Friday, November 18, 2016

Pinnacle Mountain fire burnout

View of fire from Caesars Head - 1
If you live in the Upstate of South Carolina, Western North Carolina, and Northern Georgia then you already know rain has been scarce the past few months, leading an expanding area of severe drought conditions. As of November 15th, 2016, the area classified by the United States Drought Monitor as "extreme drought" covers most of the Upstate, parts of western North Carolina, with parts of northern Georgia classified as "exceptional drought".
This drought, along with low relative humidity and falling leaves, makes conditions favorable for wildfires. In response, the South Carolina Forestry Commission announced a burning ban (but exempting campfires) in the northernmost Upstate counties (Anderson, Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, and Spartanburg) on November 9th, expanding south and east to the Piedmont counties the next day.

Also on November 9th, an escaped campfire near the Foothills Trail on Pinnacle Mountain spawned a fire that's grown to over 5100 acres as of November 18th. When I went out on Lake Oolenoy a few days ago, this is what Pinnacle Mountain looked like then:
Pinnacle Mountain - 2
It'll be interesting to see what it looks like once the fire is finally put out. Needless to say, Table Rock State Park is closed indefinitely.

This fire, along with smoke from other fires in North Carolina, have resulted in poor and at times unhealthy air quality in the Upstate area over the past several days. The most widespread poor air quality day, so far, was on the 14th, when a blanked of smoke covered the entire area as seen from this satellite image from NASA's Worldview:
Hundreds of personnel are currently assigned fighting this fire from agencies and organizations too numerous to mention in detail here, but include the SC Forestry Commission, local fire departments, and the SC National Guard.

The SC National Guard's most visible role has been for its use of their Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters to scoop water from Lake Oolenoy (in Table Rock State Park) and dump that water on hotspots on Pinnacle Mountain. The SC National Guard's Flickr account is posting photos of their efforts to fight the fire, and so far they have shared three related albums: 123.

WYFF's Mandy Gaither shared a live video on Facebook of a helicopter warming up and taking off for the lake. The SC Forestry Commission also posted photos of this helicopter scooping up and dumping water to a photo album on Facebook. Actually, state and local officials have done an excellent job so far keeping the public informed via social and local media on what's being done to fight the fire, keep people safe, and protect structures.

The weather forecast calls for winds to increase from the southwest, then from the northwest. This threatens to spread the fire to populated area to the south and east of the mountain. In response, a large scale 1400 acre burnout was conducted yesterday. The original plan was to light up 400 more acres today, but it looks like that phase is no longer required. The forestry commission posted this map of the plan to their Facebook page showing the area involved:
The operation involved launching potassium permanganate and glycol filled ping pong balls from a US Forest Service helicopter to ignite low intensity fires in the burn area. This photo from WSPA's story about the operation yesterday shows what the ping pong ball looks like:
I went up to Caesars Head overlook yesterday to get a look at the fire. Along the way, I stopped at a waterfall named Spider Tunnel Falls, near where U.S. 276 splits off from S.C. 11 toward Caesars Head, to get a one view of the fire.

Smoke was obscuring the sun at the parking area:
Smoke at SC 11/US 276 split - 2
A light dusting of ash began covering my car:
Ash from fire
The path to the waterfall is faint, but followable, and I've been here before anyway. The water flow was only a trickle at the waterfall, and a lot of the moss in the area had dried up. The view was obscured a bit by trees, but the smoke was plainly visible:
View from Spider Tunnel Falls - 5
The view from the Caesars Head overlook was much better, at least for a while.
View of fire from Caesars Head - 1 View of fire from Caesars Head - 2 View of fire from Caesars Head - 3
The wind soon shifted and increased from the direction of the fire, blowing the smoke toward the overlook and obscuring the view of the fire... and everything else too actually.
View of fire from Caesars Head - 8 View of fire from Caesars Head - 15
My photos from this trip are in an album on Flickr and an album on Google Photos.

This morning's forestry commission update started out with this positive statement:
Fire managers at the Pinnacle Mountain Fire were pleased with the results of the 1400-acre burnout conducted on Thursday.
So far, no lives have been lost, and only one structure has burned, a halfway shelter in Panther Gap. Update: Contrary to earlier official reports, the CCC era shelter survived just fine, thank you very much.

Once the fire is contained and extinguished, it will very likely take quite a while for the park to open again although I would think the Lake Oolenoy portion could open up again fairly quickly.

Another other wildfire that has my interest, but is beyond the scope of this post, is the Party Rock Fire threatening Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, and Bat Cave just up the road in North Carolina. This fire is still growing, mostly to the north, and is up to about 6700 acres now. Updates about that fire are posted to Inciweb and to the North Carolina Forest Service Facebook page.

