Exploring the Rugged Bell Mountain in North Georgia

This past weekend, I went camping in the North Georgia mountains near Hiawassee, GA. Along the way, I decided to stop by a nearby attraction: Bell Mountain. 

Bell Mountain is a beautiful, ragged peak that has a storied history. Here is the description of the mountain by T. Larry Gantt in “Through the Mountains" on August 14, 1883:

This precipice is of beautiful quartz rock, reflecting in the sun all the rays of the rainbow. From the valley below the mountain appears to lean over, threatening to topple from its foundation. Houses are built immediately beneath its eaves, and can be plainly seen by persons on the summit. But in exploring this pinnacle you must be very cautious, for as we before said, you are on a very sharp and narrow ridge and a false step would seal your doom. There is a path underneath the cliff that leads into a cave in the rock called the “Devil’s Workshop,” but it is a very dangerous place to reach, as you must clamber on a narrow shelf upon hands and knees, with not a bush to cling to. In places this shelf is but a few inches wide, and inclines over the precipice alluded to above. We went part of the way and turned back, as the view will not repay one for the danger. There are other curiosities on the summit, however, equally as great. We say one place where a large quartz boulder had lodged across a passage between the rocks, forming a large room, protected on every side from rain and wind. There are several “fat-man’s squeezes,” of all sizes and shapes. But the most wonderful curiosity is a large pillar of white quartz, that stands upon the brink of a precipice, its spire towering upward. No sculptor could have hewn a more symmetrical shaft. This pillar rests upon two small pedestals and it seems that the slightest pressure would send it crashing into the valley below. But its foundation is firm, for twenty men, we are told have worked at it with prizes without throwing the stone from its balance. Bell Mountain is a solid mass of the most beautiful crystal rock of all shades and colors. It is often taken for marble. We brought away specimens showing the various shades. We lingered for hours upon this wonderful peak of the Blue Ridge, drinking in the view and were loath to leave it. We will conclude this letter however, by advising all of our readers to visit Bell Rock Mountain, if they want to see what we consider the greatest curiosity in Georgia or the south.

More recently, in 1963, three men from nearby Murphy, North Carolina decided they could mine the top of Bell Mountain for minerals. Because of their ignorance, however, they failed in their quest and after only a short time there left a huge gaping hole on the top of the 3,400 foot knob that you can now see from miles away. The mountain has maintained this physical scar for over fifty years. 

After this mining disaster, the mountain was purchased by local resident Hal Herrin in an effort to preserve it from future abuse. The Hal Herrin Estate graciously donated the 18 acre Bell Mountain Summit to Towns County and on February 18, 2016 was formally named Bell Mountain Park and Historical Site and the observation deck erected was named and dedicated as the Hal Herrin Scenic Overlook. The scenic overlook is located at 3,424 feet above sea level. 

The location of Bell Mountain is 220 Shake Rag Rd, Hiawassee, GA 30546. To get there, take Shake Rag Road from US Highway 76 in Hiawassee for about two and a quarter miles. There is a parking lot at the top of the road. Actually, there are two parking lots: one is at the very top and there is another one 300 feet below (with warning signs that the last parking lot is up a steep incline!). Overall, the long and winding road to the top is worth it. The majority of the Shake Rag Road is very narrow and so I would NOT recommend going up this road to Bell Mountain in an RV or camper van; trucks, SUVs, and sedans are fine, though. The price of admission at the top: free.

Once you get to the top-most parking lot, it's a short walk up the stairs to see panoramic views of Lake Chatuge and the surrounding valleys.

Bell Mountain is covered in spray paint, from people's names or initials and their visit to the mountain, to more blatant graffiti. There are signs that any spray painting is prohibited and that violators would be prosecuted. However, I noticed people's initials and names from 2018, so it is apparent that people are not heeding the warnings, sadly.

A few photos I captured from the top of Bell Mountain are below.

I hgihly recommend checking out Bell Mountain if you're exploring the North Georgia area, especially near Hiawassee.

