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Friday, May 26

Smoky Mountains & Little Bears

I'm no longer in the land of snowflakes.  The Seattle area disappeared in the rearview many days ago.   It has now been over a month since my last blog post and almost three since I left Tacoma....the days, sites, tradeshows and miles are beginning to blur.  I'm  having a hard time remembering where I've been and where I have to be next. Only certainty is that I've done a little over 9500 miles since leaving Tacoma and have had a great time.  I keep telling myself to keep a detailed written travel journal but I never get around to it.  This blog ends up being my journal and I've relived my travels numerous times over the past couple of years by going back over some of the posts.  Luckily, Tiffany reminds me where to be and on what date in regards to the work portion of the trip.  As long as I show up as scheduled, I can roam about anywhere in between.  It's the "in-between" that keeps me out here.  Work related, I've been to Collinsville Illinois, Akron Ohio, Novi Michigan, and Syracuse New York, since my last post.   Some areas have been better than others since the last blog post but the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and The Upper Peninsula in Michigan certainly stand out.  I'm currently in the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York where I've been for the past two nights.   Camping has been good as the place is deserted but that is expected to change come this Memorial Day Weekend. I've been boondock camping and have found plenty of it here so I should be able to avoid the crowds this weekend by steering clear of the campgrounds.  Locals tell me that you never can tell about Memorial Day Weekend up here.  May be crowded, or not, dependent on the weather and the black fly situation.  My guess is that the area will be a deserted wasteland as the friggin black flies will carry you away if you don't keep moving.  Went out exploring on the mountain bike two nights ago and thank god I didn't have a flat.  If I had of, I don't think I'd be alive to write this post. No question... I would have abandoned the stinking bike and sprinted back to the camper! I came across a lady today while out hiking that was covered in some kind of mosquito net outfit.  Pants, shirt, gloves, and headgear.....nothing was exposed.  She also smelled like she'd been soaking for days in a 50 gallon drum of  deet. Stated she lives to hike but has a severe reaction to any kind of bug bite.  Personally, I think she picked the wrong hobby but I guess as long as they keep producing deet and netting....what the hell.  I'm sitting there breathing in the damn things, trying to defend myself against the constant onslaught, while she was kicked back enjoying the day reeking of deet.    Not sure what she does out there if mother nature calls and she has to go see a man about a horse.  Maybe she had a diaper on? The mere thought of performing that act amongst those millions of biting hordes will make a grown man cry.   The bugs will be really bad in one area, but drive a mile an all is well.  Water everywhere here with the river and lakes so not sure why they'll be bad in one area and not the next.  I'm seriously thinking about getting a head net and will be ensuring I take care of business before leaving the camper. Without a net, you ingest a few every other breath.  This is not the place for a mouth breather. Of course, I've got a head net back in Tacoma....a lot of good it's doing me back there. 

To date, a highlight of this road trip has been the week I camped in Cades Cove located in the Smoky Mountains National Park.  I had been to the Smoky National Park numerous times over the years but this trip topped them all. It's a photographers dream spot.  Wildlife, fauna, and vistas.  I was lucky enough to meet and hang out with some talented photographers visiting the area.  All really nice people with a passion for wildlife photography. On a couple of these days we were able to photograph and observe a sow and her four cubs.  I took way too many pictures of the cubs and should get them all sorted within the next twenty years or so.  I need to familiarize myself with the delete button.  My first time of ever seeing four cubs with a sow.  I've seen up to three with a sow but never four.  Much more exciting shooting pictures of Grizzlies in Alaska but observing these cubs interact/nurse with the sow, and romp around with each other ranks right up there.  Weather wasn't the greatest, but the subject matter and hanging out with like minded people more than made up for the wet skies.

Deer, turkeys, bobcats, hawks, eagles can all be found here, but the bears are the prize.

Petey enjoying a nice wade one afternoon after a long walk.

A quiet spot next to an old cemetery Petey and I would go to midday.  Little reading, possible
napping, sorting pictures and a long walk for  Petey before the late evening routine of trying to locate more bears.

 Old Church in the Cove.

Spent a few hours at this great swimming hole.

Petey helping with the navigation duties.

