Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Riverfest fireworks, and Happy Birthday Olympus Evolt E-500!

This weekend marks the "birthday" of my new camera. It was a year ago that I decided to give up film and enter the world of digital photography. Before I made the change, caused by my old and usually trustworthy film camera messing up and ruining a few rolls of film, I was a bit of a film snob. I would get annoyed with all this talk about digital photography. I would scoff - digital isn't true photography, and all that. Then I got one and haven't looked back.

Happy Birthday, Olympus Evolt E500!

I took this shot in honor of me owning this camera now for a whole year. This was actually taken with my old film camera. I've been using the new camera for everything and this is one of the only times I've used the old camera in the year since I got the new one. I had forgotten how much of a pain in the arse it is to buy film and wait for it to get developed. So it will probably be awhile before I use the old camera again. The shot above was taken at Buffalo Point, along the Buffalo National River.

The Olympus camera has a counter of how many pictures it has taken (or at least, how many times the shutter fired). A few days ago I checked it, and the camera said it had taken 15,891 pictures during the past year.

Now if my math is correct (which it probably isn't, Cormack translates to "bad at math" in Irish), that would equal out to:

1,324 shots a month

305 shots a week

43 shots a day.

And again, if I were to have tried to take that many shots with a film camera, it would be equivalent to about 662 rolls of 24-exposure film. Assuming that it costs about $10 to buy film and get it developed (a bad assumption since it costs more than that), I would have had to spend $6,620 using film to get the same amount of pictures. Pretty crazy, right?

I added to that count yesterday while trying to take pictures of the Riverfest fireworks over downtown Little Rock. There is a spot that I've used before to get fireworks, way back in 1997. The spot is an odd place to position yourself for fireworks, since it is located directly next to an old cemetery.

Little Rock

This was taken next to Mount Holly Cemetery, by I-630. It was a bit odd to be seeing fireworks in front of you, and a bunch of old tombstones behind you. But I like this since it has the fireworks exploding while framed by the buildings downtown. Sadly, though, most of the shots that night didn't turn out. The above shot is really the only one that turned out.

For some odd reason that I couldn't figure out at the time, all of the shots I was taking were coming out really dark. I tried to do all sorts of adjustments with the camera - like changing the f-stop, etc. But no matter what, everything seemed to come out really dark. In order to get a decent shot where you could actually see the buildings, all of the exposures had to be really long. The shot above was 13 seconds. I couldn't understand what the problem was.

When I got home, I looked at the camera and immediately figured out what was wrong. The problem seems so simple and silly that I don't want to publicly mention it. Promise not to laugh, but nothing turned out because I had left a polarizing filter on the camera. Polarizing filters are useful when shooting on sunny days or shooting waterfalls. I had used one last weekend when at the Buffalo River, and had forgotten to take the filter off. The filter itself is somewhat dark, so it cuts out light going through it. Dang. It was such a dumb mistake that I hate to have to admit that I did it.

Oh well. Guess I'll have to go back and try again at the next fireworks downtown. Though I think I might try to scout out a few different locations that might be a bit better. Stay tuned!

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.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Buzzard's Roost and Pam's Grotto

So did you hear about the guy who went to climb Pinnacle Mountain last week and fell, breaking something like both ankles in the fall? Apparently the young lad climbed Pinnacle a few times a week, so he knew the trail. Well he fell down and passed out for awhile. His Mom got worried when he didn't make it home so she called his cell phone, and the ringing off the phone woke him up and his Mom called rescuers to get him, which they did do, and got him off the mountain.

So I had an idea to go out hiking again last weekend, and since the area I had decided on included a few cliffs with nasty falls, I was a wee bit paranoid. So I recruited a friend to tag along, mostly to ensure that I didn't fall off a mountain somewhere and go missing for a few days. Good times!

The friend this time was Will, who I guess decided to spend a day in the woods to get away from having to do household chores. A day in the woods would sure beat housework, right? I think by the end of the day he might not have agreed to that.

The idea for this trip were a few places that were maybe a tad bit closer to home, and places that I heard were scenic which I had never been to before.

