Falkland Islands – Fulfilling a dream, finally

For over thirty-five years, I’ve had a dream, a desire, to go to a destination so far away that most people – well-read, educated folks – couldn’t find on the map. In 1982 –  that’s when I, and most of the world, learned about the Falkland Islands. The few who knew where the islands were located probably lived there.

Tony Smith

1982 – that’s when Argentina invaded the islands and held the people prisoners. There was no local defense force at the time. Three weeks later, the British military arrived and the real fighting started.

After seventy-four days, the Argentinians surrendered and were shipped back to their country. That’s about all you’re going to hear here about the actual conflict.

The Falklands are a group of islands in the South Atlantic, southeast of Argentina, one of fourteen British Overseas Territories, which are self-governing but depend on Great Britain for their defense. In 2013, the Falklands voted – loud and clear – to stay part of Great Britain.

Stone runs

Enough history. I went out of curiosity and because I wanted to meet people and, oh yes, see the amazing wildlife. What did I actually do and see?

I flew into Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, and stayed at Lafone Lodge for a week with a trip to another island for a couple of nights in the middle.

I’ll talk about the practicalities of my visit in a future post.

The first thing that hit me as I got my bearings in Port Stanley was the light. The pure unfiltered light with expressive clouds in a clean, blue sky. The wind was strong and cold. It’s not that far from the South Pole. No trees here but a lot of white grass and stone runs, created by glaciers.

The first day, I took a history tour with Tony Smith, a terrific tour guide with a passion (dare I say, obsession) for the Falkland Conflict.

We toured the major locations, including Goose Green, site of a large battle. The war debris have long been removed and there were memorials at various points. We visited them all.

Darwin Bay

We stopped for a smoko (tea and cakes) at the Darwin Lodge, one of a few places in east Falklands to stay outside of Port Stanley. I scrambled down to Darwin Bay where Charles Darwin was supposed to have landed in 1833. He spent a night here.

Then to Bodie Creek Bridge, a wooden suspension bridge built in 1926 and long abandoned, except as a visitor attraction. There are few roads on the island, and most are unpaved. So people drive cross country through fields, as the sheep scatter out of the way.

Bodie Creek Bridge

Our last visit was the Argentine cemetery, where most of the markers say

Soldado Argentino solo conocido por dios

(Argentine Soldier known only to God) – see the photo at the top.

Next post – Port Stanley.

Who’s taking care of our national parks?

It’s not news that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is still the most visited park in the nation.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed a record number of visitors in 2017, according to park officials. 11,338,894 people visited the park in 2017, a 0.2% increase over 2016.

The Blue Ridge Parkway had more than 16 million visits last year. Not surprisingly, these parks require maintenance and the maintenance backlog is dreadful. But a bill introduced in Congress last year would create a continuous funding stream for national parks. Like when you put away money to fix the roof or paint the house in the future, this fund would provide money for fixing our parks. Here’s the bill.

Still, as quoted in the Smoky Mountain News, my representative, U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows, says that “he doesn’t anticipate this particular bill seeing any serious consideration in Congress”. If our own congressional representative isn’t going to push for an issue which is of such economic importance to Western North Carolina, who is?

I’m off on a trip to two of the most out-of-the way places on earth. So this is my last blog for a while.

Keep on hiking!

A Vision for Waterrock Knob on the Parkway

John Manuel on the MST

What is your vision for Waterrock Knob, a high point and small park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, MP 451.2?

For years, Carolina Mountain Club worked on extending the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on both sides of Waterrock Knob. Finally in June, 2016, we had a big celebration with several state and federal dignitaries. And CMC went on to work on other sections of trail.

Now the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the help of several conservancies, has been able to protect more land around the original knob.  What does the public want to do with it? So National Park Service and Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation held an open house in Waynesville to find out.

JD Lee, Superintendent of BLRI

When I walked in, I was greeted by a Foundation employee who asked me to sign in and gave me a strip of six “sticky” dots.

“Walk around the room and place the dots where you think the Waterrock Knob area should focus on.”

The Folkmoot Friendship Center, where the event was held, was decorated with large posters displaying different themes of the Waterrock Knob vision: recreation, preservation, heritage, and tourist and economic development.

The first theme I encountered was recreation. In large print, it said:

Engage with South Beyond 6000 Peak Bagging Program to Understand the Current Program.

Wow! That’s Carolina Mountain Club’s program. The smaller print said:

Work with Carolina Mountain Club to determine how the program should be promoted in the Waterrock Knob region that has several 6000 foot+ elevation peaks.

A little above, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail was mentioned.

Consider using the Mountains-to-Sea Trail as the spine of the regional trail system that connects all communities.

One of the Recreation vision

On post-its, you could write out your vision. Here’s mine:

Build campsites about 10 to 15 miles apart from Heintooga Rd to Stone Mountain State Park on the MST – by volunteers, of course – so hikers can backpack the MST easily and legally. Now, camping is only available in a few designated campgrounds.

I met JD Lee, the incoming superintendent and asked him what his vision and his priorities are:

  • Work with stake holders, volunteers and the community. It takes a village to care for the Parkway.
  • Engage the millennial generation. Every national park employee says that.

If you missed the open house, you can still send in comments. Here’s how:

Additional comments specific to the NPS approach to large landscape collaborative management for lands at Waterrock Knob are also welcome via the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/waterrockknobvisionplan.