Sunday, June 24, 2007

An awesome sunset and trail discovery...

There is a neat little loop trail located right off of the freeway between Little Rock and Conway. It was built a few years back by the Game and Fish Commission to take hikers through a wetlands area that is home to migratory birds.

Although I used to drive right by the trailhead every day when I commuted to Conway, I never realized that it was there. I found the trail very randomly while looking through a guidebook of natural sites in the state and was a bit shocked to see the trail there. I've had that book for a few months and look through it often, but for some reason never noticed this trail. Oh well. I grabbed the camera and headed out there last weekend.

The trail is the Bell Slough Wildlife Loop trail, which is 2.3 miles long and is on Hwy. 365 between Mayflower and Palarm. It was a bit warm and muggy, apparently this time of the year isn't really designed for doing much hiking. I got to the trail, and was greeted by two excited dogs. I don't know what it is about trails in areas like this, but they always seem to attract random dogs. These two dogs were happy to walk along the trail, and acted as if hiking with some total stranger was the most awesome thing to happen to them ever.

Trail dogs

They were good company, at least they didn't have rabies or anything like that. I stopped to take pictures but they kept on running and disappeared. I did see them at the end of the trail when they were following along another hiker.

For the most part, the trail is flat and a very easy hike.

Bell Slough trail

Bell Slough trail

The trail was built for people to go and spy on various birds and such, so there were a few blinds set up along the trail....

I'm a stranger here myself...

The trail was really quiet so there weren't any animals to see. Besides the friendly trail dogs, I saw a skunk and lots of spiders. But one good thing about the trail - the telescope here is free to use. Nice touch, Game and Fish people.

There were a few wildflowers out on the trail too...

Bell Slough Trail

Yellow Flower, again....

More flowers

Yellow Flower, remix

It started to rain while I was out there. It wasn't that heavy, and it did manage to cool things off a bit. The temperature maybe dropped from 90 to 88 degrees.

Bell Slough trail

The trail was nice but I was there at the wrong time. The guidebook said that in the winter the place is crazy with birds migrating through. At least now that I know where it is so I'll try to remember it next winter.

Along the trail

After I left the trail I headed over to Burns Park for a few shots. I went by the covered bridge there when it really started pouring down rain.

Burns Park

As it was raining, I had to wait a bit because a truck drove by and then randomly parked right in the middle of the bridge. It wouldn't matter except that you could still see the truck through the window in the middle of the bridge. It was annoying and a bit creepy in the way that trucks sitting around in Burns Park can be.

Covered Bridge

Then after work one day I headed down to (where else?) the Big Dam Bridge. It was raining again, so I took out the umbrella and tried to get some shots. To get this shot I was holding the camera in one hand and the umbrella in the other trying to keep the camera dry. I nearly lost the umbrella to the river below when a really strong wind came through that actually turned the umbrella inside out. I was kinda surprised since I'd only seen that happen in cartoons and movies.

Rainy night at the Big Dam Bridge

When I got up there it finally stopped raining, though it was still really stormy out to the east over downtown. Here's a panoramic shot looking west:

Big Dam Pan

From that shot, it looked like the beginnings of a neat sunset. The color just started to intensify as it got darker.

Clearing out...

Looking to the east though, there were lots of lightning bolts shooting off from the clouds. I tried to set up the camera hoping to catch some, but it would only lightning when I wasn't taking a picture. The only thing I accomplished was wasting memory card space. I got a bit worried though as it seemed like the storm was moving closer to the bridge, since standing out there on a metal bridge, with a metal tripod and a metal umbrella didn't seem like such a good idea. Then the light got really bizzare out there and I decided to stay. Looking towards the east, this odd pink light lit up the clouds above the river:

Bizarre light

Eventually, it lit up the entire sky...

It's just the end of the world as we know it...

It was so weird, it looked like it was the end of the world. It only lasted for a minute or so. I just got two shots of it, and one of them wasn't in focus (of course). Then I turned around and saw the most awesome sunset there:

Stormy Sunset

Here's a panoramic view of the sunset:

Big Dam Sunset Pan

It was such an amazing sunset...


More sunset

Then after the sunset faded away, I went and got one more shot of the bridge lit up at night...

Big Dam Bridge

So thanks again for going through yet another set of pictures from the Big Dam Bridge. Hope you liked them!

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.