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CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - September 2014

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Cloudland Cabin Cam September 29 - moonset (those trees are five miles away)

Journal updated the 30th - morning and lunch updates added

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Prints Of The Week - Popcorn tree leaf (above); Godbeams, cabin, and stars (below)

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FALL COLOR PHOTO WORKSHOPS

09/01/14 The sky was filled with flashes of light at 5 this morning (looked like a thunderstorm down south somewhere). Treetops danced and twisted to the beat of high winds tossing them around. Every now and then the winds would ease up, and sometimes come to a complete stop - dead still all around. And then I could hear them - in fact the "silence" of the wilderness was quite LOUD! Many different species of night bugs and tree frogs screaming. And then a barred owl would cry out - he was in a nearby tree and his voice crystal clear. Another owl would answer. Then another pair would strike up a conversation off in another direction. And a third pair - or had one of the other owls moved to a new location? At one point I heard five of six different owls calling out. As the wind picked up again the bugs and birds vanished into the rhythm of the breezes.

By dawn the air was completely still, no owls, and bugs and frogs seemed to have gone to sleep, with only a chorus of crickets keeping up the music. The landscape had gotten lighter, but the sky remained dark, and a layer of clouds moved closer to the ground. By 9am we had a very soft light rain with cool temps. Yup, I believe we have left summer behind, and are seeing the beginning of early autumn in the High Ozarks.

There is a box filled with puppy toys over there in the corner of the cabin. The pups have a few favorites, but most of the time they prefer items they harvest from outside - rocks, leaves, plants that have been ripped out of the ground, and sticks, lots of sticks. For a while the cabin would be littered with many different sticks, each one having been debarked - and so there were scraps of bark all over the floor as well. I would sweep everything up at least once a day, and toss out all the sticks. Then my lovely bride came up with a brilliant idea. She selected two debarked sticks and kept them - one long and skinny, the other shorter and fatter with a fork. Whenever we would collect the toys and replace in their toy box, those two sticks would go in the same box right along with the store-bought toys. Son of a gun, those two sticks are almost always the first to the dogs select to drag out of the box and play with! And since the bark has already been removed, the cabin remains a lot cleaner - my wife is a genius!

The other "toy" we've figured out to use are ice cubes. Whenever the pups get to being especially "chewy" we pull out a pair of ice cubes - they LOVE them! And not only are they great to relieve pain from their teething, but our pine floor is so slick, it is like an ice hockey rink in here with the pups are running around chasing those ice cubes! When the pups first arrived we removed all rugs and pushed the furniture out of the way so the room is mostly open and they have a large rink to move around in without messing up too much. (FYI, I made one final post for August yesterday the 31st)

09/08/14 It began to rain lightly just before sunrise. I was out in the woods with the pups enjoying the cool and crisp sweetness of an early fall day. When I heard the raindrops I paused and looked upward, closed my eyes and waited for those chilled drops from heaven to splash. But none did. I could hear raindrops hitting, but none were finding me! Turns out the forest was grabbing all the drops before they could reach the ground. The forest was alive with the rhythm of the rain, and I just stood there and soaked it up, without acting getting wet. Then I hiked on. Eventually the trees got saturated and the rain began to filter on down to me. It was kind of like being massaged by tiny, soft, ice pellets - the water was cold, but felt great!

We took the bookmobile on a test run up to Petit Jean State Park last week to see how the pups would do while camping. We've had three different trips scheduled out west this past few months and have had to cancel all of them, but hope to be able to make it to Colorado or Wyoming before workshop and program season kicks in. Petit Jean is on one of the best parks in the United States, and it does Arkansas proud. It was just after the Labor Day holiday weekend and so most of the park was empty - well, almost. There are four campgrounds clustered together. The RV campground was nearly full - only a couple of spots open. The next campground was nearly empty with only one tent and one camper trailer. Then a couple of motorcycles pulled in, each towing a pop-up camper - I'd never seen anything like that before - really nice!

We tend to prefer camping by ourselves, and avoid normal campgrounds and RV parks unless forced to stay there. The other two campground at Petit Jean were empty - not a single camper. These two campgrounds are totally woods and are much more private to begin with. I must give the state park staff credit - even though it was right after the big holiday weekend and I'm sure the place was packed, all the facilities were squeaky clean, no trash - like the maid had just been there to clean up! We were amazed there were no other campers in either campground. Dogs are not allowed to run free in parks, and we hate to always have them tied up, so we set up a cheap screen tent at our little campsite in the woods. This worked out really well for all concerned. We spent a good bit of time out with the dogs on a leash, but then retired to the screen tent and the pups could romp around inside and not be literally "tied down" all the time.

