Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Catching lightning and going to an easy waterfall at Lake Catherine

Hope everyone had a good St. Patrick’s Day. On that day last week I was driving home from work and noticed that the Big Dam Bridge was covered in green lights in honor of the holiday. So I rushed home and grabbed the camera and headed out to the bridge. I went out and stood on a little island that sticks out from the dam.  I went out on the shore, and found an area with some rocks in the river that worked with the bridge in the background.
Big Dam St. Patrick's Day

After I got the shot I headed back to the car. It had started raining anyways, so I thought the night was done in terms of taking pictures. I drove out to a beer store to buy a 6-pack of Guinness for a traditional photo to celebrate my Irish heritage, which I used for a shot later that night:
Happy St. Patrick's Day

At the store I noticed that there was a nice storm developing in the sky, so I drove back out to the Big Dam Bridge to attempt taking some lightning pictures.

Taking pictures of lightning is very difficult. Not only do you have to get out in some nasty weather, it takes a lot of luck to be in the right place at the right place to get the shot. I’ve been out a few times to try to get lightning shots, never really getting anything in the process. One time I was out at Ft. Roots, trying to get a shot of lightning over the Little Rock skyline. There were some great lightning strikes right over the downtown buildings. But I was using film at the time (this time being maybe 1996), and I didn’t load the film in the camera correctly so nothing turned out. Last year I tried to get some lighting at the Big Dam Bridge, and managed to catch one small bolt. It wasn’t much, but I was happy with it at the time:
Dark and Stormy Night at the Big Dam Bridge

This time I went to the same exact spot, hoping to catch lightning again. I sat for about 30 minutes with nothing much going on. There would be some lightning, but it was either in the distance or up in the clouds. I took lots of pictures, never catching anything. I finally got one shot with a small bolt, so I thought I’d at least get something. Then it started to rain, so I moved under the bridge, with the hope it would provide some shelter from the rain. I hoped to see some lightning, but wished it wouldn’t strike me or the bridge while I standing under it. I took lots and lots of pictures, at 20 or 25 second exposures. It’s a crapshoot really, to get a good lightning shot. You have to be set up in an area that sees lots of lightning strkies, and have to be taking a shot at the right place at the right time in the second or so that it strikes. Finally, on one exposure, lightning hit!
Big Dam Lightning

Holy crap! I was thrilled that I managed to have taken a picture of the lightning. I wasn’t too happy with the composition of the shot, I don’t like the location of the bridge pillar, but it was better than standing out in the rain. I stayed out there longer, in case there would be more strikes. But the storm moved on and seemed to be striking behind me, very near to where I was. Enough that it made me nervous so I went to back to the car and back to safety.

The storm that brought so much lightning also dumped lots of rain across the state. We only saw a few inches in Little Rock, but other parts of the state saw over a foot of rain. Some of that ended up in the Arkansas River, flooding the area around the Big Dam Bridge. I went back out there three days later to see the damage. The floodwater covered the road leading to the bridge.
Big Dam flood

Big Dam flood

The water had risen 15 feet, at least. It was well above the spot where I stood a few days before taking pictures of lighting. The second pillar of the bridge is the one that I stood by on the previous Monday, the spot under about a dozen feet of water.
Big Dam Flood

The river was so high that it had gone over the banks and had flooded some of the parking lot and was just a few feet away from the base of the bridge.
At the foot

I went up on the bridge to have a look at the flooded area. The place where I stood to get a shot of the bridge with it’s St. Patrick’s Day lights was also under water. Even the spot where I parked my car was now part of the Arkansas River.
Big Dam Flood

But there was a nice sunset, which I got on the way to the bridge. This was taken along a backwater along the river, which was the home to ducks and a beaver that night. It was a tough decision, stay and catch the sunset there or go and get pictures of the bridge...
Duck Tales

A few weeks before I went out to the Big Dam Bridge, I went out to Lake Catherine State Park. I wanted to visit the waterfall there, which is very easy to reach. It would be a nice change after my previous adventures attempting to reach Twin Falls at Richland Creek. The waterfall at Lake Catherine is easy to get to, the trailhead at the end of paved roads. The trail is level and easy, under a mile and with just one hill to travel over. There is also a nifty swinging bridge to cross, so it was a nice trip to take.

