Sunday, July 29, 2012

Miatas Out the Wazoo!

My  Car, Parked at the Phillips Motel. Ain't it Purty?
The Miata is the best-selling two-seat convertible in history-- more than 900,000 have been sold worldwide since 1990, yet I just don't see that many on the road. But for two days in Western North Carolina Miatas were everywhere. They came in every possible color, and many were customized.

All Day in the Car, Part V: The Fat Buddy's Run

When I got back to Robbinsville I was hot and tired. I'd been all day in the sun in the car-- but there was no time to cool off. It was time to line up for the run to Fat Buddy's Barbecue in Franklin, NC.

The Fat Buddies run is popular, and there were at least 80 Miatas in queue.

All Day in the Car, Part IV: We Drove the Dragon When the Dragon Wasn't Cool

I drove the 19 miles of the Foothills Parkway back to Hwy. 129. Along the way I finally got my view of the Tennessee Valley.

That blue line at the horizon is the easternmost edge of the Cumberland Plateau.

As I drove back along the Trail of the Dragon I thought about the times Lynne and I had driven the roads of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina in our 1963 Fiat 1500 Cabriolet. It was a fine roadster, and we flat wore it out.

All Day in the Car, Part III: Back Through the Years I Go Wandering Once Again

When I came out of the Trail of the Dragon onto Chilhowee Lake, things looked familiar. Suddenly I knew where I was!

I looked to my right for a sign, and there it was-- Happy Valley Road. The sign looked much the worse for wear.

All Day In the Car, Part II: The Trail of the Dragon

Before 1992 it was just U.S. 129, a rarely-traveled sinuous mountain road that snaked its way 14 miles from Fontana Dam across Deal's Gap to the Little Tennessee River. Then Doug Snavely drove up from Road Atlanta. He drove it and fell in love with it and began to popularize it. Today it's known as The Trail of the Dragon and is the premiere drive for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. People travel thousands of miles to drive its 318 curves. Traffic is heavy, and tourism is booming.

All Day in the Car, Part I: Miatas at the Gap

It was cool until 1:30 am. That's when the air conditioner froze up.

I climbed out of bed and turned the unit on fan and sat on the couch for 15 minutes or so listening to ice falling. When everything was back in order I turned the air on high and went back to bed-- until 6 am, when I had to do it again.

I was up at 8:30, in time for my usual morning phone call from my sweetie (the room had cell reception-- just). Then I was down the road a half-mile to the Ingles grocery store in hopes of breakfast that wasn't forthcoming. This particular Ingles had no breakfast.

I checked out of my room at 9:30 and drove, top-down, through a beautiful morning along curvy mountain roads.

 I stopped to see Fontana Lake and watch drivers negotiate the curves.

The Chereohala Run

The Chereohala Skyway is a 43-mile long national scenic byway that runs from Robbinsville North Carolina to Tellico Plains Tennessee. It's named for its course through North Carolina's Nantahala and Tennessee's Cherokee National Forests. Its lowest point is 900 feet above sea level and its highest point is 5400 feet. It was opened in 1996 after 34 years of construction.
I'd been wanting to drive it for years, and now I was about to.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zoom Zoom

I'm just back from an event called Miatas at the Gap. It was the sixteenth annual gathering, and I heard about it only on Monday!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Visit to New Jersey's Sterling Hill Mining Museum

While I was in New York my sweetie and I took a trip to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in hilly Ogdensburg, NJ, an hour's drive from New York City. I'd wanted to visit ever since I pulled the web page up while trolling the Internet and discovered its abundance of fluorescent minerals. I've long been a sucker for glowy rocks!

The Museum sits at the site of a zinc mine that was closed in 1986. The mine once employed 1200 workers; it had 25 miles of tunnels, some more than 900 feet below the surface; it was the most productive zinc mine in the world. In its long life, more than 11 million tons of ore were extracted and shipped to Pennsylvania for smelting.

The Sterling Hill mine produced an astonishing variety and quantity of fluorescent minerals, especially zincite, willemite, and franklinite. More than 90 different fluorescent mineral types have been discovered at the site. Some are found nowhere else in the world.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Twenty Things About New York

I've been spending time in New York-- in the Ramapo Mountains, about 30 miles from New York City. I never quite believed you could be in a wilderness and yet be so close to Metropolis, but it's true. The Appalachian trail crosses the road about 10 miles from where I stay, and Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks are huge, in combination more than a third the acreage of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I like a lot of things about the area, but there are some huge differences-- huge for me, at least, that make me uncomfortable there.

Meat and Three

In Nashville they call them meat-and-three places-- little holes in the wall that serve up a variety of meats and vegetables. You get a choice of entree, two or three vegetables, and corn bread or a roll.

Donnie's is a meat-and-two place with the happy availability of breakfast until about 10:30 am. You'll find it on North Indian Creek, just a hundred yards or so off North Dekalb Road. To get there, turn left on Rockbridge as you leave Pine Lake, pass Memorial, and take the right immediately after the intersection. It will dump you out on North Indian Creek right with Donnie's directly ahead of you (or just drive a little further take a right onto North Indian Creek).

The breakfasts at Donnie's are wonderful. You have to wait a bit, but for less than four dollars you get two eggs cooked to order, grits, toast or a biscuit, and a choice of meat-- bacon, ham, country sausage, link sausage, salmon patty, and country ham. I like the bacon, which is cut thick enough to be real bacon and not that paper-thin stuff you get most places nowadays, but I always always get the country ham.

If you're not in the mood for eggs you can get pancakes and meat for the same price. You can also get shrimp and grits, which I've never quite understood. I mean, it's okay, but to my mind shrimp doesn't particularly seem to go with grits.

