Exploring Nature One Step At A Time

Archive for July, 2011

Once invisible air hovers as a glistening veil on the trails

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As a photographer I have found the past three weeks of hiking frustrating. It has not been the heat and the sweating but the fogging over of my lens and viewfinder at inopportune moments that has hampered by photographic abilities. Out of my frustration I have created humidity Photography tip, to keep lenses from foggy up in humidity wrap gear in freshly warmed towels from dryer 1/2 hr before going outside.  Most of us live in the comfort of air conditioned abodes, the towels help your gear to slowly warm up and equalize to the outside temperatures. Make sure towels are warm not hot.

I have noticed the local wildlife and I are looking a little soggy on the trails.  The fur of Chipmunks and Squirrels are molting, matted or damp, I can’t imagine what it would be like to wear all that fur in this weather.  The once lush green of the Forest is receding and some leaves are burnt resembling a mid summers autumn.  The air hangs as a hazy veil of humidity appearing like light fog hovering before my eyes.  As the clouds part the sun piercing the withering leaves cause the air to glow on the trails.  I stop for a moment to listen to the far off chorus of Songbirds migrating through the park. Familiar voices of Chickadees, Tufted Titmice (or is that Titimouses) and Nuthatches softly caress the Tree tops.  As I take a long drink a stream of water rolls my back and the sides of my face.  The top of the Mountain is quiet and head for another drink at the fountain in the picnic area.  I am thankful for the wonderful spring water that is readily available in the National Park and city. Yes it is easy to be thankful when you live surrounded by a National Park.

Have a lovely day and Take care in the heat..
Love to ALL!

Natures Beauty: Eastern Cottontail, Scarlet Tanagers and Wildflowers

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Another morning in the southern heatwave, 6:45 am it is already a sauna as I enter the park.  Passing the Arlington Lawn I realize that the Tree ahead of me looks different.  On closer inspection the change is actually not a discoloration but a large Cicada.  It is an example of how I often spot wonderful creatures in the Forest to photograph.  The clue is anomalies, things and places that seem not quite the same as the last time I passed.

As I head up Hot Springs Mountain a lovely squirrel peeks at me from behind a Tree on the Tufa Terrace Trail.  Further along a male Eastern Cottontail is sitting by the side of the trail.  Slowly I approach taking five steps then stopping, repeating until I am in camera range.  Only a few feet separates us and the Cottontail looks at me and begins to groom his fur.  Cleaning completed he begins grazing on the delicate green grass.  After 20 minutes I leave to begin my assent up the Peak Trail past lovely Asiatic Dayflowers and tiny Fungi on the path edges.

At the top I connect with the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and the continue on the Honeysuckle Trail. As I near the “Wedding Chapel” I see a lovely green bird in a Tree to my right and I watch as it fly across the path.  When I turn my head a flash of red appears in the leaves of the high canopy. It it a glorious Male Scarlet Tanager and I believe the Green bird was the female. They are the first I Scarlet Tanagers captured by my lens in the park during my two years of hiking.  I have never seen a more spectacular red, it glows even in the dim early morning light.  Soon the male is it flying away and deeper into the high Forest canopy.

From the Honeysuckle Trail I reconnect with the Peak Trail to finish my descent.  I am surprised to see the Male Cottontail from early this morning in the grassy edge of the Trail.  He sits still as I draw closer and turns his head to look at me from several different angles. It makes me realize the wide range of sight the placement of the Eastern Cottontail eyes afford them. Even with its head completely facing away his eyes are visible.

As I exit the park via the Tufa Terrace Trail I can see Common Mullein growing on the bank below. The yellow blooms remind me of drops of sunlight.  Another first for my lens on this VERY HOT early morning hike through the Forest in Hot Springs National Park.

Nature is waiting to embrace you today!
Lot of Love,

Nature Blog Hike Our Planet – Photography and Design by Lee Hiller
Twitter @LeeHillerLondon @HikeOurPlanet @LeeHillerDesign
Nature On Facebook by Hike Our Planet – Nature on YouTube by Lee Hiller

Hot Weather Hiking Tips Plus Hummingbird Moth, Skipper, Butterfly and Birds

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The heat wave continues to flow across the south and even the earliest morning hike resembles a sauna.  As I head along Central Ave to the West Mountain Trail access House Sparrow chicks are peering at me from between the metal spears of an iron fence. They are so cheeky looking with the splashes of yellow on the sides of their still forming beaks.  I am sure they think I should head back home instead of hiking in the heat… so I decided to devote this blog text to some important hiking tips during the heat wave that is crossing the USA.

