The Horseshoe Mountain Trail in Lake Catherine State Park Arkansas is one of my favorite places to hike. The trail winds through a wonderful variety of peaceful landscapes. Each season provides hikers with different points of interest and diverse wildlife.
My hike begins in a beautiful Pine Forest zigzagging up the side of Horseshoe Mountain. Two Swallowtail Butterflies dance lightly across a Red Buckeye Bush illuminated by stray rays of sunlight. Soon the Pine Forest is interspersed with broadleaf Trees as the trail hugs a large outcropping of Rocks. Winding higher up the mountain I pick my way through boulders and sparse Trees in a constant climb toward the first plateau.
Large Rocks and Pine Trees give way to a spectacular Deciduous Forest decorated with colorful Wildflowers. The trail make me feel as if I am moving through a vast cottage garden . The natural flow of the path is lined by Rocks, Grasses, Wildflowers and newly leafing Trees. Tiny birds move rapidly among the Leaves of the spring canopy stopping only to feast on the plentiful insects. An old log on my right is a launching platform for a swarm of white-winged termites. In the early morning light their translucent wings glow as they lift off drifting on a light breeze. For a moment I pause and imagine them to be woodland fairies launching themselves into the beautiful spring Forest.
At the top of Horseshoe Mountain (782 feet) the trail traverses a ridge through the thinning Forest. A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is hopping from Tree to Tree searching for its breakfast. His red head markings are spectacular against the greenery surrounding us. Large clusters of Rose Verbena are growing from the edges of Rocks that create a series of obstacles on the trail. Yellow winged Grasshoppers spring forth with every step creating an illusion of flying Wildflowers. Lizards scramble under the Leaves as my footfall disrupts their basking in the sunlight.
The trail leads me down into a predominantly Pine Forest dotted with spectacular blooming white Dogwood Trees. A tiny Black and White Warbler peers cautiously at me as I pass beneath its hiding place in the leaves above. When I reach the bottom of the trail it intersects with the Falls Branch Trail then continues up the other side of Horseshoe Mountain.
On the top of the next ridge Deciduous Trees give way to a meadow sprinkled with Spiderwort, Wood Spurge, Birds Foot Violets, Rose Verbena and Potato Dandelions. In another month the dominant green ground cover will give way to a blanket of purple, pink, yellow and white. An opening in the foliage at the end of the ridge affords a view of both Lake Catherine below and Dam Mountain to the right. It is a perfect place to pause and reflect on the beauty Nature has painted for me today.
The trail rapidly descends toward the Lake through a forest floor blanketed by years of rust autumn leaves. Beautiful Red Buckeye Bushes dot the side of the mountain drawing me toward the shoreline. A sweet Chickadee sings a soulful serenade and glances shyly at me from a branch winding across the trail. I continue on the path crossing both a suspension and small wood bridge that leading me past nearby lake front campsites. A short while later I reach the trail head from which I began my hike.
Love to ALL!
Lake Catherine State Park’s Falls Branch Trail provides a lovely hike with varied terrain, bridges and water features. Although it is shorter than the other park trails it offers hikers of all levels a wonderful Nature experience. There are three wood benches and several rocks along the journey for those wishing to take a leisurely pace. This trail like all others within the park is well marked and makes a loop leading you back to the trail head. Free parking is available for day hikers.
The trail begins with a series of bridges crossing over a narrow winding creek. These well maintained wooden structures add variety to the hike along this mostly flat section of the trail. Lovely wildflowers add color on the banks of the slow moving water. Purple violets, pink oxalis and yellow goldenrod create a beautiful spring bouquet. Old stone steps lead upward from the final bridge to a winding path traveling through a mixed tree forest and rock accented landscape. Bird songs echo softly from the increasing spring canopy. Beautiful white blossoming Dogwoods glow among the illuminated green Leaves.
Soon after a moderate climb the trail leads downward to a wider creek that separates Horseshoe and Dam Mountains. The collecting pools of water created by the rocky creek bed reflect the bright new green of spring opening above them. Waterfalls increase in size as you hike further down the trail. Each plateau is reached by traversing a cluster of stone steps built early in the 1900s.
When you reach the top of the main waterfall the trail head of the Dam Mountain Trail located on the other side of the creek is visible. The main waterfall cascades into a clear pool below that is a popular spot for hikers to rest and cool their feet. Several families arrived after a hike on the Dam Mountain Trail and were enjoying a chance to wade in the water.
