CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - June 2014 (Part A - June 1st-17th)


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Cloudland Cabin Cam June 17 - WINDY and lots of clouds.

Journal updated June 17th



Regular Print Of The Week - Mirror Lake Falls in the Moonlight (above)

Engagement Calendar Print Of The Week - Wolf Creek Cave Falls

06/01/14 Well I did it - I walked our lovely daughter down the isle on Saturday. Actually it was her mom and I who walked with Amber down the isle in a beautiful church. We were part of my niece's wedding ceremony. Sarah and Mark's wedding was an epic event that lasted for several days - one of the most amazing wedding's I've ever seen, and I've been to a couple hundred of them. Ma and Pa Cecil - you should be proud of your little girl, and all of the hard work you guys put in to make it happen!

It was great to get to visit with some of my long lost relatives from the North Country (Sister Kate, Sister Ingred, and Annette!). And from Williamsburg too - Barb - go ahead and get another Mocha like I did in your honor on the way home - you deserve it! Then go buy a Kureg. We feasted not only at two different wedding events, but also at my brother Terry & Marsha's amazing diner (the coffee cake did not make it home again). And we met so many new folks with stories to share. Part of the festivities were held at an Air Force Base, which had pretty tight security. It was an honor to be in the company of so many of our national heroes that have given up so much to keep our country free...

I'm not a very social person, but the time spent with those relatives this weekend (AND with my two girls of course) will be treasured forever - more social time that I've had total in the past ten years I bet. And on one funny note - contrary to popular bets before the ceremony, I DID show up in a coat and TIE - the only necktie that I own, which was purchased while on my way to a Billy Joel concert in 1978. I wore it to both my mom and dad's funerals, and to several other important events during the past 36 years, but it doesn't see much use. Other than my original U. S. Forest Service uniform that I got in 1973, the tie is the oldest garment I own. Since I didn't have a shirt to wear with a tie, we stopped at Wal Mart on the way and got a really nice $12 white shirt. It may be 20 years before I wear it again.

We hit the road at 4:30 this morning for the seven-hour drive home. It has taken us a while to catch up and get ready for a new week tomorrow, but as always, GREAT to back at Cloudland. I still have to get the van all packed with camera gear before I head out late tonight in search of some interesting night scenes somewhere - 'tis going to be a long day, week, and month - thank goodness for caffeine!

We've had nice breezes and cool temps while here at the cabin this afternoon. And the airways have been FILLED with birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Singing like crazy. A couple of limbs are covered up with half-grown bluebirds learning how to fly. It is interesting to watch how they all do things as a group. I wonder when and how they will eventually split up and go their own ways? Kind of like sons and daughters...

06/02/14 I headed south just before 10pm last night, and drove through a world of clear starry skies and LOTS of deer on the highway! I followed one deer for more than 1/2 mile as she ran down the middle of the road away from me - she was following the center line so straight that I bet she could have passed a sobriety test! The crescent moon hung low in the western sky to watch.

A couple hours later I was standing at the top edge of Mt. Nebo. It was a much different world up there. There some clear patches above every now and then, but the air at my level was filled with mist and moving pretty fast. City lights below beamed up into the sky and took the shine off the stars, but I kind of liked the color they added, and the eeriness of their glow. I set up my camera and spent the next hour or two trying to capture the Milky Way as it rose above it all.

One note about the trip up to Mt. Nebo - the highway going up to the top is actually steeper than our own Cave Mountain Road (18% grade vs. 17% grade), and the trip back DOWN the mountain in the 10,000-pound photomobile had a significant pucker factor attached. I don't like to use the vehicle brakes much, but 1st gear wasn't slowing me down enough on the steep grades and sharp curves. I had been up nearly 24 hours straight by then, so my head was a little blurry anyway, and I stopped several times on the way down to make sure those brakes would not overheat.

My next stop was the top of Petit Jean Mountain, and I spent a bit of time wandering around and checking various locations for interesting subjects. I found a couple spots with clear views of the sky, but could only see clouds - it was total overcast. It remained that way until daylight slowly began to creep into the landscape - and then it started to rain softly. I tried to nap a bit, but it was tough with the gentle breezes and cool mist - I fought to stay awake since it felt so good!

So the night was nearly a total miss for me - I only shot one image. But it was good to get out and see a few stars once again.

One funny side note. I'm sitting in a parking area right now at Petit Jean State Park as I type this. Two cars just pulled up and several folks got out to walk over to the Gravesite Overlook. It is still raining lightly - more like a heavy mist - and the fog is really thick - can't hardly even see across the road. The funny part is not that they bothered to stop and see if there was a view (no chance for a view) - I appreciate their optimism! But rather the fact that they are all dressed up in their Sunday-Go-Ta-Meetin' duds, including suits and ties! It IS Monday morning, right?

I remembered to pack my Raisin Brand cereal, but forgot milk. So breakfast was a little dry this morning...


