Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Carden Bottoms

The next morning, I grabbed the new camera and headed out to take a few pictures. I headed up to Petit Jean Mountain State Park, and hoped that the recent rains would make for good waterfalls. But they didn't, at least at Petit Jean. I stood in the cold and tried to get a few pictures of the small waterfall by the Davies Bridge. There wasn't much flow, and I ultimately decided that it wasn't worth hiking to Cedar Falls when there wasn't that much water. So where to go instead? The new camera needed to be used more.

I had seen a few pictures on the internet of an old school, located near Petit Jean. So I drove across the flat lands along the Arkansas River and tried to find it. I turned down a dirt road, which was muddy after the recent rain. I absentmindedly drove by the old school on my first attempt to find it, completely missing it while scanning the fields for any sign of a decrepit old building.

I passed by a few homes, several of which were abandoned and were now slowly being overrun by weeds and trees. This is an old church, quiet and surrounded by a congregation of weeds and grass. I'm assuming that this is a piece of farming equipment in the foreground.


This was taken in an area called Carden Bottoms (the immature part of me still laughs at the name having the word "bottoms" in it). This is an area of rich farmland that sits along the Arkansas River near the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge and Petit Jean Mountain. In the 1930s, Carden Bottoms was home to hundreds of farm families. But now, only a few dozen live here. But the Carden Bottoms area has been a home to people for thousands of years. Native Americans are actually believed to have been farming this land for centuries. Archeological evidence actually suggests that people have been living here for nearly 10,000 years. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have even visited the Carden Bottoms area in the 1540s.

I drove by this old house, which was abandoned and nearly overrun by vines and trees.


I eventually turned around and managed to find the school. The school is old, built in the 1920s out of stone. It was abandoned finally in the 1970s, with vines and other vegetation slowing taking over. The growth is so thick that I bet the building is completely covered in the spring and summer. This is the entrance to the school.


And the side of the old school, which features more vines than glass.


This is the stone archway that connects the school to a gymnasium. The gym was built in the 1930s, but the interior has collapsed.


And another view of the vines that have nearly overtaken the side of the school.


I went inside to take a look around. The floor was missing in a few places, where the wood had rotten away. There were several significant holes in the floor, and several places looked too dangerous to walk on. The time and elements have taken their toll here.


There are two old pianos that are still in the school. Both are in pretty bad shape, and can't be played anymore (I'd guess they would be out of tune anyways).


One of my contacts on Flickr (DuoMax) actually visited this spot in November and found this piano laying on its side. He was able to get it sitting back up straight, which was nice because I would never have been able to do that on my own. It had been ok the first time he visited, but some vandals or other idiots had come through and knocked the piano over.



Aside from the pianos and some random graffiti, I was glad that there hasn't been much damage to the building. Hopefully other people will give this place the quiet respect that it needs and deserves.


This is another one of the old classrooms, which had an old oven sitting in it.


And another old room, with an old sofa.


The old school was a neat, if eerie, place to take pictures. I would look into a few rooms and feel a bit of a chill, which I only hope was from the wind coming through the broken windows. After pointing the new camera at everything I thought might be interesting, I headed back to the car. I left the old school, and the deep history there, to be left to the weeds and vines that are slowly consuming it.

New Camera!

I had a really good Christmas this year - I spent some wonderful time with friends and family, looking back on the joys of the holiday season. And also I got some cool presents. There was a new FC Dallas jersey, a new tripod, and a new camera! My wife surprised me with a new Canon 6D, which means that I've finally moved on to the Dark Side after shooting Pentax and Olympus for years.

My first real camera was a Pentax P30T, which I got in either 1994 or 1995 (I'm too old to remember now). It was a good camera to start learning photography on, since you had to figure out your own focus and exposures. It even managed to get me through the intense and Pulitzer-level photojournalism that I did with the North Little Rock High School yearbook. I upgraded in 1999 to a trusty Pentax ZX50, which came with a few more bells and whistles. In 2006 I finally joined the digital world and bought an Olympus e500 (which I was very proud of at the time, although phones now have more megapixels than that camera). In 2010 I moved up to an Olympus E30. I've really enjoyed that camera, and loved the pictures it produced. But a few months ago we decided it was time to move into the world of full-frame cameras. So after a few months of saving, we upgraded again to the Canon 6D. I do feel a twinge of sadness, like I'm cheating on Olympus.

