Herrods Creek Canyon
December 26, 2009
Five years ago on a frigid winter afternoon I explored a small canyon in the Herrods Creek headwaters. Huge icicles draping the sides of the canyon were a spectacular sight, but I didn't have a camera with me that day to document the scene. I vowed to return one day and get some pictures.
This year I found myself at home the day after a white Christmas, itching to be in the Arkansas outdoors with snow on the ground. I left home around 10:30. The roads were still icy around town, but I-40 was OK. I picked some old music to listen to, Daryl Hall & John Oates, because I'd seen a commercial on TV using Private Eyes and couldn't get the song out of my head. Then it occurred to me I'd gotten the Rock n' Soul album for Christmas way back in 1982; I found it extremely coincidental that here it was Christmas and out of the blue I was listening to it for the first time in years.
As I drove north on Morgan Mountain Road, I saw lots of huge icicles hanging from the small bluffs up above. It looked like I'd picked a good day to return to the canyon. I turned south onto a level road that runs along the ridge on the east side of the creek. I was headed for a four-wheeler road three-quarters of a mile in that runs west downhill toward the creek. About a third of a mile in I started to worry about the condition of the snow-covered road so I pulled over at a good parking spot and walked the extra 10 minutes to the four-wheeler road, where I surprised a group of wild turkeys.
The mile walk downhill was a piece of cake. I thought to myself, I should come here more often. There were some nice views of Hare Mountain across the creek valley. I made a hard right to leave the road and bushwhack downhill to Herrods Creek. The hillside was just beautiful. The ground was covered by a light layer of snow, with lots of copper Beech leaves poking through. The Beech woods were clean with very little debris. A few big boulders watched over the scene. I had to slide on my rear in several steep places; it was a bit too slippery otherwise.
At the bottom of the hill I landed along an old road trace that Joey and I had found back in January 2005. A big Beech tree had fallen across it, and sap seeping out of a crack had frozen into translucent brown "sapsicles".
Another goal for the day was to find and photograph some faces carved into a Beech tree along the road trace. Back when Joey and I had found them, I was overcome with an eerie impression that they'd been made by aliens or native Americans. Then I gathered my wits and concluded some youngster had probably made the carvings at at time in the not-so-distant past when the road was used. Soon we'd found initials carved into a nearby tree. After photographing the faces (the lighting was just awful) I followed the road trace to where it crossed Herrods Creek. I turned right and headed north into the little canyon. The rocky surfaces were covered in snow and ice, so I slipped on a pair of Yaktrax slip-on traction cleats over by boots. Stacey and the boys had just given them to me for Christmas.
The big icicles had not formed in the canyon as I had expected, and the little ones that were there were quickly melting in the sunlight and warmer temperatures (it was around 29). I went ahead and walked upstream to the cascading waterfall at the top of the canyon. I stayed there until the sun went behind the mountains and I photograph the falls.
As I headed back downstream in the favorable lighting I met several scenes I had to stop and shoot. In one, a mass of icicles hung at eye level from a rock shelf beside the swirling green water in a deep pool. In another, strange ice shapes hung from an old tree branch just above an area of whitewater.
Daylight was fading as I began the slow scramble up the steep hillside. The woods were so pretty that I stopped and took a couple of quick photos. It was pretty dark by the time I hit the four-wheeler road. But a half moon was out, giving me just enough light through the haze and thin clouds that I decided not to use my headlamp. It was a memorable hike through the still, snowy landscape, though I was suprised how tough the hike uphill hike was. The elevation change was a good 650 feet. A few times the clouds cleared and I got a nice view of the bright, twinkling stars overhead.