Tuesday, June 29, 2010

USCGC Walnut

The United States Coast Guard Cutter Walnut deployed on May 30, 2010 on a 5,000 mile voyage to its destination in the Gulf of Mexico at Orange Beach, Alabama to assist in the oil spill catastrophe. She is a 225 ft. Juniper Class Sea Going Buoy Tender stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii which also works marine environmental disasters. My family and I watched the Walnut skimming oil just off the beach on Sunday. She was also flanked by another local Coast Guard Cutter working with approximately 100 recreational, commercial charter, and government vessels towing booms and skimming equipment 24 hours per day. BP Oil is paying all vessels to assist in the clean-up effort. The Walnut was just out of camera range so this photo was downloaded from Wiki.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


What a change a week can make on the Gulf - bad to worse. I remember the radio descriptions at the onset of the Deepwater Horrizon explosion and subsequent wellhead leak. "Oil-maggedon" was coined from the future end time event Armageddon. Following nine hours on the road yesterday, only to arrive to view an exponential intrusion of crude oil on the beach, my first reaction to the view was I never thought it would happen here. The photo is a 7th floor view from our balcony, one of hundreds of clean-up encampments along the beach from Gulf Shores through the Florida panhandle. To view the expanse of the Gulf and the efforts of hundreds of skimming boats working 24 hours a day, it seems like mopping up a water drop in a bathtub. It looks like a literal city on the water during nighttime. Yet, the wellhead continues to spew more today than in the (2) months past. I attempted to post a video made through the windshield in Bay Minette, Alabama of huge offroad trucks being mobilized to the beach. I think the Federal Government is ramping up for a greater catastrophic influx of crude on the Gulf region. Having seen a CNN report this past week from Tennessee, a local charter fishing captain who took his own life on the bridge of his boat here at Ground Zero leaving a wife and two young sons, I am becoming angry probably to disguise feelings of despair for those whose livelihoods have depended on the Gulf and the bounty she has produced. Its all over now...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Birds Eye View - Water of Waste

June is usually peak season for swimming, sun bathing, and fishing along the emerald waters of Orange Beach, Alabama. This past Saturday morning the parking lots at condos were nearly empty. The beach service chairs with umbrellas remained unoccupied throughout the day. The four boats in this photo are actually two pairs of boats towing oil absorbant skimming booms. A flotilla of 50 pairs of local sportsfishermen, commercial charter fishing vessels, and government boats were working diligently with oil stained hulls throughout the morning until the surf kicked up to the extent that booms in-tow became ineffective. The damage is not from thick black crude. A rainbow colored sheen is visible in still waters. A brown milky mix of oil emulsion rolls at the water's edge of the beach. Safety patrolmen on 4x4 Kubotas, Mules and Rangers were available to discuss the advisory to stay out of the water. Only an occassional visitor would venture in any farther than knee depth. Our government is ramping up equipment in staging areas along the beach for an apparent worse scenario. Large track hoes, off road mining dump trucks, scores of 4x4 all terrain vehicles, and hundreds of port-o-lets are standing by under armed guard in State Parks. Damage claim offices are scattered from Gulf Shores to Perdido Key. The typical wait at any of the local restaurants is about an hour. We were welcomed by management at the entrance of two restaurants during the weekend with only several tables with guests enjoying a meal. Raw oysters and several species of fresh fish have been removed from the menu. The economy of the Gulf South is now under the effect of the worst oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps the nation. I expect many local businesses who invested their entire livelihood will not survive. I personally did not see any living creatures in the waters. Just the gulls waiting for a handout on the beach. More to follow during weeks ahead.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Spider Man

My wife and I were enjoying some downtime last Saturday on a favorite sandbar located in the middle of Old River near Perdido Pass at Orange Beach, Alabama when a stork flew over and dropped this little boy into my hands. We decided to keep him! Today is our son's 5th birthday. Happy birthday "Spider Man". We will always love you more than you will ever know. You have been such a blessing. Daddy will be home for your birthday party this Saturday.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


There's nothing that I can add to this photo....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blazing Like a Torch

Having commented on the looming environmental catastrophe in the Gulf in my most recent post, the blog was seemingly incomplete. Some sense of troubled awareness lay deep in my subconciousness. My alarm was set at 3:00 a.m. this past Monday. At 2:50 I was already awake contemplating the five hour drive to the project office in Tennessee. Many things can pass through the mind of the wayward traveler during these early morning hours on I-65. I was recalling the news of the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, the eventual sinking of this $350,000,000.00 offshore exploration drilling rig (photo attached was taken from the internet and source was not indicated), and the days following with media speculation of this event surpassing the Exxon Valdez spill in the Prince William Sound of Alaska. We love the Emerald Coast of the United States and the real threat of ruin from the continuing uncapped wellhead is heavily burdening my family. Traveling to the beach as often as possible all seasons of the year, we enjoy fishing, viewing the abundance of marine life, and relaxing on some of the whitest sands on earth. During the drive it finally dawned on me that I have studied scripture with unprecedented parallels to the potentially unsurpassed marine disaster. I feel a sense of urgency and invite you to continue reading the following:

The apostle John wrote of a Holy Spirit inspired vision in Revelation 8:10-11 "Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter." (NKJV) When this prophecy becomes fulfilled, the world will be in the period of the Great Tribulation. This writing is not to imply that we are in this period today because this is not the case. The bible also teaches in I Thessalonians 4:16-17 "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." This event is the Rapture. Many years ago I surrendered my life and asked the Lord Jesus Christ to save me. I know what I know: I am a child of God. I believe in the inerrant, infallible Word of God. I will not be on the face of this earth at the onset of the Great Tribulation.

