Highpointing: Black Elk Peak, South Dakota

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Hiking in the Black Hills has been one of my favorite highpointing experiences so far. It is such a cool place. On a side note if you have played the game Firewatch, the hike to Black Elk Peak will remind you of sections of that. One day in the area was not nearly enough. I could have easily spent a month rambling around. This was an area that I really am looking forward to getting back to.

This was the second highpoint in the epic Dakota road trip, and after the beating Dave, Laurie and I took at North Dakota the day prior we were feeling a bit worked before we stepped off to head up to Black Elk Peak. Once we got going though it was an enjoyable adventure through the woods…until I took us down the wrong trail and added on an extra two miles. Thanks to my trusty compass and a quick look at the map we were back on track in relatively short order.

At this point Laurie opted to return to Sylvan Lake and film and take photos of that area. Dave and I continued on through the pines and rock formations and once we broke through the low hanging clouds we were rewarded with one of the coolest views I have ever witnessed. The clouds hung close the ground and stretched as far as you could see, only broken by the pine covered hills or jagged rock structures of the Needles. It was amazing. (Check out the images in the gallery below!)

Those low hanging clouds were a double-edged sword, while they did make for awesome footage and views while ascending the mountain, they made it a bit more challenging when we got back down and turned to the work of filming all the remaining footage. Case in point our National Lampoon’s Vacation moment when we got to Mt. Rushmore. When we arrived the entire mountain was fogged in. Visibility was next to nothing. I found it absolutely hilarious, at least for us, since Rushmore footage wasn’t critical. Other folks were not nearly as amused.

On the way out though Dave needed to use the facilities so Laurie and I sat down and chatted. I was facing away from the monument. When Dave caught up with us I took one last look back and lo and behold, the fog had lifted and there were the presidents. It elicited a genuine “holy cow!” from me.

While we caught a break at Rushmore the clouds slowly kept piling on. In the end we just tried to use them to our advantage. It gave the whole area an otherworldly feel so by the end of the day it became a “stand in the woods and say your lines” kind of deal.

When I think about director’s cuts for episodes this one is near the top of the list. I could have easily added on Wind Cave, a drive down Spearfish Canyon, the Crazy Horse Monument, etc. As stated before, this place is a treasure trove of wonders. With hindsight this episode should have had at least two full days dedicated to it.

Surprisingly there was footage that was cut out. This episode had a section in it for the “Geographical center of the United States” at Belle Fourche, South Dakota. It didn’t quite fit in with the episode and when we arrived there the weather was cold and wet. All of us were pretty worked from the earlier filming at White Butte so while we did get footage it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Overall this episode turned out pretty well. One of the big wins was getting James “Defender Eagle” Starkey to do the voice over for Black Elk. It adds a layer of authenticity to the episode. It was important to me to have a solid narrative of events since the Black Hills are still a contentious area.

Music for this episode is from Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com,) Dan Lebowitz (lebomusic.com,) and Freedom Trail Studio. The Majestic Hills theme used during the ascent was one that I actually had earmarked for this episode way back when I was still planning out the series. The remaining pieces were all chose to help carry the weight of some pretty heavy subjects.

The Black Hills are an amazing place and the hike up Black Elk Peak is really cool. If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: White Butte, North Dakota

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White Butte, North Dakota is one of the few places where it feels like you could really disappear off the face of the earth. This rural, sparsely populated landscape can be harsh, unforgiving, wild and wonderful, oftentimes all on the same day! When I first started checking the weather about ten days prior the weather was forecasted to be sunny but cool. As the days got closer the weather started to go downhill. By the morning of our visit it had become overcast and windy, with rain threatening to dump on us at any moment.

Joining me on this adventure were Dave Dechant and Laurie Gibson. Dave had helped film Timms Hill way back in the beginning of this series and Laurie was an friend and colleague of mine from my contractor days. The fact that I managed to convince both of them to go with me to the Dakotas is still a mystery. At the start of the day we were able to get fairly decent footage at Painted Canyon but by the time we got half way finished at Theodore Roosevelt National Park the weather was working against us. You can hear the rain in a few scenes as we worked our way through the park.

