Saturday, October 31, 2009

Upper Buffalo Hiking

I played hookie last Thurs. and Fri. and headed 500 miles north to the hamlet of Boxley, AR. I had been watching Arkansas nature photographer Tim Ernst's journal to get an idea of how the foliage was shaping up. I had to plan a little ahead so the dog could go to the kennel and I could put in for personal days, but I picked a wonderful time to go, as hopefully my pictures will illustrate. Had I waited and gone this weekend or the one before I went I wouldn't have been as lucky. It rained pretty much all Thurs, but that was a travel day so it was ok. I puttered around the little town of Jasper then headed on to scope out Boxley Valley. I had bought a copy of the wonderful dvd, The Buffalo Flows, and knew something about the history of the community. I also knew there were elk all around this time of year, and sure enough, there they were grazing in the valley, along with the swans I had read about, and a flock of wild turkeys grazing as well. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, only better!
Finally I went to pick out a campsite for the night. I decided on Steele Cr. campground. It was empty except for a tent down on the far end and a few horse trailers in the horse camping area. By Fri evening this would change dramatically, but you can't blame folks for wanting to partake in this kind of beauty and the weekend was suppose to be sunny and gorgeous. The rain abated late in the day, just in time to get some shots of the trees with their turning foliage nestled against Roark Bluff. The Buffalo River country is beautiful any time of the year, but this was amazing.
I set out early Friday morning before the sun came up, to drive to Lost Valley Trail. I had never been to this upper area of the Buffalo and was anxious to see what it held. As I drove the gravel road to the trail, I saw a beautiful bull elk and two cows, but there were already photographers lining up for shots. I drove on to the trail, unpacked my photo gear, threw on my rain jacket. It was about 7 am and none of the campers were awake yet so I quietly head down the trail. There was a soft glow to the woods and the mist came and went. When I came to my first photo op I opened the tripod and began to attach the camera to the pod and realized I had lost the quick release from the bottom of the camera where I thought I'd secured it well. I guess all the walking with it under my rain jacket somehow worked it loose. A few tense moments ensued until I regained my composure and decided that I was not going to let this ruin my day. Needless to say with a gazillion leaves on the trail, I didn't find it. I spent the rest of the trip bracing my camera on the tripod by hand. It would just have to do. The recent rain had done wonders for the waterfalls.
When I finished my hike to Eden Falls and back, I got in the car to drive down the road to find a spot to get out and photograph an old building I'd seen on the way in. There were several cars already parked along the road so I found a spot and headed out into the pasture to get my shot. I noticed a group of three down under a large tree and as they started walking my way I realized one of them was none other than Tim Ernst!! I said good morning and the three of us got to talking; I mentioned where I was from, and that I was a member of the Ozark Society and the Arkansas Canoe Club and we discussed the recent calamity of Ed Cooley, another photographer who had a near tragic fall in the backcountry and was saved by his SPOT, which alerted SAR to his whereabouts. The rescue took almost 7 hrs in which Ed was lying in the water with several broken bones. Without the device, he would have died most likely, of hypothermia. The conversation ended with me leaving with one of Tim's beautiful calendars! Cool!
I went on to Whitaker Pt, better known as Hawksbill Crag, one of the most photographed spots in AR. It was still misty and slick so hiking was a slow careful process. I was quite shocked to see families with small children hiking the trail in these conditions, and worried about their safety, as the trail runs in places right along the edge of the bluff.
Upon arriving back at my car, I decided that the Glory Hole was next on the agenda, as it was on "this side of the mountain" and the next day I would be in another area, so off I went. It was getting close to 3:30 when I began my hike. I had been tipped off by a paddling friend about this hike, and it wasn't in my hiking guide. I knew it was a very short hike down to the waterfall, but also knew it would be slow going, and was hoping the light would hold. I don't normally set off on a hike to an unknown place in the late afternoon, and was a bit edgy about it, but I really wanted to see this natural wonder. I was not disappointed, although I did miss my good shot of the falls due to the batteries running down, the light fading, and my need to get back to the car. I should have just stopped and changed the batteries and continued on but instead I put up the camera and just enjoyed the scene. Well it seemed to make sense at the time...but not when I looked at the photos at home. With just a little more effort "I coulda been a contender" LOL. Oh well, it's the seeing, not the photographing that's the most important, at least to me.
I spent the night again at Steele Cr. then headed south early in the morning, driving up out of the fog and into a clear bright fall day.
I hit the Round Top Mountain trail first, got a few shots of the fog in the mountains surrounding the river valley, then headed up the trail. It was a glorious day for a hike, cool crispy (it had gotten down to 37 degrees in my car the night before;one thing I love about the Matrix is that I can forego the tent when the weather is cool)and no others on the trail. I spent several hours hiking the entire trail, up and down the mountain.
I enjoyed my lunch back at the car; it was noon and the parking lot was filling up with hikers, time to move on.
My last stop was to be Alum Cove, home of a natural bridge in the limestone. It was beautiful, but since I was getting there so late, it was inundated by visitors, one large noisy group, ruined the ambiance of the day. I just don't get it.......
Last January this area of Arkansas was hit by an ice storm, the evidence of which was obvious throughout my trip, but none as much so as here. I don't know if it was because there were no volunteers to help clear the trail, which is less than a mile total, or if they just had so much to do they hadn't made it here yet. I had to constantly climb over downed trees laying across the trail. I finally made it down to the creek but then completely lost the trail and had to backtrack to the trailhead. It was now midafternoon and I had yet to decide my plans for the night. I didn't really want to join the circus at Steele Cr. so I continued on south with the idea of heading down scenic Hwy 7 toward Lake Ouachita. Do you have any idea how good a shower feels after spit baths for three days? Glorious, even with low flow heads and semi hot water!!!! I finished up just in time for a lovely sunset dinner on the shore of the lake. I rose early the next morning and headed for home to have time to clean and put away my gear, gather the dog from the kennel and have time to sort thru the 300+ photos I took.
What a wonderful fall break!
Thought I'd add a few links. Here's Tim's Journal for some really good photography! He also has copies of The Buffalo Flows for sale.
Here's my picasa page

