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Little Missouri River
October 31, 2010
I spent the last day of my epic Fall 2010 vacation on the Little Missouri River in the Ouachita mountains. This would be the sixth year in a row that I made the trip south to enjoy the fall foliage, which peaks later than in the Ozarks.
I drove down that morning, making sure to be at Albert Pike campground by sunrise, which was around 7:30. The campground was still closed due to the damage done by the devastating floods of June that claimed 20 lives. The scenery along the river had suffered too; a lot of the bushes and shrubs along the bank were bare and leaned in a downstream direction, and unsightly piles of logs and dead tree limbs littered the upstream side of large rocks and boulders.
I had to wait an hour for the sun to climb up over the ridges and light up the trees on the bank of the river. I spent the next 45 minutes wading in the cold water, taking pictures. The clear water was much deeper than it looked, and in a few steps I was in up to my pockets.
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The good light only lasted until about 9:20; my plan was to stay in the area until sunset, though I didn't know how I was going to pass the time. Fortunately there were several interesting places nearby. I drove to the Little Missouri Falls picnic area and walked to the overlook for the falls. Then I went to Shady Lake and drove around the campgrounds. Next I drove to the Cossatot Falls visitor center. I had a close encounter with a mature Bald Eagle that was sitting beside the highway; when the Tahoe got near, it jumped up and took flight, beating its huge wings.
I pulled in to the Winding Stairs trailhead, about a quarter mile north of the Little Missouri river, around 2 o'clock. The trail crossed Blaylock Creek then went south uphill to follow the contours of Blaylock Mountain. The trail went by an overlook with a nice view down into the river canyon. The trail descended down to the river, then turned west to follow it downstream. I left the trail there and headed upstream looking for the mouth of Greasy Branch. At a sharp U-turn on the way, sunlight fell on a brightly-colored Sweetgum tree that stood out from the shadowed hillside upstream. Actually, that hillside was why I was heading upstream. I was hoping to take pictures when the late-afternoon sunlight fell there, but there wasn't much color in the sparse foliage, so I decided to head downstream to the Winding Stairs scenic area. Several bright-orange crawfish darted between the rocks as I waded downstream. When I reached the area where I'd left the trail on the north side of the river, I saw marking tape flagging what appeared to be a trail on the south side. I went up to investigate and discovered that yes indeed there was a trail, and it took a shortcut to the Winding Stairs area.
I found plenty of interesting subjects to photograph as I waited for the sun to sink to a favorable angle. The rocks and boulders in the Ouachitas have some eye-catching patterns and colors. The trees on the hillside downstream of Winding Stairs weren't as colorful as I hoped, but they still looked good in the late-evening light.
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I took my last photo around 5 o'clock. Similar to my experience at sunrise, the tall ridges blocked the sun an hour before actual sunset. I retraced my steps along the trail I'd found, and realized it was a horse trail. I followed it back to the trailhead and was excited to realize the horse trail was a much easier and quicker way back. Instead of climbing partway up Blaylock Mountain, the trail went through flat terrain on the opposite side of the river. There were two additional stream crossings to make, but the savings in time and effort were well worth it.
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