Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for January, 2010

The Glass Forest, Ice Bullets and I Wish I had Brought a Hat

Hot Springs National Park Facts: The hot spring water at Hot Springs National Park becomes heated at a depth of approximately one mile before beginning the journey back to the surface through a fault. (National Park Service)

27 degrees wind chill 21, how much ice can melt?  A Lot!

When I arrived at the park I discovered I could not use the main entrance, a tree had split in half blocking the path.  Once in the park I realized my folly in thinking the cold air would win against the sun.  Part way up the Tufa Terrace I felt drops of water.  It was not bad but I realized my error in thinking air could beat sunlight. Birds were squawking as the ice was becoming unstable.  I have great admiration for Robins they are an amazing hardy bird.  The snow and ice did not slow them down, they flocked and worked in teams during the storm.

The Female Cardinals were all busy feeding on the ground , but I could see brief glimpses of the males as they darted from bush to bush.  As the sun crested the mountain I was heading up the Dead Chief Trail, everything stated to moan as the ice began a slow melt.  Birds frantically searched for stable perches and bushes that would provide protection.

As I hiked ever higher the drip from above slowed as the air became cooler, but I could see the melting would not be completely halted.  My heart was heavy as I passed broken limbs and fallen trees, my friends were injured and I had no way to help them.  It was a feeling I would carry throughout my 6 mile hike. Amidst the beauty was the carnage of  lost and broken lives.

Up the top the view from the Pagoda was hauntingly beautiful cast is silvery and pale blue.  The sun pierced the clouds, suddenly all the ice on the pagoda started to melt; huge drops fell like a spring shower.  As I looked toward the valley a Jay called out loudly then appeared on bush below me, landing briefly before seeking cover in a large bush.  As I headed back down to the Hot Springs Trail the bushes began crashing as ice shifted and I barely made it through the trail before it was completely closed off.

The trail now resembled a forest of shimmering liquid coated trees and large drops of water would occasionally, annoyingly crash on my head and face while I tried to take a photo.  I took off my neck scarf and fashioned a make-shift hat to keep the drops out of my eyes.  As I hiked the trail it was as if I was on a strange exotic planet,  light shimmering across the branches of the trees as distant bird calls filtered through the air.  When I reach the trail head I experience a rare event a moment of true silence. No distant man made noise, no bird calls, not even a rustling of leaves; absolute silence. A perfect moment of peace.

The Gulpha Gorge Trail glistened and the air was still as I headed over to the Goat Rock Trail.  The great melt down had not reach the North Mountain and I was able to walk without fear of ice falling.  Once on the Goat Rock Trail it appeared I had entered a glass forest where the skeletons of soon to be reborn tree glistened in the cloud filtered light.  Later editing the photos I could still feel the cold from their icy covers.

I hiked up from the Goat Rock Trail to the North Mountain Overlook.  The view had a frosted glaze over it  and even the Eagles were not flying today. Several vehicles pulled into the parking area but no one emerged to enjoy the view.  As I left another vehicle arrived and two couples got out and had a snow ball fight.

On the the dogwood trail the melting took on a whole new dimension, ice bullets.  Instead of the slow drip chunks of ice began to rain down like a hail storm.  I hike the Upper Dogwood in record time; the ice was a great motivator.  From the Upper Dogwood I connected to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, then to the  Honeysuckle and onto the Peak Trail.

As I was reaching the end of the Peak Trail the ice pellets were coming down so hard the birds though it was a rain shower.  There was great confusion, they would run out from under the trees to feed only to be pelted by the ice.  This scene played out from the Peak all the way down to the Promenade.   I wanted so much to be able to tell them it was not raining.

I looked over the rail at the main entrance and notice no one cleared the big tree off the path.  As I exited the park  in the hailstorm I wondered if the car owners who parked under the huge magnolia tree knew what was happening to their vehicle.

Have a Lovely Adventure no matter where your travel take you!

Much Love,

Ice, Snow, New Friends and Baxter the Beagle

Hot Springs National Park Facts: The park used to have Bison, Wolves, Elk and Cougars.  As the population of people increased around the park the larger animals left.

You know how to tell it’s icy? When a guy leaving the park is holding the rail and sliding past you on the incline; unable to stop heading for the stairs.  I figured if he made it in to the park so could I LOL, I would worry about how to get out of the park in one piece after my hike.  A little ice and snow makes me a happy hiker.

It was a slippery climb into the park, I hate the paved areas as they always ice up.  To avoid landing on my ass I stick to the grass where possible until I can get to Dead Chief Trail. The Robins were all having breakfast meetings in the Tree Tops as I picked my way around bent Tree.  As I turned to go up to the Carriage Road I saw Robert he had already done an early morning hike and chastised me  for being so late onto the Trails.

