Antenna Pine Overlook
October 15-16, 2011
Ever since July of 1977 when I attended Boy Scout camp at Camp Orr on the Buffalo River, I've wanted to visit a bluff high above the river valley named Antenna Pine overlook. Throughout the summer months, scout troops visit the camp for a week. During their stay, a troop will make the steep hike to the overlook. Once there, they climb a tall old tree nicknamed Antenna Pine and hang a flag with their troop's name and mascot. If another troop's flag is already in the tree, the scouts capture that flag and return it to camp. During morning announcements in the dining hall, the proud troop will deliver the captured flag to its owners amidst the whoops and hollers of all the scouts at camp.
Back in '77, only one other boy from my local scout troop went to Camp Orr, and we didn't have an adult leader to take us on hikes. So when somebody took me to the flag pole at camp and pointed to the distant bluff line to say that's where the Antenna Pine tree was, I could only vow that some day, some how, I would see the spot for myself. Thanks to the wealth of information available on the internet, I recently stumbled upon the location of the overlook on a map. Naturally it went to the top of my list of places to see, and I planned a backpacking trip as soon as the weather and my work schedule cooperated.
Coincidentally, I've been in a possession of a hiking route to the bluff for 4 years. My friend Randy found a relatively level path in from a county road to the northwest that involves following the National Park Service boundary. We discussed the area many times since then, referring to it as Cecil Bluff. I just never realized that Cecil Bluff and Antenna Pine were one and the same.
I drove up on a Saturday afternoon and parked the Tahoe beside a sign marking the park boundary. Despite coming prepared with a GPS receiver loaded with coordinates for the route, the hike to Cecil Hollow took twice as long as I expected, and I had to use a headlamp for the last 20 minutes. That also meant I didn't get to enjoy any sunset views from the bluff. I chose to pitch the tent close to the edge of the cliff, mainly so I could reach the camera just outside without having to exit the sleeping bag. Once twilight faded, the Milky Way stood out brightly in the dark sky to the southwest. I recalled how bright the Milky Way shone on the night of July 4, 1977 in a field above the river at Camp Orr. At 8:42 the nearly-full moon rose behind me and the sky gradually brightened to obscure the Milky Way. By 9:30 the moon bathed the river valley to the east in a cool blue light.
A warm wind from the west forced me to cook dinner inside the tent. I didn't bring the rain fly, but the screen walls of the tent and the rest of my gear helped block the wind from my Trangia stove. As I waited for the red beans and rice to cool, I heard voices from the pine grove on the hill to my left. I turned to see multiple lights bobbing in the dark as a group of about a dozen young men came down the hill just above the tent.
They politely introduced themselves and asked if I minded if they sat out on the bluff to enjoy the view. They explained that they were on a bachelor party of sorts and were camped up the hill. When I told them my story of wanting to see the Antenna Pine, they enthusiastically led me up a well-worn trail to the old tree. It wasn't enough for me to just see it; I had to reach out and touch it, which I casually did while everyone stood around the tree talking. Finally!
I had intended on getting up at 4 to take some star pictures, but the new backpacking alarm clock I'd brought must not have been loud enough. The brightening of the sky at dawn somehow woke me up, and I quickly heated water for coffee and instant oatmeal. I set up the tripod and camera to photograph the sun as it rose out in front of Mutton Point to the southeast, then turned the camera around to get a picture of my tent atop the bluff as the red light of sunrise fell across the landscape.
I just had to walk up the hill to get a photo of the Antenna Pine, then I returned to the tent to pack. That west wind was still blowing so strongly that I had to find several big rocks to put in the bottom of the tent to keep it from blowing away. When I got back to the Tahoe, I noticed my SPOT GPS locator had fallen off my backpack. I was smart enough to find a location down the road where my iPad got a strong enough cell signal to send Stacey an email telling her I was OK, but I was so tired from the return hike that I didn't think to use the iPad to check the web page for the SPOT and get the GPS coordinates of where it was presently located. I decided I'd have to come back the next weekend to retrieve it.
I drove to Jasper and bought chicken strips and pizza at The Junction convenience store, then headed to Richland Creek Wilderness to check the progress of fall colors. The road to the south past the campground was still closed due to a landslide up the road, so I turned around and headed north. The unique leaves of a Tulip Poplar sapling on the side of the road caught my attention, because that tree doesn't grow natively in the area. I figured out later that the forest service had planted several of the trees at the nearby Richland Creek Campground, and that a wind-dispersed seed must have sprouted beside the road.
On the drive back toward the Lurton community, a solid black coyote crossed the road in front of me. I slowed down then stopped the Tahoe, and spotted the creature in the woods about 30 feet away. It just stood there as I watched it for a while, then it slowly walked away. To confirm what I thought I saw, when I got home I went online and found several videos on YouTube of black coyotes that looked exactly like my critter.