My friends, surely you are cognizant of the days we are now living. Wars, rumors of wars, and earthquakes occurring daily. It is written "Blessed is he that readeth, they that hear the words of the prophecy of this book, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand." Revelation 1:3 (KJV) I am thankful that I was not called to be an evangelist and certainly am not attempting to become one today. I am thankful more so for having been given the opportunity to work in places of quiet isolation. "Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10. If you do not have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, I urge you to evaluate your destiny in eternity today. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him..." Revelation 3:20 You were born with a soul to live forever. There are only two alternatives: accept the gift of enternal life through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on a cross at Calvary or eternal separation from God the Father. Hell is a real place of unimaginable sorrow and despair - a great chasm where no man can cross. An Atlanta pastor teacher once stated in his sermon about Hell, "Not believing in Hell is like standing on the beach with an approaching tital wave and stating I don't believe in that huge wave." I have not lived a perfect life, not even close. Those of you who know me personally realize that I am rebellious in my nature. This remains an ongoing battle within. I can say with certainty that having rededicated my life back in '01, the Lord has never failed to meet me in times of my greatest need. I invite you to seek the Lord Jesus Christ today!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

OIL - Storm on the Horizon

The nation has recently been awaiting news of the completion of the first of three concrete and steel 100 ton "containment domes" constructed by BP in an all or none effort to corral the 5000 barrel per day wellhead leak south of the Mississippi River delta in the Gulf of Mexico. The photo attached was taken with my cell phone last summer in Orange Beach, Alabama just minutes before a super cell thunderstorm ran us indoors. Friends on the beach this past weekend forwarded photos of containment booms which had been deployed just off the beach that were washed ashore in 8' breakers from strong southerly winds and astronomical high tides. Hopefully, these have been replaced. In my opinion, booms will offer little defense if the wellhead leaks are not contained very soon. The spill will overrun protective booms in moderate surf. In reality, Orange Beach can be cleaned up by hauling off contaminated sands and new sand will be pumped back to the beachhead. The catastrophic damage will be to the abundant marine ecosystem, especially in the estuarine ecosystems of Mississippi and Louisiana. Dr. Guy Harvey stated in an advertisement on Island T.V. last year, "this Gulf is one of the most prolific in the world." So, what is the point of this posting? I confess that I own a gas guzzling Superduty four wheel drive pickup and will always because my lifestyle involves farming, hunting, and offshore sportsfishing. I need a larger truck today with a more powerful engine! Just this past weekend I towed a trailer with 10,200 pounds of agricultural lime to spread on a field. I am heavily dependent on refined crude oil, i.e. gasoline. I will always budget to purchase fuel for my truck, and in reality, at any cost. The petroleum industry in this nation has such an enormous lobby, fuel alternatives are unlikely in my lifetime. Technology exists for nuclear powered vehicles. However, profitability of the petroleum industry is extreme to the extent that the industry can afford to perpetuate itself at all costs. If gasoline reaches $4.00/gallon as a result of the spill, something else in my budget will have to go. I will never believe that an electric engine that will fit under the hood my my truck will tow a John Deere tractor on a tandem axle dual wheeled trailor. Besides, I like the roar of a large V-8 engine and will never become acclimated to the whine of a weak battery powered oversized golf cart engine. As Pres. "W" exclaimed, America is "addicted" to petroleum based fuels. I will not be registering for "rehab". Bring on a nuclear fusion nacelle for my truck with 1000 horsepower output and I'll definitely give it a shot. This is not my attempt to post random mundane satire, and in my nature, I am only interested in TRUTH. The truth is this is the American way. Oil exploration is not going to cease in the Gulf of Mexico, Chukchi & Beaufort Seas north of Alaska, or the Atlantic seaboard recently opened for lease. Historically, the U.S. has been "knee-jerk" reactive with new policies following major catastrophic events and we should expect more intensive environmental impact studies and tighter controls on the petroleum industry. Who will pay the tab? The consumer at the gas pump.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The King Corridor

Reviewing the photos of last summer this fine specimen of a jack cravelle caught my attention. The proper name is Cravelle Jack, Caranx hippos in scientific binomial nomenclature. My nephew, nicknamed Haas (as in Cartwright), was very proud and exhausted following a lengthy battle. We were fishing southwest of Perdido Pass in Orange Beach, Alabama. The bridge is located on the horizon between the (4) condos on the left and the (1) on the right. Thunder Bay Fishing Team were trolling for king mackeral with 30 pound tackle. Terminal gear included feather dusters of various coloration with cigar minnow rigs on 108 pound leaders. Kings are "toothy" and monofilament will not stand up to the king bite. I always drag a tuna teaser with 50 pound tackle well behind the king spread for the occasssional strike of something much larger. Humidity was very high on this July morning and Haas was sweating bullets, in reality to the point of "heat stress", following the battle on the Penn International II 50 TW and Penn Tuna Stick rod. Jacks are the stronger of the fish species in the Gulf of Mexico for its size class, comparable to Amber Jacks which are found in deeper waters. These fish will strip drag and turn sideways in the water column. Its like reeling a 4'x8' sheet of plywood. The best way to save time with jack cravelle is backing down with the boat as with the pelagic species like marlin and tuna. The "king corridor" is about 7 miles southwest of the Perdido Pass. We typically pick up a limit of kings within a few hours in the 40-45 feet depth while trolling parallel to the beach. After reaching the limit we spot for birds, downsize to 20 pound tackle, and target spanish mackeral. Bonita will wreak havoc on Penn 750 spinning reels and usually we run the fish with the boat to preserve the line spool. The Orange Beach charter fleet and most locals fish for the bottom species, red snapper. However, in past years season limits have decreased and fish size minimums have increased to eliminate overfishing the snapper population. There is much controversy over the seasonal regulations and the economic affect on the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach economy. We enjoy trolling for "smokers", i.e. kings that can smoke the drag on Penn 4/0 reels. These fish are very good eating. Note: the larger kings have been determined by marine scientists to contain a high mercury content. Read local advisories regarding a safe size of king mackeral for table fair. If you are interested in marine science I would like to suggest the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Guy Harvey Research Institute. Dr. Harvey's blog is listed on this site under "My Blog List". He has dedicated his life to marine conservation and remains the renowned artist of marine fauna and flora. Sales of his artwork fund his science institutions. The attached photo was taken with my cell phone. Regretably, the quality is not good. Typical coloration of jack cravelle includes beautiful shades of yellow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Take One for the Gipper!

