War Creek Road

County Road Curve, Morgan County, KY spring 2005

I was explaining how marvelous my diminutive, relatively new sports car was handling through the curves on Route 519 in northern Morgan County.  My passenger seemed distracted.  It could have been because he was thinking “uh-oh”.

We were driving to school on a Sunday afternoon on our way back to Morehead State University in 1977.  My passenger was a good friend and he was in the right seat of my 1970 MG Midget.  It was his maiden voyage in my British Racing Green classic two-seater.  His mother told him earlier, “I’m glad you are riding back to school with someone respectable.”  These words were spinning around in my thoughts as we were spinning around on the narrow two lane road.

Figure skaters and dancers are taught to keep their eyes moving ahead of the spin so as not to get the “swimmy head”.  As we were pirouetting across the pavement, my eyes saw trees…fence…trees…fence…trees…fence.

Inertia was finally overpowered with the help of the barbed-wire fence we broke through and  the fence post  we nestled up to.

We extracted ourselves from this small capsule, staggering like survivors at Roswell.  The swimmy head trick didn’t work.  We retraced the crash path and saw that we narrowly missed a large crevice that would have completely swallowed up the tiny car and left us on missing persons lists to this day.

This is a photo of War Creek Road taken in the spring.  This small winding road is in the southeastern region of Morgan County in eastern Kentucky.  It is similar to the way Route 519 looked at the time of this story before it was rebuilt. It is typical of the many scenic drives along small country roads  in Morgan County. The views can be memorable… when you are in control of your automobile.

Incidentally, the British Motor Corporation stopped production of the MG Midget in 1979 due to the age of political correctness.  They tried to change the name to MG “Little Automobile” but the body wasn’t big enough to display that many letters.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.


J. Geils



I stood outside Wetherby Gymnasium feeling all grown up.   I could smell the excitement, the freedom, an occassional whiff of Smashburgers from the Dairy Cheer across the street and dirty denim.  There was also a strange smell, like burning rope, but not any kind of rope I had smelled burning before.  There was also the smell of what I remember Crosley Field smelling like when someone spilled a beer.

I was fourteen and it was the spring of 1972.  I was waiting  to see Rare Earth in concert.  This was to be my first true rock concert.  I rode to Morehead with a friend who was a junior in high school and was way too cool to be spending time with me, a lowly freshman. We came to the campus of Morehead State University to meet my brother.  He was a freshman at MSU and was living the dream, eating out three times a day, letting his hair grow out, going to rock concerts, and hanging out with college girls.

On this particular night, I was like my brother…living the dream or whatever you would call a 5 foot, 120 pound, near-sighted bantam standing amid a massive horde of college students.  Oh, and I did not have a ticket.  My brother, in his new  college wisdom, told me I would not need one.  He said when the doors open, the crowd moves so fast through the openings, the ticket takers don’t even try.

I felt the mass moving.  I looked up and all I saw was afros and beards and pony tails moving slowly against a cloudy sky.  Then a strange feeling came over me…I was floating.  I looked down and saw my feet were not attached to the earth anymore.  I was being carried by this throng toward the doors and all I could think about was staying upright.  This was my first experience with festival seating for rock concerts.

My feet never hit the ground until we were past the doors and inside.  At this point, it looked like a sprint for people with  no sense of direction.  We went everywhere.  My little group settled in the seats on the side, awaiting one of the hottest rock bands of the day.

There was rain in the forecast, but I don’t think cataclysmic gulley-washer was ever mentioned…for it came one…a big one.  Water filled the hallways of Wetherby Gymnasium so fast, I thought I was seeing animals coming in two by two.  But it was just the football team.

Some of the more chemically engineered students were body surfing out in the halls and concession areas.

There was some concern as to whether the band would go on due to all the water in the building.  Evidently the electrical engineering department was among those crossing over to chemical engineering that night  because there was going to be rock and roll as soon as the water receded enough to find the outlets.

All the water in the building activated my little bladder, so I had to go find the restroom before the band took the stage.  As I pushed through the men’s room door and headed past the urinals to the stall ( my bladder was not only small but also shy), I could see in my periphery there were other folks in the restroom.  I recognized the faces of Rare Earth from their album covers.  Their dressing room must have flooded because they were in the men’s room with all of their stuff.   And now Rare Earth was listening to me pee.

As I washed my hands, I kept waiting for some big security hoss to pick me up and gently urge me to through the door.   It never happened.  And as I took my time soaking up the moment and gazing in the mirror of the newly inhabited Rare Earth dressing room, I could see the images of the band watching this little imp at the sink who dared to interrupt their pre-show meditations.  Alas, no one said a word to me except the mass of black hair squatting against the wall.  As I made my way out, I recognized the conga player, Edward “Guz” Guzman and we made eye contact.  He said to me, and I’ll never forget, those important words,  “What’s happenin’ man?”  I surmised he did not want an answer.

I regaled my friend and brother with my latest escapade when I returned to my seat.  Rare Earth came on stage shortly and did not disappoint the water-logged throng.  Miraculously, no one was electrocuted…not by electricity anyway.

