Spring Snapshots
May 24, 2009
Spring was well into its third week before my seasonal heavy workload eased up enough for me to shift my focus to getting out and enjoying nature. A strong afternoon thunderstorm rolled through Thursday, April 9. The rain ended a little before sunset, and although the clouds and mist hung around, the sky to the west started glowing an eerie golden hue. I grabbed the camera, jumped in the Tahoe and drove down to Lee Creek Park on the Arkansas River for a better view. The glow darkened quite a bit by the time I got there, but it turned an almost unbelievable shade of orange for a couple of minutes.
After I got off work the next day, Stacey, the boys and I drove down to the Ouachita Mountains to visit the Crater of Diamonds state park in Mufreesboro. I made the comment on the way that I had wanted to visit the park and dig for diamonds since I was a little kid, and that I sure hadn't planned on it taking 40 years for me to finally do it. We spent the night at a motel in Mount Ida. I got up early the next morning and drove to the Big Fir recreation area on Lake Ouachita to catch the sunrise.
We had a great breakfast at a cafe in Mount Ida, then returned to the motel to pack. We drove south for about an hour to Mufreesboro.  Against the protests of the boys, we pulled into Sonic for an early lunch. I knew if we didn't, they'd get hungry while were digging for diamonds. We were at the park about 4 hours, 3 of which were spent out in the dirt fields digging and sifting, and then screening the courser dirt in water. We found about a dozen tiny transparent rocks, all of which turned out to be minerals other than diamond.
On the drive home we took a route to the west through Mena for a firsthand look at the tornado damage the town suffered a couple of nights ago. It was a real eye-opener for all of us.
The following Tuesday, April 14, I went for a hike after work at Lee Creek Reservoir. The waterfalls along the Crack-in-the Rock Trail were running nicely, but the sun was out and hitting them, preventing me from taking any pictures. I stopped and took some close-up shots of some nice little wildflowers called Crow Poison (I wish I knew how they got their name!) I was there just as much for getting myself in shape for waterfall season, so on the way back I turned onto the eastern loop of the Homestead Trail. I found a nice spot overlooking the western end of the reservoir, and waited there until sunset to take some photos.
I also made quite a few afternoon trips to the new Lake Fort Smith state park for conditioning hikes along the western end of the Ozark Highlands Trail. There are several spots along the trail where one can walk down to the lake shore. The evening of Wednesday, April 22 I sat beside a big boulder on the shore and enjoyed the peaceful sunset. On another evening I went far enough along the trail to pass the actual Shepherd Spring. Until a couple of years ago, the reservoir was two separate lakes, with Lake Shepherd Springs on the upper end. When I was a kid my mom told me that her Grandma Shepherd was descended from the people the lake was named after. Two other evenings, Friday, May 8 and Thursday May 14, I bushwhacked up different forks of the stream below Maddux Spring, hunting for waterfalls. I never found anything over a couple of feet tall, but I saw plenty of wildflower species past bloom.. something to remember in the coming years.
On Sunday afternoon, May 17, a bunch of us (Stacey, Cliff, Grant, James, Melinda and I) drove to Petit Jean state park to catch Cedar Falls running full tilt. I was pretty sore from my previous day's trip to Bowers Hollow, but I knew we had an opportunity that was too uncommon to pass up. I tried to time our visit so that the waterfall would be out of the sun by the time we made it down the steep canyon trail, but we were a bit early and the treetops above the top of the falls were still bathed in bright sunlight. The boys cooperated with my request to pose on a boulder near the falls. It seemed like we hadn't been there 10 minutes when Stacey hollered at me above the roar of the waterfall that everybody was leaving. I thought there was some rush to get home, but then we stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Russellville for dinner.
The next weekend Cliff, Nathan and I went on an overnight backpacking trip in the Richland Creek Wilderness. The weather forecast said rain was possible, but we weren't going to let that stop us! We left town Saturday, May 23, way later than we should have. We stopped at the Dairy Freeze in Clarksville for lunch, then got back on the interstate and drove to Russellville, where we took Highway 7 north. We ran into heavy rain, which really slowed us down. Also, we had to take the long way around through Dickey Junction to the forest service campsite near the mouth of Falling Water Creek, because Falling Water road was closed due to a landslide.
The rain had let up by the time we parked near the campground and started our hike. We crossed Falling Water Creek and found the unofficial trail on the south side of Richland Creek. Ten minutes later it started raining again and we all pulled out cheap Wal Mart emergency ponchos, which at least kept us from getting soaked. The temperature was high enough that the ponchos were uncomfortable. It pretty much rained the entire 2 miles, so we didn't get to enjoy the scenery all that much. It was frustrating for me to not be able to stop and pull out the camera and take pictures of all the interesting sights along the way.
By the time we reached our camp site at the mouth of Devils Fork, daylight was fading. At least the rain finally stopped. I was surprised that the camp site, which I had found back in October 2006, was all grown up from lack of use. Nathan and Cliff started setting up their tent, while I walked down to Richland Creek to filter water. On the way I saw a hiker on the faint trail coming back from Richland Falls. If he was planning on hiking back to the campground, no way would he make it before dark! The scene looking up Richland Creek was just incredible. It seemed so unfair that I couldn't explore upstream.
I returned to camp and started setting up my tent, while Cliff and Nathan made a futile attempt to build a fire. There wasn't a dry piece of wood in the forest for miles! I pitched a tarp alongside my tent, and we heated hot dogs on the camp stove. By then it was completely dark and we all went to bed.
We awoke at first light. The lush green wilderness was filled with a dreamy fog and the only sound was that of water droplets hitting leaves. We heated water and had a breakfast of instant oatmeal and pop tarts. Cliff cooked ramen noodles of course. I had plans of taking the boys to see Richland Falls, but it suddenly started raining and we elected to pack up camp and start hiking back.
Our gear got drenched in the process of packing. Most items didn't compress as well, and I wound up carrying a lot more items than I brought in. And since everything was wet, it weighed a whole lot more. The hike back was miserable, especially for me. My lingering back problems decided to make an appearance and I crept back up the slick, muddy trail like an old lady. When we got home,  I weighed my pack and it tipped the scales at 46 pounds, which was 11 more than what I started with.