The next morning we toured the Bear Crack trail, which winds through narrow canyons in exposed cap rock - a tall sandstone formation that is great for kids, and also for puppies! (the trails are in the BOTTOM of the narrow canyons, so the area is pretty safe - no great heights to fall from) At one point the pups had led us up into a dead-end canyon, and then we all stopped to have a look around, a bunch of pigeons that had been roosting overhead burst into the air and made a lot of noise - that REALLY got the pups attention! They are after all, BIRD dogs, and they got pretty excited. I tried to take a group photo of everyone, but the pups spent most of their time trying to figure out how to get up to where the birds where - it was kind of funny.I finally manged to get a group photo with the dogs looking at the camera.

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We also had a real sit-down breakfast at the beautifully-restored Mather Lodge. That has to be one of the best views in the state for dining - and oh my goodness the food was GREAT too! The setting kind of reminded me of the lunch we had at Waterton Lake in Canada a couple of years ago. Both locations HIGHLY RECCOMENDED.

The quick shakedown trip to Petit Jean went well and the pups were comfortable in the van. They will be going with us on most program trips this upcoming season, and the fact that they ride well in there is a big plus!

I spent some time this past weekend up on the roof of the cabin cleaning out the gutters. I knew it was time when my lovely bride said something about the small TREE that was growing out of the gutter! While I was up there I discovered what has to be a world record hickory nut - part of a GIANT PAIR of nuts! The large one is about three inches across. Seems to be a lot of large nuts this year - note to self - while hiking through hickory forest this fall watch out for falling nuts!

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We've had the pups out for at least one long hike a day this past week, and besides large nuts we've also been finding a lot of fresh bear scat. We had a bear at the cabin early in the summer, but nothing since then other than scat on the road. Seems the bears are dining on green persimmons right now, which is mostly what their scat is composed of (the seeds). I've only managed to find a couple of persimmon trees with fruit on them, but the fall fruit season is almost upon us.

Speaking of all, so far the early color has been late - almost none to report. That's mostly due to all the rain we've had which tends to delay color. The forest is really healthy, and I'm expecting a pretty terrific color season late next month.

Just a note - we still have a few spaces in our FALL COLOR PHOTO WORKSHOPS. No experience is necessary, and you don't need any more equipment other than your camera and at least one lens. Other equipment is helpful, but not required. Lots of folks think you need to be an expert to attend one of these classes, but actually novice shooters get much more out of them.

09/10/14 BANG! CRACK! POOOOPPPPP!!! We're getting hammered tonight with bright slaps of lighting and the assorted loud, sharp sounds that go along with it. Some of those have been several seconds after the flash; others have been many seconds later; some have been INSTANT!!! Funny thing about our internet. The phone company installed two short towers recently that bumped the speed of our internet five times faster (from 1mb to 5 mb) literally overnight. Only problem is that any storm clouds disrupt the signal between their towers and our internet is lost. Just when there is a dangerous storm baring down on us and we need the internet and doppler radar the most, we have zero DSL. Tonight the internet has been out for at least the past five hours - the amount of time we've had storm clouds rolling through. Bummer. Getting "Dish" or another satellite service won't help - those go out during storms too. Cell service is stark out here at best, so that doesn't help.

But the rest of the time our internet is quite zippy to us and we are happy campers! Oh I remember with great fondness good old dial up.....

I had a Cloudland Moment a couple of nights ago. It was late - near midnight on the night of the full moon - and I was taking a shower outside. It was SO BRIGHT out! I think I spent more time gazing up and staring at the moon through the trees than I did washing off. Kind of weird to be showing in the middle of the woods and bathed with moonlight, but then I guess taking a shower these days INDOORS is rather odd to me.

Anyway, after my shower while walking back to the door of the cabin I stepped right smack on a GIANT TOAD! Talk about feeling odd! You know how toads are - with most things besides car tires, those guys are so fat they just spread out as wide as needed to absorb the impact, then reform themselves back in to a toad shape once the impact (my foot) has been removed. I returned to the shower for another minute or two, and paid more attention to my footsteps after that.

