CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - FEBRUARY 2012 Journal Archives
Cloudland Cabin Cam February 29 - the first POPcorn tree bloomed today! (aka "serviceberry")
We had a heck of an electrical storm last night, but almost no rain. HAPPY LEAP YEAR!
February 2012 Print Of The Month, Golden River Swirls
UPDATED Wednesday the 22 - the first flower of spring! And Pam gives a "thumbs up"
02/01/12 There is a sea of fog filling the canyons below early this morning and I can't wait for the break of dawn to happen so I can take a picture to show you what it looks like! Seems pretty warm out, and wet. The airwaves are filled with the music of happy creeks and the river far below running and flowing and playing with glee. 'Tis a new month upon us and I look forward to and cherish each break of day and hope to see all 29 of them - I guess it is LEAP year, so we get an extra day - yippie!
I spent most of yesterday working on the Ouachita Trail and exploring several creeks along the way. I was really impressed at how colorful the creeks are down there right now. I have always associated the beautiful green color with rivers in the Ozarks like the Buffalo, but holy cow the ones in the Ouachitas are the same color right now and BEAUTIFUL! One in particular was Irons Fork Creek. The trail crosses it on a concrete foot bridge, and the creek is filled with moss-covered boulders. There are hills of green towering over it - mostly covered with pine trees that add a great deal of green to the "winter" landscape. I never saw another hiker, but I did find a fresh footprint - glad to see someone else out on the trail.
Some of you will find this humorous. I spent a good bit of time trying to make my way closer to the trail so that my hike would not be as far. Using old maps I made my way over some pretty serious 4wd roads, and had to use the special lift button on my car to get through some of the worst spots - this raises my vehicle and give it nearly 11" of ground clearance. Anyway, when I reached the point that I needed to get to I discovered a perfectly good forest road there that did not require any 4wdriving to get to! Silly me. But this is the reason I do all this research and updates to make sure the info in the guidebooks is current - I'll add that location as a new access point to the trail. I also found another forest road that had been closed and so will be removing that one from the map.
I'll be in town much of today, Thursday and Friday, but hope to post the new Print Of The Month late Friday, along with some new poster prints that we'll be making available. And perhaps we'll get a bit more rain this week to feed creeks and waterfalls - looks like it is going to be a great month outdoors in Arkansas!
02/03/12 The palate of early morning here today is filled with soft hues of yellows, reds, oranges, and blues. Which is kind of funny to have all these warm colors since it is a wee bit chilly out with a heavy frost blanketing the landscape! The air is very still and muted just like the colors. Soon the sun will arrive though and stir things up a bit, and blast the wilderness with bright sunshine - wake up, it is a new week!
I spent several days last week down south working on the Ouachita Trail. One day I had to wade through piles of hail that were several inches deep in drifts, and also found swollen and muddy creeks that were raging from recent rains. Later that same day the landscape was filled with beautiful whitewater streams and emerald pools - just a few miles from all the ice and mud! Smith Creek, Muddy Creek (which was CLEAR as a bell and beautiful!), Harris Creek, Rainey Creek, and Fiddlers Creek were all a delight to the eye and senses. The sun was out too and so were tons of witchhazel bushes, which filled my lungs with sweetness. It was a grand day to be out walking on this trail - winter is one of the best times to hike here.
Part of my time was spent documenting a long trail reroute of more than three miles. It is a ridgetop trail for many miles, with part of it following a forest road. The new trail section spent some time on the north side of the ridge - BRISK winds blowing - and then cross the road and toured the south side of the ridge - no wind and plenty of warm sunshine. Since I had to hike the trail both directions that was a 6.6 mile stop for me.
And then I ventured west of Hwy. 71 to visit more streams and even a small waterfall along the Ouachita Trail - the creeks were alive with the heavy rains on Friday, but running clear. The landscape was so lush and GREEN - well, at least the mossy rocks were green - everything else was a very lush BROWN, but it was all intense color.
I eventually made my way to the very western end of the trail and spent nearly a full day in Oklahoma, visiting creeks and trailheads and water sources. Temps were in the mid-30's with winds to match, and a thick layer of fog/clouds hung low over the mountains. Much of the trail was engulfed in this thick fog, as was the landscape all around. One of my favorite features of this part of the trail that run along the highest ridges of the Ouachita Mountains are the forest of stunted and very old oak trees - I call them "wizard" trees. Cloaked in all the fog they took on an eerie personality - one that was dark and menacing, and COLD from the howling frigid winds. Yet I loved to wander among them and they were my friends.