I expect that Auburn University and University of Alabama students were disappointed in the weather last week during spring break in Gulf Shores. Perhaps they enjoyed a touch of spring on Saturday with sunny skies and highs in the 70s. During my youth we would make up for it with the nightlife! Those were the days! (Uh...that is, many days ago...) Winter has lingered in the Deep South. Each year on "departure Sunday" tired and sunburned traveling students crowd local fast food restaurants in my home town about 100 miles north of the beach. Those with "bronze tans" this year probably purchased it from a tanning salon prior to the spring break roadtrip! This photo was taken last October in Gulf State Park with my cellphone. The Park is located between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. In the distance beachhomes have either been restored or rebuilt following devastating Hurricane Ivan. Sea Oats waving in the prevailing southwesterly wind are protected in all Gulf South States to preserve the natural community. On family vacations to Santa Rosa Island, Florida during the '60s my family would gather sea oats for home decor. We did not know better. The Gulf State Park is popular during the summer for family portraits of all members wearing the typical khaki shorts and white shirts. For years I stated I would never dress in the "family beach uniform" for a picture. Last year when my wife said it was time for the family beach portrait, I bit the bullet and ironed a pair of khaki shorts pronto! Sometimes you just have to take one for the Gipper!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where Is This Place?

Back to the blog after a month away as a result of a change on the work front. Last entry mentioned the unusual snow event I encountered during a travel day in the Deep South during February from the Nashville office to home in south Alabama. In the consulting business one must remain flexible and mobile to respond to the needs of the clients. Having just made a commitment for an apartment within close proximity to the office the boss walked by and asked if I could report to a critical project within (20) hours. The answer is always yes...its the nature of the business. The photo reflects fall foliage on the slope of a mountain which is renowned for civil war history and continues to be a primary tourist destination. I met my family here during November on a weekend while I was working in the Shenandoah National Park. This location is midway between northern Virginia and south Alabama. Actually, I met my wife and son on (2) occasions. Sticky Fingers Barbeque became our favorite pastime following visits to the Aquarium and Imax Theater. Figured it out yet? How about a few more hints. See Rock City. See Ruby Falls. The billboards and barn tops advertise this hotspots several hundred miles north or south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Who would have thought that I would be working 25 miles north three months after the tram ride to the top of Lookout Mountain and the half slab of ribs, slaw, and baked beans downtown. Following a week at the airport extended stay hotel I moved close to the project to escape the Chat traffic. Then were long days of work followed by night internet courses to meet the objectives of the client. Tonight I celebrate the relocation and duration of the new project (in consideration of the status of the national economy-I am blessed), completion of the nightly cram sessions for certifications (passing the final exams), and flexibility to drive home on weekends to be with my family (SNP was a long, long way from home). I look forward to returning to this blog with new photos, new stories, and encounters with the Lord Jesus. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." ISAIAH 64:4

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Southern Snow

The weather channel reported the snow in the Deep South was a once in a decade event. Departing Nashville shortly after noon on I-65 south I encountered light flurries an hour north of Birmingham, moderate snow in Montgomery, and almost whiteout thirty miles further. It honestly looked like those Dakota blizzards as one, two, and then a third vehicle had lost control and plowed through snow and mud on the right-of-way. My concern early in the journey was to reach home before dark as forecasted temps dropping in the low 20s would re-freeze the precipitation on the interstate. State troopers and DOT crews were posted at many bridges monitoring conditions. What an opportunity today to get back out the the hunting property. A great buck had given us the slip the last week of the Alabama season. Snow would give me an opportunity to look for tracks and other sign to verify that he survived the season. An hour into the walk the familiar tracks were found. We do not often see a buck track in south Alabama with the width of three fingers. Indeed, he had survived and he was still on the property. Following a short pursuit I jumped him from his bed in a thicket where only a dusting of snow had accumulated. Honestly, he was large and very dark in color. I could not get a clear look at his rack. No matter, I had found his core area with scrapes and rubs. I have not hunted this area throughout the years. The snow was very beneficial in this post season scouting expedition. A text message was received by my family hunting partners that 'Ol Three Fingers' will be around next year, and a ladder stand will be waiting on the first day of season. The photo was taken last December in Shenadoah National Park. I've posted this particular buck on several occassions. I became quite fond of him, especially after he allowed me to crawl in snow within four feet while he continue browsing. Hopefully, this fine buck is surviving the immense amount of snow in the Park. Last report was about 3 feet.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ending Well

Back at work this week following time off to hunt the whitetail deer rut in south Alabama. The schedules worked well this year as the men of the family were able to meet together at the old camp. Hunting was exceptional! The weather ranged from highs near 70F early in the hunt to highs in the low 40sF later in the week. Very heavy rainfall did hamper a day, but most braved the elements in shooting houses none-the-less. Each member of our hunting party was offered an opportunity for a shot at a nice buck. Total for (8) consecutive days of hunting: (8) bucks-(6) of which were in the middle-aged to mature range. (2) complete misses. Quality deer management (QDM) is working on the property and antler development is improving each year. The photo attached unfortunately is not from our hunting property. This buck was photographed on Dec. 15 at Shenandoah National Park, just (7) days before the project I was working on shut down winter. The anticipated yearly rut in south Alabama is typically the last week of January. This year we began observing bucks actively chasing does on January 28. Honestly, it is my opinion that the rut is still active this first week of February. I must admit that I was somewhat rundown toward the end following the daily alarm of 4:50 a.m. Enjoying fellowship and good meals, one has a tendency to stay up too late night after night re-living the day's events. Then, back up early the next morning with expectations of observing and possibly harvesting the buck-of-a-lifetime. Reviewing my diary tonight of Dec. 15, the same day I photographed the exceptional captioned buck, I find my devotional time was centered around reading how Mark (John Mark, author of the Gospel according to Mark) learned how the end well. "Mark eventually accepted the challenges of his ministry-difficulties and all, and ended up a winner", teaches Dr. C. Stanley at In Touch Ministries. "Many of us fail to end well because we mistakenly think that God's call to personal ministry depends on our own skill level. We must depend on God and glorify Him through the end." Dr. Stanley continues, "Much of the Christian life is low-key, tame, and ordinary. This life will be celebrated in heaven." My family members look forward to celebrating with loved ones in heaven. We glorify the Lord today for our blessings of freedom in America, opportunities to live the outdoor lifestyle and pass on the hunting tradition, and to view the hand of God by evidence of what we see and experience in nature.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Recovery