I took this photo of another concert I attended at Morehead State.  This time as a photographer for the university when I was a student.  The J. Geils Band came to Morehead and this shot of J. Geils is one of the better ones I snapped that night.  It was also lead singer Peter Wolf’s birthday and he brought out a bottle of champagne and poured into the waiting cups of the crowd near the stage.

There was a different type of mass movement that night.   The campus police moved to the stage but not because they were fans of the band.   At the time Morehead was a dry town and they did not appreciate the way Mr. Wolfe was passing out birthday wishes.

I think the electrical engineers were called into duty that night, because someone pulled the plug quickly.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.




Tree in Fog


It was a dark night, such as the one pictured above.   Three irresponsible college males with a less-than-thought-out notion, conceived about ten minutes previous to the odyssey, set out on their trek.

Their destination was Amburgey Rock, a ledge atop Clack Mountain outside of Morehead, KY.   Their goal was to take night photos of the town of Morehead.

As you may have guessed, I was one of these adventurous lads.   The other photographer was a friend of mine.   We both worked in the Morehead State University Public Relations Department as student photographers.   We were freshmen at the time and living in Alumni Tower.

All well-planned expeditions seem to have a capable driver or guide…we had neither.   Our “capable” driver was  a friend, worldly and well-traveled, who was bored one mid-week evening.   To us,  a capable driver meant someone with a working automobile.   Our driver’s price…a night out of his dorm room.   He assured us his VW Bug would be able to traverse the terrain of the rain-soaked off-roads of Rowan County.

The next hurdle was to actually get some photography equipment.

Naturally, we assumed the university would have no problem with us borrowing $2,000 worth of their best equipment to take out into the wilds. We were so confident, we didn’t even ask.  So at about ten o’clock in the black of night, we were off…

Our trip was uneventful until we encountered a rather large mud hole about a half-mile from Amburgey Rock.   Our driver navigated this with some difficulty.   But with the will of Washington and his men forging the Delaware, we made it across.  Our driver assured us that this would not be a problem on our way out, since he already figured out the best way to get through this potential snare.

After about an hour on the ledge, taking what we thought would be Pulitzer-winning shots and reveling in the thrill of the hunt, we decided to return to the reality of our college lives and 8:00 AM classes.   We loaded up our, excuse me, the university’s equipment, thankful that we didn’t drop any of it off the one hundred-foot cliff, and headed back to Morehead.

We shortly encountered the large mud hole again.   There was no trepidation since our driver knew how to steer his car around the large muddy obstacle.

There was trepidation, however, when he thought the best away around this was to speed through the center and part it like the Red Sea.

After about an hour of pushing and pulling, we were able to free the car from the quagmire.   Unfortunately, the only way we could free it was to push the Bug back out of the mud hole where we would have to re-navigate it.   We scavenged the area and found some boards and rocks.   We placed them in the mud so he would have a dry path to drive across.

This brilliant plan was predicated on only one thing, the driver had to actually drive across the makeshift bridge we built…he missed.

After another hour of pulling and pushing on a car that was buried deeper in the mud than the previous hour, we decided it was useless.   We grabbed our, er the university’s equipment, and headed out on foot.   We felt that the car was as secure as Excalibur stuck in the stone.  It was after midnight and we had a five or six-mile hike ahead of us.

As we entered Morehead from Clearfield, a city policeman stopped us.    I’m sure we looked a little suspicious at 2:00 AM, covered in mud and carrying bags of camera equipment, walking along the road.   He inquired as to our situation and we were happy to regale him with our saga.

Finally, he said ,”College boys, huh?”.   Then he drove off into the night without offering us a ride for the final two miles of our journey.

I don’t recall being in attendance for the 8:00 AM roll call.

I took this picture of one of the trees in the Old Mill Park in West Liberty one foggy night.   It gives an eerie effect.

Night photography is very cool but takes a little more effort.   You need a tripod, a flashlight to see the settings and a camera with the ability to shoot long exposures, and as always… a capable driver.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.


Common Buckeye Butterfly on Ironweed


It is hard to look manly prancing through a meadow, net in hand, chasing a butterfly as I did as a student at Morehead State University.   Don’t think this was a daily occurrence, as it only happened once when we were trying to collect specimens for our insect collections in Invertebrate Zoology class.

I was reminded of this two summers ago when I was chasing this common buckeye butterfly through a field of ironweed in a beautiful area of Morgan County, Kentucky called Woodsbend.   Except it was less prancing and more hobbling.   Carrying a camera instead of a net was probably not any more manly looking either.

The order of butterflies and moths is called lepidoptera.   This is the only order I remember from that class and only because our professor told us that butterflies burst out of their cocoons and “lepid” up off the ground.   Apparently there is an advantage to having a PhD.

This particular butterfly must have sucked down the nectar from a flower that was doused with the fifth can of Red Bull some teen-ager could not finish due to his sudden tachycardia.   I chased it for thirty minutes before it lit on this ironweed plant.

In this part of eastern Kentucky, fields of ironweed indicate that summer is about over and fall is coming.   Ironweed plants are difficult to photograph.   The true color is hard to capture.   It takes a dimmer overcast day to capture the true deep purple of the blooms.

