CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - June 2013 - PART A, June 1-17th



Cloudland Cabin Cam, June 17, 5:50am - cool with a sea of clouds below. HAPPY MONDAY!

Journal updated Sunday the 16th


Print Of The Week - #25 - Clearing Storm at Dawn - ON SALE!

06/01/13 We had some strong storms roll through during the night with a bit of rain. The only advice I can give folks who want to run out and find waterfalls today - STAY AWAY FROM FLOODED WATERS!!! Better to wait until tomorrow or later until flood waters go down.

06/02/13 I had two unexpected encounters with wild critters yesterday - a large one and a small one. The "small" one was actually much more terrifying.

It was 10am before I decided to head out and drive 100 miles downstream to visit a location I've wanted to explore for a very long time - Dark Hollow. I've kind of been waiting for the area to get enough rainfall for a waterfall I'd heard about to be running (from Helen Elsner), and while the computer maps only showed the area to have received about two inches of rain, yesterday was probably going to be my best shot for this "photo cycle" - I wanted a picture for the new picture book I'm working on.

The rains had passed through and the sky was full of clouds - perfect conditions. I shouldered my camera backpack and headed up the trail into the largest wilderness area in this part of the United States - the Lower Buffalo Wilderness. A mile, two miles, three miles, four - all my bones were working well and it was a pleasant hike. The forest all around was so very LUSH - kind of an Ozark Rain Forest.

While doing some research on the area using digital topo maps, I plotted several key GPS waypoints where old roads intersected, and since I could not see out from the forest tunnel I was hiking through, a GPS helped a great deal to figure out when I had come to a particular spot on the map - all the roads had grown up, but many have been being used as horse trails - THANKS to all horse folks for helping to keep these trails open! It is a great area to ride in for sure - although I suspect winter is the best time because without leaves on the trees there must be some really terrific views, especially while up on top of a horse.

I eventually reached a point where I had to either go left on a trail and take a long half-circle around the head of the drainage that I had wanted to explore (which would add several miles to my trip); or turn right and circle around the other side of the drainage and then drop down a steep unknown hillside to get into my target area. After studying the maps and GPS for a while, I did what most folks would do when faced with such a dilemma - I left the trail completely and plunged head-first into the rainforest and started what would become a multi-hour bushwhack.

I laughed to myself a little bit at this point knowing that there would be folks who would ask for directions to the place I was headed, just trying to imagine their adventure for what lay ahead. The bushwhacking turned out to be pretty easy, even though the rainforest was really, really THICK, and at times I could see no farther than 15-20 feet ahead or even less. But the lay of the land worked in my favor, and only once was I stopped by a tall bluffline, which was great because I got to look out into the heart of this amazing wilderness area.

It didn't take me too long to find a way down through the bluff, and when I did I landed right on top of a series of mine tunnels - these were active about 100 years ago and the wilderness had pretty much erased most all signs of the operations. NOTE that all mines and caves in the national park are off-limits to entry right now, but I was happy to enjoy them from the outside. It is just amazing what these miners had to go through - indeed how in the world they even got their stuff down into and out of this place. The nearby mining area at Rush is a great example of all this - and it is a LOT easier to reach!

Beyond the mines I spent some time exploring a creek and taking pictures of a neat waterfall there that was itself grown up with plants MINT! The entire waterfall was flowing over and around mints - I'd never seen anything like that before (mint plants have square stems - an easy way to identify them).


I bushwhacked up the hillside and followed an open limestone glade around the corner and then back into the jungle until I finally arrived at a small creek that had been my target all along - Dark Hollow. I joined a group of backpackers back in 1980 and backpacked halfway across the United States with them (from the Oklahoma line to the Atlantic coast in Delaware). Many of them spoke with wide eyes and great excitement about a wild place they had hiked through out west called Dark Canyon. When Helen Elsner told me in the 1990s that we had one in Arkansas, I knew I just had to go. But one thing led to another, and well, you know - I never went. Until yesterday. I drew a line in the sand, and now I was standing at the very mouth of Dark Hollow. I had imagined for years about the giant waterfall that must be at the head of this drainage, and with all the rains I was REALLY excited that it was finally within reach. Only one problem - even with all the rain, Dark Hollow was BONE DRY!!! I could not believe it!