Saturday morning was not the typical January winter temperature in south Alabama. Following weeks of colder than average temps, 51 degrees seemed balmy, especially with rain and a strong southerly winds. The morning hunt ending around 10:00 a.m. only produced sightings of (1) spike buck at ten yards which appeared extremely nervous and (3) does crossing into heavy cover. Whitetail deer rely on their keen sense of smell and hearing for protection. All of their senses are not optimum during these types of weather conditions and not surprising to me did these animals pass without stopping in the winter wheat, oats, and white Dutch clover. Back to the same stand around 3:00 p.m. conditions remained unchanged. I enjoy the view with a pair of Nikon 10x50 binoculars. These come in handy to check deer gender at long distances and judge smaller bucks which are passed to grow into more mature individuals of the population, a practice of the quality deer management concept. (Google QDMA for more information). 4:00 p.m. - another spike, or possibly the (3) point buck I saw two weekends passed crossed at about 3o0 yards not even paying attention to some does in the green field. The peak rut in this area is generally during the last week of January which is also the last week of the Alabama deer season. It can happen over night, slow buck movement in an afternoon and rutting behavior with bucks running everywhere the next morning. Through years of experience, I've learned that a hunter just has to be in the woods as much a possible to catch the days of peak rutting activity. 5:00 p.m. brought low light conditions from dark overcast skies with continuing steady light rain. Catching movement of a deer crossing at a long distance, I quickly found a tall rack "shooter" buck with the binoculars. During wet conditions, I also take the Remington Model 700 BDL in .270 which "Santa Clause" brought to me when I was about 12 or 13 years of age. That's been a long while back! Having hunted successfully with a Tasco 3x9x40mm scope for many years, I eventually upgraded to a Leupold Vari-X II in 3x9x50mm which gathers more light. The rifle is zeroed in at 100 yards. (Not many locations in south Alabama offer a shot in excess of 100 yards!) The buck stopped long enough for me to get the crosshairs on him. My guess was that he was at about 300 yards so I held 2 inches high above the line of the back and fired. I did not see the typical hind legs high kick innate response following impact. The buck just dropped slightly with his head held high and ran into heavy brush. During the rain I rushed down to the location I believed the buck was standing and found no sign, no tracks, nothing...Running out of daylight I headed back to the truck to get a Maglight to continue the search for any sign that I may have connected with the .270. Each hunter knows the sinking feeling in their stomach when it becomes apparent of a complete miss. Then comes the second guessing of why did I even take a shot at this distance? The longest shot I've ever made is 264 yards. I eventually gave up the search and headed home, replaying the scenario over and over in my mind. Discussing the ballistics for the 130 grain boat tailed soft point over the cell phone with my brother, a very accomplished deer hunter with some big trophy class mounts on the wall, he encouraged me to return the next morning to continue the "forensics" to find some closure for the hunt. Following about an hour of searching on Sunday, I decided as a last resort to walk my line of fire toward the elevated shooting house. What a sense of relief to find hair as a result of impact approximately 50 yards closer than I had estimated. Within a few minutes I found the buck at about 70 yards. The area I hunt has a large predator population of coyotes and bobcats, and the rare sighting of black bears. Unfortunately, the coyotes had already cleaned this 9 point buck from the shoulders through the hind quarters. I recovered the rack for photos to give this buck the dignity he is worthy of. The shot at the determined distance of 250 yards was perfect and humane. Sportsmen never want to waste an animal and will make every effort to recover it. The conditions were all against me on Saturday evening but recovering this buck made all the effort worth while. I am resolved that the coyotes need a feast every now and then! I'm off next week to host my dad, brother, and nephews at the camp for the final week. We have been getting together the last week of January since I moved to Alabama in 2000. Hopefully, I can share some very exciting outdoor encounters from these upcoming adventures in the field.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Big Woods Deep Water

My son's academy hosts a yearly fundraising event. Local landowners donate their favorite deer hunting stands in January for three days. Fathers of students who are accomplished hunters themselves guide those participating in the hunt. The event has grown throughout the years. Hunter success rates are quite impressive and several trophy deer are harvested each year. Most of the hunters are from out-of-state and book a year in advance for the return. Unfortunately, due to my work schedule, I was not able to help this year. However, I did receive a call today from one of the guides. Upon finding him on the roadside shivering with wet feet, he explained that his Pathfinder was, as they say down South, "bawged down" with water in the doors. It was substantially worse then he described. Finding his exhaust pipe almost submerged and the engine off I expected the vehicle would not start. That Nissan fired right up! The vast preponderance of evidence in the photo supports the fact that it took a little work! My four year old cheered "Stuck in the mud! Stuck in the mud!" as the F-250 "bellered" - that's southern for bellowed or moaning in need of relief. I had to get into the horses to accomplish the mission. As I think of all that ice floating around the Pathfinder, I still get chills thinking about my good friend sloshing down the woods road to the nearest house to call. Talk about a bad day, he also lost his cell phone in the mayhem!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Way to Begin in 2010.