The weather forecast called for clear skies and warm, and in hopes of getting the clouds to break up I had worked my way across the state line back into Arkansas along the Talimena Scenic Drive - the Ouachita Trail follows this for many miles. While this was a trail guide work trip I did manage to stash my camera gear, just in case. So I had hoped to be in position somewhere up on the mountain to be able to see and photograph a glorious winter sunset. But the cloud cover remained quite heavy all the way to the horizon in all directions. Although I did see sunbeams one time, and I stopped and looked on in amazement as those beams moved back and forth across the landscape that was spread out in front of me. I managed to find an open view and grabbed my camera to take a few pictures - although I had to hold onto everything for dear life as the wind continued to howl.
I spent the next hour chasing a sunset that never happened, but that was OK - the god beams photo was an unexpected delight and one that you will most likely see again. The WINDS - my oh my, the winds made it downright brutal outside up on this tall mountain!
I spent the night down in a protected valley next to the Ouachita River in the back of my van, but was up early the next day and back up on the mountain early to try and get some sunrise photos - more "clear" weather had been predicted. But the black skies only turned a little lighter and there was no color and no sunrise. Oh well, I love that time of day anyhow and it was great to be in place just in case.
A few minutes later I was standing at the beginning of an 8-mile hike that turned into an 11-mile hike. I had planned on temps in the 40's and 50's and clear skies so I did no pack too much warm stuff, but was BLASTED by arctic air when I stepped outside. The temp was in the low 30's with probably 20-30mph winds, so that put the wind chill much lower. Oh well, I would need to maintain a pretty good clip hiking this part of the trail since I did not have all day to get the miles in, and that fast pace would help keep me warm. There were several steep climbs in this section as well, although most of the trail kept pretty well to the top of a long (30 miles long) ridgeline. I found the trail reroute that I needed to, then hiked on and visited a beautiful spring that was nearly a half mile off the trail (water is at a PREMIUM along this trail).
What an odd location to put a spring - right on top of the mountain! There had been no water for many miles, and then all of a sudden this little oasis of ferns and vines right in the middle of nothing but rocks and ridgetops. There was a pioneer family that lived nearby a long time ago - obviously they discovered the very same spring, and it gave them life and the ability to live and work up high. I figured the pioneers went searching for water sources in August or September, thinking that any they found then would be good all year.
It had been a long morning hike - the temps never rose nor the wind speed ever decreased - but it was still a great morning to be on the trail. I have visited more than half of the Ouachita Trail this past month and continue to be amazed at how good a condition the trail corridor is in - THANKS goes to the wonderful volunteers of the Friends of Ouachita Trail group (FoOT web page). They have done a lot of work over the years and continue to keep this great hiking trail in good shape.
I will miss the trail this week - I have four days of rehab and doctor visits - but will still try and make one final push to visit the rest of the areas on the trail that I need to by next weekend. The rest of my week will be filled with computer work to write up all the new data for the OT that will go into the guidebook. AND also to test a new color photo printer - I'm getting one tomorrow and will be printing the new Print Of The Month on it - you may have noticed that I still have not selected one yet - I wanted to wait and see what this new printer would do with several different images that I have to pick from and select the very best one. Hopefully in the next day or two...
In the meantime the sun has risen and is filling the canyons below with glorious bright sunshine and the new week has begun! I hope you have a great one and are able to get out and enjoy some fresh air as our mild winter continues...
02/10/12 Left here at 3am-something yesterday and spent much of the day back down on the Ouachita Trail just outside of Little Rock. This trail sure does have a LOT of bridges, although many of them are old and built of sub -standard materials (i.e., non-treated wood) and so they are beginning to show their age, and in fact some of them are unsafe to cross and the trail has been routed around them (they are being replaced eventually). I crossed one that was pretty high above the beautiful creek, and was leaning pretty good - it felt odd trying to stand out in the middle of it long enough to let my GPS unit settle down for an accurate measurement! Some other bridges on the Ouachita Trail are made of concrete and very well done. Contrast all these bridges with the Ozark Highlands Trail that has a total or only one or two bridges - not sure which I like better - some of those "wet crossings" of the OHT are often quite memorable, especially in the wintertime!
The roads along the Ouachita Trail have changed quite a bit over the years - some have been improved and many have been closed off that previously were good access points for the trail. I traveled one good named road yesterday for many miles only to find it gated at the far end - within 100 feet of a major highway! So I had to turn around and drive all the way back. Overall I found the roads marked very well where the trail crossed them, with plenty of trailheads and other access points. All of this will be updated in the new guidebook.