Oh well, I didn't care - I was there, and I was going to explore and get my bearings, and would come back at some other time. By the way, it was indeed really DARK down in there!

I knew there were tall bluffs rimming the hollow, so instead of working my way up a dry creekbed, I decided to climb on up the opposite hillside until I reached the bottom of the bluff, then follow the base of it around and see what I could find. The only problem with that plan was the fact that the jungle was SO LUSH and thick that the going was very slow, and the hill so steep that sometimes I would take one step up and slide back down three or four steps! It was literally hand-over-fist climbing at times. And, of course, since the jungle was so thick, I had no idea how much progress I was making - I often can look around and see other blufflines and judge how high I was, but not on this day!

On my way up I thought I had made it to the base of the bluff more than once - what I actually found were "false bluffs, " kind of like false summits - that is when climbing a mountain you see what you think is the top of the mountain only to discover that it was just a little hill below the top, and you still had a long way to go. It was kind of like that - I would see a base of rock up ahead, but then found out they were just chunks of rock that had broken off of the bluffline and slide down the mountain.

And then all of a sudden a vision appeared in front of me. I don't know if it was the lighting, the shade of moss on this giant moss-covered boulder, or exactly what, but I found a scene right there in front of me that just screamed to me to stop and take its picture. A lot of the scenes that I photograph are like that - there is just something about them - the light, the shape, the texture - I don't know - but I removed my camera pack and spent the next 30 minutes taking a picture of this lone rock on the steep hillside, and I was in heaven - jungle heaven!


As I packed up my camera gear and ready to trudge on farther up the will, I looked up and there IT was - the base of the bluff had been right above me the entire time!

I was glad to find it, but my oh my it was ROUGH along the base of this bluff - HOLY COW!!! Seems like I spent a lot of time climbing up or under or around something, or falling flat on my face and having to collect myself and my gear and get back up, or just standing there wondering how in the heck I was going to proceed. The bluffline was interesting, with not only the jungle that had grown up right against, but also many GIANT trees that were hugging the bluff - so tall I could not even begin to see the tops of them. And a curious thing - I saw many bits and pieces of flower blossom - especially bright YELLOW ones that were really easy to spot. But I never saw a single flower along the base of this bluff. Hum.

At one point I had worked my way back into the head of a small drainage and I heard water running - what? Yup, there was water pouring off the bluff - 'twas a WATERFALL - YIPPIE!!! While there was not enough water flowing to actually take a picture of (remember, the creek far below was completely dry), there was an interesting look to the place that caused me to pause, dig out my camera gear, and see if there was a picture that needed to be taken.

I ended up behind the falls and under the overhang, bent over at first, then down on my hands and knees, and there was a nice view lookout out from back in there. I had to raise the camera and tripod up to the very top of the ceiling to get the view that I wanted, and then take a series of pictures going from left to right with the camera in a vertical position so that I could capture the entire width of the scene. I later "stitched" together in the computer all the pictures to produce the image you see below - this is the scene that I saw, but the camera could not capture it in a single shot. Anyway, I hope you can get an idea of how thick the jungle was.


I continued along the bluffline until I could hear water running again. And son of a gun, all of a sudden, there it was - another waterfall, this one running well - YIPPIE COYOTE! I could see the top, but not the bottom. But since I could not get to the top of the bluff (solid bluffline), I had to get to the bottom somehow. It looked really, really nice in there. As luck would have it, I was able to find a place to climb down - but on the way down, a blur of brown fur streaked across the edge of my eyesight. I had seen many deer tracks along the bluff - behind small waterfalls especially - so I figured I had finally "snuck" up on one. Imagine my surprise when the brown fur turned out to be a BEAR! He had already seen/heard/smelled me, and was on his way to getting the heck out of there so I did not get to see him for long (he was not a large bear, nor a cub - somewhere in between). I'd never seen a bear behind a waterfall before - now I have! All wild bears in Arkansas are black bears. We don't have grizzly bears, but about 30% of our black bears are not black, but rather are a shade of brown - from a very light or "blonde" shade to very dark brown - with most of them being what I call "cinnamon" bears - quite beautiful.

