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.)



_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.





_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.




_C1_9576.JPGThanks for lookin’,


The old backyard

IMG_2525.JPGThere’s no mistaking a southwestern Missouri creek. I’ll always recognize the high-pitched clink the fist-sized rocks make when I walk on them. Many of them bear tiny round or cylindrical fossils — some rocks are essentially nothing but fossil. Crawdads and snails and fish flit or crawl over the creek bed. The water itself, cool and clear, gleams golden and reflected green. I’ve known these creeks, like Bull Creek above, since my earliest memories, and my dad has known them even longer. It was good to get back a couple of weekends ago.






IMG_2490.JPGI’m heading up north again in a couple weeks for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse that will sweep from coast to coast. Click that link for detailed maps on where to see the total blockage of the sun by the moon — you can bet I’ll have about 1,000 photos to share, but it sounds like photos won’t do this cosmic event nearly the justice it deserves. If you can go and decide to do it, watch out for tens of thousands of others doing the same. If you don’t, you’ll at least get a partial eclipse no matter where you are in the country. But there’s no way I’m missing this thing; I’ve been looking forward to it for more than a year.

See you on the other side!


Thunder and Flood

IMG_1964No snow for the Ozarks this Christmas, just rain, rain, rain. As of this posting, between 6 inches and 10 inches have fallen almost without pause during the past two days along a band from Oklahoma to Indiana, according to the National Weather Service; for some comparison, here in Fayetteville that’s about the typical amount during November and December combined. It’s not forecast to let up until late tomorrow, either. In the meantime, we have a lot of the image above: overflowing ditches and streams and rivers, sunken roads, flooded fields and golf courses, and constantly overcast skies.

The amount of water flowing around here is almost indescribable. White-water rapids cascade from every bluff and cliff, bridges are overrun and, whether it’s in a gentle shower or a thunderstorm, the rain keeps falling, channeled by northwest Arkansas’ hills into torrents of opaque brown water.

IMG_1973Take Devil’s Den State Park, for example. The photo above shows one camping area along Lee Creek, which at this point usually spreads out placidly into a little lake as it approaches a dam built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Here’s what the dam usually looks like, as shown in a photo from April 2014:

_C1_4371Here’s what it looked like today (notice the turquoise metal spike for scale):

IMG_1980I almost wondered whether the dam was still there, the water poured over it so fast. The roar and spray drowned out anything softer than a yell. On the surrounding hillsides, newly created streams and waterfalls carved through the leaf-covered forest floor like threads of pearl through rust.


IMG_2007We haven’t seen rain like this since May and June, when about a foot fell around here and led to flooding of its own (You might remember the photos of the inundated golf course). Wacky and dangerous weather has struck across the country, with record warmth and several deaths from tornadoes in the past few days. Stay safe out there, everybody. Turn around, don’t drown, the whole bit. It could take days for all of this water to calm down. Thank goodness this isn’t snow, and brace yourself: It’s supposed to drop below freezing tomorrow night.

Hope you had a good holiday! Thanks for looking.


Beaver Lake


The heavy gray sky above Hobbs State Park threatened rain – gusts of wind through the forest’s bare canopy crescendoed as they approached, just like an incoming wall of rain – but that wouldn’t come until later. Instead the weather stayed dry and near 70 degrees Saturday, breaking records all over the state, the National Weather Service reports. I wore shorts 13 days before Christmas. It’s just not right. But I won’t turn down such a perfect hiking day in the middle of December.

I headed up for the first time to Beaver Lake, the seadragon-shaped reservoir that provides northwest Arkansas with most of its drinking water and a few dozen megawatts of hydropower. Forests and hiking trails surround it, including in Hobbs.




It’s been about a year since I’ve done much in black and white, but I’m in the mood for it after getting an early Christmas present, a book of work by photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams, who for decades captured the fantastic beauty of natural parks and other western places in grayscale. (Coincidentally, the National Park Service these days is looking for someone to take up the job, if you’re interested.)

I’m no Ansel Adams, though he and I share a love of the texture of wood, and Beaver Lake, though it’s nice enough, is no Yosemite. But black and white can be a fun little challenge. It strips away the contrast of color, leaving texture, shape and the contrast of light to work with. I couldn’t always give up color, but let me know how well it worked when I did.










The spikes of dead trees that poke up like bones from Beaver Lake’s many branches give away its human-made nature — half a century ago, this lake was forest. The rocky brim showed it was a few feet low, despite being so full earlier this year that the floodgates had to be opened. As of this posting it has risen about 5 inches from today’s rain, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports.

A lone fisherman drifted silently up Van Winkle Hollow as I hiked by Saturday. Up on land, a sea of fallen oak leaves covered the ground and made some stretches of trail practically invisible. Green splashes of conifer saplings poked through every few feet. It was mostly quiet except for crickets, the occasional gust and the gentle gurgle of tiny waves against gravel shores.











I’ve gone through a lot of Ozark forest in this blog, from Devil’s Den and other segments of the larger Ozark National Forest to Hot Springs and now Beaver Lake. I hope I’ve been able to show a bit of each one’s personality, whether it’s rugged and dense to the south or lighter and more open to the east and north, including the lake. Hobbs’ woods were so open the path might easily have gone in any direction. I’ll have to go back sometime and see where else it goes.

Have a good week!