Jimmy’s Ultimate Guide to the Great American Eclipse

Did y’all really think that I wouldn’t make a post of some sort about the upcoming total solar eclipse?

Surely not, and don’t call me Shirley.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or hiding in the bottom of a deep dark cave, wearing a gold ring and waiting for wayward orcs to wander by to eat, you’ve heard about the total solar eclipse that will be visible across this country in just a few weeks.

For this entry I turned to the guy I know that’s not only an eclipse expert but a bit of an eclipse fanatic, my Young Harris College Astronomy prof, Jimmy Westlake, a.k.a James R. Westlake, Jr.   When asked if he’d be willing to help me out, Jimmy said that he’d be glad to and since he was working on an article for the local newspaper in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, near where he currently lives, he could modify it a bit for the North Georgia area and here we are.

So, without further elaboration, read on for:

Jimmy’s Ultimate Guide to the Great American Eclipse

It’s being called the Great American Eclipse. The BIG one. The one that astronomy enthusiasts in the USA have been waiting to see for 38 years. It’s been a long eclipse drought.

On Monday August 21, the shadow of the Moon will sweep across the 48 contiguous states, from coast to coast, putting millions of people within a short drive of one of nature’s most breathtaking celestial events – a total eclipse of the Sun.

Total eclipses of the Sun are not rare. There’s usually one somewhere on the Earth almost every year. The problem is that the area of visibility is exceedingly small — one-third of one percent of the Earth’s surface — so you either have to be lucky enough that the eclipse happens close to where you live, or you have to travel a great distance to put yourself in the right spot.

It is one of nature’s most marvelous coincidences that the Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon, but it is also 400 times further from Earth. Consequently, the Sun and Moon appear to us to be the same size in our sky. But, because the orbits of Earth and Moon are ellipses rather than perfect circles, there are slight variations in the apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon over the course of the month and year. Sometimes the Sun appears slightly larger than the Moon and sometimes it appears slightly smaller than the Moon. If the Sun and Moon cross paths at a time when the Moon appears slightly larger than the Sun, a miraculous total eclipse occurs. Under the very best of circumstances, the Moon can cover the Sun for only seven and a half minutes. Most of the time, it is much less than that.

If you were floating in the vacuum of space, all you would have to do to see a total eclipse of the Sun is to hold your thumb up to cover it. You could then view the Sun’s corona and stars at the same time against the blackness of space.

The same trick does not work from the surface of Earth because the atmosphere scatters the sunlight and creates a bright, blue sky. The sky itself is brighter than the faint corona and feeble starlight, so a thumb eclipse will not work. Only when the sunlight is blocked from above the atmosphere can the wonders of a total eclipse be observed. That’s where the Moon comes in handy.

The most recent total eclipse of the Sun visible from the 48 contiguous states was way back on February 26, 1979. That one was visible only from the northwestern tier of states and then up across central Canada.

As a young man, I traveled from Young Harris, Georgia to Riverton, Manitoba, Canada to witness that eclipse. The sky was crystal clear and cold. The Moon’s shadow swept over me for 2 minutes and 49 seconds. The Sun turned black and its silvery corona flashed into view. The stars came out at midday. My heart was pounding and my knees were wobbling as I shot frame after frame through my homemade 6-inch telescope and the seconds ticked by. In 169 seconds, it was over, and daylight returned. It was a sweet success. Two years earlier, I had traveled to Columbia, South America for a total solar eclipse but was clouded out at the last minute. C’est la vie.

On August 21, the Moon’s shadow will once again sweep across the USA, this time from sea to shining sea, casting parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina into midday darkness. The shadow path is very narrow – only 70 miles wide – so, unless you happen to be living within that path, you get the “close but no cigar” award. From Atlanta, Georgia, the Sun will be 97% eclipsed. That’s not enough to see all of the wonderful features of a 100% total eclipse.

I’ve chased total solar eclipses on three continents over nearly five decades and spent a total of 31.4 minutes within the shadow of the Moon. Total solar eclipses are hypnotic, if not addictive. They are much more than mere astronomical phenomena — they are awesome and emotional events that touch something primal in each of us. This alignment of worlds reveals mysteries of the cosmos that are normally hidden from the human senses. It is my experience that total solar eclipses connect me viscerally to the cosmic forces at work in the universe – and I like it.

A detailed map showing the path of the total eclipse across the USA can be found on the website GreatAmericanEclipse.com. Assuming that you make the effort to plant yourself in that path of the Moon’s shadow, here is a description of some of the things you will want to watch for.

First Contact – The Partial Eclipse Begins 

This is the term used to describe the moment that the dark disk of the Moon first takes a bite out of the edge of the Sun. Shouts of “First contact — there it is!” invariably rise up from the adrenalized crowd of eclipse watchers. For the next hour, the Moon covers up more and more of the bright face of the Sun during the partial phases of the eclipse.