Further down the trail I spotted a Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin) swimming in the Lake Catherine. I watched as it floated, dove and swam at the shoreline. As I finished taking a few photographs I heard screaming up at the falls. The only word I could make out was “SNAKE” followed by frantic splashing and additional yelling. Please note if you are hiking for the first time in the south the Cottonmouth is a venomous Snake that loves the water. Although snake bites are rare in the park take care when you wade or swim as they are territorial and will strike if you don’t move away. (“Once threatened, a Cottonmouth may gape open its mouth to present a cottony-white warning. This is a warning that needs to be heeded because Cottonmouth will not hesitate to strike. There is a common wives-tail about Cottonmouth not being about to bite underwater. This is completely untrue. They can, in fact, bite underwater, on top of the water, and out of the water.” http://www.herpsofarkansas.com/Snake/AgkistrodonPiscivorus).
The final leg of my hike along the Falls Branch Trail is along the edge of Lake Catherine. The murky blue green water sparkles in the sunlight and is still easily viewed through the early spring foliage. Butterflies and dragonflies weave in and out of the flowering bushes feeding on nectar in afternoon sun. As you pass the lake shore campground you will cross the last creek on a suspension bridge. Several minutes later I reach the trail head, it has been a glorious time in the park.
Love to ALL!
Continuing from Some Of My Favorite Moments from 2010… Where to begin, it would not be possible without YOU! Thank You to those who have kindly subscribed and clicked through to my blog this year. A blog is nothing without readers, those who hike with me via my words and photographs on Hike Our Planet this is dedicated to you!
A special Thank You to my beloved husband Rick who puts up with my
time away hiking and photographing the beauty of Arkansas.
2011 was filled with wonderful moments along the trails in Arkansas. I created more videos and became more adept at capturing creatures with my new camera and lens. I visited two new parks (for me) and hiked many new trails. Snow fell, leaves sprouted, wildflowers bloomed, heat sizzled and autumn painted the trails. In November 2011 I celebrated the 2nd anniversary of my Hike Our Planet blog. Added 40+ new videos to my new YouTube blog Channel Lee Hiller Designs Photography. Videos included a series for Photographers For Japan to aid Mercy Corps with Japan earthquake/tsunami relief. Lake Ouachita State Park’s Caddo bend Trail was hit by a tornado so sadly the trail won’t reopen until late 2012 (hopefully).
If you have your own favorite post or photograph from my 2011 blog posts please share it in the comments below. You can click on any of the blog titles below to re-read any of my favorites.
January 2011 – OH DEER! Horseshoe Mountain in Lake Catherine State Park
January 2010 – Lake Ouachita State Park – Caddo Bend Trail Pt 1
February 2011 – Robins Return to Hot Springs with the Winter Snow
August 2011 – Hiking in Hot Springs National Park and The City Pt 1
September 2011 – The City Cradled By Hot Springs National Park
November 2011 – Autumn Leaves, Sundogs, Butterflies and Mockingbirds
December 2011 - Heavenly Mountain View of a Foggy Sunrise in the Valley
December 2011 - Beautiful Birds in the Autumn Fog
2010 Field Notes: Turkey Vultures
2010 Field Notes: Wild About Mockingbirds
2010 Field Notes: Ice Ribbons and Frost Flowers
2010 Field Notes: Damselfly Dragonfly its in the Wings and Eyes
2010 Field Notes: Mixed-Species Foraging Flock Robins and Waxwings
2010 Field Notes: Woodpeckers Of Hot Springs National Park
Yesterday I had planned to take a quick hike in Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas. I did hike but it was not quick, high winds and glittering autumn foliage had me mesmerized. One trail lead to another, before I knew it I had hike them all and discovered I needed more camera batteries. Long before I left the park images and video had drain all 5 batteries in my camera bag. Note to self: “Buy more batteries.”
I was blessed to see autumn painted Trees dance in the wind sparkling with jewel like leaves in the morning sun. Lovely Pine Warblers peaked at me from the branches of tall Short Leaf Pines. On several occasions I had fleeting glimpses of majestic Whitetail Deer. For what seemed only a brief moment a lovely Doe let me take photographs and shoot video of her graceful grazing. She paraded back and forth lingering in sight to distract me from what really mattered, her nearby fawn.
