Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Buffalo River and the Big Dam Bridge, again

I live just 3.5 miles from the Big Dam Bridge.
I thought I would throw that out there since it seems like I spend a lot of time taking pictures out there. Proximity counts, especially with gas costing both an arm and a leg these days. So with that in mind, I managed to spend a lot of time down at the Big Dam Bridge last week. Two nights, to be exact.

On Tuesday there seemed to be the makings of a neat sunset, so as soon as I got off work I grabbed the camera and made the 3.5 mile drive to the bridge. The weather was odd that night. It had stormed earlier that day, and still looked like it would pour down rain at any second. Yet there was a neat sunset too.

Rainy Sunset

The odd thing is that while the sun was putting on a show over by Pinnacle, it had started to rain at the bridge.

Staring at the Sun

I had to make a decision - stay there at the bridge and risk having the rain damage the camera, or go to the car to get an umbrella and miss the sunset. I decided to stay:

Red sky at night...

Luckily it wasn't raining that hard, so the camera survived. The water at the dam was running very high, and was thundering below the bridge where it comes out from the dam:

Like A (big dam) Bridge Over Troubled Water

Big Dam Sunset

The sunset was starting to fade, so the focus went back to the bridge itself. I'm sure I looked like a nutcase to other people on the bridge while trying to set up this shot:

On the level

The tricky part about that shot was that it meant plopping the camera down right by a puddle of water. I did attempt to dry an area off with my shirt sleeve, but mostly was able to just move the water around. The other worry was that if I wasn't careful I could bump the camera and send it flying off the rail and into the muddy river water below.

With the camera safe I made it off the bridge. The river was very high, flooding some of the areas at the base of the bridge. A few feet of water were sitting right where people go fishing.

Come Hell or High Water

Here is a set of stairs that leads to the sidewalk above. The water is probably 3 feet deep there, I guess. Better watch that last step!

Watch that last step...

Luckily it had stopped raining, so there probably wouldn't be a sudden rise of the river that would sweep away anyone dumb enough to stand right there. But since it was starting to get late I tried for one last shot. I ended up staying out there a lot later than planned trying to get this one. There was a bit of something in the sky over the bridge, which I had thought was glare from the lights from the bridge hitting the lens. I tried all sorts of things to try blocking the light from getting in the lens, mostly holding my hands next to the lens in different ways. This only resulted in several shots with blurry hands in it. I ended up giving up on it, and now I think that the spot in the sky is from the lights hitting the low clouds. Oh well.

Big Dam Bridge

There were a few more shots of the bridge that I wanted to get, so I decided to head right back over there the next day. There is an area next to the dam that is usually home of people fishing. It is mostly a spit of land that runs out from the dam like a peninsula. I thought that since the water was up high I'd try to get a shot of the fast water colliding with objects on the beach.

Before heading back out there I stopped by the same places from the night before to see how they looked during the day:

Watch Your Step

And I took this one to do some compare and contrasting.
The view last week:


And then a shot taken last fall:

Bridge, fog, and fishermen

The water looks like it would be over the heads of the people fishing in the bottom picture. Kinda crazy, right? Or am I the only one who would be dorky enough to be impressed by that??

Well there were still lots of people out trying to catch fish, this guy was right by the dam. Now I am no expert on fishing, but it doesn't seem like it would be a good time to fish with the current all crazy like that. It would be a bit scary to see what got kicked up from the bottom of the river:


I went out and claimed a spot along the "beach" there. The river was crashing into the shoreline like waves. I guess since a real beach is several hundred miles away, this is as close as we'll get in Little Rock:

The Breakers

The plan was to find a place where the foreground would have rocks with the water crashing into it, with the Big Dam Bridge in the background. If it was a long exposure, the water would be blurred as it hit the rocks. The plan mostly worked out, but when it was dark enough for the lights on the bridge to look cool, it was almost too dark to see the rocks and water in the foreground.

Big Dam Bridge

It didn't take too long for it to get too dark to see the rocks at all.

Big Dam Bridge

And then finally one last shot before I left:

Big Dam Bridge

If it makes any difference I haven't been back to that Dam Bridge since then. I gave my camera some rest since it would be busy during the weekend. I went up to a wedding that was being held at Buffalo Point along the Buffalo National River.

Buffalo River

I love the Buffalo River. And Buffalo Point is one of the places that I've only been too once up there (it's a bit out of the way). So the prospect of spending the weekend up there was exciting. I even had a plan on doing some experimenting up there with taking pictures of star trails. Star trails are pictures that have long exposures, usually at least over 10 minutes, which create trails from the stars "moving" across the frame while the picture is being taken.

My digital camera requires a special remote that allows it to take exposures over 60 seconds, which I've been too cheap to buy. Instead, I decided to dig out my old film camera and use it instead. On the way out of town I went and did something that I hadn't done in about a year - buy film. I was shocked at how expensive it was. $9. Yup, nine bucks for one roll of film. Granted it was a somewhat fancy film and it had 36 exposures on it, but still.

So I made it up to the River on Friday afternoon. The River was pretty and really made me want to head up there next weekend and just about any free time after that.

Buffalo Point

The wedding was on Saturday, but there was time for people to go and hang out a bit at the river. I went swimming in the river right where the above shot was taken. The water was cold. It was cold enough that it was actually painful to get into it. That really isn't a surprise, since the temperature outside had gotten into the 40's that night.

And here is a view of the river from an overlook:

Buffalo River

After the wedding, on Saturday night I headed back down to the river to try my star trail shot. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and you could see millions of stars. It makes you realize how much of a city person you are when you look up and get amazed to see so many stars in the sky.