WARNING: As long as any part of the bright photosphere of the Sun is in view, it is unsafe to look at without a proper solar filter, so don’t do it. Regular sunglasses are useless. Permanent eye damage can occur. The lens in your eye will focus that dazzling sunlight into a laser-like point on your retina and scorch it. Purchase a pair of CE and ISO certified safe solar eclipse glasses online for a couple of bucks. Then, you can watch the progress of the eclipse safely with your glasses on.

Maximum eclipse for north Georgia happens between 2:35pm and 2:40pm, local time. From the Atlanta metro area, the eclipse will never be total, so you’ll need to wear those eclipse glasses for the entire event.

One cool way to watch the partial phases of the eclipse indirectly is to place a sheet of white poster board underneath a leafy tree where the sunlight filters through. The overlapping leaves in the tree create hundreds of little pinholes that project shimmering images of the eclipsed sun all over the ground. This is one of my favorite ways to watch an eclipse.

Shadow Bands and the Approach of Totality

If you are within the path of totality, you get to see some very special things that are not visible from outside the path. In the fleeting moments just before and just after totality, sunlight from the vanishingly thin crescent of the Sun peeking around the edge of the Moon diffracts through the Earth’s atmosphere and creates rapidly moving, flickering shadows across the ground.

I saw them best while watching the solar eclipse of June 30, 1973 from the deck of the MS Massalia, off of the west coast of Africa. While frantically shooting photos at my telescope, I became aware of flickering shadows moving across my arms. Looking down at the wooden deck, I watched the shadow bands racing at an angle across the deck planks. They remind me of the ripples of sunlight dancing on the bottom of a swimming pool. A white piece of poster board on the ground in full sunlight makes a perfect backdrop for viewing the shadow bands.

Baily’s Beads 

As totality approaches, amazing things begin to happen rapidly, so try to keep your wits about you. One of these is the appearance of Baily’s Beads along the leading edge of the Moon, named for Francis Baily, who first explained this phenomenon in 1836.

The Moon is not a slick cue ball. On the contrary, there are towering mountains and deep crater valleys all along the edge of the Moon. In the last few seconds before totality, the crescent of sunlight will be broken into a string of beads where high mountain peaks break the crescent and allow the last rays of sunlight to stream through the deep valleys. From the centerline of the total eclipse, Baily’s Beads will be fleeting. The closer you are to the edge of the eclipse path, where the Moon just grazes the edge of the Sun, the longer Baily’s Beads will remain in view.

The Diamond Ring

One by one, Baily’s Beads will wink out as the Moon continues its march across the face of the Sun. When one final bead remains and darkness descends rapidly across the landscape, the last ray of sunlight creates a brilliant point of light, as if from a sparkling diamond. Pop off those eclipse glasses and watch one of Nature’s most breathtaking sights – the Diamond Ring effect. It is ever so delicate and fleeting and will last for only a split second. Try to be aware of the shouts of amazement and glee from those around you at the sight of the Diamond Ring. Chances are, you, too, will be unable to contain your amazement quietly and will join into the chorus of cheers and howls.

Second Contact – Totality and the Solar Corona

When the leading edge of the Moon reaches the opposite edge of the Sun, the Diamond Ring disappears and totality begins with what is called second contact. It is now completely safe and appropriate to remove all eclipse glasses and filters and stare at the Sun. Believe me; you won’t be able to stop yourself. Where once hung a glowing ball of life-giving light is now a jet-black orb, surrounded by an opalescent halo of fantastic arcs and streamers. This is the Sun’s ten million degree hot outer atmosphere called the corona. My experience is that the loud shouts and cheers of the eclipse watchers around you will turn, at this point, into wordless sounds of disbelief at the sight before them. The corona is always there, surrounding the Sun, but the blinding light of the photosphere renders it invisible to Earthlings – except during these precious moments of totality. Enjoy the view, because in mere seconds, the Sun will return.


During totality, you might notice one or more hot pink protrusions along the edge of the eclipsed Sun. These are solar prominences, Earth-sized flames of hot hydrogen gas leaping off of the Sun’s photosphere. I have seen no other color in nature to compare with the fluorescent pink color of these prominences visible during a total eclipse of the Sun.

The most spectacular prominences I’ve ever seen came during the total eclipse of July 11, 1991. I had taken my two young sons, Jason and Michael, to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to see their first total solar eclipse. During both the first and second Diamond Rings, there appeared gigantic prominences, one completely disconnected from the Sun and the other in the shape of a colossal seahorse, ten times as tall as the Earth! Both were visible to the naked eye.

There is no guarantee that there will be any prominences visible at the time of the eclipse, but keep your eyes peeled for them just the same.