AFTERNOON UPDATE. I spent a glorious morning down in the canyon shooting the iconic Cedar Falls, one of the most powerful of all the Arkansas waterfalls. Skies remained cloudy all day, and even misty at times, which helped keep all the foreground rocks wet and saturated. It was great to see many people of all ages hiking down to visit the falls, some of them spending a good bit of time there enjoying it all, and literally soaking it all in.

I was kind of weird - I stood in only two different spots and took hundreds of photos from those same two spots. As I get older - I've clicked over into my 60's now - I seem to grow more insecure about getting a really good photograph, and so I spend what seems like a lot more time shooting and shooting and shooting the same scene to try and eek every ounce of interest and image quality out of what is spread out before me. I feel all of those young whipper-snappers with their fancy new cameras nipping at my heels, and the rocks are getting slippery! I also did not want to move around much and get in other's way - I stood back and let them enjoy the solitude when they could. 'Tis one of the most beautiful spots in the state for sure!

I spent the afternoon at a trailhead parking lot trying to catch a few winks in the back of the bookmobile - it had been a long night. With temps in the upper 80's though it was kind of warm inside, and I didn't get too much sleep, even with a little fan blowing on my face. The forecast was calling for cloudy skies all night so I figured I would be able to get a good night's sleep since no stars would be out. It wasn't until late afternoon that I decided to check in at the campground and get a site to spend the night - and turn on air conditioner on in the van - yippie! They have some of the best campgrounds at Petit Jean State Park, and many with electric are only $19 - a real bargain.

I didn't get to snooze much though - right after dinner I noticed some of the clouds above beginning to pink up a little bit, so I unplugged and headed for the west-facing end of the mountain to see if there was going to be a sunset. There wasn't much of one, but some of the clouds looked pretty nice. While on that end of the mountain I stopped by the Bear Crack to do some scouting for the next clear night. This is a really neat area - and especially great for kids. There is a large chunk of rock just sitting on top of the ground, and is split up into multiple rock mounds with narrow canyons in between - and trails wind through at the ground level so the danger of falling off something is low.

I almost immediately found a really neat spot for taking a nighttime photo, and was making mental notes on direction and sky position - when I noticed something odd. THE MOON! But it was supposed to be cloudy all night according to the very latest national weather service hourly forecast - either cloudy or totally cloudy every hour until dawn tomorrow morning. I looked around a bit and discovered that there were NO CLOUDS at all! This was after sunset, and that moon was beginning to beam brightly - a crescent moon that was silver and beautiful.

So I ran back to the van and gathered up my camera gear, then raced back to a spot I had picked out that seemed like an interesting scene. Lo and behold not only was the sky CLEAR, but that crescent moon was moving directly into the scene - how often does that happen!

I spent the next hour thrilled at the moon and emerging stars - it was a crystal clear night - exactly the opposite of what the weather service said it was going to be. Bless their hearts.

I made several trips back to the van to get this piece of gear or another, and had to laugh at myself once. After hiking for several minutes (it was nearly total darkness, with no moonlight reaching into the bottoms of the canyons), I came to a DEAD END - what! I obviously had taken the wrong canyon turnoff. Since I figured this rocky area must be ripe with snakes, I generally hiked with my head down, carefully watching each step, and I simply wandered into the wrong canyon.

More and more stars appeared as the moon moved out of the frame. Hum, I had not planned on stars tonight, since there was a zero chance of that happening. But I knew where I wanted to be with a clear night, so after being satisfied with the shot I'd taken a couple hundred photos of, I packed up my gear and raced back to the van, hoping to get another star photo before all the clouds moved in.

And on the way I came across a GIANT snake at my feet! First one I had seen up on the mountain. Thank goodness it was just a big King Snake. I thanked him for his work (they tend to chase off or kill poisonous snakes).

06/03/14 When I arrived at the opposite end of the mountain to the big overlook of the Arkansas River guess what I found - CLEAR SKIES AND NO CLOUDS - YIPPIE! There were two shots I had wanted to shoot here, and knowing all those clouds must be on the way, I scrambled to get my gear together and climbed on down to my primary shooting location - which just happened to be underneath a jumble of boulders.

I'd been to this spot before many times and knew it well, but I'd never been to it at night. I will try and describe my shooting location. There is the main bluff there, with literally tons of giant boulders sitting against each other on top of the bluff - actually they are probably part of the bluff with parts eroded out over time, but it feels like a jumble of giant boulders once you crawl down inside. So I had crawled down underneath into this cavern that is open and looks out over the top of the river to the horizon beyond. And there is a crack - the bluff below has opened up about two feet wide, and that crack extends on out to the far end of the bluff. That was where I had to stand - down inside that crack, which was about five feet deep where I stood.

My camera was set up with one leg going across that crack, the other two on to of a ledge on my right. And the camera was back up almost against another large boulder in the back of this cave - I needed to get as far back from the opening as I could with my ultra-wide angle lens so that I could get the entire opening in the frame. The only problem was that there was not much room for my head behind the camera to frame the scene - in fact there wasn't - I could not see through the camera. So I had to try and point the camera where I thought it should be, take a picture, then crane my neck to look at the little picture on the back of the LCD and then adjust the framing as needed until I got it right. At times I had to support myself with my arms/elbows out on the ledge to hoist myself up to see - AND I also had to somehow lightpaint the inside of the cave, which was quite comical!

