Cloudland Cabin Cam May 29th, 6:33am - cool and beautiful today - HAPPY WEEKEND!
MAY PRINTS OF THE MONTH
Updated Friday morning the 28th - the moonset
05/22/10 It is a wild Saturday night here at the cabin - Amber is off to her boyfriend's graduation, the dogs are asleep, and my lovely bride and I are in our respective corners working (after having just feasted on a giant pile of our special Cloudland Banff Pasta - it was extra good tonight!). The winds are blowing pretty hard outside, and swirling, and the sky is mostly filled with clouds moving around too. As early as 6am today, the forecast was for CLEAR skies and sunshine all day today - mostly that did not happen (it was cloudy here most of the day, including some really BLACK clouds rolling by).
Seems like I've been on auto-pilot the past few days trying to deal with the fact that most all waterfalls in the state were running well and not knowing which ones to visit! I'll start with a couple of days ago and see if I can catch up before you go to sleep.
I was up and carefully studying the rain maps at 4am Thursday. It appeared that some of my priority target waterfalls had gotten a good bit of rain overnight, and the forecast was calling for more rain and clouds ALL day long - music to my years!!! I was sitting at a remote location near White Rock Mountain a couple of hours later waiting for it to get light when the car started to shake - and then BOOM, CRASH!!! I turned on the terrific iPad that my lovely bride had given me for my b-day (it just arrived the day before - actually we call it an iPam now), and determined from the local weather radar that if I wated a few minutes the storm would pass.
So a little while later I was bumping on down the trail with nothing more than light sprinkles - I love radar - headed to the first waterfall of the day. Things were REALLY soaked from the heavy rains overnight and there was water running everywhere. The hike was much farther than I had hoped, but it was an easy hike along an old logging road - all the way to the top of the waterfall. Like many others, this waterfall had been on my list for some time, but I could never find the right conditions to make the drive over to get some photos - today, it was all perfect!
I found a thundering waterfall in an area of very steep hillsides and lush vegetation everywhere. I measured the falls, then scrambled down on side and got under an overhang next to the falls to set up the camera. 20 minutes later I was on my way back UP the road and hillside to the car. This waterfall is being named after friend and longtime caretaker of White Rock Mountain, Jack White. Jack and his bride, Paula (who still runs the show), came on board and helped our volunteer organization turn the aging and about to be demolished cabins and lodge building at White Rock into a yearround facility and we hope will endure for many more generations and beyond. Jack had some health issues, eventually had a lung transplant, and lived a few years longer, but died while up in Alaska on one last trip. He was a good egg, and this waterfall will honor him for eternity.
As I was hiking out I remembered another waterfall in the area that I needed to visit - and this one right next to the road! 30 minutes later I was there, and it was flowing great. Then I made a critical decision - to continue to drive five miles down the forest road towards Cass and risk being blocked by a flooded bridge right before I reached the highway, or turn around and drive 15 miles around to reach the same highway? I choose wrong, and ended up at a flooded bridge and had to turn around and drive all the way back, and then all the way around to boot!
I stopped along the way to explore a drainage to see if there were any good waterfalls, and while I did find a couple, they were not especially noteworthy. The area was lush with DEVIL'S WALKING STICKS though, and in fact the hillsides were quite covered with them and they gave me a hard time. There were times when I had to turn sideways to get in between them, which was tough to do while trying to scramble across a very steep and wet hillside. I managed to get in and back out again without tearing up any body parts.
And then I had the most wonderful GIANT turkey sandwich at the Turner Bend store - holy cow! These sandwiches are certainly worth going out of your way for. OK, my belly full and now it was time to head on down the road - only problem was that the sky had turned into PURE BLUE and sunshine everywhere - bummer. But I drove on in good faith that something would happen, up onto the tall Poteau Mountains in search of a waterfall in an area that has very few of them. The skies were still blue when I parked beside the road - at least I could locate this waterfall and see if I wanted to include it, then return another time for a photo.