As I walked along the Carriage Road to the Dead Chief Trail it was sad to see so many bent trees and bushes.  Even the one that still stood upright made a terrible creak and moan when the wind would blow. I snap a photo of a lovely Fox Sparrow perched in the frozen branches.

The Dead Chief Trail combined with the Short Cut is my Cardio Trail combo which is why I start there most everyday.  They are the toughest inclines from the West side of Hot Springs Mountain.  As I am hiking up the trail I hear a Tufted Titmouse and finally spot him long enough to take a picture.  The view is so lovely hiking up the trails that I loose sight of how far I travel until I am nearly at the top.  As I am on the last part of the Short Cut trail I meet a lovely couple Brittnay and Cody out for the morning and enjoying the snow.

Up the top I head over to the Pagoda and take my daily photo.  The silvery gray cast over everything is in stark contrast to 3 days prior, when the sun was shining so brightly over the valley.  A female Cardinal and a White Throated Sparrow poke their heads out for a brief photo.  So I decide head out on the Hot Springs Mountain trail where I am blessed to see both a Bay Breasted Warbler and a Red Bellied Woodpecker.  It is an obstacle course of bent branches and small trees and I am mindful not to bump any of them so they can spring back when the ice melts.

As I reach the trail head for the first section of the HSMT I decide to take the Gulpha Gorge Trail to Goat Rock.  The hike is beautiful and I can hear elusive Jays in the distance.  I realize as I move to the Goat Rock Trail I am the first traveler on it since the snow fell last night.  The pristine snow is a beautiful site, I hate leaving prints on the trail.  The view from the top of Goat Rock is beautiful, and so different compared to the photos I took of the view of Goat Rock January 25th 2010.

As I finish taking photos I turn to leave and meet the lovely Annie and her trusty companion Baxter.  She too has come to photograph the view.  Baxter appears to be an old trail hand and is enjoying his trip to the Rock.  It’s wonderful seeing so many people and beagles enjoying the park today.

I hike back to the Gulpha Trail via the Goat Rock Trail and back up to the the top of the divide between Hot Spring and North Mountains. On my way up I hear the sound of a Toad and I wonder if he/she knows it’s still winter. Crossing the road I proceed on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail.  I stop to photograph a small bird and am delighted later to learn it is a Winter Wren.  The temperature is dropping as it often does in the divide so I pick up my pace and head back up the top of Hot Springs Mountain and connect with the Peak Trail.

My  hike down the peak Trail is a silvery snowy world of enchantment.  Alone in the shining forest I listen carefully for the sounds of small mammals.  I had not seen in any today, only their lovely paw prints in the snow on every trail.   Nearing the bottom I see a couple I have passed many times on the trail.  I decide to ask if they would like to be in my blog and am so happy when they say yes.  They introduce themselves and I am pleased to meet Linda and Haltom.  When I first started to tackle the double incline of Dead Chief and Short Cut Trails I spoke in passing with Haltom as he was hiking the same stretch.

Back down to the base of the Peak trail and I am greeted by a female Cardinal and a White Throated Sparrow.  I briefly spot a male Cardinal in the distance as I head for the Tufa Terrace Trail.  I take one last look over the lower park before I exit and I hear a noise over my shoulder.  In the tree next to me just above my shoulder is a large squirrel surveying the park as well.  With a look we both turn and head our separate ways.

The ice has melted and I am able to exit the park without skating to the bottom.  It has been a wonderful day out  hiking as always.

Much Love to You All, Lee

Freezing Rain and Cardinals on Ice

Hot Springs Facts: Hot Springs National Park is America’s Oldest Park in the NPS System

Going to the Park for my morning hike was a tough decision. I went out on our patio and could see trees covered in ice, but when I looked below at the street everything appeared to be moving.  It dawned on me the Hot Springs kept the ground warm so the ice was likely, only on the plants.  I threw on winter gear and was out the door before 9:00 am.

Yes, the park was still except for myself, some Cardinals, a Green Warbler and Robins. It looked so beautiful, but I could see the strain the ice was putting on many of the plants. The silence was broken by cracking sounds in the distance as limbs were giving way to the weight of the frozen moisture.  As I turned a Cardinal landed in an ice layered tree and  I imagined it was not comfortable to be clinging to a frozen branch.   I strolled along the Tufa terrace and over to the Peak Trail.  Once I heard bird calls up the carriage road I headed out that direction.

I had not planned to hike to the top but once I was half way up the Dead Chief Trail there was not turning back.  I had to see what was on the short Cut and the view from the Pagoda.  Up top the birds were all trying to shelter around the NSP restrooms and I felt guilty walking past as it caused them to take flight.  Still no sign of human life and when I reached the Pagoda the view of the valley had a silvery eerie cast.  Leaving the Pagoda I heard a loud crack and turned to see a large branch swing upside down. The branch made me realize it would be safer to take the peak Trail down as it had less over hanging branches.

