Thursday, August 27, 2009

Collier Homestead

The Collier Homestead is an old homesteader’s place that sits tucked away in the woods at Tyler Bend. From the parking area it is a very short hike through the woods to the clearing where the homestead sits. An old fence surrounds the main building and a small out building, all of which sat in the silence of the early morning light.

The Collier family moved to this spot on a hill overlooking the Buffalo River in 1928. The family lived there for about fifty years, but it was abandoned and nearly lost to the woods by the time the National Park Service purchased the buildings in 1987.

The buildings are in good shape considering their age. On the inside you can even spot patches of newspaper along the walls, which was used as a make-shift insulation. The windows are open now to the elements – this was taken looking out from the dark interior of the main building.

There is a trail that continues on and leads to an overlook of the Buffalo River . We didn’t make it that far, but did walk down to this other old building (some sort of shed?). I stood in some poison ivy to get this one shot…

Monday, August 24, 2009

Buffalo River

I managed to somehow hurt my back last week, which left me hobbling and limping around like an old man. So what’s the best thing to do when your back is hurt? I don’t know, but going camping probably isn’t the best idea. The whole “sleeping on the ground” aspect didn’t help things out with the back, and the fact that I accidentally left my pillow at home just made things worse.

But it was worth it, since we were making another camping trip up to the Buffalo National River. It would be like the camping trip we took in June, except this time we would camp at Tyler Bend on Friday night, and then float the river on Saturday. I was camping again with Zack Andrews and two other friends, both of whom are in college at UCA. College students? I already felt old, and my hurt back didn’t help matters. I figured I’d spend most of the weekend sitting in front of the tent yelling at those kids to keep off my lawn.

When we went camping in June, we reached Steele Creek to find the campground full. On Friday we wanted to quickly make our way up to the Buffalo River in order to secure a camping spot. There was no need to rush, the campground was nearly deserted. We would be the only people camping in the walk-in campsites, and we would have the whole area to ourselves (except at night, more about that later).

After dinner, it started to get dark and a neat sunset began to develop across the sky. I ran out to a nearby field that had a nice collection of hay bales, sitting below the low hills that were beginning to be put in shadow from the setting sun.
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From there we drove down to the river, as the clouds above us lit up.

And that cloud reflected in the waters of the Buffalo River.

It was a perfect night, it felt like autumn. A cold front had just passed through, clearing out the haze and opening up the sky to millions of stars. I have lived in the city for so long that I am still amazed to see a lot of stars in the sky, especially without having to compete with any light pollution. The skies over Tyler Bend were clear, and filled with stars.

So we decided to head back out to the same field as before, and attempted some light painting with those hay bales. This was a 60 second exposure, and I walked around the hay bales with a flashlight casting some light on them. The moon must have been lurking behind the hill because of the light hitting the clouds.
A fair warning, there are about to be a ton of hay pictures. I guess I had hay-fever out there.

I moved the camera around towards a part of the sky with no clouds and therefore many more stars. This was another 60 second exposure, with a flashlight pointed at the hay bales and then randomly shining along the ground. I’m sure it would have looked pretty bizarre to anyone driving past.
If you look closely, there is faint trail from a shooting star (on the lower left of the sky).

After that it was time to try to get some sleep, which I didn’t get much of. I could never get comfortable, and my make-shift pillow (two t-shirts) wasn’t helping much. And then our little campground was besieged by raccoons. For most of the night, you could hear them trotting by the tents, fighting and trying their hardest to steal every scrap of our food. Even after being scared off a few times, they would relentlessly return. The eventually made off with about half of our food, even though we followed all the directions of proper food storage. We hung the food on a pole, a good seven feet off the ground. But somehow the raccoons managed to tear into the bag and make off with what should have been Saturday’s lunch. I have no clue how they managed to get into something that far off the ground. My theory is that they know acrobatics.

The damage could have been much worse; they actually tried to get into the cooler. There were muddy raccoon paw prints along the top, as if they were trying to open it up to steal the beer inside. Makes sense though, after you steal the food, you need to wash it down with something.

At dawn, our campsite was covered in a thick layer of fog. I got out of the tent and inspected some of the raccoon damage, and then drove back to the same field we were at the night before. It was a cold morning, especially considering that it’s August in Arkansas. The thermometer in the car said it was a chilly 59 degrees outside.

Fog had engulfed most of the field, and the hay bales stood out like lonely sentries.


