Tag Archives: NC

A Quick Visit to Southport, NC

Sunset over the harbor in Southport, North Carolina

Kathy & I made our return trip to Southport, NC this past Thursday & Friday to get our second round of the Covid vaccine.  Kathy fared pretty well (so far) but it really kicked my butt.  Not unusual I suppose, but I had been very optimistic that my experience would be a non-event.  Not so.

Fishing trawler “Cape Point” in the marina at Southport, North Carolina

The weather this time was conducive to spending time in town and having dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants there.  We spent a little time walking around after dinner before finally needing to escape what I can only imagine were sand fleas.  Pesky little buggers who like to get in your hair and other places you don’t want bugs.  Yuck!

Rickety dock in the harbor in Southport, North Carolina

We depart on Sunday for our latest road trip – a journey to the Southwest through Texas, southern New Mexico & Arizona with a return via parts of Route 66.  We should be gone about 3 weeks and I’ll likely be posting my “postcards” as we go.

American Fish Company restaurant on the waterfront in Southport, North Carolina
Container ship transiting the Cape Fear River enroute to the Atlantic Ocean from Wilmington, North Carolina
Homes along the waterfront in Southport, North Carolina
Fishing pier in Southport, North Carolina
Downtown Southport, North Carolina

Lens Insecurity?

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

Years ago I was at a photo seminar, and the presenter – either John Shaw, Tony Sweet or Bob Krist (I think it was Bob but it was a long time ago) mentioned that he thought we were looking at our digital files too closely.  He referred to the fact that in the film days, looking at our negatives or slides under a loupe only gave us about a 10-25% zoom factor, and that if it looked sharp under a loupe it was probably sharp enough.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

I’ve always heard (and practiced) that sharpness with digital files is best evaluated at 100%.  That was especially true back in the days of Unsharp Mask in Photoshop.  But now that we have newer, higher-resolution sensors, I’m not sure that needs to be the case any more.  Once in a while I look at my photos think that they don’t look as crispy sharp as they should.  Is it the lens?  Is it my technique?  Is my new whiz-bang camera a piece of junk? Is it my eyes?  Am I looking too close?  But the finished digital files and prints come out consistently good, so it hasn’t been too big of a worry.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

A couple of weeks ago I was aimlessly wandering through my Lightroom catalog and looked at some of my recent photos taken with the Fujinon 16-80 f4.  Although I’ve been consistently pleased with the lens since I got it, I convinced myself that some of them looked a little soft, especially at the edges and the corners, and I wondered about the lens.  So I went back and sorted my photos by camera and lens, looking at photos I’ve taken with some of my older lenses including my primes, and found that they all look really good but all about the same.  The primes are more consistently sharp, but that is to be expected.  That is a good reminder to use my primes more!

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

I often reminisce about the Fujinon 18-55 f2.8-4 that I sold to my son along with my old camera bodies, referring to it as “the lens that made me decide to go with Fuji” when I moved away from Canon gear.  He graciously agreed to lend it to me for a week or two, so I have been using it to take some walking-around-the neighborhood photos.  But you know, as good as it is, it isn’t significantly “better” than the other lenses I own.  I do love the more compact size, as it is closer to a prime weight-wise.  But it isn’t significantly better image-wise.  But then I remembered that old saying and decided to back the zoom off to 50%.  Lo and behold, they all look pretty darned good!  So I’m wondering – am I looking too close?

In case anyone wonders, I wrote off the 16-55 2.8 years ago as being too heavy and too expensive, regardless of how highly rated it is.  It would be defeating the purpose of downsizing from the heavy Canon gear.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

Another thought I had was about monitor resolution.  I’m using a good but old ASUS Pro Art monitor that I’ve had for about 8 years.  It’s nothing fancy, especially compared with the newer 4K and 5K monitors out these days.  Is it possible that my monitor is not able to sufficiently resolve the files, or that a newer better monitor would show that detail better?  Or would I be just as perplexed as I am now but several hundred dollars (or more) poorer?  It’s new territory for me, but if anyone has insight I’d love to hear it.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

In the mean time, I’ll keep my zoom at 50% and be glad that the finished output still looks excellent!

