Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chili Cook-Off

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Due to a late evening on Friday, I slept very late on Saturday morning. Ok Hwa was up early, as usual, and had breakfast ready for me when I rolled out. 

We stayed at the Chili Cook-Off all day, which is unusual for us. The final judging for all the chili entries takes place on Saturday. All entries must be turned in by noon. P.A. announcements from the stage were read at short intervals throughout the afternoon. They helped keep all the campers updated on what was going on in the judging area. Mark and Barbara were judges again this year, so they spent a good amount of time walking between our camp on the hill and the judging shed. Sometime during the afternoon they hiked over to the Ghost Town, about two miles away. They caught a ride back with someone a little later. 

As afternoon turned into evening, we were looking forward to the evening's entertainment: Mike Blakely with Thomas Michael Riley, followed by Pinche Gringos. The Pinche Gringos are a local band from Terlingua. They are one of the best live bands we've seen, and we were really looking forward to their set. They are a crowd favorite. We listened to Mike and Thomas from our campsite on the hill, then walked down to the stage at the judging shed for the Gringos set. I made a couple of videos of them, then put the camera away to enjoy the show and dance. What fun! Here are the videos:


PINCHE GRINGOS "Treat Her Right"


Official website of the Chili Cook-Off: Click Here

Official website of Terlingua Ghost Town: Click Here

Pinche Gringos: Click Here

Mike Blakely: Click Here

Thomas Michael Riley: Click Here

Thursday, December 9, 2010

PINE CANYON HIKE Friday, November 5, 2010

It's becoming a tradition with our little camping party to take a nice, long hike in Big Bend Park on the Friday of the Chili Cook-Off.

Most of our group were there at our Margarita Hill campsite by Thursday evening. Ok Hwa and I, Steve and Kristy, Mark and Barbara, and Jack and Teresa had all arrived by Thursday, and we were expecting Mike and Maria sometime Friday. On Friday morning we got together and decided on a hike. Last year it was a guys only hike/climb to the top of Casa Grande mountain. That was a tough, but rewarding day. This year it was co-ed, so we decided not to climb any mountains. A couple of us suggested the Pine Canyon trail. It was agreed, and we loaded up in the Bronco and headed out. Along for the hike were Mark, Barbara, Jack, Ok Hwa, and myself. Steve and Kristy were going to drive into Alpine for the day. Teresa had injured herself riding my little motorcycle earlier in the day, so she was grounded with a severely sprained ankle.

Pine Canyon is on the east side of the Chisos Mountains. From Panther Junction Park Headquarters, you travel southeast on the main park road approximately six miles to the Glenn Springs road. This is an unpaved, back country road for high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. Down the Glenn Springs road about two miles is where the Pine Canyon Road cuts off to the right, and heads around Nugent Mountain, and up into Pine Canyon. It's another two miles or so up to the end of the road at the trailhead.

We piled out of the Bronco at the trailhead, and got on our backpacks and checked our water bottles. Mark is the alpha male in our group, and by far the strongest hiker. He and Jack started off in the lead, with Barbara following, and Ok Hwa and me in the rear. I knew Ok Hwa would slow me down, but I was resigned to keeping at her slow pace. After about a quarter mile, she decided it was too much for her, and went back down to wait for us at the car. She would busy herself taking nature pictures 'til we got back. So, freed from her slow pace, I tried to catch up with the others.

From the "Hikers Guide to Trails of Big Bend National Park" published by Big Bend Natural History Association, here is the following description of Pine Canyon Trail: "Medium difficulty. 4.0 miles round trip. The trail begins in sotol grasslands at the end of the Pine Canyon primitive road. Check with ranger about road conditions before you go. The trail climbs up through open desert grasslands for a mile before entering the canyon. Once in Pine Canyon, the trail winds through a heavily wooded section where Mexican pinyon pine, junipers, and oaks are common. Further ahead you will find ponderosa pine, Texas madrone, bigtooth maple, and Emory and Graves oaks. The trail ends at the base of a 200-foot cliff that becomes a delightful waterfall after heavy rainstorms. Longspur columbines grow under tall oak and maple trees near the base of the intermittent waterfall."

I caught up with Barbara about at the place where it turns from grassland into wooded canyon. We hiked along together, stopping occasionally to take pictures. I had also been making small video segments along the way. We knew we'd never catch up to Mark and Jack, so we didn't even try. The wooded section through the canyon was so beautiful and cool. What a welcome relief from the bright sun out in the desert. We were amazed at how cool it was up among the trees, probably a twenty degree difference from out in the sun.

At last we caught up to Mark and Jack. They were waiting for us at the end of the trail. We all thought it would be a very nice place to camp there at the base of the cliff. As long as it did not rain.

When we arrived back at our camp at the Chili Cook-Off, Mike and Maria had arrived. That completed our group. That night we enjoyed a beautiful night under the stars listening to the music of Mark David Manders, and the King Bucks.

Official site of Big Bend National Park:

Official site of the Chili Cook-Off:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Road To Terlingua

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The road to Terlingua is long, no matter where you're coming from. Even from the nearest city, Alpine TX, it is eighty miles. From my house it's just under six hundred miles. That's a day's (or night's) work.

After working all night, I got off work Wednesday, November 4 at 11:00 in the morning. I came home, showered, and went to bed for some much needed sleep. I got up at 7:00 PM and we set about loading up the Bronco and the trailer. I wanted to take the little bike, the Yamaha TW 200, so it went on the trailer first. Then we loaded all our camping gear around it, and the rest we crammed into the back of the Bronco.
We finally pulled out at 11:30 PM. It's freeway for the first four hundred miles or so. We take I-30 west through downtown Dallas, and just west of Fort Worth we get on I-20 for the long ride out to Monahans. There we turn off of the freeway onto Texas state route 18. About seven miles south of town we take the "Coyanosa Cut-Off" as we call it, Farm Road 1776. This shoots straight south, bypassing Fort Stockton, all the way down to US 90, a distance of about one hundred miles. At I-10 this road turns into US 67, but there are no turns. The sun came up on us along this stretch, dawn breaking on Thursday, November 5. From the US 90 junction it's about five miles west into the town of Alpine, Texas.