We got into the car and drove to the river, which wasn’t as foggy as I had hoped. I wasn’t too impressed with this picture, but I’m going to post it because it almost looks like the Loch Ness Monster was spotted in the waters of the Buffalo. Or maybe the Buffalo River has its own sort of fabled water creature lurking in the deep fathoms below the surface….

And it was also a good spot to get some shots of the new Vibe out in the elements. I need to get more pictures of it before it's all dinted and dinged up.

While it wasn’t as foggy as I hoped, there was still some fog rising off the still waters of the river…

We got back in the car and drove down a dirt road that went through a field surrounded by hay bales (of course). The road cut through the field before finally ending back at the river. By now the sun had risen high enough that it was beginning to shine through the fog, casting the area in a nice soft glow.

Tall flowers grew alongside the road, and I stopped to get a few shots. I was a bit surprised to see this grasshopper just hanging out on one of the flowers.

Turning around, this was the view looking back down the road. The sun was brilliantly lighting up the fog.

And one more shot of flower and grasshopper, with some foggy hay bales in the background.
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About this time I realized that I was standing near one of the most scenic rivers in the country, and here I was taking a ton of pictures of hay bales. So we hurried down to the river, which already had some canoes out and waiting to be used that day. Actually when we started our canoe trip later that day, we’d put-in at this very same spot.

The sun was nearly up, and it was quickly burning off the fog.

Walking back towards the car, I stopped and got this shot looking down at the ground. These rocks line the river banks, placed here by the river and eroded over time. It’s crazy how they are perfectly placed, like the pieces of a puzzle.

And one last shot, looking back down the dirt road heading down to the river.

Just a few hours later we’d be floating the river, while the raccoons were no doubt plotting their revenge for not getting to drink our beer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pine Bluff

Saturday was a typical Arkansas summer day – hot and muggy. Well I take that back, it was actually a bit cooler than normal, it was only 97 degrees outside. I had a big plan set for Saturday, a long drive that would take me down in the swamps and farms in the very bottom edge of southeastern Arkansas. As I stepped outside into the heat, I began to question it. Then as I drove farther and farther away from home, I decided to postpone that trip and try again later. No big deal really, it just meant that the insects, snakes and alligators at the swamps will just have to wait a little bit longer for the chance to eat me.

By the time I decided to turn around, I was in Pine Bluff. So I pulled off the freeway and took the opportunity to explore that city’s old downtown. Pine Bluff is an old river town (incorporated in 1839), built along the banks of the Arkansas River. In recent times, the town has fallen on hard times. And by fallen on hard times, I mean really it tumbled of the cliff of hard times. Several of the downtown buildings are abandoned, and parking lots are scattered with the broken glass remains of beer bottles. Several of the buildings are boarded up, but there was some life along Main Street. There was a big crowd at a clothing store called Super Bad, which I’m not sure if it was named after the film or just a comment on the quality of the clothes there. But beyond that stretch, the streets were quiet.
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There was one other car in the parking lot at the old train station, which is now a museum. I walked around to the platform, just as a train was coming into the station. It was a freight train, so it didn’t bother to stop here. It just made its way on past, the whistle echoing across downtown.

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I did not loaf.

Across the street from the train station sat a fine old building, which was once a Masonic Temple. It didn’t appear to be in use now, which is a shame.
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Next to the old Masonic Lodge was a jewelry store that was still open. There were two clocks on the front, including this huge old and weathered one hanging over the sidewalk.
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I like the sign for the business in the background – if it was open I’d have gone in to get some fashion with an attitude!

I got back in the car and headed back down Main Street towards the old courthouse. The Jefferson County Courthouse was built in 1856 and is an interesting old building. Across from the courthouse was another neat old building, which helped in getting some other shots of the courthouse.


There wasn’t much traffic around here. I felt pretty safe enough to rush into the street to get this view of the front of the courthouse from the middle of the road.

From the courthouse I walked around a bit more, past empty parking lots and more abandoned buildings. Several buildings were being slowly devoured by nature, adding a small touch of life to the empty buildings.
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I drove around a bit more, before eventually giving up and heading back home. This is the last shot of the day that actually turned out. I just got a picture and didn't stop to buy anything.
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

To the East

From Carlisle, I drove south on a random road, seeking out something interesting to get a picture of. I went past miles and miles of farmland, and past a lot of debris from the storm that passed through earlier that day. I tried to stop at any old building I could, and found this one along the side of the road. It was an old gas station, which still included an old Exxon sigh. The old gas station looked to be long-closed, there probably haven't been too many customers at this old vending machine.
There was a shiny Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper box there, which is still in use. It had a few editions of that day's paper still for sale.