Earth Day Celebration at Blue Heron Nature Preserve

This past Saturday, Blue Heron Nature Preserve held its annual Earth Day Celebration. I've been coming to the Blue Heron both as a local resident (I come to BHNP by myself or with my dog) and as a volunteer for a couple of years—I've done volunteering both in terms of tree plantings, weed removal, and most often, photography.

This was the schedule of events for the 2018 Earth Day Celebration:

9 am - 10 am           Outdoor Yoga with Ronald Dill
10 am - 11 am           Volunteer Planting Event
10 am - 11 am           Children’s Camp Open House
10 am - 11 am           Forest Walk with with EcoAddendum
10 am - 2 pm           Local Artist Market
11 am - 2 pm            Native Plant Sale / Environmental Exhibits / Student Art Show
11 am - 12 pm          Bird Walk with Atlanta Audubon Society
11 am - 12 pm          Vamos Chicos Art Bus Demonstration*
12 pm - 3 pm           Neighborhood Block Party with Music, Food, and Activities
12 pm - 1 pm            Green Theater Performance
12 pm - 1 pm            Mini-Hive Inspection with Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association
12 pm - 12:30 pm     Turtle Sanctuary Dedication
12:30 pm - 1 pm       Art of Nature Opening
1 pm - 2 pm              Mini Critter Camp with The Amphibian Foundation
1 pm - 1:30 pm          Blueway Trail Groundbreaking Ceremony & Tour
1:30pm - 2:00pm      Farmer D Organics Gardening Talk 
2:00 pm - 2:30 pm    Blueway Trail Tour

While I didn't make all of the activities above, I captured photos of the outdoor yoga, volunteer planting event, the local artist market, the bird walk with the Atlanta Audobon Society, the turtle sanctuary dedication, and the Blueway Trail groundbreaking. 

Below are some photos from the 2018 Earth Day celebration!

If you're a local Atlanta resident, I highly recommend checking the urban oasis that is the Blue Heron Nature Preserve. There are a wonderful series of trails in the 30-acre park. Additionally, there are plenty of events that occur throughout the year, such as the Moonlight hikes, planting/weeding volunteering, and much more. Just check the calendar if you're looking for more information.

GrantMeFood: An Atlanta Area Supper Club

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending an Atlanta-area supper club called GrantMeFood, hosted by chef Grant Stevens. Here is how GrantMeFood bills itself on its website:

GrantMeFood is an Atlanta area supper club that unites a group of strangers in our home for an evening filled with incredible food and interesting conversation. We combine global cuisine with a farm-to-table approach to take you on an adventure of flavor and texture that'll change your life. Ok, maybe it won't change your life, but we promise it'll be fucking tasty.

Grant, in collaboration with his wife Ria, opened up their lovely home for an amazing four-course tasting menu. 

An amazing setting to host eight strangers around the dinner table.

Prior to arriving to the dinner, I emailed Grant asking if I could take a few photos of the dinner preparation and as the dinner was being server. Luckily, Grant responded in the affirmative.

The title of this particular dinner was "The Hangover Cure," and the following was on the menu that evening:

Course 1: Duck fat latke, tarragon and meyer lemon creme fraiche, quail egg, caviar

Course 2: Rabbit poutine with rabbit espagnole and fresh cheese curds

Course 3: "Ketchup and Mustard" - Pork cheek capaletti with pink peppercorn pork consomme,  wasabi and mushroom agnolotti with shitake and saffron broth

Course 4: Roasted banana cream, lemon and black poppy seed meringue, kiwi-matcha panna cotta

Below are a few photos I captured of Grant (and Ria in the background) preparing the finishing touches on the above courses:

And below, a few photos of the courses served that evening:

What was remarkable about the event was not just the incredible food that Grant and Ria prepared for the random selection of guests that attended, but the amazing conversation that our group had over the course of the evening. What was supposed to be a dinner that lasted from 7:30PM to 9:30PM ended up being an incredible evening where we talked and connected on various topics until past 2 o'clock in the morning! 

