CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - APRIL 2010, PART B (15th - present) Journal Archives

Click Here For Part A (April 1 - 14)


Cloudland Cabin Cam April 30th, 6:51am - WINDY!!! It was so windy that when I went outside before dawn to water the flowers the wind blew one of my slippers right off my foot and I had to chase it down! I also saw large trees bent nearly to the ground. Let's hope we actually get some rain out of this system and not too much damage.

Beginner's Digital Camera Class on May 8th - we still have space left - hurry!

Updated Wednesday night the 28th - we faced down a gun in the lady's slipper patch

04/15/10 'Tis a perfect spring evening in the wilderness - a soft breeze, cool temp, and a furry landscape all around. The lushness of springtime is hard to describe, but easy to soak in. I've had some rough days this past week - contrary to popular opinion it is a great deal of difficult work looking for waterfalls. But I try not complain too much - since no one will listen to me! But I get my revenge for all the hard work on nights like this one, when I can sit back in my easy chair out on the back deck, feet propped up on the railing, sipping a cup of spirits, with my faithful dog at my feet. Wait, scratch that last one - Aspen is resting comfortably on a big fluffy bed indoors where he has been all day! Sometimes us old dogs get worn out.

I've been watching the incredible blooming display of dogwoods and redbuds all week but have not been able to get any photos - either I've been on the run or there has been too much wind, or both. This afternoon I decided to take off a little while and just to wander around in the trees with my little camera. I discovered that I can get some really nice photos with one of my little point-and-shoot cameras - good enough for book publication. In fact, sometimes I'm able to get photos with this little camera that I can't get with any other camera. People ask me all the time which camera I use - thinking that if they just got the same camera then their pictures would look the same. (that's not how it works) I've got at least four different types of cameras that I use at the moment - different tools for different jobs. And this little Canon G10 point-and-shoot works wonders in certain circumstances, like today.

So I found a meadow filled with brilliant dogwoods and redbuds and wandered around with the blowing winds and the sunshine - and that part of my work day was indeed a lot of fun!

Workshop season has begun, and I'll be teaching photo workshops four out of the next five weekends, plus some individual workshops during the week. The workshops can be pretty exhausting to teach and to attend, but it is a wonderful experience getting to be around so many other photographers and is always fun to see the different perspectives of the same subjects that everyone has. As always, we need some RAIN, and LOTS of it, so please keep on dancin'...




04/18/10 Just a quick update tonight. We had a terrific photography workshop this weekend with studens from Maryland, Austin TX, near Boulder CO, and from various locations in Arkansas. Everyone got some terrific images. Wildflowers were in ample supply, we found lots of flowing water and glorious light all day Saturday, and stood on the edge of the great Arkansas Canyon and witnessed an incredible sunrise this morning. Here are a couple of my snapshots from the weekend...






04/19/10 There was a frantic knock on the cabin door early this afternoon - we were told that a hiker had "fallen off the bluff." Exactly 21 minutes later I was standing on the top of Hawksbill Crag and there was no one around. Pam had called the sheriff. I ran along the bluffline shouting for anyone who was there, but nothing. I ran to the point where the bluff splits open a bit and scrambled down the steep hillside. I ran along the base of the bluff until I could run no more - I had found the hiker. He had fallen from 94 feet above and came to rest on his side, with his face away from me. It had probably been more than an hour since he had fallen. I knelt down beside him and checked for a pulse. It was no use. I knelt in tears and said a quiet prayer. The forest was completely silent. Time had stood still.

I noted the location and made my way back up to the top of the bluff where I called Pam on the radio and told her the news. She had been in contact with the sheriff's department and had already met the sheriff at the Faddis cabin and directed him down the trail towards me. I met up with the sheriff a few minutes later - this just goes to show you what kind of sheriff we have here in Newton County - he was the first one on the scene, out in the middle of the woods a mile from the road, and he had been sitting in his office in Jasper when the call came in. I hope they make him sheriff for life!

I took sheriff Keith Slape down through the bluff and over to the hiker. The sheriff examined the body and confirmed that he was not alive.