Aster and goldenrod waved in the breeze along the trails as a green caterpillar tried to hold firm on a log. Colorful leaves floated on the wind and road the rippling Lake surface. I climbed 100 year old rock stairs, scooted under a fallen Tree and crossed wooden Forest bridges. The wind caressed my skin and tugged at my long hair as the sun tried to warm my face in the cold air. It was a glorious day in park.
Love to ALL!
Below a clear bluish violet morning sky it is 58 degrees with a light breeze as I enter Lake Catherine State Park. The park glows in the early light as I stand on the balcony of the visitors center looking out over the lake. I pause to watch the glossy black birds flying back and forth across the lake from the nesting boxes atop a high pole.
I drive over to the trail head and begin my hike on the Horseshoe Mountain Trail. The first thing I notice is the trail has been cleaned up a bit since my last hike here in January 2011. Last winter I could barely see the trail as the Autumn leaves were several inches deep from the winter wind. The beginning of my hike along the Horseshoe Trail is a series of gentle inclines in a Short Leaf pine Forest. Soon the landscape changes and a large Rock formation appears on my right. The dirt trail now is a series of well-worn boulders heading higher into the park. Glorious yellow Lance-Leaf Coreopsis are growing in patches among the Rocks, drops of sunlight in the spring Forest. A Pine Warbler peeks at me from the branch of a Pine Tree while higher up a Male Blue Grosbeak looks out across the park.
The higher I climb Pines begin to give way to a mixed forest and greater numbers of wildflowers. Twistflowers in pink and magenta cast a lovely pink glow over the top of lovely green undergrowth. Accents of Purple Small Skull Caps and Clasping Venus Looking Glass, Blue Carolina Larkspur plus yellow Lance-Leaf Coreopsis create a colorful feast for the eyes. The tall growth waves gently in the morning breeze and Forest has the appearance of taking rhythmic breaths. I cannot express the beauty of each step along the trail and can only hope my photographs will be an ample expression.
As I proceed up the second climb on the trail bright pink Ouachita Shooting Stars appear in greater numbers. At the top a lovely garden of Wildflowers is revealed in the rocky loose soil. Ouachita Blazing Stars, Clasping Venus Looking Glass and Twistflowers create a glorious Butterfly haven. Vibrant orange and Large Black Swallowtail Butterflies move from flower to flower surfing on a perfect spring breeze.
Soon the trail is winding down the Mountain and rounding the next bend I have a clear view of the lake below. On this perfect day I am surprised there are no boats out on the Lake. Further along the trail more Ouachita Blazing Stars sprinkled across the left side of the trail, on the right lovely blush and yellow Goat’s Rue are just beginning to bloom. As I hike down the Mountain the mixed Forest gives way to Tall Pines stretching up toward the sky and glimpse of the lake appears between their large trunks.
At the bottom I look across a small cove, on the opposite shore I spot the silhouettes of two familiar large birds sitting in the shade. Turtles are lined up along partially submerged logs catching the warmth of the spring sun. A beautiful garden of green is growing on log near the shore. Soon I reach a chain suspension bridge that likely would have water below it when the lake levels are higher. When I leave the trail to reach the Lake front I can see my to photographic subjects are still resting in the grass.
A pair of Canada Geese and Mallards Ducks are sitting at the edge of the Lake and I approach slowly, 15 minutes later all four get up and swim out into the Lake. The Mallard pair swim into the cove and tuck their heads under their wings to float and sleep. The Canada Geese paddle out into Lake and swim cautiously past a Fisherman standing on the bank.
Back on the trail it isn’t long before I spot a Squirrel foraging in the Forest and climbing Trees. It is always a delight watching Squirrel agility, their amazing skill at leaping from Tree to Tree. When I reach the Trail Head I glance once more back into the wonderful Forest where I spent my morning.
Find time to get out and let Nature wrap you in her arms.
Love to ALL!
PS Special Thanks to K J Garrett for settling the debate of Canada Geese vs Canadian Geese… although the Internet has many articles debating this issue here a Hike Our Planet we tip our hat in deference to KJ.
New Year new hiking location, welcome to Lake Catherine State Park in Arkansas! Turns out it was only 30 minutes away and it has amazing hiking trails. When I arrived in the park I pulled into the visitors center to let them know I am in the park taking photographs, shout out and thanks for the excellent maps, directions and advice from park staff. A little jealous that some employees get to live in the park, what a wonderful job. If you plan to visit the park check out their website, there is camping, lodging and trail map information. Lake Catherine State Park you can also follow Arkansas State Parks on Twitter @ARStateParkand facebook The State Parks of Arkansas entry to this park is FREE.