If you are interested in tasting incredible food in a warm, friendly atmosphere (and don't mind the serendipity that's involved with interacting with other strangers/like-minded foodies around Atlanta), I highly suggest checking out Grant's website and signing up for his mailing list, following the @GrantMeFood Instagram account, and liking/following the page on Facebook


The 2017 Inman Park Festival Parade

I attended the 2017 edition of the Inman Park Festival and Parade yesterday. It was a great day to see some colorful costumes, eat great food, and enjoy the festivities.

Below are a selection of my favorite photos from the 2017 Inman Park Festival Parade:


Also see: photos from the 2013 Inman Park Festival Parade.

The 2017 Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival

Today I attended the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival, held in Blackburn Park in Brookhaven, GA. I came with my puppy, Penny, who received a lot of compliments herself.

The festival featured a number of food trucks, arts & crafts booths, and live music. I stayed around for the dog parade & costume contest, which had the following categories in 2017:

  • Artsy Bark (stepping outside the box, creative)
  • Cherry Blossom Awesome (your finest in pink)
  • Doggie Diva (sophisticated, stylish)
  • Super Hero Swag (need we say more)
  • #SquadGoals (Pet+Pet or Pet+Human Combos)¹
  • Best in Show (All will bone down to you if you win)

There were a number of creative costumes this year! Below, a gallery from the images I captured during the event.

If you attended, what was your favorite part of the festival?


¹ The #SquadGoals category was won by "The Three Amigos," my personal favorite from the day.

The 2016 Atlanta Dogwood Festival

This weekend I attended the Atlanta Dogwood Festival at Piedmont Park. On Saturday, I participated in the Mimosa 5K race with a few friends. It was a lot of fun—and my first time drinking mimosas after a race.

On Sunday, I came back to stroll around the park, see the artist/vendor booths, and watch the dog frisbee competition. Below, a few photos from the 2016 Dogwood Festival.


The 2015 Red Bull SoapBox Race

This Saturday, I went to watch the 2015 Red Bull Soapbox Derby in Atlanta, GA. About 2,000 feet of North Avenue were blocked off for the event, with ~1200 feet devoted to the race track.

After capturing a few mundane shots of the cars in the competition, i decided to shift gears a little bit and go for some panning shots of the soap box cars to show the motion/speed as they came down the hill.

Harry the Hawk, mascot of the Atlanta Hawks, began the festivities by running the course with the American flag during the singing of the "The Star-Spangled Banner":

Shortly after 12PM, each of the 40 soap box cars had a chance to go down the race course solo, competing both on fastest time and best skit/performance prior to the race downhill. 

The team I was rooting for was the Ramblin' Wreck, a superb replica of Georgia Tech's Ramblin' Wreck (a restored Ford Model A Sports Coupe). Unfortunately, the Ramblin' Wreck popped a tire after the landing from the ramp along the course. Nevertheless, team Ramblin' Wreck pushed their way to the finish line, as seen here, much to the delight of the crowd:

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may not have posted the best time in the tournament, but they had a fantastic skit (and great enthusiasm within the confines of the soap box):

A Red Bull endorsed vehicle about to head down the course. Notice the nifty suspension gear:

A wide angle view of the crow and the team called "Firefighters" making their way down:

Team "We Never Ride Dirty":

Team Chariot, which did not finish (DNF) the race. Less than a second after I captured this photo, the chariot wrecked:

Team Rollergirls Downhill Devils has an amazing looking car. Bonus points go to the detail, such as the blue shoelace and the curvature of the frame:

This is Team Yongsa's Dragon Breath, and they were incredibly fast, if this photo is any indication. Out of the 40 participants, they had the best (or second best) time overall (under 33 seconds):

Team Uber Atlanta had a beautifully minimalistic design of their car that finished in the top ten overall: 

Left shark makes an appearance:

Team Because Racecar (aka, team swag/mustache):

The Big Wrench:

When I first saw this car racing downhill, my first impression was a grill on wheels:

Empire Cocktail Crafters:

At the end of the race. Are you NOT entertained???

Bonus photo as I was walking on North Avenue. This dog wins some kind of Sartorialist award for best fashion/haircut.