A rainy day would be most welcome to extinguish this fire, but unfortunately the weather trend is still not our friend:

Update 2016/11/24: The United States Forest Service has now taken over command of the firefighting. Their updates on the fire can now also be found at the Pinnacle Mountain fire section of InciWeb. The fire broke containment in one small area, and is now heading through a finger of Greenville County and is now approaching the North Carolina state line.

Also, it's looking more and more likely a wipespread rain event may arrive early next week to help put an end to the area fires.

Update 2016/12/06: Recent rains have done much to help control what little is left of the fire, and 100% containment has been achieved. The park has reopened, but portions of the interior trails remain closed while they are repaired.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fall views of Table Rock Mountain

Table Rock Mountain - 1
After my first paddle on Lake Oolenoy in Table Rock State Park off SC 11, I decided I'd come back again to see Table Rock Mountain during the peak of the fall foliage color season. I dd just that last Thursday that turned into a partly cloudy, breezy, warm day.

This time I'd be taking out my new 13 foot Advanced Elements Expedition inflatable kayak I had just received that very morning in place of the Intex Challenger K1 I had bought just a few months ago. My space is just too limited to support a regular, hard shell kayak, so I saved up to buy one of the more premium, more well reviewed inflatable kayaks on the market.

The Expedition is a much more expensive inflatable kayak and is definitely no toy. The important improvements of the Expedition compared to the K1 is the longer length (13 feet vs 9 feet), better tracking, faster speed, and more leg room.  The Expedition is also much more resistant to scrapes and punctures. I bought the optional "backbone" that can be installed during inflation to increase the tracking and speed even more, and prevent flexing in choppy water. The backbone wouldn't really be of use on a lake this small so I didn't bother installing it.

The UPS truck and my package didn't reach "casa de Mark" until shortly after noon, and I didn't make it up to the lake until mid afternoon. While the Expedition has nine chambers, I only inflated the two main ones for this trip. The other chambers, when inflated, help water drain off the kayak and give the kayak a more traditional shape.
Advanced Elements Expedition 2016 - 2
My only regret this trip was going barefoot. I came here barefoot my previous two visits with no problems. But this time acorns were spread around the launch ramp and I had to take extra time to dodge them (stepping on them isn't my definition of fun).

During the earlier part of the afternoon, the sun lit up the trees around the lake, but not the south part of the mountain (yet). Here's a sample of my photos from that time of day from different parts of the lake:
Table Rock Mountain - 3
Table Rock Mountain - 4
Table Rock Mountain - 10
Table Rock Mountain - 5
I wandered around the lake for a while, including an area I avoided last time, the area around the dam:
Lake Oolenoy dam - 2
While in this area of the lake, I took a photo of Pinnacle Mountain by itself:
Pinnacle Mountain - 2
At the moment, a fire is burning on Pinnacle Mountain, helped along by the extreme drought. Firefighters, among other tools, are using helicopters to scoop water from Lake Oolenoy to dump on the fire. I could see smoke from that fire drifting through the Greenville area last evening and at times today during my travels.

Here is the current webcam from Lake Oolenoy, although that white truck has been heading south on SC 11 for at least a half hour now:
Now back to last Thursday....

My time and patience was eventually rewarded with this final photo of the mountain from the lake, nicely lit up with the setting sun, and the lake trees now heading into shadow:
Table Rock Mountain - 17
With this photo "in the can", I started back home, but I couldn't resist taking a one more set of photos from beside the road:
Table Rock Mountain - 19
Table Rock Mountain - 21
Photos from the trip have been posted to an album on Flickr and an album on Google Photos. I took photos from all around the lake, and I experimented with different crops and aspect ratios just because I could.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Apple Country Tour - October 2016

Henderson County founded 1838
It's become a yearly tradition to visit Henderson County, North Carolina to explore the area and return with some apples. This year is no different (duh, or I wouldn't be writing this!). This area is currently in a drought, and recent photos I've seen of low water flow at area waterfalls were discouraging, so this year I chose to visit a few historical sites in the area. I picked some sites from a multi-county historic schools survey report I found during the summer, and some grist mills I found on Panoramio (RIP).