Speaking of wildlife, my lovely bride spotted a large WOODCHUCK feeding at the edge of our carport the other day - first one we've ever seen out here on the mountain. If he hangs around it will be interesting to see what the pups will do with him when they make that discovery. We've not found any den holes yet, nor have seen the woodchuck again, so perhaps he was just passing through, but how in the world did he get out here to begin with?

09/16/14 I was out watering the dogs late tonight and there was a sweet scent in the air - flowers blooming somewhere out there in the night. And oh my goodness, it was LOUD! I guess they are all tree frogs, or what I've always called "night bugs" even though they are mostly not bugs. It was cool, with a slight breeze, and the dogs and I wandered off into the woods a little bit, out of sight of the warm glow of the cabin. No stars tonight, although the past several nights have been pretty darn clear and spectacular upstairs!

I took the dogs on a long ramble several days ago when the sky was down low in the treetops, and the air was thick, and wet, and white. Whenever I would stop and concentrate, I could see millions of tiny "mist drops" streaking across the view - they really showed up against dark backgrounds. It was not really rain, yet more than just mist.

The afternoon air was also quite cool and breezy - the sort that you want to hike on through. And we did, for nearly two hours. It was a true "ramble" - we headed out with no particular destination nor route in mind. We ended up following several top-of-the-ridge hay meadows that were almost all connected in one fashion or another. Some had recently been mowed and were more like strolling across a thick lawn; others had not been mowed in a while and had waist-high and very WET brush. The heavy air cast very soft light, and the moisture saturated pastel colors of green and brown and gray - all so very soft and LUSH!

It was so easy to hike along - almost like floating across the meadows. Well, I was floating - the pups were RUNNING FULL BLAST! They are bird dogs, and their MO is to cover a field from one side to the other, and then back again. There were not birds in these meadows - well, not game birds anyway. There were lots of finches and other little birds both on the ground and up in the bushes, especially along the edges of the meadows.

We came over the hill and into a small meadow and found an 8-point buck standing on his hind legs with his head up into a persimmon tree that was LOADED with green fruit. He looked over at us like we had found his secret stash. And in a way we had. This began a long line of persimmon trees alOng the edge of the hay meadow that all were LOADED WITH GREEN FRUIT - some of them riper than others and getting some nice color.

I had been wondering where all the persimmon seeds came from that the bears were eating and leaving in the middle of the road - we found the mother load! I counted more than 47 trees that were full of ripening fruit!

It was a GREAT day to be out in such ideal weather conditions roaming around with my two new pups (and Lucy too!).

A couple of other notes from rambles through the fields and forests. Pam and I were out with the dogs a ways from the cabin just drifting around, when all of a sudden we both heard the ding of an incoming e-mail. First off, there was no cell service in the area. But that would not have mattered anyway since we did not have cell phones with us (I almost never carry one in the woods). We both independently and immediately identified the sound as coming from a cell phone, announcing a new e-mail message had been received. Very weird. Have some plants in the forest evolved to the point where they can mimic other sounds?

I found a beautiful red wild plum on the ground yesterday. There were several scattered on the forest floor. I polished the little fruit to a brilliant red, then took a bite. My first impression was one of joy - wild fruit in the wilderness. But that quickly turned to a sour pucker - it was NOT READY for eating just yet!

Our pawpaw patch has a lot of green fruit hanging high, but it will probably be another couple of weeks or longer before they ripen and begin to fall. That's how you tell when it is time to eat a pawpaw - got to be on the ground. Something about the trip from branch to forest floor that makes this fruit especially sweet!

We continue to see large spotted deer - fawns nearly at large as their mom's.

Yesterday afternoon the air was completely still. The sound track of the forest sounded like everyone was holding their breath and waiting for something to happen. And I guess they are. The "feeling" of early fall is beginning to creep into the landscape - not just tinges of color, but just the overall look and smell of it all. Sometimes I want to get down on all fours and crawl around on the forest floor to get a better look.

A few dogwood leaves are beginning to turn color, but a lot of dogwood berries are taking on that brilliant RED shine - I think it is going to be a great dogwood fall color season.