The Peak Trail was transformed from the day before.  Where once sleeping leafless trees stood, now was a silvery forest.  Shimmering glazed trees lined the path as I made my way back down in silence. It was a peaceful hike back down the mountain.  The last section of the path was now completely covered with bent trees and I had to carefully step around them.  I did not want to accidentally break any plants on my way out.

As I headed out of the park I noticed a male and female Cardinal warming themselves at the edge of the hot spring water as it cascaded into the pool below.  Above them a male Cardinal sat perched in a tree above the steam content to be in a temperate zone created by the rising vapor.  It’s seems everyone in the park loves, the hot springs.

Thank You for joining me on today’s Adventure.
Much Love,

The Calm Before the Storm

Hot Springs Facts: The springs are all grouped about the base of the Hot Springs Mountain, with a flow well over a half million gallons a day.

A winter storm is approaching and I want to get into the park early.  I love snow but some are predicting freezing rain others a winter mix.  The skies are dark this morning, but it does not feel ready to rain.  I am out by 9:00 am and quickly head to the park.  The drop in temperatures and impending storm seems to have cleared the park of Cedar Waxwings.  I have great admiration now for the birds that stay here year round, though rain, snow and high winds.  For all their beauty the Waxwings are a bunch of wimps,  even the tiny green warbler was here in the snow.

At the park entrance I hear “Hi Lee” I turn to see Derrick one of the the park’s staff members, I give him the URL for the blog and I am on my way up into the Park.

Birds and squirrels are under the bushes and hiding in the leaves foraging for food.  As I walk into the park the there is only a rustling sound, I miss the bird song.  In the distance I see movement on a rock and it’s chipmunk popping in and out of it’s burrow.  So Far away and so fast I wonder if I manged to get anything with my camera. In the park they are like little red bullets shooting across paths, so fast you wonder if you really even saw one.

As I head down the carriage road I hear a bird singing and I walk silently, as silently as anyone can on gravel and dead leaves toward a nearby tree.  The song halts and as I turn my head I can see a bird in the tree next to me, an Eastern Phoebe is staring at me and not flying away. It graciously allows me to take 2 photos and I am on my way.

The top of the Mountain is quiet again and the view from the Pagoda is less than promising.  The beautiful sunny sky from the day before has bee replaced with dark purple & blue clouds.  The temperature is beginning to drop so I head out on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail to make my way round the mountain.  The trail is empty and I have not seen anyone since I began my hike.

At the trail head is a green NPS (National Park Service) tractor prepping the trail for the impending storm.  As I cross Hot Springs Mountain Road I see a car with the friendliest blond in the back wagging her tail. Charles Meade lowers his window to let me know that’s his girlfriend, she is perfect because she doesn’t shop. I laughed at his criteria for the perfect girlfriend. He said he had seen me hiking and when they were out on the trails next time I could add them to my blog. I continued my hike but had to moved over to the side and let a jogger pass me.

I spotted another heart shaped moss and this one held a clue as to how they are formed.  It appears when two clusters form near each other they merge into a sort of heart shape.  These are all found in the same area as little ice ornaments I discovered when the temperatures dropped in December of 2009.  This section of the Valley between Hot Springs and North Mountain has artistic talent.  The temperature is falling and as I pull on my gloves the jogger passes me again.  I am definitely seeing the park in the slow lane.

I continue till I reach the path junction and switch over to the Honeysuckle Trail, my personal favorite.  Want to know why?  See  Wrong Path Best Adventure and look at the photos the clue is there. I love the hike home on this trail it has wonderful scenery, beautiful (treacherous) loose rocks on the trail and second hike up to exit the park.  When I reach the junction with the Peak Trail I decide to hike back to the top to see if any large birds are perched along the way.  I see a Red Bellied Woodpecker and what I think might be a Falcon.  If you look at the images and can identify my mystery bird I would appreciate info in the comment box. Yes the two photos are cryptic at best.

I hiked back down the Peak to the Tufa Trail across the Promenade and out the park’s main entrance and back home.

Thank You for joining me on this adventure.
Much Love, Lee

PS: Don’t forget if you are on facebook to Join “Hike Our Planet

Leaping Squirrel, USGS and Rockin’ Robin

Hot Springs Facts: Hots Springs National Park is the Nation’s oldest National Park within current  NPS Parks, predating Yellowstone National Park by 40 years.  On April 20, 1832 President Andrew Jackson designated “…four sections of land including said (hot) springs, reserved for the future disposal of the United States (which) shall not be entered, located, or appropriated, for any other purpose whatsoever.”

