Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for January, 2011

Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 2

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Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 1 Continued: As I traverse the tip of the peninsula the wind pushes my body as I balance on the narrow trail.  At once I am transformed, a mountain goat perched on the side of the cliff one with the Earth, Trees, Wind and the small Birds singing above me.  I look out over the water and want to know what is on the island that is so tantalizingly close.  A tiny dark eyed Junco appears on a branch high above me,  it turns it’s head as a gust of wind ruffles both our feathers.  The narrow trail undulates light a serpent above the water and finishes in a steep rise through a rocky maze.

The winter Sun is lower barely hovering at the tops of the Trees casting long shadows across the land on the north side of the peninsula.   This is a different landscape than what I saw this morning. Dense sleeping Trees populate the slopes, it is not as open and light as the sparse Pine Forest on the south side of the trail.  I can already imagine the green that will explode throughout this wooded area of the park.  This is a mixed Forest that includes Red Bud, Dogwood and Wild Plum Trees.  I will be back for the floral show this coming spring, a Tree Bud on the trial edge indicates it might be an earlier than I thought.

As I wind through the Rocky Forest trail I notice in the distance a wood bridge, it is a wonderful sight.  Although it is on the map its form was unknown until I arrive at this point on the trail.  Stepping on to the boards I pause to enjoy the peace of the moment and look out over the water. Closing my eyes I can hear rippling Lake as it caresses the rocks, I breath to the rhythm of the water.  It is wonderful to walk on a smooth surface suspended above the earth.  Not long after I leave the bridge the trail winds back into the Forest and away from the water.  It is in this dense and darker Forest I believe I am being followed, not by a human.  I am not afraid, it is only a Forest creature that is curious about my movements through their home.  I think it might be Coyote as it sounded low and paw like as if a dog were following me in the distance.  Padding softly across the leaves my ghost follows me until the trail heads back toward the water.

Soon I can see the water and the trail now takes me along a rise above the Lake.  The breaks between the Pine Trees create a flicker show of light and water.  It is peaceful in the sparkling light.  The trail drop down to pass a beach and I leave the path to walk on the Sand spread out before me.  The Rocky Sand glitters in the sunlight and is dotted with an assortment of white shells.  From here I can clearly see the Lake often hidden from view when I was hiking on the trail.  I look around with the hopes I will find a deck chair to sit on at the water edge.  This is a beautiful spot for meditation.

I reluctantly leave the beach and head back up to the trail and enjoy the view as it winds along the beach edge.   Looking down from a rise I see another bridge in the distance, this is wonderful surprise as it is not mentioned on the map I picked up at the tourist center.  This is longer and newer than the previous one I encountered earlier on my hike.  It is another beautiful view location and in spring and autumn will be a favorite photography location.  As I cross this bridge and hear my foot fall and I realize each board resonates a different tone as if I am play a muted Xylophone. It makes me wonder if that is what drew a woodland creature to follow me after I crossed the last bridge.  The sound although not loud would be a signal that something new has entered the Forest.  Each time I cross a wood bridge I will place close attention to the sounds that emanate from the within the Trees along the Trail.

For the next mile and a half the trail winds into and out of the forest crossing 2 dirt/grassy roads.  For half a mile I am in a mixed Forest along a rise above the lake, a light breeze feel divine.  As the trail winds into the forest on its way toward the Campground I spot a flash of white.  Moving as quietly as I can across the crunchy autumn leaves I soon see the source of the white.  Ahead of me are two Whitetail Does one is eating oblivious to my presence the other turns to face me.  She stomps her hooves and turns to flash her white tail at me in protest and to warn the other Doe.  Although I am getting her message the other Doe carries on as if I am not here.  I am so use to the Deer on Hot Springs National Park running away this is an unexpected experience.