Lunch is about $6.50 with tax. Meats and vegetables are visible at the hot bar and vary from day to day, but include fried chicken, baked chicken, fried fish, baked fish, pot pie, meat loaf, swiss steak, pork chops, and turkey and dressing. Vegetables include yams, mashed potatoes, pinto beans, green beans, corn, lima beans, okra, turnip greens, and fried green tomatoes. I particularly like the stir fries. One consists of potatoes, peppers, and onion; the other (my favorite) is broccoli-based.

The meal comes with your choice of corn bread or a roll and includes a drink-- you fill your own from a soda fountain or draw your beverage from punch or lemonade containers.Refills are free.

There's plenty of seating. While you eat you can watch the othe diners or listen to judge shows on a big dim flat screen.

If you fancy a dessert, there are inexpensive ones available-- usually big brownies, pecan pie, or banana pudding.

Ingles is closer and cheaper and offers both breakfast and lunch, and I love their turnip greens, but there's no seating, so when I'm out to buy groceries or just to shop and can't think of any particular dining experience I crave, I often find myself at Donnie's. It's money well-spent.


Donnie's closes at six pm or so and is not open on Sundays.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Camera

With the exceptions of the historical shots and a couple of photos I took with a 3mp Fuji digital camera, the images in this blog were taken with my Canon Digital Rebel XT.

The XT was the second digital Rebel model. When it was introduced in February 2005 it replaced the Digital Rebel. In the fall of 2006 it was itself replaced with the Digital Rebel XTI. The latest Rebel is the T3i, which has an 18MP CMOS (the XT has 6.5MP), extended ISO ranges, and a movie mode.

The Rebel is the cheapest of Canon's digital SLRs. Some models cost thousands of dollars and are far out of my price range.

I bought my Rebel used on eBay in Fall 2009. It came with the standard 13-55mm zoom lens, battery and charger, wireless remote, a 500mb SecureDigital memory card, and the owner's manual. I paid less than $250 for everything.

The postman delivered my camera minutes before I was about to leave for a visit to the New Jersey Botanical Gardens. Click here for photos I took less than an hour after opening the box:

Because I had spent so very little on the camera, I was able to accessorize it properly. From Amazon and eBay I bought a strap, two extra batteries, a 2 GB memory card, a longer zoom lens, hoods and UV filters for both lenses, and all sorts of filters and macro lenses, and wide angle and 2x adapter that worked with both lenses. I also bought a Canon electronic flash unit to supplement the Rebel's built-in flash. I put everything in a camera bag I picked up at eBags, and I was good to go.

In the past three years I've taken thousands and thousands of photos with my used Canon. It has performed flawlessly, and I've been amazed at the quality of the images.

Unlike my previous single lens reflex cameras, which used 35mm film, the Rebel provides me with immediate results and there are no film processing costs. I can take nearly a thousand photos before having to change the battery (fewer if I'm using flash), and the 8GB memory card I just bought holds thousands of photos taken at the highest image quality.

Although the latest Rebel has more features and a CMOS sensor three times the size of mine, the only thing I miss is the ability to capture motion. I have a mini-DV recorder for that, but it would be nice to have the capability to film short movies. So perhaps one of these days I'll upgrade. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, I'm having loads of fun taking thousands of free, high-quality photographs with my inexpensive Rebel XT.

More Photos from the Georgia Aquarium

A few years ago I visited the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

I was impressed.

When I heard Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus wanted to fund an aquarium here in Atlanta, I thought, "What's the point?"

The point is, I suppose, that Bernie wanted one here, and a quarter of a billion dollars speaks loudly. Of course, our aquarium would be bigger. In fact, it's the world's biggest.

With tickets at $34.95 ($30.95 for seniors and $28.95 for children ages 3 to 12), a visit to the Georgia Aquarium isn't cheap, but there's much to see.

I took most of the photos that follow without flash. Because there was little light I set the ISO to 1600 (the max); even so, most exposures were under 1/60 second, making for a blur. Shooting through glass was confusing to the Rebel's autofocus-- all of which means the quality of some of the pictures isn't the greatest.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

SCUBA Diving in the Caribbean...

So, did I just get back from a quick trip to the SCUBA the reefs of the Caribbean..

... or did I go to the Georgia Aquarium?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

In Search of a Good Hamburger

When I crave a burger and fries I head for Family Cafe, which is located just off the intersection of North Decatur Road and Ponce de Leon.To get there, take a right as you exit the city onto Rockbridge and drive about four miles. Take a right onto Ponce; the restaurant will be immediately on your left.

An unsmiling woman with a cough that worries me with take your order. Her more jocular husband will cook it. While you wait for your food you can thumb through a copy of Creative Loafing, which you can pick up from a dispenser by the door.

There are other sandwiches, no doubt good, and Chinese food that's not advertised on the menu on the back wall, but I go there for the hamburger. For four dollars and change you get a plate with a juicy burger and a big helping of fries.

The burger fat like the ones you get at Five Guys and fern bars, but it's juicy and the thin meat works well with the vegetable and condiment-laden bun.

The fries are regular-cut, not the Frankenfries you get at fast-food places, and always cooked just right. There are so many they's a meal in itself.

There's seating, but Family Cafe is far from fancy, but it's a short drive from Pine Lake and when I've taken the food home it' been still hot unpon arrival-- but I generally eat it there.

Family cafe is open seven days a week, always staffed by the couple who own it. I've never seen an employee. Except for holidays and rare family emergency the owners are always there. I"m not sure of the hours, but they always seem to be open when I get hungry. I doubt they close before 9 pm.