The Hawksbill

_C1_9559.JPGThe forest sounds different without its leaves. Rather than rustling millions of leaves, Sunday’s gusts roared like a distant waterfall between the trees’ bare bones. A good strong wind always seems to accompany hikes along the heights of the Ozark National Forest.

Area hiking enthusiasts probably recognize the outcropping above instantly: Hawksbill Crag at Whitaker Point, near the Buffalo River. It’s one of the best known spots in the state, but in all of my time here, I hadn’t seen it. I tried almost three years ago and was foiled by a steep and wet dirt road. A good friend just bought a Jeep, so this time we were golden. (It turns out there’s also at least one easier route a little further down the road. Good one, Google.)

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_C1_9602.JPGThe overlook at the end is obviously the primary draw of this trail, but the scenery on the way deserves its own attention. The trail runs along the top of a bluff line peppered with boulders and crowned by trees growing right out of the rock. The Boston Mountains swell and fall all around like immense ocean waves. These bluffs, like many around the Buffalo, can be deadly for those who go too close to the edge. Be careful if you visit.

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_C1_9549.JPGAnd here’s a view from on the crag itself. An unseasonably warm December afternoon wound up being a terrific time to get acquainted with this landmark. Someday I’ll come back to see its greener self.

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_C1_9576.JPGThanks for lookin’,

Dan

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Peak autumn

_C1_5869.JPGThe zenith of fall’s colors lasts only a few days, and for some reason or another, I think I’ve missed it every year I’ve been here in Arkansas. But this year’s peak fell on a weekend with beautiful weather and plenty of time for a hike — this weekend. I took advantage at the old standby, the Ozark National Forest around Devil’s Den State Park.

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_C1_5695.JPGWhat continually amazes me about the annual color explosion is that plants have a lot of the pigments that make it happen year-round, part of a chromatic net to catch as much sunlight as possible. They’re just overwhelmed by the familiar green of chlorophyll. Plants usually have to keep remaking the stuff and stop doing so around this time of year. So the oranges and yellows of carotenoids burst forth, sometimes in a way that looks almost pointillist, as with the oak leaf above. The same class of compounds gives carrots their color. The red is my favorite, though, and comes from a combo of sunlight and sugar.

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_C1_5902.JPGIf  you want to see it all, hurry. And thanks for looking.

Dan

Details

IMG_7731.JPGEvery time I think I know a place I end up wrong. Some of us went camping this past weekend in the stretch of the Ozark National Forest just beyond Devil’s Den State Park (the same place I camped about a year ago, in fact). You’ve seen it before: hills, valleys, creeks, outcrops. Got it. But even now there’s always some new or unnoticed detail. I know I keep saying that, but it just won’t quit being true. Take flocks of delicate blue damselflies mating, for instance.

IMG_7655.JPGOr there’s the fossilized burrows and trails that little worms or other critters left behind some 300 million years ago — that’s tens of millions of years before the first dinosaurs arrived. The burrows coil over and between the ripples of some ancient shore or seabed that have also been petrified into the rock along Lee Creek.

IMG_7622.JPGThen take the boulders of shale in the creek that are about the same age as those fossils and have somehow managed to stay the size of a car while being made of rock you can break in your hands.

IMG_7660.JPGNearby a plant I haven’t found the name of creeps between the creek bed’s rocks.

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Hundreds of feet above the creek there’s the funnel-weaver spider, its delicate front legs poking menacingly from the bottom of its translucent, 3-foot-long trap.

IMG_7726.JPGIt was a beautiful weekend. Even the loud music from the college campers didn’t ruin it.

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IMG_7662.JPGGoodbye, summer, and hello, fall. Thanks for looking.