Montford Cove Valley

Nestled along the McDowell-Rutherford County line is the farming and cattle community known as Montford Cove. Corn and Black Angus are the main reasons this area prospers, along with high nutrient Hay fields. 

I went to a spot overlooking the valley this morning to experience the sunrise. It was a cool 46 degrees with no breeze. With the passage of a cold front, the humidity was very low, making for unlimited visibility. With summer right around the corner, these dry conditions won’t last. My house is about two miles south of this spot. Charlotte is 100 miles to the east, and Asheville is 30 miles to the west. Lake Lure is seven miles further south. Hickory Nut Mountain at 3,100 feet, dominates the west boundary of the valley. 

Valley FieldTryon Mountain along the South Carolina border is the last mountain before Panama in Central America.

Kings MtnTom’s Mountain is toward the southeast and Charlotte beyond.

Oak MtnOak Mountain to the south overlooks my home, which is just on the other side.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Tryon and Oak Mountains

PanoramicA panoramic view of the valley. Save this image so you can enlarge it later for full effect.

Toms MtnGlaxhorn Mountain to the southeast…

Sunny ValleyBear Gap to the west catches the first rays…

Tryon MtnAfter sunrise, Tryon Mountain, and Bill’s Mountain, east of Lake Lure, in the foreground…

Valley FarmCow pastures are scattered throughout the valley.

Pinnacle MtnTo the northeast is 2,500 foot Rich Mountain, with Pinnacle Peak to the right…

Pink LaurelMountain Laurel has bloomed this week along the mountain slopes.

cabinIn the valley, a 19th century farmhouse looks toward Hickory Nut Mountain to the west.

Azaleas and Orchids at Biltmore Gardens

With the beginning of May comes the most colorful time for the gardens at The Biltmore Estate. Azaleas are popping out everywhere, and the orchids inside the Conservatory are more varied that ever. Steady rains had fallen just prior to my visit today, and the variations of green can take your breath away.

While touring the Conservatory, I enjoyed the classical guitar performance of James Parrish. Click below to hear Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega. He played as well as I’ve ever heard., especially this piece.

Frederick Law Olmsted’s approach road displays unusual spring reds…Roadway


This image is completely uncropped and untouched by processing… The azaleas are really this color.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Fire Azalea

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Azalea Hillside



This very unusual flower is from the Lily/Amarylis family…

KODAK Digital Still Camera


I was fortunate to happen upon a classical guitarist in one of the Greenhouses, and I sat to enjoy his entire session. James Parrish delivered a performance of Francisco Torrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra that rivaled Carlos Montoya and John Williams. What a rare treat, and much of the time he played just for me. At times, I was the only other person in the Greenhouse.

This two minute video will provide a more three dimensional tour of the gardens.



Steam Railroads near Yosemite Valley

The main reason we went to California recently was to serve as “Crew for the Day” in the cab of America’s oldest operating steam locomotive, the Sierra Number 3, based in the “Railtown 1897” state park in Jamestown. The 1891 treasure was restored five years ago, and carries passengers on trips through the Sierra foothills. 

The steam engine has been used in more Hollywood movies and TV shows than any other engine. It was the train used in the 1960’s TV series, “Petticoat Junction”, and had a prominent role in “Back to the Future 3”. It is a beautiful example of American engineering at its best. 

Steam 2Sierra No. 3   1891


Shay Side ViewOn the south side of Yosemite is another historic railroad, The Yosemite Valley Sugar Pine Railway, and we rode behind this historic “Shay” style locomotive through forest of Redwood and giant Sugar Pines. After each of our runs, we were taken aboard small “Speeder” cars that were used for fire patrol in the old days. Being in these small open air contraptions was in many ways, more exciting than being in the larger trains.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Railtown Speeder Car

Wildflower Track

I’ve produced a 12 minute video of both journeys. If you’re viewing this as part of your e-mail, click on the headline above to go directly to my blog, and see the video. It will be worth your while.

Blue Ridge Parkway at Mt. Pisgah

With storms approaching, I drove onto The Parkway at Asheville, and headed west toward Mt. Pisgah. Clouds and intermittent sun always make for dramatic scenes.

Southeast ViewToward Hendersonville

Pisgah VistaMt. Pisgah in the distance…

Mt. PisgahA closer look… The tower on the summit is over 6,000 feet above sea level, the highest transmission tower east of the Mississippi.  With most people using cable and satellite these days, the old tower is mostly obsolete.

Ellie and Vann

Having lunch at the Pisgah Inn along The Parkway is like flying in a plane…

From the InnThis view toward the southwest through the window at lunch rivals any view anywhere. That’s Looking Glass Rock, the round peak in the center, a favorite of rock climbers.

Looking GlassDiving off The Parkway toward Brevard, a visit to Looking Glass Falls is always memorable.

Cloud LineBack at home, storms were approaching from the west.  Three inches of needed rain fell overnight.


“Green Up” Time in the Mountains

That’s what the old Scots-Irish settlers used to call it when the first leaves began to burst forth in the woods, and everything was colored in many shades of light green. When I returned from California last week, “Green Up” was well underway. Here are my favorites from this year.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Pollen Spiral on Otter Pond

Fence Overlook


Red Maple


Approaching Spring Storm

Vann SmilesYours truly………..


Redwoods and Vineyards

Just north of San Francisco, you’ll find two of the most beautiful areas in the country. First is Muir Woods, home of the giant Redwoods, and to the east is Sonoma and the Napa Valley, the most famous wine district in America. This was the perfect day to visit both.

Muir Woods National Monument is named for John Muir, also known as “John of the Mountains”,  a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada of California, have been read by millions. His activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is a prominent American conservation organization. In his later life, Muir devoted most of his time to the preservation of the Western forests. He petitioned the U.S. Congress for the National Park bill that was passed in 1890, establishing Yosemite National Park. The spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature expressed in his writings inspired readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas. He is today referred to as the “Father of the National Parks”.