The 2015 Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade

This Saturday, I went to see the Atlanta Beltline Lantern Parade. Having gone last year (but without my dSLR), I thought I would capture a few photos of the festivities. There was great music, food trucks, and hundreds of people (and some of their pets) either carrying lanterns or wearing them. Overall, more than 20,000 spectators came out to see the event.

The parade went through various historic districts of Atlanta along the BeltLine: Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, and Virginia Highlands. I stood near the intersection of Monroe Drive and 10th Street (where the conclusion of the parade took place) to capture some of the photos:

Visiting the WeWork Office in Tel Aviv, Israel

During my trip to Israel, I had a chance to visit the WeWork office in central Tel Aviv, Israel. 

WeWork is a startup founded in NYC, whose business model is to provide shared office space to small companies and technology startups. The most recent investment rounds value the company at $10 billion. I think the business model is fantastic: bringing like-minded entrepreneur types into one co-working space. The Tel Aviv office features three floors of office space, a living room with a kitchen (with free beer!), and a large shared working area with a number of computers for use.

I took some photographs during my visit, which appear below.

There is something like WeWork in Atlanta with the Atlanta Tech Village (whose monthly pitch events I attend), but it would be cool to see WeWork expand to other parts of Atlanta.



The "Read Everywhere" Campaign at The New York Public Library

This week, I was in New York City for a brief business trip.

On the first evening of my stay in the City, I took a three hour walk around Midtown Manhattan. One of my favorite stops along the walk was the outdoor exhibit at The New York Public Library.

This summer, The New York Public Library has a very cool campaign called "I Read Everywhere" (hashtag: #ireadeverywhere on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter). From the promotional for the read everywhere movement:

This summer, The New York Public Library is celebrating the excitement and personal joy of reading with the hashtag #ireadeverywhere. We are asking all of you to join authors, librarians and other readers from all over the world to share your favorite — and unusual — reading spots, along with the hashtag and our handle @nypl, all in an effort to inspire others to pick up a book (or an e-reader) and start their own adventures.

I took a few photos of the outside of the NYPL:

The famous NYPL lion with the "Read Everywhere" advestisement.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to go into the library on this particular visit (as I arrived to the library at its closing time of 7PM). I did take a few photos of the beautiful outdoor library room:

The outdoor library room featured carts for a "book swap"leave one book for others, take one home.

Finally, there was a giant board where people left notes on what they are reading this summer:

Here's a selection of notable books profiled in the photo above (outside of the popular The Song of Ice and Fire series, which is mentioned numerous times):

Based on the press release, the outdoor reading room just ended on July 17. However, reading never stops. I hope you can find some of these book recommendations helpful. Happy reading!


Cathy Barrow ("Mrs. Wheelbarrow") at Preserving Place

Something that I am trying to get more involved in this year is exploring the food/restaurant scene in the Atlanta area. 

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Cathy Barrow's presentation at Preserving Place, where Cathy taught the audience how to preserve a selection of foods. Cathy Barrow, also known as Mrs. Wheelbarrow, is the author of Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round PreservingThe book was available for purchase at the event, and a large number of folks in attendance stayed until the end to get their book signed by Mrs. Wheelbarrow.

The three main highlights of the event were learning how to make/preserve jam, bacon, and home-made butter. Something I learned that I hadn't known previously: you can make homemade butter by using heavy cream and spinning it in a mixer until it solidifies. 

Mrs. Wheelbarrow was very helpful in answering the many questions coming from the audience. One of the best questions asked was during a preparation of preserving pork belly: "Did you bring that with you on the plane?" To which Mrs. Barrow delightfully responded: "No, I don't fly with pork belly. I have to draw the line somewhere." Everyone burst out laughing, and it was a wonderful moment.

Below are some photos which I captured at the event. Mrs. Wheelbarrow is wearing a white apron with blue flowers, and the owner of Preserving Place, Martha McMillin, is dressed in a solid blue apron. 

If you're interested in learning more or perhaps taking a class about preserving food in the future, Preserving Place has a great lineup of future events on this page. I highly recommend it.

Happy Spring, everyone!

