LITTLE BLUFF JOURNAL - March 2019 (previous months)
Little Bluff cabin cam March 30 - those are BLACK clouds heading towards us! 1.5" of rains since yesterday
MARCH 31st UPDATE The quickest of quick updates - I've been on the road 13 hours today to Illinois and back (12 hours driving - one hour standing and talking - left before dawn so no photo). Yesterday I had an epic waterfall trip to a private property location that might go into the new guidebook - I'd been to several of the falls before, but also photographed some new ones and still have more to do - more of them later. I hiked/bushwhacked 12.5 miles and was one tuckered boy when I finally got out of the woods and home about 9pm last night - then I got up at 4-something this morning to pack up and head for Illinois. So we've come to the end of March, which has been one AMAZING month! I'm hoping APRIL will be even better. Thanks all for reading...
Journal updated March 28th - WILDFLOWERS for heroes
03/01/19 The landscape is white at dawn today. There is a light coating of very fine snow - kinda hard to know if it is still coming down, but it seems to be getting whiter by the hour. Also lots of fog - we can see the trees surrounding us but nothing beyond. Winds are calm. Temp 28. A soft lullaby is drifting through the cabin from the tiny speaker above the crackling fire in the fireplace. Puppies are on a hike with my lovely bride. Java and a spinach smoothie for me on the couch in the prow. Life is good. HAPPY MARCH! (And also happy 47th birthday to the Buffalo National River park, created by President Nixon in 1972.)
Yesterday Fireman Jeff took me on another grueling workout in the Woods Mountain area north of Clarksville. It was another run to find and measure a couple of tall waterfalls in the area, and also to test yet another measuring device in my quest to find a safer way to get an accurate height. It was a foggy day, and while we didn't have any trouble finding the waterfalls, the fog prevented use of the new fancy device - a very expensive and precise digital rangefinder. All I got were four dashes instead of digital yards readings. But Jeff was ready with the big measuring tape so we got our measurements no problem.
One of the waterfalls was on a small creek and that was quite beautiful, especially the nearly vertical climb out back up to the road where the small drainage was clogged with GIANT boulders and hillsides covered with carpets of thick moss - not much water flowing, but everything was really spectacular! This area will certainly be going into a new version of my waterfalls guidebook, which we are HOPING will be available by the end of 2019.
The next area we visited was to find measure one large waterfall in another steep little drainage. Waterfalls above and below it were beautiful, as was the entire drainage. The fog had lifted and I was able to use the digital rangefinder just fine. We ended up measuring a dozen or more waterfalls ranging in height from 16 to 60 feet tall, and were able to compare readings from the rangefinder to the actual height that Jeff measured with the big tape. The verdict - the digital rangefinder was very accurate and consistent, probably accurate to within a foot or less - YIPPIE COYOTE, it worked! Still not an easy task even with the rangefinder because you have to get into a certain position to make it work, which is sometimes directly above (quite dangerous) or below the falls in the spray, but I think it will save me some time going forward.
Here's one of the new waterfalls, flowing beneath a forest of young beech trees still holding onto their golden leaves
We also got to explore an unknown drainage and found quite a few new waterfalls - none of them really tall, but each was quite lovely, even with the decreased water flow (we NEED some rain!!!). We had to push pretty hard to get up to some of these waterfalls, but the more we pushed, the more beauty we found. Jeff noted that one reason it all was so wonderful was the fact it appeared the area had not been burned in a long time, and so was in a much more natural state. We are just now getting into the thick of the statewide "controlled" burn season, which when done in small parcels on some areas does have a positive effect. But in Arkansas the widespread giant fires - which they light by using helicopters to spew out flaming ping pong balls filled with gas - do not do anything but, well, burn up the forest and cause terrible smoke-polluted skies during the peak of what used to be the most delightful season of the year to be outside in Arkansas. But now we cough and gag and water our eyes and can't take pictures of clear air due to all the smoke. You'll see. And it is all in the name of money. (these controlled burns DO work out west where the climate is drastically different than it is here in Arkansas, but the burns just don't work here) OK, off my soap box for this year.
When I got home last night I was one beat up puppy. Much of the terrain Jeff and I explored was literally so steep that we were on all fours grabbing and clawing our way UP the hillside, fighting through vines and thorns. My back always takes a beating when I go out with Fireman Jeff - he's one of only a few people I know that not only enjoys but thrives in such terrain, and me right along with him. But I'm right at the edge of not being able to make it through with my back issues, and perhaps one of these trips will be my last. In the meantime, I'll squeeze out all I have, knowing by the time I get home I won't be able to move for a while - hence the reason I'm still on the couch this morning while my bride is up at the office getting all the work done - she's a keeper!
03/02/19 Here's a snap showing the dusting of snow we got on our trail yesterday - much more expected on Sunday we hope - YIPPIE!
The pups and I measured our waterfall (MiaWilson Falls) that's along our one-mile loop this morning and it turns out to be a solid 24' tall! (I'm getting hooked on the new laser rangefinder...) And our front porch this evening...
EVENING UPDATE It was a landmark day for Little Bluff and me. First, the last (known) part to our new cabin was installed this morning - Pam's showerhead! And with it came a sigh of relief and little bit of closure. They dug the footing in late December, 2017; started the actual building of the structure in February, 2018; and mostly completed the building inside and out by early July, and we began to move in, slowly. So really it took about six months to build the cabin, but 14 months from first dirt to showerhead.