Next post.....Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Monday, April 17

Land Between the Lakes

Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area, Kentucky

Petey and I have covered quite a bit of ground since our last work gig in Dallas so I'll try and get an update while I've finally got a decent internet connection. Since Texas, we've hit Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I try and take the most remote roads I can find when headed somewhere and I can assure you, there are still many spots in the good old USA that have crap for internet. I'm a major slacker taking notes as I travel and if I don't update this blog every so often I tend to forget stuff.  I'm currently in an actual campground (Townsend, Tn) just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and unbelievably, they have decent internet.  I'm laying up here for a couple of days to resupply, take on propane, oil change, laundry, pay the govt some money (crooked bastards), etc. Once all this is taken care of I'll be heading into the park to camp in search of black bears to photograph.  I've got a full week before I need to leave the area and start working my way up to Akron, Ohio where I'll meet Tiffany for the next show.  Speaking of Tiffany, she was able to take some time and ride along with us after Dallas while we worked our way to the next stop in St. Louis. We headed up through Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas before rolling into Missouri.  We didn't really get to see or do much en-route as we had to be in St. Louis in four days. We also had a full day of some really hard rain along with high winds so spent one of those days just trying to get out of Texas.  I haven't seen it rain that hard since I sat through a typhoon in Japan. Of course, we found some dirt roads in the Ozarks in search of a waterfall we had been told about.  While having dinner at a little local restaurant with an all the sweet tea you can down along with all the fried food you can shove down your pie hole for $8.50, the waitress, who was very chatty, began telling us about this great waterfall after I inquired about what is the must see in the area.  She thought on it a while and narrowed it down between the biggest Bass Pro Shop in the US or a waterfall up in the mountains. She told us it was rated the second most beautiful waterfall in the country.  We were both silently questioning this prestigious rating as she ranted about its beauty. Her departing comment, with a heavy southern drawl, was "you can see it from the road". What she failed to mention was that "the road" was an unmarked dirt one about six miles off the nearest pavement.  If we hadn't of run into some horse riders camped in the area I doubt we would have found it. In the Ozarks, they tend to be a little short on signage.  Nice young girl, but she needs to put a couple of zeros after that 2 and brush up on directions. We ended up camping alongside "the road" right at the falls since it was almost dark once located. A little pasta and wine that night with the falls cascading in the background before leaving early the next morning. So it wasn't a total mileage grab getting to St. Louis.  A little adventure was found.

It was pretty, but number two?

 Came across an abandoned mercantile in Snowball, Arkansas.

After roaming around the Ozark's for a couple of days it was on to St. Louis where we had the best show to date.  Tiffany was headed back to Tacoma after St. Louis so Petey and I were back in the solo mode.  Once dropping Tiffany off for her flight, we headed southeast through Illinois to an area in eastern Kentucky called Land Between the Lakes.  Lots of areas to explore.  I swear there are more bass boats here than people. I think it's a state law that you own a boat and a pickup here because I saw plenty of each.

Illinois farm.

 Fishermen headed out early one morning.

 Drone shot from camp one evening.

 Dogwoods were starting to bloom in the area.

 Big Tom chasing hens near camp.

Campsite along Kentucky Lake.

Camping was good in the area so I moved camp almost every night during the week I stayed.  One night I simply camped at a remote boat launch about 5 miles down a dirt road which dead ended out on Lake Barkley.  Had it all to myself but the following day a pickup rolls up with a couple of guys in it.  I got to talking with them and they ended up inviting me out for the day to lay trot lines.  They were after catfish and soft-shelled turtles. James and Earl were the real deal.  Good ole boys who were born and raised in the area.  They have hunted and fished these woods since boys and had plenty of stories to share when they weren't talking trash to each other. I wish I had a nickel for every lie that has ever been told in that boat. Was a fun trip hearing all their stories and information about the area.  Encounters like this are why I seek out the more remote spots.  

Petey ensuring we're headed in the right direction.

Drone shot from camp at the boat ramp.

After almost a week in Kentucky, I dropped down into Tennessee headed for my current location in the Smoky Mountains.  En route I stopped at many Civil War sites, walked some battlefields and one of particular interest was Fort Donelson.  It was the first major win for the north and the battle which really launched Ulysses S. Grants military fame and eventually led to his Presidency.   

Gun placements along the Tennesse River at Fort Donelson.

