A real “WTF am I doing?” moment.

Once a year or so it seems everything really comes together well and I get a storm in the right place at the right time, to really have fun with. There are a lot of things that must happen to get a decent photogenic thunderstorm.

There can’t be a lot of rain between you and the storm. That screws it all up. Ideally, the sky should be pretty clear except for the storm coming at you. There can’t be a lot of trees, street lights, etc. covering up parts of the cloud. It needs to be really active, without a lot of ground lightning strikes close to the ground you are currently occupying. Ground shots are nice, but when you are perched outside next to a metal tripod, cloud-to-cloud strikes are much friendlier.

It’s a mess, but once in a while, it all comes together. So, last night I was on the couch and hoping for a storm, as I had seen some really awesome clouds earlier on a long drive home. Sure enough, Radarscope (for iPhone… great app by the way!) showed a horseshoe shaped storm cell heading for my area. Full of orange, red and even some purple nasty colors. Woo hoo! I raced through the house finding camera bits and went outside.

Way off down the street…

The first and most active storm was down the road from me to the east, but it was between trees on either side of the road, and was pretty active. It took me a minute or two before I got the settings dialed in, and it produced a couple of pretty shots. It was dying out though, and quickly moved on and went dormant, but not before throwing out one or two good ones.

lit from the inside…

The below image is reddish, not because the fires of Hell opened to consume us all, but because I set the white balance to “cloudy”, and got a much redder appearance. If you see the ‘proper’ version, the structure doesn’t show nearly as well, and it’s much less dramatic. You’ll see the same thing done later on if you keep looking. You might have had this happen to you by accident. Have you ever taken a picture (film or digital) and had the photo come out with wonky colors? White Balance. The camera doesn’t know what should be white – and guessed wrong. Those street lights played havoc with some of my shots…

Nice look at the whole cloud.

After the above cloud moved away and died out, I stood outside for quite a while, watching and waiting, and checking the radar. Most of the stuff seemed to be moving on, but there was a persistent and almost continual paparazzi-like flashing beyond the trees. Finally the stormy bits got close enough for me to see some action. The strangest thing I’ve seen happened…

building up…

The dark section at the bottom of the photo above is a flat dense section of cloud out in front of the rest of the storm. It almost looked like Thor was pulling a comforter across the sky under the storm. Really strange stuff. All the lighting was between this low-level cloud and the upper parts of the storm. It was shooting out in front of this layer. Unfortunately I couldn’t see or capture any upper-level detail, it was all shrouded in rain or clouds or something.

a more “natural” color…
The approaching low layer
playing with the white balance again… it was NOT that blue.

With the almost constant flashing all throughout the cloud, it was almost impossible to get a well lit set of lighting bolts without them being washed-out. I was firing pictures off every couple of seconds, and still unable to get much without the bright backgrounds.

At last!

The above shot made me scream like a little girl. It was almost right overhead. The advancing cloud front had me constantly adjusting the camera angle.On the one below I’m losing the lightning behind the clouds… I’m looking almost directly up at it.


Below, the cloud is angled because I’m rotating the camera around on the tripod as it passes over. This last shot filled the sky out past where I could cover, despite being zoomed out. I needed a wider angle lens at this point. After this, I was behind the front, and the wind and rain quickly picked up. Any lightning was above the clouds, and all you could see was white.

Now that’s it!


Last view overhead before going in…

One last gasp, and it was time to go. All in all, a very nice evening.


Team Trivia Time


Sitting in the Mellow Mushroom waiting on the trivia guy to arrive, I’m struck by the variety of people here to play.

There’s the “we have to bring the whole neighborhood” team. Seriously, they bring twenty people, and divide into teams based on who knows which categories the best, and take up several tables. That’s way too much organization for a glorified bar game. It strikes me a bit as cheating, but who knows, maybe it’s just organization. Like the mob. They were organized too.

Speaking of cheating, there’s Team Google to consider. They sit outside on the patio alone, and consistently come in thirty seconds after the question is read. Google is not supposed to be your team mate. Either they are throwing a few questions or they are relying too much on Florence’s crappy bandwidth, because they always miss one or two questions, but are almost always in the top three.

The drunken bar sluts. That should be a team name. Those are the people to whom trivia is an excuse to hang out in a bar for three hours. By the end of the night, all pretense of playing the game is over. The goal is to answer the question quickly, and run it up to the Emcee, and proceed to flirt with him until the song is over. When you’ve given up on being discreet, and just put your straw into the pitcher of beer, it’s time to rethink your Tuesday night entertainment.