With others already in the woods headed in our direction, I went back up to the top of the bluff to start the long process of directing traffic. Soon a helicopter that had been called in circled overhead. About 20 minutes later I ran into the chopper crew paramedics - they actually got out of the chopper and ran down the trail into the woods to see if they could help. I told them the bad news and they realized they were not needed so they returned to the chopper. One of the EMTs had treated my copperhead bite at the Harrison Hospital many moons ago.

In the next 30 minutes there were at least two dozen more park service, forest service, search and rescue, and county sheriff department folks on the scene and in the woods. Later the coroner arrived. Pam, Billy McNamara, and I stood at the trailhead as more and more folks streamed in. And then two brothers of the young man who had died came out of the woods and they were taken back to where their parents had been waiting, back at the Hawksbill Crag Trailhead.

When we left the group they were still undecided exactly how to remove the body, but it looked like they would haul him up the very same tall bluff that he had fallen off of. Mules had been brought to the scene but they were thinking not to use them, opting instead to carry the body back out the narrow trail up to a waiting ambulance.

You may hear that this hiker fell off of Hawksbill Crag - this is absolutely not true. He had been hiking with his family on the trail to Hawksbill Crag, but he was about a half mile away from the Crag when he fell. From what I could determine, he had climbed up on top of some of those chunks of sandstone that sit on top of the big bluff, and as a family member had said, when he started to move back from the edge of the rock, he slipped and fell. I have posted a photo of that stack of rocks, and also the trail that runs nearby. This trail is NOT dangerous to hike, but accidents will happen, and a terrible one happened today. Please take a moment out of your busy life to remember this young man from Kansas who lost his life today while enjoying the wilderness..............

04/20/10 Just a short update this morning with some facts to go along with my report from the 19th. This accident happened sometime around noon yesterday. I reached the hiker around 1pm. It was shortly after 6pm when the hiker's body reached the command center next to the Faddis Cabin. More than 30 folks aided in hoisting the hiker up the bluff and out to the road - this was done by the "high angle" team from the National Park Service, along with many others in the support group. Amazing how many wonderful people came together on a moment's notice to help. Pam and I measured the height of the fall this morning at 94 feet.

Tuesday afternoon update. It has been a day filled with the talk of death, and it has only gotten worse. We just received news that the little three year old boy who wandered away from his grandmother's home yesterday near Osage, Arkansas (a dozen or so miles north of Ponca), was found dead in Osage creek this afternoon. 500 volunteers had gathered and were searching for the boy since yesterday evening. Obviously our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to his family - and yet another giant thank you is in order for everyone who came together to help.

I've spent most of my day on the phone doing interviews with radio, TV, and print media in connection with the death of Dylan Meier, the hiker who fell 94 feet to his death near our cabin yesterday. It is obvious that Dylan was a much-loved and accomplished guy throughout the state of Kansas and beyond, and touched the lives of many, and did a lot of good during his short life - what more could any of us ask for in our lives? I've received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from friends and others who knew him, including more than one football player who played on an opposing team - that says quite a lot about Dylan's character.

Early this morning my lovely bride and I hiked down to the bluffline where Dylan fell - I wanted to measure the exact height of his fall. I took a close look at the spot where he fell from, and could find no reason why it would have been dangerous - I've stood in the very same spot many times, as had a lot of other folks who wrote to say they recognized the photo of the rock I posted here. This was a tragic accident and nothing more, and could have happened to anyone at anytime. I took a photo from the bottom of the bluff that showed the bluff face and where Dylan landed - everyone wanted to know what the countryside looked like, and I also included a photo looking out from where he fell from.

Pam was mostly silent during our somber visit, only remarking about how beautiful all of the shooting star wildflowers were that graced the trail as we hiked along. As we were leaving I noticed that she had constructed something out of pine needles on the top of the rock where Dylan fell - she had spelled out D Y L A N. Amen...

I will be out in the woods all day tomorrow and so unavailable, but hope to post another update Wednesday night or Thursday morning.


