Ouachita Mountains
November 5, 2011
It's nice to know there are still "new" scenic spots to be discovered in my big Arkansas backyard. I had assumed that all the really special places had been discovered and published in a book or on the internet, and that I'd heard about them. Zack Andrews and I found a really spectacular ridge above the Little Missouri River with several amazing views and a unique rock formation named Window Rock.
I drove down to Bard Springs on a Friday night to meet up with Zack, who had spent the day exploring that area of the Ouachitas in search of fall scenery. We slept in the back of our vehicles and got up at daybreak to drive around the area and photograph whatever caught our attention.
We hadn't been on the road five minutes when we stopped the Tahoe at an irresistible road scene with colorful Beech and Maples. We were headed to Cossatot Falls, which I wanted Zack to see. As we drove along the ridge above the Cossatot River, we pulled over to photograph a colorful mixture of green pines and yellow and red hardwoods.
At Cossatot Falls we split up so that we could each concentrate on shooting the scenes we liked. Zack is a talented photographer, and I was inspired to be a little more creative than my normal documentary style. At the same time, I wanted to take pictures that showed how Cossatot Falls appeared in Fall, as opposed to how it might appear in the other seasons.
On the drive back east along Highway 246, we stopped so I could shoot a colorful hillside as the sun randomly peaked out from holes in the cloud cover to light up the trees. As we waited for the sun to cooperate, I introduced Zack to the sublime goodness of cold Wal Mart deli fried chicken!
We drove back to Bard Springs and took Zack's Jeep east toward Albert Pike campground. We stopped on the south side of Leader Mountain near its eastern end, and hiked uphill to the spine of the mountain. I was hoping to find a spot with an open sunrise view to the east. I was quite surprised to find a well-worn trail, which we followed uphill to the west. We met a gentleman going the other direction who told us the trail originated at the campground, and that we needed to continue up the trail to a formation the locals called Window Rock. As the name implies, a large hole in the side of a bluff provides a breathtaking view north to the Little Missouri valley way below. We followed the trail past Window Rock and found a way to get on top of the bluff for an equally impressive view. I never really found an open spot looking east, but we found several more spots facing west.
Zack and I returned to the Jeep and drove around the end of the mountain and down to the campground, where we could look way up above to the rocky ridge and spot Window Rock.
We drove north to Crooked Creek Falls, and almost stopped several times along the way to test our skills at photographing colorful foliage backlit by the late afternoon sun. We spent a while at the falls, where Zack put a darkening filter on his lens to take a timed exposure, which made the leaves floating on top of the water look like they were swirling in a whirlpool. I stuck with my boring realism approach! Next we went a short distance down the road to Randy Wilson's Dossey Falls, which I'd wanted to visit for a long time.
With daylight fading, we hurried over to Little Missouri Falls. The massive cascade upstream was mostly dry, but a small waterfall made the trip worth the effort. And the light bouncing off pink sunset clouds overhead resulted in an unusual photo that I really like.
As we drove west beside Mine Creek and turned south toward Bard Springs, I just assumed the picture shooting was over for the day. But Zack pulled over at the Sugar Creek vista, where the undersides of the clouds out west glowed red from the light of the sun long set. While I've often wondered if a picture could be taken in those conditions, Zack had a much more "can do" attitude about it and proceeded to unpack his camera. I had to try too; and although it took me six tries, I managed to take a 90-second exposure that turned out OK.
It was great shooting with Zack from sun up to sun down, and discovering a truly amazing group of overlooks around Window Rock.