And the other exciting thing was when I pulled my books out of a tub that had been in storage since we left Cloudland and put them on a shelf in the study room. I don't read nor own many books (other than tens of thousands of books that we sell of course), and a precious few of them are important. My bookshelf now contains the very first book I ever read from cover to cover (as a senior in high school, really), which ended up being a pivotal point that changed my life and career - The High Adventure Of Eric Ryback (signed to me by Eric himself, an almost impossible autograph to get - thanks to Mary McCutcheon). A few others are Cache Lake Country by John Rowlands, given by my brother and that I try to read once a year; Trees of Arkansas by Dwight Moore (a high school text book from a class on forestry in 1973 - still has one of the leaves I collected that year for the class); Jim Bridger, Mountain Man - a big hero of mine; a giant book that I read cover-to-cover one very long day and night at Cloudland by John Muir - he talks about "Cloudland" several times; Alaska Wilderness Frontier, a photo book by my then soon-to-be-mentor Boyd Norton that I had just met in the summer of 1980; Listen To The Trees by John Sexton, who was one of Ansel Adams' assistants that I have corresponded with over the years; Ozark Trout Tales by author Steve Wright (who has written more articles about me than anyone should ever have to read - back in the 80's & 90's); For The Trees by an old collage classmate of mine, Sharon Bass; Wind River Trails by Finis Mitchell (I spent five summers mostly alone in the Wind Rivers in the early 90's); Appalachian Hiker II by Ed Garvey (he got plastered at my birthday party we had on the C&O Canal the day before we all hiked into Washington D. C. after backpacking across the United States); the original (and tiny) Ouachita Trail guidebook by Jim Rawlins; Trees of Missouri by dear friend and wildflower/tree expert Don Kurz (one of the very best tree photos I've ever seen is on the front cover - a big bur oak at sunset); several other local classics like Buffalo River Country by Ken Smith, Battle For The Buffalo and The High Ozarks - A Vision of Eden by Doc Neil Compton, and Old Folks Talking by Jim Liles (and his bride, Suzy); a big, fat leather-bound copy of The Arkansas Wilderness by artist and enviromentalist Susan Morrison; Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Cookbook & Field Guide, that she autographed to me at her house during a wild party she threw for our group of about 50 backpackers in 1980 (she always taped a small feather next to her autograph); and Nature's America, one of the 80+ coffee table picture books by the greatest color landscape photographer of all time, autographed to me the first time I met him, David Muench. I've forgotten some I'm sure - sorry about that.
It would be great if I sat down and read each of these great books cover to cover again...
03/03/19 We got SNOW! What a delightful hour we all had at dawn today - our entire family on the couch in front of the prow windows watching it snow! Sipping coffee or tea, watching the snow flakes drift down (actually they were BLOWING across the scene at high velocity!), soft music in the air, puppies on our laps.
Then we all took off on a hike around the loop - kinda slickery a time or two, but we made it around once, then the pups and I reversed ourselves and hiked it again. Wilson went swimming. Mia took off after an imaginary squirrel. I inched my way down to the creek to snap a pic of the snow on fallen trees. At that moment the wind shifted, and the snow began to blow out of the north - from the looks of the snow on the sides of trees it had been blowing from the south. All was still just for a moment in between though, and that's when a loud KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK echoed across the hillside. A giant woodpecker was beating his head against a hollow tree.
I love the winter woods, but these days the white seems so fleeting here in the High Ozarks. By the time we reached the cabin the snow had stopped and clouds got thinner and seemed like the sun was about to wake up and shine. But the temp remained in the low 20's for the rest of the morning and so did the snow. I'm back in the study now with my feet propped up and computer in my lap (it is a laptop after all, isn't it?)...
03/04/19 My plan was to get up early and go photograph the Milky Way about 4:30 this morning. I was up at 4 but realized there weren't many stars up with me - in fact it was mostly cloudy! Oh well, I needed more beauty sleep anyway so I dozed until about 5:30, then spent a wonderful half hour sitting on the couch in the dark sipping on my half-mug. I happened to glance at my phone and noticed there was an alert that came in during the night saying a snowstorm was about to begin - really? Then it hit me - the pasture where one of my favorite trees lives would be covered with snow again (melted off yesterday), and I could get a photo of it before dawn with the wind chills being below zero (I LOVE shooting below zero!). So off I went.
I had dressed for the weather in my Alaska jump suit and big rubber boots (plus a pair of hand warmers in my pockets), slung my camera pack on, fastened a big tripod to my chest, and off I went - I was well prepared for the cold weather. One step, two steps, three - then SLAM BAM BOOM! That third step landed on a small frozen pothole that was solid and slick ice, and I did a face plant in the thin snow, almost within arm's reach of the van. One item I forgot to put on - ice crampons for my boots! (I use YakTrak brand) After I wallowed around a bit and got back up on my feet, I reached into the van for the YakTraks I always carry (yet don't always wear though, obviously), and soon I was headed into the woods more stable and confident.
It was indeed well below zero wind chill in the pasture (about -12 or lower wind chill) - oh my goodness it was COLD out there on the frigid wind-blown hillside! But the snow had also blown around a bit, and not as much stuck to the pasture as I wanted for my photo, but what the heck. I spent the next 30 minutes shooting until I could no longer feel my fingers, then I ran up and down the hillside flapping my arms to get some blood into my fingertips, while the clouds started to turn pink against a bright blue sky. Good thing there weren't any cows awake to laugh at me. (Speaking of that - my bride and I have been eating a lot of Laughing Cow cheese on Wasa crackers for snacks - soooo good, low cal, and healthy!)
ut I'm not sure how the "low-cal" creamy swiss can be the same calories as their normal creamy swiss - 30 calories per serving each?)
That poor tree in the pasture - you may see several versions of it in the new picture book (due out in October).
When I got back to the cabin my bride was up and getting ready to blend up a giant smoothie for breakfast - the actual temp was about 5 degrees, with the wind chill hitting minus 8. So it may have been even colder than -12 in the pasture since the wind was blowing quite a bit stronger. Thanks to our prow windows - which face southeast to take advantage of the low winter sunshine - the couch was bathed in sunshine and it was WARM! Four of us lounged on the couch soaking up rays for a while watching birds and clouds - HEAVENLY!!!
my bride heading off to the office - 1/4 mile hike up the hill, wind chill 4 below zero!
HAPPY MONDAY TO YOU - my favorite day of the week!
03/05/19 My day began last night about 10pm when I set up a camera and ultra-wide angle lens pointed towards the north star, and programmed it to run all night, taking a series of six-minute long exposures. The wind chill was already below zero, and the tips of my fingers got to hurtin' in a hurry! I had the tripod legs spread out wide with the camera very low to the ground so the wind would not shake it during the night. Just for good measure, I put a pair of small hand warmers on the lens to keep frost from forming, even though the weather channel said the dew point would be 2-3 degrees, but the temp would not get that low. Yet even at 10pm some frost had formed on the ground. Hum. I returned to the cabin and fell into bed with the alarm set to 3:25am.