The first place was called Buzzard's Roost, where a 2 mile hike takes you to the top of a neat bluff area looking over the Ozarks. The drive took us up from Russellville (past Booger Hollow) up into the hills. The trees up there were starting to get green after a late freeze killed off most of the leaves. There was actually a lot of green out, though most of it seemed to be poison ivy.

Poison Ivy everywhere

The trail was a somewhat easy hike, just a few hills to deal with. The trail was easy to follow since it was a 4-wheeler trail. Luckily no one came zooming around while we were out there...

Buzzard's Roost trail

But at the trail head there wasn't much parking, so I parked in an open space, which turned out to be the trail itself. I actually unintentionally parked my car right in the way of any rednecks wanting to ride their 4-wheelers along the trail. This too made me a bit worried since I figured that they would get mad and slash my tires or set my car on fire or something. Luckily no one did come through, and actually we ended up having the entire trail to ourselves.

After hiking for a bit we finally came upon the cliffs, or well the "buzzard's roost," if you will.

Don't jump!

The cliffs are actually a neat area, the bluffs have been very weathered to form lots of interesting shapes. It was a bit difficult to climb out there since the neater rocks involved scrambling around while a huge drop-off was right below you.

Buzzard's Roost

I did actually check my cell phone to make sure that I had a signal out there - just in case...

And amazingly, I did, though it was roaming. Luckily, I didn't get to test gravity and fall off the mountain, so it wasn't needed.

Buzzard's Roost

This is as far out as I braved to go...


The area at the bottom is pretty cool, and you can actually go to the bottom there and explore, which we did after I took a few more pictures up top and tried to figure out how to get back from rocks without somehow falling down to the bottom.

Buzzard's Roost

The bottom was neat, mostly it was like a series of caves set back into the bluff...

Below the Roost

There was one part where the cave area shrunk down to a passageway that was maybe only a food wide.

Peeking through

The neat thing is from here you can see the break in the rocks where light is coming through.

Path below Buzzard's Roost

This view is from halfway inside the cliffs looking out to the area where the above picture was taken...

Follow the light

And the other end of the cliffs here:

Buzzard's Roost

Another neat aspect of Buzzard's Roost is that it has a natural bridge, or arch. According to my guidebook, it is "one of the largest and most impressive in Arkansas!" So we set out to find it. The guidebook stated that "you will have to bushwhack across a steep hillside to find this big arch - just follow the contour to the north at the same level from the little arch or top of the first bluff, across a small drainage, and then to the beginning of the next bluff - not recommended for everyone since this is a really steep scramble. The big arch is located 100 yards into the next bluffline." Sounds easy, right?

So we tried and set off bushwhacking (which is fun since that word makes me giggle). Off the trail the hillside was covered in acres of poison ivy, which we marched right through. We walked and walked, and I'm embarrased to admit, could not find the arch at all. We even went back up the hillside and hiked a side trial which I thought might just lead to the arch, but no luck. So then we gave up and headed back to the trail and to the car.

At the trailhead I was happy to see my little Hyundai was safe and sound. Next to the trailhead there was a neat little barn:

Barn fenced in

And then we hit the road! Driving out we made it to the safety of the paved highway and onto the next destination: Pam's Grotto Falls. This area is northeast of Clarksville, right next to Haw Creek Falls. Since Clarksville was my old college stomping grounds, I actually made the trip to Haw Creek Falls many times to take pictures. Haw Creek Falls are nice, but not that tall, and I never knew these other falls existed. Since I found out about them I've been eager to go out and visit the area again.

We drove west on Hwy. 123 over a neat little one-lane bridge over Big Piney Creek. On the other side of the bridge was a neat old building, which I guessed was an old church of some sort since it was sitting next to a cemetery. The building was right next to a parking lot for the Ozarks Highland Trail, so I of course turned the car around and zoomed back to try to get a picture. We weren't the only ones at the building though....

Snakes on a Building

This giant snake was just hanging out - literally - right on the side of the building. I didn't realize that snakes could climb like that and just sit there. It was a bit creepy. I got a bit paranoid there about snakes, seeing sticks on the ground and thinking they were snakes, stuff like that. The lowest moment came when I was taking a picture, and out of the corner of my eye saw something black zoom around. I let out a yelp - probably more like a girly scream - and jumped back. The ferocious attacking creature? A butterfly.

