Tag Archives: Writing

Beaches, Battlefields, and Blue Ridge Ridge Mountains

We’re still celebrating the National Park Service Centennial.

Smokies Life, an arty, slick magazine published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, just came out with its fall issue. It included my article entitled Beaches, Battlefields, and Blue Ridge Mountains: 100 Wonderful Things to See and Do in the 70 National Parks of the Southeast.

 The article was an offshoot of my book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields. Steve Kemp, the editor, chose many photographs to accompany the article. Since I wrote the article at the end of last year, I really had to reread it to see what I highlighted.

#5. Blue Ridge Parkway (NC, VA)
Drive up to Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (milepost 451.2) for incredible views. I’ve been writing about Waterrock Knob so much here that I don’t know if I need to show another picture.

Ranger Jose L. Gonzalez
Ranger Jose L. Gonzalez

#19. San Juan National Historic Site (Puerto Rico)
Sign up for a ranger tour, any tour. The rangers are entertaining and knowledgeable. Here, I do want a photograph of one of the most memorable rangers, Jose L. Gonzalez.

#26. Virgin Islands National Park (St. John, VI)
Stay in the luxurious campground on Cinnamon Bay, where all the camping equipment is provided.

#41. Cumberland Island National Seashore (GA)
Look for feral horses (they might find you as soon as you get off the ferry).

At the deadline
At the deadline

#69. Andersonville National Historic Site (GA)
Find Providence Springs, a spring that gushed out of the ground, supplying prisoners with  much-needed clean water.

The photo is of Lenny at the deadline at Andersonville.


So how do you get a copy of Smokies Life? The easiest way is to join the Great Smoky Mountains Association. The organization manages the Smokies bookstores and publishes the authoritative guides to the park. It supports the Smokies with projects that are not included in the federal budget. You can also buy a single issue of Smokies Life, either in the park or online.

It was a fun article to write – and a fascinating project to do. So as I say when I sign a copy of my book,

Get out there! 


Hartsville, SC – Beauty everywhere

Sesqui-Centennial Park,SC
Sesqui-Centennial Park,SC

Still on a book tour. After a delayed and exhausting flight back to South Carolina, I head to my next stop – Hartsville, South Carolina. Not enough time to really do anything but too early to just drive there directly, I looked for a state park.

South Carolina has excellent state parks and I stopped at Sesqui-Centennial State Park, a funny name for a lovely place. On the outskirt of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, it was created to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary of its founding.

Lake in Sesqui...
Lake in Sesqui…

Like most state parks, it’s big on activities. There’s walking, biking, swimming in a pool, boating on a lake and just picnicking. I took their 3.5-mile loop trail that just seemed to go on and on through the scrub. Lots of red and white oaks lining flat, sandy paths. They seemed to have eradicated the natural swamps which I assume was the fashion of the day.

Then I headed to Hartsville, SC where I had a book event at Burry Books, a large bookstore in a small town. For a town of about 7,700 people, it is incredibly dynamic. Because of the Coker family who settled here after the Civil War, the town boasts a large packaging company and Coker College, a small, liberal arts college. No wonder such a small town can support an independent bookstore.

At Burry Books
At Burry Books

The bookstore dates back from 1972 and now has new owners. I didn’t have too many people in my audience but I expected this when I was invited. That was OK. I said that I would go anyplace I was invited to talk about national parks.

I decided to make it a National Park Service Centennial party. I bought a cake locally and candles which said “100”. They provided the coffee and even some appetizers.

A few more people know about national parks and their parks close by. Historic Camden is only a few miles down the road. Not quite a national park, yet, just an affiliate and I encouraged the local audience to get involved in making it a part of the National Park Service.

I didn’t sign too many books but I enjoyed visiting an area that I would never have seen, if not on a book tour. And to me, that counts for a lot.

Signing books at a soiree

Streetcar replica in Tampa
Streetcar replica in Tampa

There’s fascinating stuff to see and discover every place. I’m in Tampa, Florida with my good hiking friend, Beth R. She invited me to come and speak to her friends on the national parks of the South. Yep, I’m there.

But first, she took me on an excursion through Ybor City, the historic cigar making area of Tampa. Like many ethnic neighborhoods, Ybor City started with a strong businessman, Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Spaniard who first emigrated to Cuba. He set up cigar factories in the 1880s and encouraged Cubans, the Spanish and Italians to work for him. Thousands of (mostly) men rolled cigars for years, until WWII.

Columbia restaurant
Columbia restaurant

Like most of these neighborhoods, the children and grandchildren of immigrants moved out to the suburbs and better opportunities.

Again, like many urban areas, Ybor City declined but it was never bulldozed. Now it’s on the upswing again, with restaurants, nightclubs and a museum which explains the area.

But the Columbia Restaurant hung on through all the ups and down. It is the ultimate, old-fashioned white tablecloth where men wear jackets, even if it isn’t required. No, I didn’t eat there, but I’m thinking, maybe, the next time.

The Soiree
At 5 pm or so, the first of Beth’s guests rang the doorbell. She had invited about 50 people and several brought friends and spouses. I can only describe this as a “soiree”, defined as:
     an evening party or gathering, typically in a private house, for conversation or music.

The catered finger food was awesome. Beth’s husband pored the wine. I mingled, shaking hands and signing my book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. We had set up my laptop and projector to project on a blank wall. At 6 pm, I talked about the “nature parks”, showed some slides and answered questions.

Beth and me at the soiree
Beth and me at her soiree

Then back to shaking hands.

By now, more people had come. Some who had come early had to leave, clutching their book.

At 7 pm, I gave another 15-minute talk, this time about the “cultural” parks. Which national park units is the closest to Tampa, I asked?  We decided that it was De Soto National Monument in Brandenton.

More food, more signing and the last guest left at 8 pm. Everyone needed to be back at work the next morning. This was a new experience for me. I’ve spoken at bookstores, outdoor stores, hiking clubs and civic organizations but this was my first private function.

If you’re curious, I have many other book events scheduled. See the list and come on out.