I spent the next hour at the base of the falls and exploring the tall limestone bluff it was pouring over, complete with calcite cave formations along its face. I had already hiked/bushwhacked nearly ten miles since the trailhead, and did not want to retrace my route back, but I didn't have time to continue to explore the bluffline all the way around. It was a stroke of luck when I discovered a spot in the bluff where I could climb my way out - with a bit of rope work. And within minutes I was standing on top of the big bluff with my soaked boots and socks off and my feet drying. There were brilliant YELLOW coreopsis wildflowers all along the top of the bluff - the storm had torn some of them up, sending their beautiful peddles over the edge for me to find below as I had been hiking along - that mystery was solved.

Dark Hollow Falls will most likely be in the next version of my Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook - but it will probably be several years before that edition is published. It is a tall one - I would guess in the 70-foot range. It is so high in the drainage that I doubt it will ever be really wide and flooded, but the location is so spectacular, it would be a great destination even with the flow is small. AND there are other waterfalls in the area to visit too. I will make at least a couple more trips into the area next winter when things are flowing better and I have more time to explore and photograph.


While sitting there on top of the big bluff enjoying the fact that I had finally made it to Dark Hollow, I remembered one little item - I was right in the middle of one of the largest and most remote wilderness areas in the central part of the United States; I was tired, beaten up, worn down, and nearly out of water. And I was as far away from my car as I could get - oops - I still had to hike out! But it turned out to be an easy hike - at least the difficulty of it - I took the long way and hiked trail all the way back. I ended up hiking about 16 miles total, and I made it back before dark.

I've got to tell ya, that after the long day I had, an ultimate meat and cheese breakfast burrito from Sonic in Yellville was GREAT!!! (I can't eat bread, or I probably would have eaten their largest burger.)

With all of the spectacular places along the Buffalo River that are easy to reach, we sometimes forget about the hundreds of other places that remain mostly hidden and unvisited - I suspect it will always be that way around here - we are so lucky to have protected wilderness areas, even if parts of them require a wee bit more effort to reach than others!

It was nearly 11pm when I got home, and while on my though our basement to the outdoor shower I came upon a GIANT wolf spider - holy cow, that thing scared me a great deal more than the bear did! There is no light at the outdoor shower, which is built under a dogwood tree on the side of the hill. But I know where every board and screw are, and last night the sky was filled with a zillion stars - a cold front had moved out all the clouds. Just as I reached over and turned on the water and stepped into place to let it wash the day's crud off of me, my foot came down on something - a vision raced through my head of a giant spider (just like the one I had seen moments before) with its legs intermingled with my toes - it was horrifying!!! And then I realized that the monster spider was just a small tree branch with clumps of leaves in between my toes. A huge sigh of relief echoed throughout the wilderness...

06/04/13 I left the cabin about 11pm hoping the sky would clear by the time I reached a giant open meadow at the other end of Cave Mountain. There were still a few clouds moving through as I set up two different cameras and pointed them towards the night sky. I wanted to do some really long exposures with one camera - much longer than the camera battery would last - so I had that camera literally plugged into the van 110 outlet - that would allow me unlimited-length exposures.

I spent the next several hours - in fact nearly all night - roaming around that giant meadow taking pictures of the incredible Milky Way that rose in the eastern sky. Once the clouds cleared out it was a big and bright and beautiful scene, with at least a zillion twinkling stars, plus a few plants (actually the number of stars the human eye can see is numbered in the thousands, but it seemed like a zillion!). The longer I was out shooting, the later the hour, the more the stars seemed to twinkle. I spent a good bit of time paying attention to that - the twinkle part. We've always know about it, but I have always wondered exactly what it is that makes them twinkle? It was like standing inside a jewel cave with all of the diamonds sparkling and winking directly at me.

The air got really moist by 2 or 3 in the morning, and I had to set up homemade "dew heaters" on each camera lens. Problem is that when the air is moist like this the lens will fog up whenever it is the same temp as the air, which ruins pictures, especially long exposures like I was doing. So I used handwarmers taped around each lens to help keep the moisture from forming. That worked great for one of my lenses, but not so well on the other, which has a huge rounded front glass element that sticks way out - I had to wipe that lens off before each 20-second exposure.