Conditions had deteriorated even further by the time we arrived at the White Butte trailhead. At this point we were getting cold, wet, and miserable which led to rushing and just trying to get anything that was half usable. The hike across the field was wet and the wind seemed to cut through our layers of clothes. There was a bit of respite when we reached the base of the butte with it providing shelter from the wind.

It is at this point we had reached what would be the hardest part of the hike. Slopping through the mud at bottom of the butte was a quite an experience. When that dirt gets wet it becomes incredibly slick. Unfortunately the first 25 yards of the trail heading up the butte proper was exposed dirt and impossible to get traction on. With no purchase to be found on the trail Laurie opted to remain at the bottom and take photos and footage of the surrounding area. Dave and I managed to find away up the side passed the mud and then rejoined the trail and continued onward.

The remaining part of the hike was uneventful, the trail was easy to follow and nary a rattlesnake to be seen.(Come to think about it I don’t remember seeing any wildlife including birds on this hike. They all had much more sense than us to hunker down.) The weather seemed to back off a bit as we ascended until we neared the summit. Then everything changed again. Once at the top it was windy, perhaps the windiest highpoint we have yet filmed at. The summit shot you see involved a bit of camera “trickery.” Instead of the normal set up, Dave had to duck behind a small lean, set the tripod up low, and angle the camera up. The end result was a bit darker than we would have liked, and doesn’t show the surrounding area of the summit but at least we got a working shot. Expect to see the other version in the Season 5 recap.

Despite the adverse conditions I really enjoyed this highpoint. The badlands of North Dakota are austere but strikingly beautiful. The highpoint provided more than enough challenges making for some excellent memories. This was an episode that when I first started sketching it out I had concerns about having enough material though once I hooked in Theodore Roosevelt that became a non-issue.

Equipment-wise I really should have had a lav mic for this episode. That would have solved some of the sound issues we had due to the elements. We did the best we could with the shotgun mic, but even with a dead cat the wind was blowing it out.  The ever-reliable Nikon D7200 continued to be ever-reliable handling the elements with aplomb. At some point I will figure out how to shoot in the rain but until then you will just have to bear with me.

Music for this episode came from the YouTube Audio Library by Chris Haugen. There were two objectives that needed to be met. One was to find music that supported the Old West vibe of the story and the other was for something I kept thinking of while on the hike, particularly when heading up the butte itself, on how much it reminded me of Scotland. The three pieces chosen support those two elements nicely.

If you are ever in that part of North Dakota do yourselves a favor and check out both the state highpoint at White Butte and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The North Dakota badlands are one of the hidden treasures of this country and are worth your time.  If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!


Highpointing: Mount Elbert, Colorado

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Mount Elbert was not the first choice. Originally we were going to film Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, but in the weeks prior to our departure for that highpoint, Carson National Forest was closed due to fire. Ten days before flying out I made the decision to change venues and go for Mt. Elbert instead.

Despite this change it was not very difficult to pull together a script for this mountain. This part of Colorado was home to several mining rushes and it has the scars to prove it. It also has a rugged, Wild West vibe that we managed to capture on film. It is a beautiful area with Mount Elbert and its fellow peaks dominating the skyline; I could have easily spent a few more days there just filming b-roll.

I planned to hike up the south trail, overall it seemed like it would be the way to maximize our chances for a successful summit, provided and provided good scenic views. To gain these benefits we would need to get up a rugged forest service road to the upper south trailhead. Fortunately Jess had her Jeep. We all piled in like sardines and endured a dark, bumpy ride to the trailhead. Elbert did have a surprise for us though, the old trail was closed and we had to take the new improved trail. The good news was the trail was in excellent condition, the bad news was it added another couple of miles to our hike. The other advantage of the south trail was it was less trafficked making filming a lot easier.