Another cold morning and I rummaged around for a pair of wool socks to go with my favorite boots.  About 6 years ago I was in a Thrift store in Oregon and there was a brand new pair of hiking boots on the shelf so grabbed them.  They ended up in a closet, buried, forgotten and never worn.  When I cleaned out my home to move to Hot Springs, Arkansas I rediscovered them.  My Garmont Storm-Bloc Boots ROCK they have saved my ankles on the hikes over solid rock and loose rock trails!  I had not hiked in years when I grabbed them, the Universe must have known these days were in my future :o)

Today began with a chance meeting of a friend at the USGS Ralf Montanus.  He is part of team monitoring the springs within Hot Springs National Park.  Ralf is also a fountain of knowledge about places I should visit in and out of the park.  This was a great start to my morning hike.  Thank You as always Ralf for the great information.

I looked across at West Mountain and saw a rare sight in the park, city pigeons.  Hot Springs National Park is a series of mountains and Central Avenue in the park rests between Hot Springs and West Mountains. The Pigeons seemed out of place trapped between the two Nature habitats. I wondered if they ever ventured into the park.

With an impending storm and bird of prey overhead it is difficult to find any bird out in the open.  One Brave Robin could not resist the first rays of the morning sun and perched on the highest branch singing a beautiful song.  In the tree below him another Robin sat quietly nestled in the the leaves cooing.

On my way up the mountain a female Cardinal popped out briefly for a photo shoot, I love Cardinals.  As I turned onto the Short Cut Trail I watched as a Squirrel lept at something on the trail. It was a funny sight and I started giggling.

Up top the view from the Pagoda was as always spectacular with the sun shining brightly over the valley below.   I glanced down at the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and saw Robert a fellow all weather hiker.  He was headed into Hot Springs to get Jack London’s “Call Of The Wild” for a book report.  I thought it was a great book choice.

I hiked the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and up the Hot Springs Mountain Road to the North Mountain Overlook. Storm clouds were massing  and the sky was growing dark.  As I hiked down from the overlook it occurred to me how quiet the park was today.  Yesterday there had been people everywhere.

I took the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and discovered a wonderful area of moss that was like a Valentine from Nature and another like a Caterpillar.  I then made my way to the top again and I decided to head down the Peak Trail. Once on the trail I looked to see if  Hawks were on the dead tree perches.  Nothing, so I headed home.

Have a Lovely Adventure
Much Love, Lee

The Yellow Brick Road and Sky Surfers

It was a glorious mixed day, cold and sunny with a perfect blue sky.  Small birds poked their beaks out in-between fly overs by the sky surfers. I visited new trails and the haunted forest too.

On the promenade I was greeted by a lovely female Cardinal; she had wonderful poses in the early morning light. Our photo shoot ended quickly as a Hawk flew past.   Silence fell over the Park so I made my morning dash to the top of Hot Springs Mountain.

The view from the Pagoda was wonderful and as always brought peace to my soul.  I met several nice people up top, but sadly no one would agree to be in my blog “sniff sniff”.   If  by chance they read this, “it was really lovely to meet you”.

My hike on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail was uneventful as a large group on a tour had passed through earlier.  The high volume of Trail traffic meant nothing was nearby so I hiked to the trail head and up to the North Mountain Overlook.  I watched a pair of Turkey Vultures dancing in the distance, then hiked down to the Upper Dogwood Trail.

Every time I hike the Upper Dogwood it blows a gale and I feel a little battered by the time I reach the end.  There never appears to be any wildlife, or the wind roaring drowns out all other noises.  I had never been to the Lower Dogwood or Arlington Trails so I decided to be adventurous and pay them a visit.  Part way along the Upper Dogwood an unmarked trail appeared, so I had to see where it went.  Remember in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy goes to get the broom from the Wicked Witch of the West. The Yellow Brick Road begins to get rough looking, fallen trees and the path gets more difficult to discern.  I halted my journey down the path when something moved under the leaves at my feet.

When I was back on the Upper Dogwood I decided to hike over to the Lower Dogwood Loop and the Arlington Trail.  It was very peaceful and the bird song was beginning to return.  I reached a Trail marker for the Arlington, it was one of those great signs; Arlington with arrows pointing to both trails. I kept to the right and found a lovely little Trail that lead me to the elegant Arlington Hotel sundeck and swimming pools. It looked inviting in the bright sunshine and I imagined it would be wonderful to sit and relax year round.  It was difficult to leave it behind and continue on my journey.

The next section of the Trail was filled with song birds and I was able to photograph a Robin and a female Black-Throated Green Warbler.  I continued until it connected up with the second part of the Lower Dogwood Loop.  Even though a Hawk was circling overhead I was able to photograph a Hairy Woodpecker both on a tree and taking flight.

I connected with the Upper Dogwood to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, onto the Honeysuckle, then the Fountain Trail and on Home. As always it was a wonderful day in the park.

