in print! Order your copy now!

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS by James Robert Smith.

Digital Memory

The last time I went out west with my family I had to deal with the fact that the disks in my camera would run out of space. Back then I had four 8GB memory disks, plus a couple of 1GB. Yellowstone National Park was the destination, so you can imagine that I kept running low on image capacity. I was able to deal with this by dumping the images onto the laptop computer I'd carried along and then wiping the disks clean and starting over. But I was worried that I would lose images in the process, so there was some stress involved.

These days memory disks are getting really cheap. The prices have begun to plummet. What once cost $90 are now running around $20. So the problem we encountered in 2010 are not going to be an issue. To this end I've purchased two 32 GB disks that I found on sale at rock bottom prices, plus I still have four of 8GB from older purchases. I foresee no problems in running out of imaging space with my principle camera. I also have decent memory capacity for the new GoPro video camera.

I am really looking forward to this long trip to Glacier National Park.

These hold a wealth of digital information...
...so that I can take thousands of imagines like this one.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fred Clifton Park

One thing that we like about our trips is discovering unexpected places. We were driving toward the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mabry Mill when we passed Patrick County's famed Lover's Leap and saw a sign for a county park at the top of the 3,000-foot ridgeline. So we pulled into the place to have a look around.

There were a number of signs warning park users not to feed the bears. Apparently the park is a gathering place for wannabe Yogi Bears. The park is small but exceptionally nice. It has a few short trails that lead to overlooks and through the exclusively hardwood forests at the summit. It was cold up there and I had to walk through patches of snow and ice left over from a recent winter storm.

One of these days I'd like to go back there in warmer weather to see if any of those local bears show up to try to panhandle the tourists.

A stitched panorama I made from the Fred Clifton Park. Along VA 58 where you find yourself at about 3,000 feet above sea level. Looking out over a vast plain of forests and fields.

A nice overlook in the park. There was still a good bit of snow and ice on the ground from a recent winter storm.

Walking through rhododendron from one overlook to another.
 
Another view taken from a second overlook.

There is a very nice picnic area in the park, most complete with grills.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Crowded Mountain

I sometimes go to hike at a local state park called Crowders Mountain. People who go there for solitude will mainly look in vain because its nickname is "Crowded Mountain" for good reason. Not only are there almost always a lot of people there hiking, you can never really get away from the sound of automobile engines due to the park's proximity to major roadways, including Interstate 85.

So I don't go there very much. (Only when I'm desperate.)

Similarly, I no longer go on extended hikes on the famed Appalachian Trail. It was never really a place to find true solitude. There have always (in my experience) been too many people hiking on it to find any real silence and peace. However, when I was younger you could travel it at certain times of the year and find yourself alone for a day or so. But as the years have passed I've found that this is no longer the case, with literally hundreds of people using stretches of it on any given day.

The last time I hiked a multi-day trip on the AT I swore would be my last. This is because I found it to be just way too crowded. Groups of people hiking together. People hiking with their freaking dogs. Camping areas and shelters packed to bursting with humans. The stench of human feces blasting for many yards in every direction at overused pit toilets. Bothersome creepy through-hikers with their annoying nicknames bugging the crap out of you.

This was not the Appalachian Trail of my youth.

But occasionally I would still venture there to day-hike. Sometimes I'd even find myself alone on the Trail with complete silence all around me and no pesky humans to bug me. This year I even entertained the idea of an overnight backpack on a section of the AT where I figured I might find some solitude if I went when the weather was cold.

But something is about to happen that I've feared for some time. The long-rumored movie to be produced and starred by Robert Redford is going to hit the screens. Yes, Bryson's excellent A WALK IN THE WOODS is going to be seen in movie theaters and home systems in the near future. After that, everyone who ever had even the slightest inclination to backpack the Appalachian Trail is going to go out and buy equipment and hit the Trail. It's going to be one long wait at the mountain range's checkout line. Yes, your local REI and Dick's Sporting Goods are going to rack up massive sales, but any chance one might have to enjoy the Trail are going to be gone. At least until the coming fad withers away.

Oy.

May of 2011 on the AT on Unaka Mountain. Actual solitude. I saw not one other hiker.

On the AT, same day. Soft grasses and cool mists. No voices.

May 2010. My last multi-day backpack on the AT. Everything I hate about what the trail has become. Dogs. Crowds (there were, eventually, about three dozen people at the shelter). Annoying folk. Fecal stench. No thank you.
And here come Redford and Nolte to compound the problem. Alas.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Recovery From Exploitation

Stuarts Knob is a minor summit even in the relatively low-profile hills around it. The only reason I even noticed it is that it's obvious from the lakeside below the cabin where my wife and I stayed in Fairy Stone State Park this month.