Sunday, October 4, 2009

In My Own Backyard

I have been raptly watching Ken Burn's National Park documentary,and as with most of his stuff it's wonderful, in fact I think it's his best so far. But then the subject matter is close to my heart. There is so much beauty in North America, more than a person could possibly see in a lifetime. I have seen some of it and hope to see more before I take my leave. I have been to the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Colorado, Yosemite, the coast of California, the Okefenokee, the bayous of south Louisiana, the glorious springs, caves, and swift clear waters of the Ozarks, the Texas hill country, the Gulf Coast, the Finger Lakes, Carlsbad, the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico....I have yet to stand in awe of Denali, the Great Smokey Mountains, the Great Lakes, the Keys, the Everglades, the Tetons, and so much more. Someday if I'm lucky, I tell myself. I'm thankful someone had the foresight to realize these places needed to be set aside. It's easy to be a curmudgeon and hate them for being so crowded, which I do sometimes, although if you plan, you can escape most of the crowds. I would rather have to share these places than not have them at all.
Sometimes I forget when dreaming about these lofty places, that if we look closely we can find wonder and beauty right in our own backyards. For several years I have been moving farther and farther away from the city. I would like to live even more remotely than I do, but for now this is home. I can walk thru the woods for miles. I can walk less than a half mile and find myself at water's edge. I can watch a hawk perched in a snag, or a great blue heron patiently fishing. I can hear a chorus of frogs outside my window, as well as coyote and owls. The black bear and cougar, while not in my backyard, are returning and are not far away. Even the wolf may return one day. In the winter if I'm observant I can spy a bald eagle flying overhead. Just cataloging all the trees and wildflowers could take me years. In the summer, the wood thrush and the summer tanager return along with other migrants. And then there's the weather to watch and the sky. It's not that I don't have the money or the time to see the great natural wonders of this great land, it's that I get caught up in the nature right outside my door. It is there when I wake up, when I get home from work,there when I can't sleep. It's accessible; I don't have to pack the car, or make reservations, and most of the time I don't even have to share it.