So there I am all crammed into the crack down in the belly of this bluff, in the dark, and I just happened to think about snakes - holy cow it was a PERFECT place for snakes! I could not see most of my body, nor move around much inside that crack, so if snake came by I not only could not have seen it, but I could not have moved out of the way if I had. Somehow I just had to put this thought out of my head and focus on my work. Which I did, and spent a good bit of time down inside the belly of the bluff shooting - the same scene over and over again.

Another thought that I dwelled on a bit, was the fact that all it would take would be a tiny movement somewhere in the rock and I would be squished like a bug - that's all my life really meant, something that could be totally flattened in an instant! Makes ya look around a little bit more and wonder, and give thanks for each breath you take.

When I finally felt satisfied with the scene, I crawled up out of the crack and moved around under there and spent another good bit of time working a couple of different scenes looking down on the big river. And as if right on cue, a giant barge cleared the lock just downstream and worked its way upstream and right through the middle of the pictures I was taking. These guys move very slowly, and have two giant spotlights that beam out at different angles across the bow and onto the opposite shore - they use them to navigate with and to keep form hitting stuff in the river. The lights really lit up the scene, and it was quite an amazing sight. Oh yes, and the Milky Way was up and big and bright and arched over that entire scene - it was quite a spectacle!

I climbed back up on top of the bluff expecting to see all those clouds move in at any moment - but guess what - even though the national weather service continued to say it was going to be cloudy every hour until dawn, there was not a cloud in the sky - nothing but stars - DOUBLE YIPPIE! So I kept on shooting, and spent some time at inside the historical girls school from the 1920 - nothing but stone walls left now, but with the Milky Way arching overhead, it looked pretty neat to me.

I shot and shot and shot until I was totally exhausted and the skies begin to lighten up just a little bit, then made my way back to the campsite, took a pill, and dove into bed for several hours. Never saw a single cloud all night.

After a few hours back home at Cloudland I had all my camera gear recycled and charged up, and ready to go again - but the national weather service was calling on - you guessed it - cloudy conditions each hour all night until down. Gosh darn it! The moon was still small enough that I could have taken some neat photos if it were going to be clear, but clouds don't work when you are trying to take star photos!

And then my lovely bride in all her wisdom suggested that perhaps I go out and just BE in place in case the forecast was wrong. Yes dear, and so I motored off towards another location I'd wanted to shoot at night for a while now - but I sure did need clear skies.

Son of a gun, at sunset the sky was CLEAR!

I loaded all my camera gear up - which included two large and heavy external batteries to power a camera all night and a dew heater all night as I knew the humidity would be high and the lens would get fogged up in a hurry without it. I also knew the route to my target destination would be one of the most difficult trips I do - not long, but nearly STRAIGHT UP through a jungle of tangled mess in the middle of a "regeneration" area in the forest. But I'd made this trip several times this past winter so I was prepared mentally and physically. It was just getting dark when I stepped off the road and headed up the hill.

HOLY COW, I was NOT PREPARED for the SOLID WALL that I ran into! The narrow path through the jungle I had used before had long since closed in completely, leaving behind a 12'-15' tall wall of honey locust, devil's walking stick, and other assorted lush vegetation - all of it covered with thorns. I was almost immediately ripped to shreds as I tried to push even a few feet into this mess. After less than 100 yards from the road I gave up, totally exhausted, frustrated, and in defeat - for one of the few times in my 40-year photography and outdoor career, I gave up, turned around, and tried to find my way back down to the jeep. WOW - I'd been waiting for this moment for months, and I was foiled, stopped dead in my tracks!

It took me ten minutes to get back to the car - only 100 yards away. And as if to sneer at me, perhaps with a little laughter thrown in, the Milky Way began to rise right over there in the sky. I don't know if it was the pain from the thorns that had ripped into my flesh, or the fact of knowing I was missing one of the most spectacular scenes of my life, but I sure did hate to see CLEAR SKIES and a BRILLIANT Milky Way, and me sitting in the car with no cameras running!

I scrambled to come up with a plan B, and I did find an interesting spot nearby and set up my camera to begin shooting an all-night timelapse showing the Milky Way rising in the middle of towering pine trees. But Houston we had a problem - one piece of my setup did not work - an adapter that would supply power to the camera all night from a six-pound battery. That was the one part that I did not have a backup to (the little cord cost more than $100!), but I did have a different camera that had a different AC adapter cord, so I raced to exchange cameras and got the timelapse sequence running. I had no idea how the photos would turn out, but it was my best second option. Of course, there were supposed to be clouds all night so what would it matter anyway, right?

OK, onto the second part of my night.