Stars and Planets at Midday

It will be hard, ever so hard, to take your eyes off of that totally eclipsed Sun and the solar corona, but take a few of those priceless seconds to do so because darkness will have fallen over the Earth at midday. This means that bright stars and planets will come into view.

Brightest of all will be the planet Venus, about two full hand spans at arm’s length to the lower right of the eclipsed Sun, near the four o’clock position.

The sky’s brightest star, Sirius, will be twinkling about 4 full hand spans to the lower right of the Sun, near the five o’clock position.

Look for planet Mars just one clenched fist at arm’s length to the right the Sun at the three o’clock position.

Bright planet Jupiter will appear nearly four full hand spans to the left of the Sun near the nine o’clock position.

Most challenging of all will be the bright star Regulus, Leo the Lion’s brightest star. Regulus will be shining right through the solar corona only one degree, that’s about two Moon diameters, from the edge of the Sun at about the ten o’clock position. I’ve never seen a star shining through the corona so close to the Sun, so I am particularly excited about this opportunity.

Animal Behavior and Other Stuff

Total eclipses are not just for the eyes. Open your ears and listen for sounds that are normally heard only at night – frogs and crickets chirping, mosquitoes humming, night birds singing and winging their way to their nests.

During the total eclipse of March 7, 1970, I was set up observing in the Okeefenokee Swamp Park in southeast Georgia, when night feeding alligators crawled up around me and my compadres, giving us quite a start. Animals and insects are confused by the sudden and unexpected onset of nightfall.

Also, watch for other dusk phenomena, such as streetlights coming on. During the total eclipse of July 10, 1972 from Prince Edward Island, Canada, a lighthouse right beside my observing spot flashed on unexpectedly. It might behoove you to make sure that your observing site is not under any streetlights — or lighthouses.

You will probably spy one or more high-flying airplanes, full of scientists and spectators, flying along and chasing the shadow of the Moon across the Earth. This will help extend the duration of totality for those passengers, but at the expense of being in a moving vehicle, making observations challenging.

Once you’ve taken a moment to observe the things going on around you, return your gaze to that heavenly sight of the corona for a final view. The total eclipse is almost over.

Third Contact – The End of Totality 

Faster than you can sing George Harrison’s song, “Here Comes the Sun,” the 2 minutes and 20 seconds of totality for this eclipse will be over and the dark Moon will withdraw from the Sun. Daylight returns instantly at third contact. But, don’t forget to watch for all of the same spectacular phenomena that accompanied the onset of totality, only in reverse: the Diamond Ring, Baily’s Beads, and the shadow bands again.

At this point, put back on those safe solar eclipse glasses to watch the final partial phases of the eclipse. It ain’t over ‘till it’s over – you have a whole hour of partial phases remaining before the eclipse ends at fourth contact. Chances are, the folks around you will start heading for their cars as soon as totality ends, but stick around and enjoy the final phases of the Great American Eclipse while reflecting on the spectacular things that you just experienced.

After watching this total solar eclipse, you might be hooked and want to see another one.  The next total solar eclipse across the continental USA happens on April 8, 2024, less than seven years from now, but that one won’t come as close to the Atlanta area. The Moon’s shadow will cut a swath from Texas to Maine and treat folks living in the path to 4 minutes and 28 seconds of totality – nearly TWICE the duration of this month’s eclipse.

This ain’t horseshoes, folks. Close doesn’t count. If you want to see the mysterious shadow bands, the eerie darkness with stars shining at midday, Baily’s Beads and the Diamond Ring, the stunning solar corona and prominences, then do whatever it takes to put yourself in that path of totality! It’s a short drive up to the north Georgia mountains for the most stunning and breathtaking two and a half minutes you’ve ever experienced.

This is your big chance. Don’t blow it. ***

Georgia Eclipse Path – This map from http://www.greatamericaneclipse.com shows the path of the total eclipse over the state of Georgia. Clayton, Sky Valley, and Young Harris, Georgia would all make excellent destinations to experience the eclipse. From Atlanta, the eclipse is only about 97%, not enough to see all of the cool features that totality offers.  (Courtesy http://www.greatamericaneclipse.com)

Baily’s Beads and Prominences – Sunlight streaming through deep crater valleys on the edge of the Moon creates bright beads of light, Baily’s Beads, seconds before and seconds after totality. This image, from the total eclipse in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on July 11, 1991, Baily’s Beads and several hot pink prominences are visible. (Photo by Jimmy Westlake, 1991)

Solar Corona – It is only during the brief moments of a total solar eclipse that Earthlings can see the Sun’s ten-million degree hot outer atmosphere — the corona. This image was taken during the total eclipse of February 26, 1979 from Riverton, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jimmy Westlake, 1979)