So I've completed all the field work for the new guidebook and now will begin the process of making all the changes to the text and maps. I'm hoping the new book will available by late March/early April. We are sold out of them here, but you can still find copies of the current version at many book and outdoor stores.
And speaking of bookstores, both Hastings stores in Conway and Russellville have been restocked with ARKANSAS WATERFALL guidebooks again - it's a great time of year to get out and go hunting!
The temp is 35 this morning with a heavy layer of fog sitting right on top of us. Not sure if all the moisture in the air is coming out of the fog or dropping from higher clouds above. Some of the ground is frozen but mostly it is just very wet. I put on a heavy coat and wandered around a little bit just after daylight today - I always LOVE being out with the trees in weather like this. With no breezes the forest was very quiet and footsteps were soft. It was a good morning to sneak up on critters, although it is nearly impossible to sneak up on a deer. I found seven deer beds and must have just spooked them since the bed were warm. They were bedded down on the outside edge of a bench - they could see along the bench below them and also all around up at their level. Deer and other forest critters are smart like that - since most of them sleep during daylight hours they have to have good vision (sounds like an odd statement - sleeping, but with good vision - but I'm sure at least one member of the herd is awake all the time to arouse the rest).
Time to head into town for the day, but I'm hopeful to be able to get out and hike around some this weekend - I'll be doing a marathon printing session, but will need to get out into the fresh air every now and then to refill my lungs and refresh my soul! Some waterfalls will be just perfect this weekend - many with emerald pools - others will be at lower flow but still nice. We should not have any flooded conditions. Hope you get the chance to get out and enjoy!
02/12/12 It did not seem nearly as cold as 12 degrees early this morning when I headed out. In fact while I was standing next to a waterfall that was surrounded with ice a little while later I had to take off my light down jacket - the cold snap today just seemed warm compared to the blast we had the past couple of days. While I was out hiking Friday evening every time that I passed through a meadow I would have to try and walk backwards to the wind - it was freezing my face! One time I hiked half way facing one direction and the second half facing the other direction! It was actually kind of funny - and as soon as I stepped into the woods, the wind died and the temp want up a bunch of ticks.
Last night the wind died down and it was just delightful to be out wandering around in the moonlight and stark black sky that was filled with a zillion stars. Cold fronts tend to wipe away dust and humidity and make the air squeaky clean.
It was downright balmy here this afternoon, with bright sunshine and no wind. And then I looked up and saw the edge of a cloud bank that stretched from horizon to horizon, left to right - five minutes later the sun had disappeared and the temp began to drop. This air mass had moisture in it, and it was pretty heavy and easy to take deep into your lungs. It FEELS like snow outside right now, and it is much darker than it was last night. I'm kind of looking forward to some snow - not sure I am ready to bid winter farewell - so I'm hoping we get some white stuff tomorrow but not much ice.
LOST DOG UPDATE - the hiking club folks have informed me that the owner has been found (calling the vet and tracing the rabies tag did the trick)...
02/14/12 CRASH! That's what woke me up early this morning. "It was ICE" my lovely bride said. There was no ice hanging on the cabin last night, so I was not sure where it came from, but it was a signal that the temp had risen above freezing and that wherever the ice was it had started to melt and fell off and came crashing down. NOTE to hikers - it is not a good idea to hike under bluff edges on sunny days when there is ice above - this is when that ice can turn loose and drill a hole right through your head!
It was indeed warmer, and it sounded like rain - heavy rain - on our tin roof. Winter had come and gone in 24 hours. Oh well, at least the ground was WHITE for a day!
Yesterday morning began with a brown landscape, but within minutes of daybreak the air was filled with blowing snow. Just little bits of snow at first, but gradually the size and intensity increased and soon we were in the middle of a real snowstorm - YIPPIE! I hurried outside and wandered around for a little bit, turning into the wind and letting it smack me in the face. There is no substitute for SNOW - it only happens when it happens, and you rarely see it in the summer around here. This was only the second snow of the winter, and while we frequently have some nice big snows in March each year, who knows - this could be it for this season. So I played and enjoyed and loved the snowstorm!
But then I had to run inside and get ready for a trip into town, so I packed my camera gear and headed out into what had already become about two inches of fresh snow. It was a beautiful snowfall with the white stuff blowing so hard - it looked like fog in the trees - although nothing was sticking to the sides of the those trees so it must have been dry, powder snow.