The photo above shows the rock on top of the bluff where I believe Dylan was standing when he fell to his death on Monday. It is a spot where many hikers stop to take in the surrounding scenery.


This view above is from the spot where Dylan was standing when he fell, and the view below is from the base of the bluff 94 feet below.


04/22/10 I spent the beginning of yesterday morning soaking in a beautiful sunrise - was up and out and enjoying another sunrise today. I got to spend most of yesterday out in the woods taking pictures, and also hunting morel mushrooms. We only had a few drops of rain the other day, but that was enough to get some of these tasty mushrooms starting to reach for the sky. I'm allergic to mushrooms, but I have it on good authority that my mother-in-law LOVES them, so hoping for some brownie points I returned to the mushroom spot this morning and picked a few for her. (I'm probably allergic to brownies too, but will take all of them I can get!)

The peak of springtime blooms in pretty much over in the Ozarks now - trees are mostly leafed out but still have a nice bright green coat on; more and more wildflowers are coming up all over the place; but redbuds and dogwoods are on their last legs. I have photographed a few dogwoods this week and can say they are the LARGEST BLOOMS I've ever seen on them! Just amazing. Just yesterday we found umbrella magnolia blooms starting to take shape. Oh man, if you ever get the chance, walk by a blooming magnolia tree - the aroma is unlike anything else, and if there are numerous blooms the perfume might be so heavy that it will knock you down! This is the tree that makes me think of the tropics here - and some of the forest around is about as thick as well - we have the Ozark rain forest about to happen!

I went to Home Valley Bluff this morning and found a sea of clouds down low with tall ridges rising out of the sea. Something about this location continues to draw me back again and again. And another spot below the big bluff keeps me returning as well. It is a spot I photographed on a rainy fall day last October when the trees were at their peak of color and the rain was coming down hard. I sought refuge far back in a cave-like place, and ended up spending an hour taking pictures of the color and the fog and the cave entrance. All of the color this morning was GREEN outside, but it was once again wonderful anyway.

I have not had time to process any of my real images from yesterday or today, but I will post a couple of snapshots below. Looks like we may finally get some rain in the next day or two - although since they have been forecasting gloom and doom for several days I'll wait to see and hear it before I jump for joy too much. We've got another weekend workshop coming up and I hope another day of shooting tomorrow so I will be away from the computer most of the next few days - but will check back in here on Monday or so - perhaps once before then.

We continue to get e-mails and phone calls about Dylan - such a wonderful young man he was and such a terrible tragedy for his family, and for the community up in Pittsburgh, Kansas as a whole. Sounds like a great bunch of folks all around up there, and we all feel your pain and wish you all the best in these trying times.







ALERT! Be on the lookout for a wild burro, kind of dirty white in color, that is running loose on Cave Mountain. The famous painter, Billy McNamara, reported tracks in his front yard; yours truly actually SAW the critter running through a meadow not too far from here; and then just yesterday we found a large pile of donkey dung within a few feet of our warehouse. My lovely bride does not believe any of this, however she continues to see a black deer up here somewhere! Lots of unusual critters roaming around in the wilderness...


04/25/10 Here are a few images from this past week...

Dogwoods from last Monday, Falling Water Falls from Sunday, lady-slipper orchids and spiderwort from Friday (all from different areas)








Six Finger Falls (above), Fuzzy Butt Falls (below), both from Sunday


I'm just getting unpacked from about five days out on the road doing photo workshop stuff. It has been a very long, tragic, but also joyful week with the Ozark wilderness showing its very best of springtime. I got to spend a little bit of time with my camera taking pictures, but most of the week was spent with workshop students trying to get good photos for them. Dylan Meier's funeral is tomorrow in Pittsburg, and in a bitter-sweet moment for his family, this weekend his younger brother (who was with him when he died) was drafted to play in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.