I'm off to town tomorrow to pick up our prints from the Compton Gardens display. We've had a number of folks call lately to request a gallery appointment, but we won't have the gallery back into shape for that for at least another month - sorry, but there is little on the walls for you to see! We hope to have the gallery stocked at 50% by October 16th, although it will be set up for photo workshops with tables and chairs. Our first open house (with 50-60 prints or more) will be on November 15th.

Our new picture book is done and is in transit to us - we expect delivery here by the end of October or early November. Both of our new calenders should arrive within the next 2-3 weeks - I'll be sure to post their arrival date. We are especially pleased with the quality of printing for all three items.

09/18/14 We had some major storms roll through yesterday afternoon and evening, bringing lots of thunder boomers and one major rainstorm that dumped a ton of COLD water in a short period. One funny note I have to share from yesterday that includes a weather component.

When I got home from being in town all day I found a large box that had been literally dumped in the front yard by FedX (not sure if it was the "ground" division, the "home delivery" division, or some other division - fedx has many different divisions/companies all under the same umbrella). It was pouring rain - a really heavy downpour that felt like glacier water - it was really COLD! Since the fedx guy left the box in the yard, out in the open, it was soaked. A few minutes later the UPS guy arrived to deliver a package, and he immediately stepped out of his van and offered to move the fedx box under cover for me (he knew that I'm physically handicapped at the moment and could not move the fedx box by myself). We have the BEST UPS drivers on the planet! I wish the rest of the world did their jobs the way that our UPS driver does his...

Some have asked for more photos of our pups and an update on how big they are getting. I submit the following photo for your info. It seems that Wilson (five months old) has just about outgrown Amber (21 years old).

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09/19/14 Heavy fog at first light today...

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09/20/14 A SPECTACULAR clear, cool, calm, and beautiful night tonight! Even though I just read something that said we could only see about 4500 stars total with our naked eyes, it seems like there were zillions of them out tonight. The Milky Way was especially brilliant, standing straight and tall.

And then a Cloudland Moment happened. I was down in the sun room where we have exercise and rehab equipment. I was just hanging around in one of those upside-down contraptions that I got to try and help my ailing body parts - I call it our batmobile. (Thanks Jason for putting it together!) Anyway, I discovered there was a terrific view of the Milky Way once I was completely inverted, relaxed, and hanging like a bat. It was quite comfortable, and the longer I hung there and looked at the stars, the more of them I could see. Such an incredible sight for sure! And then BAM!!! (Oops, sorry for another batman reference, but in this case it really fit!) A giant hickory nut crashed into the glass directly above me, and it made quite a loud noise. Nothing like one of those to bring me out of my gravity-induced altered state. Not sure if the batmobile is going to work, but so far it feels pretty good.

Speaking of nuts, I've been collecting hickory nuts from the forest around here for days and the largest one I've found is scarcely half the size of the giant nuts we have in the tree here at the cabin - most are 1/3 the size or less. I've never seen hickory nuts anywhere near as large as the ones on our tree. And then I remembered that several years ago that hickory tree that is within ten feet of the cabin got stuck by lightning - in fact I continue to be amazed that it survived. I wonder of that jolt of electricity is what has caused the giant hickory nuts?

Oh yes, here is what the Milky Way looked like while I was hanging upside down in the batmobile. Hope everyone has a grand weekend, and gets the chance to step outside with a loved one and make a wish upon a star, and have that wish come true.

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9/23/14 It's about 3am this morning and I just stepped outside and had a stroll around our campsite. We're camped at 9,200 feet at the edge of a small lake in the San Isabel National Forest in Colorado. I actually don't know the name of the lake - my lovely bride found this small, remote campground as a tiny dot on a map and thought it might be a nice spot to spend our first night in Colorado. She should have been a carpenter because she hit the nail on the head - we stumbled into a SPECTACULAR spot! (near Salida somewhere)

We've been anxiously following the fall color reports online waiting for peak fall color to happen before we headed west, and must say that the aspens are in full bloom in this area, far exceeding anything that is being reported online. This little lake sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains, and is rimmed with a forest of brilliant RED-orange-gold aspens, and large pines. It is an older campground that has been recently upgraded by the forest service and is a neat and tidy place. Each campsite is less than 100' from the edge of the lake, with terrific views all around. The cost is $17 per site, although they don't accept the Federal Lands Pass, which is a bummer since most forest service campgrounds do (policy determined by the contracting company that runs the campground - most forest service campgrounds in the west are run by private companies these day, not the forest service). There are 32 campsites here, and I hear it gets heavy use in the summer, and is nearly full now too (although almost empty when we first arrived yesterday afternoon).