Wilson joined me than in front of the fireplace while I quickly sipped some warm liquid, then I suited up in my Alaska suit and big boots with hand warmers and rubber gloves, and sped away to shoot the Milky Way rising. Right now the Milky Way "glactic core" gets above the horizon only for a short time before the stars begin to fade, so I had to work fast. When I left the cabin the wind chill was below zero with only a slight breeze. But as I crossed the pasture with my camera gear I quickly realized the wind of 20+mph meant that wind chill was WAY below zero - YIKES!
I spent the next hour frantically trying to capture a series of Milky Way photos, but had to take frequent breaks to hide my hands and run around the pasture trying to get my fingertips unfrozen. This camera was not programmed and I had to touch it for each exposure and movement. My Alaska hand warmer technique was not working, or perhaps I began the morning with less blood in my fingertips or something, but oh my it was miserable! Or should I say my fingertips were - the rest of me was pretty toasty.
It was an amazing sight out there in the darkness, with already three planets visible in the same section of sky with the Milky Way - Saturn, Venus, and Jupiter. But the light pollution was very strong, not only from rural Newton County, but also from Harrison, far to the north. Catch 22 - when the skies are crystalline and stars are brightest like they were this morning, that light pollution travels a lot farther and messes things up!
So at 5:15 my shooting session came to an end and I packed up my gear and headed for the van. It would be another hour before I picked up the first camera I had set out last night. And much to my delight, even though the camera bag was covered with solid frost, my camera with the GIANT front glass element of the 11mm lens was perfectly clear of frost - YIPPIE!
When I returned to the office and started to download all the pictures from the two cameras, I was met with two memory cards filled with useless photos. I'd made not one but TWO rookie mistakes (I've only been going this Milky Way stuff for a decade, duh, I should have known better). All of the photos from the first camera were ruined, and only five from the second camera turned out, but none of those had all three planets in the frame. Bummer.
So the highlight of my night and morning was - as usual - my lovely bride, and then after she left to hike up to work, I spent nearly an hour laying on the couch in the prow doing an impression of a lazy lizard or fat marmot - basking in the brilliant sunshine of the new day. Supposed to be clear tonight, so I hope to run my cameras out in the cold again - and this time perhaps not make the same mistakes!
03/06/19 Another high-adventure waterfall hunting trip with Fireman Jeff today...(details below)
03/07/19 I'm toasty warm this morning! The alarm went off at 3am, and I snuck around in the cabin trying to make and sip a cup of java while peering out the window trying to figure out if the sky was clear and stars shining. It was, and they were, but no question there was haze from all the controlled burns yesterday so the sky was not as clear as could be. Oh well.
Fast forward and hour and I'm sitting in the van typing to you on the computer in my lap while two cameras set up shooting outside basically the same scene with different types and focal lengths of lenses. I'm hoping to capture a distant mountain range with star trails behind it. Temp is a balmy 27 degrees with no wind.
Yesterday I also got up at 3am and set up two cameras to record a different scene - star trails in one and the Milky Way on the other. Conditions were quite different. The temp was about 14 degrees with a howling wind, which meant wind chills were below zero again. And since I had hiked to the location and was working one of the cameras all the time (the other one was shooting automatically), my hands were exposed and so was I. Luckily I had my Alaska suit on and the only parts that got cold were my fingertips.
As the stars began to disappear with the coming of dawn, I packed up, headed back to the van, then sped off towards an early meetup with Fireman Jeff - we had another very long and difficult day planned waterfall hunting.
But first I had quite a shock as I motored up through the steep switchbacks on Hwy. 7 south climbing out of Jasper. As I came around one of the sharp turns, I swear I saw a BODY laying next to the road - no part of it actually ON the road. WHAT???!!! I swerved at the last minute and tried to re-scan the image I had just seen in my brain. Was I seeing things? Was there body on the road? Should I call 911???
I quickly turned around and headed carefully back down the highway to the curve and sure enough, there WAS a body laying down half in the fetal position but stretched out with its head on something - the head was across the white line and onto the black pavement of the highway. I stopped about 50 feet away from the lifeless body, then laid on the horn. THANK GOODNESS the body came to life and jumped straight up on its (his?) feet. Then he started moving towards me and waving a bright light. I don't know and will never know if he was drunk and collapsed on the road, or was hitchhiking and got tired and simply laid own on the pavement and went to sleep or what. All I knew was that it was indeed alive, moving just fine, and had a light, so I got the heck out of there. The highway was about to get busy with morning traffic and certainly someone would have hit and killed this guy had I not blew him awake. Very weird.....
Fireman Jeff and I spent another textbook classic day in the woods bushwhacking, climbing, crawling, through some of the most difficult terrain I'd ever seen. We knew water levels were low since we've nod had much rain recently, but I mostly just wanted to locate several tall waterfalls, measure them, and figure out the best route to access them to include in the next Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook. We found all of them we were after, and a LOT more. And not only more waterfalls, but more incredible and amazing locations - oh my goodness some of these places were simply beautiful.
And while the afternoon temps reached in to the 40's and maybe 50's, there was still ice - hanging from the bluffs (and FALLING almost constantly), icicles in the shaded places that reflected in and danced around the streams, and also thin layers of ice covering already slick rocks in many shaded places. It was one of those days that fools ya - warm and sunny but dangerously SLICK in some spots so we had to be very careful with each and every step.
Here's one note from a narrow side canyon we were exploring. When we dropped down into this little canyon it was like entering another world - a fairyland world of moss-covered everything, icicles, tiny emerald pools, small waterfalls and swirling water. Poor Jeff - each time we would come upon a new area in the canyon I would drop my camera backpack and get out my little movie camera and go to work (trying to get some video to add to the new slide program show for this fall program season). There was so much MAGIC in the details of this little world! At one point I was very interested in several icicles on a low-hanging overhang, maybe only two or three feet above the water. The more I shot with the little camera, the closer and closer I got - and deeper into the emerald pool. (inches deep, not feet). And eventually I turned to Jeff and said not to worry, but that I was going to crouch down (into the water) and go underneath the low overhang. There was not quite enough room back in there for me to turn around, and I ended up kind of half of me in the water, the other half above water, with my arms stretched out and the little camera down just above the surface of the water behind the hanging ice, which had the little stream swirling beneath and behind it, and crystalline water drops falling - or almost falling from a couple of the icicles.