Much Love to All, Lee

Birds of Prey Ruled the Day

When I awoke the Weather Chanel informed me low temperatures had returned to Hot Springs, so I gathered up my cold weather gear. Out the door and into the park early, I could sense things were not as they were yesterday. The birds appeared to be flying into every low bush they could find, not basking in the first sunlight of the tallest trees. I glanced across to West Mountain and saw a large bird flying just above the tree line. What appeared to be a large hawk then banked heading straight for Hot Springs Mountain.  As he/she flew over I was able to get a single photo before they vanished over the trees on the mountain top. I knew it would be a VERY long time before the small animals and birds came out from their hiding places so I continued my hike to the top of Hot Springs Mountain.

All the way to the top it was silent accept for an occasional bird call off in the distance. When I arrived at the Pagoda for my daily view shot all was still silent.  As I raised my camera a Hawk flew into view it was spectacular.  I often stand for 30 or minutes waiting for a large bird to soar past and generally walk away with nothing.  Today I was blessed with two separate sightings.

I decided to hike over to Goat Rock and headed down Hot Springs Mountain Trail.  During the Icy cold mornings late in December and in early January I would see only one other person when I was hiking. Today I introduced myself to hiking regular Robert (formerly of Colorado).  He kindly imparted lots of information about what I should look for as the seasons change.  He headed out on the trail as I continued my search for birds.

I ran into Robert again as I headed down the Gulpha Gorge Trail and we were joined by Cynthia and Teddy (Great Pyrenees).  They were visiting from Chicago, Illinois for the racing season at Woodlawn. We all chatted parted company and headed out on our separate hiking trails.

It was a beautiful day and the view from Goat Rock was Spectacular and I sat for a while at the lookout enjoying the view. I decided to continue my hike by heading back up the Gulpha Gorge Trail to the North Mountain Overlook.  The sky was an amazing blue and in the distance an Turkey Vulture slipped behind a ridge top.  I stood there for 5 minutes and was rewarded with a spectacular display of two Turkey Vultures flying in tandem.  This was my first experience trying to keep two birds in frame and not step off the edge of the overlook and crash down onto the Upper Dogwood Trail.   Only one brave chipmunk had slipped out for a moment and I was please to see him/her safely return to their burrow.

I headed home via the Upper Dogwood Trail and the wind was punishing and it continued on Hot Spring Mountain and Honeysuckle Trails.  My amazing day finished with a look out my window at my mountain as another large bird road the wind across the ridge top.  The Raptors had been like surfers catching the perfect wave and not wanting to go home till darkness fell. Who could blame them.

Love to You All, Lee

The Morning Tree, Old Friends and Feathered Ones

Early start revealed the The Morning Tree, a place where as the sun touches as it crests the mountain and all the promenade birds gather. It was a chaotic cacophony to start a perfect day. The tree held all manner of birds including Cardinals and Cedar Waxwings. They all began feasting on the berries as the sun rose against the blue sky. It was a spectacular sight. Amidst the flight of fancy a squirrel slipped off a tree to gather it’s own morning feast.

I quickly hiked up the Dead Chief and Short Cut Trails and made my way to the mountain top. As I looked back I saw a young man carrying a small boy on his shoulders, Jude and Neil.  I shook hands and introduced myself and asked I could take a photo for my blog, they agreed. Young Jude announced “Where is the Tall Building” and it made me smile, he was excited about going to the Tower.

It was off to the Pagoda for the view, then on down to the Hot Springs Mountain trail to connect with the Gulpha Gorge then over to Goat Rock.  At the beginning of the Gulpha Gorge Trail a beautiful little Tufted Titmouse appeared and vanished in almost the blink of an eye.  Further down the Trail I was surrounded by wonderful Blue Jay calls and was fortunate get several photos.

Goat Rock held my favorite surprise, new friends Ginger and Rickey along with their beautiful dog Lady were there. We had a delight visit until the skies started to darken and we headed off in opposite directions.

I climbed to the top and took some photo at the North Mountain Overlook.  The skies were the antithesis of the sunny view from the pagoda. It was filled with dark blue gray clouds and I decided it was time to head home.

Thank you for joining me on this days adventure. Love, Lee

Nature: It’s hidden Treasures Are All Around Us

Your Love is morning sun as it warms my face in the cool mountain air. ~ Lee Hiller

I take a day off from hiking every couple of weeks to reflect on the beauty I have seen and to give my body a chance to rest.  A rest combined with short fast and I feel renewed and ready to see the park with fresh eyes and legs LOL.  I can see the mountain from my window and staying away even today with impending lightening storms is difficult.  Getting toasted by lightening in the park however is not  a current blogging goal.

Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the large view of Nature’s beauty we miss the details.  A rock on along the path, a tree trunk or stump in a large forest, the delicate moss or unusual fungus growths.  Each of the smaller pieces go toward making up the larger picture, but they are in themselves pieces of Nature’s artistry.  There is no need to rearrange or carefully place items in an effort to create the perfect  photograph,  Nature is an expert at creating the perfect combination.