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Yesterday, after sunset, I spent the next hour standing on the shore taking pictures of a group of glowing aspens and their reflections. The wind was nearly completely calm, which is what I needed for the very long exposures I was taking of the trees - it takes a long exposure to get stuff to show up after sunset. I could see every campsite around the lake, and could smell a lot of great cooking going on over campfires! (We both had salads for dinner a couple of hours before.) I have no idea what the picture I took will look like to you since it is always a crap shoot trying to process a photo on a laptop computer, but I hope you get some sense from this photo how lovely the colors were.

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We had planned four trips out west recently - the previous three being cancelled for one reason or another. So it is great to finally be up in the mountains working once again. My goodness I have no idea how we ever did this sort of thing without our van, which is in "photo" mode right now so I guess I should call it the photomobile. As I look around inside the vehicle I count at least five different electronic items that have been plugged in and charging all night (cameras, computers, phones, etc.). There is no electricity in the campground, but we generally don't need any - our van has a pair of "house" batteries that power everything except for the coach air conditioner. We also have a generator, but almost never use it - I HATE those things!

Anyway, as I was just out wandering around in the darkness around the lake it felt like coming home again - there were a lot of stars out, and it just felt great to be gazing up at them once again. Being up at elevation near 10,000 feet the air is thinner and the night sky darker, which means brighter stars. There were also a bunch of clouds drifting across the sky though, so I didn't get to take any Milky Way photos. But there was enough starlight to be able to wander around without aid of a flashlight - AND I didn't have to worry about snakes!

We'll be up in the mountains for a few more days - don't know how long or where we will go - that will depend on the color, weather, and which way the wind is blowing.

Speaking of snakes, I got a good long look at one of our friendly snakes back at Cloudland the other day, a hognose , "puff" or "spreading" adder snake. At first glance these snakes look exactly like a dreaded cottonmouth (a snake I try to avoid). The color and shape really makes me stop in my tracks, step back, and plan an escape route. But the hognose is mostly harmless, and we like having them around. They are the snakes that will spread/flatten/fan their head and raise their head to mimic a little cobra, and it is really fun to watch them! This particular guy went even further and spread his entire body out flat on the ground as wide as he could get it, which showed off his beautiful coloration. When provoked too much, these snakes will simply roll over and play dead.

I did not realize this, but my friend, Jason, who was working on a project for me at the time, said these snakes love toads - we have a lot of toads at Cloudland, and are happy to contribute a few to help feed the hognose snakes (they also tend to chase off poisonous snakes too).

OK, back to Colorado. Once daylight breaks we will be off to hike a trail that begins at the far side of the lake and climbs one of those mountains we can see from here, and winds up through many stands of glowing aspen trees and towering pines. I don't know if there will be any good picture scenes from up there, but I'll never know unless I try. Oh yes, all three pups are with us, and for the new kids this will be their first trip to the mountains. Lucy has been at high elevation a couple of times before.

FYI, there is basically no cell or internet service up here - sometimes we get 1 bar of 1x on our verizon phone - hardly enough for even a text message to get out. But when I connect a special cell booster cradle and "truckers" antenna that I mount on top of the van, the service jumps to a full 3g, and sometimes even 4g service - YIPPIE! I LOVE being in the middle of nowhere, but it is also great to be able to carry on our online and other business activities without having to drive back down into civilization.

09/24/14 Another 3am wakeup call (actually more like 2:30), and a very black sky filled with a zillion stars. We're up at SilverJack Campground, an area filled with some of the largest stands of big white-bark aspens I know of. Colors are mixed here, with another week of changes before it gets really good. But we love this area and wanted to have a look so here we are. Saw a bull moose as soon as we arrived yesterday.

Speaking of yesterday, as daylight began to creep into the landscape back at the other lake, the aspens on the far side of the lake started to glow, so I grabbed my camera gear and hiked around the lake and spent the next 30 minutes standing in one spot. At first, I tried to capture the feeling of the glowing yellows, oranges, and red aspens that sprawled on up a long valley towards bare mountains in the distance. Then the color of light began to change, and I happened to turn around and saw one of the most dramatic and colorful skies I've ever seen anywhere - it literally was like the broken clouds were ON FIRE!