I've never been anywhere in Arkansas lately where there was zero light pollution from distant cities or local streetlights - even way out here in the middle of no where. The Milky Way was rising over the nearby community of Mossville, and so I was pointing directly at many streetlights that most folks have in their yards out here (we don't have one - I prefer the darkness!). And those lights actually added to the picture in this case, and in fact I think became part of the subject - the immense Milky Way Galaxy soaring overhead, and all these folks lives resting below, and adding a bit of color too. Seems that many folks have two different types of lights in the same yard - each producing a different color - so if you look close in this photo below along the ridgeline you can see both orange and green lights - kind of like some of the color from the Milky Way.


Eventually the moisture in the air got so high that I had to stop shooting, but that was OK, the moon rose and made the sky too bright for the type of pictures I was taking.

It wasn't until later that i noticed what appeared to be a small galaxy in the upper left of this photo. I believe it must have been a tiny spot of fog on the lens that smeared that particular star or planet just so - I love the look of it, especially on a big computer screen.

It was just after sunrise when I got back to the cabin, and while I was wandering around in the meadow all night I picked up a bunch of tiny critters that hitched a ride - I could "feel" them crawling all over me! So I headed for our outdoor shower as soon as I got home to try and scrape whatever they were off (probably chiggers). But as soon as the hot water started to flow, I looked up and could see the sun beginning to burn through a thick sea of fog that had risen up from the canyons below, which was creating God Beams. Being a nature photographer, and scrambling to shoot enough interesting pictures of the area to fill a new picture book, I did what anyone else in my position would do - I shut off the water and RAN out into the nearby woods, grabbing my camera and tripod along the way.

The God Beams only lasted a minute or two, but I was able to find a nice composition, get my camera gear all switched over from shooing long exposures at super-high ISO speeds, to the lowest ISO speed an fast shutter (everything was basically exactly the opposite camera-settings-wise), and got a picture that I liked (which became the Print Of The Week). Moments later when the fog had evaporated, I was left there in the middle of the forest, with a beautiful clear-blue sky above, and that bright and harsh sunshine beaming directly on my naked body - it was NOT a pretty sight at all! Sometimes you just don't have time to put clothes on...


Some of you might enjoy this - I know I sure did. With all of the really stupid, gross, and ugly television commercials that dominate the airwaves, it is SO NICE to see a smart and uplifting commerical like this one (utube link) - thank you Subaru for a little smile...I used to drive Subarus back in the 1980s, but these days they are too small for us and don't have enough towing capacity, but I would love to own one again when conditions permit...


06/07/13 Just a quick update this morning. I've mostly been locked in the editing booth this week going through tens of thousands of photographs I've taken this past year to make selections for three new products that we'll have available this coming October. The first one is our 2014 Arkansas scenic wall calendar. I've selected 14 of my most favorite images for this - all taken within the past year and never before published. Many have never been posted in the Journal even - it is going to be a beautiful calendar! I wrapped up the processing of that project yesterday - YIPPIE!

And then I started making selections for our newest product - it will be a 2014 weekly "engagement" calendar - the old-fashioned kind that is real paper instead of electronic. All three members of our immediate family still much prefer to use these instead of phones or tables for keeping up with our daily schedules, and it turns out a lot of other people do too - we are VERY excited about this new calendar. And while we've never published one of these before, we thought this might be the year to give it a try. It will be 136 pages, include both weekly and monthly pages, and have about 60 full-page color photos from Arkansas - many of them never published anywhere before. It's going to be kind of like a miniature picture book, with all of them being vertical images. That is what I'm neck-deep in right now - my goal being to get it completed by the time Amber gets home from Greece, which will be this coming Monday. YIKES, I still have a TON of work to do on it! (there are no templates for this sort of thing - like all of our products, we had to design it from scratch, every single line)

Once both calendars are safely on their way to the printing facilities, then I can begin work on the new picture book - it has to be completed this month too. It will include more than 120 all-new images that I've taken this past year. And I've still got a few items on my "shoot" list that I would like to get to take pictures of before the book is done - but that will depend on weather, water levels, and lighting conditions - time is running out!

All three publications will be part of our 2013 Holiday Special and available together at the special low price.