At Alpine we stopped for a much needed break, and to do some shopping. Porter's Thriftway is the grocery store in Alpine where we stock up on food and beverages for the week. After that we had a thirty minute wait at Twin Peaks Liquors "Best Price And Selection West Of The Pecos". It was 9:30, and they didn't open up 'til 10:00.

Grocery and liquored up, we hopped back in the Bronco for the final eighty miles south to Terlingua. The first twenty miles south of Alpine, along Texas state route 118, is some of the prettiest country anywhere. The rolling hills and mountains there are just perfect. There are a number of ranches and small homesteads along through there, but not much to spoil the scenery. After this section the road droops down, levels out and shoots across the flat desert another fifty miles or so, 'til it comes to the mountains, and the steep mountain pass leading down into Study Butte. There is a "T" intersection there, the junction of Texas state highways 118 and 170. 118 continues on south another five miles or so, to Big Bend National Park. 170 cuts off to the west, and it's only four miles over to Terlingua, seventeen miles from there over to Lajitas, and fifty miles from there along the "River Road" to Presidio, Texas. This stretch of highway, from Lajitas to Presidio, Texas is one of the most spectacularly beautiful highways anywhere. Steep hills, sharp curves, desert, mountains, canyons, the Rio Grande River with Mexico on the far shore, all add up to make this an amazing ride.

Our destination was Terlingua, though, so we didn't travel the River Road over to Presidio. The grounds of the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off are about half way between Study Butte and Terlingua, just off the road behind the Terlingua Store. We pulled in, paid our admission and began setting up camp. This would be home for the next eight days.

The Official Website of the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off:

The Official Website of Terlingua Ghost Town:

The Official Website of Big Bend National Park:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

Friday, July 9, 2010

It was early in the afternoon, in a light and steady drizzle when we started our tour of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We'd just crossed the Oconaluftee River bridge, and turning right onto US Highway 441 put us at the entrance to the park, and the Oconaluftee Visitors Center.

Construction crews were working, even in the light rain, remodeling and expanding the Visitors Center. We pulled into the crowded parking lot and found a space. There were tons of people there, and it was a little difficult moving about the place. We found the restrooms, then the gift shop. There was a great full relief map of the park on a large table in the middle of the main room, which was fascinating to look at. We found some very good books and pamphlets, as well as a few other nice things in the gift shop. Whenever I visit a place, somehow it's not complete unless I come away with a book about it. I found a couple of books on the Blue Ridge Parkway - "Building The Blue Ridge Parkway" by Karen J. Hall, and "Blue Ridge Parkway: The Story Behind The Scenery" by Margaret Rose Rives.

I asked the friendly, helpful Park Service employee behind the counter if it would be possible to take in Clingmans Dome and the Cades Cove area in one day. He told me that it would be ambitious of me to try it today, seeing as how late it already was. I thanked him and we headed on out to the car. I figured we'd try, at least.

There are only a very few paved roads in this whole, vast park. One of them is US 441, or Newfound Gap Road, as it's called in the park. It traverses the park, running between Cherokee, North Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. About half way along this road, as it crosses the high ridge running the length of the park, there is a spur road leading up to Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in the park. The other main paved road in the park is Laurel Creek Rd./Little River Rd. which follows these waterways from 441 near Gatlinburg, over to the Cades Cove area. Most of the rest of the park can only be accessed via hiking trails. There is a large network of trails in and around the park, including part of the famous Appalachian Trail.

We started up Newfound Gap Road, looking for adventure. The light rain had stopped, and the sun was trying to come out. The road parallels the Oconaluftee River, which was off to our right. About a mile up the road, we came upon Mingus Mill, an old water powered corn grinding mill. We pulled in and spent about thirty minutes touring the place and getting pictures. There were lots of other people about, so it was hard to get good pictures with them in the way. We persevered, and came away with some decent photos. It's very well preserved, and very interesting. Glad we stopped.

Realizing we were pressed for time, we didn't stop much at scenic overlooks. The only one we hit was the "Cut And Run" overlook. There is some great interpretive information there, on signs, about the past logging industry in this area.

Near the top of the pass we came to the spur road up to Clingmans Dome, and turned on to it. It's about eight miles up to the parking area, along this beautiful, curvy road that gets ever higher. At the top, there is a large parking area, and lots of amenities - restrooms, lots of signage, gift shop, scenic overlook, and hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail passes by here, on it's way along the ridge tops from Georgia to Maine. From the parking area, there was a trail up to the actual mountain top. We declined to make the hike because the guy in the gift shop said it would take about an hour. That meant that I could make it in thirty minutes, and Ok Hwa could make it in two hours. Better keep moving, we had a lot of ground to cover. Still, we spent about thirty minutes here, taking pictures and enjoying the view. Due to the occasional light rain, the Smokey Mountains were living up to their name. All the moisture on the ground evaporates into light fog or low clouds, and hovers along the mountains and valleys, giving the place a magical, "smokey" appearance. On some days this effect can be heavier than on others, and it can obliterate the view.

Moving along, we went back down to Newfound Gap Road, and after a couple miles, came to the ridge top, and the actual "Newfound Gap". It's a pretty dramatic spot. There is, of course, a large scenic overlook, and a monument. There were lots of people here, and we decided not to stop. The road started descending from this spot, down towards Gatlinburg. It's a beautiful drive the whole way down, about fifteen miles, with lots of scenic pull offs and short nature trails for the adventuresome. After about six miles we came upon "The Loop". It's a spot where the valley is so narrow that even a hairpin curve in the road would not fit. The highway engineers built a spiral loop to make the tight turn. I've never seen that before. I had to turn around and drive it again, making a video.

A few miles later, just inside the park boundary there on the Tennessee side, we came upon Sugarlands Visitor Center and the park headquarters. It's a small complex of buildings with parking lots, and a few short nature trails. We did not stop here, but this is where the road to Cades Cove turns off of US 441.

Little River Road and Laurel Creek Road are really just one road, about twenty-five miles long, running between Cades Cove and the park headquarters near Gatlinburg. It's a relatively level road, following along it's two namesake streams, through a narrow valley. There are numerous scenic pull-offs, allowing access to the streams for fishing, wading, and exploring. There is one tunnel along the road. It's a beautiful, curvy drive through the forest.

