Ouachita Mountains
November 2, 2009
For the third year in a row, I took a week of vacation to enjoy the Arkansas outdoors during the peak of fall colors. I have to schedule the time off from work months in advance, and I'm never too sure how the foliage change will be progressing. This year the colors were early, so I headed south hoping to find a show there.
After spending a relaxing Sunday indoors as a couch potato, I gathered everything necessary to sleep in the Tahoe and left out around 9 o'clock. I finally listened to the album Hair of the Dog, by the Scottish hard rock band Nazareth, after buying it 5 months ago.  Actually, in this case "finally" meant after having it on my mental to-do list for over 25 years. Way back in high school I noticed a lot of kids had that cassette in their music collections, so I always wondered what the big deal was. The music wasn't what I expected, because for some reason I was anticipating something that was totally evil in some way, which it wasn't; but it was OK. It kind of took me back to the style of music my buddies and I listened to back then. One pretty little ballad, Love Hurts, I barely recognized as perhaps a minor hit back in the day.
A little past 11 I pulled off at the Sugar Creek overlook in the Ouachitas, where I planned to spend the night. The nearly-full moon was bathing the mountains in an eerie blue-gray light. It still felt early and I wasn't tired, so I set up the camera to take some pictures. It took me a while to get the right exposure. I was disappointed because the pictures don't really look like what I saw... they show too much color in the foliage. I didn't see that color.. it was all very monotone.
I didn't sleep very well, partly because the only padding underneath me was a backpacking air mattress. Though the newness of the sleeping situation probably had more to do with it than anything. My alarm went off way before sunrise, and I used my backpacking stove to boil water for coffee. I noticed the Tahoe was leaning more than it should, and discovered I had a flat. As dawn approached, the hazy sky over the Sugar Creek valley to the southwest had a nice pink cast. I stayed until the early rays of sunlight lit up the tops of the mountains, then put away the camera to deal with the flat tire.
That ordeal took longer than normal because my spare had to be aired up with this cheap compressor I carry for just such a situation. By the time I got to the little bridge over Blaylock Creek where I wanted to shoot, the sun was high enough to make photography a challenge.
Next I headed to Bard Springs campground just down the road, to photograph the little manmade waterfall at the dam. I had to pause there and air up my tire again, as the spare had a leak.
I turned around and drove to Shady Lake and scouted out the camping areas, then headed south to the Cossatot River. The GPS found a quick route. I toured the new state park visitor center on Highway 278, and found a road there leading down to a pretty spot on the river. Then I took some dirt roads to the Cossatot Falls area on the river.
Even though the clear blue skies and bright sunlight made for tough photography conditions, I put on my felt boots and headed down river. I spent a long time enjoying the scenery and taking pictures. I got really warm with the sun beating down on me. The metal studs on the soles of my boots weren't working out; they were the only thing contacting the boulders and I found myself slipping a lot.
I returned to the Tahoe and aired up the tire again, then headed north on some other dirt roads to Highway 246. I drove the highway east to Langley then turned north on Highway 369 and headed to Albert Pike campground, enjoying the rugged scenery along the Little Missouri River. I turned west onto Forest Road 106, which parallels the river for a few miles.
I parked at the Winding Stairs trailhead and hiked a short way down the trail to where it crosses Blaylock Creek, just upstream of where the creek flows into the Little Missouri. I left the trail and followed the creek down to the river, which was running swiftly from all the recent rains. Colorful foliage lined its banks and a big boulder rested about 10 feet from the shore.
I returned to where the trail crosses Blaylock Creek and shot my last photo of the day. The water rushed beside a massive boulder and reflections from the gold and yellow trees downstream bounced off the surface of the water.
I went back to Albert Pike campground then headed north, following Crooked Creek. There was a perfect amount of water in it, but not much in the way of colorful foliage. I knew the full moon would be rising at sunset, so when I reached Highway 8, instead of turning west toward home, I drove east hoping to find a location to photograph the moon. I should have stopped at one of several fields along Highway 8, but instead kept searching for the perfect overlook that never appeared. I wound up going all the way in to Mount Ida; I didn't realize it was so close to Little Missouri Falls. Once again the world gets a little smaller.
When I finally got home I settled down on the couch to watch The Big Bang Theory while eating dinner. A coincidence 25 years in the making occurred when a Nissan commercial aired. "Love Hurts" rang out from the TV as the music for the ad. My jaw dropped.