It's an attractive enough little mountain, but at less than 1400 feet above sea level it's really just an Appalachian foothill to the much higher summits just a few miles to the west. But I got out the park trail map and noted that there were a couple of trails that take you almost to the top and decided to hike up there and see what it was like.

What I found was a series of well maintained trails that were dotted with historical markers and discovered that the area had been ecologically raped and exploited in the recent past. Go back less than 100 years and you'd hardly have recognized the profile of this little mountaintop. It underwent a long period (in human terms) of exploitation that denuded it of trees and forest cover and then was heavily mined for the rich iron deposits that lay actually on its flanks and then below its surface. By the late 1800s the forests were utterly gone, and by 1920 the iron deposits had played out. Even the town that once lay at its foot vanished once the capitalists and industrialists had had their way with the place.

By the 1930s the land had been allowed to lay as the humans had left it. Enter the Civilian Conservation Corps who chose it as a spot to begin the effort at rehabilitation and the site of a new state park of Virginia. Erosion was mitigated, mines were sealed up, trails were laid down, trees were encouraged to regenerate.

Today, walking the slopes of this hill you would be hard pressed to understand the extent of the destruction that had once laid waste to its environs. Beneath the canopy of a vast hardwood forest you can find places where colliers had once felled and carbonized the trees to make charcoal. One can spot the massive grooves where the earth was moved in vast amounts in the practice of surface mining to get at the iron almost at the top of the ground. And there are sealed mine entrances to mark the places where men and machines once combined to shear out the guts of the little mountain.

Mother Nature can recover if she is allowed to heal. But only if.


Stuarts Knob as it appeared from the lakeside below our cabin.

This was the location of a collier site. Where men would take the trees they'd felled and slowly bake them, transforming the wood into charcoal which would be sold for 5 cents per bushel.
The mountain was covered in these deep "grooves", the result of early surface mining where the readily available iron ore was taken from the hill. When this played out the traditional shaft mining began.


A GoPro video I made at the summit of Stuarts Knob.

The entrance to one of the mine shafts, now sealed.

Sun rising over the summit.

The nice system of trails. Thanks, Civilian Conservation Corps!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Covered Bridges

Carole likes to seek out covered bridges whenever there are some in the vicinity of where we're vacationing. She always researches and finds out where they are and how to get to them.

There were two not far from Fairy Stone State Park, and both were close to one another and both were also very easy to locate and access. In addition, both of the bridges were adjacent to churches and, since it was on a Sunday morning, both were in service. I was surprised at how solid these bridges remain after so many years. Walking across them was a nice experience. These were quite a bit smaller than the last covered bridge we visited near Hot Springs, Virginia.

Jack's Creek Covered Bridge.

Carole on the other end taking photos.

A brief video of a walk across the Bob White Bridge.

The Bob White Covered Bridge. My favorite of the two.

Solid as a mass of granite.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Buffalo Mountain

For years Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve has been on my radar. Once before Carole and I had tried to locate the trail head so that I could climb the mountain and look out from the summit. But that was a number of years ago when the way to the preserve was not signed and you had to know the way there. I had directions but the gravel roads were unmarked and I was afraid that I was going to end up trespassing on private property. So that first attempt was a bust.

This time we found that the way to the Preserve was marked with Virginia State signage and finding our way there was a piece of cake. In no time we pulled into the wide parking lot in the middle of the forest and found the terminus to the trail leading to the summit.

Buffalo Mountain is unusual in that the peak is mainly exposed rock of a type unlike most of the nearby geology. This has resulted in a number of rare plant and animal communities that exist on and just below the summit of the the mountain. Also, here in the South, there is no true treeline, so mountain tops that are naturally treeless are pretty rare.

The trail to the top is relatively short--just about one mile. But it's also a bit steep, gaining about seven hundred vertical feet. That's not difficult by my standards, but some people think that makes it a tough trail to hike. The walk up is through a forest almost totally composed of hardwoods. I saw only a few evergreens along the way--they're pretty rare on those slopes.

When I did get to the top I was rewarded with spectacular views of the local Blue Ridge high country. Buffalo Mountain is a monadnock and stands out alone on the plateau, rising well over one thousand feet above the surrounding territory. The summit is broad and rocky with two peaks, one slightly higher than the other. There are also cliffs along one side of the mountain. Once you see it from a distance you can see why it was named for our American bison--it does resemble one as it stands dominantly on the horizon.

It was good to finally bag this peak. I wouldn't mind going back for another visit one of these days.


One of my first videos made with my GoPro. The last pull to the summit and to the highest part of the peak--3,971 feet above sea level.


The highest of the two peaks at the top.

Looking down from the cliff tops at forests and fields.


Walking along the top from one peak to the other.