As I near the end of the trail I see a bright flash of orange crisscrossing the trail.  For a brief moment it lands, a beautiful Angelwing Butterfly is escorting me to the end of my journey at Lake Ouachita State Park.  Stepping off the trail I look up and see a Turkey Vulture flying over as a farewell.  Although I completed the entire trail you can do it in segments and still enjoy all the beautiful places I have mentioned in this blog.

Thank You for hiking with me… Much Love to ALL,
Lee


Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 1

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Field Notes: Friday, January 28th 2011
I have finally hiked the Caddo Bend Trail at Lake Ouachita State Park, another first for my adventures in Arkansas.  The trail is labeled strenuous, side note: rugged surface is perfect for twisted ankles, tripping over hidden objects and trying to figure out how the trail disappeared.  BE PREPARED for a wonderful adventure, stop at the park visitor center and get a map to help you navigate the trail.  When visiting a park for the first time it is always a good plan to check in before heading out on the trail and always for the longer routes.  Lake Ouachita State Park staff has useful information, including directions for access points to walk out along the road if you or a family member are unable to complete the trail.  It takes only a few minutes and Arkansas State Park employees are ALWAYS helpful!

This is the kind of trail you will be thankful for having solid boots with strong ankle support.  Although they state it is 4 1/2 miles, with side trips down to some of the beaches it was closer to a 5 1/2 mile trek up hill and down dale.   Bring more water/liquid than you think you will need,  even with the cool breeze off the lake I was sweating when I reached the observation deck at the 1.5 mile marker. I was happy to have packed some lighter weight gear to swap out as the temperature was creeping into spring warmth.  Depending on your fitness level plan to be hiking 3-4 hours with minimal stops.  It took me 3 3/4 hours with side trips to the beaches, drink/food breaks, following deer on an overgrown dirt road and scenic photography stops. Sections of this trail have hazards that may not be appropriate for small children, especially the area rounding the tip of the peninsula.

A large colorful sign marks the trail head and there are several parking spaces for vehicles only, no trailers. Please note the markers for this Trail are in bright yellow both painted blocks and metal circles with arrows. Along the trail you will spot signs that mark the way off the trail to the access road and others that mark distance in 1/2 mile increments. Caddo Bend Trail Map

The first part of the trail meanders through the Forest and I am greeted by a flock of Crows that quickly disperse.   I look up as a Turkey Vulture flies over, casting a dark silhouette against a perfect blue sky.   Just past a patch of boulders I catch sight of a lovely male Red-Bellied Woodpecker, flying from Tree to Tree searching for a morning meal.  His markings are different from those I have seen in the past and I wonder if he is a juvenile Bird.  A few yards ahead I spot a Black-Capped Chickadee and a Pine Warbler moving quickly through the Trees.  They are a wonderful welcoming committee.

The trail weaves close and far from the Lake teasing the hiker with gorgeous views between Pine Trees.  From high above the Lake I can see a group of Ringneck Ducks floating on the surface of the gently moving water.  I hope to get a closer look but there is no access to the shale beaches at this point on the Caddo.   As the trail dips inland I spot a pair of Whitetail Deer, lovely Does grazing peacefully above me.  I move slowly trying to get closer to the Deer, I watch them for several minutes gracefully moving between the Trees.  Later as they begin to head further up the hill a lovely surprise is revealed.  Hiding in the Trees but now following the Does is a late born yearling.  It is a sweet sight watching this beautiful family.

Further up the trail I discover several locations where others have created paths to reach the beach.  From these points the beauty and size of the Lake is revealed, I am blessed the sky and water are a rich blue color this morning.   On this mild winter day there are no boats moving within the smooth surface and I feel as if I am completely alone on the Lake.  Every few feet there is another photo opportunity it is hard not to keep stopping. I am suddenly aware how quickly I am burning through batteries when “battery exhausted” appears in my view finder.  Luckily I brought spares and before long a new one is installed. This said I can’t stop myself from taking more photographs.

