Monday, August 28, 2023

A Sky Full Of Stars And Mosquitoes

Recently we had one of those rare and blessedly cool string of days, which was like an oasis during the blast of furnace heat we've had this summer. It was actually pleasant to be outside. Which meant that it might be a good time to attempt some star trail pictures.

So one night after work I packed up the camera gear and hurried out to an abandoned church near Keo. And while I remembered all the camera gear, I made one major flaw. I forgot to bring bug spray. To the Delta. In the summer. As soon as I exited the car, I was immediately attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. I tried to set up the camera, all while skeeters were biting my arms, legs, and neck. I tried to get the camera in focus while their high-pitched whine rang in my ears.

It was all for nothing. The camera lens fogged up after about thirty minutes and nearly all of the shots were useless. Whoops. But I think it's a good spot, so I'll try again. But maybe in the winter when there won't be any mosquitoes to deal with.

I did wipe the condensation off the lens and tried to get a shot of the church, with a sky filled with stars above. You can just barely make out the Milky Way, I think it would be brighter if it wasn't so close to Central Arkansas' blob of light pollution.


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Blanchard Springs Caverns

On one of the last weekends of the summer break, Jonah and I drove up into the Ozarks and visited Blanchard Springs Caverns. It is a nice place to visit in the dog days of August. It might be 100 degrees outside, but in the cave it's a nice and chill 58 degrees.

The Depths

Blanchard Springs is the largest cave in Arkansas, and features massive stalactites, stalagmites, columns and flowstones. It's thought that some of these formations began over a million years ago. Also in the cave are these delicate and fragile "soda straw" formations.


It's not the easiest place to take pictures, since it's a dark cave deep underground. During the tour you obviously can't stop and take pictures with a tripod, so I did the best of what my old camera (and Iphone) could handle. They used to do photographer tours in the cave back before Covid, hopefully they will start those back up again soon.


Tuesday, August 22, 2023


The road to the small town of Shirley in the Ozark Mountains has to be among the most curviest roads in the state. It's fun to drive (as long as you don't get car sick), plus there are a few neat things to see along the way. Like some old barns:


And this old school/church building:


Just outside of Shirley is an old rail bridge, which was built in 1908, which crosses the Little Red River.


When rail service through Shirley ended, the bridge was paved over and converted into use for cars.


The bridge is very narrow, and with flimsy-looking guardrails. I wasn't brave enough to actually drive or walk across one...


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Hot Springs

Recently I took Jonah on a quick trip to Hot Springs to celebrate the end of summer and the start of the new school year. We first went by the Mid-America Science Museum, which is a fun little place for kids. Then we headed over to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. The tower sits on the top of a hill in the National Park, and provides some nice views of the city and the nearby mountains.


It had been about 100 degrees when we made it to the Science Museum. But at the top of the tower it was actually quite comfortable, thanks to some cooling winds coming in from an approaching thunderstorm.


The tower stands 216 feet tall, and was built in 1983. It replaced two previous towers that had been built on the mountain, in 1877 and 1906.



We headed back to the car and followed the curvy road as it ran along the top of the mountains...


We dropped down into the city, which was busy with summer tourists. I pulled over and got a few quick pictures of my favorite building in Hot Springs - the Medical Arts Building.


The art deco skyscraper was built in 1929 and was the tallest building in the state. It had been almost entirely abandoned for decades, but is now in the process of being converted into a hotel.


Just down Central Avenue is the old Army-Navy Hospital, which was built in 1933. It sadly has been empty and vacant since 2019, and already you can see broken windows on the front of its imposing facade. I hope a new use can be found for this historic structure, and that it doesn't meet the same fate as the Majestic Hotel.


And then we made one last stop in Hot Springs, at one of the mountain overlooks. It provides a great view of the city and the old Army-Navy Hospital, along with the Tower. The massive storm was moving in, and it started raining while we were up there. I hurried back to the car and started driving home (perfect timing since we drove through pouring rain the entire way back to Little Rock!).


