On Monday, May 16, 2016 I visited the burned are in Shenandoah National Park, 12 miles south of the US 33- south entrance (between Remington and Harrisonburg, VA), near the Brown Mountain Overlook at Milepost 77, looking West.
It’s important to note that this not the same as “Brown Mountain NC”, site of the famous lights (which actually occur at several places in Virginia and North Carolina — high school chemistry explanations — covered here Nov. 4, 2015). The fire has also been called the “Rocky Mount Fire”, no connection to the Rocky Mountains in western US and Canada.
Vegetation was already starting to grow back. But the visual effect was striking.
I saw very little fire damage on the south side of Skyline Drive.
Wildfires may occur in the East. The Virginia fires don’t seem to have jeopardized homes.
Here’s a video on “What Caused the Fort McMurray Fire?” in northern Alberta?
And I can’t resist sharing this slide show of Expeditions by (22-year old nuclear physicist) Taylor Wilson, maybe the raw material for a documentary film. in Nevada, New Mexico and northwestern Arkansas. The “SCI” in the website name seems to refer to a level of security clearance.
The next-to-last story in my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book is called “Expedition“.
I had meant to get to Brown Mountain in North Carolina last month but couldn’t fit in the time for days away, so I did a few one-day trips nearer. I’ll try to visit it in the early Spring 2016 after daylight savings returns and snow is melted.
I visited the general area in July 2013, driving through the Smokies from Charlotte and Hickory to (eventually) Oak Ridge, TN. I drove up NC 226, the next highway to the West. The pictures here are a close as I got to Brown Mountain. Had I known more about the subject then, I would have chosen the 181 route.
Brown Mountain is a ridge that extends somewhat perpendicular to the Blue Ridge, on the county line between Burke and Caldwell counties. Linville Gorge is to the north, and the nearest town is Morganton, with a viewing overlook on Highway 181. It’s a fairly easy drive for people in the Charlotte area, and the server farms of Apple and Google, around Hickory, are not far away.
The ridge typically runs around 2800 feet, with many sharp rocks and crags. It somewhat resembles Old Rag in Virginia (80 miles from Washington DC), which has a similar relationship to the Blue Ridge by jutting out to the southeast. The lights, which may have a reddish hue (like a “red shift”) often appear below the ridge top and may rise above somewhat, but they are usually not “high in the sky” like most UFO sightings.
There is a local cable TV episode in “Carl White’s Life in the Carolinas” called “The Mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights” (21 minutes without commercials), by LITCTV, from March 2015.
This episode cuts through the UFO myths and gets to the science. The most likely explanation is that magnetite and certain forms of quartz (which has pizo-electric properties) occur together in the same area. Heavy rain can dissolve tannic acid in fallen leaves. The resulting reactions seem to release phosphorescent gas (with some sulfur compounds) which some say can resembled ball lightning (which normally would occur only in thunderstorms, not in the late fall when these lights are most likely to be seen).
Quartz (including blue quartz) and Magnetite occur in many locations in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge and valleys in both Virginia and North Carolina, but not usually in exactly the same place, as is the case on Brown Mountain. Another area with similar deposits may be the Blue Ridge east of Wytheville VA, another area with supposed UFO sightings (especially in the late 1980s). The Appomattox area NE of Lynchburg may be another such location. Roberts Mountain SW if Charlotteville may have attracted the Monroe Institute as a location for similar reasons. This sort of “pseudo-ball-lightning”, which seems harmless, may sometimes be seen at other locations in both states.
The Brown Mountain lights became the subject of a film “Alien Abduction” by Matty Beckerman, reviewed by me on Blogger in Aug. 2014, here.
Another attraction in the “Tarheel State” is “The Road to Nowhere: Abandoned Mountain Tunnel“, itself the subject of a mystery film by Monte Hellman, reviewed by me in July 2012 here. This was an unfinished highway project near Bryson City NC and Lake Fontana, itself a location in “A Walk in the Woods” (by Kewn Kwapis, review link). A filmmaker (who sponsors “Adam the Woo” on Tumblr) has a walk through the tunnel at the end of an obscure road. It looks like it is about 3000 feet long (a little shorter than the Paw-Paw tunnel on the C&O Canal in Maryland, and much shorter than the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels).
Finally, let me share the fact that I visited the Cumberland Gap in February 1990, 500 miles from DC, in a rental car from Johnson City TN, on a gratuitous weekend trip. That was before the tunnel on 25E was finished. The construction of a tunnel, at 1600 feet elevation, to go under a 500 foot ridge seems gratuitous, when you consider that the Pennsylvania Turnpike took out the Sideling Hill, Rays Hill, and Laurel Hill tunnels in the 60s, and may take out Allegheny Mountain by 2020 (story). In Maryland, officials made a 350 foot cut in Sideling Hill rather than build a tunnel on I-68 near Hancock MD. I prefer tunnels to “mountaintop removal”.
Here’s the “Cumberland Gap Tunnel”, simultaneous north and south approaches, filmed by Michael Kincaid.
I made six video clips from the Question and Answer session for the film “Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek” at the Carnegie Institute for Science on 16th Street in Washington DC (happens to be right across the street from the First Baptist Church if the City of Washington DC, in which I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s).
The subject of the film is African American activist Derrick Evans, who had worked as a history teacher in Boston before starting to visit his homeland in Mississippi more often. The Turkey Creek bayou is a natural wetland and was settled by freed slaves during the Reconstruction, who were able to own land here in a segregated society. The land is threatened by over-development, which makes it even more susceptible to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and then Rita in 2005. The film is directed by Leah Mahan and has been carried on Mississippi PBS.
Evans gave up his career (even as a teacher) to become an activist. During the QA I asked him if he was economically OK now, and the answer seemed to be, not really. Was this an OK question?
Another speaker said that more people needed to be willing to live in the Gulf area. Saying that people shouldn’t “choose” to live in higher risk areas just doesn’t cut it morally.