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Mount Magazine, part 1
May 19 through June 6, 2004

Around the same time a two-week dry spell was putting an early end to the waterfall season, my attention got diverted to an upcoming photo contest that was part of the annual Butterfly Festival at Mount Magazine. I figured if I was to enter any photos into the contest, they ought to be from the Mount Magazine area, so I wound up making eight trips to our state’s tallest peak in a three-week period.
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My first trip was after work on May 19.  I was hoping to get a picture of the new moon at sunset. As I was stepping out of the truck at Cameron Bluff I spotted some unfamiliar leaves across the road, which turned out to be Fringe Tree - a new one for me. The sun disappeared behind a thick haze on the horizon before it had a chance to show much color, and I never did spot the moon. The wind coming over the top of the mountain was the strongest I've ever experienced, and I was a bit nervous being close to a lethal drop. Still, I got a few pictures of the bluff in front of Brown Springs. A huge copperhead crossed the road in front of me just as I was leaving.
Friday, May 28 Cliff and I drove up to Mount Magazine to catch the sunset and scout photo locations. We made it to the visitors center before it closed and looked around a bit. Cliff was hoping to buy a book on rocks and minerals but they were out. We drove out to the Petit Jean River valley overlook and I took compass readings and enjoyed the awesome view. Then we hiked up to check out the nature pond nearby. We were running out of daylight so we hurried back to the truck, hoping to find access to a bluff that would give us a view of both the sunset and Cameron Bluff. We caught a few glimpses of the sun through the trees and could tell it was going to be an awesome sunset. At Brown Springs, the picnic area had been turned in to an overflow camping area because of Memorial Day weekend, and there were campers near where I wanted to drop down to the bluffs, so we headed down the trail at the back end of the picnic area. It indeed was an awesome sunset but we didn't get to see most of it because the view from the bluffs is just too far to the north. We came home without a single decent picture.
Sunday afternoon we had a front come through and dump almost an inch of rain in 20 minutes. Around 5: 30 Cliff and I hopped in the truck and headed East along Highway 64, hoping to find some magic views at the tail of the storm. We never saw any rainbows, and except for some interesting clouds there wasn't anything worth stopping and photographing. But then we wound up back at Cameron Bluff on Mount Magazine and indeed saw some magic. First, we got to witness a nice sunset. But the real show was the wispy clouds following the contours of the mountain below us. The wind was pushing the clouds up the mountainside to our left around the Brown Springs area. Then just as we were leaving the wind shifted and the clouds started coming straight towards us at Cameron Bluff. Right when the clouds got to us they would rise about 30 feet and race over our heads. I’ll never forget that scene.
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Even though we didn't get home til past 10 and I didn't get to bed til past midnight, I was up at 4 a.m. to get back at Mount Magazine for the sunrise. Once there I hiked along a nice new trail the State Park people have put in going to Bear Hollow. Near the middle of the hollow I found a great little bluff just downhill from the trail with a view of the rising sun.
After that I drove over to the Brown Springs picnic area and walked down the trail. A few hundred yards along I spotted a Maple Leaf Oak right on the trail. Nice to finally see this rare tree, and without having to search! There were some open fields to the left of the trail, full of the tall stalks of wild indigo plants with their white flowers. After four trips to the mountain I finally got to see some butterflies.
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I made my fifth trip up to the mountain on the evening of June 1. I knew the moon would be almost full and low in the southeastern sky around sunset so I went to a spot near the Petit Jean River valley overlook. It turned out to be my favorite experience of all my trips. It was incredible watching the shadows of the mountains below get longer and longer, all the while the big moon staring down at me. The only sound was the whispering of the warm gentle breeze through the trees below the bluff. After sunset Blue Mountain Lake to the southwest turned pink as it reflected the colors in the clouds above.
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Another series of storms came through the area the evening of June 2 so I set my alarm for 4 the next morning. I figured chances were good for some shots from the top of the mountain of fog down in the valleys, but the mist and fog at Cove Lake on the way were too good to pass up. After waiting half an hour for a colorful sunrise shot that never happened, I hopped in the truck to head up the mountain. But on the side of the road next to the spillway I spotted flowers I had only seen in books called Mexican Hats. I’m glad I stopped because this small wildflower patch was a lot nicer than it looked from the road.
I then drove up on top of the mountain then over to the Petit Jean River valley overlook. Sure enough there were clouds down in the valleys. Blue Mountain Lake was completely hidden. After taking a few snapshots I drove down the south side of the mountain to check out a spot I’d read about in Tim Ernst’s Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook, called Hardy Falls. I didn’t get my camera out because I assumed, correctly, that the falls would be dry this time of year. But the site was fantastic and I look forward to returning when I have more time.
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