These photos, by the way, were all taken with the 18-55 and in-camera JPEGs with the stock Fuji Velvia profile.  No adjustments in Lightroom other than output sharpening.  For whatever that’s worth!

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

A North Carolina Ghost Town

Abandoned looking downtown in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

We were only gone from home for a little over 24 hours, but I came back with a number of stories.  This is the last one from our vaccine quest.

Abandoned looking downtown in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

On our way home from Southport, we decided to stop for lunch in Whiteville, a town just off the main route.  The Chef & The Frog, by the way, was excellent.  On our way there we passed through the town of Fair Bluff.  I had seen a billboard promoting their “Depot Museum” and wanted to stop.  As we entered the town it was clear that the place was nearly deserted.  The main street was almost completely devoid of shops.  A former car dealership sat empty with parts of the building on the verge of collapse.  Directly across the street was a building marked as being the Municipal Building, but it was boarded up and silent.  Urns along the sidewalks contained plants that appeared to be reasonably well cared for, or as well as could be expected for late winter.  Farther up the street a gas station was open, and a pizza shop showed signs of life.

Former car dealership in Fair Bluff, North Carolina
Abandoned looking downtown in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

So what happened here, I wondered?  As it turns out, Wikipedia summarizes the events leading up to the situation we came across:

“In 1999, Fair Bluff experienced a 1-in-100 year flood event.

In 2012, the Police Chief of Fair Bluff Marty Lewis was arrested, tried and convicted for selling and delivering oxycodone and possession with the intent to sell and conspiracy to traffic while acting as police chief. He was sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison and fined $100,000. On April 9, 2015 Marty Lewis filled an appeal of his case. On November 3, 2015 the verdict was unanimously affirmed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, leaving in place the 90 to 117 month prison sentence originally imposed. Lewis will not be eligible for parole before November 2022.

In 2016, the town was devastated by flooding on the Lumber River caused by Hurricane Matthew, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of residents. As of June 2018 the rebuilding effort was still underway but several hundred residents who had fled rising floodwaters never returned and a number of businesses remained shuttered.

In September 2018 Fair Bluff was flooded again by the impact of Hurricane Florence, again forcing evacuations and leaving the downtown area under water again, and devastating the town for the third time in under 20 years. After Florence, many buildings in the downtown area of the town lay abandoned, with no plans to reoccupy or fix the buildings.

The population was 951 at the 2010 census but is believed to be lower following the two disasters, some estimates going as low as 450 people.”

Old building that appears to have possibly been a railroad building in Fair Bluff, North Carolina
Old building that appears to have possibly been a railroad building in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

That pretty much explains it – a town with a troubled past and cloudy future.  But they do have a very nice train station.

Train station in Fair Bluff, North Carolina now used as a museum
Train station in Fair Bluff, North Carolina now used as a museum

New Shoe Syndrome and Other Thoughts on the Vaccine

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

I’ve gotten a few questions about our experience with scheduling and actually getting the vaccine, and thought it might be helpful to share a few thoughts.

The Process: I’ve mentioned previously how frustrating the registration process is for many of the county and health agency websites.  Kathy & I are fortunate to be registered with the two major health providers in our area, so we were able to use our login credentials to access those sites, which likely led to a slightly better experience.  We ended up with the Moderna Vaccine through Novant Health.

We were fortunate to find any locations at all on the very first morning of our eligibility.  The fact that the one we found was 200 miles away was no big deal for us.  We have the flexibility to go wherever we need to, and it was easy for us to make the trip.

The vaccination  site was in the parking area of a community college near Wilmington, NC.  The approach was well marked, there were National Guard personnel directing traffic into several lines, checking to confirm appointments and providing forms for completion.  The one glitch was that we had pre-filled everything online, but they still had us manually complete paperwork with the same information.  Taking the paperwork pre-filled and printed would not have helped.