I hope you will enjoy some of Nature’s artistry which I discovered on many of my hikes within Hot Springs National Park.
Love, Lee
PS: I hope you will Join my New Facebook Page Hike Our Planet

A Day For the Birds: Cardinals, Woodpecker, Sparrow and Cedar Waxwings

Sweet song of birds brings joy to my heart, as soft feathered wings in flight dance on air above me.  ~ Lee Hiller

Overcast day on Hot Springs Mountain with an expected storm tonight or tomorrow, I race to get ready for my hike.  The air was cool and mountain was silent until I reached the top this morning.  As always a pair of Cardinals were waiting for me and graciously allowed a few photographs.  I could hear song birds and the elusive woodpeckers, but was unable to see them against the dark sky.

I continued my hike along the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and still the sky worked against me as I tried to photograph the many Red Bellied Woodpeckers that flew into view. I did manage to get a Lovely picture of a White Throated Sparrow.  The Mountain trails were empty and it’s on days like these I feel as if  it’s my own private park.  Bird song filled the trail and I hiked on the wings of their music.

When I reached the road crossing I decided to hike up the North Mountain Overlook.  I called the cell phone number on the sign and listened to the description, reception was not clear and I had to replay it when I returned home.   Hot Springs National Park is in the Zig Zag Range in the eastern edge of the Ouachita Mountains. The forest below is a mix including Short Leaf Pine, Oak, Hickory, Dogwood trees.  The recording stated Redbud and Dogwoods would begin to bloom in the early spring.  There were no eagles were in flight so I decide to head back down to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail.

The decision to hike back to the top and go down the Peak trail proved fortuitous.  As I walked the last few feet of the Peak trail a large flock of birds landed in a nearby Juniper tree and began feasting on the berries.  The frenzy was an amazing site and I later discovered they were Cedar Waxwings. A Robin moved to a higher tree  to watch the the show unfold below.

I met an wonderful local couple Rickey and Ginger Cate.  They were visiting the park to view the work they had done earlier to restore the Promenade and Tufa Terrace areas.  A special thank you to them for taking time to speak with me and for the superb work.  They also suggested I need to eat at Rolandos Nuevo Latino Restaurante on Central Avenue and world famous McClard’s Bar-B-Que on Albert Pike.  The people of Hot Springs, Arkansas are always wonderful it’s the best place to live… or at the very least visit.

Love, Lee

Goat Rock, Brother Jim and The Jacksons

It was a glorious 7 mile, 4 1/2 hour hike on many trails I had never before traversed.  I met new people, climbed a rock and watched eagles soar over mountains.  Took so many photos my batteries died LOL.  Saw a ridge top like the one Jesse Colin Young sings about and I would love to live on it with my Fiance’ Rick.  A day like no other, how all should be experienced.

Hiked up to the Pagoda below the Hot Springs Mountain Tower and waited for birds.  It was eerie, no birds and so quiet.  A car pulled up and a lovely couple Peggy and Jerry Jackson from Byron, Illinois asked me if I thought they should go up in the tower.  I smiled and said “absolutely”.  They also needed directions to Bill Clinton’s boyhood home, I told them it was the one with all the signs saying “Go Away” on the lawn and then imparted a few tips about other places to see.  I snapped a photo for them in from of the Pagoda and asked if I could take one for my blog.  They were thrilled and asked another couple to take a photo of the three of us. I gave them the URL for my blog so they could check it out when they got home.

I decided to continued on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and looked up to see several large birds fly over. I figured they would do a fly by after I had left the prime viewing spot at the Pagoda. It explained why all the small birds had suddenly vanished.

Along the trail I met a gentle soul of 70 years who called himself Brother Jim.  He was hiking while waiting for a mechanic to finish his work. He had moved here to live on one of the nearby mountains several decades ago after he and his wife tired of being University professors.  He explained she had died recently and this is where she used to hike everyday. I told him I was thinking about going to Goat Rock and he told me if he didn’t have to see the mechanic he would have like to have gone as well.  I gave him a big hug before we departed company.

I felt a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ being told to follow the yellow brick road. I headed on down the trail to catch the Gulpha to Goat Rock.

The Goat Rock Trail reminded me of Central Oregon forests, big pines and lots of rocks.  It was song filled stroll as bird calls rang out.  Not fast enough with my camera a Large black and white red crested woodpecker soared past, it was a beautiful site as wove in and out of the trees.  I have a confession I Love chipmunks (squirrels too), but they are so fast and rarely pause in the open.  You can’t blame them especially in the winter with no cover and a constant stream of big birds flying over.  Today I was fast enough on the two occasions, when I saw them in the open.

Goat Rock is a wonderful look out no matter what the season.  You climb two flights of stone steps to a wonderful viewing platform for a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.  It is well worth the hike and I know I will be back often to watch as the seasons change.