And then we found a pretty nice waterfall downstream, but it was very difficult to get to the bottom of (we eventually did). Then there was an even larger waterfall below that, and my friend Fireman Jeff spent the next 30 minutes totally involved with this dramatic waterfall that had multiple overhangs and grottos surrounding it (I was shooting pictures and videos as fast as I could - it was an amazing little place!).
Then below this spot was the main waterfall. And another. Giant boulders and extremely STEEP and dangerous terrain all around. No doubt only a very small handful of people will ever visit this area - it is just too rough to get to, even though it's all within a half mile of a main road. On the way back UP the hillside I just had to bust out laughing a time or two - I was literally on my hands and knees crawling, grasping at anything I could to help steady myself as we slowly made our way up the slops. (Note here and I was crawling and making my way slowly - Fireman Jeff I think was running up the slope!)
Most all of the places we've visited have been documented online before but are just so difficult to reach and not many have seen or photographed them. And most of them I plan to return to when we get more water (hopefully next week will be better for waterfall pictures?). The larger waterfalls need a lot more water flow to show up in pictures - these are in the 50-75 foot tall range - so I'll return with my larger camera gear and big tripod. I only have two or three HUNDRED waterfalls to photograph this spring in various regions of the state. I will need more power bars...
AFTERNOON UPDATE. I didn't get any star photos to turn out this morning due to the lingering smoke from fires yesterday, but the colors of dawn were very nice from all the smoke!
03/09/19 I've been waiting for another good rain to take Fireman Jeff down into the Ouachitas and measure a new "tallest waterfall in the Ouachita Mountains" that I photographed in 2015. It was listed as being 118' tall in a guidebook by Troy Garner that I bought several years ago, but you know me - I like to measure things myself to be sure, and tall waterfalls are very difficult to measure accurately. (previous Ouachita record was Slate Falls at only 54')
It was pouring rain when I met up with Jeff and his son, Kagan, but the rain soon quit and by the time we reached the mountain south of Blue Mountain Lake, it was all blue sky and sunshine - and it didn't look like there had been much rainfall at all at our target location! But this waterfall is spring-fed, so we packed up and headed off into the woods and DOWN a steep mountainside with high hopes of having some flowing water (terrible light for iphone photos though).
There was a pretty good flow from the springs - YIPPIE! And soon we were standing on top of the first of four (actually five) nice waterfalls in a small area. The first two waterfalls we measured were about the same as in the guidebook (21' and 31') so we had high hopes of being able to measure and confirm a rare 100+ footer. But after much debate and measuring with both the 300' tape and the digital rangefinder, we agreed the total height of the big waterfall was 89' - certainly the tallest waterfall in the Ouahitas, but sub-100'. he mom. Hoping someone will give us info about others so we can measure them an maybe find some more! (we can only do ones on public property though) Here's the new champion, Flood Falls from today (and the one of me there in 2015 with more flow):
There was a really neat Boulder Falls below the big one, and it was 37', and plenty of water to show some nice flow. Although all of these would look even better with more water (and CLOUDY skies).
It was a STEEP climb out of this drainage - especially considering it was 70 degrees! Master of the contour map, Fireman Jeff, picked out another drainage that didn't have any reported waterfalls in it, so we drove on over, loaded up and headed DOWN another very steep hillside.
EUREKA! We found one really nice waterfall (54') with two other tall ones next door, plus a beautiful cascade that came down from nearly 100' above it. At the bottom of the falls we landed in a beautiful tight canyon where water plays and runs free - a spot where my heart wanted to be. (all of this was during minimum flow - even more magical if the area would have received some of the rainfall, but we were happy campers)
And then we found another really nice waterfall below - a 27 footer that was one of my favorites of the day:
And then we kicked it into high gear and the three of us did a forced march at full speed straight up what Jeff recalls being the steepest hillside we had done to date - and we've been UP many really bad ones on Woods Mountain. I must admit the blood was pumping all the way up and it took everything I could muster to keep moving, but we all made it up and out in 15 minutes flat (oops sorry about that - no flat on this hill!).
It's almost midnight now and I need to head out to pickup a camera that I set up in a meadow on my way home - the skies were crystalline with a zillion stars, and I wanted to capture a star trail over a mountain. My other attempts this past week at this did not turn out, so I'm hoping this time I'll get something...
One funny note from after I got home this evening. As I was getting ready to take a shower I discovered that one of dozens of thorns I'd picked up on those hillsides was still lodged in my butt and I couldn’t quite reach it - so had to call in Pam to the rescue - OUCH!!! The things I make her do...
03/11/19 Well I discovered why we had not received much rain here lately - the weather station kinda got blown apart! Same thing happened to our deck furniture (for the first time I think since we moved from Cloudland). High winds of 50mph+. Last night I pulled the weather station down - which was VERY easy to do thanks to the way I installed it and a bracket I found at Lowes. I figured I needed to clean out the rain-gathering cone, but it turned out the cone was gone. My bride said there was "something" out in the back yard, and sure enough, it was the cone. I replaced it and got the station back up easily (thanks to the Lowes bracket) and it almost immediately started to count raindrops (since there was light rain falling). YIPPIE! I feel whole again.
There is a break in the clouds along the eastern horizon now about 30 minutes after sunrise, but the sun never arrived to light up the landscape - maybe it didn't get the memo about the time change? Winds are calm except for the swoosh of all the birds coming into Pam's feeders - they are hungry and busy this morning!
The flash rainfall on Friday ran off pretty fast, but I'm hoping for more prolonged rainfall this week that will have time to soak in and/or run off slowly to feed waterfalls. I spent much of yesterday doing research and collecting some location data for about 250 waterfalls I need to visit. I got kina worn out just thinking about all the steep slopes! Yet I doubt any of them could match the last slope we climbed/crawled up on Friday. My legs and lungs remain in good shape, and so far my back is still with me, although it takes a beating every trip and requires a bit of recovery time (and it hurts all day, every day, but less than in the past). It wasn't that long ago that I'd come to the realization my hiking career was done, but I continue to show signs of life and hope to keep it up at least a little while longer.
