Saturday, November 22, 2014

Steele Creek

I wanted to make sure I got at least a few pictures of the Arkansas fall colors, so I decided to make a trip up to the Buffalo National River a few weeks back. The drive up there would hopefully coincide with the peak of fall colors in the Ozarks, which usually happens around the end of October. I didn't have that much time to spend up there, so I decided to hit one of the most consistently beautiful places on the river.

My original plan was to head up Friday night after work and camp in the Steele Creek campground overnight. But that Friday night promised to be the first really cold night of the year, with temps dipping below freezing. It left a conundrum. I could leave after work Friday night, getting to the Buffalo River when it was dark and then shivering in the cold all night. Or, I could leave early in the morning and get there in time for the sunrise. It would mean not having to sleep in freezing temperatures, but it would involve leaving home at 3 AM.

I decided to go for latter, intent on getting a little bit of sleep in a warm bed. It seemed like a good idea, except for our dogs. They decided it would be fun to wake me up every hour or so, just for fun it seems. I didn't get as much sleep as I wanted when the alarm clock went off. But I gathered the camera gear and got into the car, driving the three hours or so to the Buffalo River.

I got there with plenty of time to spare, about 30 minutes before sunrise. I took a short nap in the car, as some of the people in the campground started to wake up and make campfires. It had gotten a bit chilly that night. As I sleepily got out of the car, I noticed a thin layer of frost coating other cars, trees and the grass in the campground.

The fall colors weren't the best this year in the Ozarks, but there was still some good color along the river. And on this cold morning, there was a layer of mist hovering over the water. It looked almost like it was flowing down the river like it was caught in the current.


This is my favorite spot along the Buffalo River. It's very close to the spot where my wife and I got engaged.


I hurried over to the put-in by Steele Creek to get a few pictures before the sun came up.


I walked along the shore to this spot, which I remembered from our Buffalo River canoe trip earlier this year. The rocks in the picture below look quite wholesome and innocent when viewed from the shore. But when you're in a canoe, they are dangerous, treacherous and menacing. We had just started our canoe trip when we rounded the bend and encountered these rocks. By which I mean, we slammed right into them and flipped the canoe. If you look closely on the rocks, there are blue scars from the paint of countless canoes that have been walloped by these rocks.


As I was walking back to the car, I saw a few other photographers taking pictures in the trees by the trail. I then looked down at the ground to see what they were trying to take pictures of - frost flowers. I had never seen a frost flower before, mostly because it's a phenomenon that occurs only a few times of the year. Another big reason I'd never seen one is because they only last for a short time in the early morning hours, the time I prefer to be sound asleep.

Frost flowers usually form after the first hard freeze of the year, when the ground temperature is still warm enough for a plant's roots to be working, but the air temperature is cold enough to freeze water. The water in a plant's stem freezes, and then expands. The water is drawn out through thin cracks in the stem, freezing on contact with the air. As more water is drawn out, it freezes and forms more layers of ice. Eventually the ice grows into formations, which can look like flower petals. The frost flowers don't last too long, and quickly melt when the sun comes up.

I tried to take some pictures, careful to not step on any of the frost flowers on the ground.


The sun was quickly rising, so I tried to hurry on to another favorite spot on the river for a few more pictures....

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