First day of 2010. I remember as a child thinking about how cars would probably be a thing of the past at this point in my life. People would be jetting around in miniture space ships. (LOL!). No, I still enjoy getting to the woods in my '75 CJ-5 Jeep. Out the door now at 10:00 a.m. to the out-of-doors day three of mid-day hunting Alabama. Full moon this week. I've learned that mature bucks have a tendency to move during this time of the day during full moon phases. I've been on a big one which I hope looks like the photo from SNP. Haven't seen him yet. That's why its called hunting and not shooting. Last night a friend brought over some seafood gumbo. We cooked some rice. Talk about a feast with the lasagna my wife prepared. Cajun and Italian! No where else but the Deep South for good food. I brought the new year end with an overfilled stomach and my head on the pillow...
Update: 6:30 p.m. - Cold front blew in today and did it blow. One doe braved the grass patch and then exited as the nor'easter moved the trees.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Back to Alabama

In hunting camp with family since last Fri. night. Its been a great trip. A nephew harvested a nice 7 pt., my brother a nice 8 pt., I took a 4 & 5 pt., and best of all my dad and I went out together and he harvested a large buck for south Mississippi. It has 14 scoreable points with a live weight at 190 lbs. Needless to say there will be stories told for years to come. The photo is of a Shenandoah National Park resident of Big Meadows. I'll be driving back home tomorrow to catch a few days of deer hunting and then preparing to begin another assignment for the company in the greater Nashville area through spring. This deployment will put me back home on weekends. Thanks for reading and I'll let you know how the next few days in the field turn out.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Home for the Holidays

Back in the Deep South through Jan. 3. Following 3 days in my favorite deer stands I've seen the typical over population of whitetail does and a few immature bucks. Did see the strangest thing yesterday afternoon. A one antler spike buck obviously a 1 1/2 yr old stood on his hind legs in the green field and walked backwards about 10 feet to rub his preorbital gland on a high limb. This is typical pre-rut behavior but the bipedal action was almost surreal. One can enjoy many strange phenomena in the wild! Can you believe 44 does in 3 days? No I did not practice the recommended QDM by harvesting a few. Mainly because I'm just glad to be spending time with the wife and son following 74 days in north VA. Didn't really want to take the time to process the venison. Hunting Mississippi next week. The Verizon aircard service is very limited here at home these days and uploading photos is quite the challenge. This photo was taken the 1st week of Dec. in Shenandoah NP. These youngsters were giving me a show. I understand there is about 12 inches of snow up there today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

World Class

Count down (2) days before leaving Shenandoah National Park. Finally, a "World Class" buck appeared during mid-day on Skyline Drive. The best that I can possibly determine through the magnification process of the limited photos on the PC: 6 x 4 with a split G-2. He has great mass and beam circumference at the base, awesome spread, good brow tines, very long G-2s & G-3s, palmation of the main beam at the G-2s...absolutely the finest buck I've ever seen in over 40 years in the field. I've been involved with captive deer research programs at Mississippi State University and private ranches in east Texas during my undergraduate work, trophy hunted in west Texas, and I watch the Outdoor Channel shows regularly of the over exploited Canadian subspecies of whitetails. This buck is "top shelf" as a National Park icon for the Dept. of Interior. I will not attempt to field score him in fear of underestimating. Make your best Boone and Crocket score and let me know what you think! The photo sequence is in retro-order. With leaves wet and a slight breeze, I followed him to gain the closest possible position for a broadside or frontal photo. He wouldn't have it! After flanking him until I was breathing hard and the wind changed which carried my scent directly to him, he finally had enough and left the country at full speed. What an encounter indeed! I am content that I have seen a buck of a lifetime. Bucks throughout the Park are now gathering in groups, biologists call "bachelor groups." During the same hour I encountered three bucks browsing in a clearing. The largest was certainly another fine buck.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Sign Says It All.

October 7, 2009 - departed 3:30 a.m. to drive 805 miles to the Best Western of Luray, VA. Duration of this deployment in the contract: (46) days. Writing this on the eve of my departure now (72) days since I've been home. During the first project meeting, weather was discussed by those who have seen the seasons come and go. The term which came up time and again was "unpredictability". This has indeed become evident in review of my daily diaries "for the record": thunder, lightning & hail, days of freezing fog with zero visibility, (3) major snow events, sleet and freezing rain. Almost another month now past the estimated completion date and the contractor has not yet completed Road Rehabilitation Phase I. The shorts and tee shirt I arrived in have not been worn since! In my opinion it appears that the mountain creates its own microclimate. I like it! Talk about an extreme change from my last project in east central Alabama where it was 100 degrees many days in June with high humidity. Trying a diet for the first time I managed to lose 25 pounds in record heat. The contractor has indeed made a diligent effort to pursue the work. The time has come for the winter shutdown also discussed during many weekly progress meetings. The 7" snow event on Dec. 5 has incurred only a few days of above freezing temperatures. The days following with lows near 10F transformed snow into solid ice. In other words, I emailed my project manager in Atlanta, "We're done." I'm headed home for a while to catch up on much needed family and church time, and deer hunting Mississippi and Alabama family properties. Then off to Nashville for a few months before returning to Luray in the spring to finish up. Most of my weekends have involved seeing the sites in Page and Rappahannock Counties. Usually a day in SNP and a day in the Shenandoah Valley. I have blogged before that "the Valley" is one of the most beautiful places I've seen in all the states I've worked. More picturesque than the estuarine ecosystems of south Louisiana, Wildlife Management Areas of Mississippi, huge cotton fields of southwest Georgia, and large expanses of mixed hardwoods and pines of Alabama. Smoke houses, old jeeps, (2) story wooden frame houses with heating oil tanks and stacks of split firewood, fields of corn lined with piled rock fences...all these things I've seen here, this list could go on about the good life in the Shenandoah Valley. To have seen the Valley in all its splendor of fall and dormant state of winter has given me many opportunities to make some photos, now a new hobby, to share with my family. Oh Shenandoah National Park, and meeting the Lord here to renew my spirit! "And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when he was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them..." Matthew 5:1-2 "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" Mark 4:9 "When you said 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, Lord, I will seek'" Psalm 27:8 "For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Isaiah 55:12 NKJV I have also met many who arrived and left years past only to return soon thereafter to establish businesses to support other travelers who came to Shenandoah National Park. The animals are unique. Residing are several whitetail bucks I have become particularly attached to. The buck in the photo I will definitely miss. I call him "the Virginian." On this particular date he appeared very tired, old, underweight, and frankly I've worried about him since. I just hope now since the rut is behind him that he'll work his way down to some of the harvested fields to pick up remnant corn to store energy for the deep of winter of January and February. His face is now grey, gaunt, with hollow eyes, much different from other photos (see blogs Dec. 3rd & 7th). The owls, hawks, and falcons are majestic. The black bears are in apparent hibernation now - only one having been seen since the leaves fell from the canopy of the deciduous hardwood climax community. My hat is off to the Rangers who, through their dedication to the Park, patrol and protect the resident wildlife. Thanks for leading me down Tanner's Ridge Road on my first day on board. So long for now Shenandoah. So long friends I have made on this journey and those who have visited this blog so frequently. Spring will bring splendor to Big Meadows and regrowth on Stoney Man and the Pinnacles. Goodbye and be blessed!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Virginian on the Mountain