Emerging into the broad, flat valley of Cades Cove is like entering paradise. Surrounded by mountains, the valley is about five miles long by about three miles wide. There is a one-way loop road running around the perimeter, which is bisected at a couple of places by cross roads, allowing you to short cut the circumference. As in Cataloochee Valley, the park service has kept and maintains many of the buildings of the former inhabitants, to serve as an example of what life was like here before the park. The valley here is larger, and the buildings much more numerous than in Cataloochee, and one could easily spend an entire day here, exploring it all. It was a couple hours before dusk when we arrived, so we would have to do the Cades Cove tour in a hurry. We had a great time exploring, though, stopping at three or four different places to get out and hike and take pictures. The John Oliver Cabin was my favorite, probably because it's the oldest building in the place, dating from the 1820s. We also thoroughly explored the Cable Mill area, with all its many buildings.

There was much more here than we could see in such a short time. One impediment to seeing more was the crowded conditions, and the slow traffic. This is a popular area, and there were many tourists there when we visited. The nature of the road was a problem, also. It is eleven miles, one lane, one way. There are many pull-offs to allow gazing and picture taking, but, I was amazed by the rudeness of the people in cars up ahead of us, who would not use the pull-offs, but would stop in the middle of the road blocking traffic for long minutes at a time, while they hung out the windows taking pictures. Then there were the people, leading a parade of impatient drivers behind them, who could not bring themselves to travel faster than three miles per hour. How rude.

It was full dark by the time we completed the circuit of Cades Cove. We were faced with traveling back along that long twenty-five miles of curvy road in the pitch darkness. We were headed back to Gatlinburg to find a hotel room for the night. We didn't know what to expect there, and wanted to get there as soon as possible to get a room before they all sold out.

The stark difference between the dark, lonely park road and Gatlinburg couldn't have been greater. Gatlinburg is a very beautiful little tourist town, crammed into a tight little valley. On the night we were there it was simply overrun by tourists. I think we got the last hotel room in town, and breathed a sigh of relief as we settled in. We left to go find dinner, and could not find a parking space anywhere. It took us ten minutes just to make a right turn to get back to the hotel. We parked back at the hotel, and walked a few blocks through the teeming crowds to a T.G.I. Fridays. Thank God, indeed. It was Friday, and we were headed for home in the morning.

Here is the link to this day's pictures, to view the slide show, or any of the individual pictures in full screen:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway

Thursday and Friday, July 8 and 9, 2010

We said our good byes and left Charlotte on Thursday morning, heading west through Kings Mountain, Shelby, Forest City and on up to Hendersonville. There, we picked up US Hwy. 64 heading towards Brevard, where we got back on that beautiful US 276 again. We wanted to see that eighteen mile stretch from Brevard up to the junction with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The road is tight switch back curves the whole way up, through dense forest, with a lot of scenic pull-offs. You can't really see any sweeping vistas from these many pull-offs, but the road parallels a swift moving mountain stream which has it's own charms. There is at least one very dramatic waterfall which can be seen from the road. It can be seen even better if you pull off and walk up to it. There were so many tourists parked there when we passed that we couldn't find a place to park. We went on up the road a ways, and found another place to park and take some pictures. Even thought we didn't get pictures of the waterfall, it was hard to take a bad picture in this place, with that beautiful light filtering down through the trees.

At the Parkway junction, where we'd turned north a few days before, we got on and headed south. I don't recall ever having been on this stretch before. It's possible that I traveled this section before with my dad, but I don't remember. Dad was a huge fan of the mountains, and many times we would take off for the weekend, and just drive up here sightseeing. He seemed to know his way around up here like he'd spent a lot of time exploring it as a young man.

We were headed to the southern Parkway terminus, at the Oconaluftee River and US Hwy. 441. It's a straight line distance of around thirty miles, but maybe fifty or sixty miles of driving due to all the twists and turns in the road. We were in no hurry, and stopped often at the many wonderful scenic overlooks to take pictures. The wildflowers were blooming in abundance this year, and we took full advantage, getting lots of great wildflower shots. Traffic was light, and the weather was just right - warm, but not hot, and a mixture of clouds and sunshine, with the occasional light shower.

Along this section of the Parkway, between US 276 and the southern terminus at US 441, there is one place to exit, about half way, at Soco Gap. This is where US 19 crosses, running between Waynesville and Cherokee. As it was getting on towards dusk by this time, we decided to get off and find a motel for the night. We would continue the trip in the morning.

We headed back towards Waynesville, passing through beautiful Maggie Valley with all it's tourist hotels. We stopped and checked out a few of them, but ended up right back where we started a few days ago, at the Super 8 in Waynesville. We knew the place and were comfortable there, so why not?

The next morning, we headed back up through Maggie Valley to Soco Gap, and got back on the Parkway for the last leg of the journey. Like the day before, everything was just right. The occasional light showers were a little more frequent this day, but not nearly enough to spoil the trip. There were more motorists on the Parkway, also, and lots of motorcyclists. I would sure love to bring my KLR 650 up here. It was made for a road like this.

We stopped in practically every other scenic overlook along this stretch, and there were many. The slightly overcast sky was providing perfect lighting for our nature photography. When we finally made it to the end of the road, the overcast had turned into a very light, but steady drizzle. It didn't stop me from taking pictures, though. I parked the Bronco just over the Oconaluftee River bridge, got my umbrella and camera, and walked back across the bridge for some pictures. There were lots of other people about, also, and some of them were down at the river, swimming, wading, and having fun. It was another great day in the Smokey Mountains, and a great way to finish up our tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Here's the link to the photo album above, to view the slide show or any of the individual photos in full screen:

Monday, September 6, 2010


Monday, July 5 - Thursday, July 8, 2010

We spent the next few days in Charlotte, with my Kirkpatrick cousin Angie and her lovely family, husband Pete, the boys Mason and Jared, and big sister Claire. They've put me up for the past several years on my annual trips back to NC. It's so nice of them to invite me into their home and their family life for a few days. I really treasure my time with them.