Diamond Ring and Seahorse Prominence – A spectacular Diamond Ring signaled the end of totality during the eclipse of July 11, 1991 from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. In addition, a towering seahorse shaped prominence, 10 times as tall as the Earth, was leaping off of the Sun. (Photo by Jimmy Westlake, 1991)

Jimmy Westlake 1979 Canada Eclipse – The last total solar eclipse visible from the continental USA happened on February 26, 1979, nearly four decades ago. A much younger Jimmy Westlake was in Riverton, Manitoba, Canada to study and photograph the eclipse with his homemade 6-inch telescope. At that time, the next total eclipse across the USA, in August 2017, seemed a lifetime away. (Photo by Jimmy Westlake, 1979)


Posted in Great American Eclipse, Solar Eclipse, Solar Eclipse North Georgia, Total Eclipse, Total Solar Eclipse, Young Harris, Young Harris College | 2 Comments

The Adventurous Adventures of Lil Henz II – Appalachian Trail Edition

Jenna has been wanting to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail but finding an open weekend has been a bit of a challenge until earlier last week when ConnieLou said “Hey, Jenna has been wanting to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Ashley is going to be out of town for the weekend and I’m going to lunch and shopping with the YHC girls on Saturday, why don’t y’all go this weekend?” Now I’m no dummy, when ConnieLou tells me to go play in the woods, I go play in the woods, no questions asked.  Of course, when I asked Jenna if she wanted to go, she had no objections so I began making plans and arrangements. I wasn’t a bit surprised when Jenna told me that Lil Henz II, aka Henry, wanted to go too.

In order to avoid taking two cars or arranging a shuttle we decided on a day hike. After consulting with friends Dr.s Paul Arnold and Rob Dussler, both professors at Young Harris College and avid hikers themselves, we decided on hiking from the Deep Gap trailhead in North Carolina up to the top of Standing Indian Mountain and back down. I also made arrangements for us to ‘camp’ at my super-secret camping spot in Young Harris Friday night so we could avoid a four-hour drive to the trailhead Saturday morning.

With plans and arrangements made all we had left to go was pack up and watch the weather forecast which called for a 20 to 30 percent chance scattered afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms from Friday through the weekend. In my book that’s a 70 to 80 percent chance that the weather will be just fine. We packed up Thursday night and Jenna and Henry went to work with me Friday so we could hit the road and head north as soon as I could escape, errrrr, leave a few minutes early from the office.

By about 2:30 Friday afternoon I was finished with what I needed to accomplish for the day so we jumped in the car and headed up GA 400. We weren’t in any hurry so we decided to make a couple of stops along the way.

Our first stop was at a local ‘outdoor outfitter’ up the highway near Dawsonville. We didn’t have any real needs but it’s pretty unusual for me to walk into an outfitter shop and not have something beg to go home with me, even if it’s just a map or maybe a t-shirt. Since we were completely ignored from the time we walked into the shop to the time we left ten or fifteen minutes later, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have any intentions of dropping a lot of coin. I was going to go into a vent/rant about being ignored at outdoor outfitter shops if you don’t fit the image of the stereotypical rail-thin hiker/climber/paddler/cyclist dude or dudette (it’s happened more than a few times at several different shops) but this turned into such a good trip I’m going to let it slide…but it’s fairly unlikely that I’ll be visiting this particular outfitter again anytime soon.

We headed on up toward Helen where we stopped at an antique shop in Nacoochee Village.

We puttered around the antique shop for a little while. Still nothing called out to us so we continued our drive north. We stopped at the Ingles in Hiawassee for supplies then detoured to Chevelle’s near Hayesville, North Carolina for some supper before finally arriving in Young Harris.

Once settled in, we headed up to Cupids Falls to find a new cache that had been recently placed. While we were there we noticed a new boardwalk and walk paths through a nearby wetland…

We spent some time wandering the YHC campus and then some time chillin’ on the Appleby Center patio while watching the sky go dark and the lightening in a couple of distant storms.

Even Henry, the namesake of YHC’s Peach Belt Conference opponent and Jenna’s Alma Mater, Flagler College, enjoyed his time on the YHC campus…

By 11:00 we were finally hanging up our hammocks and turning in for the night.

Saturday morning rolled around and we were up and moving early. We grabbed a quick bit of breakfast in Hayesville then headed toward the Deep Gap trailhead. The drive was largely uneventful until we began to encounter sunbeams along the Forest Service road…

Beautiful to look at but they made driving quite tricky when they hit the car windshield just right.