Photographing butterflies, on the other hand, just takes someone who is in denial about their ability to maneuver strappingly through a meadow.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.


Faculty Recessional at Graduation


I have been emancipated from the financial vise of undergraduate education…free at last!

I have written my last tuition check, my last apartment rent check, my last food dispensing check, my last parking ticket reimbursement, and my last college calamity check.

My two children are now college graduates.  At this moment, I am glad we never had a third child.

My daughter and son graduated from Morehead State University in Morehead, KY.  This is a beautiful small school in the hills of eastern Kentucky.  It is a state school and public university, one of the top public universities in the south.  I am honored to have both of my kids to now be alumni of the same school as their dear old dad.

Morehead State was close enough to where I live in West Liberty that I could go over and take them out to lunch or dinner on numerous occasions.  College students are always up for a free meal.  More importantly, it gave me a chance to spend some valuable time with my two favorite young adults and also spend a little time back on the college campus that I remember so fondly.

This is a picture of my son’s graduation from Morehead State.   He can be seen in the picture…he’s the good-looking one.  My mom and dad are also in the photo and that means a lot to me.

I was always drawn to the color and pageantry of the college commencement…this doesn’t mean that I want to attend them every year.   I love the multi-colored robes the faculty wear.

At my daughter’s graduation last year, I tried to get a shot of the movement of the faculty during their recession.  I did not have a tripod, so I could not get a good shot of what I wanted.  This time I grabbed my tripod and we sat in the same spot behind the stage.  I was pretty happy with the result.

The faculty always seem to be in a hurry when they leave the ceremony.  I always wondered what would happen if one of them tripped, would it look like a massive pile-up on the Autobahn?  I assume they want  to start their vacations by getting out of there as soon as possible.  Much like my wife and I are now in a hurry to jettison the extra money we will have to spend on ourselves if we can recover from paying for seven years of undergraduate expenses.

So to all of us who graduated our offspring this year…congratulations to us.  Let’s hope they can get a job so they can buy us a meal.  I will order lobster at market price.  Before the check comes, I will be moving out of the restaurant faster than this faculty.

If you like this photo, you can see more of my pictures here.


Harry Chapin

I always think back to my days at Morehead State University whenever I look at this picture of Harry Chapin.  He did a benefit concert at Morehead State, a beautiful college campus in the hills of eastern Kentucky.  I was a freshman at the time.

My love for photography really began with this concert.  I was a photographer for the public relations department at Morehead State and I was assigned to shoot this event.  I liked Harry Chapin’s music,  so this was a real treat for me.  He did not bring a band, only his guitar.

My first concert to photograph was The Spinners.  I did not do very well.  They kept moving around too much.  Harry just sat there on a stool…so much easier.  I did manage to get some good shots and I realized the power of the camera  and how you could produce an image that evoked feeling.

After the concert, I walked with Harry Chapin, just he and I, out the door of Wetherby Gymnasium into the cold night air.  I remember thinking how cool this is and not because of the temperature.     We talked about the possibility of sending these photos to him (actually I talked about it, he seemed deeper in thought about something else, probably how to get rid of an annoying teen age photographer who thinks he is better than he really is).  Anyway, as we were standing beside his rented Plymouth Duster with him holding  his guitar, I knew then I would always remember this moment. Then he asked me that all important question  I will take to my grave, “How do I get back to the Cincinnati airport?”

Harry Chapin was actually very pleasant on that night after his show.  I was very saddened when I heard of his death.  I will always remember the night when a big-time singer/song writer was kind to a young man from eastern Kentucky.

It’s funny how some things always stand out in our memory.  I can still smell my freshman dorm room at 212 Alumni Tower, and no, not because of a stench of two eighteen year-olds living together in what could be a small walk-in closet.

I remember lying in my bed with a high fever wishing I was delirious instead of  listening to my roommate and another friend argue over my lifeless body as to which was the best remedy…freeze the fever out  or keep me warm.  It looked like a bad comedy routine with one friend opening the window to let in the frigid January air and the other closing it and piling another blanket on me…repeating this dance over and over again.

I remember turning in my first Comp 1 paper.

At the sacrifice of hours of carefree college life to write our papers, we strode collectively up to the instructor and laid our finished work upon the altar.  When I placed my paper on the pile, Mr. Morrow peered up at me over his glasses.   After seeing the title of my paper, “The Baseball Life of Hank Aaron”, he said to me in his very southern drawl,  “That is uh mighty schahluhly subject Mr. Nickell.”  (That word is scholarly for you Yankees that don’t understand Southernese.)

I walked out of the room and down the hall, feeling quite pleased with myself.  Then suddenly I felt the cold sting of higher education sarcasm.   As I opened the door of the Combs building, with the crisp autumn afternoon hitting me in the face, I looked up into that bright blue eastern Kentucky sky and felt the pride and satisfaction of eliminating my first career choice…writing.   After all, that is what college is about– finding out all of the things you ain’t good at.

If you like this photo, you can see more here.