kings canyon: hiking day

Well, it took me long enough to get to the last day. I finished the last entry, which covered the day before, about a week-and-a-half ago. (I had just been hiking at the eastern edge of Yosemite in that entry, and then drove toward Kings Canyon again.) 

In the interim, I went to an academic conference in Boston, taught classes during the week, and suffered my way through a sinus infection that left me with muffled hearing. No fun!

Now on to the subject: My last day, which I spent hiking–about 13 miles total. Most of it was spent on the Mist Falls Trail, and out-and-back that takes you about 9 miles total. And it’s beautiful for almost every foot. 

I referred to it to people I met on the trail as “preposterously gorgeous.” Here was the beginning. 

I mean, that’s pretty enough, right? The thing is, it just kept getting better and better, in a way that I thought was hard to convey through stills. The only way I thought I could give you some idea was just to throw as many decent photos I have of the trail in there.

Now, let’s keep going.

Around here, you had to take a left, and head toward the falls. And not long after that, you started hearing the unmistakable sound of a mountain river. 

The trail, meanwhile, started getting consistently steeper and rockier.

And there you were, standing on nothing but rock, staring out into the canyon.

After a bit, I found myself at the Mist Fall (but not as quickly as you might think here, to see the time jump), and it was time for a lunch. I put my feet in the water. Had a cranberry chicken salad sandwich and such, then headed back.

Once I got finished, though, I didn’t want to stop hiking. I remembered that there were other trails just a mile or so up the road from Road’s End (the end of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, where the Mist Trail began), near the Zumwalt Meadow trailhead.

I took one of these afterward, for another few miles. This easier trail, which hewed close to the byway for a bit, was an out-and-back to Roaring River Falls–which is more easily accessible via an asphalt trail nearby, but… I wanted to hike more.

That was about it. I drove back through the park and the Sequoia National Forest again via the byway, turning off only to make my way to a panoramic overlook near the John Muir Lodge. It was hazy out on the horizon, however, probably due to smoke from the Ferguson Fire, near Yosemite.

This was also, I should note, a wildly weaving route, and getting down it–after hiking another two-thirds of a mile or so to get to the overlook–made me feel a bit cranky. I was getting tired, and it was time to head toward my next top. That was Fresno. 

I only really saw the hotel I was staying at there. I had a shower, ordered a takeout pizza, and went to sleep. Then I got up at 4:45-ish and went to turn in my rental vehicle, and head to Los Angeles again.

memorial day, vicksburg

A Memorial Day Mini-Getaway

In my “day job,” I teach political science. Consequently, on some days off, I find myself wanting to avoid talk of current political events. This, however, is usually impossible. I was reminded, again, of this when visiting the Vicksburg National Memorial Park last Saturday. No matter my intentions for the trip, by the end of it I couldn’t get a tangle of ideas out of my head, all of them involving our increasingly uncivil American politics of the present and how they cross paths with America's original and only Civil War.

Now, I’d gone to the park for its Civil War Sesquicentennial events on Memorial Day 2014, and had found myself almost overwhelmed by the park’s historical weight and beauty. It was an odd thing, mainly because I'd shown more than a bit of fascination for the Civil War in my undergraduate days, so long ago, and had many friends from Vicksburg in my freshman year then.. In hindsight, I think it was getting more into photography made the difference. Taking photos forces you to stop and closely consider landscapes and your immediate surroundings.

Consequently, when I had a free weekend coming and no plans, I looked to see what was going in Vicksburg for Memorial Day. In short order, I learned that it would be hosting a re-dedication of the park’s refurbished Missouri monument, as well as a living history program involving African-American Union soldiers, in tribute to their service in the Vicksburg campaign. There, I thought, is something you do not see every day.

Come Saturday, I was there around 10:30 a.m. This timing, a park ranger said, would possibly give me enough time to stop by the black soldiers event and go to the re-dedication, but I would be cutting it close. Ultimately, though, the black soldiers program sounded too interesting to pass up, from a photographic standpoint. I was right, as shown by the shot below.