The trail into the wilderness area was steep and ROCKY, but at least there was a trail - actually a four-wheeler trail all the way DOWN to the very bottom of the hill - YIKES, it was a long way DOWN! And along the way I met what has turned out to be the only other person I've seen this spring while I've been out in the woods hunting waterfalls - I'm still not sure what he was doing there, but was a nice guy and started telling me all about the tallest waterfall in the Ouachitas just a couple miles away (Slate Falls), and how this guy had written all these guidebooks that told how to find all these great things. I could only nod and agree.
I was never really certain if Belle Starr Cave really was used as a hideout for the famous outlaw, but when I got close to it and saw one of the government "do not disturb" signs, I figured there probably was some truth to this. And son of a gun, the waterfall I was after was flowing directly over the entrance to her cave! It was a nice waterfall, but that harsh sunshine was not too flattering to it - Belle probably would have loved that. But then I noticed a small cloud or two drifting by so I decided to set up my camera gear and wait it out, hoping a larger cloud would come by and give me some good light. In the meantime I went to investigate the hideout. It had obviously been used as such by someone a very long time ago - she probably even rode her ATV along the trail I had come in on. Eventually I got some thin clouds over the sun and I took some photos, then headed back UP the hill back to the car (after crossing a creek for a second time that was waist deep from the flood waters). On my way back up I made a detour over to another creek that I could hear during the hike in, and I found several very nice thundering cascades - I would have to return with better light one day.
My final stop for the day was back to a waterfall I had photographed several weeks ago at much lower flow, the really nice Twin Falls near the base of Mt. Magazine. The hike into this one is really easy, except for the last couple hundred yards - which were really tough! But I made it, and I found an incredible sight waiting for me at the end of the canyon. I stood there in knee-deep water in awe of the power of water - not only how strong it was, but also how beautiful. I had to wait until the sun had set before I took a series of photos, and then made my scramble back up and out to the car. It was something like 10:30pm before I got home.
I was back up at 4am the next morning looking at rain and cloud maps of the area, then decided to run back over to a location along Hwy. 7 that I had visited several weeks ago also. With a forecast of clear skies all day, I knew that I would only have one change to photograph a waterfall before the harsh sunshine hit it. The place I choose was some of the very worst ice storm damage in the state, and the going was really tough - in fact I was so beaten up that I decided to turn around an abort at least twice, but kept on going anyway. And I'm glad I did - I eventually got down to the waterfall I was after and it was flowing well. This waterfall lives at an overhang that is cluttered with hundreds of slabs of stones that have fallen from the roof of the overhang - so if you visit this waterfall, don't spend too much time under there! I'm happy to report that I did find an easier way back up and out to the highway, thank goodness. For most of this hike I never saw my feet - and I wondered about snakes. There are six or seven other nice waterfalls in this area but with the harsh sunshine I could not photograph them, and probably only put one in the book anyway (with directions to the rest).
On the way home I realized that I really needed some snake protectors for my legs if I were going to continue to bushwhack through such thick terrain. Just as I was getting ready to hit the "buy" button at Cabelas, I had a vision that I already owned a pair of these - just didn't have a clue where they were. But an hour of searching and I found them, yippie! (just saved myself about $75 bucks)
OK, so the hunt was on. I decided to hike into a new waterfall area, explore around a bit, and then hopefully have time after the sun went down to take a few photos - and perhaps have to hike out in the dark. I've got to tell ya, the next half mile of hiking was some of the most difficult I've ever done - or perhaps it just seemed that way since I'm an old guy now! The brush was so thick that I never saw anything from about my waist on down - I was really glad to be wearing my snake chaps! Holy cow it took me an hour just to scramble down the steep hillside, never really knowing where my next step would land (once it landed in the air and I took a pretty good tumble).
Buy my oh my was the trip worth it! From the spot where I landed at the bottom on the creek, I could look around and see THREE beautiful waterfalls! I looked around for another hour and found four or five more nice ones, and they scenery just went on and on and on. I had tried to get into this area twice before, both times I realized there had been little rain and nothing running. And even on this day the ground was kind of dry, but the waterfalls were running OK - probably about half way. Something about this mountain - it has not received much rain from all the big storms of late.
OK, so the sun went down and I rushed around to photograph a couple of the waterfalls, then packed up and started the climb back up - something I was NOT looking forward to! I suspected there would be an easier way (without so much thick brush), but I did not have the luxury of time to go explore a new route - it was getting dark on me.