We stepped off at 3:45 AM and trudged upwards. The group for this was a few veterans of previous Rooftops episodes, Brett, Eric, and Jess, and a newcomer, my cousin Susan. One of the big physical challenges for me was trying to do this with little acclimatization. I had only arrived in Colorado the day before. Jess paced me and required regular stops to monitor heart rate and breathing. It took a bit longer but the entire party had reached the top around 10:00 AM in good cheer with no effects of altitude sickness.

It was a party at the summit. You can see a bit of this in some of the sections on the final part of the ascent and hear it in the background with the closing summit shot. There had to be close to over a hundred people up there when we arrived with more arriving all the time.When you looked over at the north trail from the south it looked like a line of ants marching to the top.

In production for this episode the filming duties for this were twofold. Jess brought her photographer’s eye and filmed the scenes at Mt. Massive and Turquoise Lake. Brett Evenstad filmed the remaining parts. (Jess also was the “stunt driver” with the driving section on the forest road.) The weather cooperated with us pretty much the whole time with just a few drops of rain on the third day.

Music for this episode came from several sources with each chosen to give that western feel. Kevin MacLeod, (incompetech.com), Nat Keefe & The Bow Ties, and Brian Boyko all created tracks  that support the various scenes.

I will confess that when editing this episode I padded a bit of footage on the climb itself. If it seems like it drags on a bit during that section keep in mind that was intentional. The climb itself is a grind that feels like it just keeps going on and on. Surprisingly this feeling is even worse on the North Trail with its many false summits.

Mount Elbert was a big boost of confidence both in producing Rooftops of America and getting in the mindset to start tackling bigger peaks. I was able to apply the lessons learned from Humphreys Peak and Guadalupe Peak and turn out a better and bigger episode that manages to capture a bit of the grandeur and history of a cool part of Colorado.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

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Welcome to Season 5 – Tennessee’s Natural Bridges

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Hello again! Welcome to Season 5 of Rooftops of America.

At some point I am going to learn that “easy” survey type episodes are not always easy to pull together. This particular one required four separate days in four separate locations over the course of two months. It was another solo project. Originally I wanted to have it finished by mid-March but things didn’t work out as planned, I shot the last frame of this only a few days before the episode went up.

This episode has been percolating in my mind for some time. I find natural bridges and arches fascinating.  In the beginning was going to focus on just one, the Sewanne Natural Bridge, but as I started research I quickly arrived at two conclusions; the first, there was not enough material for that one location and second, “Good gravy! Have you seen how many arches are in the state of Tennessee?” After that light turned on it did not take long to whittle them down to four that would be “easy” to shoot. Plus each had enough common material to cobble and string them together a form a decent episode.

Technically not much to add other than I started tweaking the transitions during the shift from each location, lengthening them and adding in the black and white photos. Not sure if I will continue to do that in the future with highpoint specific episodes but it did help bookend each of the four sections, plus these places are very photogenic and it was nice to show them off a bit more. Music for the episode came from Kevin MacLeod of incompetech.com and from Dan Lebowitz of lebomusic.com.

As I have stated before, the intro/ season recap episodes are fun to do because it allows me to show off other interesting things and stretch the concept a bit. It does not hurt one bit that the Twin Arches are the largest natural bridge complex in the eastern United States or that two of these places had really cool historical anecdotes associated with them. For in an intro episode it really is reflective on what I am trying to do with season 5.

Rooftops Season 5 is a big one; each of the highpoint episodes is over ten minutes, with half over fifteen. This has been a beast to finish but I’m very proud of all the work everyone has put in and hope that you all enjoy the upcoming episodes.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA (and space now too.) Thanks for watching!


Highpointing: Selene Point, the Moon

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Welcome to the April Fools Day episode that turned into something much bigger. This episode all started with a throwaway line in a top ten episode I am working on for a later date. I liked the idea so much I thought it would be a nice little April First episode. The “joke” being why limit yourself to just the US or the world. There was also an ulterior motive as well. My son is really into space and the solar system these days so I wanted to make something he would enjoy.

