Petit Jean Mountain
November 4, 2009
I was back on the road Wednesday afternoon for another vacation trip with hopes of enjoying fall colors. Tuesday morning was all about getting that flat fixed. The rest of the day I stayed home because I couldn't figure out where I wanted to go. The idea of going out with the sun shining (bad for photography) and it being so warm just didn't sound appealing at all.
At some point Wednesday morning I came up with a plan to drive down to Petit Jean State Park and hike to Cedar Falls. It's funny how much happier I was as soon as I had a destination to reach. I got everything together, left a note for Stacey telling her where I planned to be, and took off. Even the bright sunshine looked pretty good on the drive down I-40. On a whim I took a detour at Clarksville to cross the Arkansas River on Highway 109. I just wanted some fresh scenery, and I wanted to get a feel for any sunrise or sunset photo locations at the river.
I arrived at the Mather Lodge parking lot about 2 hours before sunset. I changed into my  felt soled boots since I planned on wading in the stream. The hike down was relatively short and easy... something I need to remember.
Most of the foliage along the hike was dull green or brown, but still I encountered a few scenes along the way that needed to be photographed. At one point I turned around to see a gentlemen walking down the trail holding a camera tripod. I recognized him from a photo I'd recently seen of him online. Gale Rainwater is from Fort Smith and is a member of the same association of Central States Photographers as me. I said hi and introduced myself and we spoke briefly then he continued down the trail toward the falls while I finished packing up my camera
I eventually reached a spot where the 100-foot waterfall was in view. Though the sun was still lighting up the tops of the trees high above the top of the canyon, the light down below was fading. I have seen so many pictures from different photographers looking upstream at Cedar Falls, and I was hoping to somehow take a picture that was different. (I must admit I didn't). I planned on finding the location farthest downstream that still allowed a view of the falls, and after taking pictures there moving upstream to other locations. But once I got set up at my first spot and began taking pictures, I spotted Gale upstream in my photo. I was forced to wait and enjoy the wonderful scenery until he moved out of my camera's view, which turned out to be a long time because Gale is a dedicated photographer! He specializes in taking several photos and merging them together into single wide, panoramic scenes. I found it quite coincidental that of all the pictures I've seen of Cedar Falls, one of the panoramas that Gale shot a couple of years ago is my favorite, and there I was watching him taking pictures.
By the time I hiked out of the canyon, it was dark enough that I needed my headlamp. The view of the western sky from Mather Lodge was spectacular, with the post-sunset clouds a deep red. I unpacked the camera and took a few shots, and as I was packing up to leave I barely made out a figure in the dark exiting the Cedar Falls Trail. It was Gale. I hollered at him and he came over and we spoke for quite a while.
My original plan was to spend the night at the state park and then in the morning walk down to this neat glade at the beginning of the Rock House Cave trail and photograph the turtle rock formations. I also thought about getting some shots of the waterfall behind Davies Bridge. But instead I decided to spend the night at Flatside Pinnacle so that I could catch the sunrise there.
I took quite a leap of faith and drove a route supplied by my GPS receiver. It cut my planned 45-mile route in half, but I drove on dirt roads that sometimes seemed like they might dead-end at any moment. Luckily I arrived at the base of Flatside Pinnacle around 8. I had a great time camping out of the back of the Tahoe. I brought along one of my newest toys, a little Trangia alcohol stove. I used it to boil water, which is all I needed for a freeze-dried Beefy Mac backpacking meal, which was pretty good.