Thursday, October 31, 2013

Brown Mountain Lights Revisited

When I was in my younger days, the youth boys went on a camping trip with the church. We had an obstacle course that ran through the woods. We built fires and roasted marshmallows. One evening we all sat around the fire pit and one of the youth counselors shared a story with us. He told us about the history of the land we were on and how the Indians once inhabited the area. He told us where we could look for arrow heads the next morning and each and every one of us was locked into his words.
He then told us how on one side of the creek that we could see from where we were sitting, a young Indian bride lost her life prematurely one evening. Afterwards, the widowed Indian warrior swore that anyone he caught on the shores after dark he would exact his revenge on them. Each night he would paddle his canoe up and down the banks in his pursuit.
As if on cue, one of us saw a shimmering light through the swamp bathed cypress trees. Then we heard the slap of the water as the ‘Indian warrior’ paddled toward us. Of course, it was a counselor from the girl’s side of the creek paddling as this whole ghost story was staged. However as a pre-teen, it was as real as it gets and we all slept with one eye open in the tents that evening.
Resting to the east of the Linville Gorge is a non-descript mountain with a relatively flat peak. So vanilla in its stature, Brown Mountain would hardly be recognized except for one very unique feature. Between October and early spring a splattering of lights appear on a regular basis. The Brown Mountain Lights have spawned much investigation into the mystery including television shows and numbers of blog posts and videos.
The causes have many theories but none have become definitive. One legend is of a mighty battle between the Cherokees and Catawba Indians that turned particularly bloody. After the battle, the widows went in search of their massacred husbands by fire light.
Songwriter Scotty Wiseman released a bluegrass hit sang by stars such as the Kingston Trio and Roy Orbison that told of an old slave who was in search of his departed master.
The United States Geological Society investigated the lights on several occasions. In October of 1913, the USGS sent D.B. Sterrett to find out what the lights were and why they appeared. After a few days, Sterrett determined the lights were the result of the locomotive traversing tracks on the other side of the mountain. However, in 1916 there was a great flood that washed the tracks away, yet the lights continued to appear. So in 1922 the USGS once again investigated the lights. This investigation generated a conclusion that the lights were automobile lights, stationary lights, or brushfires.
Is this an image of the famous BML?
While I have seen the lights myself, I disagree with the conclusions that have been taken. One evening one of the wishful watchers noticed a flickering down toward the valley. “There they are,” he voiced in exhilaration.
But it was not. I had a high powered spotting scope and could make out the individual logs on the fire as well as a blue tinted light that would appear and disappear. The blue light was the screen from a cell phone that would be visible when unobstructed from the camper’s head.
However, the lights, the true Brown Mountain Lights, I cannot explain. Could it be the ones that are explained are not truly the Brown Mountain Lights? And are the unexplained a mourning apparition in search of a lost love?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Destination - Linville Gorge Wilderness Area

North Carolina once ran an advertising campaign promoting in-state tourism informing residents to discover “the State you’re in.” Unfortunately, many times we overlook what is our own backyard in search of greater adventures. Ask ten people from New York City have they ever been to the Statue of Liberty and you would be amazed at how many never have simply because it is there and they can go anytime.
I have been to Linville Gorge many times. I have seen the falls and observed the beauty of the area from many of the overlooks that surround it. However, I had never been down to the river to view the gorge from below. Considering archery deer season is in as well as bear season, I thought this would be an ideal time to experience it. Now, those of you who have been there know it is all but impossible to hunt in this way in the ‘Grand Canyon of the East,’ but this hunt was more for the adventure of it then it was to bag a game animal.
The history of the place is phenomenal. The Cherokee and the Catawba Indians supposedly battled in this region back in the 1200’s. The Cherokee were also responsible for the naming of the gorge indirectly. During an expedition in the mid 1700’s, explorer William Linville and his son were captured by the Cherokee and scalped. General Griffith Rutherford also used the ridge as a rendezvous point named Cathey’s Fort in their battle with the Cherokee in 1776.