Snow Storm in Atlanta

After the late January snow storm that crippled Atlanta, the city was better prepared for the "storm of the decade" as some media outlets were calling it. In fact, most business and schools came out and said they were shutting down for the day. The governor of Georgia issued a state of emergency for 45 counties across much of northern GA, including most counties in the metropolitan Atlanta area.

Based on my experience, the storm wasn't as bad as some people predicted. I went out for a stroll around my neighborhood this afternoon and captured the photos below. Most of the falling precipitation was falling ice rather than accumulating snow. 

My stroll took me across the major thoroughfares in Buckhead: Piedmont Road and Peachtree Road. The following photos show that the roads were well treated.

Ice-encrusted trees across the Hotel Intercontinental in Buckhead (Atlanta, GA).

Piedmont road at around 2PM. A car would pass once every couple of minutes. Most Atlantans stayed off the roads today.

This is the Piedmont Road/Peachtree Road intersection in Buckhead. Not a car in sight...

A car veers onto the on-ramp for GA-400, headed northbound.

Piedmont Road was deserted, but treated with salt/sand earlier.

A view of Twin Peaks and Farm Burger on Piedmont Road in Buckhead.

The bright peach state, covered by icicles, on February 12, 2014.

Atlanta Police making their rounds on Peachtree Road.

A lot of the businesses were closed. Here's a selection:

My favorite burrito place, Chipotle, looking empty.

All Caribou locations across Atlanta were shut down today. I was staying safe and warm, thank you, Caribou.

One of the few exceptions I stumbled upon, and where I warmed up for a few minutes, was this Kroger that was open on Piedmont Road. 

The Sovereign Building, the tallest building in Buckhead, seen across Piedmont Road.

The Southern Art menu is not decipherable under the ice/freezing rain.

A car in the Kroger parking lot, bracing the elements.

A treated Piedmont Road. 

Corner Bakery was closed too...

Along my winter stroll, I came across people who were doing the same. They were enjoying the weather, taking walks, shopping, or otherwise seeing what everyone else was up to in the neighborhood.

This poor man was hauling his luggage on Piedmont Road. He had about 3/4th of a mile to go to reach his hotel further up Piedmont Road.

What a capture! As I turned around, the man from the couple featured above, decided to do a "foot low five." 

Everyone, meet the adorable Molly. "She needs her daily walk."

Taking it easy...

An urban, wintry landscape, punctuated by a walker.

Since no one was on the roads, it was perfectly acceptable to walk in the middle of the city streets. In fact, it was probably advantageous/safer to do so, away from power lines that had accumulated ice.

When you can't drive, why not go for a bike ride as these two ladies did?

And a few more scenes from my urban walk:

An old truck idles on Lenox Road, across Lenox Square Mall.

Hello, inverted signs.

Lenox Square Mall was completely deserted. An eerie, but beautiful, sight.

An advertisement for an iPhone 5C on a wall of a MARTA bus station.

A local church.

"You and I need answers." How come this storm was so overblown, for example?

My last stretch of the stroll was on a local road, and I captured the following neighborhood scenes:

Park Avenue, iced. 

No construction on this afternoon.

This tree branch, weighed down by ice, blocked a portion of the sidewalk.

Icicles were common.

This. Old. House.

I framed this beautiful house against icy branches across the street. 

A juxtaposition: a cone, a tree branch, and my footprint.

"Good fences make good neighbors." One of my favorite scenes on my walk.

This winter storm largely spared the metro Atlanta area. Nevertheless, today made for a wonderful snow day for those of us who worked/stayed at home (which was most of Atlanta). I hope you enjoyed these photographs!


All photographs © by: Eugene Buchko // eugene.buchko@gmail.com


Hiking The Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina

Over the Labor Day weekend, my friends and I traveled to the Pisgah National Forest (part of the Appalachian Mountains) in North Carolina for a three-day hiking/camping trip. 

The half million acres of the Pisgah National Forest surrounding Asheville, NC features some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery. Our goal was to traverse about 19 miles over three days. On the first day, we arrived at the tip of the Art Loeb Trail and set off. Here's our happy group as we arrived:

 Happy faces before departing for the day's hike.

