Petit Jean

_MG_6811.JPGI’ve heard the name Petit Jean, a state park that’s pronounced “petty jeen” in these parts, for years. After a good dousing of rain hit the state, it was high time for the park and I to meet. It sits about two hours southwest of Fayetteville and seems small as natural areas in Arkansas go, stretching about four miles from end to end. But Petit Jean still has plenty to its name, including one of the most impressive waterfalls in the state.

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_MG_6662.JPGThe approach to the park is fairly flat, but the park isn’t, generally following a deep valley carved into a mountain by Cedar Creek. Rocky outcroppings called the palisades mark the entrance from the west.

In my eyes, rocks like this show a place’s personality. Much of the Badlands is jagged and crumbly, for example, while the Black Hills and Yosemite Valley are rounded and strong. The rock at Petit Jean reminded me of home in northwest Arkansas, with smoothed, wrinkled sandstone boulders and bluffs splashed with moss and lichen.

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This particular trail took me to the valley floor accompanied by a small stream with stair-step falls, then Cedar Creek itself. All of the recent rain had turned part of the trail into its own little waterway. But yesterday’s weather was beautiful, and I shared the path with dozens of people and tiny mushrooms.

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_MG_6777.JPGEven with the creek’s gushing at full strength, I could hear Cedar Falls before I could see it. The water tumbles about 100 feet, more than the Twin Falls at Devil’s Den and Eden Falls in Lost Valley. A constant, light rain dripped from the bluffs above.

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_MG_6827.JPGI didn’t have time to do everything I wanted at Petit Jean — there’s a whole other trail to the south that’s much longer than this one and includes hollows and formations called turtle rocks. But this trail by itself left me sweating and breathing hard, especially on the climb back up. Definitely a worthwhile first meeting.

Thanks for looking!

Many colors

_MG_4524.jpgIt took only a couple hours in Minneapolis for the city to surprise me. There we were, strolling around downtown in the twilight, when the roar of at least 100 skateboards suddenly surrounded us. Dozens of their riders seemed to swoop out of nowhere to chill out at 20 Washington Square and watch each other attempt tricks. The lone security guard I could see looked a bit overwhelmed. My two local friends say the police support this youth flash mob, marijuana stink and all, because at least everyone knows where everyone is.

This odd coupling seemed an apt preface for downtown Minneapolis’s big event in the following days, the Twin Cities Pride Festival. Gay, bisexual and transgender pride events like this one grew out of protest and literal rioting decades ago. Now they have corporate sponsors and respectability and police escorts. The two poles still don’t always get along.

_MG_4579.jpgBefore I got to that, I explored a little more of this metropolis, home to more than 3 million people, than I had the chance to see last time. After the obligatory stop at the Mall of America, we got a taste of the city’s outdoors. The Mississippi River already flows huge and strong here, even just a tenth of its length downstream from its beginnings. Minnehaha Falls, meanwhile, strikes an impressive figure through a green-splashed bluff right in the middle of town.

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_MG_4701.JPGNone of these stops were strictly pride-related, but there was no missing that this was pride weekend. Target Field glowed in rainbow colors each night, and flags and banners and posters plastered downtown, uptown and several neighborhoods. The pedestrian crowd was just as colorful: perhaps tens of thousands of people with every color of hair and every variety of clothing. Couples of all gender combinations held hands as they walked. The official pride festival on Saturday and Sunday brought your typical fair foods and confections, drag shows, music, vendors and booths promoting dog rescues, political candidates, civic groups and health. A man in a bright red dress gave an excellent performance of two Lion King numbers. It was easily the biggest pride I’ve seen so far, and maybe my biggest festival of any kind.

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_MG_5415.JPGThe blanket of togetherness and support for non-straight folks had a few frays, though. “Man and woman,” one man on a bus downtown said after another called a kid with pink hair walking past an anti-gay slur. A protest for black lives and against police use of force delayed the Sunday parade down Hennepin Avenue, spurred on by a fatal shooting just the day before. (Echoing so many other similar shootings around the country, police officers said the man shot was armed while family and witnesses say he wasn’t)

Part of the crowd clapped and cheered for the Black Lives Matter contingent, but another part, many of them white, middle-aged same-sex couples, booed the group, dismissed the shooting’s importance and wondered why they couldn’t pick another time or place — a question that greets all sorts of protests these days. One person near me suggested throwing drinks and kicking the protesters when they lay on the ground, given that the protesters didn’t want police around.

This extreme response fascinated me, given the day’s history. Pride began with wrath during a multi-day riot in 1969 New York City’s Greenwich Village. In a time of laws against homosexuality and frequent police raids of gay clubs that led to the outing and ostracism of many of their patrons, a largely non-white group of those patrons one night put up a fight instead, resisting arrest, throwing bricks and bottles and injuring four officers. Protest parades in the following years were meant to say the fight for recognition and dignity, while less violent, wasn’t over. Evidently some think it can be over now. But others, like that group of protesters, see these shootings and prejudice of all types throughout the country and say the fight is still on.

Still, even the boos couldn’t truly stop the enormous group hug that is a pride celebration. I teared up a little when the crowd went almost silent, waving the “I love you” hand signal as a group of excited deaf participants marched past doing the same. Actually, I still tear up at that. And people of every age and skin color and relation turned out dancing and sharing ice cream and cheering each other on.

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_MG_5177.JPGThanks for the good time, Minneapolis.

Dan

With flying colors

_MG_4271.JPGI got a dose of wildness right next to a Sam’s Club and an interstate highway in Fayetteville. A 121-acre wetland prairie called called Wilson Springs Preserve sits there, owned and managed by the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. It’s strange in some ways to call the place wild: A lot of human effort and machinery is almost done mulching trees and invasive shrubbery to get it back to its original state. But, to me, it felt wilder than some others I’ve hiked.

It might be because of the green and blue and white and gold-flecked dragonflies that continuously zoomed around me, or the vivid, metallic ebony jewelwings and dogbane leaf beetles. There were the tiny tadpoles that filled short-lived puddles to the brim and later emerged as toads the size of a fingernail. I heard the huffs and grunts of startled deer and carefully stepped over two box turtles. There was no avoiding the squads of ticks, some just a couple millimeters across, pulling themselves up my legs like gung-ho rock climbers scaling a cliff. And I had two experts with the land trust on hand to introduce the area and some its inhabitants to me Friday for a newspaper article. They’re probably the real reason for how I felt about the preserve. They helped me see it’s thick with life.

Speaking of that article, here’s what’s happening: The land trust works to either preserve or restore tracts around this corner of the state and is launching a campaign to bring 5,000 more acres into its protection in the coming years. The trust says wetlands like this one and other pieces of land, even farms, can clean rainwater and soak up its floods, protect rare species of fish and reptile and insect — the benefits go on and on. I’ve got a lot more information in the story here.

I didn’t have my camera with me Friday, and with all of these living things buzzing or growing in every direction, I had to go back. So I was up with the bugs the next morning.

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_MG_4229.JPGThe land trust holds tours here, but the preserve generally isn’t open to the general public; I had to sign a waiver to get in. Trust director Terri Lane told me it could open fully sometime in the next year or so. If you end up going one way or another, I’m not kidding about the ticks. I recommend a good coating of repellent, khaki pants to make the bugs obvious, and a thorough screening when you get home. That’d probably be a good approach for any hike, really, since tick-borne diseases are surging around the country. But don’t let the ticks stop you.

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_MG_4169.JPGThanks for looking.

Dan