I went and tried to set up the camera, but then realized it was going to be a bit more difficult than I imagined. For one thing, I couldn't actually see anything out of the camera viewfinder. So I really had no idea if the camera was even pointed at the sky during the shot, since all I could see was darkness. But I tried, starting an exposure and going back to sit in my car that was parked nearby. As I started though, I got some company. Some park rangers drove up and nicely asked just what was going on. I said that I was shooting star pictures, which they luckily didn't think was that crazy. With a "good luck!" they drove off into the night.

I have to admit it was a bit creepy being out there at night by myself. Some bullfrogs were out croaking, and unfortunately they weren't the only visitors I would get to see that night. After being out there about 30 minutes, three vehicles pulled up to where I was parked. They belonged to a mini-van, a wrecker and a truck. The mini-van belonged to someone who managed to get a car stuck in the gravel by the river and needed to get a wrecker to pull it out.

Now, to me, it doesn't seem like such a brilliant idea to take a car onto the gravel since there was a big sign saying that unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you will get stuck there. Plus that seems like something that could at least wait until daylight, instead of midnight.

The scene was a bit wrecked, so I decided to call it quits with the experiment. I managed to get about 7 shots out of the night. When I took the film to get developed, not a single shot came out. Dammit.

It turns out that to get the best results one should take pictures when there is a full moon. Of course there wasn't one that night, so the film came back blank where there was supposed to be star trails. So for all that, I ended up wasting money on film and developing. Oh well.

The next morning I went back to the same spot I was at the night before. It seemed like the person managed to free their car from the clutches of the gravel, since there weren't any cars there.

The Buffalo

And after that it was time to leave, but not before one quick sidetrip. There is one area of the Buffalo River that I had heard about and always wanted to visit. So I was thrilled to realize that it just happened to be a few miles away from Buffalo Point. The area is the old ghost town of Rush. It is a set of old buildings dating from the 1900's from what was once a mining town.

Rush Ghost Town

The park service was kind enough to put up a sign with this info on it:
"The Ghost Town of Rush stands as mute testimony to the activities of a bygone era. Zinc carbonate ore was discovered in this valley in the late 1800's and the "rush" was on. Soon the hillsides were dotted with mines with colorful names such as Morning Star, White Eagle, Monte Cristo, Red Cloud, Buelah, MacIntosh, Edith and Yellow Rose. The population of the valley rose and fell with the demands of the zinc market. The peak came during the period 1914-1917 when more than 5,000 people were said to have lived and worked here. At the end of World War I the bottom feel out of the zinc market and mines were abandoned. These buildings date from the early 1900's and were inhabited until the 1960's, serving as homes and a general store and post office."

Sadly the old buildings are fragile, so they are fenced off and people aren't allowed inside.

This old building was the general store for the town:

Rush General Store

About the store, the Park Service said:
"Across Rush creek, in front of you, are the remains of houses and shops once owned by the Morning Star. Many families lived there over the years, some until the late 1960's. The building nearest you was the Taylor-Medley Store - started by Bill Taylor and last operated by Lee Medley. Medley lived in the house just to the right of the store.

During the mining boom you'd probably buy groceries here (or at one of several Rush stores). You'd mail letters, buy stamps, and collect your mail here. Sitting on the store's front porch you could visit with your neighbors and catch up on the latest news. You could get married here, because the store owner was also shopkeeper, postmaster, and justice of the peace. The Taylor-Medley Store was the town's last hub. It was a place of business. It was a place for people. It was the last ember of a community when the store finally closed in 1956."

A few detail shots of the store:

Rushin' around

Guess they don't have storm windows here


Ghost Town

Nearby is a short trail that loops around what was the heart of the old mining operation. Nearly all of the buildings are gone, a stone smelter and this building are all that remain now:

Rush blacksmith

And some info, from the Park Service:
"Standing here, let yourself imagine the roar of a blacksmith's forge, the hiss of a bellows, and the clang of metal striking metal. The blacksmith shop was an essential cog in the Morning Star's operation. he kept the company's ore wagons ready and stock teams shoed. He repaired mine equipment, forging new parts as needed. If something broke he fixed it or remade it. Nails, nuts, bolts, and mining tools were readily stocked and available at the blacksmith shop.

In 1925 Lee Medley, the company's blacksmith, built this blacksmith shop for the reopening of the Morning Star Mine. the building had two rooms: one for forging and one for storing parts. A large, lean-to warehouse, now gone, was attached to the right side of the shop. There, wagon parts, pipe joints, and fittings were stored, along with the company general manager's prized Jordan car."

A spur trail takes off that actually goes up to some of the mines. I was pressed for time so I didn't go up there.

The main trail passes by this area, which was once the processing mill:

Mine ruins

And again from the Park Service:
"The processing mill for the Morning Star Mine sat on these foundation pillars in front of you. During the mining boom, brought on my World War I, zinc prices soared. Profits enabled the company to expand and modernize the mill, increasing the mill's capacity to crush and separate 200 tons of zinc ore a day."

Then it was time to head home. Since I got back into town I haven't been back to the Big Dam Bridge yet.

I did take the camera out tonight to get a shot of this interesting sign in North Little Rock:

Doggie Styles

The Doggie Styles grooming service is actually part of a vet clinic in Park Hill. I think it's especially funny since the vet clinic that it is part of is actually the same one that my family has been using for well over 20 years. They are a good vet, they just have really questionable (or awesome!) judgement when it comes to naming stuff.

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