The waterfall there, called Falls Creek Falls, is a popular spot to take pictures. I’ve been out there several times, and the hard part is to find an angle that hasn’t been shot before. I tried to find a good spot to take pictures. Luckily there weren’t many other people out that day.
Falls Creek Falls

The falls aren’t that tall, and the creek isn’t very deep. I should have worn the mud-covered shoes I had last worn to Twin Falls, but instead foolishly wore some new shoes, so I was reluctant to get them wet. To get some shots, I tried to find some rocks in the creek that would be a dry place for me to stand to get some shots of the falls...

I crossed the creek using some convenient rocks and took some pictures from the other side of the creek...
Falls Creek Falls

Side of Fall Creek Falls


After that I went back across the creek and hiked up the hill to above the falls. The view up there is just as nice...
From the top...

But then the sun came out. The sun isn’t your friend when you’re trying to take pictures of waterfalls. Luckily, the waterfall was in shadow. The sun was striking a rock at the top of the falls, so I got a shot of it with the waterfall below.
Falls Creek Falls

Spring is a great time for taking waterfall pictures. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go out last weekend. And this next weekend will be spent in Dallas, so no waterfall shots. Hopefully there will be more rain so all the waterfalls will be running nicely when someone hikes up to them with a camera....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Finally - a Twin Falls success story.

So our story continues...last post your humble and brave narrator had failed to reach the great Twin Falls at Richland Creek. Thwarted by rain and high water, suffering the loss of a trusty tripod and some damage to a Hyundai. After hiking in the rain for a few miles to turn back a half mile from the falls thanks to a nearly flooded creek crossing, it became a mission to make it to the falls. I had replaced the tripod that I broke out there the week before (adios, tax return!), so I was ready. I could say that I would try to make it there come Hell or high water. I already experienced the high water part, so what else could happen?

The weekend after proved to be another good weekend for waterfall hunting. All the rain the past week should mean that the falls would have a decent amount of water flowing through. Plus the weathermen predicted it would be cloudy for most of the day. I packed up the camera gear, and woke up at the crazy early time of 6:30 am(!) and drove out to the falls.

This attempt would be a bit different, I’d be trying to take a different route to the falls. This route would be longer (about 6 miles), but would follow along the scenic Long Devil’s Fork. The considerable downside to this option being that most of the hike is rated as a "difficult bushwhack," which can prove to be a bit hard on anyone foolish enough to hike out there.

The drive up there was fairly uneventful, but as I got into the hills along Hwy. 7, there was some cool frost on the trees. The area was filled with hoarfrost, a rare form of frost that I had read about but had never seen in person before.
Cold and frosty morning


The hillsides were covered in the frost. It was a neat scene to drive through. Luckily the ice was all on the trees and not on the road.
Into the frost...

The waterfall I was seeking is in the Richland Creek Wilderness, about 40 miles or so north of Russellville. To get there means going up Hwy. 7, then turning off onto a series of dirt roads, in varying states of ill-repair. At first the roads are well maintained, and well marked. But that changes, sadly. I ended up getting lost twice, going down the wrong dirt road. Both times ending up at a locked gate. The roads also got quite rough, something that would knock around a good sized 4x4. They were a bit much for my little Hyundai, and I am lucky I made it through. But I eventually made it to the trailhead, next to an old cemetery.

To reach the falls, you begin your journey along an old trace that heads out into the woods. I was amused to note that this old road trace that hadn’t seen any vehicle traffic in decades was in much better shape than the road I just tried to drive down.

After hiking on that road trace for 1.8 miles, I crossed a nice creek. This is where the hike begins to get interesting. The road trace would continue on, but to see the falls and all the interesting stuff it meant bushwhacking time. I followed down the creek for a bit, which had some neat little waterfalls on it.
On the way...