Decided to attempt my first video upload made Dec. 7. No special equipment. Just a typical Sony 10.1 megapixel CyberShot camera on maximum zoom used for documenting and emailing conditions or issues involving the project. I've missed some great opportunities for still photos not realizing I had the camera on video. The result was a few seconds not worth saving. I must confess that I have become attached to this buck and will miss seeing him when I leave for home end of this week. You may have recognized him from (2) previous blogs. I'll post one more still shot of him on my final blog from SNP, just to say goodbye.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

He Frowns on the Mountain

The Lord works in mysterious ways. I believe He also has a sense of humor. When I ask Him for something to write about all I need to do is just observe the mountain. Reviewing my photo log tonight, it became obvious. You see, I do not believe in coincidence. Although I am educated in the field of biological sciences, "scientific anomalies", systematic sampling, and probabilities, as a Christian I believe the Lord is indeed omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Therefore, since the Lord is personally involved in my circumstances each day, coincidence does not exist in my life. These photos are of one I have named the "Frowning One". The second was made on November 10. I immediately recognized this buck again this past Thursday. His disposition has not changed in the first photo of December 10. Yes, exactly 30 days and the same hour! This is one of the resident whitetail bucks at SNP which exhibits little concern for visitors. When I stopped, "Frowning One" stepped out onto Skyline Drive just behind my truck. I opened the truck door and walked within ten feet of him for the photograph. After I expressed appreciation for the photo, he turned around and stepped back to the edge covered in snow from December 5 which had become a solid sheet of ice. I observed as he had some degree of difficulty walking as his hooves found little traction. Leaving him to carry on, I drove on thanking God for the encounter. As a result of this day, I am reminded of scripture for all of us who have frowned from periods, or even seasons of unrest. "And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you." Luke 12:29-31 NKJV. Dr. Charles Stanley teaches that as followers of Christ, "We can experience peace with God by accepting that He is involved in the daily circumstances of our lives and we may rest in His love and power. Then we will understand the peace of God."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sleeping In

'Twas the night before Chistmas,

when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring,

not even a mouse.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixon!

On, Comet! on Cupid!, on Donder and Blitzen!

12 degrees this morning with a strong wind. The whole neighborhood went back to bed!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Memories of Profiles

Big Meadows offers a very unique opportunity to anyone interested in viewing the full gamut of whitetail deer behavior. Like the old cliche', some days it just all comes together. Or better yet, "It just doesn't get any better than this." My typical lunch hour usually involves some type of wildlife observation in SNP. As I slowly approached the meadow today, 4 bucks were tending a small herd of does on the right-of-way of Skyline Drive. Two young bucks started a sparring match while the 3 1/2 yr. old enjoyed some quiet time with the ladies. The lowland of the meadow held three separate herds of does, totaling about 50 head. Surprisingly, I watched a doe submit to a 1 1/2 year old spike. Then even more amazingly, the 3 1/2 yr. old buck saw this at about 150 yards and covered the distance in a matter of seconds. I honestly thought he was going to mow down the youngster and the doe. At the last second the spike "leapfrogged" and ran for his life. The big eight chased him all the way across the bottom to the east, then returned. Today, I can say that I saw the largest and probably oldest doe in all the years of observing or hunting whitetails. Just this week I asked a resident co-worker when the bucks will be dropping sheds. Down south Alabama its mid to late March. This doe was pot bellied and sway backed, and her head was as large as any mature buck I've seen in the Park. I honestly thought it was a buck that had already dropped antlers. At about 50 feet there was not doubt of her gender. Besides, she had her fawn from last spring at her side. Weather must have played a factor in the activity today. 22 degrees with a strong, bitterly cold wind. Snow has transformed to a sheet of ice. Forecast low in Big Meadows tonight, 9 above. These photos reminded of something from many years past. I remember my kindergarten teacher drawing a profile. Each student sat in front a bright light while she drew the profile above the shoulders on construction paper taped to the wall. Funny how things are long forgotten, and return from the deepest recesses of the human mind on a day such as this. It is written: "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them." Mark 10:13,16 NKJV.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cabin Fever

While logging the conditions of the project on Tuesday, these photos were obviously made from the truck window. Hopes of rain melting the snow last night faded early this morning when I approached a VDOT truck from the rear spreading aggregate on U.S. 211 and shortly thereafter ice conditions at Thorton Gap entrance station. I would guess about 1/4" accumulation on the trees and roadways which initiated a mandatory closure of Skyline Drive. Although a brief warm-up this afternoon may have started the melting process, it will be shortlived with forecasted lows on the mountain at 10-15F the remainder of the week. Last weekend's snow will likely be covered by the next round Saturday through Tuesday, further pushing back the project schedule. Several weeks of this and "Ol' Big Woods" may actually experience the mountain man "cabin fever." Thank the Lord for cameras, computers, and cell phones. Oh yea, I also thank Him for fried chicken! "A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God." Ecclesiates 2:24 (NIV)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day of the Cats