I have a new satellite communication device that will get some testing this week. I was one of the first in Arkansas to have a "FindMeSpot" a very long time ago, then switched to an InReach device several years ago that I've been using since. Both were used to send an email to my bride every now and then with my location on a map and a note saying "all OK." Cell phone service has gotten so much better, but there are still so many areas in Arkansas with little to no service (despite what the sales maps show). And I'm finding more and more need for two-way communication, which my InReach was supposed to be able to do but I never got it to work. The new FindMeSpot is much more advanced with more options for texting to/from an actual phone number, so I'm gonna give it a shot for the next year - along with the InReach - to see which one is more user friendly and more accurate. I'll also have fulltime "tracking" turned on that will send a notice to and post my location to a web page so my bride will be able to log in and see where I'm at all the time, kind of like a tagged elk.
In the meantime, it's MONDAY, my favorite day of the week so I'm anxious to get to work! I hope you have a wonderful day and an even better week - spring will be here SOON!
03/14/19 Howling winds here a couple of hours before dawn. I can't see them, but I bet our tall pine trees are dancing around and getting plenty of stretching exercise. It's pretty warm at 55 degrees, and will be a bright and sunny day - according to the forecast we'll be in this pattern for a while. Not good for waterfall photos, but good for SPRING to get a good start.
Even with all the high winds this past couple of days, we didn't get much in the way of downed limbs on our trail here - the pups and I did a quick loop yesterday after the rains moved out and we didn't find hardly any blowdowns on the trail. We did find LOTS of muddy water! Our creek and waterfalls were running pretty good, but it was the thickest hot chocolate I've seen in a while - very striking water color.
A couple of days ago I made another epic trip with Fireman Jeff to explore, find, and measure waterfalls - this time on Mt. Magazine, the tallest mountain in Arkansas. Part of the trip was to revisit a couple of locations I'd been to before to measure some tall waterfalls (around West Lacy Creek Falls). Very difficult location to access all parts of these multi-tierd waterfalls, but we made it and got the measurements we needed.Below is one of many neat moss&lichen-covered boulder fields we saw:
On our way back to the truck we explored a small drainage above us that led to a really beautiful waterfall (in fact several new ones). It was not towering, nor thundering, but the location was one that beckons to come sit for a while and just enjoy. It will be a special treat for folks in the future I hope. I took a few photos with my "traveling" waterfall camera setup (small tripod and camera), then we moved onto another part of the mountain.
The next area was again to measure and photograph a waterfall I'd been to before - Clear Creek Falls. First time I was there the falls were flooded with too much water - is that possible? (yes) But we also were trying to figure out why there was conflicting info about this waterfall from different sources - a waterfall guidebook (not mine), the World Waterfall Database, and a popular blog. Turns out there were actually two different waterfalls in the same area with the same name, but I don't think the authors knew about the other one. We've cleared all that up now and both will be in my new guidebook.
Next we visited a set of three waterfalls/cascades that tumbled down the steep hillside in a beautiful location. The other guidebook had this located in a very weird and unlikely spot elsewhere on the mountain and with a different name (same waterfall though). We've now cleared that one up. I got some pictures but it will require another trip to get a really good photo. There was one spot where we could stand and see all three falls at the same time, but it was one of those situations where you really had to just soak it up because it could never be photographed - too much brush covering the hillside and blocking parts of the view.
Then we marched on in search of new country that looked promising on the map - indeed there are many parts of this giant mountain that contain waterfalls but difficult access. We spent the next couple of hours exploring some of the most rugged terrain either of us had ever been in - and that's saying a lot considering how Jeff and I seem to be sucked into these types of places!
One of the falls was in three parts - the upper part we could only see from the top and the side, then it disappeared below into a mini slot canyon. After much struggle we were able to make our way around and down and then fought our way upstream to the base of the lowest of this waterfall, but that middle section of the falls remained out of sight. The only way anyone will ever see that middle part would be by repelling down into the hidden area (not recommended!).
One funny part of this area. While we were clawing and scratching our way down and across the hillside, Jeff made the comment that we really didn't need worry about falling because the vines were SO THICK that if we fell, we wouldn't go anywhere - we were in a constant state of being wrapped up in small grapevines (or vines of some sort), and had to struggle to break loose of them for every step - so if we had lost our footing, the vines would have held us tight against the hillside! It was a tough trip up to the base of this three-drop falls to a spot where few folks will ever visit due to the ruggedness of getting there.
I made a mental note that there might be a section in the new guidebook of the Top Ten LEAST-visited waterfalls because they are so difficult and dangerous to reach, and that our current location would most likely make the list. And I thought about marking this area on the maps as "TERRA INCOGNITA" - a term used on maps in the very early days of our country for places that no one had successfully explored and didn't know exactly what was there.
At one point when we stopped to try and get untangled, I noticed a tiny yellow wildflower no larger than a pea. And then all of a sudden we could see many of these little wonders all around us, hiding down next to the earth beneath all the tangle. We had been focused on the struggle of forward progress and were missing the wildflower show. Hum, I think that happens in life to a lot us...
The very next drainage over was like being on a different mountain. It was very steep as well, but much more forgiving since the vines were absent. The rocks were different, and we entered a world of slate, hundreds of different size and shapes of stone slate tablets everywhere. This part of the mountain was a slate factory, and they were spilling out down the hillsides, which made them kinda tricky to hike across in places. We stopped often to inspect and admire the slate - it was almost unbelievable how amazing these pieces of slate were!
There were two new waterfalls in the slate factory drainage - both quite beautiful and ones I plan to return to. There is already a "Slate Falls" (in my waterfall guidebook), and the drainage is unnamed so I will have to come up with something else to call them. The upper falls was especially nice - reminded me of a smaller Cedar Falls at Petit Jean State Park without the large pool. The base of the falls was surrounded by hundreds of different sizes and shapes of flat slate - kind of like the last couple hundred feet of hillside we climbed below it. I may have to come spend the night at this place some day - there's a giant elevated flat rock right in front of the waterfall.
We were getting pushed for time - it was late in the day with not much daylight left, so we needed to get started back towards the truck. I was nearing the bottom of my endurance bucket, yet we had a pretty difficult climb to make before we could go anywhere. Neither of us wanted to backtrack down through the slippery slate slope and across the viney hillside and steep ascent beyond - we needed to get back up above all the waterfalls to out. I stood back and eyed an extremely steep pitch right there next to the waterfall that seemed like it might lead us to the top quickly. But my goodness it was about as steep as a human could climb without ropes. Jeff started crawling up at one spot and didn't make it very far and soon he returned to the bottom. Ugg. We really dreaded the other way back out.