The gorge offers dozens of trails ranging from easy to moderate to difficult. Of course, this time of year the trees are cooperating nicely with its painted canvas of yellows, oranges, rust, and browns with a little green mixed as well. Most trails range in the one mile to mile and a half range. If taking a trail to the bottom of the gorge, it is recommended to leave about two hours before sunset. The gorge gets dark quickly and I was told by one of the attendants that if you get caught in the gorge in the dark you might as well be prepared to stay until daylight breaks.
While the ridge of the gorge offers incredible views the bottom brings you a completely different perspective. From the top, you just do not get an appreciation of how vast the valley is. The Linville River cascades the entire length with waterfall after pool after waterfall. Look closely in the crystal water and you may spot a hatchery supported trout. The rock formations guarding the river provide picturesque views that deserve to be seen in venues such as the Louvre in Paris. If great nature photographer Ansel Adams would have visited North Carolina, I am sure he would have captured the same essence and feeling from subjects such as Babel Tower and the Chimneys as he did from his many photos of the Half Dome from the Yosemite National Park.
If you wish to ‘get caught’ in the gorge after dark, you can. There are a limited number of overnight passes available at no charge for those who wish to camp in the gorge. On a clear night with a location allowing a view of the sky through the thick timber, you will be able to witness a starscape that only our earliest settlers and before were able to admire.

The Linville Gorge is definitely a destination to discover here in the state you’re in.

Friday, October 18, 2013

One of the Most Dangerous Animals

It was just after daybreak. I had watched her for about 30 minutes in the dark as she worked her way across the field.  She was both beautiful and dangerous. In fact, if you think about it, most things in nature share those two attributes.
Mount Everest is one example. The largest mountain in the world has enticed many a climber with her glorious beauty. She is also a killer. Nearly everyone that has ventured to the summit has come back with either parts of their bodies missing and damaged through frostbite or falls or parts of their soul grieving for the bodies they spot on the way to or from the peak. It is too dangerous to return the fallen, so the climbers that did not make lay scattered throughout the mountain. Having made authors such as Jon Krakauer and Anatoli Boukreev famous with their stories of Everest’s ferocity, it still isn’t close to causing the death, destruction, and disease of the beast that was in front of me.
Niagara with all her history and splendidness is also a devout widow-maker. She has power that few things or places on this world could ever compare to. Many times you can visit something that is regarded as larger than life and then once you get there you realize “wow, it’s not nearly as impressive as I thought it was.” Not Niagara Falls. It actually is beyond what you can imagine. The force of the water slapping the rocks below, the spray that results towering higher than any building it is very impressive. From miles away the sound and spray can be seen. Many daredevils have ventured down the river on their way to the drop. Only a few have survived. Yet it still does not contend with what stood just yards away from me.
Yes, this was the moment. Her kind was scarce just a few decades ago. Through both management and mismanagement she began to flourish however. In fact she is so common throughout the state that North Carolina has allowed unlimited harvest. She destroys landscapes. She decimates food crops. And during the months of October through December she especially burdensome to travelers. She fears not the would-be driver and often will head for direct impact. She also shares parasites, mites, and ticks with both people and pets.
This would be my chance to turn the tables. It had now been nearly an hour after I first saw her. I was not sure I would get an opportunity. She walked from left to right out of the swamp, occasionally pulling up soybeans as she strolled through the field. Patiently I waited. For some reason she turned. I remained still and steadfast sitting on the lock-on stand. She made another turn offering my movement to grab my bow without her noticing. She then turned back toward me once again. I could tell she was completely unaware of my presence. Her ears twitching away from me and back toward the swamp gave away her lack of insight. A little closer, that is all I needed.
Then she walked towards the stand and was only a few yards away. No clear shot for her vitals, I knew I still had one shot available. Nearly directly under me I set the sights. With one steady pull the string and arrow locked in place on the Pearson Stealth II. My right index finger slowly moved up and over the release trigger. Instinctively, the pin glided to the intended point of impact and the trigger was grazed.
The spine shot laid down the doe immediately. Thirty seconds later and another deer would be done.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Moose Hunt

True adventures consist of a main storyline and a bunch of little things that make it memorable. For instance I will always remember my bison hunt back in 2006. Not only did I take one of the great beasts with a bow but peppered throughout the trip were small tidbits of things that built upon the whole feel of the hunt. Dad and I stopped at every Bass Pro and Cabela’s store on the way to North Dakota. Whoever decided on where to build these two stores did a fantastic job as they were spaced perfectly for rest stops rather than pulling off the side of an interstate to one of the many run by the different states. We also visited the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, ND, walked the grounds of one of General Custer’s battles, and hiked and climbed to the top of an old Indian burial ground. Again, the little things enhanced the experience.

