Home Valley Bluff
November 3, 2008
My fall morning atop Home Valley Bluff was more amazing than I had imagined it would be. The previous afternoon, I left town early enough to enjoy a few hours of fall brilliance in the Ozark Mountains and hopefully find a few scenes to photograph. I headed up Highway 21 north of Clarksville in the general direction of my destination for the next morning. I pulled off the side of the highway to shoot a patch of orange and yellow sumac bushes, but the results weren't all that great. And I lost an hour waiting for the sun to light up a stand of golden Sugar Maples, but some clouds moved in to wreck that too.
Around sunset I dove down to Dixon Ford on the upper Buffalo River and walked a few hundred yards along a gravel bar. I came to a spot where a Sycamore tree arched over the stream, and I thought it might make a good location for star photography. I stacked a few stones on top of each other to mark the spot for a return visit. Although the foliage was way past peak, I found myself in an unforgettable moment. As often seems to happen around sunset, a wonderful quiet and calm settled over everything. The faint gurgling of the stream was the only sound.
As darkness fell I returned to the Tahoe and drove back up to the highway. Along the way I scouted for a spot to spend the night, and decided upon the Dahl Memorial Trailhead. I continued driving though, as I had to go back to the Ozone Burger Barn for dinner. While waiting for my order I noticed a pickup had pulled in to the parking area and several guys were standing at the back of it looking into the bed. I walked over because of course there was a trophy deer in the back, and it had one of the biggest racks I'd ever seen on an Arkansas buck. A proud father proceeded to tell me his daughter had bagged it. About that time the front door of the pickup opened and out stepped a beautiful petite blonde in a camo hat and overalls, grinning from ear to ear!
I drove the 18 miles back to the trailhead, then continued to Dixon Ford. I returned to the gravel bar and attempted to shoot some star pictures, but they didn't turn out either.
I packed cushier bedding for my second campout in the back of the Tahoe, and I slept much better. When the alarm clock woke me I chugged a can of coffee drink and a bottle of iced tea, got dressed and drove east 14 miles on Highway 16 to the Nail community. I parked at a location detailed in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Nature Lovers Guidebook.
It was getting light enough that I didn't need a flashlight as I walked down the trail, but I turned mine on anyway, just in case there were any pretty blond deer hunters in the woods up above the trail. I didn't want to be mistaken for a deer. I took in several gorgeous scenes of colorful fall foliage, which really stood out from the dark tree trunks.
When the trail reached the edge of Home Valley Bluff, the view opened up to an enormous panorama. The valley and side hollows below were covered in a blanket of fog, and the trees were dressed in their finest colors. I realized I was experiencing an extraordinary moment, and said something to myself to that effect.
The scenery got even better when the red light from the rising sun starting bouncing off the far end of the bluffline to the west, which would be my goal for the morning. The sunlight quickly advanced downward into the valley as I hiked along the edge of the bluff. By the time I reached the Tea Table Rocks formation, the sunlight had reached the valley floor.
It would take over 2 hours for the sun to burn off the heavy fog, and it took me 3 hours to reach the "corner" at the western end where the bluffline turned sharply to the north and continued only a short distance. I was pleased to recognize a spot with an old pine tree that I'd memorized from a photo in the late Dr. Neil Compton's The High Ozarks. After 30 years the scene hadn't changed much! I really wanted to get my own picture of the spot, but I couldn't find a shooting location that didn't have vegetation blocking the view. I found a 4-wheeler road coming down from the woods near there, and made a mental note that there was more than one way to access the bluff.
I got pretty warm on the non-stop hike back to the truck, but with the windows open the air felt great as I drove down into the Limestone community in the valley around Home Creek. The sky had turned partly cloudy, and every so often the sun would come out to set the woods on fire. I stopped at one spot and snapped some photos. The results weren't all that hot but I took one of the shots into Photoshop and applied some dreamy special effects that salvaged a lot of the feel from that afternoon. I spent about an hour and a half exploring the roadways as I ate a lunch of summer sausage, american cheese and saltines. There were a couple of places in Limestone with neat views up to the bluff I'd visited that morning. I told myself I really needed to stop and get a picture, but as often happens I just didn't fee inspired.
I spent the rest of the afternoon mainly just driving around. Back at Highway 16 I drove east to the Deer community, then north along the paved road that goes to Alum Cove. I continued on the road and discovered a great scenic route that turns into Highway 327 near Wayton and follows the Little Buffalo River from Parthenon to Jasper. I took Highway 74 west to the Steele Creek recreation area, where the Gum trees on the bank of the Buffalo River were putting on a sweet display in the late afternoon light.
I drove through Boxley on the way home and of course there were elk out in the field and of course they were getting lit by some nice evening light. And of course by the time I got parked and got the camera set up (which took all of 5 minutes) the sun had slid behind the mountains and the light was no longer any good.