Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Flatside Wilderness

Last week I was in deep discussions with Zack about a possible photo expedition over the weekend. Eventually, we decided to visit Flatside Pinnacle, which sits in the Flatside Wilderness of the Ouachita National Forest. Once that was settled, the debate then turned to what time to head out. I, naturally, opted to depart in mid-morning - the better to sleep in some. But Zack, for some bizarre reason, wanted to leave early enough to catch the sunrise from Flatside. He thought that there might be some nice fog that morning. So I reluctantly agreed to be awake before sunrise on Saturday morning.

My alarm clock went off at 4:45 am, and it took me a few confused minutes to remember why I was supposed to be awake before noon. But I slowly got around and grabbed the camera and headed out the door. Flatside is a great place to take pictures. It's conveniently located to both of us - only about an hour's drive from Little Rock. And it's amazingly scenic. The view from Flatside Pinnacle is of countless rolling hills, all covered in trees.

So I met Zack and we set off into the wilderness in the dark. To reach Flatside, you drive down part of the Winona Scenic Drive. This is all a dirt road, but it's in fairly good condition with just a few bumpy spots. I was driving, so I cringed every time a rock would shoot up and bounce around the undercarriage of the car like it was in a pinball machine. I imagined the rock hitting the fuel tank, the engine, the transmission, the flux capacitor, or whatever else was vulnerable in the car.

But we made it there safe and sound, just before sunrise. The trail at Flatside has recently been fixed up, and re-routed so it gradually works its way up the mountain. But the steepest part of the hike remains, and it quickly reminded me that I haven't done much of any hiking in several months.

The new trail wasn't the only change at Flatside. There was a fire there, which burned off a lot of the undergrowth along the trail. Even on the top of Flatside, there were places that had been scorched. We weren't sure then if the fire was from a lightning strike or from a Forest Service controlled burn.

But we got to the top of Flatside just in time for sunrise. My pictures didn't really turn out, so when the sun disappeared behind some clouds, I went and took some pictures of the view.
And it's a great view - this is looking west across the Ouachitas.

From there we decided to go and explore a nearby bluff, which we thought might provide another good view. This area had also recently burned. The ground was still a blanket of black ash, and it was littered with the charred husks of burned trees. But amongst the scorched ruins was new life - mostly in the forms of bright green ferns. We pushed our way through the burned area, and I managed to get a good deal of soot and ash on me.

But it was worth the hike (and dirty clothes). The view was awesome. And it would be a great spot to catch the sunrise again.

There wasn't as much fog as we had hoped for, but there was still enough to add some character to the scene.

We did stop to get a few shots of the bright green ferns that were growing up in the blackened and seared landscape.


From there we got back to the car and continued on the Winona Scenic Drive. We passed a few signs saying that there were going to be prescribed burns in the area, so that must have been what happened at Flatside. We made a few other stops, but I don't think either of us got any good pictures. We drove around aimlessly while trying to find a good view of Forked Mountain, then explored a few places along Hwy. 7 south of Russellville. After getting lunch in Russellville, it was time to head home. After having woken up at 4:45, I was looking forward to a nice nap.

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