David Tomlin drew a moose permit for the second time for a hunt in New Brunswick, Canada. In 2008, David was successful in downing a monster 14 point bull moose with a 51 inch spread and weighing over 1000 pounds. It was a great hunt and trip, but David wanted to spice things up even more for this second hunt. David decided to bring along his son Eli who is eight years old.
The first thing that stuck in Eli’s mind was the passage from the United States to Canada and back again. You can imagine a kid’s awe of the processes that are going on while traveling from one country to another.
As far as the area where the hunt would take place, New Brunswick specialized in agriculture production. While they harvest many different crops, potatoes do particularly well there. Eli noticed the extensive amounts of labor and machinery used during the harvesting of the potatoes.

David also took Eli on a side trip to Hartland, New Brunswick. There, spanning the St. John River is the Hartland Bridge. Constructed between 1898 and 1901, the Hartland Bridge is the world’s longest covered bridge. Running nearly 1300 feet across the river the first person to cross the bridge was a Dr. Estey who was responding to an emergency on the other side.
Another of the small things was the generator powered cabin that David and Eli stayed in. David noted that in today’s world there are often deadlines, time tables, and places to go. There, the only thing that dictated time spent were the two to them. During the evening they would sit on the porch and play cards. Father and son.

Of course, the highlight and main goal of the trip was the moose hunt. New Brunswick only has a three day season. Dale Clark, the guide for the trip, is an expert ‘moose-talker’. Using a horn made out of birch that resembles an extremely large funnel, one could understand where the term ‘bull horn’ comes from. Dale worked the call and the three of them spotted seven moose the first morning in just an hour and a half of calling. Afterwards, they hiked to a couple of beaver ponds and up a hill where they saw a big bodied bull. Eli and David crouched down and moved in closer. Estimating the distance at 300 yards, David waited for the moose to turn broadside before squeezing the trigger on the Savage 7mm mag. The shot was true and the bull dropped. The rack was smaller than one they saw in the morning but the body was much bigger. And Eli witnessed and was part of a great adventure of things both small and large.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Success from Failure

I received an email from one of the readers of this column telling me about an upcoming hunting trip. He successfully drew a moose tag in New Brunswick, Canada. Only 100 non-residents are drawn each year and this is the second time he was drawn for a tag. He told me of both his excitement of going and taking his son as well, but he was also nervous.
I wished him well and as of the day this column runs they will have returned with a story of a great adventure together.
One thing I know he is aware of is the possibility of an unsuccessful hunt. There are a number of obstacles that can prevent the reward of a great trophy to match an epic adventure.
Mark Huelsing, for instance, has dreamed of elk hunting and for the last couple of years has been buried in research, practice, and physical training in an effort to pursue that dream. This year he knew he would be attempting to the elk hunt in Colorado, but he also had an added bonus of being drawn in the Kentucky Elk lottery too. For the last 10 days I have watched him tweet and post on Facebook beautiful photos of himself in the white capped Rockies overlooking vast valleys of green. A post would appear with disappointment as torrential rains and strong winds would hinder the hunt for several days. All the training, all the study and even the money and time dedicated to the trip resulted in his return home with just a story and some landscape photographs. He has remained upbeat knowing he still has a chance to accomplish his goal with the Kentucky hunt still to come.
You can read more from Mark at Sole Adventure
My grandfather, who had taken over 100 record book big game animals in North America and Africa, came home from trips that lasted several weeks with grand stories. However the one that was painted the most vividly is one in which he did not return with his desired trophy. He as hunting one of the big cats of Africa and was going with a guide he was not familiar with. Back in the 70’s and 80’s there were few people or companies to arrange trips such as this and Papa used one that was at the top during the time, Jack Atcheson. The particular guide that Atcheson had associated with was new for him as well.
As the professional hunter (what guides are called in Africa) and my grandfather moved through the brush, the PH motioned for my grandfather to pause. “Do you hear that?” he said. Just then my grandfather saw the great cat walk into an opening ahead of them and stop.
Knowing the nature of cats something seemed awry in this whole scenario. My grandfather let down his rifle and proceeded to walk straight to the cat. It bounded off. But Papa noticed something. He saw two men on top of a cage nestled back in the brush. The guide was using captured animals and releasing them to guarantee the hunt. Papa never did get the cat he was looking for, but he never used that guide again either.
Success is not a guarantee when hunting.
However, even with the lack of success, a lot can be learned from failure. Mark will be taking his new found experience and applying it toward his hunt in Kentucky. Papa used his lack of success to find out more about the guides he would be hunting with when using agencies to book hunts. And whether or not the reader found success in his moose hunt, I am sure he and his son will learn a lot about each other.