I drove an hour or so over to a spot on Big Piney Creek where I had shot before, and was hoping to capture that rising Milky Way in the sky and reflected in a calm pool in the river. I could drive my jeep right up next to this one, and so I did (the location required a high-clearance vehicle to reach, so I could not take the Bookmobile). Everything worked out perfectly for this one, and the Milky Way was right on time. I spent several hours shooting the same scene over and over again as the Milky Way rose into the sky. It was beautiful, peaceful, and just one of those WOW times I get to spend outdoors working. I spent a lot of time lightpainting a couple of different giant sandstone blocks that had tumbled down from bluffs high above and landed SPLAT into the river. All the while I was on the lookout for Mr. Snake - I never saw one.

Also all the while I was surrounded and serenaded by a large chorus of bullfrogs - holy cow they were everywhere! Loud and deep voices echoed through the night. And those giant eyes lit up whenever I shown my light around. I used to gig them when in high school, but I never really liked eating frog legs so I quit (same with deer, squirrel, dove, rabbit, etc. - I just never liked the taste of wild game, nor the "sport" of killing just for killing sake, so I quit hunting).

I kept waiting for all the promised clouds to move in, but guess what - it remained CLEAR SKIES the entire time I was on the river. YIPPIE! (The image I got is the current Print Of The Week for the next few days.) So far the weather service is batting zero this week - but I'll take it, I need stars!


06/04/14 I drove back to the area near where I had set out the first camera, and spent some time taking pictures of the still-rising Milky Way. It was amazing how much it had moved in a few hours, and it was standing nearly straight up in southwestern sky - arching up overhead and disappearing behind the mountain to my northeast. I found a few interesting tall pine trees that were stand out by themselves, and took pictures of the trees and Milky Way until a tiny hint of light began to creep into the dark sky - it was just after 4am.

My main nighttime adventure and photo did not happen this night, but I got a couple of other images and a timelapse that I think will work for the new book and/or slide program - I was a happy camper!

06/06/14 P day had arrived - PUPPY DAY!!! We have been on a quest the past couple of months to find a suitable four-footed companion for Lucy. Ever since we lost our beloved Aspen she had high separation anxiety whenever we would leave her alone - even for a minute while still here in the cabin. She is 16 years old but can still run and hike for mile and miles (and stay ahead of us no matter how fast we hike), and she is in the best spirits of her long life. But she just can't handle being alone. Anyway, my lovely bride had been looking into getting a shelter dog (Pam rescued Lucy from a shelter in Springfield 25 years ago).. She found a national organization that rescues springer spaniels, and they had MANY available of all ages in many states around the country. We found one young springer in their system that was especially appealing - he had just been dumped in an animal shelter in Dallas and the group was looking for someone to rescue this beautiful dog.

We began a three-week, intensive, interview and approval process through the origination that included numerous phone interviews with us and even our vet of 30 years. An extensive application, more interviews and pictures of our property, and on and on. Everyone in the chain of command had been overjoyed at our situation and was looking forward to us rescuing this puppy. Than all of a sudden, when we were expecting to be called to Dallas to go pick up the little guy, the head of the Texas branch of the origination all of a sudden, right out of the blue, declared us to be "unfit pet owners" - she said that we not only were not approved to adopt this dog, but they would not allow us to adopt ANY dog in their system - and then she sent out a vile e-mail to other groups around the country telling them that we were "very weird" and unfit to adopt any dog from any rescue group. WHAT? We had no chance to plead our case or speak to anyone about this - it was her decision, and we had been banned from rescuing a puppy. It seemed as if this lady felt like if we did not keep our puppy chained up all the time that we were unfit puppy parents. It was just too bizarre to believe. I think we have a pretty good track record that speaks for itself. We were saddened for this puppy as he probably had to be destroyed because of this lady's stupidity or whatever her issue was. What a shame. One odd thing - this national group has no representation in Arkansas (we were assigned people in other states), nor any dogs in Arkansas. Very strange.

Anyway, needless to say, we were stunned, saddened, and puzzled, but had no choice but to move on. As luck would have it, we found a lady in the Springfield, MO area with a new litter of springer spaniel puppies. I took the girls up to meet with them, and we found a PERFECT little boy named Wilson. Six weeks old, liver and white, and looked an awful lot like our beloved Aspen. It was love at first sight. Actually at first pee. When we all got out of the car and the puppies were turned loose, Wilson ran right over to me, stood between my feet, and peed on my shoe! He had marked me, and that was the end of it. "We'll take this one ma'am!"

There was another little pup in the litter that tugged at our heart strings - she was about half the size of Wilson, but made up for her size with a never-ending determination and energy. We were not looking to get two puppies, but you know how that goes - MIA would be coming to Cloudland too. That was two weeks ago, and the pups were six weeks old then. They would stay with their mom until they were eight weeks old, which was TODAY!

We returned to Springfield today and collected our two new puppies, and they made the trip down to Arkansas and up the mountain to Cloudland without a hitch. We had spent some time making the cabin puppy-proof, and preparing for their every need. As you can imagine, life at Cloudland had just taken a dramatic turn! I won't bore you with hours of puppy talk, but suffice it to say that puppies and mom AND Lucy are doing just fine so far - YIPPIE COYOTE!