Some sort of old building


So back on the road, which wasn't that far from Haw Creek. I parked the car in a neat area that I had never visited, which was downstream from Haw Creek Falls. The little area had access to the creek, and I was happy to see that the water was up and running.

Haw Creek

A small creek drained into Haw Creek there, with a neat little waterfall:

Feeder creek

The area was very cool. There was a huge boulder sitting right in the middle of the creek:

Haw Creek

The trail to Pam's Grotto starts out across the road from where we were at, so we headed that way and walked a bit along the creek. There was a neat little waterfall there:

Below the Grotto

The weather had been a bit wacky all that day. It was overcast and cloudy most of the time when we were at Buzzard's Roost, but the sun was trying to break out when we started hiking the Pam's Grotto trail. The sun was in the way while I was trying to take the shot, so I just went ahead and included it there since it wouldn't go away:

sunlight and waterfall photography...

Usually, direct sunlight like that isn't recommended for waterfall pictures. But luckily the sun went behind a cloud and wan't much of a problem the rest of the day.

Below the Grotto

The trail to the Grotto isn't that long at all - half a mile, actually. When looking at the guidebook I didn't seem to notice extra information next to it - especially the part that said "Medium hike/bushwhack." I had just assumed that the trail would follow the creek to the Grotto and the trail would be an easy hike. That was an amazingly wrong assumption.

The guidebook had this to say about the trail: "Follow the trial up the hill .25 mile to the base of the big bluffs." What it should say is, follow the trail straight up the hill, in a trail that will kick your arse and remind you how out of shape you truly are. Because that's what the trail did. It was a steep, steep trail. It had an elevation gain that would make Pinnacle Mountain envious. It hurt, and it seemed that it would never end.

The Trail of Doom, I later learned, was actually built to provide access for rock climbers to reach the bluffs overlooking the creek. How anyone could have enough energy to go rock climbing after that trail is beyond me.

The view of the bluffs, or the Bluffs of Exhaustion, after making it up the Trail of Doom:

Bluffs of exhaustion

Haw Creek climbing area

Hiking along, I did something very stupid. I was messing around with the camera and managed to drop my polarizing filter. These filters are dead useful for waterfall photography, and my filter was still fairly new. It fell to the ground and managed to bounce and roll down the hillside. Luckily it didn't make it too far, which is good because that little piece of glass is insanely expensive. That filter cost me $50. It seemed to work ok after its excursion down the hill, but if it were to mess up it wouldn't be the first time that has happened. I've gone through several filters over the years.

And while hiking along the (thankfully) level trail below the bluffs, you start to hear the loud sound of water falling. There is a bend in the trail and then the Grotto itself finally comes into view. There is a bit of a scramble down the hill to the grotto itself, but it was worth it. The area isn't that big but does have a lot of personality:

Pam's Grotto Falls

The falls are 37 feet tall, and the pool at the bottom is guarded by a large boulder.

Pam's Grotto Falls

It was a cool area, I wish I had more time to explore there. You could easily spend hours and hours there.

Pam's Grotto Falls

A side view of the falls:

Pam's Grotto Falls

And a view from behind the falls:

Pam's Grotto Falls

The whole grotto is very beautiful, so please forgive me for showing off a few of the shots here:

Pam's Grotto Falls


In the Grotto

Pam's Grotto Falls

The grotto also includes a large overhanging bluff, and this is looking at the falls from under the bluff...

Under the bluffs...

It was starting to get late, so it seemed like it was just about time to pack everything up and head back home. Not before one last shot, though:

Pam's Grotto Falls

Since the Trail of Doom was easy to handle going downhill, the trip back was quick and uneventful.

It was a good trip, and I'm glad I managed to finally visit a neat waterfall area that I had been next to many times before. When I got home I was looking through another guidebook (Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook by Tim Ernst, actually) and found yet another waterfall in the same area that I had never been too. It's called Hobo Falls (the book doesn't say how it got that name), but the trail is only 4 miles or so south of Haw Creek. So I guess I have a new place to check out when I can make it up there next. The only thing - this trail is also listed as "medium hike," so that makes me nervous.