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


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