The loud obnoxious college buddy drunks. These are the people in the group that just doesn’t give a damn. They talk loudly because their repertoire of college stories is incredibly humorous and interesting, and everyone in the bar needs to hear them. Damn this questions and answers thing going on around them, they’ve got memories to relive! They may answer a question or two, but they’re always gone by the end of the game. I like it when they leave early, at least they’ll be home or wrapped around a phone pole before we leave the restaurant.

The restless smokers. Often confused with Team Google, they have to smoke. They are so good at managing their addiction, they can answer a question, rush outside and inhale a cigarette before the time period is up. They come back by reeking of smoke, and perhaps even blowing out that last breath of toxic gas while bumping into your seat, on their way back to the table yet again.

The birthday/pregnancy announcing/anniversary/reunion group. These are the people that have a core group playing the game. The two or three of them are there on time, set up for the game, and greet new arrivals every ten minutes or so with a chorus of whoops and giggles and ‘heyyyyy’s that interfere with the pleasant jeopardy-like silence that revolves around trivia just after the question is asked.

So, that’s my take on trivia groups. We were a little disheartened after last nights game. I like trivia when we go to places where it’s not the SAME group there all the time. Playing against the same people, with rather predictable results, can get old. Maybe we need to find somewhere new…

South Carolina Waterfalls.

You might think South Carolina is rather flat, dull, boring and full of trailer parks. Well that’s mostly true. Most of the state IS flat and dull and full of trailer parks. But that doesn’t prevent us from having a few redeeming qualities. There’s that whole “Civil War” Thing. If it wasn’t for us what would you study in school between 1861 and 1865? All those dates and generals and places to get tested on…

Oh yeah, and our mountains.

Yes, we have mountains. Two I think. Table Rock and Caesar’s Head. There might be one or two others thrown in there, but if you’ve seen one of those “State Parks” billboards with the mountain on it, it’s most likely Table Rock. I like our state – in a few hours you can drive from sea level to 3300 feet and be in the same state.

So it was with little trepidation that we loaded up the family transport vehicle to take in a few of our state’s waterfalls. There are a lot, actually, up in Oconee and Pickens county. If you want to see more of this area, watch “Deliverance”. It was filmed there.

The bad thing is, a lot of the area is far from the interstate, and some of it off the paved roads. But mountain driving is always fun for us flatlanders. When 90% of your life is spent between 0 and 500 feet, suddenly immersing yourself in the glory of driving up the sides of mountains and around curves that would make a NASCAR driver cringe, it presents an interesting change.

Our first stop was Isaqueena falls. Im not looking it up, I spelled it as best I could. Isaqueena has a few things to offer, but we were on a time crunch, and a late start found us eating our picnic lunch from the picnic area after 12:30.

Picnic Time
Kaylee – complete with headband already
Not the falls – creek in the parking lot.

The thing about Isaqueena, is that you really don’t get a good look at it without being down next to it. You can’t see much from the top, or even the overlook. A nice woman coming up the hill informed us that what looked like a sheer drop was the “easy and only” way down. Kaylee-of-no-fear climbed over the overlook wall and began bounding down the clay and rock surfaces to the base of the falls, seventy feet down. It was a task fraught with peril and poison ivy, but we prevailed and stood at the bottom of the falls.

Isaqueena from the bottom – random guy in shot.
Kaylee in the water
As close as I could get looking up – and not get wet.
Kaylee on the shorter side of the falls.

Leaving that backwoods (yet relatively easily found) Isaqueena falls was easy. Kaylee and I had to scale the 70 foot clay/rock slope back to the parking lot. She beat me to the top. Thankfully with all the trees to hold, and roots to grab, it was an easy climb, although a very sweaty one. My Delorme atlas showed me the way to our next falls, Oconee station. Back through Walhalla and then east, Oconee station presented less climb, and a LOT more walk. It was a half mile hike through woods and along stagnant creeks to the falls. I was beginning to think we would never make it, when we at last got to the rock face.

Oconee Station falls.
Kaylee strips to her swimsuit and Angie helps with the shoes.
Kaylee and I make our way to the edge of the falls.
Posing in the pool.
Angie’s waterfall picture. I couldn’t get a decent one – you go Angie.
Playing in the water…
Splashing around…
We swap places, and Angie gets wet
A “fairy glen” looking falls. The mossy rocks were quite colorful.
Wider shot – the falls were pretty big overall.

