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Ouachita Mountains
November 5, 2008
I couldn't believe my luck on the morning of Wednesday, November 5. I witnessed a phenomenal sunrise from Buckeye Mountain in the Ouachita Mountains. The third wilderness excursion of my fall vacation started with a hurried hike in the dark. I only had to walk six tenths of a mile, but I was worried the sun would come up before I found the unmarked overlook on a trail I'd only read about. I made it to the correct overlook after only one brief stop at another possible candidate. I had plenty of time to spare.
Before dawn the black sky was clear and full of stars, but a high layer of clouds started moving in from the South before sunrise. Luckily the horizon was still clear. About the time the sun came up the wind really started blowing and clouds started racing by right out in front of me. It was quite surreal, how fast the ghostly fingers of clouds flew by, and how red the sky was all around the rising sun.
In seven minutes my luck had switched from good to bad. The sun climbed high enough to be blocked by ever-thickening clouds. Just a few moments later the mountain was engulfed in gray clouds and fog, and I was left amazed that a scene could change so drastically so quickly.
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At that point the weather was so dreary I thought the sightseeing was already over for the day. Yet as the trail descended and turned away from the southern face of the mountain I found myself in calm woods. Colorful leaves carpeted the forest floor.
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I returned to the Tahoe (I'd pulled in to the trailhead at 11:20 the night before and slept in the back until 4:40), and drove south along Forest Road 38... one of my favorite roads. I stopped to photograph a distant pine tree shrouded in fog high up on the side of Buckeye Mountain.
As I neared the Caney Wilderness trailhead I stopped several times to photograph scenes of fall foliage that caught my eye.
I turned west onto the road going up to Tall Peak. It was pretty rough in places but the Tahoe made it the two miles. I parked outside an observation shelter and went inside for a look. I was disappointed that I couldn't find an unobstructed view free of trees anywhere up on the mountain.
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Returning to FR38, I backtracked north to County Road 82, where I headed east. A short distance later I came upon a gorgeous scene at one of the bridges over Blaylock Creek. Everything was perfect - the color of the leaves, the soft light from the overcast sky, the reflections and the leaves on top of the water. But as luck would have it, two ladies were already parked on the bridge and were trying to take snapshots of the same scene. (Note to self: You must return next year! ) So I kept on driving and parked at the Bard Springs campground. The Forest Service has been closing the campground in the fall and winter, which is a real shame.. it's a beautiful little campground and I'd love to be able to camp there in the fall. I had the place all to myself and spent a while exploring. A rock dam built by the CCC has created a pretty little pond at the base of a small bluff-like area The pond was covered with a thousand colorful newly-fallen leaves. It was a nice scene that I tried to photograph, but nothing in the viewfinder compelled me to click the shutter button. Maybe if I hadn't been too chicken to walk into the water I would have gotten some nice pictures. As a consolation prize I shot a bunch of photos of an enormous old Beech tree on the bank of the pond. Like so many of the Beeches I saw earlier in the week on Rock Creek, its leaves were every possible color. The steep hillside on the opposite bank provided a good backdrop.
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I headed back west to FR38 then turned left and went south towards Shady Lake. Along the way I stopped and walked down to a tributary of the Saline River on the east side of the road and enjoyed the scenery. About one-third of a mile north of the lake, I stopped at a bridge crossing over East Saline Creek. On the downstream side I spotted a foot bridge and went down to investigate. I never made it to the bridge though; a quiet pool covered with vibrant leaves captured my attention.
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I returned to the Tahoe and took a leisurely tour of the camping areas around Shady Lake. The Forest Service campgrounds are so much better than the Arkansas State Parks. I noticed the nice stone work on a bridge I was driving across, so I pulled over to check out the view from below. I was delighted to find that the stone work extended to the base of the bridge, which was comprised of two modern metal arches. Around 3:30 I took my last photos for the day; the view upstream from the base of the bridge was pretty nice.
I have to admit I can't remember what I did for the remainder of the afternoon. I've enjoyed so many late afternoons in the area around Shady Lake, Bard Springs, and Buckeye Mountain that they've all kinda run together into one big pleasant memory.
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