  • First thing to remember if you are thirsty you have waited to long to take a drink, drink before you think/feel the need for fluids. Take a drink every 10 or 15 minutes, more often as the temperature climbs. You can loose up to a liter of water every hour from sweating.
  • Mix electrolyte powered into your water or bring Gatorade. Alternate with your plain water.
  • Hike in the cooler shaded mountains rather than in the valleys where heat is trapped and there is often no shade.
  • Wear clothing that will wick the sweat away from your body and keep you cooler.
  • Powder your body to avoid chaffing and tend to blisters immediately.
  • Bring something to help repel insects (heat means deer ticks and Lyme disease), heat can accelerate the venom in stings and bites.
  • Bring more water than you think you will need, especially if you are venturing out on trails that are new to you.
  • Make sure you have a first aid kit.
  • Bring a dried fruit nut mix for protein and energy

Extreme heat it never a good time to test your hiking limits,  plan to take more time than you would on a mild day.  Please drink, drink, drink and then drink some more water. Sweat is your cooling system, more water equals more sweat.  One more thing avoid hiking when both heat and humidity are high, knowing when not to go hiking is just as important.

Love to ALL!

Nature Blog Hike Our Planet – Photography and Design by Lee Hiller
Twitter @LeeHillerLondon @HikeOurPlanet @LeeHillerDesign
Nature On Facebook by Hike Our Planet – Nature on YouTube by Lee Hiller

Wildflowers Hot Springs National Park: Smooth Aster

Dead Chief Trail Purple Smooth Aster

Smooth Aster
Symphyotrichum laeve (Aster laevis)

• Family: Aster (Asteraceae)
• Habitat: open woods
• Height: 1-3 feet
• Flower size: flower around 1 inch across
• Flower color: purple ray (petals) flowers around a yellow disk
• Flowering time: Autumn to Early Winter (Hot Springs, AR)
• Origin: native

Although I spotted my first Smooth Aster along the Dead Chief Trail on Hot Springs Mountain the majority of my discoveries were made on the eastern slopes of West Mountain. Smooth Asters are always a welcome site as the green of summer fades to colorful Autumn and the leaves begin to fall.  These purple beauties begin to paint the trail edges as the weather begins to cool.

Field Notes: Wildflower locations in the park appear to change based on seasonal moisture levels and canopy cover.  This coming autumn they may appear more widely across the park as we had greater rain fall this past spring. Winter leveled several Trees this year opening the Forest to more light in places once sheltered from the sun creating more spots for some  species of Wildflowers to bloom. Warmer winter allowed Wildflowers to bloom earlier and heavy spring rains brought blossoms that did not appear the prior year. Summer heat in the park like the spring arrived 2 weeks earlier than last year, nearly 4 weeks ahead of the standard weather patterns in the park. Hot Springs National Park is heating up and changing both the flora and fauna cycles.

Have a Lovely Day in Natures Scared Spaces,

Wildflower Gifts by Lee Hiller  Wildflower Photography Gifts & Photography Wildflower Gifts
Nature Blog Hike Our Planet – Photography and Design by Lee Hiller
Twitter @LeeHillerLondon @HikeOurPlanet @LeeHillerDesign
Nature On Facebook by Hike Our Planet – Nature on YouTube by Lee Hiller

West Mountain Top Trail Smooth Aster

Gulpha Gorge Trail Smooth Aster

West Mountain Top Trail Smooth Aster

West Mountain Top Trail Smooth Aster

A Quick Hike In Between the Storms with Forest Friends

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A dark morning awaits me as one storm finishes and another is not far behind.  The skies darken as I head up Hot Springs Mountain. In the half light I can see beautiful blue Asiatic Dayflowers are painting the trail edges. A Spider Wasp is crawling across the trail seeking it prey.  At the base of a Tree on the Peak Trail bursting forth from the moist ground are small beige mushrooms.  On the Mountain top I connect with Hot Springs Mountain Trail as the clouds briefly part revealing rays of sunshine.

I decide to move quickly around the Mountain  as the weather has been so unpredictable the past few days.  As I come full circle around the mountain morning light has crested the Trees revealing song birds along the promenade.  I spot my first House Finch peering at me from the a branch to my right.  The lovely red on its head and chest is a contrast to the drab olive of the rest of its body.  It is a wonderful first time encounter.

As I am preparing to head out of the park a Mockingbird appears on the fence post above me.  I can see it has something for breakfast in its beak.  Taking a step forward in an effort to catch more light for my photography I move slowly so as not to scare it away.  Instead of moving away the Mockingbird flies over to the bush next to me to show off its morning catch.  I am blessed to have so many wonderful Forest friends.

Best therapy in the world is time in Nature…
Love to ALL!