On another note, I've got to tell you a little story about why it is extremely important to be aware of your surroundings while "taking care of business" out in the woods. On Friday I was out with master photographer and workshop assistant, Ray Scott (yes, of the outdoor shower fame), scouting potential scenic locations to visit during our workshop this past weekend. I had left Ray to explore an area by a really neat waterfall and was looking for an easy access for our students when the call of nature struck. I found a perfect spot far back in the woods, and while I was sitting there on the fork of a large downed tree, I got to looking around and spotted something nearby looking right back at me - a rare yellow lady slipper wild orchid! It was an overcast day in the deep woods full of GREEN everywhere, and the pure yellow of this beautiful flower really stood out.

And then I spotted another one. And another, and another. The longer I sat there the more bright spots of yellow I found - HOLY COW, I was right in the middle of a large patch of rare wildflowers! In my entire life I've probably seen a couple dozen different individual lady slippers, sometimes a few plants together, but they are quite rare and only bloom for a couple of weeks each spring. (I used to know where there was a patch of a dozen plants all together near the old Lake Ft. Smith, and I used to take my mom to see them on Mother's Day when they were in full bloom, but it seems like they bloom a couple of weeks early now - all of those rare orchids were flooded by the new Lake Ft. Smith.)

I got up and started running around like a kid in a candy store, counting more and more and more of the lady slippers. I stopped counting at 100! But then when I took Ray back to the site to take a few pictures, we counted another 40-50 flowers, plus probably at least 50 or more immature plants ready to bloom in the next year or two. I do know of a valley in the Ozarks that is reported to contain 1,000 of these orchids, but my only trip through it netted much less, and they are spread over a very long drainage. I've never seen nor heard of anything like what I found on Friday in the Ozarks before. All I can say is WOW!!! (please don't ask)

We had a great weekend workshop and spent our time chasing waterfalls and being chased by storms. It was really kind of funny - at one point it was quite obvious that every time we stopped to take pictures, within five or ten minutes dark clouds gathered and it started to rain! This was even when we made a specific trip up into clear-sky-areas, but the clouds followed us! However, just like good nature photographers should do, we ended up taking some very nice photographs that included the black clouds as a feature. And then at one point, after we had waited for sunshine and then ran and hid from clouds, we moved to a neat location on a river bank and just waited and waited and waited - and then it happened. The clouds parted to reveal pure sky with a 3/4 moon rising directly behind a beautiful painted limestone bluff that was lit up by the setting sun - it only lasted for 30 seconds, but I think everyone got a great photo!

Today we knew that we would only have an hour or two to shoot before a bright sun would rise into a clear sky - not what we wanted - we wanted CLOUDS! But we all got up and out the door very early (after a big healthy COUNTRY breakfast by our master chef, Angela Peace), and arrived at the first waterfall long before the first rays of sunshine stuck it. Then we motored onto the next waterfall, and then the next. Everyone filled up their memory cards with spectacular waterfall photos before the light got too harsh. By the way, one highlight of the weekend was a dinner of custom-made pizzas from the little Blue Mountain Bakery at Pelsor - they are not open on Saturday, but are open every other day. Also on Sundays for the time being, they GRILL burgers out in front of the store - about as good as it gets so be sure to stop by! (Lots of fresh-baked muffins, sandwiches, and fried apple pies too!)

04/26/10 I loaded up the dogs yesterday and headed out to search for more waterfalls. It was cool and cloudy, and while most of the Ozarks did not get a lot of rain over the weekend, I drove towards one of the areas that did get some good rain just to check out a couple of drainages that just "smelled" like waterfall country to me. As luck would have it the clouds cleared and we had blue skies above - not good for waterfall!

The first drainage turned out to be a really rough one with lots of ice damage and very steep and rugged terrain - this is where waterfalls live! I followed along just above a creek that was running well deep down there in the bottom of the drainage, then was eventually forced into that bottom when the terrain got too steep and rough. I was not the only ones having a rough time of it - the pups were too - not sure if that made me feel better or worse!

We finally came to one of the blufflines in the area and while there was not a tall waterfall there I did find a very interesting one. The bluff actually ran along the creek for about 150 feet - looked like a wave as the sandstone wall arched up from the creek floor and curved up overhead. At the far end of the wave was a very nice waterfall that poured into an emerald pool. Since the sun was shining with terrible harsh light, I could only sit there a moment and admire. Aspen got to swim a little bit in the pool, then it was time to turn around in search of other waterfalls.