But the new camera is awesome! After opening the box and charging the batteries (the Olympus came with charged batteries you know), I took the camera out for a few test shots. This is one of our dogs, a Shetland Sheepdog, who was happy to model for a few pictures.


That night I took the camera out to try to get a few more pictures. It was a little awkward, since I was trying to use a new tripod and a new camera at the same time. Also it was raining, so I was trying to hold an umbrella over the lens at the same time.


Took the camera out again the next morning, but not after spending the time and actually looking through the instruction manual first. I'm proud to say that I haven't yet managed to drop or break the new camera yet (so far).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas in Little Rock

While in downtown Little Rock last weekend, Caroline and I headed over to Riverfront Park. At the Riverfest Amphitheater is a light display, which has a show every 15 minutes that is set to music. After we sat in the cold and watched the show, I wondered if might be worth getting a picture of it. The stage, with its Christmas lights, sits right by the lit-up Junction Bridge. So I headed back a few days later to try and take a few pictures. It was right at dusk, and I was very pleased that one of the songs chosen for the show was one of my favorite Christmas songs ("Christmas in Hollis" by Run DMC).


I headed over to the Junction Bridge for a few shots. The Main Street Bridge is in the distance.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Capitol Christmas

One of the best holiday traditions in Little Rock is the annual fireworks show after the Christmas lights are turned on at the State Capitol. After the Little Rock Christmas parade ends at the capitol there is a small ceremony, with speeches from a few politicians and some choirs singing (although this year it seemed a little bit more political than the previous years). The capitol is adorned with 90,000 lights, in a tradition started over 70 years ago. Apparently the Secretary of State in 1938 added some lights to the capitol dome in order to brighten up the view for the kids stuck in the nearby Arkansas Children's Hospital. The lighting has changed and evolved over the years, but hopefully all the kids were able to enjoy the fireworks show.


After the fireworks show, everyone crowded into the capitol. The inside was decorated with a huge Christmas tree, and even had a place for Santa to sit. This is the view looking down onto the rotunda and Santa's workshop.

Under The Dome

The State Capitol was completed in 1915, so it's now almost a century old. This is the view looking towards the House of Representatives, where our elected officials will probably be getting into mischief when the state legislature starts back up next year.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hot Springs

I had to run another errand in Hot Springs (actually to pick up two pictures of mine that had been on display at the Fine Arts Center), so I took off early one day last week. It was foggy and rainy, which while not the best weather for driving, turned out to be pretty good for taking pictures.

After stopping at the Fine Arts Center, I still had about 45 minutes of light to take pictures before it got dark. The rain had stopped, but a thick fog hung over the tops of the mountains that surround the city. I headed up the road that leads to the Mountain Tower, which was shrouded in fog. There wasn't any other traffic on the road, so I stopped a few times to take pictures.


The next stop was the Promenade, which runs behind the bath houses in the National Park. There is a spot along the walk that provides a great view of the Arlington Hotel, the old Medical Arts Building and Central Avenue. The lawn in front of the Arlington already had Christmas decorations out, featuring a few colorful Christmas trees. And while it is a great view, the location isn't the most ideal for pictures. It is right above the display spring, which meant that steam from the 143 degree water would billow up and envelop the camera. This would usually fog up the lens (until I realized I should probably shield the camera from the steam, duh).


I was recently looking at a group discussion on Flickr where people were talking about their favorite National Park. Most said Yosemite and Yellowstone, but also added that their least favorite National Park was Hot Springs. Which I can kinda understand, since Hot Springs is small and commercialized and located right in the middle of a city of 30,000 people. But it's a little unfair to judge it against the massive parks of the West, and not give any consideration to the unique and slightly crazy history of the city and park. I always enjoy visiting Hot Springs, it's one of my favorite places to take pictures.

Hot Springs is technically the oldest national park in the US, since the federal government began protecting the springs in 1832 (before Arkansas was even a state). The park protects the 43 springs, where about a half million gallons of water flow out every day. The water from the springs was diverted to several elegant bathhouses, which still line Central Avenue and are the heart of the park. Hot Springs was at its peak of popularity in the 1920s through the 1940s, and was the premier spa resort in the country. But changing times, and the removal of illegal casinos, saw a drop in visitors to the bathhouses. They began closing, until only one was still open.


A few years ago, the National Park Service began renovating the bathhouses and opening them back up for commercial use. Now nearly all the bathhouses are back open again, hosting art galleries, a fancy spa and even a brewery (my favorite). This is the Ozark Bathhouse, which was built in 1922 and reopened as a cultural center hosting galleries and events.