In 1907, a water company in Sausalito planned to dam Redwood Creek, flooding the valley where the largest trees lived. Because of heavy logging, this 600 acre forest was one of the last areas where the Coastal Redwoods could be found. To stop this travesty, the valley was bought by a U.S. Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth to preserve it, but the city took them to court claiming eminent domain. In a desperate move, the Congressman donated the valley to the Federal government, ending the court fight. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt declared the valley a National Monument, and the congressman insisted that it be named for John Muir. Today, over one million visitors a year make the 12 mile drive up the coast over the Golden Gate Bridge to experience this natural wonder in person.

These images will give you some idea of the majesty of these trees in their natural rain forest setting. How fortunate we are to be able to experience these giants.

Three Giants

Redwood Family

Stairway to Heaven

Tall Redwoods

Redwood Ceiling

Rain Forest

Redwood stream

Less than an hour east of Muir Woods is the Napa Valley and its many award winning wineries. In the center is the quaint town of Sonoma, with its many restaurants and galleries. With these four images, I have tried to capture the flavor of this exceptional valley. 

Vineyard Pink

Green Mountain

Jacuzzi WineryJacuzzi Vineyards Winery


My First Visit to Yosemite Valley

Before 1855, America and the World knew very little about the mysterious mountains of California known as the Sierra Nevada. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1849, the Gold Rush knew only that the journey over those rugged peaks was a difficult one. They were seen as obstacles, not treasures.

In 1863, the German-American landscape painter, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) changed everything when he braved the harsh conditions in the Sierras to make sketches for what was to become a series of monumental works focusing on Yosemite Valley. His first painting in 1865 was called “Looking Up the Yosemite Valley”, shown below.

Albert_Bierstadt_-_Looking_Up_the_Yosemite_Valley Bierstadt paints the valley from a vantage point just above the Merced River, looking due east with the river framed by El Capitan to the left, and Sentinel Rock and Bridal Veil Falls to the right; the spire of Middle Cathedral Rock is visible in the distance. In 1867, he painted “The Domes of the Yosemite”, shown below.

bierstadt 1867Although Bierstadt used “artistic license” when placing the spectacular features of Yosemite Valley, his images changed everything in regards to the American West. Overnight, the World was awestruck by the grandeur and sense of wonder that was on display in California. The breathtaking beauty rivaled anything in Europe or Asia. Yosemite was seen as Heaven on Earth, and people wanted to go there to experience it for themselves. As the Civil War was ending, President Lincoln signed a Congressional Act, declaring that “Yosemite Valley would be held for public use, resort, and recreation inalienable for all time.”  Yosemite became America’s first National Monument.

Looking_Down_Yosemite-ValleyBierstadt’s “Looking Down Yosemite Valley- California”, painted in 1868, looking west at sunset.

No longer would this magical place be sanctuary for only Native people. Tourists, artists, and eventually photographers flocked to the California High Sierra, discarding the Indian names, and replacing them with more American labels such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, the Merced River, and “Mirror Lake”.

After legendary American photographer Ansel Adams made Yosemite Valley a household name with his iconic black and white prints, the National Park quickly became one of the most popular of all the National Parks.

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams


One of Ansel Adams’ best known images. That’s Bridal Veil Falls to the right, and El Capitan “Dome” to the left. “Half Dome” is barely visible through the mist in the far center.

A modern photograph shows a similar view…


My small “Point-and-Shoot” Kodak would be no rival for the likes of Adams, but I wanted to capture my impressions of this wonderland as best I could with limited time and mobility. My first view of the valley was from a crowded parking area through a dirty windshield with a bright sun reflecting vinyl and plastic. Not the best creative opportunity, but I made an image through the glass all the same, and the low quality dictated that color was out of the question. All the same, this is my first impression of Yosemite, as Ansel Adams might have captured it.

Half Dome 6Half Dome at High Noon, April 17, 2016   Snow is still visible atop the dome.

Moving deeper into the valley in a crush of weekend visitors, I managed to drive past the places that I had only dreamed of before my visit. Never leaving the roadway presented a challenge, but I was curious how this superficial encounter would translate into memorable images.  You be the judge.

El CapitanEl Capitan   or “El Cap” with the Merced River below.

Bridal VeilBridal Veil Falls

Big Rock

Rock FaceThe southern face of El Cap

Half Dome ShadowHalf Dome in afternoon Shadows…

Valley RedwoodRedwoods in the Valley…

Yosemite FallsYosemite Falls…

Driving for an hour to the south entrance of the park, we spent two days at the Tenaya Lodge. To my great disappointment, the Sequoia Grove known as Mariposa was closed for trail and facility repairs. I’ll just have to come back soon to see the world’s tallest trees. 

Tenaya ForestTenaya Lodge at sunrise. It sits a mile above sea level.

Tenaya LodgeThe hotel lobby was impressive…

Vann Woods

I explored the forest around the lodge at sunrise….

Yosemite WoodsBecause of the historic drought, evergreens are dying all through the woods. Very sad. Rains have been good this year, and the snows in the mountains will replenish the reservoirs, but they came too late for millions of mature trees. We drove through miles of black trees that had perished in giant wild fires.  The fire smell in those areas was still strong.

I close with an image from the internet that I especially found compelling. 


This was most likely made from a Drone, and shows Yosemite Falls near the top, Bridal Veil Falls at the bottom, and El Capitan dome in the upper right. Ah, to be a hawk flying over this wonder. My Blue Ridge Mountains may once have had places like Yosemite, but they eroded away over hundreds of millions of years.



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