Thursday, October 29, 2009

Along Hwy. 10

Last week, I took off early from work and drove out west in order to catch a high school football game. While not the most glamorous of plans for a Friday night, I was there to watch my cousin play. It was Senior Night after all, and I was obligated by the family to attend. My cousin's team (the Charleston Tigers) won the game, and my cousin even scored a touchdown. He made a big splash on the tv highlights, with only one station managing to pronounce his name incorrectly.

But I left work and decided to take the scenic route, heading off along Hwy. 10. It's a pleasant drive, passing by Lake Maumelle, Magazine Mountain and several small towns. And because its a much more direct route, it only takes 30 minutes more to drive then what it takes to drive up there on the freeway.

But anyways, as I was driving out there I noticed a nice old barn along the side of the road. I went to turn around at this dirt road, which ran over some railroad tracks.
And it turns out that I liked the shots of the place where I randomly went to turn around then I did of the barn that I wanted to stop at.

Further down the road, in a small town whose name I can't remember, there was this old gas station. It is a forgotten relic, much like the famous ones along Route 66.

Hwy. 10 eventually runs up just beneath Mount Magazine - the tallest mountain in Arkansas. One field sits in the shadow of the mountain, with some nice old barns surrounded by grazing cows.

The many cows there looked up from their eating and stared up at me, wondering perhaps what this strange human was doing. They quickly grew bored of watching me stand in the wind trying to take pictures, and went back to eating grass.

And as I write this tonight, it was pouring down rain. Some parts of Arkansas have gotten over three inches of rain today, so surely waterfalls will be jumping this weekend. I'm trying to decide which ones to visit right now....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oklahoma City National Memorial

A few weeks back, on the morning after the U2 concert, my brother and I went to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It is a sad and somber place. The memorial is on the spot where a bomb exploded outside of the Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people.

The bombing occurred on April 19, 1995. I was in the 10th grade, and remember being in class when we found out about the bombing. A teacher rushed into the classroom, whispered the news to our teacher, who immediately went to turn on the television. We watched the news for the rest of that class.

The Memorial has 168 glass, stone and bronze chairs, each representing a person that died in the blast. According to wikipedia, the chairs "represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victim's family. The chairs are arranged in nine rows symbolizing the nine floors of the building, and each person's chair is on the row (or the floor) on which the person worked or was visiting when the bomb went off. The chairs are also grouped according to the blast pattern, with the most chairs nearest the most heavily damaged portion of the building. The westernmost column of five chairs represents the five people who died but were not in the Murrah Building when the bomb went off (two in the Water Resources Board building, one in the Athenian Building, one outside near the building, and one rescuer). The 19 smaller chairs represent the children killed in the bombing. Three unborn children died along with their mothers, and they are listed on their mothers' chairs beneath their mothers' names."

The reflecting pool runs through the middle of the monument, along the street where the truck bomb was parked. At each end of the reflecting pool is a Gate of Time, one showing 9:01 and the other 9:03.

On the north side of the Memorial is the Survivor's Tree. Before the bombing the area where the tree sits was a parking lot, with the tree providing the only source of shade. The tree is thought to be over a hundred years old, and it appears in photos taken way back in 1907.
The tree was heavily damaged during the blast, which took out most of the its branches. Fires from cars parked beneath the tree burned the trunk, and the bark had glass and other debris embedded in it. Again, from wikipedia: "Most thought the tree could not survive. However, almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony under the tree noticed it was beginning to bloom again. The Survivor Tree now thrives, in no small part because the specifications for the Outdoor Memorial design included a mandate to feature and protect the Tree. One example of the dramatic measures taken to save the Tree: one of the roots that would have been cut by the wall surrounding the Tree was placed inside a large pipe, so it could reach the soil beyond the wall without being damaged. A second example is the decking around the Tree, which is raised several feet to make an underground crawlspace; workers enter through a secure hatchway and monitor the health of the Tree and maintain its very deep roots." The Survivor Tree has become an emblem for the Memorial.

This graffiti was painted onto the Journal Record Building, which stands next to the Survivor Tree and that is now home to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum.
Plants obscure it a bit, but the last line says "And GOD Demands it!"