06/09/14 The weatherman FINALLY got the forecast right and we've had some really nice rains this past couple of days. Creeks and waterfalls are filled and singing lively tunes. Our puppy schedule has kept both of us quite busy - especially Pam - but we all are adapting well. Pam has taken the midnight shift, and I've been getting up at 4am to feed and exercise them. They seem to enjoy life here at Cloudland; Lucy is warming up to them; the Fat Cat watches them for hours; and the Trail Cat keeps her distance. They have been on hikes up to a half mile already, and both pups can run up and down the front steps and run and play in the front yard. We are working on house-breaking.

We have never crated any of our dogs, but we are trying it with these little guys and they have a large crate that is their safe place where they feel secure and comfortable. They come and go as they please until it is time for bed, then we close the door and get a few winks ourself. Otherwise they pretty much have free run of the main floor of the cabin.

They were already named when we got them, but after careful consideration we decided that those names were just perfect for both. Mia comes from Mia Ferrow, and they little lady just looks like a Mia. When we were trying to decide about the boy, the name Wilson popped up everywhere we looked - he already had a soccer ball and volley ball with his name on it, plus a pair of tennis rackets, and even his very own cell phone signal booster antenna - all with the "Wilson" brand on them. Of course the classic Tom Hanks scene on the raft come to mind as he yells out WILSON for his long lost companion. But the real kicker for me was the association with the neighbor on the TV show TOOLTIME. Remember Wilson? He was always so mysterious, a world traveler, adventurer, great gourmet cook, philosopher, a real man's man - and of course, ladies's man. That all fits our little Wilson to a tee!

So our new pups are Mia (black and white) and Wilson (liver and white). Mia remains about 1/2 the size of Wilson - there were three females (all tiny) and three males (all large) in the litter. They are Springer Spaniels, just like Aspen was. And while Lucy has not totally warmed up to them yet, she seems to be getting even more attention than normal from us, so I think she is a happy camper too, and in the end will end up becoming buddies with the pups.

Remember the jungle wall that stopped me the other night? I returned to the scene yesterday and took a photo of what it looked like - there is now a narrow corridor through the thickest part of it and the hiker gives a sense of scale (this is on an extremely steep hillside). It was 10'-12' or taller of dense thicket, composed mostly of honey locust and devil's walking stick - all with thorns, and pretty nasty stuff (they planted baby pine trees in this clearcut area that will eventually grow up and kill out the thicket).


We have heavy fog here at the cabin this morning, and the rains had stopped when I was out with the pups at 4am. The rivers below are singing a lively tune, and are happy for the rainfall. We're hoping for another round or two of rain today - there is a waterfall picture that I need to take!


Mia (above); Wilson (below)



Brother and sister, Mia is about 1/2 the size of Wilson

06/10/14 Yesterday began for me in the dentist's chair; and ended right in the middle of an incredible iconic location filled with spectacular light, sound, and the raw power of water - and that moment lasted for five hours. I just LOVE Mondays, well except for the dentist part.

The alarm went off at 4am and I reported for puppy duty. Then onto the dentist, and other chores. It was just around sunset when I shouldered my heavy camera backpack and headed down the steep and slippery trail into Hemmed-In Hollow overlooking the Buffalo River. I passed one gentleman who was hiking out - huffing and puffing kind of like I'd be doing soon. My plan was to be at the tallest waterfall in mid-America right after dark to take a light-painted photo of the great waterfall from behind - I did not want any stars in the photo, and the forecast was for cloudy and rainy conditions all night - perfect!


When I landed down at the falls, I turned around and realized the overcast sky was beginning to break up - and then I discovered that the second brightest light in the known universe was smack dab in the middle of my photo! (the moon - I needed a dark sky behind the waterfall, and the moon was way too bright)

WOW, the sky cleared off in about 60 seconds, and that 3/4 moon was bright and brilliant and beaming directly into the waterfall and all around me. I sat down and calculated my chances of the clouds moving back in, looked up at the moon, and realized that if the sky remained clear, I would have to wait at least five hours for the moon to move out of the picture!

There certainly are worse places to be forced to spend time, but I had only planned to be there for an hour, hike back up and out to the trailhead, and be home by midnight. The best laid plans...

I set up my camera and tripod and made a series of test exposures as the world got darker - but it actually felt like it was getting lighter because of that bright moon. Some of the test exposures were beginning to look pretty good - a totally different photograph that I had come to shoot, but 'tis the nature of the beast. I might have come all the way and got nothing, which happens all the time.

So I looked around to find a comfortable rock ledge to sit on, and finding none I sat down anyway, laid back, and started to get a little awe-struck at the scene spread out before me. At 209 feet it was the tallest waterfall in all of the central United States, and it was running full tilt - i.e., it was LOUD at my seat on the ledge!