It is a bit of an understatement to say this became something much bigger than intended. What ended up being produced and published is only a small part of a much larger script still being written. The original plan was to do a cursory overview of the entire solar system with a quick stop at each planet, or the moon with highest point in the case of the gas giants.

This idea quickly unraveled. To state the obvious, the solar system is a fascinating place with a lot of mysteries. Even limiting the scope of the episode to the individual mountains/ highest points on them became a challenge because of the diversity of both the peaks and planets so instead I opted to not limit myself and just write where the research took me keeping in mind the original intent.

Knowing I had to get something out for April Fools Day it dawned on me I could make an intro episode focused on the Moon that could stand alone but also set up the remainder of the spinoff if I wanted to continue with it. Of course that bit of “genius” did not flash in my brain until after 25 pages of script had already been hammered out.

There were several key elements that really allowed this episode to take a step above being a “joke.” There were a few key elements that really gave it some decent production value. The first is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the 3D map of the moon. This tool provided a bunch of the moon “location” shots and also those cool sweeping angles. (It is a fascinating tool, I would often find myself playing around with it looking at all sorts lunar features. Go check it out; it is awesome!)

The second was Space Engine, described as a realistic virtual universe based on scientific principles and data. It also allowed location shots but more importantly provided a way to generate a spaceship, (the starship Highpointer,) and to get the exterior spaceship shots while in transit. (Space Engine is a cool game currently in beta though soon to be released on Steam. Go check it out as well!)

The final element that helped this episode go beyond was the NASA Image and Video Library. This was another great resource that provided the video footage from NASA of the Delta Heavy launch and the Apollo missions as well. It is clear that the NASA and the other space agencies of the world’s archives are going to be critical in producing the remainder of this spinoff series.

For this episode’s score I wanted to indulge a bit in the cinematic and epic. Music came from a variety of sources to include Bensound, FilmMusic, and series standby incompetch. The pieces chosen helped capture that space opera feel I wanted.

Overall I enjoyed the challenge of writing, filming, and producing this episode. It was quite the learning experience though out the whole process and allowed me to be creative in a different venue. For those that enjoyed this detour you can expect more of Rooftops of the Solar System in the future. At present the script is coming in at 37 pages and growing with at least five more episodes to cover it all. Expect to see this spinoff premiere between season 5 and season 6 of Rooftops of America.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA (and space now too.) Thanks for watching!

10 Hiking Essentials That Should be in Your Pack!

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Spring is right around the corner and that means hiking season will soon be in full swing. I want to share with you some of the tools and items that you will always find in my pack to help deal with any unexpected situations and to be able to adventure more confidently and safely. This is not a list for the basics or everyday things like car keys, wallet, phone, snacks, water, sunglasses, sunscreen, though those are important and should always be considered. Instead these tools are more focused on giving you an advantage if you find yourself in a predicament in the woods.

Leatherman Charge

A good multi-tool can come in awfully handy whether for the need is for a sharp edge or a quick fix or repair. They combine utility, versatility, and portability. I’ve been a fan of Leatherman ever since my days in the service. It has proven itself a reliable companion and is easily the most used tool on this list,

Wind Storm All Weather Whistle

This particular model may be a bit of overkill, but it will get you heard, and really that is what the whistle is for. This particular model by Storm Whistles is lightweight, colorful, and will definitely help get someone’s attention.

Black Diamond headlamp

I prefer a headlamp though at times I have also carried a small flashlight as well. Regardless having a reliable light source is always a good idea in case you end up being caught up in the dark. This Black Diamond has several settings, provides good illumination, has good battery life, and is pretty comfortable.  (Tip: Always check your batteries before you head out!)

GRAYL water filter/ bottle combination

If you planned correctly you should never have to resort to this but it always pays to have a way to make potable water. This GRAYL is a recent addition to my pack. It filters pretty much everything you are going to encounter out in the woods meaning safe drinking water is just a dip and press away. It also doubles as a water bottle.

SOL 2 person blanket

If things go extremely sideways and you find yourself stranded and have to make it through the night then this can be a real lifesaver. This particular one by Survive Outdoors Longer is light, compact, and made for two people.