In the planning stages of the bombing, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols considered several other federal buildings in other states. One of those buildings they visited and scouted was the federal building in Little Rock. They were looking for a federal building that housed the FBI, the ATF and DEA. Those agencies weren't all located in the Little Rock federal building, some were located in what was then called the TCBY Tower. McVeigh and Nicols visited the TCBY Tower, and decided to not bomb the tallest building in Arkansas. The reason? "Wanting to minimize nongovernmental casualties, he ruled out the building in Little Rock because of the presence of a florist's shop on the ground floor." So instead he chose the Oklahoma City federal building, which had a daycare on the first floor.

This photo was taken in what used to be a plaza between the Oklahoma City Federal Building and the Federal Court House across the street.
About 20 feet away from the spot this picture was taken was a fenced off grassy area. A small sign said that this spot was used by the daycare as a playground area.

Across the street from the Memorial is St. Joseph's Catholic Church. The church was one of the first churches in Oklahoma City, and it was heavily damaged during the bombing. The church's rectory building was destroyed, and on the spot where it stood is this memorial built by the church. It has a statue of a weeping Jesus, with His back turned to the site of the destruction. Around the statue is a stone wall, with a niche for each victim of the bombing.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is a thoughtful and poignant place. It is a horrible shame that such evil exists that it needed to have ever been made.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Devil's Den

A few weeks ago, I was in the area and decided to make a quick stop at Devil's Den State Park, near Fayetteville. This is a very popular park, and it was busy with people checking out the caves and waterfalls there. It had probably been 20 years since I last went through the park, and I didn't remember much about the place. It's usually a long drive to reach the park from Little Rock, but I was on my way to Fayetteville and the park is conveniently located near the freeway.

Along the way to the park, I pulled over along the road at a neat old barn. The sky was cloudy, so it isn't the most exciting backdrop for the barn. I tried to find a good tree that would cover most of the sky up...

A stone dam, built by the CCC during the Great Depression, is a popular spot at Devil's Den. There was even a wedding reception being held a pavilion next to the waterfall. There were a lot of people out there, climbing on the rocks and taking pictures.

And a much closer view of the waterfall that tumbles over the dam:

The dam is along Lee Creek, which flows through the park. This is the view of the creek a few hundred yards below the dam.

There are several hiking trails at Devil's Den, which I assume go and explore other areas of the Devil's home - like his kitchen, spare bedroom and utility closet. But one of the most popular trails runs above Lee Creek and passes by several small caves (including one called the Devil's Icebox). The trail also passes by and under some waterfalls, which were sure to be running after all the recent rain.

The trail was busy with a lot of families out exploring the woods. The fall color there was coming along nicely, though I was probably there a week or so too early.

The trail passed under huge bluffs and weathered boulders. Moss and lichen were everywhere, along with several bizarrely-shaped rocks.

Soon the trail reaches the waterfalls. The falls are called Twin Falls, because there are two waterfalls that both run over a bluff next to each other. One half of the falls wasn't running much, and was just more than a trickle. But the other half was flowing much better. The trail here actually runs under the first half of the falls, and then crosses over a bridge right next to the second half. This is the view of the falls from the wooden bridge.

And another view. It's not the biggest or most powerful waterfall around, but it's still such a neat thing for us to actually have waterfalls this time of year.

And one last view of the falls, with the wooden bridge that crosses it...

The trail curves back around and follows the creek, passing by an old homestead along the way back to the trailhead. But my afternoon there took a turn for the bizarre, when I rounded a turn along the trail and saw none other than the Devil. He was perched upon a hickory stump, and then proceeded to explain that he was in bind, cause he was way behind, and was willing to make a deal. He then added that if I cared to take a dare, he'd make a bet with me. He laid down a golden fiddle on the ground at my feet, willing to bet a fiddle of gold against my soul. Now it might be a sin, but I was pressed for time and politely declined.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Falling Water Creek & Six Finger Falls

Falling Water Creek is one of the neatest spots in the Ozarks. There are several waterfalls along the creek, and some nice scenic views to match. It was even better last week thanks to the sweeping autumn colors that were approaching peak conditions. Even better, it's all very easy to visit thanks to the dirt road that runs parallel to the creek.

I drove off from Falling Water Falls and went deeper into the woods. The dirt road is in good condition, save a few bumpy spots. No lasting damage was inflicted on the new car (at least that I know of). But this was a shot taken from the side of the road, actually it was taken from the passenger seat window of the car.
PA169160 copy

I tried to make several stops along the way, which is easy since there are so many great things to see on the creek. This is a spot where the creek rushes over some small rapids...