African-American Living History

The man posing for me was one of several in from all over Florida for the event. They honored the first African-Americans to serve in the war, men of the 3rd U.S. Negro Cavalry who fought at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, across the river from Vicksburg. There, the original, non-reenacting soldiers shattered public doubts in the the North about the ability and effectiveness of these troops.

The man posing for me was one of several from throughout Florida for the event. I thought these guys rocked in representing their proud heritage. More specifically, they honored the first African-Americans to serve in the war, men of the 3rd U.S. Negro Cavalry who fought at the Battle of Milliken's Bend, across the river from Vicksburg. There, they shattered public doubts in the the North about the ability and effectiveness of these troops.

Today, I think even people from elsewhere think of civil war reenactment as a southern white thing, so I loved seeing these men out, to help show that it wasn't, necessarily. Unfortunately, the next event I attended could have left any outsiders thinking that white people more sympathetic to the Confederate cause still own the narrative, or think that they do.

Missouri Monument Re-dedication

Despite the ranger's earlier concerns, I ended up being able to get to re-dedication event parking in plenty of time. Once there. I found a colorful scene developing around me–middle aged and older men in Union and Confederate garb, representing the armies and the Union Navy. Two people were dressed up in period formal wear, as if they were coming from town, circa earlier days. Two or three living history had formal military dress for Union officers. Finally, two men sat to the right of the monument and played songs of the era.

Below are photos I took from the entire tour, all the way through, and at the monument ceremony.

Speakers, Excellent and Ranting

The program ultimately ran about two hours, mostly filled with speeches. By far the best of these came from Parker Hills, a retired military officer and leadership trainer who also authored The Art of Commemoration, 94-page book about the park’s monuments and sculptures. He has an exceedingly rare sort of academic pedigree, being a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, as well as a man with degrees in commercial art and educational psychology.

In his speech Saturday, he put a bit of all that education to work in talking in intricate detail about the Greco-Roman style of the Missouri Monument, as well as others at the park, about the symbolism of various monument elements, and the like. One of my favorite examples of the deep research he let viewers in on was the fact that the goddess Nike, at the center, stood on top of a globe, an idea its creator copied from a similar sculpture of Nike at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. He also put his military strategy hat on in talking about how Missourians fought each other at the site, and how their battles played out.

After that came a lively talk from U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler, whose district takes in what were divided to pro-Confederate areas south and east of Kansas City. She spent most of her time talking about battles between the anti-slavery Jayhawkers of the “Bloody” Kansas era, versus pro-Confederate bushwackers (at right) who burned down whole towns. (Jesse James was in with the latter crowd.) Around the time of the monument’s original dedication in 1917, however, former foes sitting down together, eating, and trading stories. Reconciliation was in the air, as the country was entering World War I.

Meanwhile, at least three other speakers talked of unity, but two–including a speaker associated with the Sons of the Confederacy organization (there along with a parallel Union forces heritage group) and another from Missouri–used the occasion to condemn what they considered attempts to erase history with the removal down of monuments, all dedicated by white governments and groups after Reconstruction, in the midst of Lost Cause mania. This, I took it was, referenced the removal of sculptures in New Orleans and another removal planned for Charlottesville VA. The Missouri speaker went further, admonishing “liberal” textbooks which have it that the war was caused by slavery. He went on to echo Lost Cause ideology regarding how the south had suffered badly due to norther tariffs. He also noted that most soldiers were fighting for the states and families.

Now, this is surely all too big for one bloggy post. I do feel a need to say, however, that such heated rhetoric reminded me that country is divided again, although not in, oh, as violent a way. But the reasons for this feel silly and pointless by comparison to what led to the Civil War, although I suppose it's all relative. I suppose. I mean, soldiers in countless wars have had any number of reasons for going to war. Getting off the farm, seeing other places. Being drafted might not hurt ether. Then, many a soldier on a losing side has acted with bravery and honor. Is this so hard to see? It’s not as if plenty of art hasn’t addressed this very topic.* Their bravery doesn't mean their side should have won, ever. Most wars involve sides with legitimate grievances against the other as well.** This is not new, nor is particularly liberal-minded to say so.