There were times on this hike out when I was inside a complete and total jungle - I was like an ant under it all, and completely surrounded by thick brush. At times I was forced to get down on my hands and knees and crawl my way up the steep hillside - all the while not really knowing what was on the ground beneath me since I could not see it! The hillside was covered with a healthy population of Devils Walking sticks, thorny locust trees, and briars - all wanting to reach out and scratch me! When I finally made it to the top just after dark, I was one happy camper for sure! It was another late arrival for me at home, and I was exhausted. I would return to this incredible new waterfall area again in the future for sure - perhaps when the jungle was not so thick though! (It would be much easier access in the winter and early spring, and I'll also be hunting a better access to put into the guidebook - I bet there is an old road down into this canyon somewhere.)
The forecast was once again for clear blue skies this morning, and in fact all day long. I was quite tuckered from the past couple of days of difficult hikes and lack of sleep, and so when the alarm clock went off at 4am today I just rolled over and decided to give it a rest - I was just too beat up and tired. A couple of hours later when I did get up I discovered that there were clouds all around - more of them than there was blue sky. (I don't blame the weather folks for any of this - they are great people and doing their jobs well, it is just that we CAN'T PREDICT THE WEATHER, even though they keep trying, and we keep hanging onto every word!) I realized this may be my only chance this green season to go photograph a waterfall that was within a couple miles of our cabin - one that I had been to before but never photographed. So I strapped on my snake chaps, grabbed my camera gear, and ran out the door.
I'll try not to bore you with all of the facts, but the bottom line is that what I thought would be an easy two-hour hike, turned into seven hours, and one of the most brutal of the year for me. But I got my waterfall - in fact I got four waterfalls! I suspect all of this has something to do with me getting older, something I continue to deny, but there is no way to hide how beat up my body is getting these days. Oh well, just being out on such treks can do nothing but get me into better shape, and then perhaps my age won't be quite as bad!
I made a discovery along the way to the first waterfall - and it came at a time when I needed some encouragement. As soon as I hit the bottom of the big hill I had hiked down, and turned to hike up Whitaker Creek, the sun came out and destroyed my positive mental state. The weather folks were correct after all. But then a few minutes later a big cloud passed over the sun - yippie! I kept on going, in fact I hiked faster and faster and faster - I realized that those clouds would not last for long and I have to get to this waterfall ASAP! And then the sun came out and stayed out. Bummer. It was at my lowest point that I looked down and found something - and as I hiked on I found another one, then five more, then ten more, then 20 more - holy cow! They were piles of wild burro scat, and they were everywhere! It looked like the wild burro that I had seen up here last month had somehow made it down through the big bluffline and was living on this flat bench next to the river - and he was getting plenty to eat as evidenced by all the scat. I never saw him today, but he no doubt was not too far away.
The sun remained out, but what the heck, I had already come so far that I decided to just go have a look at the waterfall anyway. And so I did. EUREKA! Turned out that the entire waterfall was still in the shadow of the big mountain that rose next to it, and so I was able to get the picture that I needed. And what a wonderful spot it was too!
Just as I left to head back to the cabin, another cloud passed in front of the sun. Hum, I thought. There was another waterfall close by that I had discovered way back BP (before Pam, which means in the 1990's), but had never photographed. It was a LONG steep hike to get up to the base of it (it pours off of the top of the main bluffline that runs through the wilderness area), but luckily I found a narrow deer trail that helped me along. The sun started a game of tag with the clouds - sunny, then clouds, then sun again, then a few moments of clouds. An hour later I had a couple of different angles of the waterfall with me at the base for scale. This is a TALL waterfall, and in fact it will probably become the second tallest waterfall in the entire wilderness area - but I have to return with my measuring tape to know for sure - I would guess it to be in the range 70 feet.
The first time I found this waterfall eons ago it was actually running as a triple falls. Today it was about one and a half, but still quite wonderful. WAY up high, there is a large old, twisted cedar tree that hangs out over the edge in between the falls - I bet that tree is hundreds of years old. There are lots of umbrella magnolia trees living around the base of the waterfall that were long past bloom now, but it was at this waterfall the first time around where I sat and became overwhelmed by the intense tropical aroma of all the big magnolia blooms - I've never seen the wilderness quite like that since.
