Saturday, June 16, 2007

Searching for waterfalls at Petit Jean Mountain...

Summer kinda sucks. All the waterfalls around here dry out for a few months, the weather is really hazy and muggy, and anyone going outside has to deal with bugs, the 100 degree weather, and the humidity.

Plus if you like taking pictures, it really limits what you can do. Hiking to the top of Pinnacle Mountain doesn't sound that appealing when it's 90 degrees. And there isn't any point to going around looking for waterfalls when they have long since dried up.

So during the summer months, at least, it is good to look around for places closer to home to photograph. One day last week I went and drove around downtown looking for places to take pictures. One of my favorite buildings downtown is this church, the Cathedral of St. Andrew.

Cathedral of St. Andrew

After that I went down to the Clinton Library to try to get some shots of it at dusk. As I got there, it turned out that a neat sunset was starting to develop. I thought that there might be a nice view of the sunset and the river along the trail that goes from the Clinton Library to the River Market. But there didn't seem to be an area that wasn't cluttered with too much city stuff to get a good view of the sunset. I did end up walking from the library to the I-30 bridge, which was a bit surprising since it seems that rabbits like the area along the river in downtown. I probably startled about 8 different rabbits who were just hanging out along the riverbank.

I ended up going back to the library and set up the camera. It took awhile for it to finally get dark.

Clinton Library

Clinton Library

This shot was a bit hard to take since water from the fountains was spraying onto the camera...

Clinton Library and fountain

I went down to the sidewalk along the river, and got this view from under the library building:

Side view

That next Monday I left work early to go see a doctor (stupid sinus infections) and decided that since I was out of work I should do something with the free time. Since it had stormed the day before, I thought that there might have been enough water to make some nice waterfalls around here, and decided to head up to Petit Jean to hike one trail with a small waterfall on it.

I ended up sitting in the waiting room for a horribly long time, so after visiting the pharmacy and all that I left town around 5:00. By the time I got to Petit Jean it was getting late in the day, so I was worried about hiking and getting stuck out on the trail as it got dark. Also, I probably shouldn't have tried to hike 4.5 miles with a sinus infection, but oh well.

I went onto the Seven Hollows Trail, a trail which probably gets overshadowed often by the more popular trails up at Petit Jean - like the one to Cedar Falls. But the Seven Hollows Trail has a few neat areas. It goes to a Natural Bridge, and then to a grotto that usually has a nice little waterfall in it. The trail is a bit oddly named, since it actually only goes through four hollows, so someone must have been a bit drunk when they came up with that.

My plan was to see if there was anything in the waterfall at the grotto, since it had rained the day before. I read online that it rained enough in the Ozarks that it put the Buffalo River at Spring-like levels. Would the streams and waterfalls around Petit Jean be as high? No, actually, not at all.

The Seven Hollows Trail starts out through an area that was burned by a forest fire a few years ago. Signs at the trailhead warn you, actually, not to hike if it is windy since the winds will knock limbs off the burned trees that could possibly KILL YOU!

It wasn't windy so I survived, but there wasn't any water anywhere to be found along the trail. All the creeks the trail passed were completely dry. In some places there were a few stagnant pools of water, but nothing that would support a waterfall.

Yellow flowers

There were a few wildflowers growing along the trail, which was at least something. After about a mile or so there is the Natural Bridge, which really isn't a bridge at all.

Natural Bridge

It had been a bit overcast all day, but the sun was trying come out when I was at the Natural Bridge. Here is the sun poking out from under the bridge.


And here is the sun hitting some rocks at the base of the bridge.

Natural Bridge

This patch of moss was growing on the rocks under the bridge:

Under the bridge

After that I decided to go ahead and see what the water was like in the grotto, just in case there might be a waterfall there. The only problem with that, though, was that the grotto was located exactly in the middle of the trail. To get there meant that to hike out and back would mean hiking the entire trail, which again is 4.5 miles.

The trail isn't as dramatic was the trail to Cedar Falls, but it still a nice hike.

Seven Hollows Trail

The trail follows along the edge of a bluff, where there were a lot of ferns growing.

More ferns

The trail moved out of the first hollow and the dropped down into the second one, which is the home of the grotto and its waterfall. I was sad to see that there was no water in the creek there. In fact, everything was dry. I thought that since it was still June, and with some recent rains, there might be some water, but no luck.

The grotto

The above picture was taken while standing in a place that normally would be underwater. The entire area was completely dry except for some water around where the waterfall should have been:

I hoped there'd be a waterfall here

To compare and contrast: A similar shot I took a few years ago when there was some water in the falls:

The Grotto

Finding no water there was very annoying, but it meant searching around trying to find anything else in the dry grotto to take pictures of.

Up from the grotto

After the detour to the grotto, the trail then went over the bluff towards the next hollow. The area is interesting, with the areas above the hollows still recovering from the damage from the forest fires.

Which way?

In the last hollow, the trail runs alongside a small creek which was of course completely dry.

Seven Hollows Trail

I was a bit amazed with myself that I managed to finish the hike and make it back to my car before it got dark and I was stranded out there. As I got to the car, I noticed that it looked like it might make another nice sunset, so I sped off towards the overlook on the edge of the mountain at the "grave" of Petit Jean.

Of course, the view from the overlook there wasn't in the right direction, so there wasn't a good view of the sunset. The overlook, apparently, is an awesome place to get a sunrise shot, though.

Petit Jean's grave...

Petit Jean's grave.

Someone had put up some graffiti by the grave which reads "JEAN LIVES." While graffiti is awful (and a problem at Petit Jean), it did make me giggle some. I wondered who wrote it, maybe it was Petit Jean's GHOST!

View from Petit Jean

At this lookout there is a walkway with lots of information signs on it, about the legend of Petit Jean, the history of the park, etc. One of them was about the Arkansas River. A family was out there, with a few little kids running around. The poor mom was trying to get the kids to learn something, so she was reading the signs out to the kids, who really couldn't care less. When she got to the sign about the Arkansas River, she told the kids to listen and started reading. One of the kids then yelled out "I don't want to hear about the dumb Arkansas River! Let's go!"
I made my way around them and out of earshot, so I don't know how excited the kid was to learn about the Civilian Conservation Corps or any other thing the signs had to say about the park.

Kids these days....

And a view of the river from the mountain:

Arkansas River

I took some shots of the river from the there in hopes of making a panoramic shot. There is this really neat software called Autostitch that will put together your shots for you, aligning them and making them look good. It is FREE and easy to use. Here is my pano shot from Petit Jean from four shots put together by autostitch:

Petit Jean Panoramic

My only complaint is that shots tend to lost a lot of sharpness after going through autostitch, but it is a lot better than any of my crappy attempts at making panoramics.

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