An hour and forty-five minutes from the trail head I arrive at the observation deck.  This is the perfect place to have some liquid and a protein bar while enjoying the spectacular view.  I would love to know what is on the island ahead of me… renting a boat might be a next option for exploring the vastness of lake beyond the peninsula.  A cabin and a boat for a mini vacation with my husband Rick.

I will continue my adventure on the Caddo Bend Trail in my next blog entry…. Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 2

Love to You ALL,
Lee


Little Birds and the Cat in the Window

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Field Notes: Thursday, January 27 2011
Today I was testing my strength for a new hiking location so I did not take many photographs.  I hiked to the Top of West Mountain then down, around and back to the top.   Are the 50s the new 40s?  The jury is still out on this cultural axiom, but I am happy to be a unofficial test case.

On the Canyon Trail not long after I entered the park I noticed an unmarked trail that has been blocked by two logs.  I stepped up on a big Rock to have a peek, as I balanced for a better look a mixed flock of Warblers and Juncos landed in the Trees around me.  Breakfast was being served, berry clusters were being enjoyed by the small birds.  They bent their bodies and reached for the tasty orbs dangling from the slender branches.  I followed them to the Oak Trail and continued up the Mountain.

Hiking late morning into afternoon, when I ran out of liquid I knew it was time to head home.  It was a successful fitness test.  Two climbs up and around West Mountain made me realize how fortunate I am to live so close to Hot Springs National Park!  It is a the best therapy, gym and church all in one glorious Nature filled package.  I am truly blessed to be living here with my beloved husband Rick.

I must share with you what I saw on my way home through the Hot Springs Historic District.  There is a western theme photography studio and in their window is usually a pile of colorful feather boas.  Today peeking at me from the feathers was gray, white & tiger stripe cat with brilliant yellow eyes.  The contrast of bird feathers and a small cat was too good a photography moment to pass up.

Stay tuned for my next blog… new park, trail and views :o)
with Love,
Lee


New Trail, Ricks Pond, Colorful Fungi and Birds

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Some days are meant to be dark so we can see the beauty
often lost to our sight in the bright sunlight.~ Lee Hiller

Field Notes: January 24 2011
A light mist is falling as I arrive at the Ricks Pond dam in Hot Springs National Park. Before I can even grab my camera a Blue Heron flies up in the air and quickly vanishes on the opposite side of the pond. Note to self have gear ready for action before you arrive at the park, don’t exit the van before you are prepared for the first shot. I had imagined there would be more water spilling over the dam in the winter and that the pond would be higher up the banks. The next time we have heavy rain or snowfall I will return to see if the water level changes.

The last time I was here it was bright and sunny, I believe the pond looks its best wrapped in gray. Today the reflection in the pond is not obscured by the reflection of the sun.  Winter beauty is reflected in rust, moss and gray. Elegant bare Trees rising high into the sky and dipping deep into the still water. A Rorschach test for the Heart and Soul.

I decide to hike along the Sunset Trail and see where it leads within the old Fordyce Estate. We pause here for a much needed update, I recently learned there are actually seven Mountains that make up Hot Springs National Park; Hot Springs, North, West, Music, Sugarloaf, Indian and Fordyce Mountains. None of the Trail maps mentioned Fordyce Mountain as being the location of the third leg of the Sunset Trail. I am happy to say today I climbed to the top of Fordyce Mountain. The trail is varied smooth, steep, flat, wide, rocky and narrow. The fallen Trees are covered in a glorious variety of colorful Turkey Tail Fungus and False Turkey Tail Fungus; winters wildflowers. Colors range from bright yellow to deep burgundy, these amazing variations are created by genetics of the organism and its environment.