The way down was steep and rocky, but I eventually managed to make my way down to Big Devil’s Fork, which makes up part of Twin Falls. As best I could tell, there wasn’t any trail at all along the creek. The terrain included some nice features - rocks (lots of these), thorns (lots of these) and an uneven path. But it did also have some neat stuff in the creek though:
Big Devil's Fork

It was tough going but well worth it. After 2.3 miles of hiking I came upon this awesome little waterfall - Hamilton Falls. It’s only 12 feet high, but a nice stop along the way.
Don Hamilton Falls

From Hamilton Falls it’s just a matter of following the creek downstream for about a half mile to reach Twin Falls. The terrain was still a bit crazy, so I ended up heading a bit uphill trying to find a good way through. I crossed a few creeks, and eventually ended up at the top of the hill. The top was flat, and the hiking was much easier. The bad part of this, however, was that I was now well above the creek so that it was out of view. This meant that I had no good idea where Twin Falls were, or if I was missing any good scenic stuff down there. Luckily the falls do make a lot of noise, so when I heard a lot of commotion coming from the creek I headed down hill to the creek. The hill was, of course, steep. Mostly it involved me stumbling and grabbing onto any tree I could find to prevent me from going downhill face first. Eventually I made it to the creek, but not quite to the falls. The last bit of effort involved a descent along a muddy area that didn’t look like it would support me if I tried. So the last part of my hike to Twin Falls involved me scooting downhill butt-first, which wasn’t pretty but it did get me there. So finally, the great Twin Falls of Devil’s Fork:
Twin Falls

To celebrate my achievement, I took this dorky self-portrait:

It is a really pretty area. The falls are formed by two seperate creeks, which both flow close to each other but first flow over a 15-20 foot bluff before meeting up at the base of the falls. The creek that I hiked down was Big Devil’s Fork, which makes the waterfall on the right. Here are some close-up views of the falls from Big Devil’s Fork:
Big Devil's Fork of Twin Falls

Big Devil's Fork

And a view of the other half of Twin Falls, the falls of Long Devil’s Fork:
Long Devil's Fork

Long Devil's Fork

Of course, after hiking all the way out there the sun decided to come out. Sunlight isn’t that great if you’re trying to take waterfall pictures, so it was a bit annoying. Luckily it was still cloudy so the sun would go and hide behind the clouds fairly often. I tried to rush around and get as many shots as I could before the sun would come back out.

There was a neat waterfall that came down from the side of the hill, flowing down near the base of Twin Falls:
Big Devil's Fork

Twin Falls

From there I went up and behind the waterfall. There wasn’t much space, but I set up the camera to get a shot looking through the water. It wasn’t the ideal place to shoot. The spray from the falls would blow back and get all over me and the camera. After every picture I’d take, I’d have to wipe water of the lens. This is the result of that, pretty much the only shot that turned out:
From the back

Then the sun came out, and stayed out. This ruined any chances for taking waterfall pictures so I decided it was time to head back. But just before I left, another group of hikers came in. They came in from the opposite direction, from Richland Creek, the way I tried and failed to come in the week before. So apparently the creek was passable now. I did note that this hiking party included a few older people (old being in that they had lots of gray hair) and some young kids. They also didn’t appear to be soaked, so they must have found a good way to cross Richland Creek. I didn’t ask them how they went, instead started heading back up the hill. I had an idea for a way back, which I thought would probably take me back to the car with the least amount of effort. Since following the creek wasn’t easy, I thought it would be best to hike up the hill to the top. There it was flat, and would be an easier hike. I could meet back up with the road trace and get back to my car quicker than trying to scramble over the rocks along the creek.

I must have forgotten how steep the hill was. I would say it was equal to Pinnacle Mountain in terms of being steep, except that here there wasn’t a trail. I trudged up there, finally making it to the top. It was level up there, thankfully. I sat and rested, drinking a bottle of water and catching my breath. The hike was easy, and I was pleased to meet up with the road trace. There were a few short hills, but the rest of the way was a nice hike.

I got back to the car, and attempted to drive my car out. The road down there isn’t one for little cars, and mine had all sorts of stuggles. Besides rocks that would scrape up the underside of the car, I had an epic battle with a mud puddle. Well I guess it wasn’t a puddle but more of just a big patch of mud with a road going through. To add to that, it was all uphill, so my car would go up a few feet and get stuck. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get past it.

It was a problem. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get out. I was a good ways away from civilization, and had no cell phone reception. I considered leaving the car and hiking out to try to find a house, or anything, to get help. Just short of giving up, I made one more attempt. Backing way back down the hill to get a good start, I gunned it and finally made it past. My car was covered in mud, but I got out. Thank goodness.

I made it home before dark, happy with finally reaching the Holy Grail of Arkansas waterfalls. I haven’t been out much since then. I did go out last weekend to take some waterfall pictures, but went after one that didn’t involve any dirt roads or "difficult bushwhacks" to reach. It was a welcome change.