  1. ROPE
550 parachute cord

A bit of rope can go a long way whether for first aid, building an impromptu shelter, or repairing a piece of gear. I carry 25ft of 550 parachute cord and that length should be enough to get you through most situations.

Good ol’ duct tape

The secret weapon of every toolkit. Whether supplementing a first aid kit, fixing a tent pole, patching a piece of equipment, or even helping start a fire, your imagination is the limit when it comes to using this tool. (Tip: Wrap it around a pen or pencil, which is another good thing to have in your bag!)

Adventure Medical Kits 4 person first aid kit

Most likely you already have a first aid kit in your vehicle but having one in your pack can be handy if you suffer a minor injury out in the wild. The one I carry is made by Adventure Medical Kits. It is a multi-person, multi-day type for the whole team. It’s larger but still lightweight.

UCO Titan matches & magnesium block and striker

Having a good fire starter can be a lifesaver. Matches or a lighter are always a good thing. You probably don’t need something like these Titan matches but they are storm and wind proof. To add a little more certainty toss in a magnesium block and striker as a backup.

Garmin GPS, USGS topo map, and Suunto compass

A GPS is a good thing to have in your bag but it is still dependent on other systems and has limitations such as battery power and signal. You will want something more reliable. That’s where the map and compass comes in. Armed with these two tools you can figure where you are, where you need to be, and how you are going to get there.

Most of the time you probably won’t need to use many of these tools but on the occasion you do find yourself in a bit of a pickle these can make all the difference.

What about you? What are the things you always carry when you head out? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Two Summits: An essay

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Below is the Two Summits essay as it was written. Enjoy!

On a warm, sunny July morning I trudged up to the top of my first “14-er.” Mount Elbert rises above Leadville to touch the sky at 14,440 feet. It calls to you to climb it, standing tall and bold against the skyline, filling your spirit with the urge to take your shot and test your limits. It is magnificent.

Around that same time, but two weeks prior, I strolled into a grove next to a cornfield to stand on top of Indiana. My breathing was significantly less labored in the thick air of 1,257 feet. Hoosier Hill hides in the woods, innocuous, easily passed by the unaware. It too is magnificent.

On a spectrum these two state highpoints would be at the extreme ends from each other, frankly, they could not be more different if they tried. A photo of Mt. Elbert could be stuck in the dictionary under the definition of mountain and it would never be questioned. It lies in the San Isabel National forest bracketed on three sides by other peaks. It is the third highest state highpoint in the United States.

On the day I summited there was a never-ending line of people heading up and down on the trails to the summit, with a raucous party ready to greet you when you arrived at the top, easily over fifty people milling about area, all in a festive mood, snapping photographs, celebrating their accomplishment of reaching the rooftop of Colorado. The views from the top revealed the glory of the Rocky Mountains.

On the other end is Hoosier Hill. It stretches the definition of what a hill is, being a very gradual incline on a rolling plain. The summit can be found in a verdant, mosquito-infested grove, adjacent to a cornfield. It is in the heart of rural America. There are really no scenic views to be had here; the summit area is enclosed in a comforting green bubble of trees and undergrowth. It is sixth lowest highpoint in the country.

It is serene, the quiet broken by the occasional birdsong or the sounds of nearby farmers working their fields. On the day I visited I was a bit taken aback when somebody actually pulled in before me. They stayed for a few minutes and we had an enjoyable conversation, but once they departed I was alone for the remainder of my time.

While these two highpoints are drastically different they do share some similarities. They are both found in areas rich in history and as state highpoints they count the same for those seeking to reach all 50. Both require you to get off the beaten path, whether in the national forest or country back roads, and they both offer their own rewards; you just have to be open to receiving them. One provided me a chance to challenge myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. The other afforded a rare opportunity to pause, to enjoy the stillness and solitude, and reflect on the journey.

I would not trade either experience, both had the same sense of adventure, the thrill of exploring something new, going to someplace that not everyone does. This is the true joy of highpointing, a chance to explore the full gamut of your country, to get a chance to revel in nature’s diversity because it is not just the highpoints themselves but also the journey to reach them.