Once at the trailhead we shouldered our packs and headed north up the trail…

There were constant reminders of last year’s wildfires along the trail…


At the same time, there was plenty of new green undergrowth and flowers throughout the woods, especially in the lower elevations…

The trail wasn’t terribly strenuous but we took plenty of stops to rest, take a drink of water and take in the views…

As we neared the summit we ran into a couple of hammock campers so we stopped and talked for a few minutes…

Henry was glad to see the spur trail sign pointing the way to the summit of Standing Indian…

Once on the summit we all checked out the views…

After spending a little time at the summit we decided to head back down the mountain. It was a slow process but quite fun seeing things that we hadn’t noticed on the way up…like a random pair of boots left on a rock…

We also learned that we were in a Bear Sanctuary. Unfortunately no bears were seen…

Once we’d made it back down to the Standing Indian shelter Henry convinced us to make a quick detour to the shelter to have a look around and sit down a few minutes.

Finally back at the car, we headed back to YHC to pack up and make the long drive home. But not before we stopped for peanut butter milkshakes at Gibsons in Young Harris.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, AT, Backpacking, Day Hike, Day Trip, Flagler, Hiking, Standing Indian, Young Harris College | Leave a comment

The Adventurous Adventures of Lil Henz II: Chattahoochee Bend Edition

I got a wild hair to take the day off from work. I don’t typically just take a random day off but we were looking at a long weekend for the Memorial Day holiday so I decided to stretch it an extra day. I guess I’ve sort of been needing a sanity day, a day to forget about work and stressful stuff and to recharge a little. Over time I’ve learned that there are two sorts of places that I can get the most bang for my buck, so to speak, when it comes to recharging my batteries. I can spend time on the water and time in the woods. After our little walk on the Pine Mountain Trail last weekend, Little Henz (aka Henry) convinced me that we should go down to Chattahoochee Bend State Park and go for a walk in the woods and he suggested that we take Jenna with us.

We got an early start so we could get started before it got hot and steamy. We grabbed breakfast and a couple of bottles of water on the way down. Once in the parking lot at the Day Use Area near the trailhead, I ate my biscuit while Jenna took Henry to see the river…

With breakfast finished we hit the trail…

We got to check out a new bridge that was built last fall to replace another bridge over a creek that flows fairly deep ravine…

We followed the Riverside Trail to the observation tower where we stopped for a few minutes to let Henry check out the view…

As we walked along I heard the sound of Jenna’s camera shutter clicking away behind me. I wondered what she was taking pictures of…

Well, at least she got my good side…

We hiked on about half a mile or so past the tower to find a couple of caches hidden along the trail then doubled back and headed uphill along the Tower Trail toward the Wild Turkey Trail. Once on the Wild Turkey Trail we had to take a short road walk to cross a creek then headed back into the woods and down toward the beaver pond along a stretch of relatively new trail.

The Bend beavers have been pretty busy and have backed up a fairly sizable pond…

Beyond the pond we made it back to the trailhead where we started. Me and Jenna were still good to go for a bit but I think Henry was pooped and pretty much done for the day…

Little did he know that we had one more cache to find before we headed home…

Posted in Chattahoochee Bend, Chattahoochee Bend State Park, Day Hike, Day Trip, Flagler College, Geocaching, Georgia State Parks, Hiking, Newnan | 1 Comment

On Markland Pond

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Originally posted on What Lies Within:
I’m done with college! Well, sort of… I am done with my freshman year of college. It was a whirlwind of a year filled with new experiences, good and bad. However, I am not…

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The Adventurous Adventures of Lil Henz II and Cooper the Pup: Pine Mountain Trail Edition

(Title and Photo Creds: Jenna Davenport)

I’ve been trying to plan a spring backpacking trip on the Pine Mountain Trail for me and Jenna for a couple of months now. Ideally we’d try to go when the weather is cool but that’s become a bit more difficult now that she’s off in college and more than a couple of hours from home. She’s finally out of school for the summer and this weekend was looking promising on our calendars. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t looking quite so promising. Saturday wasn’t looking too bad but Sunday was shaping up to be a washout. Rather than bailing altogether we decided to forego camping overnight and take our chances on a day hike on Saturday and see if Ashley and Cooper the Pup wanted to join us. Turns out we made a pretty good call.

Wait, what? You want to know who is Lil Henz II? Allow me to explain…

See the little guy poking his head up out of Jenna’s pack in the picture above? That’s Lil Henz II, a.k.a. Henry Flagler. He has a distant relative, Lil Henz I. Lil Henz I is distant in that he lives in Cocoa Beach, Florida with Jenna’s friend Hannah who is also her roommate at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. The college is named for Henry Flagler, an oil and railroad tycoon who built the Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine in the late 1800s, which is now utilized by Flagler College. To say that Flagler was influential in the northeast Florida area in the late 1800s and early 1900s is a bit of an understatement.