I continued on Goat Rock Trail until I reached the end, at the top of the mountain and took the side trail to the North Mountain Lookout. The view was breathtaking and I stood mesmerized as in the distance eagles soared on the updraft between hills and mountains.  A car pulled up and the driver sat eating lunch.  It was the perfect place to be if you wanted to forget about work for and hour. This too is a plae I will return to often.

I left the lookout and continued my adventure on another new trail, the Upper Dogwood.  It gently slopes downward winding through a variety trees, including baby pines sprouting on the trail sides  I was struck by the sudden temperature drop as I went from the heat of the Goat Rock Trail to the breezy cool Upper Dogwood.

During my hike on the Goat Rock trail I notice fast moving insects springing up from the path as I was hiking. Near the end of the trail I tracked one to a tree and took several photos.  It was not until I returned home that I saw they were winged wood like grasshoppers.  I heard a noise behind me and saw a cluster of leaves moving in the breeze so I took a photo.  When I looked closer at the image I realized there was a tiny olive colored bird a Pine Siskin I think in the cluster of dead leave. Never forget to take random photos, you might be surprised what you will find.

I looked at my watch and noticed I had been gone nearly 4 hours and I had better move along.  It has been another wonderful day on the mountain.

Love, Lee

Overcast Skies, Blue Jay Warning and Hippy Mike

I Love overcast days, the colors seem more vibrant… green is always greener. I thought I might have to pass on a day in the Park because of the storm forecast yesterday.   Last nights Thunder and Lightening storms were spectacular!  I was joyful when I read weather report first thing this morning stating storm warning was over until later this coming evening.

I hiked up the Peak Trail to check out 3 very tall dead trees that are likely perches for birds of prey. My shot of the crow the other day made me aware of these possible locations for a Bird of Prey shot.  Might even see a Vulture as they also frequent the park.

Once on top of the mountain I headed to the Pagoda as it is the only spot I have seen the golden eagle soar past.  I was so mesmerized the first time the camera never reached my eye.  The Pagoda acts a a bird watchers blind and I have been able to photograph many lovely birds there.  Today I was blessed in seeing a White Throated Sparrow, Female Cardinal, male slate-colored dark-eyed junco, a Blue Jay and a Tufted Titmouse ( identification by Lisa Frame).

I left the Pagoda and headed to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and a Blue Jay started making a great deal of noise flying quickly from bush to tree to bush. I finally panned to his position snapped off a shot and he was ready to move on again.  His actions, I know now, are a warning for what was above and coming my direction.  As I looked up a black silhouette soared past and I barely had time to change lens magnification and settings before it was gone.

Back on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail I met Hippy Mike and his two beautiful dogs Sarah and Chloe starting their hike through the park.  I wanted to show Mike’s responsible attitude as he had both dogs on a leash.  This is important as I see dogs every week off leash chasing small animals and destroying the off-trail areas of the park.  The park has a delicate balance of creatures and plants. We are visitors in “Their Home” and should respect the rules not to go off-trail and keep dogs on a leash.  The fall leaves are cover for a variety of small mammals in the winter and are home for reptiles and amphibians in the spring and summer.  It is important to respect their space and stay on the Trails within the Park.

I continued on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and decided to return home via the Honeysuckle Trail which is a personal favorite of mine.  I rarely see squirrels and other small mammals on this trail, so I was excited to photograph a squirrel running up a tree.  The squirrel had unusual ears and I wonder if this is a different species or an anomaly.

Honeysuckle to the Peak, then to Tufa, across the Promenade, down to the Park entrance and Home. Love Nature and she will Love You back!

Fog, Ghosts and Silhouettes

I was not sure what a foggy day in Hot Springs National Park would reveal. It was damp, drippy, and foggy almost a perfect Oregon winter day,  in Hot Springs they add humidity just as an extra bonus.  It was was a wondrous surreal world filled with unexpected beauty.  Beauty so captivating it was as if were in a medieval forest.  Ghost like squirrels and birds were moving all around me and a managed to capture them in a few photographs.

The morning was so wonder filled I decided to hike the Gulpha Gorge Trail for the first time.  The Gulpha Gorge Trail was different from the other trails I had been on in the park as it has large rock formations.  It descends rapidly to the Gorge via a winding path from the Rest Hut on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and ends above the campground.  From this positions you can hike down into the gorge or return via the Dead Chief or Gulpha Trails.  I chose the Dead Chief Trail as I was not sure I was fit enough yet for the steep extended climb of the Gulpha Gorge Trail.

Each day I head into the Park I carry the Love of my Fiance’ Rick London.  He never asks how long I will be gone or when I expect to be back.  When I return he is there with a loving embrace and genuine interest in all that I experienced. That is true Love and I am blessed.