Buffalo Mountain from a distance. The high point of Floyd County.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More Brief Notes

I had a very rough day at work. I'm sick, so just some more brief notes and photos from Fairy Stone State Park and nearby locations.

The den and dining area. In the evenings we kept a nice fire roaring in the fireplace. One very nice touch about the cabin were the historical photographs on the walls of Virginia's state parks--most dating back to the 1930s and 1940s.

The master bedroom.

The second bedroom.

The kitchen area.

The screened porch which we did not use because it was COLD out there!

The nearby Philpott dam. We drove over to visit the dam and lake after we settled in to the cabin.

A nice view of the impressive Philpott Lake from an overlook.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fairy Stone State Park

I've returned from a short trip to Fairy Stone State Park in Virginia. I'll post details about the park and its environment after we've rested. For now, just a few photographs.

Our cabin (#12).
We kept a nice fire roaring every evening.
The view of Stuart Knob from the shoreline below our cabin.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What If?

Pete Von Sholly did a cover of what my story "Translator" would have looked like if Martin Goodman had published it as one of his pre-hero Marvels in the late 1950s.

Color me stunned.

Which would have featured my yarn "Translator".

And let us not forget...




A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS.

(And it's off to the mountains...)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Gizmos

I grew up before the digital age. It was just coming in as I reached college. I was a child of the transistor age when computers were vast room-sized machines with punch cards that needed other, vaster, room-sized cooling units to dampen the temperatures of all of those freaking vacuum tubes.

When the digital age finally did come down on us I went along for the ride, mainly. There are aspects of digital technology that I truly do not like. Some things I'm still fence-sitting and haven't made up my mind about. Computers are okay and I have a desktop and a laptop and a phone that is actually a small tablet computer. And I have an ereader that is a tablet and which I look upon with distaste because of my adamant hatred of the world of self-published ebooks.

But one thing that I do love about digital technology are cameras. I adore the things. Because I travel about a fair amount and I like to take photographs and videos of the places I visit and the things that I see. Back in the day of film photography I had a decent camera, but film photography was expensive and I had to be very careful of the subjects I chose to photograph. Those trips to the drug store to develop the photos could be prohibitively expensive!

Enter the digital camera. I bought my first digital camera in 2004. It was not an SLR...I'm not even sure if they offered digital cameras in SLR format then. But it was built like a tank--an earlier Canon model. I must have dropped it on the rocks and boulders half a dozen times and it never stopped working. Finally, I just wore it down and bought another Canon camera. I've been through a number of digital cameras since that time and still have most of them. Mainly I stick with Canons (they don't pay me for promoting them, but I've always been happy with the performance of their machines).

But my newest gizmo is a digital camera mainly meant for making video footage. It can also perform as a still camera, but I don't suspect that I'll use it in that capacity very much. (But, you never know.) It's one of those GoPro Hero cameras. Mine is the Hero 3+ Black Edition. So far, I've only used it to shoot some experimental images, but I'm happy with it. I'm looking forward to getting it out on the trail to see what kind of video I can shoot. Before this I have always been stingy with shooting video on my hikes and backpacks, because my SLR and point-and-shoot cameras were mainly for still photography and I was generally worried about running out of room on my memory cards.

At any rate, it's my latest digital contraption. Computers aren't all bad, I figure.

My GoPro video camera. I have several ways to mount this thing. Tripod. Dashboard. Chest harness. Helmet harness. It's amazing. This is the camera in its waterproof housing. I also bought several extra batteries for it and a high capacity memory card. We'll see how it works in the months ahead.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Next Trip

Carole and I have planned our next short excursion to another park where we've never been. This time we're going to stay in a cabin at Fairy Stone State Park in Virginia. It's located just at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains so I'll get a chance to do a little hiking while we're there.

One of the features of the park, and its namesake, are the "fairy stones" that can be found there. Fairy stones are rough crystals actually called staurolites. I knew a bit about these formations as a kid because they can be picked up commonly in Fannin County in the north Georgia mountains where I went to high school. Christians like to find them because sometimes they form as little crosses, but are more often found as "X" shapes.

The park has some decent trails, it seems, so I'll try to explore some of those. Also, we plan to hit a couple of wineries in that part of the state and I want to climb Buffalo Mountain which is located about an hour from the park. Buffalo has been on my bag list for a number of years. I once tried to hike it but could not locate the trailhead. This time I will find it and climb to the summit, which I've been told is a pretty cool place.

We're hoping the weather will be cold, as we want to use the cabin fireplace while we're there. Carole and I enjoy visiting the high country in the winter. Usually, it's our only chance to experience real cold weather and to see some snow (on occasion).

Cabin at Fairy Stone State Park.