Now back to our story…

We got an early start to our journey with the usual admonitions to drink plenty of water and watch out for snakes. There are only six types of poisonous snakes here in Georgia and fortunately we never encountered the dreaded coralheaded waterrattler. Actually we didn’t see a snake the entire day. We made a quick stop to grab some bottled water and Gatoraid and then a pit stop at the FDR State Park office before hitting the trail. The cloud cover was low at the park office, which gave us hopes of a cool hike…

We finally got to our starting point at the beginning of the Pine Mountain Trail at the 0-mile marker…

The first 1.3 miles of the trail were relatively flat to gently rolling and we found a few of the caches hidden along the trail…

The trail runs along the southeast side of Pine Mountain just below the ridgeline for a little over a mile until the trail crosses the road at the Gardens Overlook. Lil Henz II seemed to be enjoying his adventure…

We walked on to the 2-mile marker, noticing a lightening-struck tree along the way. Was it a sign of things to come?

We doubled back at the 2-mile marker to head back up to the Chestnut Oak Trail to finish out our hike…and felt the first drops of rain as we did. Afternoon pop-up showers were building and it rained on and off for the next hour or so. We managed to dodge the heaviest downpours under the tree canopy but all in all, the rain felt pretty good so we hiked on and enjoyed it.

The Chestnut Oak Trail was pretty much the opposite of the first two miles of the Pine Mountain Trail. From its intersection with the Pine Mountain Trail, the Chestnut Oak Trail was switchback after switchback down to the Little Bridges campsite at the bottom of the ridge and then a long gradual climb back out to the trailhead on the opposite side of the road as the Pine Mountain Trail trailhead.

Once back at the trailhead we checked the tracked mileage on my phone and found we’d walked just shy of five miles.

Then we took one last look from the parking lot overlook in front of the Callaway Gardens Country Store before heading home…

Posted in Day Hike, Day Trip, FDR State Park, Flagler College, Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park, Geocaching, Georgia State Parks, Hiking, Pine Mountain, Pine Mountain Trail | Leave a comment

An Ode to the Boiled Peanut

The Veggie Patch, our local fruit and vegetable stand, opened back up for the summer recently. The other day, as ConnieLou and I were headed home from running errands and as we passed by ConnieLou said “Too bad we’re already past The Veggie Patch, I’d like some fresh tomatoes.” I replied “Yeah, and I’d like to have some boiled peanuts.” Needless to say we found a place to turn around, doubled back and were soon pulling into the parking lot. In fairly short order we were leaving with a basket of tomatoes and a couple of scoops of peanuts.

Boiled peanuts are one of those quintessentially southern foods along with grits, sweet tea, Coca-Cola and chili dogs from The Varsity. OK, I know that you can get a Coke and a chili dog dang near anywhere but somehow chili dogs from The Varsity are special and Coke, well, Coca-Cola has its origins right here in Georgia. Boiled peanuts are simple fare…green peanuts boiled in salty water. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Sure, you can buy ‘cajun flavored’ boiled peanuts and other flavored boiled peanuts and you can even buy boiled peanuts packed in a can…but why?

Boiled peanuts, like beer and Scotch, are said to be an acquired taste. Some acquire the taste for boiled peanuts early in life, some acquire it later and then there are those unfortunate folks who never acquire it at all. Me? I acquired it early. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if I wasn’t born with it.

My earliest recollection of boiled peanuts was of eating them on the patio with my Grandpa Davenport who lived next door to us. He would show me how to look for the little bump on the side of the shell at the opposite end as the stem and squeeze at the bump to pop the shell open. He also taught me how to ‘schlurp’ the peanuts out of the shell and not lose any of the salty juice.

I remember the two of us going to buy boiled peanuts, along with fresh peaches and plums at local fruit stands near where we lived. I also remember him buying raw peanuts then boiling them with salt in a big stock pot on the stove. Once cooked he’d drain off the salty water, let them cool, bag them up in quart bags and put the bagged peanuts in the freezer for later. I usually stayed at my grandparents after school when I was in elementary school and my Grandad would break out a bag now and then and let it thaw for afternoon snacks for a couple of days.

During my college days, particularly during my time at Young Harris College, I remember buying boiled peanuts at one of a number of roadside stands. During the fall we’d head out to our favorite peanut stand to pick up a couple of scoops to enjoy while watching college football in the afternoon. More often than not these ‘stands’ consisted of an older gentleman in overalls tending a large soot-covered pot set on three cement blocks over a wood fire. The peanuts were usually stirred with a piece of wood shingle carved into a paddle and dipped out with a large metal ladle with holes punched in the bottom. I don’t think the wood fire added anything to the taste of the boiled peanuts but they sure were good.

I haven’t seen many peanut pots over wood fires in recent years. Propane burners have taken the place of wood and cement blocks but fortunately one can still find the older gentleman in overalls tending his peanut pot at roadside stands here and there. Cajun boiled peanuts and boiled peanuts in a can may appeal to some. But for me, I’ll take the simplicity of peanuts, salt and water…and that suits me just fine.

