This is one of my favorite spots in Arkansas. It is a pain in the butt to reach.
These falls and their hollow are part of a creek that runs alongside Mulberry Mountain, former home of the old Wakarusa music festival. I never came for the music, but some friends and I hiked to the nearby Mountain Creek a little more than four years ago (I posted about it here). I’ve wanted to go back since. It’s no 100-foot Cedar Falls, but it is a lovely, peaceful little swimming hole in the middle of Ozark National Forest.
The hike there, on the other hand, was not peaceful. The path is unusually steep and difficult, mostly straight down the mountain and therefore deeply eroded and rocky. But worse were the gnats and flies. I don’t know whether one group of them followed me or if I was just the baton in a relay down the mountain, but the dots darting around in front of my eyes and the whining buzz in my ears were literally, maddeningly constant. One big specimen pursued my camera lens no matter how much I swatted at it. Every now and then a metallic blue, sinister-looking wasp would fly in a straight line over the path, ignoring me. If only the rest followed that example.
There would be no relaxing until I got to the valley floor. And that’s too bad, because on both sides was a smorgasbord of fungi like I haven’t seen in years, if ever.
Some toadstools glistened wetly, while others looked soft as velvet. All were just the most visible part of a network of fungal filaments busy decomposing things beneath the surface.
I couldn’t spend much time with many of these beauties because of the gnats, but the bug issue surprisingly died down a bit when I reached the creek, where that sort of thing can be at its worst. I guess the spiders are more effective down there, since there were plenty of those, too. It seemed like I was the first visitor in a good while. The rest of you are missing a genuinely idyllic place, once you get past the rude, buzzing neighbors.
Thanks for looking.
I daydream sometimes about cutting loose, traveling the country and world to make amazing photos and write captivating accounts of them and somehow make a living with it all. If that’s ever going to happen, it’s a long way away. The idea can feel unattainable, like I’ve failed to grasp its secret, after years of galleries and art shows with only a handful of sales. I can’t afford the newest camera or travel for weeks or months at a time like Thomas Mangelsen or Ed Cooley, whose gallery is just down the street. It’s a bitter feeling that author Tom McAllister happened to describe perfectly in an article yesterday. Even after three books and prestigious reviews, his book reading events drew depressingly tiny audiences. He asked his wife before one reading if he could simply leave.
But just in the last couple of days, McAllister and my dad and others have reminded me of a different perspective to take on all of this: We write books or pursue some other creative work first for ourselves, because we love and need to do it. I’ve realized that my bitterness ignores a lot of important things, like the support I have gotten from loved ones and a few strangers, the blessing in having any of this to worry about, my gratitude for people like you who give me some of your time and attention. It ignores the old joy in the doing, the joy in my search with no end for new places and new points of view on familiar ones.
This post is about that last part. Some of us last weekend hiked and camped around Devil’s Den State Park and the surrounding Ozark National Forest, which are like old friends at this point. I sought different perspectives and explored them a little further than I have before. I did my regular hunt for new shapes and colors of fungi. In literally the last few minutes of the trip, I also found a spectacular reminder of why I do this.
I saw this vivid, foot-wide fungal behemoth just off the Devil’s Den Trail, gasped absurdly loudly and exclaimed a profanity a few times to myself. The prize seemed to glow in the undergrowth. It was easily the most magnificent fruiting body I have ever seen in person. I breathed quickly, terrified of not getting the perfect shot of it. I excitedly pointed it out to everyone passing by. I couldn’t help but smile for the rest of the hike. It’s ridiculous and nerdy, and I loved it.
And I’ve still only just begun. Thanks, as always, for looking.
The 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.)
The 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.
And 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.
Thanks for lookin’,
The 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.
What 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.
If you want to see it all, hurry. And thanks for looking.