A Random Love Note to Fog

One day in 2013, when I was still living in Tennessee, I drove up to Clingman’s Dome. I don’t recall what the weather was like in town that day, but the mountaintop was socked in with fog. When I got to the observation deck it was surrounded by a solid wall of gray, only broken up by the pine trees within 50 yards or so of the tower. It was amazing. It was so beautiful up there, nothing to look at but those few layers of trees, no sound but a few birds calling, not a soul in the world knew where I was at that moment. I had nowhere to be and nothing to do. It was an incredibly meditative experience.

I absolutely love fog.  It simplifies and softens a bright, loud, overwhelming world, makes everything into calm shades of gray.  Not everyone gets that.  So many people don’t know what to do with themselves in the dim and quiet realm of fog.  While I was up there at Clingman’s Dome other people kept coming up, just one family at a time, when one left another would arrive.  And they kept complaining about there being nothing to see.  I maintain that they just didn’t know how to look.

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This Week in Awkwardness

I started using Google image search to find my stock photos all over the internet, which turned out to be REALLY FUN.  I’m selling everything from snazzy bottled water to real estate, and my images are included in goofy quizzes, horror stories, and travel articles.

I also posted a term paper I wrote for school as a 3-part article on the 1692 earthquake that destroyed Port Royal, Jamaica.  The interesting thing about it is that there are so many first-hand accounts of buildings collapsing and people being sucked right down into the sand.  Two thirds of the town just slid into the sea and was covered over by silt, creating one of the best 17th-century colonial sites anywhere in the world.

Lowry Park Zoo has evening hours around major holidays so I was able to be there when the giant fruit bats were getting dinner and watched them crawl around which was both creepy and awesome.  They also gave presents to the orangutans (one little girl thought the male was Chewbacca) which was pretty fun to watch.  The Christmas lights were pretty of course but being a retail worker I CAN’T WAIT until the Christmas music stops.  I always feel bad for the kid in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  I mean, from his perspective, he thinks his mom is cheating on his dad.  Should he tell him?  If he doesn’t, then he’s keeping a big secret from his dad, but if he does, they might break up and it would be his fault.  Poor kid.  Also, whoever wrote the Chipmunk Song, I’d like to give you a high five.  With my fist.  On your face.

Also, this 360° video of the Lascaux Cave replica in France:


Added to the Travel Map:

Reykjanes Geopark, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland – spot where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge lies above sea level. Has a footbridge between North America & Europe.

Great Falls Park, Virginia, USA – waterfalls.

Bois Blanc, Amherstberg, Ontario, Canada – abandoned amusement park – TECHNICALLY, anyone who steps foot on it is trespassing, but….

Burgruine Gösting, Graz, Austria – castle ruins.

Nuclear Shelter 10-Z, Brno, Czech Republic – hotel in a bunker!

Fort des Dunes, Leffrinckoucke, France – abandoned fort, important in WWII.

Aran Islands, Ireland – lots of ruins.

Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, Alaska – Alaska-specific aquarium & wildlife rescue.

Gallery: Where I Find Myself All Over the Internet

I’ve been selling on stock websites for about three years now and doing reasonably well with it, but I’d never seen where any of my work ended up.  I’ve heard of people fining their photos on billboards, I’m not one of them.  A couple of weeks ago I learned how to do an image-based Google search, so last night I started searching for my most popular photos.  This is some of what I found.

Recently in Awkwardness

This semester I’m taking Forensic Anthropology, which has been pretty dull so far since it’s been all law & stuff, but now we’re past that and it’s starting to pick up. It is definitely not true that dead men tell no tales. Bones tell SO MUCH about how a person lived. Not just age & that sort of thing, but what they did for a living, how strong they were, what kind of diseases or nutritional problems they had. I’ve heard archaeologists talk about figuring out that someone was a pipe-smoker because of wear marks in their teeth.  Illnesses like syphilis & tuberculosis leave all kinds of deformities on skulls and vertebrae, and if you want to be scared into taking a trip to the dentist have a look at historic mandibles that have big holes in them from tooth infections that have eaten away the bone.

I discovered that Southern India is home to a crazy whip sword that looks like the stuff of nightmares, as if regular swords weren’t dangerous enough.

Hurricane Matthew is blowing things around in the Caribbean right now, it probably won’t hit Tampa but I’m watching it.