I've been doing an experiment at my computer in the gallery. Last fall I built a "standing" desk (really just a raised sheet of plywood with a cutour for me to stand in) - the desk surface is raised up and there is no chair - I stand to work, with my elbows resting comfortable on the desktop. Since when I'm working over there I typically spend at least as much time running round to the various printers in the room, so I don't sit a lot anyway. But sometimes I do get into a marathon image-editing session that can last for hours - or days - and I often slip into a horrible posture during those times, which is not good for my back or for my belly. So far the standing desk has worked out white well these past few months. But standing there at the computer screen for hours and hours on end like I'm doing now has proved to be painful - especially on my knees. The problem is that I am not frequently moving around and going to other places in the room - I'm just standing there, staring at the big monitor, and the only parts of my body that are moving are my hands. So I'm having to force myself to STOP for a minute or two and walk around the room and do something else - sometimes just go sit outside and let my eyes refocus on the real world instead of pixels. I've got another two or three weeks of this, and by then I will either be in love with the standing desk, or throw it out!

Life around Cloudland continues to be rather LOUD - tons of birds singing and playing all day and long into the night, plus the Buffalo is still humming right on along - and as Amber has discovered while visiting many of the ancient outdoor theaters and gathering places in Greece this past week, sound travels UP very well (think the Greek Theater in Fayetteville on a much grander scale), so the volume of the music from the river is considerable - and wonderful to hear!

06/08/13 For a few minutes at least, I felt like just a normal guy - walking into the house with my briefcase after a long day at the office. "Honey, I'm home!" Only it was 9 o'clock this morning, my briefcase was stuffed with small flashlights, dead batteries, and memory cards, and my "office" had been a creek that I had been standing in most of the night trying to take a picture. I dislike being normal. (I have an old, beat up leather brief case that is t least 20 years old that I carry a lot of small stuff in like flashlights, my computer, guidebooks and maps, batteries and chargers, and sometimes misc. camera gear in - in other words, it is my man purse!)

I arrived at one of my favorite waterfalls (Falling Water Falls) waded into the creek just before midnight, hoping to be able to get one last picture of the Milky Way for the new book project. I had no idea how deep the water was (the falls and creek were runing pretty well), and I spent a little while just kind of searching around with my feet under the water, trying to figure out how deep it was, where the deep and shallow spots were. I must say that the water was quite WARM for a change - odd, since we have not had any warm days yet this summer. But with temps supposed to get down into the upper 40s during the night, I appreciated that non-freezing water.

I found a good spot, set up my camera and tripod, and spent the next hour or two trying to figure out the best way to photograph the scene before me - the waterfall was running well, but there was no Milky Way. I knew the Milky Way would not be up above the horizon and treeline until later in the night - actually in the wee hours of the morning. But I also knew that with the cooler temps forecast, by the time the Milky Way has risen into position, the air might be full of moisture, which might produce fog, and I might not ever get my photo. So I did a Neil Armstrong "stepping on the moon" deal, and I got a picture of what I had in front of me for now, and would try to get a better one later. I really didn't know exactly where the Milky Way was going to appear in my scene anyway - I was kind of looking through a hole in the tree canopy, but I was hopeful it would be right where I needed it to be.

Later on I set the camera to take some very long exposures for a star trail image, then I waded back to shore and hiked back to the van. I set the timer for three hours and tried to get a little shut-eye.

Three hours later I jumped to attention when the alarm went off, hurriedly put on some extra clothing so I'd be OK in the cooler temps, and stepped outside to see if we had fog or clouds or Milky Way. I was kind of shocked to discover the temp was still almost 70 degrees, and there was no fog at all, and a clear sky above - that is exactly what I needed!

I made it back down to the creek, and while I was a little wobbly from still being mostly asleep, I managed to make it back into the creek and found my camera without slipping and falling head-first into the creek. (there was a moment or two when I wondered about that happening) I was thrilled to find that my camera lens had not fogged up during the long exposures, and that I would still be able to take pictures since there was no fog along the creek (although the waterfall was producing a bit of mist now and then that I had to wipe off the lens). But I was really disappointed when I looked up at my scene and did not see the Milky Way - it must have risen behind the trees - bummer.