Happy faces before departing for the day's hike.

 After four miles of hiking, we were caught in a downpour and scrambled to find a place to camp. It took me some time to set up my small tent, but after receiving some help, I was already drenched and needed to change clothes. After the rain ended, we were treated to this spectacular view at our campsite:   

 The sun shines through the trees after a downpour.

The sun shines through the trees after a downpour.

In the evening, we made dinner (spaghetti!) and shared a few cups of a drink I've never had before:


We wound down the evening by making a fire. The following morning, we had breakfast, put away our tents and other gear, and prepared to go for a ten-mile round-trip hike to Cold Mountain. It was a moderately strenuous hike. 

What I remember most is getting to the peak of Cold Mountain and looking into the distance and seeing these giant rain clouds. And then this depressed sound, sort of like a drum in the distance. It wasn't thunder. It was rain hitting the treetops in the distance. I've never heard this kind of sound before on a mountaintop, and it was glorious.  

After taking a few photos at the top of the peak, we headed back to the campsite where we stayed the previous night. 

We ended up saving the best part of the hike for the final day (on Labor Day). On this day, we hiked through the Black Balsam area that includes some of the most spectacular mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians. This area above 6,000 feet in elevation is almost entire devoid of trees. I captured this photo of our group as we were traversing the trail:


Here, we took a brief respite, drank some water, and took some fun pictures.  

 Group photo! Self timer on my dSLR which sat on my backpack.

Group photo! Self timer on my dSLR which sat on my backpack.

 Portrait in the wilderness

Portrait in the wilderness

I took some time and captured the butterflies in the area:


We then proceeded on the Art Loeb Trail for a couple more hours and got back to ours cars. Along the way, we stopped a number of times to pick on the fresh blueberries. They were delicious!

Overall, the camping trip was a great success. We were sweaty, exhausted, but everyone had a great time (minus getting stung by the pesky wasps). I highly recommended checking out this part of the Appalachian Trail if you're looking for a weekend getaway. The trails are well maintained from spring to autumn, there are plenty of camp sites in which to camp, and the views are wonderful.


Note: you can see some of the photos featured in this post in my gallery, Appalachian Mountains

The 2013 Inman Park Festival and Parade

This past weekend, I attended the Inman Park Festival. Perhaps the highlight of the event was the Inman Park Parade on Saturday afternoon. I've posted the set of images on my Flickr page, but I wanted to highlight my favorites from the parade in the gallery below.

Post-Processing: an Image from Wyoming

At the moment, if you navigate to the home page of this site, the gallery that loads is that of Yellowstone National Park. Technically, I've included a couple of images in that gallery from the neighboring Grand Teton National Park as well.

But on the way to Yellowstone, there were a number of beautiful stops along the way. I wanted to highlight my post-processing one of these images.

I photograph in RAW and use Adobe Lightroom to import my images. Below, the RAW image as converted to JPEG:

Jackson River in Wyoming. Unprocessed JPEG.

I then exported the image into Adobe Photoshop CS5, where I made a few edits. First, I wanted to make the foreground sharper (the rocks, river, and the plants). Second, I wanted to bring some clarity into the clouds in the sky (it is slightly blown out in the original). The final edit looks like this:

The Jackson River. Edited version.

You'll notice that I've also altered the color of the sky from off-white to blue/purple. I was able to do that by changing my color mode from RGB to Lab in Photoshop (Image --> Mode --> Lab Color). Then I went to the Curves Adjustment tool and selected the "b" channel. From there, all you have to do is pull the curve ever so slightly downward to bring the blue hues into the image. Here's a screenshot:

Screenshot of LAB color mode and a very slight curves adjustment to the "b" curve to bring in the bluish hues.

This is a very simple post-processing technique but I've found it works quite effectively. If I wanted to create a more orange/yellow look, all I have to do is pull the curve in the opposite (up) direction above.

That's my brief photography tutorial of the week. If you have questions, please leave a comment below.


Note: if you want to see my entire gallery from Yellowstone (including detailed captions), follow this link.