There is an argument to be made that highpointing makes you a better person by providing you opportunities to uncover new and exciting areas, to take you places that you may never have gone to just to reach the top of a hill or mountain. It breaks you out of your comfort zone, and allows you the chance to realize the smallest adventures are just as rewarding as the big ones.

As people, we need the Mount Elberts and Hoosier Hills in our lives. The Mount Elberts of the world let us test our limits, challenge us to strive for something bigger, to discover new things about ourselves through a bit of adversity and struggle. When we finally get to the top we are rewarded with a stunning view and a chance to see the big picture.

But the Hoosier Hills of the world are just as important; the starting points or rest areas that allow us to take a pause from the hustle and bustle of life. Without the little adventures we may not fully appreciate the big ones. They provide a lens to put the journey into focus and perspective. The contrasts of one can help you appreciate the other.

So get out there and have an adventure whether big or small. Both will reward you if you are willing to go and experience something new. You will thank yourself for it. I hope to see you out there.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Minor’s Hill, Arlington County, Virginia – BONUS!

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Happy New Year!

Welcome to Minor’s Hill, the first bonus highpointing episode of Rooftops of America. A while back it occurred to me that I could easily expand the series and highlight places of interest that wouldn’t be touched on if I adhered to a rigid interpretation of Rooftops of America. In some ways I have already been doing this with the season intros and recaps. While the main focus of the series continues to be state highpoints, on occasion I will also look at things like the highest sand dune in the US, the highest battlefield, highpoints of geographical oddities, and other things of that nature. Hopefully the end result will interesting and entertaining and you can expect to see them at the end of upcoming seasons.

For a highpoint that has a history associated with a view it is ironic that today Minor’s Hill pretty much has none.  If you were to visit it today other than the sign you would be hard pressed to find anything that would reveal its past. There are few, if any remaining structures, even the latter half of the 19th century. As stated in the episode the last one of note, a house present at the time of the Civil War, was knocked down in 2016. Today the hill is covered in houses with more going up. It would only be good for showcasing the sub-urbanization of the greater DC Metro area.

Minor’s Hill was chosen as the first for a simple reason. I had to travel to DC for work and had an available afternoon to film. It was a convenient location and would be a low-key shoot. Originally this was going to be part of an expanded DC episode but as the research got more involved there was enough material for it to stand on its own. This was Lea Wulliman’s first time behind the camera and it is a solid debut effort. Zach Campbell and Drew Blazejewski did voice over work for the episode. Zach has contributed in previous episodes and Drew has a bigger role coming up in Season 5. Drew also was responsible in tracking down the additional information about the hill at the Mary Riley Styles public library in Falls Church.

If you visit Minor’s Hill keep in mind the highpoint itself is not in the park with the sign but up N. Rockingham Street. It is a short walk in a fairly well trafficked neighborhood but there are sidewalks. You’ll be looking for this location (see image below.) Heading away from the park up the street you will find it on your right hand side. Remember to respect peoples’ property and leave no trace when you stop in.

Minor’s Hill summit.

If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue to bring you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!


Highland Rim – Season 4 Recap

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Another season comes to a close. In addition to providing a chance to thank everyone (Summer, Hunter, Junior (a.k.a “Purple Ham,) Brian, & Brett) for taking the time to help create the season; I also like to use the season recaps as a chance to try new things that may eventually make it into upcoming episodes. This time it was a multi-location extravaganza across middle Tennessee exploring one of the defining geological structures of the region, the Highland Rim. The cherry on top was being able to include a county highpoint, Short Mountain in Cannon County, in the episode.

Filming-wise this episode took the longest time to shoot. It was five days and four distinct locations, fortunately the weather cooperated over the course of several October and November weekends. The end result is ok but could use a bit of refinement. Some of the transitions are unpolished and frankly each one of the highlighted areas could probably carry one of the intro or recap episodes all on its own (I’ve already started sketching out a larger piece on the Natchez Trace for a future episode.) Overall I’m satisfied with the result.