Posted in Newnan | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Wildflower Season

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Originally posted on Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap:
Each day I go out for a hike, I find more and more wildflowers blooming. I love this time of year when everything starts to sprout and turn green. This blog post…

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Excuses, Excuses…

I was a bit overdue for my Young Harris fix and was looking for an excuse for a visit.

Now to be honest, it doesn’t take much of an excuse to cause me to head up for a visit. ‘Because I woke up and the sun was shining’ is really all the excuse I need. This time around I had a better excuse. Several weeks ago I saw a notice on Facebook from the Young Harris College Flyfishing Club that they were hosting the Fly Fishing Film Tour on Campus in the evening on April 8. I checked my calendar and discovered that April 8 was a Saturday. Needless to say I had to go.

The week leading up went by painfully slow but April 8 finally came around. The dinner, which was included in the price of the Film Tour ticket, was scheduled to start at 6:30 that evening. It’s a 2 hour and 45 minute drive from our house to Young Harris so I left at 9:15 Saturday morning to give myself plenty of time to make the drive and stop for lunch before dinner started.

Maybe I gave myself a little too much time?


I rolled onto campus around 12:30.


I spent a short while wandering around campus and visited the college bookstore then went on to check on my lodging for the evening…my super-secret spot nearby where I hang my hammock for the night when I’m up for an overnight trip by myself.

I still had some time to kill before dinner started. Fortunately I had a plan.

During the week prior to my visit I spent some time looking on the Geocaching.com website for nearby caches that might need my attention and noticed the Rivercane Walk Series, a new cluster of caches in Little Brasstown Creek Park, located at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, a few miles northwest of Young Harris.

The drive up to Brasstown was a bit bittersweet. As I crossed the state line heading into North Carolina, I noticed that the Border Hop, the last of the three old beer joints (also including Robert’s and Buckwheat’s) that were popular with stu…err, locals back in my college days, had closed. Apparently it had been closed a while as the boards that had covered the door and windows were beginning to fall off. Guess I haven’t passed that way in a while.

Once in the parking lot, I retied my boots and checked out the sign that described the rivercane in the park, a type of giant grass similar to bamboo, and its importance to the Cherokee people who once lived in the area.

The Rivercane Walk winds through the canebrake and hayfields along Little Brasstown Creek…

And is dotted with art installations…


And observation decks overlooking Little Brasstown Creek…

As I walked along I noticed that the gradient of the water flow in the creek had decreased and the creek had widened significantly.

Caution, beavers at work…

And not to be overlooked, there were four caches stashed along the path…

And a fifth was hidden in one of the hayfields…

What? You think I’m going to post spoilers? Think again…

Unfortunately I never found the cache in the hayfield. I know what I should be looking for but just wasn’t ever able to find it before it was time to head back down to Young Harris to catch a few innings of Mountain Lion baseball before dinner and the Film Tour.

Oh, and how was the Fly Fishing Film Tour, you ask? Definitely worth the cost of a ticket…and I brought home a few raffle goodies and a new cap to boot!

Posted in Campbell Folk School, Geocaching, John C Campbell Folk School, Young Harris, Young Harris College | Leave a comment

On the Grid – March 11, 2017 – Venimus, Vidimus, Vicimus

I’ve been waiting for a year to write this entry. Yesterday I finally conquered my 366 Grid. One year ago yesterday, ConnieLou (and her doctors) conquered breast cancer.

Venimus, Vidimus, Vicimus!

We came, We saw, We conquered!

You may remember from my March 13, 2016 entry that I did not find a cache on March 11, 2016…the day of ConnieLou’s cancer surgery. I had intentions of finding a quick cache sometime during the day while going out to grab a bite to eat…but that didn’t happen (and that’s OK). Although it wasn’t confirmed for a week, ConnieLou, with the help of her surgeon, conquered breast cancer that day.

I had to wait a year to finish up my grid…but that gave me time to plan, to select a special cache worthy of commemorating both conquests. But I didn’t really need the time. It only took a few minutes to think of the perfect cache. The answer was obvious.

That special cache had to be at a location special to both of us. Like near the place we first met, the place we first kissed, the place we took moonlit walks, the place we both graduated in 1985. The location was obvious…Young Harris College.

But it wasn’t to happen quite like that.

Nope. Not at all.

Plans got changed late last fall when I discovered that the cache that I had in mind had been archived and was no more. Even worse, there were no other caches on the YHC campus that I haven’t already found and logged. I contemplated maybe using another nearby cache but there really weren’t any nearby that were in a location quite as sentimental.