I think the current, intermittently raging debates about monuments outside of museums and dedicated memorial parks will be worked out over time. What you’ll need to end it well, however, is some balance in telling the story of slavery, in being honest about America’s flaws and historical evils. Unification is not something you completely work out among one group, all while depriving others of rights, as the nation was in the Wilson and World War I era. You will also need leaders who show courage in not giving into silliness such as Obama birther mania, as Rep. Hartzler did, and opposition forces who will remember this but not eternally lose their cool over The Stupid of that variety.

Please consider doing the following, in any case, if you ever stop by the military park: Stop by its monument to black soldiers from Mississippi who fought for the Union there. It's near Grant's HQ, which you can find on a park map. Then, stop and take in the full scene, and mentally put it in a larger context, one with all the monuments to service, bravery, and honor amidst carnage and tragedy. Even if you don't have a camera, just sit there and look and think. It works.

* Suggested viewing: Das Boot, Band of Brothers

** Suggested reading: George Kennan, on the causes of WWII, in American Diplomacy.

visits to columbus ms

The Background

Well, alright. I finally have this blog-like thing working. I was first thinking about using Adobe Spark, which I learned about in an Adobe class for educators and found easier to use than WordPress--or, least, the WordPress of a couple of years ago. Once I got the hang of using a new page builder, however, and working with post templates and such, I  found working with WordPress to be easy enough to let me go ahead with communicating, rather than attempting to be a serious web designer. 

In any case, today, I'm dedicating a post to Columbus MS, where I've taken graduation photos in mid-May for three years in a row. More specifically, I've taken them for the Mississippi University for Women, a public university (known as "the W" to graduates), the day after taking them at Holmes Community College in Goodman MS. It's a fun thing, and earns me some modest extra pay.  

What the two days of graduation shoots means is that, by time I've gotten to Columbus, it's already late in the day, and then I barely have any personal shooting time the next day.


The Historic Districts, Mostly

Nonetheless, I've always had to take some photos in Columbus, because it's such a beautiful town. I know this in part because my mother is a proud W alum. I also earned my master's at nearby Mississippi State in Starkville. Columbus doesn't have the tourist cachet of Natchez, documented at right, which I visited on earlier graduation shoot trips for Alcorn State in Lorman.  It is an architectural jewel all the same. 

Below are some of the photos I have taken in Columbus over time, most from historic districts near its downtown. Most of these were taken with my Olympus E-5 camera, but a few were taken this year with my new-ish Google Pixel phone, which I used after deciding not to bring the E-5 due to the forecast for heavy rain and overcast skies. By the time I left Columbus on Saturday afternoon, however, the skies were clear again, and I stuck around for another hour or so. 

These are mostly shots of the big, older homes, with all their mythological, if sometimes (or oftentimes, in some cases) dark allure, and history and occasional odd decorations. I also took shots of native flora, however, because I have found its abundance, particular in the area north of downtown, as unique among Mississippi towns. There are native cedar trees of a sort that it's practically startling to see in residential areas now.  

The Campus

Unfortunately, I do not have much time to get into the W campus here, nor of its interesting recent, co-educational history. Google is your friend! What I can say is that the campus is beautiful in its own right. I've taken a smattering of photos there.

Downtown and Environs

Ones from downtown, showing storefronts, the Tennessee Williams birthplace and museum (Victorian house), and the Columbus River Walk

Next Year?

Who knows? If I go next year, though, I'm going to concentrate more on the W's campus. After that, it's African-American historical spots. Also Waverly, if I ever, ever have the time. Might take a special trip.