Talk about a flashback yesterday to the "Lord of the Rings" marathon this past Sunday, I had to ask myself if I was dreaming. This must be what Park staff meant in a brief meeting early Monday by "enter at your own risk!" Today the road at the entrance of the tunnel was lined with fifty pound chunks of ice which had fallen from the ledge above. Can you imagine what these would do to a windshield (& the driver)? The Park is expecting sleet changing to rain tonight with the possibility of 2". This event coupled with last Saturday's 6" of snow accumulation will probably result in some flooding. In my career, I never thought I would state this: We need rain so the contractor can go back to work! Rain should melt the snow to give the crew an opportunity to pick up where they left off last Friday. Long term forecast? Snow Saturday and Sunday. More snow probable next week. Loose ends remain that have to be tied up before the winter shutdown. We have to catch the windows of opportunity.
Tuesday has been the "Day of the Cats". Just recently I commented that I had not seen any bobcats or coyotes in SNP. During the early morning drive I encountered a small bobcat on Skyline Drive that jumped up on the cultural stone wall to take a quick look back. It disappeared in a split second. During lunch I noticed another cat near Big Meadows on "the Line". Camera ready, this one turned out to be a feral house cat. I abandoned the photo attempt thinking it was a "left behind" from last fall at "tent city". Then, it disappeared just as quickly as the bobcat. I've seen plenty of these around home. Several years past my wife was feeding (18) barn cats so wild that I had to catch them in a dip net and hold them with welding gloves for the vet to give their annual vaccinations. I've still got scars to prove it! During the early 90s, a "varmint" was getting into the trash can. By the teeth marks I expected a large racoon. The Hav-a-hart live trap revealed the meanest, loudest screaming, and foul smelling black feral tomcat in the world. It truly weighed about 15 pounds. I promptly transplanted him to Bayou Liberty Swamp in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, where it probably is living out (9) lives even today. Back to lunch time, on the drive back through I noticed the feral cat again and managed to get a "mugshot." Feral cats have been determined in studies across the globe to cause extremely negative impacts to environmentally sensitive ecosystems such as Shenandoah NP. Feral cats are very efficient predators and do not occupy a niche in the environment. They will adversely affect the food web through competition with indigenous raptors, and mammalian and reptilian carnivores. I plan to forward the photo to Park biologists. Ironically, a fawn whitetail was browsing on the right-of-way early this morning with its right ear in shreds. Cats usually attack their prey in the region of the head. Canines such as coyotes or wolves will attack the rear flank. The snow must have given a larger bobcat an edge, but a futile attempt in the end. Upon arrival to the Park back in early October I asked a Ranger about the number cougar sightings in recent years as the mountain range with an existing over-population of whitetail deer would likely house a big cat. His response was typical of State and Federal agents I have worked with in the past, "We do not acknowledge the existence of panthers in the Park." I'll blog some time at a later date for the reason this response is "so rehearsed" and also of personal experiences and those of family sportsmen on the subject of "big cats."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tired and Haggard

The Skyline Drive "hotline" recording stated no access for the entire length of SNP. I met the contractor at the locked gates and waited for updates. A Ranger supervisor arrived to advise that plows were working but entry would be "at our own risk" and gates were to remain locked behind us. Without a 4x4 I opted to wait until mid-day. In my Dec. 3 posting I stated that it would be a blessing to see "the Virginian" again before I leave for the winter shut-down. The project will not be completed. At some point in the near future, the contractor will say he's done all he can on the mountain until spring. On the sloooooow drive in crossing patches of ice I was astounded at the length of the icicles hanging from the rocks. I'll post them later. Although the Pinnacles Overlook appeared to be totally iced over I eased in just for a quick look at the snow on the mountains. To my complete amazement, up walked the Virginian along the edge of the cultural stone wall adjacent to the overlook. Again, he exhibited no fear of my truck parked nearby. The buck was totally engrossed in browsing on dead grass at the edge of the wall. As he lowered his head I left the truck and crawled up the wall. He appeared haggard, tired, and underweight now from the recent rut. At extremely close proximity to him (in reality too close to any wild animal and I would never advise it), I noticed just how "grey" in the face the Virginian appeared. I crawled away just as quietly and left the ol' timer to continue browsing. Large and small bucks were on the move mid-day. Another buck with a greater spread width was not so accommodating for a photo. Only a fleeting photo of this one running over the crest of the steep embankment. The rack was well outside the ears. Several spikes posed in the snow for a quick picture from the truck window. One doe was drinking the runoff at the edge of Skyline pavement. Snow not melting and only a trickle along the roadside for a drink. The deep of winter yet to arrive at Shenandoah NP is very taxing on the older animals. Any injuries sustained during the rut is costly as well. The Virginian appeared to have held his dominant status for yet another year.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Valley Snow

Quarter size snow flakes continue to fall at the time of this posting. Those of us residing in the deep south do not often see the beauty of landscapes altered, or should I say, enhanced by snow. I am particularly fond of old farms, especially those handed down through generations and still involved in agriculture or livestock production. The Shenandoah Valley has some of the most beautiful farms in America. I plan later in life, perhaps in my retirement years to rotate cattle on a few pastures at home. The key is "home", that is...being there on a regular basis! I am deeply saddened to find the "absolute auction" signs on farms in every state where I have worked. Having an appreciation of the years of continuous work to maintain farms, I can only imagine the devastation in losing land owned for decades. Snow accumulation reached about 4" in the valley. An attempt was made to reach the Thornton Gap entrance of SNP. Not expecting visitors to be allowed to enter the park I wanted to photograph the area of the Panorama. About (2) miles up the mountain past Park HQ I realized I had probably made a mistake as ice patches became more numerous and no place to turn around. Not having a 4x4, engaging the positive traction rear differential on the F-150 enabled me to reach the top and very cautiously make a u-turn in 7" of snow. The drive to the entrance station had not been plowed and the Park was closed. Shenandoah State Park was my next destination. Voted "Best in America", I was surprised to find the roadways plowed and open. The view of the Shenandoah River from the newly constructed wooden deck overlook was breathtaking. I watched a couple placing a canoe in the River during heavy snow. Diehards! I've just got to hand it to them. The view from the water was probably picturesque.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Full Moon Midday Movement

Last time I saw a sky similar to this at sunrise in SNP, next day brought thunder and hail. Forecast noted in the last half hour for the Shenandoah Valley for tomorrow is 80% chance of snow 2-4" accumulation possible with a high in the mid 30s. Wildlife typically change their circadian rhythm or diurnal cycle during full moon phases. During my lunch break today, I drove to Big Meadows hoping to see movement which can occur as a result of the full moon. In a 30 minute period I encountered around 30 does, 4 bucks (one photo inset), and a very large black bear. A young 4 pt. buck ran quickly across Skyline Drive and several seconds later the bear loped across about 50 yards down the road. I expect the bear was on the move midday and just spooked the buck nearby.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Virginian