ConnieLou provided a possible solution when she started looking over the calendar and realized that Ashley’s and Jenna’s spring breaks overlapped by a weekend and suggested that we go to the beach. As it turned out, Ashley and her boyfriend, Austin, were planning to go to St. Simons Island near Brunswick, Georgia for a few days over their break and since St. Simons is just a couple of hours north of Flagler College in St. Augustine, St. Simons became the destination of choice. I took a look at the cache map for St. Simons on the Geocaching.com website and saw that there were quite a few caches on the island and in the surrounding area. Then, while reading the cache descriptions, I discovered that there was a cache located at the St. Simons Lighthouse…at the top of the lighthouse…129 steps up from ground level (Lighthouse Keepers Lament, GCHAGX). The choice was obvious.

Then the waiting began.

March 10 finally rolled around and we all were finally on our way to St. Simons. As the day progressed I began to think I might have to wait another year to fill my March 11 spot on my grid. We got a late start leaving the house and had some car troubles on the way but fortunately everything came together and we made it to the cottage we’d rented for the weekend.

We woke Saturday morning to a beautiful day. I enjoyed a morning pipe on the screened porch then a leisurely breakfast before getting ready and heading over to the lighthouse.

We paid for our tickets, checked out the lighthouse museum then headed to the top…climbing all 129 stairs…

There were landings and windows every twenty to thirty steps so we stopped to enjoy the views and take a picture or two…

ConnieLou wasn’t feeling up to the climb so she found a place to sit in the sunshine and cheer us on from the bottom…

Once at the top we spent a few minutes checking out the view then remembered we were there to find a cache. I made a trip around the top of the light looking for a hiding spot on the outside and was just about back to the door when I heard Austin say “Hey, is this it?” Sure enough it was. I signed the log and Jenna took a couple of pictures before Austin tucked it back into its hiding spot.

After a few more minutes of enjoying the view we headed back down to spend the day piddling around on the island and chilling on the beach…literally…hey, it’s still March after all…

Posted in 366 Grid, Geocaching, St Simons Island, St Simons Lighthouse | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yep, I survived my 52nd trip around the sun and have started another. When ConnieLou asked me what I wanted for my birthday I had to think about it for a little bit. There’s almost always some little gadget or piece of gear lurking in the back of my mind but for once I was drawing a blank. As I was watching a hammock camping video on YouTube a few weeks back it hit me that what I really wanted was a down underquilt that would carry me through a southern winter and keep me comfortable at temperatures 10 to 20 degrees colder than my DIY Climashield underquilt could handle.

I already knew that there are plenty of options available from small ‘cottage’ manufacturers so I began to do my research to figure out which suited my needs and wants which included goose down fill, full length (72 inches) and a 20-degree (F) rating. All in all, finding an underquilt that I liked that met my criteria wasn’t hard at all. There were several that fit that bill but when I got down into the details I found that Hammock Gear’s Incubator 20 grabbed my interest.


For the most part, Hammock Gear’s products are made to order and one can choose between fabric weights and fabric colors for the inner and outer shells and can also request additional down fill if desired. But…they also have a few already completed pieces on their website that can be had at a bit of a discount if you’re not picky about colors. Luckily, they had an Incubator 20 with a black outer shell and Mediterranean blue inner shell which was pretty close to what I wanted.

I placed my order and in a few days found a large box on my front porch. Fortunately it arrived on a Friday so I wouldn’t have to wait to hook it up and try it out. ConnieLou was kind enough to come out in the woods in the dark to help me adjust the suspension and tighten the cinches at the ends. I knew that a 45 degree night wouldn’t be much of a test for a 20 degree quilt so I compensated a little bit by wearing just a pair of soft shorts, a t-shirt and a light pair of socks…and stayed toasty warm.

Fast forward a week…the weather prognosticators were predicting that a cold front would move through our area yesterday that would bring a little rain and much cooler weather. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to give the incubator a better test.

I hung up my hammock, quilts and tarp in my usual spot…


…and pitched my tarp in ‘porch mode’…


Of course I had to spend a little while confirming that my hammock, quilts and tarp were hung properly and admired the view from my ‘porch’…



Once bedtime finally rolled around I pulled on a thin fleece shirt, a pair of flannel lounge pants and a loose fitting pair of wool socks and grabbed a fleece balaclava to keep my noggin warm then headed out back…


My little thermometer that lives in my ridgeline bag told me that the temperature was 40 degrees when I crawled into my hammock and pulled up my topquilt…


By daybreak it was 31 outside my quilts but I was nice and toasty warm inside and in no big hurry to get up…



Unfortunately it seems like we may be just about finished with winter here except for another cold snap or two. Guess that means I’ll get to spend the next few months figuring out how warm I can go with combinations of the Incubator and various top quilts before having to switch to a lighter underquilt.

Posted in Backpacking, Camping, Hammock, Hammock Camping, Hammock Gear, Hammock Gear Incubator, Hammock Gear Underquilt, Incubator 20 | 2 Comments