Our first day in Charlotte, though, we went by my old friend Murray's house for a visit. We picked him up and drove out to Ellerbe, NC, to the home of our old friend Greg. This was a reunion of sorts, of a group of old high school buddies. When we got out to Greg's place we found another old high school friend waiting for us there, Danny. We visited for a while, drank a few beers, and after awhile Danny brought out his Water Bottle Rocket Launch apparatus. He said he'd gotten the instructions on how to make it from YouTube. It consisted of a two liter soda bottle, some lengths and joints of PVC pipe, a couple of fittings, and a hand bicycle pump. It turned out to be much more fun than we imagined. Here's the video I made of a couple of the launches:

After the excitement of the bottle rocket launches wore off, we said our good byes and Murray, Ok Hwa, and I headed back to Charlotte. We visited with Murray for a bit back at his place, then headed over to cousin Angie's.

We had a fun filled three days with Angie's family there at their lovely home in Charlotte. I get such a kick out of the kids. They are all so intelligent and energetic, it's a refreshing change from my day to day norm. We had brought them some gifts from our trip to Korea back in April, and they seemed really pleased to have them. One of the gifts was the board game Go. We spent hours playing this game. The kids are all very competitive, and we all really got into it. Another of our favorite things to do is to shop at this one particular antique store in Matthews, Antique Alley. A great store filled with wonderful stuff at reasonable prices. We also hit another antique store in Matthews on another day.

On Tuesday Angie, the kids, and Ok Hwa and I met up with her sister, my cousin, Sonya for lunch. Claire had her friend Allie with her. Allie was staying over for a couple of days, also. Sonya had her daughter Ashlyn with her. It was great to see the both of them. Angie, Sonya, and their sister Lisa practically grew up with my sisters and me. I got these pictures of the ladies before we all scattered again.

Later that afternoon Ok Hwa and I went into downtown Charlotte for a little alone time. We spent the afternoon prowling around in my old stomping ground. I spent a lot of time in downtown Charlotte as a young man. I was living with my dad back then and we both worked at the Charlotte Observer, the morning daily paper. Their building was downtown, so we were there almost every day. A few years later, dad and I also both worked at Heritage Printers, also located downtown. So, I wanted to see how they'd upgraded the old cityscape. Even while I was living in Charlotte all those many years ago, the powers that be were into urban revitalization, and were well under way with downtown redevelopment, encouraging mixed use, and residential space. I'm happy to report that they've done a great job of it. This is a very livable, workable, walkable urban setting. We saw residential high-rises, condos, townhouses, and old residential hotels which had been remodeled. There was lots of street life, with cafes, boutiques, museums, and night clubs. I could live there... if it was in Texas! These few pictures we made in downtown that day are about the only pictures I made during our time in Charlotte this year.

On Wednesday afternoon Ok Hwa and I drove over to Monroe, NC in the neighboring county, to visit my father's grave. Dad had met a woman who lived there in the late '70s, and ended up marrying her and moving there. He lived there in Monroe for the rest of his life. He built a very successful photography business there, and remained self employed right up 'til the end. He loved photography, and the photography business. He never retired, and he never bought a digital camera. He used Rolleiflex cameras on location, and Mamiya RB67s in the studio. He was a master of light and shadow.

On Thursday Morning we said our good byes to Angie and Pete, Mason, Jared and Claire, and headed back west. We were going to spend a couple more days in the mountains before heading back to Texas.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Waynesville To Hickory

Sunday, July 4, 2010 - Independence Day

The plan for this day was to travel from the high mountains of the Blue Ridge in western North Carolina down to Hickory, in the eastern foothills of the mountains. It's a distance of about one hundred miles taking the direct route via US 74 and Interstate Highway 40 through Asheville. I had another route in mind, though, a big dog-leg via US 276 south to the Blue Ridge Parkway, then north along the Parkway back towards Asheville to Interstate Highway 40, and from there down to Hickory. I had come up this same route two years before, with my sister and brother-in-law, from Hickory to Waynesville, and knew that it was a beautiful, pleasant drive. I wanted to show it to Ok Hwa today, and let her get some good pictures along the way.

Our second family reunion in as many days was being held in Hickory. My mom's side of the family, the Kirkpatricks, are from Haywood County (Waynesville), and my dad's side, the Hares, are from Catawba County (Hickory). And, as the Kirkpatrick affair is a lunchtime potluck, with iced tea and live gospel and mountain music, the Hare shindig gets underway in the afternoon, and goes on 'til the wee hours of the morning. There is lots of food, beer, swimming, volleyball, fishing in the pond, a DJ and live electric music, and a great big fireworks show after the sun goes down. It's held at the beautiful home of my cousin Judy and her husband Fred, the Medlins.

We left the hotel and went over to downtown Waynesville to pick up US 276. I had never been in downtown Waynesville before, and was pleasantly surprised to find a quaint little town with a busy street scene full of cafes, boutiques and antique shops. There were a great many people out on the streets, as it was a holiday weekend. Waynesville sits in a broad valley, surrounded by mountains. Just a few miles outside of town, US 276 crosses a small river and begins climbing in earnest. There is a sign there warning truckers of the steep 9% grade, and the tight curves. On vacation, that's the kind of sign I like to see! It's twenty-two miles from downtown Waynesville up to the pass over the Blue Ridge, where the highway intersects with the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there, US 276 continues downhill another eighteen miles of similar steep twisties, down to the town of Brevard, NC.