There was an incredible amount of dragonflies zooming about along the road, though unfortunately a good number of them are still plastered on the front of my car. I don't think I've ever seen that many dragonflies out and about. But I drove on south into the town of Stuttgart, which is a big farming town. As you drive into Stuttgart, you see a bunch of looming buildings that look like the skyline of a far-off big city. It isn't skyscrapers you're seeing, instead it's a good collection of silos and grain elevators. I drove around in Stuttgart for a bit, but didn't get any good pictures, so let's move on...

I headed back towards Little Rock, passing through several little towns. On the road, just outside one of those small towns, was a huge swamp. The brackish water was covered in a sheet of green, with cypress trees popping out of the murk. I turned around and parked on the median, and took some shots out of the passenger side window of the car.

A few minutes later I stopped at this old house along the road, and carefully checked to make sure that no one actually lived there still. I hoped that it was empty, and got out to take a few quick pictures. I added a texture to this shot, which I hope goes well with the subject matter.
Home Sweet Home

I drove closer to Little Rock, going by the towns of England, Keo and Scott. Now this area is ripe with old buildings and barns. Looking back now I wish I had just driven out there first. I drove down a dirt road and came along an interesting stretch of old buildings being slowly taken over by nature, which were surrounded by farmland. It was starting to get a bit dark, and this was the last shot of the day, but I think it might be my favorite. Again it has a texture added to it, I tried not to go too overboard on the processing here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Well, duh

I took a drive out the other night, cruising through the flat lands east of Little Rock. I drove up north past Carlisle, past rolling farmland. It had stormed earlier that day, and the farms were a bit flooded. Muddy water pooled and flowed along the road, occasionally breaking over the banks.

This helpful sign was posted along the side of the road. I thought it was a bit obvious to put up a sign saying this. Kinda like having a sign that says, "Bungee jumping is dangerous if you jump without the bungee cord."

Just down the road from here the road was a bit underwater. The ditches were overflowing, cascading water down along the pavement. So of course I disregarded the sign and drove through. Luckily it was only an inch-deep or so, and the new car got past without any problems...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


The old Roundtop gas station looks like something that would sit along Route 66. It's a neat old building, a throwback to a long-lost era. The old gas station was built in 1936, and "reflects the Mimetic/Programmatic style of architecture."

Like those old relics of buildings along Route 66, the Roundtop station was built along what was then a major highway - the road from Little Rock to St. Louis. The station was closed down in 1958, but the building remains in somewhat decent condition. The front door now sprawls inside the main room, along with several empty beer cans and other random debris. There is hope for the building, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.

An article about the building that ran in the Sherwood Voice last year says:
“In the 1920s, Gay Oil Company held a filling station design competition and the architect, John Parks Almand, won the competition with a ‘mushroom-shaped’ design,” according to the National Register nomination. “While a significant departure from the Almand design, the Roundtop Filling Station draws an architecture reference to the station designed of independent oil and gas companies from the prior decade.”

“Its defining characteristics, designed to provide visual interest to entice customers, include an octagonal main structure with a double-hipped turret roof, stucco walls, and arched window openings and entries,” according to the application.

“The Roundtop Filling Station is an example of the free flowing architecture used by smaller independent gas and oil companies between the 1920s and the 1970s to highlight their distinctiveness,” according to the application. “The distinctive double-hipped turret roof provided a visual attraction for automobile travelers on the road to and from Little Rock and St. Louis. The site also has two historic features relating to its historic use, a lamp/sign post and a concrete gas island.”

I went out to the station with John Blakney, trying to get some shots of the building at night. I was a bit worried about heading out there at night, since the station is now surrounded by houses. I figured that someone might call the cops on us, since we might have looked a bit suspicious. Luckily no one called 911 on us, although a police car did drive by. It was a Pulaski County Sheriff's car, who just sped on past us (and didn't stop at a nearby stop sign, I might add).

But here is the best shot of the night:

It is a 40 second exposure, with three pops from an external flash hitting the building. There is a flashlight inside the station, trying to light up the area in the main room.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pansas City

Here are a few more pictures from the recent road trip to Kansas City. These were taken from the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower, which is part of the National World War I Museum. The view from the top of the tower is awesome, and makes it worth the $4 it takes to go up to the top.

This is the a panoramic view from the top of the tower. It is a combination of six shots that were stitched together using Hug-In.
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For a larger view, check out HERE

And a friend suggested making a tilt/shift shot with this view, so this is my clumsy attempt at one.
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