When I reach the bottom of the trail near Ricks Pond I am blessed to see a sweet juvenile Nuthatch peeking and me from the side on a Short Leaf Pine.  On a nearby Tree an adult Red-Breasted Nuthatch is searching for an afternoon meal.  I take a last stroll over the stone bridge and I can hear an elusive water Bird.  No matter how I try the Belted King Fisher will not let me get close enough to take a clear photograph.  We did the same dance as last time, I moved it moved always keeping me just out of clear focusing range.  If anyone has tips from sneaking up on a Belted Kingfisher and or Blue Heron in a very open setting I would love to hear from you.

From My Heart,
Lee


Chickadees, Whitetail Deer, Chipmunks and More

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Field Notes: January 22 2011
It was a “will I” or “won’t I” hike morning, “I will” of course won out.  Nature rewarded my efforts to overcome my indecision with the sighting of many beautiful creatures.  I arrived at the Peak Trail as a mother Blue Jay was installing her Chick in a Tree.  It sat bravely and silently perched in the sunlight pressed closely against a branch.  Interestingly I was not alone watching this event, a Northern Mockingbird was intently surveying the situation.  Never getting too close it hopped up the Tree and walked across a branch to look at the Blue Jay Chick.  Once satisfied with the situation the Mockingbird found it’s own higher perch and sat quietly basking in the morning sun.

I headed up the Peak Trail to the stone wall hoping to see a Chipmunk, sadly there were none in sight. Passed a large Rock and remembered it was the first place I had seen/photographed a Carolina Wren (Moss, Lichen, Fungus and a Carolina Wren).  Lost in the beauty and memories of past trail visits a flash of white brought me back to the present.  Just past the mid way point to the top three Whitetail Deer where staring at me from below the trail edge.  I often spot the three Does between west side of the Hot Springs Mountain Trail over to the Short Cut Trail. This was the first time they had stopped long enough for me to take a photograph.  Normally all I ever see is a trio of white tails bounding into the Forest cover.  I suspect one of these Does is the responsible for bumping my lens hood when we had a near miss during a recent trail crossing (A Mixed Flock Of Little Birds and a Near Miss).

Near the top of the trail a flock of lovely Carolina Chickadees arrived, their happy Bird Song filled the cold crisp winter air.  The tiny winged songsters are in fine form swinging on branches, singing and pipping a beautiful tune.  As I cross the Hot springs Mountain picnic area I can hear more birds singing on the Short Cut Trail.  When I reach the top of the path I can see another favorite songster, the Black-Capped Chickadee.  They too are hanging on the finer branches with acrobatic grace.

It is a beautiful hike along the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, the Trees are dark sculptures shaped by storms past.  I travel down the Honeysuckle and Floral Trails as I head down to the Hot Springs Mountain Road.  As I am walking down the road out of the park I hear a commotion to my right.  I cross the road and look over the creek at North Mountain, it is hard not to giggle out loud.

On the south side of North Mountain I can see at least 20 (closer to 25) individual Chipmunks. They are running along downed Trees, diving in Leaves, sitting on Rocks and popping up out of burrow holes.  Considering I had not seen a Chipmunk for several weeks this was a surprise.  I believe the cause of the population explosion is a male Chipmunk guarding several burrow entrances.  There is no polite way to put this, I have never seen a Chipmunk with this large a set of testicles.  Now that he created his new over-sized family he is fighting to hold onto his own burrow.  Prior to this moment I had only seen four Chipmunks on North Mountain, at least this group has room to spread out and multiple.

With Love,
Lee


Hiking with Violets, a Cat, a Sapsucker and Downy Woodpecker

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A Special THANK YOU to the jogger who saw I was photographing a bird and stopped so I could get the shots. I am extremely grateful for your thoughtful and considerate gesture.