While exiting the park I look off in a field and spot two women with lenses as long as my leg.  Both shooting away at something and moving across a large field.  I put the Chinook into a four-point power slide to get off the road, grab my camera and begin the trek to intrude on their party and find out what the hell is going on.  For those who like to take pictures of wildlife, you know that anytime you see someone with a big lens alongside the road it's like a magnet.  You've got to stop for fear of missing something. Turns out they were shooting a couple of eagles that had built a nest.  Not like I don't have any eagle pictures but one is always in search of that perfect shot so I hung out with them for a few hours shooting pictures and talking photography.  Still in search of that perfect shot but didn't leave empty handed.  Not a bad way to kill a few hours before moving on.

Monday, March 27

Dunes, Caves and Big Bend

Western Diamondback -  Big Bend National Park

It was always the wrong time of the year, not enough time, out of the way to where I was headed, to long of a drive, or some other lame excuse.  I now realize, after spending the past week in Big Bend National Park and the surrounding area, this procrastination was a mistake.  The area has it all....vast open spaces, few people, wildlife and night skies second to none. It's an area I'll be back to as I didn't scratch the surface.  Being in the Chinook there were many areas that I couldn't, or wouldn't attempt, and to really get the full effect of the area an off-road motorcycle or four-wheel drive is required.   Both of which I've got so I have no reason not to return.   I did unhook the trailer and leave it at a service area inside the park but didn't venture too far off the pavement, even without the trailer.  Damn trailer is like dragging an anchor around with you.  En-route to Texas and Big Bend National Park, I checked out White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns  Both areas one can easily see in a day. Although I camped in the White Sands area for a few nights there really isn't much to see in the area other than the dunes.  It's pretty, but it basically all looks the same. Miles and miles of white dunes.  You do get some nice sunsets, sunrises and lighting off the dunes so it's certainly worth the stop.  Caverns in Carlsbad are........caverns. Hike down about 800 ft under the surface, hike around in the caverns and hump back out of the hole.  Caverns are worth a stop but I couldn't spend more than a day here. I guess if you're really into spelunking you could spend more time here but I'm not, so I hit it early in the morning and was back on the road by 11:00. 

 Entrance access by foot into Carlsbad Caverns.  You can take an elevator down (over 800 ft down) which 99.9 % of the masses do, but I didn't want to stand in the line with screaming kids so I hiked in and hiked out.  It's a hump coming out.

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  No camping in the National Monument so I ended up staying on Holloman Air Force Base about 7 miles up the road.  Drive into the Monument every morning for sunrise and then again in the evenings for photo hikes with Petey. 

Finally got into Texas and headed into the Davis Mountain area for a couple of nights camping.  Also spent a few hours touring Fort Davis, an old military fort that was established during the Indian Wars.  Interesting touring the grounds and old structures.

Next stop was the highlight of the trip so far.  Big Bend National Park but first I had to stop and check out the old ghost town of Terlinqua.  The locals like to call it a ghost town but there are actually people, although not many, living here along with some small funky/artsy businesses.  I'm assuming the designation of ghost town brings in the tourist. The central point in town is an old mercantile store and bar with a large porch.  Everyone seems to gather here, tourists and locals alike, along with their dogs, to hang out, drink and shoot the shit.  Quite a place to kill an afternoon.  You can certainly meet some characters here with a few hours to kill.  Day I hung out here the temps peaked around 100 degrees so the shaded porch was a welcome relief.

 Terlinqua local

Terlinqua Cemetery

After spending a day and night in Terlinqua it was on to Big Bend National Park where I spent four nights.  Having been to many of our National Parks I'd have to rate this one in the top three.  It's got remote off-road camping, vast open spaces, is not overrun with people, with lots to explore.  Most of our National Parks are now overrun with people, bus tours, damn gift shops and are set up to herd the people from one exhibit to the next.  Don't even get me started on what tourist traps are jammed up right next to the parks.  Due to this many are no longer enjoyable, at least to me, to visit during the peak season.  Big Bend is one of those areas where it's a little bit of work to even get to so it keeps the hordes away. There's no Disney Land, fancy restaurants or mall nearby so the masses see no reason to come.  The pictures below give a small sampling of what can be found.

 Saint Elena Canyon - Mexico on the right with the USA on the left.  You could wade across here so I made my first illegal crossing into Mexico.

  Chiso Basin "The Window"

Rio Grande River

 Cross country hike one evening near Cottonwood Springs

Chiso Basin area

 Great Horned Owl above camp one afternoon

Old homestead on the Rio Grande.  Bluffs in the foreground are in Mexico.


Wish we could have stayed longer but we're working our way towards Dallas/Forth Worth for the next tradeshow.  More later.