Along with the waterfalls along the creek, there are several small falls that come in from the side drainages. There is a small waterfall that you can actually see from the road, and it's one that I had never taken a closer look at. So I parked the car and walked into the woods towards it. Now you can see the falls from the road, so the walk in isn't far. But it is a bit difficult to get there because the hillside there is at a steep angle, and gravity tries its best to pull you down towards the rocks. Most of the way there was spent trying to hold onto a tree, while my feet would slide away on the dead and wet leaves. I did manage to make it without falling, miraculously. I set the camera up on the hillside, and had to stay perfectly still to keep myself from sliding down the hill with the camera.

As far as I know, these falls do not have an official name. I remember reading in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook that a waterfall is named simply by having that name be published in a book or map. I laughed a bit at the idea that I could come up with any name, somehow get it published, and have other people be stuck using the name. It wouldn't be all that hard, and there is a nearby waterfall called "Fuzzybutt Falls."

So I began daydreaming of a name to deem the falls. It would be way too cocky and presumptuous to name the falls after yourself. Eventually, I decided that these falls shall henceforth be named Cunningham Falls. They are named in honor of FC Dallas soccer player Jeff Cunningham, who was just named the team's MVP for this season. He is also the top goal scorer in the league this season (the winner of the "Golden Boot"), and was instrumental in Dallas's unlikely end-of-season run that nearly got them into the playoffs. Now I just need to get the name published somewhere...

This is a wider view of Cunningham Falls. The creek went over several small waterfalls as it made its way down the hill.

The small creek that forms Cunningham Falls (see it has a nice ring to it!) then flows right into Falling Water Creek.

I got back into the car and went on towards Six Finger Falls. These falls were named because the creek has eroded out six chutes in the rock, which from above looks like a hand with six fingers. I had just parked the car when a truck pulled up beside me, and the driver got out to warn me that the road ahead was blocked. It is blocked thanks to a landslide that happened last year, and it doesn't look like it's ever going to be fixed.

But I had a quick chat with the guy in the truck. It turned out that he was a professional photographer, who works for the advertising agency that the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism uses for its advertising. He was getting paid to be out in the woods that day (lucky bastard, I was using a vacation day). He even showed me his fancy 36 megapixel Hasselblaad, which made me a feel a bit self-conscious about my much-lower megapixel Olympus.

He started to leave, and I asked him if he was going to get any pictures of the waterfall. "Waterfall?" he asked, "what waterfall?" I pointed out the falls and he quickly ran over to get some pictures. Six Finger Falls is neat waterfall. It isn't very tall, but it is wide and stretches across the creek.


Another small waterfall that I had never noticed before was just about 20 feet away, spilling over a bluff by the road. These falls are also probably unnamed, so if anyone has any ideas...

And a few more shots of Six Finger Falls. There is a little trail that you can take that leads to this large rock that sits along the bank of the river. It provides a nice view of the falls...


And one last view of the falls. It was a perfect day - perfect weather, perfect fall color, perfect water levels.

From there I tried to decide what to do next. I needed to leave soon, since I was to be meeting some of my relatives at 5:00 in Charleston, which would be about a two hour drive. It was 2:30, so I didn't really have much time left. But then again, I really wanted to see one more waterfall that was close by. What to do?

Well, what happens next is a bit embarrassing. I really hesitated about writing about it, but everyone needs a laugh, especially one at my expense. So here goes. I wanted to see the waterfall at Kings Bluff, which is near Falling Water Creek. I thought that I could call the family and tell them that I'd be late, and try to quickly finish the hike to the falls. So I went to the parking area at Kings Bluff and Pedestal Rocks, and absent-mindedly grabbed the camerabag. I thought that I would run the trail as fast as my out-of-shape body would allow, then spend a few minutes getting some pictures, and then run back to the car.

I was hurrying down the trail with the tripod and camerabag when my cellphone started to beep, announcing several voice mails and text messages. They were all from the family - wondering where I was, and reminded me that I needed to be somewhere at 5pm. Well, I decided it would be better to keep my word and meet then when I said I would, so I turned around and headed back to the car. I regretted not going to the falls.

And so I got to the parking area and what did I see sitting on the front seat of my car? The camera. Turns out that in my haste to start on the trail, I managed to close the camerabag without first ensuring that the camera was inside. I don't know what choice words I would have said after I had ran to the falls, only to discover that the camera was still in the car.

