A time for regrowth…

Grant, Brian and I skipped the dance competition in Knoxville Saturday and ventured, using a hike as an excuse. We had planned to hike Forney Ridge Trail out to Andrews Bald. Unfortunately weather and time didn’t cooperate. (It was imperative that we make it to Smoky’s ballpark in time for the light sabre give away.) With a heavy overcast we decided on Old Sugarland’s Trail. We caught the trail head at 441 just down the road from the Visitor’s Center and started up the trail.  We quickly passed the old quarry where granite was quarried for the park bridges and hiked along the noisy West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Everything along the trail was bright green from the grass to the tree tops. About .8 of a mile up the trail we approached a stream crossing. Grant has a long history of bad luck at stream crossings, so we took a side trail to the right. This trail took us up and back towards Gatlinburg.  As we gained elevation the forest began to change from green to black. It didn’t take long and we were surrounded by charred and blacken trees and shrubs. The duff (top layer of forest floor) in some places resembled ripples of a sand dune. I suspect the fire burned hotter and deeper in some areas, or the ash was blown away by the high winds. We observed places where the roots had been burned away leaving what looked like dinosaur foot prints. There were also patches of green popping out. Spring is the time for new growth. On the way to the ball park we stopped on the Gatlinburg bypass to take a picture of where we had been.

Black and White

I was first introduced to serious photography back in the 70’s when I took Intro to Photography my freshman year in college. This was well before the age of digital cameras. I found myself shooting a whole roll of film, then waiting patiently in the darkroom as the developer and fixer worked their miracle. Then I could get a glimpse of my work in the small 35 mm negative format.  If I really wanted to see what I had,  I needed to spend more time in the darkroom printing the negative on paper.  In those days I shot exclusively in black and white because I couldn’t afford the lab fees for color. As time went on and I developed my skills I fell in love with black and white. It was an art getting the tones and contrast just perfect. Then the digital age hit and all but destroyed the art of black and white. Digital is instant and forgiving. You can take 1,000’s of pictures and never waste a penny on spent film or over exposed paper. Digital is Instant Gratification.

Just when I thought all was lost I started exploring the possibilities of Photoshop. It’s not like the hours spent in the dark under the glow of a red lamp, but there is an art to creating a warm and inviting black and white print under the blue glow of a monitor.  And to get it right, it takes experimentation and an artful touch.

The best part of all is I have a blog to share my art with anyone who happens to stumble upon it.

 

Mountain solitude…

I have taken on a new volunteer experience this summer by adopting a backcountry campsite. This is in addition to patrolling Laurel Falls each Friday. I or should I say we (grandkids and parents) are cleaning and maintaining campsite #27 for the foreseeable future. I thought maybe it would be a good idea if I did a preliminary recon mission before taking the family. I arose early on Saturday morning, arriving at the trailhead to Jake’s Creek Trail at about 8:00. There were a number of cars already in the parking lot, but apparently everyone else was hiking Little River or Cucumber Gap Trails. As I hiked up Jake’s Creek I marveled at all the beauty surrounding me. The trees were turning green and I was surrounded by a multitude of wild flowers. As I walked my mind began to wander back to my first experience hiking alone in the park. It was late fall and most of the leaves were already on the ground. I was walking up a strenuous uphill section Indian Grave Gap Trail. I became a little concerned as I began to see evidence of recent bear activity. Granted I was a greenhorn to these mountains, but being a good Iowa boy with farm roots I could identify bear scat when I stepped in it. The more I walked, the more scat appeared on the trail. I figured that the noise of my feet in the leaves piled on the trail would provide plenty of warning to the bears that I was in the area, or at least that is what I was telling myself. After about a mile, I stopped to catch my breath and grab a gulp or two of water. That’s when I hear it. There was a distinct sound of something above me shuffling in the leaves. Then it stopped. I listened for a while and not hearing anything began moving up the trail. I traveled about 100 yards and stopped. Again above me I heard the shuffle of leaves. Then it stopped. This went on for nearly a mile. Me stopping every 100 or so yards; all the while intermittent shuffling. Finally I reached the top where the ridge above me met with the trail. I quickly ducked behind a tree and waited. It didn’t take long for the shuffling sound to appear. Then it stopped. By this time I was just sure a 400 pound male black bear was stalking me for his dinner. Then the shuffling appeared to come just out of my sight. As I was racking my brain trying to think what Daniel Boone would do the noise came towards me. I braced myself for battle when all of the sudden a skinny turkey stuck its head out from behind a tree. I had to laugh thinking back on how leery I was of being alone in the woods back then. Fast forward 8 years and I relished the solitude Jake’s Creek provided Saturday. I only met 3 other hikers (and 3 turkeys!).

Weekend Hike…

Weekends are always great times to hike, but springtime, holiday weekends just scream for a walk in the park. Even better when you can bring along family. This time my two grandsons and son-in-law accompanied me on this adventure. We found a perfect rugged seldom used waterfall hike. It didn’t take long for me to realize that on this hike, I would be the one having to “catch up.” My idea of mountain hiking is to pace myself and stop often to take pictures or just take in the view. The two youngsters on the other hand had a different method. Theirs was to race up the trail, then stop, wait impatiently for Pop to “catch up”, then race up the trail again daring the old man to keep pace. It was a great hike, the waterfall was spectacular, but alas I didn’t get nearly as many pictures taken as I had intended. The next hike is only a week away.

Wildflowers…

It’s springtime in the mountains. That means the bears are coming out of their winter’s hibernation. Mother bears will be introducing their new cubs any day now. With an estimated 1,600 bears in the National Park you would think that one or two would photo bomb you just about every time you pulled out your camera. Sadly that’s not the case. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things photo-worthy. Wildflowers are blooming all over the park. Yellow, white, pink, lavender and blue. Big ones and small ones. And the great thing is that they don’t move or ask for food. They may not be car stoppers, but I think we did slow up a few people on the trail as we tried out our macro on this beauty.

Rue Anemone.Watermark

Rue Anemone

Trials on the Trails

Always be prepared for the unexpected.  I never go anywhere without at least one camera because you never know when you are going to get that perfect shot.  I took this shot a couple of years ago on Laurel Falls Trail. The bear had been foraging above the trail and was communicating that it wanted to cross to the other side of the trail. I took my camera out of my backpack and waited.  Sure enough, on queue she bolted across the trail right in front of a group of startled hikers. I hit the shutter at exactly the right moment – bear in full stride and hikers with mouths open in surprise.  Unfortunately my camera had been stored in my backpack next to my water bottle.  My COLD, SWEATING water bottle.  When I removed it from the pack, the lens immediately fogged up.  I never noticed since the point and shoot doesn’t have a view finder.  By the time I got home and viewed the picture, the storyline changed dramatically.  “It was a cool-very foggy day when this bear…”

Bear in the Fog