I was sitting about a third of the way up the waterfall, so the water plunged 125 feet from above, then continued on for another 89 feet below me before it hit the ground with varying degrees of SPLAT, THUD, BAM, SLAP, BOOM. The variety of the sounds was amazing.

Those who have been to this waterfall - or any really tall, skinny free-falling waterfall - know what I'm talking about. The wind moves it around quite a bit, and as it moves the velocity and direction of the water changes. It's like a long braided rope, swinging wild and free in the wind.

The brilliant moonlight on the back of the waterfall took the experience to the next level - I don't recall ever being witness to such a sight before. Well, maybe once in Yosemite many moons ago, after I had climbed up and up and up before dawn for miles until I reached the edge of a cliff where I sat dumbfounded as the rising sun lit up a 2,000 foot tall waterfall with golden color that nearly almost literally blew me away (and I typed that all in one breath too!). Yup, our little waterfall here in Arkansas - ten times smaller - was right up there with that experience - simply AMAZING!!! I had backlit waterfalls before, but never used moonlight to do it.

And so as the night progressed and Monday moved on into Tuesday, I took many photographs of the dancing falls in the moonlight. And the moon moved across the sky behind the falls - sometimes in a perfectly-clear sky; and sometimes a few clouds would gather their strength and race across. Each time I would look up at the scene and decide to take a picture. I would carefully try to match the backlighting of the moonlight with a little bit of front light from my flashlight. No two pictures were alike, even if taken just seconds apart - since the wind moved the waterfall and my hand moved the flashlight and the heavens moved the moon.

I returned to my seat on the rock ledge after each photo was completed, only to look up and stand right back up to take another, and another. It really was a sight to see - and as some folks have pointed out in online forums, my pictures "just don't do the waterfall justice" - yes siree, pictures can't match the real thing.

It was a magical, mystical, uplifting experience, and a cold one too. The temp had dipped to 60 degrees, and I remained soaked all night from my hike in, which made it a wee bit cooler. And all the wind generated by the waterfall - funny how the big ones create their own weather.

I sat and waited for that moon to move, and it moved ever so slowly. Usually when I'm taking pictures of the moon, it screams across the sky and I have to keep moving my camera just to keep up. But in this case I was actually photographing the moonlight and the waterfall and the sky, and naturally since the moon was in my way and I needed it to move out of the frame, it moved at a snail's pace - a law of nature.

Every now and then I could see a buildup of fog downstream towards the Buffalo River. The mist would gather itself up and make a charge towards me, filling the canyon with beautiful light - the mist diffused the already-soft moonlight. And the moon itself would take on an amazing glow, sometimes a red circle around it. I would take a few pictures, then the foggy mist would retreat back into the forest.

Sometimes clouds would approach - I could see them a couple of minutes before they arrived. I had to change the camera settings for clouds, and I never knew exactly what was going to work and what was not going to work exposure-wise with them. One thing is for sure - the clouds always came FLYING through the scene, and even a ten-second exposure would blur them quite a bit, an effect which I liked.

Midnight. One o'clock. Two o'clock. Man that moon moved SLOW!!! I ran out of water - ha, ha - standing at the base of the tallest waterfall in the central US and I ran out of water! I had only planned to be there for an hour, not all night. But I didn't care - it was magnificent scene, and a magical moment that lasted for more than five hours - how often does that happen?

In the end - sometime after 3am - the fog got thicker and finally overtook the waterfall for good, which ended my photography at the waterfall. The moon never moved completely out of the way. But I didn't mind. Moonlight through the fog was quite scenic as I climbed the steep 2.5 miles back up to the trailhead. This was one of those times that far exceeded my expectations, and time spent in the wilderness that I will remember. And I think I even got a picture out of the deal - not the one I went in after, but a new one, one I had never thought of before.


Thank goodness that my lovely bride took over puppy dog duties this morning!

Hosta was on the menu for Wilson today (don't tell my wife!)...


06/17/14 We have cloudy skies and strong breezes this morning at the cabin and it is simply DELIGHTFUL outside! 'Tis the time of year in the High Ozarks where you appreciate moderate temps, low humidity, and a little breeze since many days are hot, humid, and sticky. We've been up since 4-something today - partly due to puppies - but also just because it is the BEST time of day, especially in the summertime. The puppies are in town today getting checked by our vet, and getting some special puppy tick "stuff" to help keep them tick-free as they romp and play in the yard.

I got back yesterday afternoon from a few days on the road that included a couple wonderful days with family, book ended by long nights of great shooting. We rarely get to spend actual time not working - and getting to spend that time with family at interesting and beautiful places were just icing on the cake (or should I say PIE!).

THURSDAY. My road trip began with a visit to Petit Jean State Park - seemed like most of the state was up there also and the campgrounds were PACKED - I was lucky to find a spot. (antique car show going on just down the street with thousands of people) Thick clouds gathered as I made my way down the trail to Cedar Falls, and just a few minutes later as I set up my tripod in the middle of the creek, it began to rain. I was doing a series of minute-long exposures in the dim light, but when the rain got heavy, I had to cover up, pack up, and move on.