Field Notes January 21 2011:
I open my blog today with a story of an extended paw of friendship.  Many of my regular readers will be aware that  For nearly a year I have been documenting the activities of what appears to be a feral cat in the park. This beautiful cat seems to live on the neighboring hospital grounds and hunts in the park.  This is not a good situation for the cat or the wildlife.  Today something was different, instead of keeping the fence between us it came over to see what I was doing.  After several minutes of exchanging meows and taking photographs this beautiful creature walked along a ledge and placed it’s nose on my camera hood.  Using my lens as a mirror it could be the first time it has seen its reflection.  It lead me part way up the path then passed through a gap in the fence and back to the hospital grounds.  This sweet lonely creature needs a better home.

As I near the top of the Dead Chief Trail I hear a tapping sound in a Tree ahead of me.  I look up and see a beautiful Male Downy Woodpecker hanging on to a  small Branch.  Usually I only see these industrious birds on the side of large Trees, this is a wonderful view.  From this new perspective I can see how they use their feet to grasp and their tail feathers for balance.  I am blessed to have a very patient teacher, Nature.

Along the top Hot Springs Mountain the air has a bite and it stings my face as I hike along the trail.  The cold air seems to magnify the beauty of the Forest and you can hear even the distant Bird songs clearly.  Hiking on the Hot Springs mountain Trail the sound of tapping and pipping is becoming louder. It is as if the source of sound and myself are each moving toward each other.  As I pass the ravine I see a small brown flecked Bird hopping up a Tree and pecking.  As first it’s size and color make me think it is a large Brown Creeper.  As I get closer the truth is revealed, it is a small juvenile male Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.  It makes me wonder how I missed seeing all these amazing woodpeckers when I was hiking last year.  I have clearly been changed by this year of hiking in the Mountains of Hot Springs National Park.

I am surprised to see so many dead and dying pines as I hike down the Gulpha Gorge Trail.  It is a field of rust where once green stood, is this the damage from last winter or something new?  On the Goat Rock Trail the spring Bird-Foot Violets are still blooming,  but the last snow and freeze has battered the fragile blooms.  The cold snow and freezing air transformed their once velvet petals to sheer translucent veils. The storms could only change not destroy their fragile beauty.  The upper Goat Rock Trail on North Mountain has become a silvery Forest, and I find myself thinking it is a twin to sunset trail atop West Mountain. As always thank you dear friends for joining me as I travel into the Mountains.

Thank You for all the lovely prayers for my Husband Rick these past several weeks.  His kidney stones are passing and he is on the mend, your lovely messages have kept us strong throughout his medical care and healing.

With Love,
Lee


Rain Drops in the Fog

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Field Notes: January 17th 2011
A lovely layer of fog and mist as fallen over Hot Springs National Park this morning. It is a perfect morning to go hiking in the life giving moisture.  The plants are all coated with exquisite glistening spheres softly glowing in the dim light. It is one those rare occasions when the fog is coming down the Mountain to meet me on the trails.  I have in the past raced up and down three Mountains in a single morning trying to catch a patch of fog.  The bad news, half way up Hot Springs Mountain I realized I had left home without my spare batteries and camera bag.  I thought I was feeling a bit lighter :)

Along the foggy Short Cut Trail beautiful ghost like creatures appear in the leaves and up in Trees. A female Cardinal and a Sparrow are foraging ahead of me while a male Red-Bellied Woodpecker is pecking on a branch in the distance.  When I reach the top of the trail there is a faint rainbow in the mist and fog as I cross the Hot Springs Mountain Road.  I love how the familiar trails take on a mysterious atmosphere of uncertainty.

The rain is increasing and the fog is on the move from the Hot Springs Mountain Trail to the bottom of the Floral Trail. I hike with swift intent as mentioned earlier I don’t have my camera bag to pack my camera away to keep it dry.  When I reach the bottom and begin to head home on Fountain Street the sky darkens and the street lamps begin glowing in the gray ahead of me.  I feel like I am entering the old TV show dark Shadows, all that is missing is a Vampire.  As the old street lamps illuminated the sidewalk I am greeted by… not a Vampire, but a Squirrel enjoying a late breakfast in the fog.

Love Yourself!
Lee


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