But what the heck, when in Rome, so I started to take a few more pictures, using one of four different flashlights I had with me to paint the scene (the lights were different colors, temperatures, and strengths). And then lo and behold I looked up and there IT was - barely beginning to come out from behind the trees, was the MILKY WAY - yippie COYOTE!!! It would take probably another hours, but it looked like the Milky Way was going to rise and rotate exactly where I needed it to be - how often does that happen?

And then just as the stars were getting into the perfect position, a big old cloud crept slowly into the frame, covering up part of the Milky Way. Welcome to my life. I spent the next hour or so waiting on clouds just like this one - amazing how SLOW the darn things can move when you really need for them to be gone! I timed one of the clouds, and it took it more than 10 minutes to clear out. I spent my time just standing there - in thigh-high water - just waiting, and waiting.

The longer I waited, the more I thought about snakes - cottonmouths in particular. I was hopeful that they were safely all tucked into bed, until I realized that nighttime is one of their more active times, and they live around water, around CREEKS just like the one I was standing in. My entire time there I limited use of the flashlights I had to moments during actual camera exposures, and even then I either used a very dim flashlight with either a red or blue tiny led bulb - if I were to blast the scene with a bright white flashlight, that would have destroyed the night vision that I had spent most of the night developing.

So my mind started to wander a bit, and before long I could see snakes all over the place - on the rocks, in the water, crawling along a tree limb just above me and ready to fall on my head! But of course there were no snakes, but it did give my mind something to ponder while I waited for those darn clouds.

All the while this was going on, the Milky Way continue to rotate through the scene, and every time a cloud would clear out I would discover that the stars were then in the wrong position, so I had to reposition the camera - something that is not always a lot of fun to do in the middle of the night in a creek that was up to waist deep with a creek bottom that was littered with rocks and small boulders. And each time I would reposition the camera I would have to spend a good bit of time getting it pointed correctly - this can only be done by taking a series of long exposures and figuring out which way to tweak the camera.

FINALLY, I got clear skies and the camera all set up with the Milky Way in the perfect position - I could not have drawn it up any better! I could not believe how easy it had been - I imagined this scene in my brain several months ago, finally got perfect conditions, and everything fell into place.

I shot and shot and shot until I could tell that the sky was beginning to lighten up just a little bit - that was about 4:30. Time to pack up and head back to the van. Only the trip back was not quite as easy - I had a really difficult time stumbling through the deep water, the white water, and over slick rocks - all the while wondering about those snakes.

(A funny side note - someone had a tent and campfire set up about 100 feet away from me on the far side of the creek this entire time, and I don't think they ever know I was there.)

When I reached the van I crawled in the back and got a couple hours of sleep until bright sunshine woke me up. I stepped outside to a GLORIOUS morning, with crisp DRY air, and temps that were still in the 60s. I didn't really need any coffee to wake me up with a morning like that, but I did brew a cup and went back down to the creek to sit and soak up the beautiful day that was dawning.

Here is one of the images that I think turned out OK - mission accomplished - Milky Way Falls (aka, Falling Water Falls):


And here is what the sunset looked like yesterday evening while I was headed to the creek -


06/09/13 Cool and peaceful early this morning, with a pastel sky and soft bird lullabies drifting across the wilderness. Supposed to be much warmer during the week, so 'tis a great day to soak it up while we can.

It was 16 years ago this past week that we had a visit from the Goodyear Blimp to Cloudland. Ken Eastin and I had just finished with some chainsaw chores (this was before the cabin had been built), we heard an odd noise, looked up, and son of a gun, there IT was - the Goodyear Blimp coming over the Mossville ridge to our left. It slowly sank down a bit, leveled off, then flew on up Whitaker Creek towards Hawksbill Crag, where it rose up and disappeared beyond the distant ridgetops. We both looked at each other agasp - did we really just week what we just saw? Yup, it was indeed the big and famous blimp (actually there are several of them), and it was heading to the Wal Mart Shareholders Meeting festivities in Fayetteville - they used to give rides in both this blimp and the Fuji blimp back in the day - I don't know if that still goes on or not, but each year we look for the blimp to return, but we've never seen it here again.