Towering over the bathhouses is the old Army and Navy Hospital, built in 1933. The brightly lit building below it is the Buckstaff Bathhouse. It was built in 1912 and was the only bathhouse to remain open.


I couldn't stay out too much longer, since I had to drive home. So I took a few more pictures and started driving back to Little Rock. Hot Springs is only about an hour away, and hopefully we will make a few more trips there soon.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Little Rock

On a foggy and rainy Sunday afternoon, Caroline and I went to downtown Little Rock to run a few errands. The fog was hanging low, obscuring the top of the skyline. Perhaps, I thought, there might be good conditions later on that night for picture taking. So a few hours later I drove back towards downtown, hoping the fog had stuck around.

It didn't. The fog was gone, replaced with swirling clouds. So not quite what I expected, but I headed out to try to find something to take pictures of. I ended up standing on this bridge over Interstate I-630, with this view of the dome of the state capitol. I was surprised there was this much traffic on the freeway on a Sunday night (must have been people heading to and from the mall for Christmas shopping).


I drove across the river to North Little Rock, and into Riverfront Park. The low clouds were being illuminated by the city lights below, giving them a yellow tint. And oddly enough, the lights on the Junction Bridge seemed to match up with the sky.


Monday, December 1, 2014


The fall colors in the Ozarks weren't the best this year, but luckily they still put on a good show in the rest of the state. So before the wind knocked the leaves off the trees, Zack and I decided to take a quick trip out to Flatside Pinnacle. If you've never been, Flatside has one of the best views in the state. And it's only an hour drive from Little Rock.

Flatside Pinnacle is a 1,526 foot mountain that sits in the Flatside Wilderness. The wilderness area contains nearly 9,500 acres of pristine forests, right in the middle of the Ouachita National Forest. From the top of the mountain you have a grand view of the rolling Ouachita Mountains, which roll and stretch off into the distance. Below is miles and miles of uninterrupted forest.

The trail to the top of the mountain is short but steep. And while Flatside is getting more and more popular as people find out about it, there were only a few other people out there that evening. We set up the cameras and waited for the sunset, which finally dropped behind the hills.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Clinton Library

We were entertaining some out-of-state visitors a few weeks ago, showing them around Little Rock. Which of course meant a visit to the Clinton Presidential Library, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary. I had only been inside the library once since it opened, so it was interesting to see how things have aged over the last few years.

While a few people poked fun at the library's architecture when it opened, the inside still provides a great view of downtown and the Arkansas River.



It doesn't really seem like the library has been around for ten years. Which reminds me, I should probably do a little post here about getting inside the library dedication ceremony to see Bono and The Edge play. I'll try to get that up soon....

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Boxley Valley

The sun was just about to rise above the mountains, so I headed over to Boxley Valley to try to get a few more pictures. The road was lined with cars, as people were parked trying to get a good view of the elk herd that calls Boxley home. I usually don't stop here, but I pulled over to the side of the road this time. The field in which the elk were standing was white with frost. I joined the line of people elk gazing or taking pictures with lenses that were longer than my arm.


I parked by this old barn, where a few cows were hanging out.


Boxley Valley is very similar to Cades Cove in the Smokies, where there is a great collection of old homes and barns that are over a century old. But in Boxley, the original residents were allowed to live and farm the land in the valley. So places like the Baptist Church, which was built in the 1870s, are still being used.


I think this is an old root cellar, which sits at what is now the start of the Buffalo River Trail.


I tried to get a few more shots, but the light had gotten harsh. I love taking pictures in Boxley, it's such an amazing area.


I finally ended up heading back home, sleepily making the 3 hour drive back to Little Rock. I was looking forward to getting back home to my loving wife, crazy dogs, and a bed where I could take a nice nap.

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....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hot Springs

A few days after we got back from our trip to the Smokies, I left work early to run an errand in Hot Springs.  It was a rainy and foggy day, which luckily was pretty good conditions for taking pictures.  Since I had a few hours off to play, I took the camera with me.

It was a bit different going from one of the largest national parks in the east, to the smallest and quirkiest national park in the country. By most park standards, Hot Springs is tiny. Unlike the sprawling and vast national parks in the West, Hot Springs only contains 5,500 acres. It’s also the only national park that has been extensively commercialized. The actual hot springs here have been capped and the water diverted to bathhouses, and there aren’t any herds of wild animals roaming the lands (unless you count the tourists walking down Central Avenue).