But the wind was blowing and there was no chance to get that brilliance reflected in the lake, so I stood my ground and kept my camera pointed in the opposite direction looking up the valley. Soon some individual clouds began to light up with the same fire in my seen too, although the fire was less intense. Several of the clouds lit up, but most of them remained a dark gray background. The scene before me was wider than my widest lens, so I scrambled to do a series of photographs left and right, up and down, that I could perhaps piece together later to form the entire scene that I could see.

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Just as the color in those clouds began to fade a little bit, it started to rain gently. Clouds produce both beautiful color and rain showers sometimes! That was OK - I find that a little moisture in the air and on the ground boosts the saturation of the scene. And then there is was - a RAINBOW appeared, and it arched directly over the scene I had been shooting - I didn't even have to move my tripod!

The rainbow grew in intensity, and all the dramatic color against the backdrop of the dark clouds and mountains, combined with the peak fall color in the valley - well, it was one of THOSE moments in my career that I just had to stop and gasp in awe at the incredible beauty - WOW!!!

Only problem was - again I did not have a lens that was wide enough to capture the entire scene - in this case, the entire rainbow. There were a few swear words that echoed through that valley and back across the lake. I purchased a lens in August that would have been perfect for this scene - a special ultra wide angle lens that cost $5,000. But I realized we could not afford it, so I sent it back. And then at the end of August I ordered a different and brand new type of lens - again, it was an ultra wide angle lens, same price - $5,000. But even before they shipped it, I cancelled the order for fear that it was just too much money. That lens would have been perfect for both of the scenes I had just shot. I think I did manage to shoot enough of each scene to make up the photos that I needed, but I am going to have to figure out a way to get one of those lenses for next time!

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Oh yes, during the peak of the rainbow event, I happened to turn around and noticed the sky behind me had lit up with an incredible display of God Beams over the lake. So there were TWO spectacular scenes going on at the same time in opposite directions - HELP! I elected to stick with the rainbow and simply glance back once in a while in awe of the God Beams.

When the light show ended I hiked back to the van to find my lovely bride out with the puppies - AND she got a pictures of the rainbow too! While we were standing there at the edge of the lake, a GIANT beaver swam up close to us, then got closer and climbed out of the water and started up the bank towards us - Wilson got especially excited. Then much to our shock and dismay, this HUGE beaver walked within 20 feet of us, ambled right on over to a small aspen tree that was in full color glory, and the little sucker (the beaver) CUT DOWN the tree right there in front of us! I was stunned. But I guess beaver's teeth constantly grow and they have to use them or bad things will happen. He didn't need to build a dam as the lake was already there and full of trout.

It remained overcast with a heavy mist-light rain in the air when we headed off for a hike. We had never been to the area, and there were no signs about trails around, but sometimes I have a nose for such things, and soon our little family was headed up what would turn out to be one of the best hikes I'd personally ever done - a gradual uphill route next to a creek and going up through countless stands of aspen forests that were all blazing away with rich, vivid, saturated colors - MY OH MY! There were tons of giant ponderosa pines too, some of them with really red bark. And forests of spruce trees too. We passed through several meadows where the dogs got out and ran with free abandon. These guys are "springer" spaniels after all, and we got to see them discovering their springer legs as they sprang all over the place! Sometimes we just had to stand and watch and soak it all in. Much of the trail was carpeted with colorful aspen leaves from deep red to brilliant yellow. All around in every direction was just amazing.

One special moment of note - Wilson came bouncing out of a sagebrush and wildflower meadow with a large dried cow pie in his mouth - he was SO PROUD of it! Then he sat down and began to dine. A few minutes later he crawled up into my lovely bride's lap and gave her a big licking kiss on the mouth! I remarked that she would not be kissing me for a while after that. Although come to think of it, there is no one else with cow-pie lips I would rather kiss than Pam!

And Lucy, or beloved 16-year old shelter pup, seemed to get yet another life and ran and pranced and played like we've never seen her do before - she was having a BLAST! All of this going on at 10,000 feet - and any fears we had of the pups being bothered by high altitude - or of Lucy being just too old for a hike like this - drifted away with the breezes. It was one of those moments that lasted a couple of hours that I'll never forget.