So, off we go up the highway, enjoying the day and the scenery. About ten or twelve miles out of town, just before the really steep, switch-back final section up to the top, we came upon the Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground. Because of all the curves, this is a favorite drive for motorcyclists, and as the name implies, this campground is for motorcycles only. I had seen it two years before, on the trip down this road into Waynesville, so I was on the look-out for it. We pulled in and parked in the small parking lot reserved for autos and trailers. Of course there is a swift moving creek paralleling the road, and there's a nice concrete bridge over the creek into the campground itself. There is a sign by the bridge saying "Motorcycles Only Across The Bridge". We walked on across the bridge and into the campground. Ok Hwa immediately went into nature photographer mode. The place was absolutely lush and beautiful, with little cabins tucked into the trees along the creek, and more cabins surrounding a great beautiful lawn with a pond in the middle, and flowers and shrubs everywhere. There was a section along one side of the lawn near the creek for tent campers, and off to the other side was the main office building with a large lounge on the second floor. There is a building near the center of the lawn with a communal kitchen, and the restroom and shower facilities. By the pond there is a gazebo gathering area with lots of seating. From the look of the place, I figure it must have been a motor-court vacation spot back in the forties and fifties, back before the Interstate Highways, when US 276 was one of the main routes up here from the flat lands to the east. Whoever owns it now has done a wonderful job of restoring and maintaining it, and the re-purposing as a motorcycle only campground was a stroke of marketing genius. I spoke with the guy in the office, and he informed me that the cabins rent for forty-five dollars a night. That's very reasonable, and around half of what a hotel room in town would cost. All we have to do next year is trailer one of my motorcycles up here, and we're in! We stayed here about forty-five minutes, strolling around taking pictures and relaxing.

Back on the road, we drove the final few steep and curvy miles up to the top of the pass, and the junction with the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped there and made a few pictures, then turned onto the Parkway, heading north. It's about thirty miles from this point on the Parkway up to the junction with Interstate 40, near Asheville. We took it easy, stopping at several of the many scenic overlooks to enjoy the view and take pictures. About half way up to the Interstate, we came upon the Mount Pisgah Inn, and pulled in to have a look around. This is a really nice hotel, which sits on the ridge top, with breathtaking views off to the east, and tall Mount Pisgah overlooking from the west. Being a holiday, the place was packed with tourists, many of whom were there just to have lunch in the dining room with that beautiful view off to the east. We inquired at the front desk as to rates and availability for this time next year. It's expensive, and you have to book well in advance. We decided to pass.

We headed on up the Parkway towards Asheville, enjoying the beautiful day and scenery. We stopped whenever we felt like it to take pictures and take in the views. We passed through many tunnels on this leg of the trip. I didn't count them, but it seems like there are somewhere between fifteen and twenty tunnels on this stretch of the Parkway.

We hit the Interstate, and headed on down out of the mountains and into Hickory. We made it to Fred and Judy's place by about 4:00. They have about a twenty acre lawn between the house and the little country road they live off of. Everyone parks on the lawn and walks down to the house. It's a great place to have a party, as you will see when you look at the pictures. Fred and Judy were actually out of town on vacation during the party this year. After hosting this event for many years, and seeing it grow to a huge annual party, they were ready to sit one out for a change. The party was ably hosted this year by their son and daughter, Ward and Paige.

There were not as many of the old Hares here this year. None of my dad's sisters or brothers made it - there is only one sister and one brother left. Also, none of the many Hare cousins were there, either, except one - Judy's sister Ann and her husband Lamar. Besides them, I didn't see anyone else I know except Ward and Paige. The guests this year were mostly their young friends. Still, a great time was had by all. There was lots of volleyball, swimming, fishing, all that food and drink, live music and a DJ, and after everyone got well lubricated, karaoke! After dark they put on that excellent fireworks show.

Judy had left word with Paige that Ok Hwa and I could have one of the bedrooms in her house for the night. It was a kind and generous offer, saving us from having to drive back into town and get a hotel room. We turned in relatively early, around 11:00, while the party outside carried on onto the wee hours.

Here is the link to this day's photo album. It's the same as the one above, except here you can view it in full screen. Click on the "Slideshow" button, on the top left, just above the pictures:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cataloochee Valley

Saturday, July 3, 2010

After a wonderful mid-day at Camp New Hope and the Kirkpatrick Homecoming, we headed back up to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Cataloochee Valley.

The first time you travel up Cove Creek Road to Cataloochee Valley, it's absolutely fascinating and wonderful. It gets less wonderful the more times you travel it, until eventually you understand what an ordeal it must have been for the residents of Cataloochee to get to town and back. The road sure keeps the faint of heart at bay, though.

As we came into the floor of the valley on the paved portion of the road, we came upon a little paved side road cutting off to the right. I'd seen it every other time I'd been here, but never paid it any mind. Looking for something new, we decided to turn onto it. Glad we did now. It's another wonderful section of the valley that we'd never seen before. There are a couple well preserved houses with out buildings, and a beautiful old two level barn there. We went on by these, looking for the end of the road.

The road had turned to gravel along about here, and we followed it for about a half mile as it paralleled the creek on the right. We came upon an iron bridge over the creek and stopped there for some pictures. The road continued on the other side, and we followed it for a few more miles. It began to climb and switch back, and after a little while we came to a T intersection. We took a left there, and continued on for about one more mile. It looked like there was no end in sight, and nothing around except deep woods. We turned around here and headed back down across the bridge to the old houses and barn. Consulting a park map a little while later, we discovered that if we'd taken a right turn at the T intersection that would be the Old Cataloochee Road. It would take us, via a big dog leg, back to the unpaved switch-back road we take over Cataloochee Divide, which turns into Cove Creek Road. Following the road we took to the left at the T intersection, you would travel twenty miles through the deep woods, and eventually come out at a little town in Tennessee. Glad we turned around.

Back at the old house and barn, we picked up a park brochure that explained that this was the Palmer House. This old homestead has been very well preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. Here we met a uniformed Park Volunteer, Shirley Ray, who had her "Elk 1" Smart Car parked there. There were a couple other cars and a small group of people gathered, taking pictures of the two elk which had come down to the lawn for some late afternoon grazing. We visited with Shirley for a while. She was very friendly and informative. We learned a lot from her about the park, the volunteer program, and the elk. She was also nice enough to pose by her Smart Car and let me get a picture of her. We fell in alongside everyone else there, and got some great pictures of the two grazing elk.