After that I made the drive to Charleston, even getting there 30 minutes early (which anyone who knows me can attest that was a rare feat). I still wish I could have seen the waterfall at Kings Bluff, but I would be able to see a few more waterfalls the next day at Devil's Den.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Falling Water Falls

This has been a bizarre year for weather in Arkansas. We have had record-breaking amounts of rain. One of the local weatherguys said last week that Little Rock has received huge amounts of rain this year. In fact, we are have already gotten ten inches more rain than what the yearly rainfall average is. It's been a wet year.

All that has been good for waterfalls. And the past few weeks have seen several rainy days, which has contributed to a rare event where we are able to see both fall color and waterfalls. I was able to take off a day from work last week, with the hopes that I would be able to get out and get some good fall color and waterfall pictures. Of course, the same weatherguy was predicting it to be sunny on that day. Sunny weather is the enemy of waterfall pictures.

My original plan was to drive up to Falling Water Creek, an amazing little area near Pelsor, in the Ozark National Forest. I thought that if it was too sunny for waterfall pictures, I would instead head over and hike the area around Pedestal Rocks and Kings Bluff.

It was bright and sunny as I left Little Rock, but clouds began to move in as I drove further west. Would it actually be cloudy when I needed it to be cloudy? Lo and behold, yes it was! Clouds managed to head in and block the sun, allowing for some decent waterfall photography.

This is a view of Falling Water Falls. At 10-feet tall, it isn't very tall but an interesting waterfall to visit.

And a wider view of the falls. At this point the sun hadn't quite given up, and was sporadically breaking through the clouds.
Fall at Falling Water Falls


I attempted to make my way down to the area at the base of the falls. The creek was running high, so there weren't many places to cross. I managed to find one place where I jumped across part of the creek, which went beyond and over these rocks.

I couldn't find another decent spot to cross, so I got a few more pictures of the falls and headed onwards down the creek. Just beyond the falls, the dirt road crosses over a concrete low water bridge. A small creek runs over the bridge, and this was taken about 20 feet up from that bridge.

And this was taken just below the bridge, where the creek has formed a small chute in the rocks. From here, this small creek flows down into Falling Water Creek. It's an area that I always want to spend more time exploring. But from here, I headed further down the road, off to see more of the sights of Falling Water Creek....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

U2 in OK

Well I’ve never been to Spain, but I've just been to Oklahoma. We traveled west to The Sooner State to see U2 during their latest tour. I’ve been counting down the days for this concert for months. U2 is my favorite band, and this is the fifth concert of theirs that I’ve attended. Actually, it’s the sixth time I’ve seen part of U2 perform at least, if you count the time Bono and Edge performed at the Clinton Library opening in Little Rock.

I went to this concert with my brother, who got us the tickets for this tour. He did a great job. We were in the Red Zone, a special “VIP” area on the floor of the stadium by the stage. The Red Zone tickets are purchased through a special auction, and the proceeds go to charities in Africa. But our tickets would allow us to be right along the rail by one of the ramps of the stage. It’s the best concert seats I’ve been in (well if you can call it seats, since we stood the whole time). But when the band would walk along the ramps, they were just a few feet away.

I met my brother in Fayetteville and we drove into Oklahoma before the concert on Sunday night. The concert was held at OU’s stadium in Norman, and the show’s massive stage towered above the field and took up much of the center of the stadium.
Stormin Norman

As we got to the stadium, we saw the huge line of people who were there for the main general admission area. This is the line that people camped out 24 hours before the start of the concert. But luckily we didn’t have to join that line, the queue for the Red Zone was much shorter, and we managed to get close to the front of it with hardly any wait. We were finally allowed into the stadium, where we quickly snagged a choice location along the rail, by the ramp.

This is the view of the stage, nicknamed “The Claw.” According to the wikipedia page: The tour features a 360-degree configuration, with the stage being placed closer to the center of the stadium's field than usual. The stage design features a large four-legged steel structure that holds the speaker system and cylindrical video screen and hovers above the performance area. The stage is surrounded by a circular ramp, which connects to the stage by means of rotating bridges. Fans with general admission tickets can be placed both outside of the ramp, as well as between the ramp and stage. The stage has no defined front or back and is surrounded on all sides by the audience. The stage design can increase the venues' capacities by about 15–20%. Only tiered football stadiums can be used with this scheme; flat fields and baseball stadiums are not possible venues. As with many large-scale tours of its era, the U2 360° Tour will have both the workforce and the revenues associated with a medium-sized company.
The stages are built by the Belgian company Stageco, and construction of each requires the use of high-pressure and innovative hydraulic systems. The steel structure is 164 feet tall – doubling the size of the stadium set for The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang Tour, the previous highest – can hold up to 200 tonnes underneath it, and requires 120 trucks to transport each of the 3 sets constructed to support the tour. Each leg of the structure contains its own sound system. The cost of each structure is between £15 million and £20 million each. The 360° tour crew consists of 137 touring production crew supplemented by over 120 hired locally. Daily costs of the production are approximately $750,000, not including the stage construction; the majority of this comes from truck rentals, transportation, and staff wages. The tour is not expected to break even until the conclusion of the second leg.