I got my first check ever from Shutterstock!  They have a $500 threshold for paper checks, so THAT was a good day.  Took me almost exactly three years.

If you’re like me & completely obsessed with Stranger Things but have no outlet for it, FoundFlix on Youtube has a playlist of videos detailing his theories of the show, which are pretty interesting.  I built a Pinterest board of ST fan art, which is numerous and amazing for a show that’s only been around for a couple of months.  I’ve seen most of it three times over now, but I seriously wish I could go back & watch it blind again, it’s that amazing.

Gallery: Hearst Castle

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I visited the Hearst Castle in the summer of 2006.  Right on the coast of San Simeon, California, it’s a spectacular building built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.  Finished in 1947, the house became a hangout spot for some of the biggest celebrities of the day.  As ever, I was fascinated by the architectural details.  Having been built at a time when one could order antiquities out of catalogs, the gardens are filled with genuine ancient Egyptian statuary and other relics.  The zoo that once graced the grounds is mostly gone, but there’s still a handful of animals roaming the property, if you’re lucky you might see a small zebra herd wandering around loose.  Most tours are $25 and last about an hour, although there are some different options on the website.  If you’re not sure, visit the free museum down the hill and decide then if you want to take the bus up to the house itself.

This Month in Awkwardness

I’ve always wanted a fisheye lens, but I could never justify spending hundreds of dollars on something so specialized.  I finally acquired a converter that takes my 22mm lens down to 4.4mm and it’s incredibly fun, even if it’s not especially high quality.


Crossed Off the Travel Map:

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Drummond Island
Round Island Lighthouse
Round Island Lighthouse

Added to the Travel Map:

Bakken, Klampenborg, Denmark – the world’s oldest amusement park.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins, Yemassee, South Carolina – burned down in the Civil War.

Old Charleston City Jail, Charleston, South Carolina.

Château de Salses, Salses-le-Château, France – 16th-century fortress.

Grjótagjá, Iceland – an underground hot spring.

Destination: Little Rock

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Leaving the Fort Smith area I headed east on I-40, with a stop at Petit Jean State Park.  Miles of creek side trails and a big lake make Petit Jean a great spot for outdoor adventures.  One of the central features is Cedar Falls, which tumbles 90 feet into a gorge.  There’s a couple of vantage points above it that are easy to get to, but to see it from below requires a hike down into the canyon.  Another interesting spot is Rock House Cave, a petroglyph site.  Beautiful Civilian Conservation Corps construction on roads, trails, and picnic areas round out this gorgeous location.

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Right smack in the middle of Arkansas is its capital city: Little Rock. Once upon a time this was the place everyone was talking about as nine black teenagers struggled through the integration of all-white Little Rock Central High School. The school itself still operates so you can’t just go wandering around in it (although there are tours occasionally, see the NPS website for info) but the grounds are open and the National Park Service operates a very nice (and free) visitor’s center kitty corner to the school. I was there in the afternoon and watched for a bit as the students were heading out for the day. Black, white, sixty years after the National Guard was used to keep out the Little Rock Nine everybody mingled together and it didn’t seem to matter a bit what color anybody’s skin was.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Little Rock, Arkansas

The River Market District is a beautiful section of the city packed with restaurants, shops, and historic buildings.  I stopped for lunch at Ottenheimer Market Hall where stalls offer just about any kind of food you can imagine.  Pizza, ice cream, Asian, Middle Eastern, soul food, nobody could possibly go hungry in this place. While I was there I saw everybody from bankers to construction workers chowing down.  I was basically eating with the Village People.  Wandering along the street I came to the Old State House, where Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6th, 1861.  The free museum inside covers every aspect of Arkansas history you can think of.  There were big sections on governors, civil rights, the history of bicycles, movies with any sort of tie to Arkansas, there was even a whole room of dresses worn by governor’s wives.  When my feet started to hurt I hopped on a trolley; for $1 it meandered through the river district, over the Arkansas River into North Little Rock, and back again while the driver pointed out interesting things along the way.  North Little Rock holds T.R. Pugh Memorial Park which contains The Old Mill.  This was never actually a mill, it was created purely as a picturesque ruin, but it is pretty enough to have made it into the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind.