I could have stayed here a LONG time. Just being able to stand under the awesome sight of the falls was incredible. Touching the rock, feeling the spray, looking up at the worn surface was awe-inspiring. No, it’s not Yellowstone falls or even Looking Glass Falls, but these weren’t going to drown us or wash us downstream and dash us on rocks. You could get close and interact with the falls.

But it was getting later in the day by this point, and we still had an uphill hike to the car, and a fifteen mile drive through the back country of Oconee and Pickens counties. Thanks to Emily the Crackhead GPS, it was more backcountry than we intended. One lane gravel roads are NOT necessarily faster than retracing a few miles back down the paved and painted road.

Our last stop was Twin Falls, also known as “Reedy Creek” in the Delorme Atlas (and about five other names). Its a shorter quarter-mile hike into the woods, which ends rather disappointingly at an overlook. Note random people in the picture. Hmmm… maybe you CAN get closer.

Twin Falls (Reedy Creek)
More twin falls.
Twin falls and me. See me, right at the base? No? Well the falls ARE 70 feet tall…

The seemingly treacherous falls were pretty easy to get to. Everything on the left was completely dry. I never had to touch water until I got about five feet from where it actually hits the rock after falling over the cliff. Here the rock was slick, so I tread carefully and made sure I had some sure footing.

Me at the base, closer up.

Angie did pretty good at getting me not falling or anything. But it was time to go. Kaylee didn’t get to swim like she wanted, but there wasn’t as much time as we hoped, and the falls really didn’t have a lot of “swimming room”, mainly splashing in small pools. But there are plenty left to explore. We counted three more at least, with more we didn’t try to get to. Maybe next time.

Delicate sound of thunder

A little summer thunderstorm…

With apologies to Pink Floyd. Nix that…they made enough money, I’ll use their album title just to get Google hits if I damn well please.

Yesterday I was witness to some Hella-cool thunderstorms. It all started when I was on an out-of-town trip, about thirty miles away. the iPhone, in its infinite wisdom, began warning me every few minutes about severe thunderstorms in my home town. It worried me, and I headed that way. At first the storms didn’t look too bad. As I got closer, the sky darkened and lightning flashed in the sky like paparazzi at the latest whore-of-the-month club member sighting (Kim or Chloe…either will do).

It was black-dark, I’m talking Oaklahoma Storm Chaser nasty dark, and it was only 5 in the afternoon. The car was rockin’ (and not in the good way) and we were being pelted with rain. My wife got upset, and we pulled off the side of the road to wait some of it out. I checked the radar and discovered that the worst was headed RIGHT FOR US, and that we really needed to move, despite the bad weather. Several things blew across the road, including a small tent at the racetrack. Right over the fence… you know the small instant-up tents used by Beach Contractor types when they set up for the day.

Of course, there were the normal idiots driving their Ford Subdivisions, ten miles over the limit like nothing was wrong. How about spreading out a little, people? Why the need to bunch up? You are not safer in groups. This was evidenced when we passed a field, and a huge cloud of dust was roiling and churning towards the road. I had a “twister” flashback and thought we were about to be sucked into OZ. It so happened that it was NOT a tornado, just a wall of dust (moving straight, not in a circle), and we passed it before it hopped the road.

Going through town to home was no better. MY town sports some hundreds-year-old trees, and every now and then one like to drop a limb on the road, and I was scared I might happen to be in the landing zone at the time. The storm had partially abated by the time I got near home, and I was able to laugh at the neighbors’ trampolines. Both of them had been tossed a couple hundred yards across the manicured lawns into the pine woods. Pine trees can do some nasty things to trampolines.

The power was out. I hate it when the power goes out. I drag out the generator and stretch extension cords everywhere. It sucks that only one TV works, and the fridge. I can’t run the desktop, but I can run the wi-fi. So while we could play on the iPad and watch netflix, I couldn’t play WarCraft or anything like that. It also got a little warm by nightfall, even with the windows open it was up to 80 degrees. I need a small box fan instead of the monster fan I have, which weighs 70 pounds and has a dryer-sized motor driving steel blades. I inherited it from somewhere…I don’t remember where. It fits a window but draws too much power with the fridge, TV, and two lamps running, oh and the wi-fi router and ipad charger. I hate power outages, there’s too much math:

Fridge at 120volts x 6 amps = 720 watts… subtract from 3750 and I have 3030 to spare… add two light bulbs at 60 watts each, plus the TV, who knows what that uses? Grrr.

At least the power was back on by midnight.