Hit The Trails in Hot Springs National Park All Year Round

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Clearing Fog

HSNP West Mountain Canyon Trail Fog Autumn 2010

HSNP West Mountain Trail Autumn 2010

Hot Springs National Park Trails Goat RockTrail

Hot Springs National Park Trails Goat Rock Trail

West Mountain Sunset Trail Snow

Hot Springs National Park Upper Dogwood Trail Earth Day

Music Mountain Sunset Trail Autumn Leaves

Many tourists to Hot Springs National Park never leave the Historic bath House Row. Why? The bath houses are the parks revenue source and the longer you stay there the more money they make.  Unfortunately this means many visitors never see the beautiful trails that weave across the six mountains found in the park. See the five trail maps below.

The main mountain visible from the city below is Hot Springs Mountain with its iconic tower for spectacular views. A quick hike up along the Peak Trail and you can reach the tower in approximately 20 minutes depending on fitness level.  After you have enjoyed the Hot Springs Tower view hike down to the Pagoda looking out over the valley. Then take the 1.7 mile Hot Springs Mountain Trail Loop below and then reconnect with the Peak Trail to head down the Mountain.

From the National Park campground hike up the Gulpha Gorge Trail and connect with the Goat Rock Trail on North Mountain.  Once you reach the North Mountain Overlook you can head down the North Mountain Road to reconnect with the Gulpha Gorge Trail or hike further on the Upper Dogwood Trail.  From the campground you can also take the Sunset Trail over to Ricks Pond and continue on the first section of the Sunset Trail Loop.

West Mountain can be accessed from Central Ave on the driveway next to the Mountain Valley Water Company.  The Canyon Trail takes you to the junction of the Oak Trail which connects you to the West Mountain Trail and the West Mountain Top Loop.  From there you can take in the views, continue around the mountain or head out along the Sunset Trail.

As you can see in my many past blog entries the trails have abundant wildlife and ever changing foliage including spectacular wildflowers.  I am always happy to direct my readers to photography, wildlife viewing and wildflower locations (although you must remember the wildlife does migrate freely throughout the park).   I read and reply to comments so please make contact anytime. You can see more videos at my you tube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/LeeHiller?feature=mhee

Happy Hiking!

HSNP Hot Springs and North Mt. Trail Map

HSNP West Mt. Trail Map

HSNP Sunset Trail Section 1

HSNP Sunset Trail Section 2

HSNP Sunset Trail Section 3

The Cottontails, a Squirrel and Sparrow on the hot hiking trails

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Like much of the country we are in the middle of a heat wave,  today is no exception. I enter the park at 7:00 am and the humidity begins to coat my skin with a light sheen. I am thankful I warmed my lens to prevent it frogging up as 2 pair of ears are glowing in the distance.   As I hike up Hot Springs Mountain I spot my favorite couple hiding in the tall grass.  Two Eastern Cottontails are out for a hop having breakfast of tender greens.  This is the second time I have seen them this week and it makes me forget the heat while I am taking lovely portrait shots.  I feel blessed they show themselves to me again.

The heat as I climb higher on the Dead Chief and Short Cut Trails is creating a haze in the air.  The light through the Trees twinkles as the sunlight pierces the foliage.  When I reach the top it is only myself and a small Squirrel out enjoying the trails.  It watches me from the side of a Tree as I head down the Hot Springs Mountain Trail.

As I finish my hike along Fountain Street only a tiny Female House Sparrow comes out to say goodbye.

Don’t forget to get out and play…
HUGS and Love to You ALL!

Summer Surprise The Bunnies Are Back!

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Hot Springs National Park is in the middle of a heat wave, 105 with the heat index reading of 110.  It is HOT HOT HOT in Hot Springs.  I was debating whether it was safe to hike in the early morning (6:30 am) with a temperature 84 heat index at 88.  I couldn’t stay away and a beautiful series of surprises was my reward.

I have only seen two Box Turtles on Hot Springs Mountain since I began hiking in Winter of 2009.  Today I saw two, each on different trails, a female on the Carriage Road and a male on the Peak Trail. They were on the move but allowed me to take their photograph creating wonderful portraits. I wonder if they will find each other :)

The Eastern Cottontail couple from last spring made themselves visible to me today. First the nicked ear female is pregnant or has recently given birth, she looks so lovely and plump. Second the male is wonderful and made himself a target to draw me away from his partner.  Once I moved away from the female he sat and cleaned his paws while I photographed him.  I am so happy to see they survived the winter.

It was a perfect hike (although far too hot) in the park this morning.

Love to You ALL,

Another Day with the Beautiful Creature of Hot Springs National Park

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It’s Saturday and I am going to spend the afternoon watching a film with my beloved husband.  So please accept these photographs of the lovely creatures I my lens captured as my blog.  They tell a wonderful story without any need for words.  Have a blessed day :o)

Love to You ALL,

A Winged Hero Saves Us From a Small Panther in the Park :o)

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The park is as always filled with an abundance of birds when my husband Rick and I take another of his important ankle therapy walks.  The park is filled with a morning serenade to the now emerging sun as it crests the Trees of Hot Springs Mountain.