And I'm going to have to remember it because my snapshot camera broke, so I have no pictures of our hike. (we took a few with Pam's camera, so maybe I can find one of two of those) But otherwise, I could not think of a more perfect hike.

Later in the day we had trouble climbing Monarch Pass on our way towards our current campsite. The aspen trees along the highway were some of the most incredible that I'd ever seen!!! (sorry, but I have been using that phrase a lot lately, but so true) We literally had to pull off and stop around nearly every corner. Which would be followed by a dozen other cars stopping right along with us. The light was not very good, but no matter, the colors were just STUNNING! Our gasping for breath was not because of the altitude...

Today we are going to take an early hike up to a nearby lake, then drive up and over Owl Creek Pass and down to Ridgeway - much of the original True Grit movie True was filmed in that area, and it really does look and feel like John Wayne country. Our route for the day will include the Million Dollar Highway south from Ouray up to Red Mountain and perhaps Silverton (reportedly peak color now); then up north to Kebler Pass, one of the largest stands of aspen in the country (near Crested Butte, and listed as the largest living thing in America since the giant stands of aspen are interconnected underground and considered a single organism). Since we travel with both our hotel room and restaurant on our backs, we can stop and stay anywhere we like, so our route is subject to change...

09/26/14 3am and I just got back to the van after a stroll under a beautiful starry night sky. Right now the Milky Way stretches directly overhead from east to west. We're camped just outside of Frisco, Colorado, at one of the best campsites ever! This is what seems like a fairly new forest service campground with more than 100 sites, but there are only THREE campers in the entire campground! We literally have a 360 degree view of mountains all around us, and a 180 degree view of the big lake directly in front and below our site. And all of this just a couple of miles outside of town.

I used to know every little spot in the country where I could pull off for the night, and all the little campgrounds that no one else knew about. But that has all changed with the explosion of growth in the US of late, and now I must rely on electronics to find great places to camp - or rather on my lovely bride to find them! She has this little app from Alstays that we've used almost every night on this trip, and it has been perfect for finding these campgrounds. Some of those campgronds have been PACKED this week, others deserted.

We've spent the last couple of days coming down out of the high country from Owl Creek Pass to Ridgeway (some great peak aspen color up at the pass, but on the western side nearly all still green); then headed north and back up high towards Kebler Pass. This area has one solid aspen grove for miles and miles and miles - listed as the largest living thing in North America. The western slopes were still mostly green, but once we got to the Lost Lake Campground area, the colors EXPLODED! And so did the photographers.

There were so many nature photographers with stuffed photo vests and big tripods crawling all over the place that you could not swing a dead skunk without hitting one! And this was in the middle of the week - I would hate to be up in this area this coming weekend. (Most of them were shooting when the light was really bad, and it appeared they all went back to camp as the really great light of evening approached.) But I could not blame them - 'tis one of the most spectacular fall color locations on the planet, and so easy to reach with terrific scenes all along the road. Of course, I can't complain - I take up exactly the same amount of space as any other human, and if I am in a spot I add exactly one to the crowd just like everyone else!

Some of you may know that I am extremely shy when I get around people, especially other photographers - I just don't care to be around other people when I'm working. And since there were so many photographers, I only stopped to take one picture, after sunset during twilight. I'm sure there were thousands of great photos snapped elsewhere.

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We needed to move out of the high country for the night and found a tiny forest service campground right on the banks of the Gunnison River that was just perfect for us - and only $5 with our Access Pass! We were up and on the road again by first light, headed back up and over Monarch Pass down through more and more spectacular color.

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Then we worked our way up the Arkansas River Valley, stopping in Buena Vista to visit a small quilt shop to get some special "Colorado" material. A side trip up through what is perhaps my most favorite valley in all of Colorado, from Twin Lakes along the Lakes River towards Independence Pass. Again, middle of the week and there were thousands of people out doing the very same thing we were - enjoying the absolutely INCREDIBLE color display all around! It was one of those WOW! areas in all directions. I'd never seen such complete peak color before. Oh my!

We took the pups on a hike through a mile of more long stand of towering aspens, and while the light was terrible for pictures, it was another great hike and we enjoyed just passing through the incredible scenery. Oh, and the wind was not blowing and we got to see amazing reflections of all the great color surrounding Twin Lakes - even in the middle of the day the lake was calm! Even Mt. Elbert got into the act (highest point in Colorado), with groves of colorful aspens climbing high up its flanks.