Continuing along I-40 there are three different archaeological parks to visit. These are mound sites, created hundreds of years ago by the ancestors of modern Native American tribes. Some of the mounds have fallen victim to farming over the years but several are still visible. Toltec & Parkin have trails going out to their mounds, but Hampson is just a small museum dedicated to a site that remains privately held and can’t be visited. The ranger at Toltec told me that they had excavated one mound for study and when they rebuilt it they had to bring in 18 dump trucks of dirt. Imagine doing that by hand, carrying the dirt in baskets.  Village Creek State Park also resides along this corridor and has some nice trails.

I really didn’t expect Arkansas to be so incredible, but I’m already scheming to go back.

Destination: Northwestern Arkansas

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Arkansas has been a place of cultural clashes for at least the last 200 years. Westward expansion, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, civil rights – it’s intense. With that much history it’s no surprise that the state is packed to the brim with memorials and battlefields.  If you think of Arkansas as a square divided by a diagonal line the northwestern half is rugged and mountainous, with winding roads and fields of cows in the valleys, while the southeastern half is flat and wet, containing many small towns surrounded by cropland. I don’t know if Arkansas just has better parks than other states or what but all the ones I went to were stunning, and by some miracle free of charge, so it doesn’t cost a thing to get out and experience the incredible beauty on display here. They don’t call it The Natural State for nothing, and I was super happy to be out in the woods again after so many months of dirt & rocks in Arizona.


A Journey

On the very western edge of Arkansas, right on the border with Oklahoma, is the town of Fort Smith, once the very last outpost before you left the United States and entered the frontier. The infamous Trail of Tears passed this way heading out to Indian Territory. The fort itself once imprisoned the ruffians that made the West wild. Major clashes of the Civil War were fought nearby as the Confederates tried to make some headway on the border state of Missouri. It’s almost overwhelming trying to take it all in.

Fort Smith National Historic Site consists of a large park on the Arkansas River as well three buildings from the second incarnation of the fort: the gallows, the commissary, and the courthouse.  The courthouse holds a very nice museum covering the long and varied history of the fort, the frontier, and the Trail of Tears.  In those days this was the end of civilization, with Indian Territory just a few steps away.

 

 

Heading north on Scenic Byway US-71, I stopped at Devil’s Den State Park, a great place for hiking or swimming.  Caves, boulders, cliffs, and waterfalls dot the forest.  I never did figure out which one was the Devil’s den and which was the Devil’s ice box, or why people insist on giving these Satanic place names.

 

 

devils den

Just outside the small town of Fayetteville, where I wandered into a farmer’s market in the town square and spotted a local chef buying his produce for the day, is Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park.  There’s not a lot left of the original landscape, but there is a nice museum and a walking path with buildings from that era.  The interesting thing about Prairie Grove is the driving tour through town.  Pick up a flyer or buy a CD at the visitor’s center for the information pertaining to each stop, and try not to ogle people’s front lawns too much.  They’ll start to think you’re weird.

 

 

Stop at the Daisy Air Rifle Museum ($2) in Rogers for a quirky history lesson and more Red Ryder than you can handle.  I had no idea the history of air rifles was such a long one, but they’ve got guns dating back a few hundred years.  Some of the memorabilia is way hyper-masculine but I guess that’s their demographic.  Confusingly incongruous with being called Daisy though.

 

 

Just a few miles shy of the Missouri border is Pea Ridge National Military Park, where the land has been maintained much as it was during the decisive Civil War battle that was fought here.  The only remaining building is the Elkhorn Lodge, and even it is a rebuild from shortly after the end of the war.  The driving tour supplemented with foot trails takes you through the battlefield, onto the ridge above it where soldiers hid from their enemies, and to a couple of memorials placed later by veterans from both sides of the conflict.  As much interest as I have in historic battlefields, I struggle to really understand them.  Some group from some place with a certain number fought with some other numbered group from a different place.  Eventually one group left.  Yay.

 

 

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This part of Arkansas is incredible and it’s definitely a place I’d like to explore further in the future.  It’s just too pretty.  I can’t stand it.

Gallery: Crescent Moon Recreation Area

Crescent Moon is a small but very pretty recreation area just outside of Sedona, right along Oak Creek.  In hot months it would be good for swimming.

Other people’s trash that I packed out:

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