We arrived at about 10:40 for an 11:00 appointment, and although the lines looked long, we queued up and were directed to the actual vaccination line promptly at 11:00 (not due to any process on their part, it just happened to work out).  We sat in our car until someone came around, asked us a few more questions, explained the process and handed us each a card with confirmation of our follow up appointments for the same time and day of the week in four weeks.  Shortly thereafter two nurses came up with the vaccine, plunked each of us in the arm, wrote the time on a paper stuck to the windshield, and told us that after the prescribed waiting time we would be released.  We rolled out of the parking lot at 11:30.

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

The Vaccine: Did we have any concerns about getting the vaccine? None.  We feel strongly that the vaccines have been adequately tested, we trust in the scientific validity of the data and believe that getting the vaccine has a much lower level of risk than not getting it.  Everyone makes their own choice, but we feel that in order to do the kind of travel we want to do, more states, countries and companies will require a vaccination than not and we don’t want to be left out when the time comes.

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

Side Effects: None really, but it surprises me how hyper-aware we become when we’re looking for something.  I call it “new shoe syndrome” because of how when we buy a new pair of shoes we spend days paying attention to every little twinge or pinch.  We recently bought new tires for the car, and for the first few drives I paid close attention to the sound, feel and ride.  After a while you forget about it.  We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, and while there a guy came in wearing a really strong cologne.  Strong odors like cologne and smelly air fresheners always bother me, so when my throat got a little scratchy I wrote it off.  No big deal.  Our arms hurt for a few days, especially while we slept.  But my left hip is often sore anyway, and since I got my shot in my left arm, I just spent more time on my right side!

Dilapidated building near the train station in Rowland, North Carolina

Eligibility: We’ve read about people gaming the system by falsely answering the questions, crossing state lines to states with more favorable rules or otherwise getting the shot before they should have.  Kathy & I waited for our group to be called, answered all the questions truthfully and lucked into an early appointment.  Could we have waited?  Sure, but why?  Everyone who wants a shot will eventually be able to get one, so it really doesn’t matter when we go.  Could we have gotten an appointment closer to home?  Perhaps, but once we got our appointments I stopped looking.  I read somewhere about local appointments now booking out into May or June, but it doesn’t matter any more.  The owner of the restaurant we had lunch at told us that someone called him the other afternoon to say that they had 15 Johnson & Johnson shots that were going to expire at the end of the day and to send along anyone who needed them.  That happens too, you never know.

I don’t really have a lot to add.  If anyone has questions I’ll be happy to answer them as comments or emails.  Ultimately everyone is going to make their own decision and have their own experience, but I’ll help where I can.

The Photos: These photos are from the town of Rowland, NC which is on the NC side of the NC/SC line near South of the Border.  They are in-camera JPEGs taken using the Kodachrome 64 recipe from Fuji X Weekly.  The conditions were less than ideal for Kodachrome and look a little warm/brown for my taste, but I’m not sure I got the white balance right.  I’ll try them again under sunny skies and see how they look.  I also shot in RAW and will process those my usual way for comparison.  It’s an interesting look and I’ve been enjoying playing with them.

All Used Up

Long-abandoned truck chassis along the Mount Holly Trail

I spotted this old relic during our walk a few days ago.  It might make for an interesting photo study, except for the fact that it sits at the very end of the 1.5-mile trail!

I keep thinking that this would make a decent black & white image, but I haven’t come up with a version I’m happy with.  When I take the color out the tones are all the same and the image looks like a flat, jumbled mess.  I’ll keep working with it to see what I can do, but in the meantime I like the color version just fine!

Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park

Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina

Kathy & I were recently looking for someplace different to walk besides the sidewalk between our neighborhood and the main drag, and decided to explore the Mount Holly Trail at nearby Mountain Island Park.  Walmart and Micky D’s are only so scenic!

Parking area and playground for the Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina
Mountain Island Hydroelectric Facility in Mount Holly, North Carolina

The park is located next to the Mountain Island Hydroelectric plant at the south end of Mountain Island Lake, just outside the town of Mount Holly and only about 8 miles from our neighborhood.  The park contains a large parking lot with fishing area, small playground and hiking/biking trails.  We walked the 1.6-mile trail to the end and back, which made for a nice afternoon.

Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina
Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina

The trail is mostly an easy walk for anyone in reasonably good walking shape.  There are a few hills, mostly on the far end from the parking area.  A portion of the trail surface close to the parking area is pretty coarse gravel, which makes for rough walking for a bit.  This area of the trail is close to the river, and I would guess it floods occasionally, thus the need for heavier base.  We were there on a dry day without a lot of heavy preceding rain, and there were a few muddy places along the trail.  Overall the trail is in very good shape, but I would suggest sturdy shoes.  The woods should be very pretty as the trees and vegetation green up in the spring.

Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina
Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina

We were there on a Wednesday in January, so there was not much traffic, mostly couples and people with dogs.  We saw a few mountain bikers on main trail as well as the adjacent mountain bike trails as it got later in the day, but not too bad.

Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina
Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina

We’re hoping to explore some more walking & hiking areas over the coming months, and I will report on them here for anyone who is interested.  Or anyone who just wants to see the photos!

Tom’s Trail Summary:
Length: 1.6 miles to the end, or 3.2 miles round trip.  There are several options for shorter loops, or out-back for a shorter distance is possible.
Terrain: Mostly flat with occasional hills
Surface: Mostly dirt with a few gravel places.  Recommend sturdy shoes like hiking boots.
Comments: The trail is shared with mountain bikers and dog walkers.  No motorized vehicles.  Pleasant walking along the Catawba River.  Should be pretty in the spring as trees and plants green up.  I tried to find a link to a trail map but could only find a Google Map to the parking area!
Mount Holly Trail at Mountain Island Park in Mount Holly, North Carolina

 

Another Sunrise…With A Bonus!

Aerial demonstration of birds over Mountain Island Lake

I had to wait until this morning to have my first sunrise opportunity of the year.  The weather the last few days has basically been crap, but the forecast for this morning held promise.  Rather than set an alarm I told myself that if I woke up in time I would head out to see what I might find.  Usually when I try that approach I either wake up too early or too late, but this morning I woke up at 5:50 which was just about perfect.

Clouds lit by city lights from Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Launch.  No, that’s not a fire – Christmas Lights!

I arrived at the boat launch area right at 6:30 and was treated to some amber city-lit clouds low to the horizon and a clear sky with clouds above.  Pretty sweet!  No fog this time, but that was good for better reflections.  I got a few shots of that then aimed my camera at the causeway to catch some light trails.  There is a lot more traffic on a Monday morning than there was on the Sunday morning when I last visited!

Car trails on the causeway over Mountain Island Lake

The parking lot was completely deserted when I arrived, but the first boater showed about about 6:45.  He was well organized and put in quickly, but it was too dark to get anything usable.  The second boater arrived about 7:15, took his time futzing around with this gear and finally left the dock just as the sun was coming up.  That made for some good light on the boat as it putted through the No Wake zone.

Father-daughter morning fishing expedition
Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Launch

The bonus though was that, all of a sudden, I heard birds, lots of them.  Then overhead came a huge cloud of some kind of small black birds, probably starlings, grackles or similar black birds – hundreds of them!  And that cloud was followed by another, then another.  I have no idea how many of them there were, but there were a bunch.  Fortunately I had my camera set up for a wide angle shot of the water and sky, so I was able to catch a few frames with the birds, even though they were a bit blurry.  They were moving fast!

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Launch

So in addition to a pretty sunrise I got an impromptu air show! All in all it was a worthwhile visit and I got a few shots to start off the new year.  The weather looks like might deteriorate again the next few days but I’ll keep a lookout for another opportunity!

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Launch

A Morning Well Spent

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp

I woke up this morning about 5:45.  A little early for me but not unusual.  As I lay in bed listening to the furnace cranking out some welcome BTUs, I started hearing this voice.  A voice that sounded hauntingly similar to the voice in a podcast I listen to.  This voice was saying, “ya know, this might just be one of those mornings where you’ll be glad you went out to make photographs.”