On an unrelated note I'm sure, but still it was a large bird, we were buzzed yesterday afternoon by one of the largest airplanes in the country - a GIANT HC 130. That's the big military plane you see often in the skies around central Arkansas - they train at the air force base in Jacksonville. We've seen them up here before (they usually fly in threes, although recent budget cuts have them flying in pairs it seems like instead of threes), but nothing like the one that flew over yesterday. It was just one, and he made six-seven passes. On the last past, he really gunned the engines and took off. What was really odd though was that this was not a normal airforce plane - the front half of the plane was painted white instead of camo, and the huge tail was very dark color with an odd symbol on it. If anyone knows what this plane was please send me a note. We love seeing airplanes around here, especially when they make low passes. It was 12 years ago that a certain Lear Jet made three low passes over the cabin during our wedding - folks still talk about that event Greg!

AIRCRAFT UPDATE. Thanks to Karl Melton with Garmin, here is exactly what was making all those passes over Cloudland on Saturday - it was an Earth Observing Laboratory from the National Center for Atmospheric Research folks, and it has a giant snowflake on the tail! - - this was the exact plane - first the Goodyear Blimp, and now this - how exciting! (the photo below is from their web site)


06/12/13 I had another one of those visions for a night photograph, and spent most of last night standing in the river working on it, although this time I was not alone! It was about 10pm last night when I arrived at the banks of the Buffalo River. I set up my old backpacking tent on a gravel bar out in the middle of the river - got my shoes and feet wet crossing the first half of the river right off - so I got that out of the way and didn't have to spend another moment worrying about getting my feet wet!

I had wanted to get a picture of my tent all lit up and aglow from inside, with its reflection in the river, and the Milky Way rising overhead. After a bit of searching the innards of my brain, and looking at topo maps and star-location software, I wanted to give this spot on the river a try - I had no idea if the Milky Way would cooperate.

I waded across the second half of the river and made my way along the bank to a point where I could look across and see my tent, with the river in the foreground, and an empty sky spread out above. I use the term river "bank" loosely - it was actually a pile of jagged boulders that I had to climb up and scamper across, then place my tripod half in the water on boulders that slanted steeply into a neck-deep pool (it was over my head just a few feet from the bank).

I set up the tripod, composed the image, and started taking a few pictures to see what things looked like. Stars slowly began to appear in the sky above my tent, although I knew it would probably be at least a couple of hours before the Milky Way would rise into the scene - I wasn't sure exactly where it would rise though.

After getting the camera settings just the way I wanted, I would leave the camera and climb back over the jumble of boulders and sharp rocks, wade along the base of a tall bluff, then across half of the Buffalo River and onto the gravel bar where my tent was. It took me three or four minutes to make this trip, in the dark, with only the aid of a tiny single-LED blue or red or green light. Then I would crawl inside my tent, and take a series of pictures of 15-30 seconds in length, while I light painted the inside of the tent with a flashlight. I would use a radio controlled remote to trip the camera shutter - half of this was with me in the tent, the other half was secured to the camera - I can take pictures with this setup from about 1/4 mile away from the camera. Once I shot a series of pictures, I would return to the camera (via wading the river and climbing over the rocks) and review the pictures. Then I would make some changes to the camera settings, and repeat the process. I would repeat this routine 35-40 times during the next seven hours.

A couple of hours later the Milky Way begin to rise, and I could see that I needed to move my camera position in order for the stars to be where I wanted them, and so I moved everything, then went through the process of shooting a new series of images from the new location. A couple hours after that, I moved once again - as the Milky Way moved - in order to get the perfect composition that I was looking for with the stars and tent just right. EUREKA, it only took seven hours to get this one photo! (I worked from about 10pm until 5am in the river.)

It was Tuesday night mind you, and while I was taking these pictures, not one or two, but FOUR different groups of people hiked to the edge of the river and spent time there - in the middle of the night! Three of those groups were fishing, and most of them ended up wading out into the river with the aid of various lights that ranged from tiny head lamps to giant spotlights. One group brought a very large lantern and set it on the bank - which completely messed up my picture, but instead of letting it ruin my night, I decided to change my camera controls and used the light from their lantern as the main light source for my nighttime landscape photo!

I don't think any of these folks ever saw me - or at least they did not shine their lights directly on me. I was kind of hidden behind a large boulder much of the time, but each trip I would make over to my tent and back again, they surely would have seen my little LED light moving along the river, and then my tent lighting up for a few seconds at a time - I wonder what they thought was going on? They probably just thought it must have been that crazy photographer dude.