Hot Springs National Park is one of my favorite places to take pictures. There is a lot of history and unique architecture in the park. Including this old electric mill, which was built in 1921. The mill would take water from a nearby lake and use it to turn the huge wheel, generating electricity for a nearby home.


I've been wanting to get a shot of this place for a few years, ever since seeing a picture of it online. I've probably driven by it a hundred times without knowing it was there. Next to the bridge is an old stone bridge that crosses the creek above a waterfall.


While Hot Springs National Park is nearly surrounded by the city of Hot Springs, there are a lot of places to escape into the woods. Several trails and roads head up across and over the mountains. I headed up one of the drives, as fog drifted through the trees at the tops of the hills.


Next I ended up walking along Bathhouse Row and Central Avenue. Across from the park, the road is lined with small shops, boutiques, galleries and an occasional wax museum. Most of them seem to be locally owned, which was a big change from the sprawl of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. In fact, I heard later on that Ripley's Believe Or Not wanted to build here (and even take over one of the bathhouses) but was denied.

This was taken looking down Central Avenue, and I think the old building was once a hotel.


Down the road is the old Medical Arts Building, which was the tallest building in the state when it was built in 1929. Like some other buildings along Central Avenue, only the first floor is currently occupied. The rest are empty and vacant, which caused the Medical Arts Building to be listed as one of the most endangered historic properties in the state. There is a lot of potential for anyone wanting to redevelop it in the future. I'd love it if someone would let me go and take pictures from the top floor sometime....


Monday, November 17, 2014

Roaring Fork

On our last day, we decided to end the trip with a visit to one of the more spectacular areas of the park.  The Roaring Fork Motor Scenic Drive is a short loop (only about 6 miles), but it packs a lot into that short distance.  The drive actually starts in Gatlinburg, but it feels miles away from the packed strip of tourist traps and acres of Ripley’s Believe It Or Nots.

From Gatlinburg, the drive dips right into the middle of a thick and old forest. The road is narrow and one-way, and is too small for busses or RVs. While there was some traffic, it wasn’t as crazy as the gridlocked traffic jams in Cades Cove. People were driving extremely slow in places because this is supposedly one of the better places in the park to spot wildlife, like bears. We didn’t see anything, unfortunately. The only wild animal we encountered on the trip was the raccoon that visited the back porch of our cabin.

Non-native settlers began exploring the Roaring Fork area in the early 1800s. By the 1850s, there was a big enough population here that a crude road was constructed (which is now the Scenic Drive), and the amenities included a school, church, general store and two mills. The first stop on the Scenic Drive is the Ogle Homestead. The old cabin and barn were built sometime in the 1880s and 1890s. The cabin was built in the “saddleback” style, and is actually two cabins built around a single chimney.


We headed to the next stop, the Jim Bales Place. The Bales family moved into this area in the 1830s, and built a homestead here. The old cabin is old, but it isn’t original to this spot. The Bales family apparently built a more modern house here, but the Park Service tore it down and moved in another old cabin that would better represent the olden pioneer days of Appalachia.



While waiting for a group taking family pictures to move along, I dropped down to explore Roaring Fork Creek. The creek starts along the slopes of Mount Le Conte, at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet. From its beginnings, the creek drops more than 2,500 feet in just a few miles, eventually heading into the narrow valley that is part of the Scenic Drive.



The creek gets its name because it can get quite vicious after heavy rains, and will loudly “roar” off of the surrounding mountain ridges.


Just down the road is the farm that also belonged to more members of the Bales family. The home here is an old dog-trot cabin that was probably built in the early 1900s.


There are also a few other outbuildings that have been preserved here, including a hog pen, corn crib and a barn.


This one looked like a little dog house, like an old timey Snoopy would have been sitting on it back in the olden times.


The creek was built along the creek, which was making a lot of noise that day.


The last stop was the old Reagan Place, which stands out because the old saddleback cabin has painted sawboard panels.


There is also a small grist mill here, with a wooden culvert directing water from the creek.



I wish I would have had more time to explore this area, but it was getting dark. I tried to squeeze out as much light as I could, but had to give in when I could barely see through the viewfinder.


We drove back into Gatlinburg, and celebrated our first anniversary at The Melting Pot. We left the Smokies the next morning, driving back to Nashville to celebrate our friends wedding. It was a great trip, one that I didn't want to end. But I did have some fall colors back in Arkansas to look forward too....