I moved over a few feet and suggested a slightly different route UP the hillside before us. Jeff was not impressed but decided to give it a go, and I followed off to one side - you never want to be directly beneath someone on a climb like this in case the guy above dislodges rocks that might come crashing down on your head!
The only way to make this climb was to dig in and go, putting your entire focus on the ground a few inches in front of your face. It was more like standing and clawing up the hillside with all fours spread eagle, grabbing for anything that seemed solid that you could rely on just a little bit for the next move up. At one point I realized that Jeff was out of sight above me somewhere. I paused and looked around, fearing I could no longer go any higher. Then I looked DOWN - that was not a good idea! I made a slight change in course to my right, and was able to scramble over to the top of a narrow knife-edge fin of earth where I could get a good grip on all fours - kind of like engaging four-wheel-drive. I looked up and saw Jeff sitting facing downward with a large grin and I knew we would be able to make it. I scrambled up as fast as I could and made it. Oh my, that climb was a rush, and it felt so terrific to reach the top!
The view from the top edge of the rim was spectacular - it's kind of like the view from the lodge over at the state park, only it is from the middle of the wilderness instead of being surrounded by concrete and people. WOW! DOUBLE WOW!!! We had no time to linger, so we pressed on - daylight had begun to slip away.
Within a few minutes of hiking we both realized that the route back to the truck would be an easy saunter compared to what we'd just been through, although we also didn't think that was actually possible for it to be so easy. But it WAS! The access points to all these waterfalls were located on the very same "bench" where the truck was parked, and without any more climbing (but hiking at full speed), we were back at the truck within 30 minutes - YIPPIE COYOTE! I'd left the cabin at 5am and it was close to 10pm when I arrived back home - a 17 hour work day. My bones were weary but my spirits were high after such a great day in the woods!
Back to real time this morning - while I've been sitting here typing this up I've seen winds clocked at 45+mph! And just as I'm finishing this post up, my bride made the most delicious giant smoothie - how come even though she and I use the exact same ingredients that the one she makes for me is so much better than what I make for myself!
03/20/19 Seems like forever since I've written. Spring is slow to come to the High Ozarks, and in fact slow to come everywhere. I've been down south three days this past week working on finding and documenting new waterfalls. Saw the first tiny redbud buds a couple of days ago, and wildflowers are beginning to pop up here and there. The pure-blue-sky days with lots of sunshine have helped those flowers. But I've not seen carpets of wildflowers like in previous years - perhaps the places I've been were too STEEP for many flowers to live, haha!
Fireman Jeff and I did a couple of very long day trips down in the Ouachita Mountains. One day we met up before dawn and got into the woods before sunup for what we had planned on being just a short jaunt into one small area of known waterfalls. NINE hours later we got back to the car and had explored two drainages all the way up one (nearly a thousand feet UP) and back down another one (nearly a thousand feet back DOWN). All of it some of the steepest and most rugged terrain you could imagine. We only had one snack and one bottle of water each, but we both always carry a small water filter so it was no problem having plenty of filtered water all along the way, We were tired, worn out, starved, and scratched up puppies, but it had been an epic day with many beautiful waterfalls!
The next day I struck out on my own to document a series of smaller waterfalls in a drainage I'd never been in before. The harsh sunshine was kinda bad for waterfall photography, so I decided to hike up the drainage in the afternoon to document/measure each waterfall and get the lay of the land, then by the time I had reached the upper most parts of the drainage, everything would be in shadow and so I could photograph the waterfalls on my way out. That plan worked out pretty good, only it turned out to be far less shadow time than I needed (more waterfalls than expected too), and I simply ran out of light on the way back - had to hike out in nearly total darkness and didn't get to photograph the last waterfall. Oh darn - I will just have to go back! This hike included several really beautiful waterfalls that will be more accessible to folks, but also several that are more difficult to get to, but only rated difficult and not the XXX Difficult that many we've been documenting will be!
The third day was with Fireman Jeff again, and we explored two new drainages. We did pack a few more snacks, but neither of us like to carry much food on trips like these (light and fast is better since we have so much ground to cover). And we also tend to not stop moving - at all - during these trips. I mean once we hit the ground we literally never stop moving, unless it is to take a measurement or take a photo (or get up after a fall - we do that a lot, end up sprawled out on the ground). Kinda ironic that we are there to discover and document some of the most beautiful spots in Arkansas, yet we simply don't have the time to stop and ENJOY them! But most of these spots I will return to in the coming months for more serious photography - although come to think of it, those are serious work trips and I'm usually just as busy and involved with my work so don't really take the time to stop and enjoy - 'tis a curse of my job.
But oh my goodness, on all of these trips I fell in love with the surroundings many times. And the best and most amazing waterfalls were not the tallest ones. For those who follow along the guidebooks and look for SSS areas - I bet there were 20-30 a day on these hikes!!! Here's a chunk of red rock along a gorgeous bluffline we followed back to a beautiful waterfall:
After the final day with Jeff I headed back north towards home and ended up on the top of a mountain to photograph the sunset. I only had a few minutes to find the spot I wanted where I could carefully line up the setting sun behind a big bluffline and row of trees. But at the last second the sun started to disappear into a haze of the distant smoke-filled valley (about five minutes early), so I had to pack up my gear and RUN (literally) through the thick woods scrambling to find an opening to capture the event. I did finally get a spot and took three pictures before the sun disappeared, and while it was quite spectacular-looking through the lens, I don't know if I "got it" or not. (I need to download and see the photos up on the big computer screen to see how good they are, if at all.)
I drove down the side of the mountain and spent the night in the back of our "photomobile" camper van. I guess I was kinda tired and exhausted from the long days and slept TEN HOURS and missed sunrise the next morning. Ten hours of sleep - that's like three nights worth of sleep for me! The photo below was before the sun started to disappear -
TODAY is our 18th wedding anniversary. Oh my gosh, the time has gone by SO FAST! I still don't know why my lovely bride puts up with me, but so far, so good - no GREAT!!! We're headed out for a quick little adventure and will be on the road all day, but back home to celebrate in our new home tonight for the first time...