I headed for a spot near the base of the giant waterfall where everyone goes to take pictures, and while I normally don't like taking pictures in those sorts of locations (where everyone else has already been), I was able to continue taking pictures while the storm raged on. In fact I liked the perspective from where I was when the sky was included - especially since the clouds racing by had some interesting colors in them - AND a lightning bolt or two - YIPPIE! So I spent some time lightpainting the roaring waterfall while capturing lightning in the same frame - and that colorful sky too.

Not knowing what the sky was going to do next, I felt good with the photos I had taken so I packed up and hiked the steep trail out and moved on to the next location. I had visited the Davies Bridge just before dark and discovered much to my delight that all of the ugly dead tree branches from my previous trip had been removed or washed away - DOUBLE YIPPIE! That meant I had an open view of the arch towards the waterfall behind it. Only while searching for the perfect location to take a picture, I could find only one spot with an open view, and it was a ways downstream. (Lots of bushes along the creekbanks that love to hang out over the water!) So I noted that location, and that is where I headed for when I returned in the darkness.

But someone had already beat me to that exact spot - a little guy named COTTONMOUTH was all curled up about two feet away from my hopeful tripod location in a little depression. After accessing my options - there were none as this was the only spot other than to stand in the middle of the creek where I could get the composition that I wanted - I decided to buddy up to Mr. Snake and make the best of it. Not wanting to harass the wildlife by tying to chase him off, I simply laid a tarp over the entire depression where the snake was. Then I set up my tripod and camera and hoped Mr. Snake remained hidden under that tarp.

I spent the next couple of hours taking a series of long exposures of the exact same scene - I never moved my camera. For each exposure I would trip the shutter and then run along the creekbank to the base of the bridge and lightpaint the beautiful arching stone. Then I would shut off the light and run back up to the road, across, down the other side, then over to the waterfall and spend a little bit of time lightpainting it - the camera was making a long exposure of all my lightpainting the entire time. Then I would run back to the camera, shut it off, and review my photo. And, of course, look around to see if Mr. Snake was in sight! It was kind of weird and gave me an uneasy feeling working there at the camera in the dark knowing a cottonmouth was somewhere nearby close - and probably pissed off at me! But I never saw him again - I'm sure he saw me, and I think him for allowing me to work without fangs in my leg!


During this time the clouds all blew away and the bright full moon rose - which washed away many of the stars. I know the weather channel and other places had been hyping this as the "Honey Moon - something that had not happened in 14 years!" That was of course all just BS - the Honey Moon is nothing more than the name of the full moon in June - every full moon has the same name every year. The "honey" part does not come from any special color, but rather the fact that since June used to be the most common wedding month, it stands for "Honeymoon" Moon - and someone shortened it to Honey Moon. There WAS some nice color in the moon at moonrise (friend Mike Hall got a terrific shot of it), but that is common - especially these days with more and more pollution in the air, which is what gives the moon color when it is low to the horizon. FYI, the full moon was on the 12th in Arkansas, not on "Friday the 13th" like you might have heard. ALL full moons are special, but it seems these days that many of them have to be hyped with all sorts of false info for TV or Web traffic or something. Anyway, it was a very bright moon, as full moons always are!

I had planned a third location to shoot this night, but by the time I got finished with the bridge and waterfall photos, the sky was so bright that I gave up and went back to the campground for a couple hours sleep.

FRIDAY. I met up with my lovely bride, my brother and his lovely bride, and my sister and her husband for a very special event - a tour of the P. Allen Smith home and gardens. I've been following Allen via his PBS TV shows for many years, and have always wanted to meet him and see his now-famous Moss Mountain Farm in Arkansas. It has been portrayed as one incredible sprawling complex of buildings and gardens, and holy cow, that was CORRECT! They have these tours several times a week during some months, and the tour includes the gardens, farm animals, inside Allen's residence, and LUNCH - a highlight of the tour for me as you will learn. (Tours normally have as many as 40 guests, but there were only 18 on our tour. Bonus.)

The first item that stuck me was the GIANT OAK TREE in the front yard - a perfect shape that obviously influenced where Allen built his lovely home. Turns out there are several of these giant post oaks on the property, and they have gone to great lengths to preserve and protect and keep these guys growing strong. (including built-in lightning rods)

Everything was quite amazing, and was built for and around Allen's TV shows - literally it all is a television set - whoever came up with that plan was one smart cookie! An overall goal is to construct a kind of modern-day Montichello, and it seems that Allen is living a Thomas Jefferson type of life and times - and he is quite good at it. I would say that old Tom would be quite proud of what Allen has done.

LUNCH was wonderful, especially the PIE! Perhaps the best slice of pie I'd ever eaten in my entire life - and I've been a big pie eater since soon after I was born (my mom was a professional pie artist, so I've eaten many thousands of the best!). And then shock of all shocks, they asked me if I wanted a SECOND PIECE OF PIE - oh my goodness, are you KIDDING!? The second slice was every bit as good as the first. I was in fat-belly heaven. (See the recipe on page 240 in this cookbook.) And then P. Allen Smith walked in.