As my spirit is set free by Nature’s beauty my Love for You fills my soul.  ~ Lee Hiller ©2010

Busy Day on the Mountain

The urge to search for my four paw friend from the day before means I will be covering a lot of ground today. As I will be searching specific areas I decided to photograph in earnest the trail, markers etc. for winter so I will have a four season gallery for each trail.  Up on the Tufa Trail the squirrels are mating (photos below) and the birds are singing as the sky begins to clear.  It is another wonderful day in the park. Took my own pic on Mountain Top and shot one of a LARGE American Crow?  Beautiful Bird Perched high above the Peak Trail. Even caught a sweet Slate-Colored Dark-Eyed Junco as I continued down the mountain.

To be clear I covered about 5 1/2 miles today and climbed to the top on two different trails in hope of spotting that sweet little dog, but there was no sign of him/her.  I hiked the Tufa, Dead Chief, Short Cut, Hot Springs Mountain and Peak Trails in an effort to locate any sign they might still be out there.

Lost shot conceals a hidden treasure

It was an overcast morning in Hot Springs and the forecasts indicated rain later in the day so I headed out at 09:30 CST.  I decided to hike the Dead Chief Trail although I usually save this route for cold mornings but I am still keen to photograph the elusive Bobcat.  I headed up the steps to the top of first incline but no sign of my four pawed friend.  Birds are all active and I try to catch a few in my lens, snap a few that appear to be a bit late.  However upon returning home I discovered a missed bird had reveal a hidden treasure hiding on the branch above me.

The sky began to darken so I opted for a hike that involved speed rather than a leisurely photo shoot.  As I moved to another section of the trail where it parallels the mountain top road a small dog suddenly appeared.  After I took his photograph I noticed a stream of cars and ran out to alert them to his position on the road.  All attempts to lure him/her to us failed both by my self and others.

I continued to the top via the Short Cut Trail, then took the  Hot Springs Mountain Trail around to The Honeysuckle Trail down the Peak to the Tufa Terrace and home… just missing the downpour.  Don’t get me wrong I have climbed/hiked in  a torrential rain, weather rarely stops me :o) but I left my rain gear behind and getting soaked was not something I was hoping to avoid.

Charge Your Camera Batteries

This is a public service announcement.. CHARGE YOUR CAMERA BATTERIES!  I lost the opportunity for 3 great photos when my camera kept turn off in the middle of taking the threes photos I post for you today.  Not my best work but I share them as a reminder to us all in the digital age of what can be missed if your batteries are low.  Featured in the blurry photos below are the Pileated Woodpecker, Red Bellied Woodpecker and a Chipmunk.

Spinning Clouds and Lovely Little Birds

Sometimes I start walking and meditating and forget to take photographs for long stretches of time.  This is one of those days.  I hiked up to the top and to be truthful can’t really remember how I got there.  When I arrived however there was a lovely little female black throated warbler (Thank you sweet Lisa Frame for identifying her for me). Newly identified bird is the Northern Mockingbird.  Okay not my finest shot, the back of a Cardinal with a view of it’s crest I had never seen before.  Okay yes an unknown is in this group, Help!  The spinning cloud is at Rest Hut along the Hot Springs Mountain Trail reminded me of the water spouts that used to form off Presque Isle on Lake Erie.

Cardinals, Paw Prints and The Gulpha Gorge

You don’t get a more spectacular day than this; cold, clear and blue sky perfection.  I Love the cold weather! I have the park to myself and can stand silently on paths waiting for nature to reveal herself. There are a few die-hard hikers like myself and I enjoy seeing them on these cold days. It started with the perfect Cardinal pictures on the Promenade, continued with delightful paw prints on a bench at the mountain top and finished with an impromptu decision to hike out to the Gulpha Gorge.

There is a Panther in the Park and someone said he strolled out on to Grand Avenue then disappeared back into the park.  I noticed on a trail map there is an exit from the park onto Grand from the Dead Chief Trail near the Gulpha Gorge.  I figure the Panther followed the Trail out them back into the Park.  So yes I want to get a photo of the panther.  Scared to find it, NO!  Cautious about any encounters, Absolutely.

Along the Dead Chief  Trail I was able to photograph a Robin, a yet to identified gray bird and a wonderful stump sporting a series Mohawk.  The still lingering snow made the hike and scenery a rare event in the Park.

Snow Day in the National Park

I had the park to myself YEAH! The cold weather had kept people away for the past week but I Love it!  So beautiful and peaceful.  I headed up the Dead Chief Trail, then to the Short Cut Trail. At the top I hit the Hot Springs Mountain Trail connected to the Honeysuckle Trail, the Peak Trail, to the Terrace and Home.

The Dead Chief was spectacular the red berry bushes (not sure what they are)  mixed with the snow were a splendid winter holiday scene. The Eastern Phoebe was nestled in a tree as the snow fell around us.  Up on the Short Cut Trail the “Grave Yard” my name for the stone laden hillside had an eerie feel. While up top the Cardinals were playing and they looked amazing against the white snow.


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