In some ways this multi-location structure is already taking place in the episodes but it definitely gets kicked up next season. Looking forward, Season 5 is well underway with four highpoint episodes already in the can and the final two scheduled to be filmed and edited in the next few months. Beyond that I’ve actually started writing scripts for season 6 and have started planning out the trips for season 7.

Music for this episode is a piece called “Whaling City” by Freedom Trail Studio from YouTube’s audio library. It adds a nice autumnal feel to the episode. The audio library is turning out to be another good place to find creative commons and royalty free music.

Season 4 was a big learning experience. Researching and writing more material to push some of the episodes past the ten minute mark, learning to film more efficiently and in some cases solo. There were two big highlights for me this season, Indiana and Texas. The first for being able to take one of the nondescript highpoints, Hoosier Hill, and make it into a pretty solid episode. The latter because Guadalupe Peak is one of the coolest highpoints we have visited to date.

If you enjoyed this season please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

Highpointing: Guadalupe Peak, Texas

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Guadalupe Peak is a favorite for many highpointers and after visiting it is easy to see why. It is a stunning area, unlike anything else in Texas. The peak rises up off the desert floor, a giant ancient ocean reef that looks like an massive wall in the distance. El Capitan stands like an indomitable sentinel in front of the highpoint itself. Guadalupe Peak is very photogenic; I wanted to just keep shooting photos of it the whole time. If I was more inclined to painting this could easily become a favorite subject, depending on the time of day the light just dances across it.

Created using GoArt at Fotor.com

We climbed and filmed this in the middle of December 2017. My buddy Brett Evenstad flew in from San Diego and we stayed at an AirBnb in El Paso for the weekend. We drove out there both days. The best part of this was the opportunity to get some great photos and footage of the peak at various times of the day.

On the day of our ascent we arrived at 6am. It was still dark, and the temperature was 26 degrees at the trailhead. We stepped off at 6:20 and used headlamps for about thirty minutes before the sun started to creep above the horizon. We were able to take in the sunrise off the shoulder, another cool sight to see. Frankly there was no shortage of scenic views on this hike. The trail was easy to follow though there was some ice patches on the parts through the ponderosa pine forest. We reached the summit at 9:30am and the wind was already kicking. At 8,750 it is the tallest thing around and the wind just whips across the summit. We had to keep a hand on the tripod and camera at all times to keep it from toppling over.

There was a lone scrub bush at the summit that served as our respite from the wind. The bush had clearly filled this role for many other hikers before. Despite the wind, the views on top Guadalupe Peak were amazing. The desert just stretches out before you to the south and looking to the north you get an amazing view of the park and the next three highest points in the state. On a side note, if you are flying to El Paso from the east there is a good chance you will also get a view of it from the plane. It is just as striking from several thousand feet up as well.

This episode is my favorite to date. Despite the challenge of the wind everything seemed to come together, script-wise, filming, and music. A ton of credit goes to Brett for how this was filmed. He really captured the feel of the place and the addition of the gimbal he brought added a whole other level to the production value of the episode. I do wish we had had more time there. Another day at a minimum would have allowed us to explore McKittrick Canyon and Devils Hall. Both locations would have been great additions to the episode.

Musically I branched out bit for this one. The first half of the episode is anchored by a piece called “Solitude of an Era” by Alexander Nakarada of Serpent Sound Studios. It had all the sweeping drama to accompany a dramatic location with a fascinating history. On the ascent section I wanted to ease off just a bit but still maintain that western feel. For that I turned to Brett Van Donsel and his piece entitled Rattlesnake Railroad. Reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s Dollars trilogy music it brings the fun and flair I wanted to impart for the hike but still maintain that dramatic edge.

I highly recommend the hike up Guadalupe Peak. It is a beautiful place with a great history and some of the best views in Texas. Come prepared though because the desert can be merciless and there is no shortage of sun and wind. I look forward to getting back out there to explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park in more detail.

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