The Claw

The opening band was The Black Eyed Peas. I’ve never been a big of a fan of theirs, but they put on a great show. I was impressed.
Black Eyed Peas

U2 have been kind enough to allow cameras into their concerts, as long as they don’t have detachable lenses. So I left my camera in the hotel, and instead brought along a point-and-shoot that I borrowed from a friend (thanks Jenny!). I was disappointed to see people in the crowd around us holding cameras with detachable lenses, but was happy with my borrowed camera since it could also shoot video. So I shot this little video of the band coming out on stage and performing the concert's first song, “Breathe,” from the new album.

There were about 60,000 people at the concert. And they all went crazy. The stage is an amazing sight, especially when it’s combined with the awesome light show as well.

The four members of the band soon took advantage of the ramp around the stage, walking right in front of us. I tried to get as many shots as I could, along with everyone else around us. This is Adam Clayton, the bass player, playing with his back to us…
Adam Clayton

During “Beautiful Day,” both Bono and Edge walked by us. Part of the stage incorporates two moving bridges that would move above the general admission area between us and the stage. During part of the song, Bono sat on the bridge as it glided towards us. This shot was quickly taken just as Bono swept by...

Later in the song, The Edge took advantage of the bridge and crossed over it while playing the guitar…


The camera I was using didn’t have a great zoom on it, so I was really only able to get wide shots of the band when they were on the main stage. This is during the song “No Line On The Horizon,” off the new album.

This is another video of the band busting out “Until the End of the World,” one of my favorite U2 songs.

The stage incorporates a giant video screen, which unfolded from itself and lowered down until it was just above the band. I think this was taken while the band performed “The Unforgettable Fire,” from the album of the same name that was released way back in 1984.

During the song, Bono stood on the bridge and pulled out a young kid from the crowd. He then led the kid along the ramp while singing, keeping him on stage while the band moved into “City of Blinding Lights.” I guess the kid was chosen because he was wearing a Celtic FC soccer jersey?
Made me wonder if I should have worn my FC Dallas jersey, since they both have horizontal stripes…

This is a video of Bono and the kid walking right by us. In the middle of the song, Bono took off his trademark shades and gave them to the kid, who walked back with a dazed look on his face.

Soon the band started playing “I Know I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” which featured more of the band moving around the ramps. This included the drummer, Larry Mullen Jr., who walked by while playing the drums…


And another short video of Bono during “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

After the final encore, the band came out to perform "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" from Achtung Baby...

And sadly, the concert came to an end. This is the band performing the last song, “Moment of Surrender,” from the new album.

It was an awesome concert. I’d say it might just be the best one that I’ve ever been to. The only downside was that it was a bit chilly that night in Norman, and of course I managed to leave my jacket in the car. The cold wasn’t so bad, but there was a chilling wind that came through (I guess since it was Oklahoma, it was the wind sweeping o’er the plains). I’d love to go see another concert on this tour, which is being extended into next year with some tour dates in Europe. Rumor has it that U2 will release a new album next year, so they could very well bring the tour back over here again…

(I have a few more videos I need to upload to youtube, but it took forever to upload these, so I'm going to try again tomorrow).

In case you were wondering, the sit list for the concert was:
1. Breathe
2. Get On Your Boots
3. Magnificent
4. Mysterious Ways
5. Beautiful Day
6. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
7. Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
8. No Line On The Horizon
9. Elevation
10. In A Little While
11. Unknown Caller
12. Until The End Of The World
13. The Unforgettable Fire
14. City of Blinding Lights
15. Vertigo
16. I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
17. Sunday Bloody Sunday
18. MLK
19. Walk On
20. One
21. Where the Streets Have No Name
22. Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
23. With Or Without You
24. Moment of Surrender.