By this time I was pretty exhausted, soaked from my own sweat, and was out of water. And I still have a long, tough hike back out. I bid the tall falls farewell and started the steep scramble down to the creek, but I got kind of sidetracked along the way. There was a really neat waterfall that I just had to go photograph, and then another waterfall-cascade below that one that was very impressive. I spent the next hour working with these two waterfalls, and then, finally, it was time to begin the journey back home.
I made it back down to the creek and part way up the other side - I figured on saving some torment to my feet and body by spending as much time hiking through the woods as I could instead of along the creek, which often produced slick conditions and falls. The only issue was that I was almost totally out of steam - no breakfast, out of water, physically exhausted, with the worst part of the trip ahead of me! I was able to utilize an emergency water filtration straw to get some water, and I also filled up one of my water bottles from the pristine waters of the tall waterfall, but soon I had sucked all of that down.
I ended up stopping to rest at least a dozen times on the hike out - I simply could go not further. One place I stopped I started to look around and was kind of startled to discover that I was in the middle of several GIANT rock slabs - the size of our cabin or larger - each one totally covered with bright green moss. A couple of them had mature trees growing out of the tops. And there was a very large grape vine growing up the side of one rock slab, and then the vine had reached out and grabbed a hold of a giant beech tree that was growing in between two big slabs of stone. It was then I realized that there were about a dozen of these large beech trees, with very solid bases and quite tall, although I could not see the tops of any of them since the vegetation was so dense. Wow, it was one amazing place I just happened to stop at!
Then I finally reached the side of the really big hillside that I needed to climb up - four or five more rest stops later I was standing at the base of the big bluffline, which was glowing bright red in the afternoon sun. Did I say AFTERNOON? Good grief, it would be nearly 2pm before I got back to the cabin - so much for my quick two-hour hike (that started at 6am)! I was filthy and beaten down when I arrived, barely able to crawl out of the car and up onto the front porch of the cabin. But my lovely bride nursed me back to health with lunch and about a gallon of ice water. It took me several more hours before I could fully walk across the room.
It is very late at night now and it does not look like I'll get to go process any of the images taken before yesterday afternoon, but I have included some of the ones from last night and this morning - I'll get to the rest of them eventually. After a very disappointing and dry spring here in the Ozarks, we are finally getting some very nice waterfalls - and I hope many of you have had the chance to get out and visit some of them!
And here are a few waterfalls from Thursday, and Friday morning...
Jack White Falls, Cub Hollow Falls, Belle Starr Falls, Twin Falls, Phipps Branch Falls
This last waterfall above is Wild Burro Falls
05/24/10 The alarm went off at 2am this morning - that is a signal that I am now pretty much recovered from my extended treks into the Ozark jungle last week. I wanted to take a picture of the daisies up in Aspen's meadow - like many blooming plants they are going nuts this year and just about cover the entire meadow. So I spent a couple of hours trying to balance the brightness of the moonlight on the flowers and the stars in the night sky. During many of the long exposures I had plenty of time to just stand there in the meadow and soak it all in. The air was warm and heavy with moisture - I had to keep wiping dew off the lens after each shot. At first, there was no sound - a perfect 0 on my nighttime sound chart. But as dawn approached a whippoorwill woke up at the far end of the meadow and started to sing - or actually CRY out. Then he moved to a closer tree and got louder. Finally he flew over and landed in the top of a tree just 50 feet away from me - holy cow he was LOUD! Eventually some songbirds and crickets woke up and created a chorus.
The resulting photo is not one made by careful composition like is normally the case with me. I did not want to disturb any of the flowers so I simply walked out to a spot that looked good in the dim moonlight, set my tripod firmly into the ground, attached the camera, zoomed out, leveled the camera, and started taking pictures - I never moved the tripod the entire time, only varying the exposure and focus point.