After this, we drove on over to the other part of the valley that we'd seen before. We spent the rest of the afternoon there, taking pictures of the elk, the old buildings, and the beautiful valley. We stopped by the Beech Grove School, which we'd never seen before, then went on over to the Caldwell House and Barn. We stayed 'til it got too dark to take pictures, then headed back up that long, curvy gravel road back to town.
Here is the link to the slide show:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kirkpatrick Homecoming


I've been looking forward to this day for the last year. We had such a good time up here at this event last year, and I was excited to get over there. It's held at Camp Shaub, a former summer camp. The place is has been re-named Camp New Hope. It sits at the head of a small valley, or cove, as they're called around here, and is one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. On the way in you pass by the Test Farm run by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. There are a few houses dotting the surrounding hillsides, but not much else. There is a baseball diamond, a pool, and some other sports facilities in the valley floor, and the large dining hall sits half way up a steep hill, with the camper's cabins up the slope in the woods behind. The dining hall is where our event is held. It is a large rectangular room, wood floored, and wood paneled, with large windows on three sides, a large stone fireplace at either end, and a large covered deck off the long side, overlooking the valley. On the back side, there is a large kitchen, utility rooms, and the restrooms.

We arrived a little before ten to find a few folks already there, loading in equipment and supplies. Uncle French Kirkpatrick and his wife Judy were there. His band, The Unexpected, were there bringing in instruments and sound equipment. Aunt Ruth and her husband Jerry Henson were there, also. Jerry and his gospel group were also loading in equipment. All the ladies had covered dishes, which were being set out on a couple of long tables in the dining room, and also on the counter in the kitchen. More people were arriving by the minute, and before long the place was abuzz with activity and chatter.

Not having any way to cook, we had not brought anything to eat. It wouldn't be a problem, though. There was more than enough food to go around. I brought up my camera case, the guitar and the ukulele, and settled in.

The turn-out was about half what it was last year. This was rather disappointing, but, we made the best of it. None of my immediate family was here, nor any of my first cousins, aunts or uncles. I was the only one representing my branch of the family. I am related to these folks through my mom, Ruby Dean Kirkpatrick. Her father was Riley Dee Kirkpatrick. His father, my great grandfather Will Kirkpatrick, had about thirteen or more children over the course of two marriages. There are a lot of Kirkpatrick descendants scattered among the hills around Haywood County, and a good many of them show up for this event.
Grandpa Will and several of his children had a band back in the 1940s and 1950s called The Kirkpatrick Family Band. Uncle French Kirkpatrick, pictured above, is the only one of them still around and playing music today. I met him up here two years ago, when we were too late arriving, and missed the family reunion. He and a few others were cleaning up and putting away chairs and things when we arrived. He took the time to sit down with me, though, and played and sang a few songs for me on his banjo. What a treat!
This year, as everyone was getting settled in and things put into place, I was sitting off to the side with my guitar. Uncle French came over to join me for a bit, and asked if he could play my guitar. I'd never seen him play anything except the banjo, so I thought this ought to be interesting. It turns out that he is an excellent finger-style guitarist, and had no trouble navigating around that wide necked classical guitar of mine. I was amazed! He sat there and sang & played, just for me, about four or five classic Jimmy Rogers songs. Again, what a treat! I wish I'd thought to pull out the video cam. At least I got a couple pictures of him posing with my old cedar topped classical. I sure wish I could spend a lot more time around this wonderful man. Not only is he a fine musician who I could learn a lot from, but, mainly, he is just a warm hearted, intelligent, fun loving, god fearing man, and I took and immediate liking to him the first time I met him.
By this time the food was all set out and ready, and we were called to eat. Everyone lined up with a plate, and we made our way slowly along the servings. What a spread! These mountain folks sure know how to cook. There were so many great choices, and no way to sample everything. We sure tried, though. Somehow we also found room for dessert later, after the music started.
After everyone had a chance to get a plateful or two down, The Unexpected started the music. They are: Harry Robbins on vocal and guitar, French Kirkpatrick on vocal and banjo, Jerry Stamey on harmonica, and Ray McElroy on bass. Scotty Rollins did an excellent job running the mixing board, keeping everything balanced. They played nine songs, opening up with "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound", and closing with "Waiting On The Far Side Bank Of Jordan". Somewhere in the middle they played this instrumental, "Cripple Creek", with French Kirkpatrick's daughter Alison Bumgarner doing a great barefoot clogging dance. Now, that's fun!

After The Unexpected finished their set, Jerry Henson and his gospel group came up to sing and play eight or ten great gospel songs. This is the real deal, folks. These people sing from the heart, they sing from the soul. I am still working on editing the videos I made of them, and will include the links to their videos with the others below when they're done.
The party started trying to end around two o'clock, but it took us untill after three to get everything cleaned up, packed up, and loaded into the cars. It was hard to leave, and there were many long good-byes. We had several invites to come back home to spend the afternoon with several of the uncles and aunts, but politely declined. We had plans to head back up to Cataloochee Valley for some more exploring and elk sightings before it got too dark.
Here are links to the music videos I made this day:
"I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound"
"This Land Is Your Land"
"A Minute Of Your Time"
"Greenville Trestle Line"
"Watermelon Time In Georgia"
"Cripple Creek"
"Nothing Brings You Down Like Your Hometown"
"It's Raining Here This Morning"
"Waiting On The Far Side Bank Of Jordan"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Texas to North Carolina

Day 1 - Dallas to Nashville - Thursday, July 1, 2010

It was just a long day spent driving. We pulled out of our driveway at 07:25. Drove up I-30 to Mount Vernon, where we gassed up. Crossed into Arkansas and drove thirty more miles up to Hope where we stopped just after 11:00 for an early lunch at Taco Bell. Back on the road we made it to about 45 miles east of Memphis before we had to fill up again. Next stop was Nashville, where we arrived around 19:30. We had had trouble with the A/C blower motor a lot of the way. It started off fine, but after a while the fan stopped blowing on the low settings, and would only blow on high. I checked the fuse, but it was fine. Will have to get it checked when we get to Waynesville.
Used the Yellow Pages Ap on my phone to find a Cracker Barrel in Nashville, and called them from the road. They told me that there were three hotels near them, but when we got here, there were about seven. Checked into the EconoLodge for 60.00, deposited our stuff in the room, then went around the corner to the Cracker Barrel for dinner. Spent the evening catching up on e-mail, and phone calls. Sorry, but no pictures from today.