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp
Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp

I reluctantly crawled out from under the covers, wandered down the hall to my computer, where the Weather Service told me that it was 25 degrees.  Ugh.  I almost got back into bed.  Reasoning that 25 degrees wasn’t any colder than Fort Collins, and remembering that the UP of Michigan is even colder, I resisted and got up.

Although I got rid of my down parka and Sorel boots when we left Ohio 26 years ago, I thankfully held on to some long underwear and wool socks, and I knew where to find them!  So I got out my stuff, gathered my gear and headed out.

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp
Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp

I arrived at my newly-found sunrise spot at right about 6:30, an hour before sunrise and my preferred time to start taking morning photos.  The best color in the morning often happens long before anyone else has their camera ready, just like in the evenings the best color happens while most everyone has packed up and is heading off to dinner.

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp
Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp

It was pretty dark when I got there, and the parking lot was empty except for one car.  The sky was clear with plenty of stars, or as many as we can usually see here in the suburbs of Charlotte.  As the light level came up I could see that there was some fog on the lake, and it was moving around in a very slight breeze.

The first boater arrived about 7:00 – an even heartier soul than me.  He offloaded his boat, nursed a sputtering outboard to life and headed off in search of some radioactive catfish.  A second boater came a few minutes later and much better luck with his engine.  He’s the one I was able to catch leading a wake out through the fog.

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp
Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp

By the time the sun came up I had taken 144 frames and it was time to head home for coffee and a shower.  As I was putting my camera back in the car I realized I had frost on my tripod.  That’s about as cold as I’d like it to be, at least with my current gear!

Sunrise over Mountain Island Lake from the Riverbend Boat Ramp

Not bad for a winter Sunday morning.  Weather permitting I hope to be getting back out there again, real soon!

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina

Kathy & I gave up covering our house with lights years ago, but still enjoy driving around nearby neighborhoods to check out other peoples’ efforts.  Some people really get carried away!

Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina
Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina
Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina

Most neighborhoods we go through have few places to park or walk safely, but this particular spot in Huntersville has two houses next to each other, spectacularly decorated and with reasonable parking, at least when we visited.  We were able to get out and walk on the sidewalks without worrying too much about distracted light peepers.

Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina
Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina
Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina

The forecast is calling for some interesting weather here for tonight and Christmas Day, but I don’t think we’ll see any snow.  It sounds like a good day to stay snuggled up with coffee and a warm fire.  Later in the day we’ll open the bourbon and wine!

Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina
Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina
Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina

We hope everyone has a good holiday this year despite all the mayhem.  We are looking forward to lots of positive direction in 2021.

Christmas lights on Carbert Lane in Huntersville, North Carolina

Practicing My Scales

Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina

Kirk Tuck recently posted about how  (paraphrasing) walking around town with a camera taking random pictures of interesting things is “almost like playing scales on the piano.”  As a reformed musician that’s a reference I understand.  Practicing technique is what allows us to nail the performance.

Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina
Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina
Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina

One of my recurring dreams involves being invited – and accepting – to perform some kind of solo concert.  I haven’t touched my trombones – although I still have them – in nearly 30 years but when the day comes for me to play the dream ends.  There’s probably some important symbolism there but I won’t try to analyze.

Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina
Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina

“Winter” or what we know as winter took this past weekend off, so Kathy & I took advantage of the 70 degree temperatures to enjoy the day at Latta Nature Preserve.  I took my camera, of course, and took a few photos.  To make it a little harder I took only my widest prime lens – the 14mm f2.8 (21mm full-frame equivalent).  I don’t shoot a lot with wide angle lenses and it tends to show.  While I didn’t come back with anything truly exceptional the idea of practice was my intention.  Kathy helps me by seeing things she sees and giving me an “assignment” like the photos of purple leaves and the fallen branches with pine cones below.  Now I have a name for the concept – practicing my scales.

Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina
Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina
Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina
Late fall afternoon at Latta Nature Preserve near Huntersville, North Carolina