We had a monumental event here at the cabin yesterday afternoon. My lovely bride loves fresh eggs in the morning, as do I, and we figured it was about time we started to produce our own brand of Cloudland eggs. Pam has been in chicken mode all week, and has landed on the species she wants, and the requirements for their roost. Turns out we already had a perfect facility already here, but it required a new location. So we called her dad over to run the operation, with me supervising, and thanks to good old boy thinking (me being lazy), it only took a few minutes to pick up the solid oak outhouse and move it from one side of the compound to the other. We now have a neat hillbilly chicken coop in place and ready for some birds! I originally bought the outhouse with the thought that I would use it when the power/water conked out (this was BP, so just me here, and a tiny well of only 100 gallons total). But as soon as it was delivered (by the mayor of Fayetteville, the honorable Dan Coody, who was coming out in his pickup truck for a party), folks immediately started to take pictures of it - it became an attraction in itself. I figured it might not be a good idea to have a stinky attraction here, so the outhouse has never been put into use. It will be great for the chickens, and we can see it right out the cabin window so Pam can keep an eye on her eggs!
The other day while in the middle of one of my difficult scrambles up a steep hillside in the jungle, I came upon a brilliantly beautiful lone wild rose clinging to the side of the mountain. As I sat there on the ground trying to catch my breath and marvel at this little wonder that was beaming joy to the world, I got to thinking about the mom of a good friend of ours who passed away during the week. She grew up in the wild and rugged rural Arkansas backcountry and had to have been one tough bird to not only survive in that environment, but flourish. Yet every time that I met her she was a lovely, classy lady who held herself with such grace - she would have been right at home at any king's table. She was indeed the wild rose, and will forever bloom in our Ozark hills.
'Tis Monday - the very best day of the week - and I wish you a grand one!
05/27/10 The air is filled with sweetness today - sounds of happy birds just waking up to greet the new day, cool air that has been swept clean from recent storms, and beautiful early soft light gently kissing the landscape awake.
We've spent a lot of time the past couple of days dodging big thunderstorms, and running around trying to keep our computers and other electrical equipment from getting blown up by them. At one point the local radar showed more than 20 of the bright RED thunderstorms in our area - those are the ones that could destroy thousands of bucks worth of equipment in a single flash. (Sorry, but contrary to popular sales hype, surge "protectors" DO NOT WORK when lightning strikes nearby, nor will the company actually pay a claim for damage - a total waste of money.) So we work as long as we can, then run around frantically shutting down and unplugging computers when the storms get too close. At times this week we've had five computers running at once so we have been busy bees!
We've been using the wireless connection on the iPam some to track the storms while the other computers have been unplugged - it has been fun to watch these big storms come sweeping right on by, most of the time not dropping a single drop of rain. Yesterday evening there was a big one that developed in northern Boxley Valley and ran right on up the valley past us - we could see all the rain and lightning that was at times just a few feet away, but nary a drop fell on the cabin and the storm raced on upstream to the south and finally disappeared.
The other day I was out on a short ramble just before dark to test out a new pair of snake-proof gaiters when I noticed the sides of all the trees light up with this beautiful color - it had been cloudy most of the day and so no direct light. I got out of the cabin without even my little snapshot camera so all I could do was marvel at the glowing forest. Then it hit me - the light was on the WRONG side of the trees! It was coming from the east - at sunset? When I finally got to an opening in the forest where I could see out I realized that the light was coming from a giant thunderhead that was sitting right on top of Mossville a couple of miles to the east, and the setting sun was bouncing off the big cloud and shining right on over onto our mountain. The cloud was glowing different shades of pink and orange. And in the middle of it all there was a patch of blue sky - with a 3/4 moon shining through! It was all very odd, and spectacular! (here is the cloud after the moon went into hiding again)
Yesterday morning I made a made dash out the door before sunrise to hike into an area of three waterfalls that looked like had received a couple of inches of rain overnight. They were all pretty easy to get to - all in a row right along the Ozark Highlands Trail. But all that rain had been soaked up by the landscape and the waterfalls were not running well enough for photos. What I did discover was the fact that with all of the rains of late, combined with the open canopy above from the ice storm last year, the hiking trail was already overgrown with tall weeds - it is very early in the summer for this to happen, but conditions are just right and so we have the lush weeds. The trail was easy to follow, but just a warning to hikers - be sure to wear LONG PANTS for any hikes on wilderness trails in Arkansas from now on this summer!