Summit of Buffalo Mountain, Virginia.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Good News

My long-time readers here know of my complete distaste for self-published ebooks. I have been hoping that the fad would fade and that things would get back to normal in the business of books and book publishing. The main thing that I kept thinking would come to pass is that the complete flood of poorly written, self-published shit would finally so completely disgust the collective reader that they would finally--FINALLY--stop downloading and supporting that most hideous of creations: the self-published ebook.

And, it looks as if the tide may at last be turning. I hope this bodes ill for the self-published ebook fad and that real talent and skill will once again hold the day.

We'll see.

Kindle sales plummet.

Duh! We self-published our books! Duh!

Monday, January 05, 2015

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS.

Some more promotions for my first short story collection, A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS. It has been a very long time coming. Through many false starts with several other publishers who vanished before the book could see the light of print. But now, it's finally on the way, from the excellent Hippocampus Press. I couldn't be happier.

22 short stories ranging over my entire career as an author. Some previously published and several all new stories specifically for this edition. Almost 77,000 words of fiction. Foreword by Jason V. Brock. Afterword by Stephen Mark Rainey. Cover art by Pete Von Sholly.

A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS. Across Four Decades!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Badlands!

Andy had asked me if we were going to be anywhere near Badlands National Park on our way to Glacier. I honestly didn't know and so took another look at the computer-generated route I'd planned for the drive. And, sure enough, we have to all but drive right through the Park.

He was asking because he has wanted to visit that Park for a long time. So we'll be spending at least most of a day there, perhaps even staying overnight. Plans are still in gestation. Today, Andy and I went to the local REI store so that he could buy a new sleeping bag and some other stuff. I hadn't planned to get anything, but as I browsed the map shelves (it's the first place I hit when I walk into an REI store) I saw a National Geographic map for Badlands National Park for less than six dollars--on sale! So I nabbed it.


What struck me first is that the Park doesn't have many official trails. Most backpackers and hikers just strike out across country, I assume. But there are some marked trails, one or two of which I am sure we'll hike.

At any rate, I have even more research to do before we head out for Glacier National Park. I'll notch another great American National Park on my list. I'm quite happy about that.

"$5.93??!!" SNAG!
Not my photo. But now I understand why Andy wants to see this place.

Mars...a Bust!

I read a lot of science essays and articles. Among those are works on our various space programs. They almost all depress me.

Keep in mind that I am a child of the 60s. When I was a kid we were told we were going to send humans to the Moon and we did it. The information was everywhere and at hand, and the propaganda over it was like a flood of good news. I loved reading about it and I loved the experience of watching it happen. It probably never would have occurred if the USA had not needed at that time a great amount of good will propaganda, which the Apollo Moon program provided--in spades.

I also read widely as a kid on the plans of Werner Von Braun to send our American astronauts beyond the Moon and on to Mars. This was not only a dream of mine, but also of the brilliant rocket scientist from Germany. He had lobbied hard to lend a hand to the sputtering rocket program of the USA and the folk in charge had finally relented and put Von Braun and his German pals into positions of power and influence over our space exploration projects.

My parents had around the time I was nine or ten given me a copy of an old 1954 issue of Collier's Magazine (Hell--I could write volumes on Collier's and how its demise shocked everyone). The magazine had given a vast effort to showing how Von Braun had planned a manned mission to Mars. The guy felt he could do it and knew that the vast wealth of the USA could get it done. (I lost that magazine, but I really wish I still had it.)

So, Von Braun knew he could get us to the Moon for propaganda purposes against the Soviet Union. We needed that, because they had upstaged us in rocket development early on. The USA really had to beat them to the Moon, and of course we did--by pouring unlimited funds and resources into the project. Von Braun thought that he would be allowed to continue with his dreams and see us head off to Mars under his direction.

Alas, the government of the USA got what it wanted out of the Apollo program and let it wither and die. And then, with no more need of deep space human missions, they let that dream die, too. Von Braun and his team of scientists were quietly retired from NASA and since those days the great Administration has been allowed to die the death of a thousand budget cuts.


From time to time I'll see optimistic articles of how we are going to go to Mars. But it's not going to happen. Von Braun died without having seen it, and I'll die without seeing it, and everyone else will die without seeing it. Because, the bottom line is that private corporate concerns no longer pay taxes and missions like going to Mars demand the attention of National capital investments in both tax money, intelligence, and manpower. And since we are now utterly and completely under the thrall of the super-rich, I can guarantee you that we will never again achieve the goals of humans into deep space.

Fred Freeman's illustration of part of Von Braun's vision to get humans to Mars.

The Nova rocket (C8) that Von Braun and NASA had designed as the next step to get Americans into deep space and (eventually) to Mars. It was, of course, never built, the project cancelled.