One funny puppy story. While stopped at one incredible spot along the river - with whitewater, and spectacular glowing aspens all around - a young lady who had been having her picture taken in the creek came over to visit Wilson, our almost-six-month-old springer spaniel puppy - who right now is at the absolute peak of his adorableness. Anyway, this lady was all smiles an big boobs, and as soon as she approached, Wilson rolled over on his back and started to squirm. As she bent down to rub his belly, Wilson shot a yellow geyser high into the air - a classic puppy moment! That's my boy!

We continued up into the very beginning of the Arkansas River, then dropped down towards I-70 - more and more beautiful stands of aspens the entire way. And then I nudged my lovely bride to fire up the App and find a spot for the night. We were both a little stunned to find our present campsite, just outside of town with such an incredible view, and NO PEOPLE! (Prospector Campground) We had a quiet and very scenic last night in Colorado, as the sky all around us lit up with incredible color at and after sunset, and we even got to see a bit of a lightning show in the sky above Breckenridge.

In an hour or two we will head out of the mountains, stop at IKEA in Denver, then head home. It has been an amazing trip, but I find I'm always ready to be back home - good thing it is DOWNHILL all the way!

NOTE to anyone who as placed a book or print order this week - they will all ship on Monday. THANKS for your patience while we took our work on the road..

09/30/14 A beautiful golden crescent moon hung low in the southwestern sky last night. There were already lots of stars out, but the closer the moon got to the horizon, the darker the sky got and the more stars woke up to come out and play. I attached the biggest lens that I had and took a series of photographs as the color of the moon grew more intense. The view through a long telephoto lens of an event like the moon sinking into the horizon is quite amazing - that moon moves pretty darn fast once it hits the treeline. I paused for a moment to listen, and realized that the wilderness had gone silent - it was like the landscape was holding its collective breath and watching the same event I was. Once the golden moon had disappeared, the night bugs, tree frogs, and hoot owls returned, and the chatter reached a climax in just a minute or two. (see the cabin cam for the photo)

A couple of days ago while out on a hike with the pups I witnessed something I'd never seen in the wild before - or in the tame either. As we were approaching the Faddis meadow I saw a flock of very large turkeys - long beards on every one of the dudes. They stood pretty tall, in fact they were REALLY tall! They were just kind of milling around not really paying too much attention to me or the pups. And then all of a sudden a spotted fawn burst onto the scene, and ran wildly right towards the flock of giant turkeys. It was a pretty large fawn as you would expect this time of year, but its spots were still quite easy to see and well colored and defined.

Then BAM! The fawn ran right smack into one of the gobblers! I burst out laughing - it was SO funny! And then I realized - those turkeys were REALLY big - the fawn simply bounced off the gobbler and continued on his merry way.

We made a quick exit of Colorado, spent the night in a Kansas rest area, then got home the next day and started to work on catching up. It was a great trip west, but never long enough. I hear the colors in Colorado are really blazing now - with recent snow in the mountains making a perfect backdrop. I'm expecting an epic fall color season right here in Arkansas this year too - I can't wait!!!

FYI, we have posted our 2014 Holiday Slide Program schedule and Holiday Open House dates at our Canvas Prints Gallery. With all those events, plus photo workshops and work on my new picture book (that will take me all over Arkansas), it is going to be a very busy next few months - just the way we like it (sorry Pam - we'll get to sleep in January...)! The 2015 calendars should arrive in the next week, and the new picture books will follow by the end of the month. In the meantime, summer is now history, so BRING ON AUTUMN IN ARKANSAS!

MORNING UPDATE. I forgot to mention that it was TORTURE waking up at the cabin this morning! My lovely bride had two crock pots filled with Kalua Pork (8.32 pounds, total cost $20.57) that was just about ready (requires 20 hours of cooking - she started them yesterday). Those who have had it over on the islands or elsewhere know what I'm talking about. The cabin was FILLED with the intense aroma, yet I was not allowed to sample it until lunch! Our own Cloudland twist to this incredible dish - I'm about ready to finish off the pig in a dutch oven outside - gives it a little something extra.

LUNCH UPDATE - holy COW this is good! (or actually, holy PIG)

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