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Hawksbill Crag
January 29, 2005

Saturday was full of good surprises. I enjoyed snow-filled vistas and forests as beautiful as any I'd ever seen, and in separate instances I bumped into my two favorite Arkansas outdoor photographers.
Due to uncertain weather forecasts, I went to bed Friday night not knowing where I'd be going the next morning. When I looked out the window first thing Saturday, there was a dusting of snow on the ground (totally not forecast) and a light drizzle falling from the sky. I turned on the TV, put it on a local station, and learned that a small system had just moved through north of us and possibly dropped some snow in some places. I decided to head for the Buffalo River Trail but take the long way via Highway 23 because that route goes through more mountainous terrain.
As I started driving up Whiting Mountain north of Cass suddenly I started seeing snow, and soon found myself in a wonderland of white. The snow was sticking stubbornly to the trees and branches, making it look like the area had gotten a foot of the white stuff instead of the actual fraction of an inch. As I neared West Fly Gap Road I remembered I still had not found a particular bluff overlooking the Cove Creek valley that Randy Wilson had told me about. I knew there’d be some great views from the bluff, so I decided to make the detour. As I neared the parking spot I saw a vehicle already there. Turns out it was Randy and his sidekick Junie. I knew they were anxious to get out and enjoy the great scenery so I rolled down the window long enough to exchange hellos then headed down the road.
As the highway descended the mountains into the White River valley the snow disappeared, yet I could still see it in the mountaintops high above. Realizing the snow was only in the highest elevations, I started going down that list I keep in my head of places I’d like to visit, determining what was both nearby and way up high. Cave Mountain Road north of Red Star leads to a bunch of places, so I took it. As I thought more about where I might possibly stop, it dawned on me that I had a good chance of having a dream come true: seeing Hawksbill Crag in the snow.
One of my favorite Tim Ernst photographs is of a group of hikers atop the Crag,  suspended over a white sea of snow-covered tree tops. I’ve always said that some day I would get to take in that scene for myself. As I drove closer and closer to the Hawksbill Crag trailhead the suspense begin to mount. Would there still be snow there? The answer was Yes, and I quickly strapped on the backpack and headed down the trail.
I had a feeling the snow would start melting any minute, but the snow, ice, and copper Beech leaves were doing some neat stuff so I stopped a few times to snap some pictures.
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The first half of the 1.5 mile trail was through dense woods, but then the path started following along the top of a tall bluff. The view across a frosty white Whitaker Creek valley was amazing. I stopped again to take a few photos, just in case it was my only opportunity.
I was in view of the Crag in no time. The snow cover on the nearby trees wasn’t so perfectly thick as a few hundred yards up the trail, but I’m not complaining. As I was setting up the tripod, camera and timer in such a way that I could walk out to the Crag and get a picture of myself, I heard footsteps coming down the trail beside me. I looked up to say hi to whoever it was, and exclaimed “Tim Ernst!”
Tim and a couple of companions were toting photo gear, and wanted to take shots from the spot I was occupying. At first they were going to wait on me to do my thing and get out of their way, but once I was out on the ledge they hollered to ask if I’d stay. Pictures of the Crag are just so much better if you can get a person in it. They positioned their tripods next to mine.
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Posing there made me stop and take a better look at everything. I looked down past my feet, way down to the tree tops below, and noticed a striking scene. The trees, already bright white with their snowy covering, really looked cool in combination with the copper beech trees underneath. When I got back to the camera I made an attempt to tell Tim and his friends about the scene below the Crag, but of course it was one of those times when the right words wouldn’t come to mind and I think I sounded like an idiot. Still, Tim heard me and minutes later he peered over the edge of the Crag and told his buddies that I was right, that there was a scene they had to shoot.
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After they left I hung out on the Crag for a while to take a few pictures, then slowly walked along the trail back to the truck. And I mean real slowly, because I had to stop every few hundred feet to set up the camera and tripod at another spot that just had to be photographed. I never tire of our Ozark sandstone boulders with their pale green lichens, and they really steal the show in winter.
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