I had no trouble with the road, although when I got to the top of the big steep hill going down into Boxley, I froze. 'Tis a sure sign of getting old - when you don't really want to push it to go down a steep snow-covered hill. Especially this one - it drops off at a 17% grade as it makes a 90-degree turn - and the worst part is that the dirt road slants slightly to the outside - if you loose traction for even an instant, your car could simply slide off and over a 50' bluff (like our neighbor did several years ago). Bummer for both you and your car. So WISDOM got the best of me - actually I was just CHICKEN - and I backed up, turned around, and drove back to the cabin.
I did stop several times and got out and wandered around in the woods looking for good photo compositions, but I never found anything that really excited me, no scene that told the visual story of what was going on - the blowing snow and beautiful trees. So I never took a single picture. I went out a couple more times during the day but still no photos. I guess I'm to the point where I don't want to take a picture unless I think the scene is really special, and that I can somehow capture that and show it to you.
Oh well, we had SNOW on the ground and it was great! We ended up with about two inches of snow yesterday, and most of it had vanashied within two hours of sunrise today with temps nearing 50. Oh yes, and I made it into town this afternoon without sliding over the edge...
We had a horrific storm roll through on Wednesday and it followed us all the way into Harrison where both my lovely bride and I had medical appointments. On the way back the winds had died down and all was calm, but there was a thick layer of dense fog everywhere. As we were passing this scene - one we drive by twice each trip to town - Pam insisted that I stop and take a picture. The result is a BONUS PRINT OF THE MONTH - available at the special low price until the end of February. I LOVE big storms, especially the light just before and after...
02/22/12 There is a big fat wren sitting on the deck railing a few feet from me right now and he is singing his heart out and sending beautiful music throughout the wilderness. The sun has just appeared over the hill in the east and is flooding the canyons with brilliant light. There is a slight breeze, and is cool and crisp, and even just standing outside this morning makes you glad to be alive - it is so refreshing!
I've had a couple of Cloudland Moments this week to share. The dogs and I were returning from a long circle hike around the top of the mountain just before sunset. We spent a good bit of time bathed in golden evening light while playing in a large meadow a mile or two from the cabin. Dogs love to romp in the woods, but they REALLY LOVE to run through meadows as fast as they can!
Anyway, once we turned and headed back towards the cabin the sun was low and casting long shadows ahead of me as I hiked, and the forest was filled with really long tree shadows. The more I hiked, the more golden the sunshine got. A few steps later the sun began to dip below the hill far behind me and so the sunlight started to make its way up towards the tops of the trees - getting more golden as it went. I stopped to enjoy the last minute or two of that liquid gold, looked around and could see the gold-tipped trees in all directions - it was a perfect example of "Ozark Glow!"
Yesterday afternoon my lovely bride and I grabbed a fishing pole and headed out into the woods towards a neighbor's little pond. My wife loves to fish, but in the entire time we have known each other I think we've only gone TWICE! I plan to remind that in the coming months. The sunshine was bright and warm and the little pond was an emerald pool and just beautiful! Behind the pond there was a band of young beech trees in the woods that were all backlit and about as golden as the Ozark Glow light from the evening before. And so I sat there watching my bride enjoy herself, and I got to soak in everything else - a great moment.
Both of us have had medical issues of late, in fact last week we had to run into town five different times as a result - I've been visiting the rehab center three times a week for a month. I hope one of these days to be all back together again. Anyway, Pam sliced off a large part of the side of her thumb while fixing dinner the other night - it was quite serious and we made a speedy trip into Fayetteville for some professional help. I won't go into details, but there was nothing left to stitch up, and the pain was pretty bad. They had given her some pain pills, but ironically she could not use them while the pain was the worst.
I had to be in town early the following morning for another medical procedure and was supposed to have taken drugs before I even left home that would knock me out even before we arrived at the medical facility - that meant that Pam would have to drive me there, and of course drive me home again since I would remain heavily sedated for the rest of the day. But she could not take the pain pills they gave her since she would not be able to drive either! So she endured that intense pain all day long - I don't know of a better life mate to have than her! She will have a "thumbs up" to give you for another couple of weeks - that is how they have her thumb all bandaged up...
YESTERDAY Pam found the first flower of spring - the very same specific plant that has been the first to bloom up here for more than ten years. It is a little trout lily - also known as a dogtooth violet (when they first bloom they hang their heads like this but will eventually curl up and face the sun). Going back through the Journal archives it appears we've never had this flower bloom in February before - it is always during the first week of March. So it looks like we are a week or two early for spring this year - although we typically also get some snow in March so don't put away your heavy boots just yet. It was great to see this little fellow up and smiling - and I hope you are too!
The Fat Cat waits for breakfast (below)