The first group had a radio with them. The second group had a boom box with them and the music was pretty loud. The third group had a huge BOOM BOX and played the music so loud that it seemed to completely drown out the sound of the river rapids. I never had understood this sort of thing, but then I guess when I think back to my youth I liked to listen to music in the woods too - these days I much prefer the music of the wilderness though.

I don't think any of these groups ever caught a single fish.

The fourth group of guys just came to the edge of the river bank and stood around for a while - no music, no fishing poles - it was after 1am in the morning, on a Tuesday night.

Once when I was sitting in the tent waiting for my camera to cycle through a long exposure, a beaver snuck up on me and when just a few feet from me SLAPPED his tail on the top of the water - they like to do this just to see what your reaction will be.

But the most amazing thing started to happen after I had been at/in the river for a couple of hours. The sky full of zillions of stars above was really twinkling a lot, and then I realized that the air was twinkling as well - there were also ZILLIONS of fireflies in the forests surrounding me and as far as I could see - there seemed to be a competition between the stars and fireflies to see who had the most brilliant display - I think it was a tie. While the fireflies did show up on my pictures, since I was using an ultra-wideangle lens and they were so far away, they only showed up as tiny dots in the picture. Although when I zoomed into one of the pictures this morning when I got back home, I found one specific firefly that turned on and off eight times during my exposure - and he flew in the shape of the Big Dipper! Clear as day.

One of the ways that I know I'm "not as young as I used to be" is when I do an all night shoot like this one - I don't get to take the next day off, and while I never feel asleep while working today, my dogs sure were worn out and at times a little blurry today!


06/15/13 YIPPIE COYOTE - I'M DONE!!! There is always a tremendous mental relief when I finish a bit publication project, and yesterday I completed TWO of them. Both of our 2014 Arkansas scenic calendars are done and off to the printers. The first is our wall calendar, which is filled with 13 brand new pictures, plus a 14th BONUS photo - all of them were taken and never published before. The second project is the really new 2014 Engagement Calendar, which features both monthly and weekly calendar pages, plus 56 full-page color photos. The photos are a mix of classic images - including several of my favorite wildlife ones - plus brand new pictures taken this past year. Funny now so many people are deep into all-digital everything, and keep their lives on their phones, yet I still mostly use an actual "hard copy" calendar - I like to write on things. And we hoping - and banking - on the fact that enough other folks still like to use these engagement calendars to sell enough of them to pay the printer bill, which is considerable. Only time will tell.

So this morning when I got up early and sat out on the back deck sipping my coffee and munching on raisin brand, my mental state was as calm and free as the birds that were all up and playing and cooing with generally not a care in the world. There was a soft cool breeze blowing, and the rising sun gently illuminated the wilderness spread out before me. That half hour passed quickly, and now it is BACK TO WORK! I will now jump into the biggest project of the year today, and will start the production phase of our new picture book - which I must have COMPLETED in just TWO weeks - HOLY COYOTE BATMAN!

Just one note for those who don't care too much for hot and humid days of summer - GET UP EARLY and spend the first hour of daylight outside. The air is SO SWEET and wonderful, and the light is beautiful - it will kick-start your day with a huge smile! The rest of the day - best to go find a swimming hole somewhere and soak...

06/16/13 MY DAD TAUGHT ME A LESSON when I was 10 or 12 years old. This was back in the 1960s, we were headed home from a trip late one night. He was almost out of gas, and somehow found a gas station that was open. He pumped $2 worth of gas - which probably all the money he had. When he went to go inside and pay, the door was locked - the station was actually closed, and someone forgot to turn off the pump. He knocked on the door, called out, and walked around the building, but no one was around. My brother and I watched through the window from the back seat - dad took the $2 out of his pocket, folded it, slid it under the door, then we drove off. My dad never said a word about this, yet it was one of the greatest life lessons he ever taught us - he didn't need to say anything - he led by example - our dad was like that. Being honest, and always doing the right thing - even when you don't have to - is just how you are supposed to live - is there any other way? Thanks dad, for being such a terrific person all of your life - you will always be a part of every breath that I take, and every thing that I do...

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