Wednesday, September 15, 2010


When we went to the Pinnacle Nature Preserve Area on September 5th we were surprised by the number of butterflies on the mountain.   When we went to the Smoky Mountains September 7 - 9 we saw even more.   Turns out it's Monarch migration season.  These little guys are on their way to Mexico where they winter each year.   Some travel as far as 3,000 miles!   The Monarch's we saw may have started as far north as Nova Scotia.

We stopped at an overlook along the Newfound Gap Road and discovered a field of wildflowers that was full of butterflies, including this Monarch (right) and Common Buckeye (left). 

Nearby we found several Pipevine Swallowtails (blue with orange spots under the wings) on some bushes, maybe pipevines.   Because adult butterflies are poisonous to predators from all the pipevine they eat as caterpillars, most birds avoid them, which could explain why we saw so many.

The Pipevine Swallowtails, like other butterflies, have an unusual habit of "puddling". Puddling is when many butterflies are seen at one spot, such as a shallow puddle, mud, or animal poop. When we drove into Cataloochee we found hundreds of these beautiful butterflies on the dirt road, many flattened by car tires. It was difficult to drive down the road and not run them over.

Perhaps the prettiest we saw this day was this beautiful orange Gulf Fritillary.  It seemed to pose for me.  I noticed many of the butterflies were happy to sit still, which seemed unusual.   I don't know if they were resting up for the long journey, enjoying the sun and flowers, or it was just nearing the end of butterfly season.

I used to think spring time was the time for flowers and new growth.  Now I'm seeing these God Signs in the late summer and early fall time.  What a blessing to live so close to the Smoky Mountains.   We are going to be back again and again.

If you're impressed with my knowledge of butterflies, don't be.  I used the Discover Life website to look these up.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mingus Mill in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Over the past few years we have traveled thousands of miles and visited many national parks in the US and Canada.  The ironic thing is we live within easy driving distance of the most visited National Park in the US.  We've decided we need to spend more time in the Smoky Mountains National Park. 

This week we spent three days in some familiar places and some new spots we've not been to before.  One of the new spots was the Mingus Mill.
The mill was built in 1886 for only $600.  You won't see the traditional wooden waterwheel because the mill uses a metal turbine.  

The mill is still very photogenic.  The millrace that brings water from Mingus Creek to the mill starts out in the ground with moss covered wooden sides.  When the mill is not running water flows off the side of the millrace near the mill fall near Jewell Weed growing at the base of the wooden tower.

Mingus Mill is a working mill, still grinding grain and corn that is sold at the mill.  The inside of the mill is maintained much as it looked at the end of the 19th century.

Taking photographs inside the mill was a challenge because of the dark wooden walls and the bright sunlight streaming in through the windows.   Two of these images are High Dynamic Range or HDR photos, which are made from multiple exposures blended together in software to eliminate the very dark and very bright range of light.   The photo of the lever in front of the window would have been impossible to photograph in one shot.  Either the trees outside the window would have been solid white or the walls would have been almost solid black.

The image with the wheel is also a HDR photo.  The lighting conditions were not as extreme in that photo but it was helped by using the HDR technique.

The photo of the stove is not a HDR photo.  There was no direct bright light to deal with and only indirect light from a nearby window.

The Mingus Mill is worth driving out of the way and spending an hour or so exploring this historical building.  There is also a Mountain Farm Museum near by that we didn't get to.  We will be spending more time in the park and will make our way back down to that area again before too long.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve

To celebrate our 28th Anniversary, June and I went hiking in the Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve in Southwest Virginia.  Located near the confluence of the Clinch River and Big Cedar Creek, the area gets it's name from the impressive rock formation that towers above Big Cedar Creek. Cut from dolomite, the Pinnacle rises 400 feet above Big Cedar Creek.

September is not really wildflower season in SW Virginia, but there were many late blooming flowers including a lot of thistle.   We were treated to dozens of butterflies that seemed intent on checking out every bloom, never stopping long enough for me to get a decent picture.   You can see in this photo one of the two was still moving.

One thing we noticed that we had not seen before is that the butterfly's body has the same iridescent blue pattern as the wings.  If your click on the photo to zoom in you will be able to see for yourself.

There was not much water in Big Cedar Creek but what was there made great reflections of the late afternoon light.   It made the creek look like a river of gold.   A great excuse to sit on the rocks beside the creek and enjoy God's creations.

We hiked up to the top of Copper Ridge but the views that day we're much to write home about.   I can imagine it could be fantastic at sunrise or sunset.

One of the landmarks along Big Cedar Creek is Big Falls, which is not more than a few feet high.  It is however very wide.   The low water level made Big Falls into lots of little falls stretching across the wide creek.  

Below is a pano of 6 individual photos stitched together.

If printed at high quality this would stretch 6 1/2 feet wide!

Our anniversary trip wouldn't be complete without a photo of the two of us standing in the creek in front of Big Falls.

We may not get back to the Pinnacle area this year but it may be a great place for wildflowers in the spring.  If you would like to check it out there is information available at the Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Out With The Old, In With The New

The Siggins Photography website is getting a face lift and a new location -

The old site has served me well over the years, but some of the newer photo sharing websites offer many more services than I have time to develop and support on my old "do it yourself" website.  My old site had grown so disorganized with so many photos, galleries and photo albums that it resembled my garage! Time to start new.

Some new features include:
  • Easier to find your way around
  • Keyword search
  • View photos at different sizes or resolutions
  • Support for HD videos
  • Enhanced full screen slideshows
  • Better security
  • Prints, merchandise, and digital downloads can be purchased directly from the site.
    (The Siggins Photography logo is not on your prints)
I'm in the process of loading photos to the new site.   The old site ( is still online for the time being but will go away before the end of September.  The blog site is still available at the same web address.

Don't forget to change your favorites to add to the list.