Tuesday, August 8, 2023


Helena was once one of the most vibrant and important cities in Arkansas, but now it feels neglected and forgotten. It was incorporated in 1833, along a spot where Crowley's Ridge met the Mississippi River. The town quickly became a vital spot along the River during the steamboat era. In 1883, Mark Twain wrote that "Helena occupies one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi."

Several Civil War battles were fought in and around Helena. And in the 1930s, Helena became known as "the blues capital of the Delta," and was the home to such musical luminaries as Robert Johnson, Robert Lee McCollum, Roosevelt Sykes, and Sonny Boy Williamson. But modern economic realities of the Delta have been rough on the city.

I don't know why Helena feels so cut off from the rest of the state. Maybe it's because its location? It is on the Mississippi River, but far from any interstates or other big cities. Our state government often has to be reminded that the Delta exists, especially for places like Helena. The city has been under a boil order since the end of June due to issues with its aging water infrastructure. The state of Arkansas, which currently has a billion dollar surplus, offered the city a paltry $100,000 loan.

There are lots of neat old buildings in Helena, but many have been left empty and abandoned. And sadly, many of those were severely damaged by a storm in 2020. But the buildings that remain paint an interesting picture about what Helena was once like, and the history it still has to share.



One building here used to house Bullock's Cafe, which I was wish was still open because the food there must have been delicious. A friend I follow on Twitter (Terry Buckalew - @tmabuckalew - who you should definitely follow if you are interested in the Blues) reports that Bullock's had amazing food, and the owner Cora Bullock would pull you in the back and you could pick your food right off the stove. It was famous for awhile, and was in a few travel magazines and news stories.




There is a picture of Cora at work in the kitchen on this photoblog from 2007.


This old building sits a few blocks away, along the Mississippi River levee. It has been abandoned for some time now, with the gutted interior now covered in layers of graffiti and random debris. The outside is home to these invasive vines, looking to take over the concrete walkway.





This cracked and faded paint was on one of the rusty metal doors leading into the building.



A few blocks away is an old motel, the Downtown Inn. It has been closed for several years, with tall weeds sprouting in the former parking lot.





And a few more shots from around downtown Helena:






I drove over to the industrial area along the river that looks like its home to buildings that process grain (I guess, I really have no idea?). There is an old building here, that may have once been a factory. It sits empty and abandoned, the only inhabitants are mice (judging from the numerous pieces of poop on the ground).




In one part of the building, trees were seemingly growing right on the concrete floor. They were pretty tall, so it seems like they've been growing there for quite some time.



After that I needed to start driving back towards home. But I got one last shot at this neat old Victorian house. They definitely don't make them like this anymore:


Friday, August 4, 2023

The Kudzu Of Helena

There are a lot of notable features about Helena-West Helena. The city's deep history, its connections to the Blues, or its place along the massive Mississippi River. But one of the most striking things to see as you drive through Helena is the kudzu. The aggressively invasive vine has managed to take over several hillsides in the city, and continues to spread. There were several homes that seem to have been abandoned, which were slowly being subsumed by kudzu.




Kudzu is native to Japan and China, and was first introduced to the US as part of an exhibit at the 1876 World's Fair in Philadelphia. It became popular because of its attractive flowers and foliage, and because it grew quickly. In the 1930s, the US government paid farmers in the South to actually plant kudzu as a way to prevent topsoil erosion and to provide food for livestock. Unfortunately things got a little out of hand. Kudzu flourished, and kept on growing. Now it's believed to cover up to seven million acres of land in just the South, and has been seen as far north as Canada.


Kudzu can grow at a rate of about a foot a day. It's been called the "vine that ate the South."



Crowley's Ridge is susceptible to erosion, and kudzu was planted in abundance there. Helena sits at the bottom edge of Crowley's Ridge, and several of the hills have been covered with thick strands of kudzu for decades. This was taken from a neighborhood, with houses sitting right against the thick vines. I'd hate to think of how much work it is to combat the kudzu assault.






And one last shot of the kudzu, taken before I lingered too long and was covered up by the vines....