But just as I started to walk away the sky grew dark and the waterfall began to GLOW! A cloud had moved in front of the sun - YIPPIE! So I quickly set up my camera and started to take photos. The cloud did not last too long and the sunshine returned. This scene was repeated over and over again for about an hour - sun then brief shade, then more sun. From my shooting position I could not see the sky at all so I never knew when a cloud was likely to drift over, or how big it was or how long it would stay. I got a good photo during one nice cloud, but then decided I liked the photo enough to make a four-shot "stitch" of the scene for possible use in a future picture book. A stitch is when I shoot more than one photo with parts of a scene, then put them all together later in the computer to give me a much higher resolution file that I can print larger. The only problem was that the clouds were too small for me to complete all the shots for a single stitch before nasty sunshine returned, plus Aspen kept running into the pool and getting in the way! At one point I gave up completely and packed my camera gear up and started to leave, only to have another big cloud move in. I finally did get a complete stitch that I was happy with - patience pays off.

I decided to take a "shortcut" off of this big mountainside, and of course it turned into a nightmare - the hillside was so steep at times that I was going from tree to tree just hanging on for dear life. Compounded by the fact that I could not see my feet at all - the vegetation on the ground was SO thick! I could not look for snakes and simply had to BELIEVE that there were none underfoot. The ground cover was mostly ferns and flowers - it was a very lush landscape for sure, but extremely rough. We eventually bailed out on the hillside and returned to the creek bottom for the rest of the trip out.

Later on I attempted to hike up another drainage that just smelled like a waterfall, this time taking a new approach to climbing the hill, and it worked out much better - but still lots of thick underbrush and lots of ice damage. I hiked/climbed/crawled straight up the hillside until I came to a big bluff, then followed it on into the drainage. There were a few anxious moments that way, but I made better time. And I was rewarded by finding a GIANT waterfall - I never expected anything this big!!! Wow, I was amazed. There was plenty of water flow and most of the waterfall was shaded by the steep hill above it, so I set up my camera and got ready to scramble into the shot. Knowing I would have a tough time getting to the bottom of the waterfall, I set the timer for two minutes before it started to take pictures, and that worked out just about perfectly - I got into position at about 2:10 - I had set the timer to take a series of photos so I was able to get into the picture.

Not only was this falls really TALL, but it was powerful as well. The wind was howling at the base and at one point actually blew my hat off. It was a tall, thundering waterfall that will be well worth a visit by those folks who can bushwhack up the steep and rugged terrain.

In the process of getting to the top of the waterfall to set my measuring tape, I found another waterfall up above. It was not nearly as tall but still quite beautiful. But holy cow the drainage in between these two was almost IMPASSABLE - clogged with lots of big trees that had fallen into the drainage during the ice storm. There were times when I lost both dogs in the mess, and I just had to assume they were down in there somewhere. The upper waterfall was about 30 feet tall, but the lower one measured out a full 70 FEET TALL! Wow....

I spent the next couple of hours wading along the large creek far below - as luck would have it the blue skies were replaced with clouds, and I had really nice light that I took advantage of with my big camera. The dogs were too tuckered to follow me, so I left them in the car for a well-deserved nap. Since I have almost run out of space here I won't post any of the photos (I'm limited in the total number of lines and don't want to have to create a Part C for April.), but you may see some of them in books or prints later on down the road. Just FYI, you may notice that sometimes when I first post photos here they are larger, but eventually I must go in and reduce the size to make room for more. I still prefer the flow of this Journal over ordinary blogs that add each new entry to the top - to me you are always reading backwards on them! I LOATHE the term "blog" - this is not a blog, but rather a Journal, and it is the oldest and longest-running Journal on the internet - come to think of it, I just realized that in a couple of weeks I will begin the 13th year of the Journal, oh my gosh!