EVENING UPDATE. My bride hates caves, and I think I remember her telling me once she would never go into one. Yet when given the chance to go anywhere see wanted today for our anniversary, she declared we must go to Blanchard Springs Caverns and tour the CAVE! Such a brave and wonderful young lady! And so we did. And she got to see and experience the very location where I grew up in so many ways, spent four years of my life underground (1973-1976), learned how to speak in front of and interact with people, get involved with the forest service way of life (which led to hiking trails/guidebooks/maps), created my first slide program (after I became one of only five people on the planet to scuba dive through the underground level of the cave, which is what the slide show we produced was about), and so many other things that continue to guide my life today. So here's a pair of snapshots - one from just moments after we said "I DO" (on the banks of Lake Leatherwood in Eureka Springs, where we had met on a hike nine months before, which was at the height of Pam's extreme back pain from just having injured her back and three disks - she could hardly stand up, and was in extreme pain) - and the other today in the Soda Straw Room at Blanchard. It was a delightful day, as they all have been with my bride. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY HONEY!!!
Oh yes, and HAPPY SPRING to all of you, and THANKS for reading!
03/23/19 Three times today my phone has sprang to life with a WEATHER ALERT that woke me from a nap - RAIN COMING!!! Not a drop all day, in fact nothing all week. But I'm resting up just in case. The funky clouds we had this morning looked like the kind that would bring some much-needed moisture. I believe they were the ones that were recently given a name (in 2017 - "undulatus asperatus" or simply Asperitas, and "Although they appear dark and storm-like, they almost always dissipate without a storm forming.", bummer). I'd photographed them before. In fact as I was looking back through many years of the March Cloudland Journal I came upon these same clouds a couple of times. Also found the same yellow/orange moonrise that I took pictures of last night. But those pages were filled with many beautiful wildflower photos too, and I've not pointed a camera at a single one this year. I need to fix that! I'm sitting around waiting right now for it to rain a little bit to wet down the landscape and saturate colors before I venture over to the Round Top Mountain trail in search of flowers. Come on rain.....
My boot story begins many decades ago when I used to go through pairs of Vasque Sundowner boots that I loved - seemed to wear out a pair or more a year. Then something changed (either in their manufacturing process or my feet), and they didn't seem to work for me any more. My next favorite boot was a Lowa (I think?), but those wore out even quicker (the exact same seam along the sides of the boots ripped out every time). Then I started to have issues slipping on rocks and falling, which I attributed to Vibram Lug Soles, and saw many comments about them being slick (again, I don't recall this being the case for many years before - maybe Vibram changed manufacture or material?). Then I found a pair of FiveTen "approach" boots that were like magic and the soles were sticky - but they started to come apart about once a year and were pretty expensive. When I went to replace them this past year with the same soles but the uppers made of new material, I discovered they no longer fit my feet and are quite painful to wear.
So I started to wear an older pair of rubber "muck-style" boots that I reserved for creek and other water photo work (and also for cold nights since they were insulated). One time I ended up having to wear these big, heavy boots for a normal trail hike, and then for one of my "normal" bushwhack hikes - and son of a gun, not only did the boots perform great, but my feet did not hurt. Hum. I tried switching back to the FiveTen boots that hurt my feet, and they continued to hurt my feet, so I used the rubber boots again. And again. And again. And I've been wearing those clunky boots on all of the extreme bushwhack trips that Fireman Jeff and I have been on this year with absolutely zero issues - turns out they are great hiking boots! But now the soft rubber lugs that have dug in and clung to those steep hillsides are wearing down with so much abuse, and I've gone looking for a replacement.
I've not even bothered to look at normal hiking boots, but instead have been looking at another rubber "muck-style" boot. This time I wanted to make sure they were snake proof - since most of my woods work will be in snake country now for the next six months. (During snake season I've been wearing normal boots with "snake gaiters" over them the past decade.) Turns out there are a lot of these type of boots sold for hunting that do indeed have snake-bite protection. I couldn't find the exact same type as before (which was a generic Cabelas/Bass Pro boot), but did find a boot that I think will work even better. I hope I'm not jinxing myself by posting this now, but here is what I got, they arrived yesterday, and they've been on my feet all day (even through all of my naps) - LaCrosse Men's Venom Scent APG HD Snake Boot. So far they are very comfortable, not quite as heavy as my rubber boots, and are three inches taller (more snake protection). And since it is in the actual title of the boots ("venom" and "snake"), I DO expect them to be snake-bite proof if needed! Time will tell. I'm hard on boots.
EVENING UPDATE - I never made it out to take pictures, but I did do a quick mile loop on our trail with the new boots and they did fine. We got finally got .41" of gentle rainfall overnight - that's a start - YIPPIE!
03/25/19 Rain total yesterday was only 9/100'ths of an inch (1/2" total for the entire weekend). All the big storms went to the south of us, gosh darn it. But my lovely bride and I did get to spend a wonderful hour or two on the couch in the prow watching at first the storm clouds blowing in and past at sunset, and then one of the longest lightning shows we've ever witnessed that marched from right to left across the panoramic screen, over and over and over. When it finally got dark we didn't really notice because the cabin had been lit up almost constantly by the lightning. We heard thunder, but nary a drop on us. And oh my goodness those clouds at sunset were SPECTACULAR! So much so that I jumped out of my comfy seat and ran out into the yard with my big camera and tripod to try and capture some of the fleeting beauty.
My plan for the morning yesterday was to make a quick trip back to a waterfall area that I needed to photograph just a couple of easy to get to waterfalls, explore a new but pretty small side drainage, then spend the afternoon photographing wildflowers. Fireman Jeff came with me. The water flow in the creek was the lowest I'd ever seen, even though that area had received a half inch of rain on Saturday - it had just been soaked up into the hillside. It was clear that while spring had still not really "sprung" in this area, the vegetation had already begun to suck up moisture - so it will take a lot of rain to feed everything in the weeks ahead as the landscape wakes up and gets growing.
The first couple of easy waterfalls were just that - easy to get to, and actually looked pretty good at the lower flow so I spent some time taking pictures of each. The rainfall had wetted down the moss, leaves, bark, and rocks, and so even though branches were bare, it felt like a lush forest all around. It was a calm and soothing little stream, kind of a bubbling brook, and it made me smile.