A wonderful Brown Thrasher land on a Tree in front of me and shows me the morning catch.  With a pink grub dangling from it’s beak and hopping closer I am able to see the detailed beauty of this bird.  Soon it takes flight and lands on a branch to join another Brown Thrasher.  They look at me then look at each other, this goes on for several minutes before then they part ways.

Farther along a lovely Northern Mockingbird is silently sitting atop a light pole.  It then flies down to the wall next to me and stretches open it’s wings while walking along the edge.  Soon it is up in a Tree looking toward the sound of chirping chicks before taking flight over my head.  Later it appears on a fence to my right, it is making a loud croaking noise and flapping it’s wings as a warning.   I glance down to see a Black Feral Cat (small Panther) creeping silently toward us. The Mockingbird dives at the cat pecking at it’s back driving it away from our location.  I am standing next to a bench where our fearless hero lands next to me for a portrait.  I am happy and honored to capture this wonderful new friend with my lens.

As always it has been a perfect morning in the park… thank you for joining us.

You never know who will be there to save you from danger :o)
Love to ALL,

Time in the park was for the Birds :o)

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Field Notes: This adventure into the park was highlighted by a conversation high up into the tree tops.  At first it sounded as if a family of Blue Jays were arguing over territory, but that was not entirely true.  Yes there were multiple Blue Jay, but they were being taunted by some of the best mimics in the Forest.  With an audience of Robins several Brown Thrashers were mocking the Blue Jays.  Brown Thrashers are known to have as many as over 3000 unique songs in their vocal repertoire. Now that their are two generations living nearby it will be interesting to listen for their many vocal styles.  According to Cornell Lab All About Birds “the Brown Thrasher has one of the largest song repertoires of any North American bird”.

The area at the base of Hot Springs Mountain has a very growing diverse group of birds. I hope you will enjoy my photographs of the lovely winded creatures that appeared along my journey in Hot Springs National Park.

It  is time to play outside…
Love to All,

All the Little Mockingbirds Ruled the Park

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Rick’s ankles are nearly mended so we took a hike in the lower area of Hot Springs Mountain.  The temperature today reached 103 so I was happy we got out early as the heat was fierce by the time we headed home at 9:00 am.

The lovely little Squirrel with the bobbed tail was searching for her breakfast as we entered the park. I love a morning in the Forest that begins with seeing old friends. Further into the park another squirrel watched us closely from a  leafy Tree.  A female Cardinal surveyed the city from her perch in the park.

I had never seen so many Mockingbirds in a single day, they were everywhere.  A male Cardinal in a bush watched closely as two Mockingbird chicks navigated a ground takeoff. The adult Mockingbird with the hooked beak sang several melodies to us from the top of a favorite Tree.  Multiple Mockingbird chicks were flying back and forth testing out their winged skills and then chirping for help from mom or dad.  Juvenile Mockingbirds tried out their newly found song abilities, although it only came out as tweets and pips. It was a gift from Nature to see these beautiful families.

As we were leaving the park a young Squirrel kept peeking a me from behind a Tree and I took it’s photograph.  I was about to leave when it jumped to a closer Tree and again nut in mouth peeked at me.  As always it was a wonderful morning in the park.

Don’t forget to get put and play with your friends :o)
Love to ALL,

Quick Hike in the Forest Bathed in Dawns Early Light

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I am thankful to have headed out at 6:30 am to beat the heat.  The park was near empty of both people and wildlife, not surprising as it was 85 so early in the morning. A single small squirrel made up the welcoming committee as I headed into Hot Springs National Park.

When I reached the Carriage Road I noticed the lovely Asiatic Dayflowers were still blooming. As I was photographing the beautiful Blue wildflowers I noticed a fallen beauty.  Unmoving a lovely Common Buckeye Butterfly wings spread is gently resting in the blades of grass as if it were asleep at my feet.

The hike up Hot Springs Mountain was glorious and glowing in slivers of light that had begun to pierce the thick summer foliage. The higher I climbed the light changed from white to pinkish yellow illuminating the trail before me. In this soft dancing light the Forest trail seemed new to my footfall.

When I reach the top I don’t see any other hikers on the trails or the mountain road. Even with the heat I am a bit surprised as this is the first day of the holiday weekend. The temperature is rapily rising so I decided to head down and out of the park instead of hiking around Hot Springs Mountain. This turns out to be a fortuitous decision.

When I reach home my beloved husband is heading out to his ankle therapy session.  A few minutes later he calls me, turns out his car battery is dead and he needs a jump from my van… I Love how the Universe works.

Time to get out and Play!
Love to ALL,


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