I went last Sunday, and considering some of my stops were active schools that day worked out much better than a weekday would have. The first place I visited was the site of Flat Rock High School in Flat Rock, located off highway N.C. 225 and now the mixed use complex recently renamed to Flat Rock Square. Flat Rock High School was built in 1925 and remained a high school until 1960 when the school became a junior high. On August 18, 1971 a fire set by an arsonist caused the destruction of part of the school complex. The historic school survey report documents the site's later history:
The property served as school system storage through 1993, when the Henderson County and Hendersonville City school systems merged and consolidated campuses. Flat Rock resident and developer Thomas Singleton acquired the Flat Rock School campus in August 1994 and converted the gymnasium into condominiums, the library and classroom addition into retail/restaurant space, and erected a new building.
The complex was named Singleton Centre from 1994 until its sale and name change in 2015.

The survey report identifies the three remaining school buildings as having addresses 2688, 2700, and 2702:
The first one I visited was the 1951 addition at 2700:
Flat Rock High School 1951 addition - 1 Flat Rock High School 1951 addition - 2 Flat Rock High School 1951 addition - 3
The sun was unfortunately placed here, but that would turn out to be just as true elsewhere too. The opposite side (and downhill) houses Flat Rock Cinema:
Flat Rock High School 1951 addition - 5
The old cafeteria and library building, at 2702, is now home to the Flat Rock Gallery:
Flat Rock High School cafeteria and library building - 2
The old gymnasium, at 2688, has been remodeled into condominiums:
Flat Rock High School gymnasium building - 1 Flat Rock High School gymnasium building - 5
A few miles north on N.C. 225 is the Highland Lake resort community and Rhett's Mill.
Highland Lake sign
The Highland Lake Inn and Resort has a nicely detailed history of the site, but I'll highlight the more interesting events culled from there and other sources. John Earle built a grist mill on this land in 1789. In 1873, South Carolina Governor William Aiken bought the property, then donated it to his daughter Henrietta Aiken Rhett as a wedding present. In 1910, Highland Lake Club bought the land, sold off lots for summer houses, built an inn, and enlarged the lake. The club didn't last long though, failing after two years. In 1919, Camp Highland Lake for boys opened and lasted until 1947.

In 1940 and 1941, the Vagabond Players performed in the original grist mill building, then known as the The Old Mill Playhouse. The performances stopped during World War 2, but started again after the war ended in 1946 in a new location, evolving into today's Flat Rock Playhouse.

In 1947, the site became Camp Brandeis, a camp for Jewish boys and girls. In the 1950s, the site became Our Lady of the Hill’s Camp, a camp for Catholic boys and girls that lasted until the 1970s. In 1985, the Highland Lake Inn and Conference acquired the property, then becoming Highland Lake Inn and Resort in 1999 after another ownership change.

The area around the mill consists of a lower dam, a lower mill pond, a waterfall, an upper dam,
Rhetts Mill lower and upper dam
and two connected buildings built on the site of the original grist mill.
Rhetts Mill - 1
Rhett Mill waterwheel
The waterfall is sandwiched between the upper dam and the lower mill pond.
Rhetts Mill upper dam - 2
The upper dam provides containment for the 40 acre Highland Lake reservoir.
Near the upper dam
My next stop was downtown Hendersonville to visit a historical monument...
Dixie Highway monument
... behind the Henderson County courthouse. The monument was moved from it's original location in front of the courthouse in 2008.
Dixie Highway monument - 2
This monument is one of a series of markers placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1920s along or near the old route of the Dixie Highway, a north-south oriented network of highways. This portion near the old eastern segment of the Dixie Highway became U.S. 25.

Most of the Dixie Highway historical markers are in North Carolina, but there is one on the North Carolina-South Carolina border, one in Florida, and one in Ohio. I've plotted the locations on this map:
I've already visited the one at the North Carolina-South Carolina border on Old U.S. 25:
Dixie Highway Memorial at border
and also the one in downtown Greenville erected in 1935:
Dixie Highway Memorial - 1
I found this interesting piece of information about these monuments found at the Documenting the American South website:
The efforts to mark the Dixie Highway in North Carolina were led by Mrs. James Madison Gudger, Jr. of Asheville who also designed the plaque. The North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised $800 to have the die cast for the plaque and then loan it to other states for marking their highways. Other states do not appear to have taken advantage of the die aside from an example in Greenville, South Carolina. It is thought that 10 total were made from this die leaving several unaccounted for.
Actually, the plaque in Hendersonville is actually identical to the one on Old U.S. 25. The one in Greenville has the same image of Robert E. Lee on horseback, but uses a different quote and is physically larger.

To get back to the main story, I walked around the block, taking a few photos, but then I moved on to four of Hendersonville's historic schools, the first one is now the administration building for the Henderson County school district.

According to the historical school context report, this school building was built in 1912 to house Hendersonville Graded School.
Henderson County Public Schools building - 1
During the 1933-34 school year, the school was renamed Rosa Edwards School in honor of a former principal, Rosa Edwards.
Henderson County Public Schools building - 6
Additions, including an auditorium, were added in 1951. The school building has served as district offices since 1974.