Day 2 - Nashville to Waynesville - Friday, July 2, 2010

We left the EconoLodge in Nashville about 09:25 and had a rather uneventful trip over to Knoxville. I felt we needed some cash, but couldn't locate a branch of my bank. We decided instead to stop at Wal Mart for a few items, and do a debit card cash back transaction. We found a Wal Mart on the western outskirts of Knoxville, but it was hard to get in and out of it, with all the holiday traffic and the convoluted interchange. Drove on over to the east side of Knoxville and stopped for lunch at Wendy's, then filled the gas tank, and hit the road again.

From Knoxville over to Asheville, NC the way gets steep and curvy. There are usually a lot of big trucks on this highway, and today was no exception. You have to really pay attention to your driving along through here, what with the four-wheelers wanting to drive eighty miles an hour and all the trucks going very slow up the hills and very fast down the hills. I had the cruise control set on sixty-five and had to do a lot of negotiation to get through there.

We finally made it to the state line, and started a long gradual descent, following the course of a river off to the right. Up near the state line on the west bound side, there was some construction. They had one lane shut down, and the creeping back up this caused was more than fifteen miles long. Very nasty to be going west bound today.

We exited the interstate highway at exit 20, and made our way over to Waynesville, and the Super 8 Motel. We had reserved the room a few days ago, so they were expecting us. We got checked in, unloaded the luggage, then headed up to Cataloochie Valley in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Cove Creek Road leads up to Cataloochie Valley. It cuts off of Hwy. 276 in a valley floor near the interstate, and starts off pretty strait and level. There are houses and farms along the way, and the road gets steeper and more curvy as you go along. After about five or six miles the pavement runs out and it's a gravel road. It keeps going up, steeper and steeper, and the turns get tighter 'til you get to the top of the pass at what's called the Cataloochie Divide. This is the ridge top that encircles Cataloochie Valley, and marks the boundary of the National Park. There is a National Park entrance sign there, but nothing else, no guard shack or ranger station. From here the road starts going down, and is about like the road coming up. After about four miles of gravel switch-back you come to a paved park road, and the going gets easier. It's about three miles from this point down to the valley floor. Every now and then there is a break through the trees and you can see some very spectacular mountain scenery.

Cataloochie Valley is a long, narrow valley, almost isolated from the surrounding countryside. Up until the 1940's there were about 200 people living here. They were farmers and hunters. When the National Park Service bought up all the land for the park, they left a lot of the buildings intact, to serve as examples of the life here before the park. There is a school, a church, several cemeterys, farm houses and at least one very nice barn. These buildings are maintained by the Park Service, and you can go in them to look around.

The main draw in Cataloochie Valley seems to be the elk. The federal government re-introduced the elk to this part of the park a few years ago, and now there are over a hundred living in the valley. There are some naturalist volunteers who keep tabs on the elk, and know exactly how many there are. Somehow they get a count each year after the calving season. All the females have ear tags with a number. The males, with their massive racks of antlers are amazing to see. There are several large open meadows in the valley floor, and the elk like to come down there in the late afternoon to graze. They come right up to the road sometimes, and visitors can get very close to them. Visitors are not allowed to get within fifty yards of the elk, but sometimes they are grazing on the lawn of the ranger station and you can park there and get pictures from just a few yards away. It's pretty incredible.

We spent about two hours there, and got some great pictures of the elk. We were a bit unprepared, and Ok Hwa's camera battery died. She forgot to bring another one, so her picture taking session was cut short. I promised to bring her back tomorrow. We'll get an earlier start, and make sure we have everything we need.

After we left the park, we drove over into Maggie Valley, a beautiful, small town where there are a lot of tourist hotels, RV parks and such. We found a great place to have dinner, The Grizzly Grill. It is attached to a great, rustic hotel, Smoky Falls Lodge, nestled into the trees by the little creek which flows through town. Their specialty is slow smoked BBQ. We had the buffet, which had most of the BBQ items on it. The pulled pork was amazingly good. I think we'll be going back there for dinner again tomorrow night. That is if we have room left in our bellies after all the good food at the family reunion.
Here is the link to today's slide show:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shotgun Party

On Friday, June 18 I arrived to the studio on KNON Community Radio's "Texas Renegade Radio" show to find my friend and the show's host Mark Mundy spinning his opening tune, "The William Tell Overture" (theme song of "The Lone Ranger" TV Show). It was a fun surprise to find a band in there also, tuning up. The three piece band was Shotgun Party from Austin, Texas. The band members are Jenny Parrott on guitar and vocals, Andrew Austin Petersen on bass fiddle, and Katy Rose Cox on fiddle and vocals. Jenny Parrott also writes all the band's original songs. What a cool group of very good musicians they are. They were in town to play at the Allgood Cafe on Main St. in Deep Elum that night, and had stopped by the station to give our audience a little taste of the live performance.

After the introductions, they launched into Jenny's song "Touched His Heart":

Now, that was fun, but the next song will knock your socks off. It's the classic Harry Woods penned "What A Little Moonlight Can Do", made famous by Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson, and others:

Man, that was some wicked fiddling by Katy and Andrew!

They finished up the in-studio set with another song by Jenny, "Paints A Yates":

We went out to the Allgood Cafe later that night to see the full version of the live show. What a fun night of music, along with some great food from the kitchen of the Allgood.

So, there you have it, a handsome and charming group of very talented young musicians, who write good songs, pick great songs to cover, and put on a killer live show - what's not to love?

We also bought a copy of one of their Cd's at the show, "Mean Old Way", pictured above, and it's equally good.

Great, fun music live or via recording, you wont be disappointed. Listen and enjoy!

Here's the links:

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Journey Home - Wednesday & Thursday, April 21 & 22, 2010

On the day we left for home, we were up and ready to go early. Mrs Kim was leaving again, also, heading back to her sister's house for some more work in shutting it down. We were going to catch the 12:00 bus together for the ride into town. As we were heading out, Pa was all smiles and friendly, shaking my hand and bowing. I got the impression that he liked me, or was just happy to see us go. Anyhow, it's always sad leaving and saying good-bye. I was genuinely sad to be leaving. I like these folks a lot, and the valley is a great place to live. I could be comfortable here.