04/28/10 I think my lovely bride has gone too far. She signed us up to have the cabin tested in a wind tunnel, and it is blowing at 40mph+ outside tonight! I always cringe a little bit when I see "wind warning" on the local news - we always have wind out here, so that means we will really have winds! It has come on all of a sudden tonight and sounds like a big storm is approaching, but it is all clear out.

Not sure what got into me this morning, but I decided today would be a good day to load up the car and go for a hike - just for fun with absolutely no work on the agenda! I convinced my lovely bride and her parents to come along too. Oops, I take that back - I did have something in mind - I wanted to measure a bunch of the new yellow lady's slipper orchids that I found last week to see which species they are. We actually have four lady's slipper orchid species in Arkansas, including three yellow varieties. The size of the slipper is one of the factors needed to determine the ID - there is a "small" yellow and a "large" yellow, plus a new species that has not been included in previous wildflower guidebooks for Arkansas, the Kentucky yellow lady's slipper.

We made the mistake of stopping at the little bakery at Pelsor to grab a snack. Both ladies ordered homemade "Hillbilly" sandwiches - I say mistake because Pam's dad is on a diet and I can't eat yeast, so we both had to stand there and watch the two delicious sandwiches being made, and then had to endure all the noises being made as the girls ate them in the car! I had a fried apple pie that was simply wonderful though, so that helped!

This special population of rare wild orchids that I found last week is out in the middle of nowhere, and is one of the largest populations in the state, in a county that is not listed as having any lady's slippers - so, a significant find. We all started seeing the bright yellow slippers long before we reached them, and then more, and more, and more. Before we knew it we were completely surrounded by the rare flowers, and just kind of awestruck by it all. It was Pam who noticed some movement back in the shadows of the deep woods - there was someone out there, coming right at us, and she was packing a big GUN, YIKES! She had a little camera too and was there to photograph the orchids, something she has been doing for many years. The gun? Well, I didn't ask, but I figured it was for snakes - or for someone she thought might be trying to harm the flowers. We had a great conversation - she was a grandma in her 70's but still getting around well, and had no issues being all alone out in the wilderness on such a fine spring day. She was quite knowledgeable about wildflowers as well, and when I said something about the showy orchis I had found nearby, she took me on over to a pair of leaves that were just coming up out of the ground - sure enough, they were showy orchis too!

We also visited a nice waterfall, found some wild garlic, oh yes, and found THOUSANDS of other wildflowers - they were all over the place! This has been an exceptional year for wildflowers in Arkansas. Spiderworts. Mayapples. Wild geraniums. Lady's slippers. Shooting stars. Even blooming trees like redbuds and dogwoods are still hanging on - and the dogwood blossoms were GIANT this year, oh my gosh! Same goes for the mayapples - have you seen them lately? HUGE! I took a snapshot on a hike I took late this afternoon and could not believe how many plants had big flowers on them. Let's hope the fruit and veggie crops are as good!

Oh yes, the lady's slippers. This population turned out to be the endangered large yellow lady's slipper. Most of them measured about 1.5 inches long. I hiked on down to the population of lady's slippers that we have near our cabin this evening and measured them as well, and they are all just a little larger but I don't know if they are the Kentucky species or just large regular large ones - I have a photo sent off to the wildflower expert, Don Kurz, for his opinion. I want to be able to photograph all four species this spring or next, so if you know of a patch or individual small yellow lady's slippers, or especially the pink/showy lady's slipper, please let me know.

UPDATE: A nice Journal reader wrote to tell me that the lady's slippers I used to take my mom to see at Lake Ft. Smith were successfully transplanted by experts before the lake was enlarged, and she reports they are doing well in their new forest home - yippie!

The showy orchis are in full bloom near our cabin as well - in fact the most blooms I've ever seen on them. This flower seems insignificant until you get down to their level and look them straight on - lots of character for sure! I found lots of blooming umbrella magnolia trees as well - did I mention they are having a banner year too? And those blooms are 6-10 inches tall, and smell like Hawaii!

Since I don't have any more room here to post photos, I'll add a new page just for wildflower pictures (click here) - these will all be just snapshots, so please, no critiques!

Also I have added photos of the waterfalls that I found on Monday at the same link.

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