Next I visited Hendersonville Middle School and Hendersonville Elementary School, both within sight of each other.

The Hendersonville Middle School building was built in 1951 as Eighth Avenue School for black students during the era of segregation and the supposed "separate but equal" doctrine that in reality was not so.
Hendersonville Middle School - 6
The elementary school students were taught on the first floor, the high school students on the second.

When desegregation came into effect in 1966, the school became a middle school which it remains today.

The elementary school is relatively recent, built as Hendersonville Middle Grade School in 1972.
Hendersonville Elementary School - 2 Hendersonville Elementary School - 1 Hendersonville Elementary School - 3
When the city and county school systems merged in 1993, the school transitioned from a middle school to an elementary school.

Judging by these portables, the school is well attended.
Hendersonville Elementary School - 4
Next it was on to Hendersonville High School, built as Hendersonville School in 1926, with additions and changes since then. According to the historical school context report, the original 1926 buildings occupy the southwest portion of the campus.
Hendersonville High School - 9
Additions include a 1951 cafeteria, a 1974 band room, a 1937 stone gymnasium, a 1976 gymnasium, and 1980s classrooms.
Hendersonville High School - 7 Hendersonville High School - 2
I hadn't originally planned on stopping by the Hendersonville Depot off Fleming Street, but I couldn't resist the opportunity.
Hendersonville Depot - 2
This depot, replacing an earlier one, was built in 1902 and expanded in 1906. Passenger service ended in 1968. The railroad line itself went inactive through the area to Saluda and Landrum in 2002 when coal shipments decreased and other traffic was rerouted to other lines. In 2014, the line down to Zirconia was reactivated after being purchased by a short line railroad.

Next door to the depot is a caboose, Southern X793, on permanent display.
Southern caboose X793 - 4
Next it was on to Mountain Fresh Apple Orchard off busy U.S. 64.
Mountain Fresh Apple Orchard - 2
Mountain Fresh Apple Orchard - 3
I like many kinds of apples, but my favorites klnd are the nice and tart Granny Smith apples.
Granny Smith Apples
U.S. 64 was quite busy with traffic, and turning left was not really a good option.
Highway 64 traffic backup
Fortunately my next stop was Mount Vernon School off Old Dana Road which thankfully involved taking a right turn instead of a left.
Mount Vernon School
The Dana Community Plan from 2011 describes Mount Vernon School simply as:
a two-room school house located on Old Dana Road on the hill above Haunt Branch (referred to as “Dry Hill School”)
It's now a private residence, so I stayed by the road, took my photo, and went on to Dana.

Dana is a small community with a few businesses, some homes, and a post office.
Dana Post Office
The post office is in a former gas station, judging by the architecture and the Sinclair sign.

A short distance away behind Dana United Methodist Church and near the cemetery is the ruins of a former Dana school, the Blue House Academy (or Old Blue House) built in 1866 (replacing one built in 1860).
Blue House Academy / Old Blue House School
The Dana Community Plan describes the Blue House Academy as:
named for its paint color, the largest of these three (3) early schools was established in 1866 and served as an educational hub attracting students from Rutherford, Transylvania, Polk, and Buncombe Counties.
The house is in ruins now, but I found this photo from a 2015 Henderson County board action request:
Then it was down Stepp Mill Road, past an apple orchard, to Stepps Mill. The mill complex consists of an old homes...
Stepps Mill - 1 Stepps Mill - 3
...and the grist mill.
Stepps Mill - 5
Henderson Heritage details a short history of the mill:
In 1913, Benjamin Merrell bought a mill site on today’s Stepp Mill Road, where his wife established the post office named Saconon. ... Dulus Stepp will buy this grist mill in 1933. This is the only grist mill in today’s Henderson County still standing.
I didn't get a photo of the mill wheel because of a "no tresspassing" sign I spotted. The road was recently realigned while replacing a one lane bridge with a two lane bridge, and I was uncertain where the private property line was located.
Stepps Mill - 7
A check of Henderson County's online GIS map viewer shows the private property boundary runs along the edge of this foot bridge facing the mill runs, where the sign is hung, which is also where the old road alignment also went. It turns out I could have taken a legally taken a photo of the mill, but I didn't know that at the time. Instead, here's a photo taken by Flickr photographer michael anthony back in 2009:
Stepps Mill
As usual, I've uploaded my photos to an album on Flickr and an album on Google Photos. I've also updated my incomplete but growing map of Western and Central North Carolina Historical POIs with the locations of the sites visited this day.