The ride into town was a bit crowded, and Ok Hwa and I, with our suitcases next to us, got a lot of stares. Mrs. Kim sat in the seat in front of me, and as we approached our stop, I leaned up and gave her a hug, saying a parting "Anyhasao" and "Kamshamnida", Hello and Thank You, about the only Korean words I know. She understood, and gave me a smile and a squeeze of the hand in return. Mrs. Kim and I are pals.

So that was it. We hopped off the bus, waving good-bye from the curb, and she was gone.

We were able to flag a taxi pretty quickly. We put our bags into the trunk and climbed inside for the short ride over to the bus terminal. At the terminal we got lucky. The bus to Seoul was just about to depart as we bought our tickets. Within ten minutes we were pulling out, heading up the broad boulevard towards the freeway.

The Koreans have the best roads I've seen anywhere, and the freeways are especially nice. The trip over to Seoul is a comfortable ride through a beautiful countryside. The big mountain range of the Korean peninsula hugs the east coast, so it is a quick, steep ascent as we head out of Gangneung up to the pass, then a long, gradual descent down to the west coast and Seoul. The trip takes about three and a half hours, and is broken in the middle by a fifteen minute stop at a service plaza. There are restaurants, a convenience store, and various food and gift vendors there, and a chance to get out and stretch your legs a bit, and use the restroom.

Pulling into the Gangnam Express Bus Terminal in Seoul, we had two objectives: Check on the Airport Bus for in the morning, and find a hotel. It took us a while to find the Airport Bus. They had moved it from where it was last year. Adjacent to Gangnam Bus Terminal is the sprawling complex called Central City. It is a shopping mall attached to another bus terminal attached to the Hyatt Hotel attached to a subway station. A lot of stuff in one location. Last year we caught the Airport Bus from here, after buying our tickets from a ticket counter here the night before. We tried to do the same now, but were directed out to the street to where the local city buses stop. That seemed odd, but we went on out there and were met by a helpful man on the curb there. He had a small covered bus stop there, and helped co-ordinate people coming and going via the Airport Bus. Speaking very good English, he informed us that the Airport Bus stopped here every fifteen minutes from about six A.M. onward. We were to show up here with fifteen thousand wan each, in correct change, and buy the tickets from the bus driver. This guy was even further helpful by getting us a taxi, and telling the taxi driver where we were going, directing him to the same district of good, medium priced hotels that we stayed in last year. They called it Hotel City last year, and we recognized it when we got over there. It's only about a ten minute ride from the bus stop.

In the Hotel City district, we found our way back to the same hotel we stayed at last year, the Hotel New York. Checking with the desk clerk, we discovered that they had raised the rates by fifty per cent. The same room that cost us fifty last year was now seventy five. I told her "No, Thanks" and we left. There were plenty more hotels nearby. Just down the block we came to the "Luxury, Designer, Boutique" Hotel FL. We got a room here for fifty. This was really a nice hotel. The room was super clean, modern and sleek, with a new desktop computer with broadband Internet, 42" wide screen flat panel HD TV, mood lighting, towels, robes, slippers, etc. Most of these hotels are "Love Hotels", set up for trysts between young lovers. Upon checking in, we were given a small shopping bag filled with stuff, including disposable toothbrushes, tooth paste, razors, body oils, and enough condoms to last us a month. The bathroom was super nice, but still had no shower curtain. The space age toilet had a control panel to operate it. It was all in Korean, so it took me about twenty minutes to figure out how to flush it.

After getting settled in and resting a bit, it was time to go get some dinner. I was very keen on finding that same Chicken & Hoff restaurant from last year. It wasn't hard to find, either, just a block over, and a block up from our hotel. We went in and everything seemed the same, but slightly different. I guessed that maybe it had changed hands, and the new owners had changed the name. It was now called Chicken Biangi. The food was just as good as I remembered. We had two platters of that fantastic honey infused chicken, and went away stuffed.

Exactly as last year, the afternoon and evening we spent in Seoul before our departure for home was a cool and wet one. And also exactly as last year, it was the only time during our trip that we saw any rain. We took our umbrellas with us to dinner, as there were intermittent light showers. I found it to be rather refreshing.

On the walk back to the hotel we stopped at one of the many little convenience stores nearby for drinks and snacks. I picked up a couple of Heineken beers for a nightcap, and some canned coffee and some cookies for breakfast.

Since our hotel had a fast Internet connection, I was able to plug into it and check my e-mail. It's the first time I had been able to get on-line since we got here. I spent the rest of the evening catching up on e-mail, and balancing my check book.

We were up the next morning at six, and showered, packed and out on the street by seven. One block down, and one block over brought us to the main avenue and a taxi ride back over to catch the airport bus. When we got to the bus stop, that same helpful man from the afternoon before was there, helping to make sure that everything went smoothly. He helped us stow our bags in the baggage compartment below, and we got aboard. We purchased our tickets from the driver, as instructed, and got into our seats. The trip out to the airport takes about an hour. It was an overcast and rainy morning, and traffic was heavy on the road out to Incheon.

At the airport everything went smoothly. The line to check in at the Korean Air counter was very long, though. That was the only tough part. We made it through security easily, and on the secure side we made our way down the long corridor to the departure gate. We had about an hour to wait, so I left her there and went in search of a gift shop. There was a very fancy one, featuring exquisite products of Korean arts and culture, but they were somewhat expensive. Around the corner from that one, however, I found a more down to earth shop with some very nice, reasonably priced items. I spent about forty-five dollars in there and came away with three very nice gifts.

I hurried back down that long corridor again, to our departure gate. I knew she would be getting anxious for me to return. There was an excellent snack and coffee shop right at our gate, where I was able to get good fresh coffee and a sandwich for breakfast.

A short while later the call for boarding began. As we headed out the walkway to the aircraft, there was one final security check just before stepping aboard. This one was quite thorough. They wanted to actually look inside every one's carry on bags. Finally aboard, there was one final hurdle, the jostling for space in the overhead bins. We settled into our seats, and could relax at last for the long thirteen hour flight back home.