One note about ticks and snakes - even though I've been bushwhacking through some of the thickest of the thick jungle that you would ever encounter in Arkansas, I've only seen one poisonous snake all year, and I've only been pulling off one or two ticks a day. Wear bug spray, and watch out for snakes, but don't let the threat of them keep you from enjoying the woods!
My lovely bride has been busy working on the new ARKANSAS WILDFLOWERS guidebook that we are publishing for the regional wildflower expert, Don Kurz. We are really excited about this new guidebook - it will be much easier to use than anything available for Arkansas before, and will be filled with Don's great flower photographs. Pam just completed scanning many of those (our dining table has been set up as the scanning station this week - another computer we've had to worry about shutting down as storms approach!). Don has been out crisscrossing the state making sure he has new photographs of all the species - more than 400 of them! Pam will do all of the design and layout work with Don's text starting next week, and we expect to have the book available this fall.
Speaking of Don Kurz, it was great to have a visit from him at Cloudland the other day - always a treat to be in the company of such a botanical wizard as he! If you ever get the chance to go on a hike with Master Kurz it will be well worth your time.
My sister and her husband from Illinois also stopped by for a visit this week, and we spent a delightful day just sitting around and visiting - something I almost NEVER do. The weather was nice and hawks put on quite a show right out in front of us as they soared and dove and played in the air currents above Whitaker Creek.
I've been mostly over in the gallery/print room working on some new canvas prints for the ArtFest show in Bentonville in a couple of weeks, and continuing the process of editing pictures for the Arkansas Autumn picture book that I'm SUPPOSED to have done by next week - I'll be a little bit late on that one I suspect, although there will be several all-nighters in my near future - sometimes I get in that zone and I just keep on working 'til dawn.
No bears yet, but I expect to see one every time I look out the window. We've probably had some circling the cabin since the dogs have thrown fits several times - they have a different fit for bears than for people. Now that I have posted this, we'll probably get hit by a bear tonight! (garbage is in the freezer so he won't get much)
Wildflowers in Mom's meadow have exploded of late - May was her month and she wants to make sure that we remember her! Not a day goes by...
The sun has now appeared above the ridge to the east and its warming rays are touching the sea of clouds below - causing them to wake up and start to move around and head out for their appointed rounds. Nothing but blue sky above, but many of those baby clouds will rise up and become puffy white clouds that may drift past your window later today and create a daydream or two...
05/28/10 I've gotten into a rhythm these days when I am here for the 5am wake-up call, I sit outside on the back deck that overlooks the great Buffalo River and Whitaker Creek canyons, sipping on a cup of French Vanilla Coffeemate-laced coffee from our Keurig machine. Sometimes there is total silence, and stillness, and darkness, and then as my senses gradually ease into the new day, so does the sound, movement, and light of the wilderness. This morning it was kind of a shock with two out of the tree - the airwaves were filled with high-pitched sounds of at least a dozen different brands of birds singing and playing, and as a bit of bass backup, the river far below, hidden under a sea of clouds, boomed up a voice in low tones, throbbing to the beat of the movement of the water. Breaking the dimness of twilight, a BRIGHT, full, yellow moon hung low in a pink western sky - no actually, in the southwestern sky, in fact VERY far SOUTH! I just realized - and then ran outside to double check - that the moon would be on a path to set to the left/south of the Buffalo Fire Tower that we can see from here some five miles away. I don't recall the moon ever setting that far south. The sun sets just to the right/north of the fire tower on December 21st, but never quite gets directly behind or to the left of it from our vantage point.
Last year, when I had my big wildlife lenses and special wildlife camera, I was able to get to a location on the other side of the fire tower that was only a mile away from it, so that I could photograph the rising moon directly behind the fire tower, with both looming large in the picture. But today I had neither the big lens nor camera, so any attempt I would make to get a photo of this marvelous event this morning would be faint in comparison. But still, it was a great event, and I left my keyboard here long enough to sprint across the compound to get my biggest lens and camera, then set up on the lower back deck to photograph the progression of the big bright moon as it sunk into the distant ridgetop to the left of the fire tower.
And now I have to wonder if this has happened here before, and I had always been somewhere else chasing the moonset, or glued to the keyboard? Certainly it has, since I doubt the moon carved a brand new path just today! I shall be more observant as the years - and the moonsets - roll on...