Not all of these tours include this, but we were very fortunate that the Master himself was on hand that day and joined us during lunch to answer questions and talk about his beautiful property. Then afterwards he took us over to the little gift shop and autographed his books, and answered more questions (I was especially interested in watching him autograph books - I've done thousands, he has done MILLIONS!). I got to speak with him alone for a moment or two - such a rare treat to meet one of my heros! He was gracious, down to earth, and just what you would expect of him. You won't always get to meet Allen on one of these home tours, but I highly recommend them just the same - they also do special events such as weddings, and really decorate the property for the holidays - I can't wait for a return visit! Maybe they'll have more pie... (A very special THANKS to P. Allen Smith and his family and staff for carrying on Thomas Jefferson's vision here in Arkansas. Allen is a true Arkansas and American treasure......)


Later in the day our family group all motored to a spot along the White River near Cotter where we would spend the next couple of days fishing, sitting around visiting, and EATING! Do you see a pattern for me here? I ate more on this trip then I normally do in a week I'm sure - and it was all good. Oh yes, and my lovely bride got to CATCH A LOT OF FISH! She had never been trout fishing before - even though her lazy husband has promised it on every trip out west we have ever taken. Besides all the trout she landed, she actually caught a rock - I mean hooked it, fought it into the boat, and landed it! I have no idea how a tiny hook got embedded in that rock, but she got one. She is an amazing young lady!

Our time with family was a highlight of the month for sure - where are we going next time Marsha?

SUNDAY. I parted ways with my lovely bride and motored on towards the Sylamore Creek area to take pictures. I spent several hours scouting locations during the day, and wound up at the Blanchard Springs area. While the campgrounds there were mostly shut down and getting dilapidated, the upper campground was open and I found a spot to park. $10 to camp, $5 with the Federal Lands Access Pass.

Darkness found me wading up Mill Creek both above and below Mirror Lake - the spring water was REALLY COLD, but once your feet get numb it doesn't hurt as bad. I found several interesting compositions and spent a good bit of time taking long exposures of lush mossy rocks, arched bridges, and whitewater. Once the moon popped up the landscape got really bright - and actually a little too contrasty for good pictures.

I moved to a location below the Mirror Lake Dam which proved to be really nice. Turns out that the waterfall there produced fog/mist that rose up just a little bit and covered the creek and waterfall area - it just kind of hung there in the air. The fog/mist layer acted as a giant soft box and diffused the moonlight a great deal, creating an amazing soft, bright light on the creek below.

I moved around and shot several different compositions, all looking back towards the waterfall that was absolutely glowing in that light. But it was a single mossy rock that stuck up out of the water that I finally settled on and spent the most time at. The rock was underneath a canopy of trees growing overhead, so the rock was much darker than the waterfall. Yet when I started to get really close to the rock and take pictures, it too was glowing. Turns out the diffused moonlight was bouncing off the waterfall and lightning up the moss rock - how cool was that!

This moss-rock and waterfall moonlit scene was one of those times that I look forward to and cherish when it happens - it doesn't happen very often in my business. But it was just an incredible, powerful, and moving scene at the time, in the moment, and from what I could see on the back of the camera's LCD, the photo of it would be too. The image has a luminous quality to it that most don't, it is so rich and lush! I am always seeking out such scenes and moments, but seldom get to find or experience them.

FYI, moonlight is just sunshine that is bounced off the moon, and if you make an exposure long enough (sometimes takes minutes or even longer), the scene will look like it was taken in daylight. Moonlight is not really "blue" - although we often perceive it as being blue light.

One kind of funny note about this particular moment. It took me a while to gradually work my way up close to the waterfall and finally to the moss rock - taking different compositions using different lenses and exposures. When I got up close and personal with the moss rock I was actually down in the creek, on my knees actually in the cold water. The tripod legs were spread out wide and the camera was only a couple inches above the water surface - the camera strap was in the water. After I had been there for a few minutes and made a several exposures, I happened to look at another rock right next to me a couple of feet away and discovered that I was NOT ALONE! There was a water snake there in the water next to the rock, with just his head sticking up out of the water. The motion of the flowing water caused his head to bob up and down. He would alternate looking at me and then over at the waterfall, then back at me. He seemed to really be interested in what I was doing and what I was taking a picture of - is that possible!

I had planned to do an all night timelapse of one scene, but the moon and fog did not cooperate. I did get to take a multi-hour startrail image of a craggy bluff and pine trees that the moon did help with - it lit up the limestone bluff perfectly!

Two night of shooting, two days with family - it was a terrific road trip! Of course, now I am paying for it since I've fallen even farther and farther behind with my daily chores, but what else is new. Dark nights are approaching, and I'll be spending many more night out shooting the next couple of weeks, plus two workshops, a wedding to go to, and PUPPIES to play with! I hope you have a terrific week!

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