This is obviously a fine specimen of a whitetail buck which has been around SNP for a long time. He exhibits no concern for passers-by. The top photo was taken November 2 which shows yellow staining of the antlers and head as a result of rubbing behavior. Zooming in one can see the antler burrs filled with bark and yellow cambium. Tree shavings rest in the hair of the forehead. The open mouth? Chewing acorns abundant at this location on Skyline Drive. Happened to catch him out on "the Line" again on November 19 in the same general vicinity. We don't see many mature bucks like this in "LA"..lower Alabama. Seeing him just one more occassion before I wrap up my work in the Park would be a blessing! If not, I'll remember him as "the Virginian."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Owl Horseback

Making a very long drive down to milepost 89 in SNP today, this barred owl allowed me to stop the truck and approach within (10) feet, almost at eye level. It is perched on a "horse crossing" sign. I don't think it was hungry enough to "eat a horse"! I like the raptors. The Park has a strong population of falcons, hawks, and owls which probably indicates an even stronger population of rodents. Following a brief photo shoot I actually resorted to talking to this very cool bird. Why not? I honestly don't think there was another soul within (20) miles! Owls have some very specialized features. They are typically nocturnal with very large eyes. All birds are thought to see color even in the spectrum not seen by humans. Owl primary wing feathers are "fimbriate", or lined with specially shaped fringe endings which dampen the noise typically heard in other birds. As a very efficient predator the barred owl can fly silently to capture its prey. I remain amazed each passing day at the difference in the behavior of the wildlife within Shenandoah boundaries. I have noted, however, that whitetail deer seem somewhat more wild in the area south of Swift Run Gap. Perhaps poaching is more prevalent in that area. Wildlife will respond to stressors placed on their populations. Note the "bluebird sky" in the background, a contrast from yesterday's sleet storm in the area of Thornton Gap.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Tradition

Today's post is in honor of those families who instil in their youngsters the tradition of the outdoor lifestyle. Whether hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, photography, or bird watching, time invested in the outdoors with family and friends is where memories are made for a lifetime. My family and in-laws were gracious by meeting me over this past Thanksgiving weekend down in the Great Smoky Mountains. I was one of the 34 million Americans on the highway late Wednesday following a long day on the project. Highway time (especially the hour wait on I-81) gives me opportunity to reflect on the many years of blessings in the field with my family. Work does not allow much time with friends and family time is my priority. The trip back north yesterday morning was pleasurable with low traffic. As the day progressed, so did the traffic. Just north of Roanoke I began reading license plates of the space shuttles in the left lane running about warp 4 on the Star Trek scale. Let's see: New York, Delaware, Maryland (by the thousands), D.C., Vermont, New Hampshire, you get the picture. No offense! I'm thankful to be working full time in your vicinity! Then, I spotted a Chevy Z-71 that just made my day. He was cruising along in the right lane like me! Red extended cab, dog box, dual exhaust, whining offroad tires, and on the back tailgate was a nice young buck. No, it wasn't one for the T.V. networks. You can be assured this man and his young son were oblivious to the rat race to their left. I was feeling a little lonesome at the time having hugged my wife and son probably for the last time until the project shuts down due to winter. I also was feeling somewhat alienated as the passers-by were giving me puzzled looks after reading my hunter orange cap hanging in the rear window. (My son's school way down south hosts an annual deer hunt fund raiser). At this very moment I recalled my Grandfather's statement to me while we were riding in his '50 Willys Jeep to the deercamp, "Sportsmen should always wave one to the other." Believe me I hit the "passing gear" and moved up along side to give that blond boy, still in his orange vest, a big "Thumbs Up"! I waved to his dad and eased on up ahead. Man, I needed that! You can bet on high fives, hugs, and congratulations for that youngster when he got home! He is the future of the sport and tradition of deer hunting in America. Anyone seeking to enjoy some great reading, research, youth events, and great photography, please look into the Quality Deer Management Association, (QDMA for your search).

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Viking

During the last two weeks of project management at Shenandoah National Park I have kept a keen eye on a certain area of Skyline Drive where a very large rub is being hit on a regular basis. I knew the buck was large by the size of the rub, see first photo. I had all but given up hope of ever seeing this deer. Then, within a hour of leaving the Park on Thanksgiving Eve, there he stood. Of about (20) photos I never got a facing shot. He absolutely would not allow it. This buck is a smart old guy. I hope Brad got a photo of him today with his high-end equipment. The old monarch was not happy that I attempted to follow him. Initially, he exhibited "piloerection" or in southern terms, all his hair stood up on end. It actually created an illusion that he was 50 pounds heavier. Then, as you see he posted his threatening posture with ears layed back. I gave him plenty of area at this point. I did not see any does during this encounter. The buck just wanted to be left alone. In over 40 years afield, I've heard deer blowing, snorting, grunting, mewing, grunt-snort-wheezing...but I've never heard the sound this buck made when he had enough of me. Turning around and looking straight in my eyes, he let loose a "black angus bull snort" and fog blew from both nostrils. You know, like in those Viking movies where the black stallion draft horses the warriors are riding would terrify the victim with snorts and nostril blasts. How ironic, I just watched "Pathfinder" last week with this very scene. (Too violent for the youngsters, use parental discretion. Great footage though.) Down in the Great Smokies for the holiday weekend. Word of advice: Check those road condition reports regularly. Nothing posted last night for US 441 across Newfound Gap. Encountered blizzard conditions, 21 degrees, and down right scary winds last night late on the way back from Gatlinburg. The Christmas lights are beautiful downtown. Take the trolley "Tour of Lights" or just make the round in the truck late after traffic lightens up. Heading back to SNP tomorrow afternoon to beat the Sunday traffic. Everyone please travel safely. Let's all count our blessings!