Next we turned up into the smaller side drainage and I was hoping to find one waterfall up what appeared to be a short but steep canyon. Boy was I wrong! The even smaller creek went into the hillside and made a quick turn to the right, then to the left, and right there was the little waterfall I was hoping for- only it seemed like it would be a lot larger during normal stream flow this time of year. Another sharp turn in the tight canyon, and another waterfall. Then another, each seeming to get a little taller. The sides of the canyon moved in very close, and we found ourselves down on all four having to crawl up the steep hillside- where we found another waterfall, YIPPIE!
The distance we had traveled was not very fat, but it was UP quite a bit. Each waterfall on the planet is unique for sure, but I'm finding so many of these have different personalities in not only the pattern and movement of the waterfall themselves, but also in the character of the surroundings. Even though none of these were thundering waterfalls, I'd probably hie to see even one of them just to spend time sitting there soaking that character in, especially with a little more water flow (although some actually looked better at this reduced flow since more of the rock layers they were falling over were visible during high flow they would just be a white blur of moving water).
The hillside got steeper and more difficult, and we found more waterfalls above. What normally would have been the tallest waterfall spilling over the uppermost cap-roc later of sandstone was shorter than we figured it might be, but it was one of the most interesting of them all - actually two waterfalls side-by-side. These guys would need ore water flow to look their best, so we just measured and took snapshots, then went still higher and up and round to the next layer of rock where we found the last waterfall of the day - in again what was a really neat spot along the bluffline, everything covered with brilliant green moss and other living things.
The return trip to the car appeared easy on the map - mostly STRAIGHT DOWN, but it began by clawing our way while standing up through a hillside that had been burned off and was clogged with an almost solid wall of 10-12' tall vegetation of some sort, an at time impenetrable sea of saw briers that was up to head-high on us. And this was on the level. When we got over to the edge and began our 800'plunge down the nose of a small ridge, the tall vegetation remained, but the saw briers were mostly gone, and it was pretty easy - more like a controlled fall all the way down - we didn't encounter a solid bluffline the entire time. Within a couple of weeks this route would be really solid, and two hikers ten feet apart would not be able to see each other!
I'll need to return to all of our new waterfall finds when there is more water for better photos, but it was still a great day in the woods. And I'm happy to report that the new snake boots worked GREAT! Only problem was that as I discovered when I got home and removed everything, those saw briers cut me up pretty good through my clothes - all the way down to the top of the boots. Upon seeing my bare skin all ripped up, my lovely bride declared that I needed a pair of "tactical" pants for any future hikes. (I've done this in jeans before and while they generally keep the briars at bay, they are too tight for this type of hiking.)
On each hike in life I think we learn just a little bit more about ourselves, our environment, and in my case the tools I need to do my job. I look forward to many more lessons in the woods! But please - we need MORE RAIN!!!
03/27/19 - nice sunrie from the back deck...
03/28/19 Today was wildflower day at last - my first journey into the woods with my big camera in search of little gemstones. The light was terrible (harsh sunshine), winds were high and gusty, but there were plenty of wildflowers. I spent several hours hiking the loop trail around Round Top Mountain, and probably stopped to photograph 25 or 30 times (not always successful). There were eight or ten different species in abundance - yellow trout lilies, bloodroot (some of the largest I've ever seen), Dutchman's Breeches, three different colors of violets (purple, blue, and yellow), Rue Anemone, Purple Trillium, lots of white flowers I didn't know the name of, and others. No shortage of wildflowers.
The forest was kinda dry - we really need rain, especially since the vegetation is waking up and each root is a straw sucking up groundwater. And while there was a lot of color, the dry and sunny conditions dulled down the landscape quite a bit - even the usually-brilliant green moss was just kind so-so.
And for once I actually was prepared to shoot wildflowers - which usually means down on my hands and knees - and my old bones need some padding down there. So at the very first stop I pulled out a new pair of $4 knee pads, and oh my goodness they were wonderful! I left the pads on and used them at nearly every stop. So simple and cheap, but give so much comfort.
As I hike along in an area like this with abundant shooting material it seems that often there will be certain subjects/compositions that will just jump up and scream TAKE MY PICTURE! I will usually keep going until one of them really gets my attention. Then I enter kind of a Catch-22 (I never saw the movie but use the phrase like I know what I'm talking about) - I need to zero in on a composition before I know if I want to commit to it or not, but it is a lot easier on my old bones if I remove my camera backpack first, which in itself is a pain in my bones. So I pull off my pack and walk/crawl around and set up my tripod and try to imagine the picture that stopped me to begin with. Many times it just doesn't work for some reason, and I'm able to hoist backpack and move on before I unzip the backpack, unload, and set up my camera gear.
But most of the time I think there is a picture to be had, so I unzip the backpack, unload, and set up my camera gear. I have ways to soften the harsh sunshine (diffusion cloth), but nothing can stop the wind. (I use a white cube tent over a flower sometimes, and it will slow breezes down a little, but won't stop the wind from blowing the flower around.) Most of the time when shooting flower pictures I will set everything up, take some test exposures to confirm it looks good with proper focus and exposure, then sit back and wait for the wind to stop. Today I pushed the limits of image quality by raising the ISO speed to give me a faster shutter speed (to freeze any flower motion) since many times it did not seem like the wind was ever going to slow down.
There was one group of bright yellow trout lilies that looked so fresh and beautiful and was one of those scenes that did indeed stop me in my tracks - I just had to go over to them, unzip the backpack, unload, and set up my camera gear even without really looking at the scene closely first. And also the wind was NOT blowing. The camera and tripod magically came together perfectly and a picture taken before the wind started up again - yippie! Then I spent the next 20 minutes trying to get another picture of the same little group of flowers as the danced around in the breezes. I ended up getting down really close in on one of the flowers, with it surrounded by all the amazing trout-skin leaves.
While all flowers in the forest are special, there was something about these. A warm fuzzy feeling. It wasn't until I had packed everything up and turned around to get back on the trail that I noticed that the boulder behind me was covered with small bits of the WWII bomber that had crashed into the hillside just above me more than 70 years ago. The wildflowers were for the men who perished, and there were hundreds of flowers of all types and colors scattered across the rocky terrain. A moment of silence for all of our brave airmen and women who have been lost in wartime and in peace...
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