Important information from visitors center… two of the three main trail are open Horseshoe Mountain and the Falls Branch Trail. The Dam Mountain Trail is closed because someone leased out the land adjacent to the state park trail for deer hunting. The park officials are worried someone could get shot by stray bullets/arrow. It should reopen sometime in February after Deer hunting season ends. Important information is one reason I like to check in on a first visit to hike in a park.
The trail head is located just past the campgrounds, parking is available and FREE. I photographed a tiny bird I am unable to identify a few feet onto the trail and would appreciate any help with a name. Update: Special Thanks to @blobbybirdman of Twitter for ID, it is an American Goldfinch. Approximately 50 yards past the trail head I reached the point where I need make a trail choice, I pick the one labeled as rugged. The Horseshoe Mountain Trail it turns out is minimally groomed which is perfect for seeking out wildlife to photograph. It is likely it does not see as much activity as the Falls Branch Trail. I am grateful to be wearing a good pair of hiking boots as much of the 12-14 inch wide trail is rocky or covered in debris hiding protruding roots and there are several fallen Trees to climb over. Be prepared to be unsure of where the trail is located and keep an eye out for park trail markers. As a first time visitor it is of great help to see park trails are all marked with spray painted color blocks on random trees, they are bright yellow (Horseshoe Mountain), red (Falls Branch) or white (Dam Mountain).
If state park officials read this please note many hikers love trails that are not overly groomed, the scenery is better and the wildlife is left with a better environment. It was wonderful to have a choice of trail type in Lake Catherine State Park. My description of the Horseshoe Mountain Trail is a compliment!
The first part of the Horseshoe Mountain Trail gently winds upward through trees that have left their leaves as a rust carpet upon the Forest floor. Climbing higher I notice more rocks begin to appear and dominate a changing landscape. As I move move past a rock wall to my right a Golden-Crown Kinglet pushes off from a branch to take flight above me. I Love these tiny Warblers! Passing a large protruding rock pointing skyward the trail surface abruptly changes to 75% rocks sticking up from the soil. I work my way up what I believe is the logical route for a trail. Several minutes after reaching the top I spot a yellow marker and it is clear my trail instincts were correct.
When you reach the Mountain top it is a utopia of small birds in an enchanting winter Forest high above Lake Catherine. The trail along the ridge is a filled with bird song, a duet Yellow-Rumped Warbler and Tufted Titmouse rings out in the cool morning air. Although I hear Chickadee pips further up the trail, they move so quickly I am unable to get a clear sighting. The coloring of the Yellow-Rumped Warblers is a bit different than those I have photographed for earlier blog entries.
Further up the trail and along the ridge the sun is low casting a golden blue light over the trail. I find myself on the wrong side of the sunlight when a flock of birds begins to land in the trees ahead of me. Shooting into the sun and unsure of the type of bird I hope for the best. It is not until a second wave flies past that I see they are a flock of juvenile and adult Cedar Waxwings. I always forget how tiny they are, their dramatic markings make them appear larger in my photographs.
As I follow the ridge top trail I notice deer tracks in the areas where the soil is soft. The trail is scenery is rocky dotted with junipers and pines, I hope to spot a deer in the open spaces before it see me. The tracks continue until I reach a leaf covered descent not unlike the trail leading up the Mountain. I am a bit disappointed to have lost sight of the Deer tracks. When I reach the bottom I am faced with 3 choices; visit the water fall, finish my hike on the Branch Falls Trail or continue on the Horseshoe Mountain Trail. I don’t like to leave anything unfinished so it is onward along the Horseshoe Mountain Trail.
This decision afforded me an opportunity I have been waiting to experience for many months. As I crest a rise on the trail I find myself in an area where the trail is fully exposed with a sparse amount of trees 25 feet to my left. A few steps into the open and I see three white tails hoping away. I freeze hoping they might not run to far away, as I slowly raise my camera I see the worse possible thing in my viewfinder. “Battery Exhausted” appears before my eye. Trying to change my battery without moving in a threatening way and keeping one eye on the three Deer ahead of me a lesson in patience.
Battery changed I slowly lift my camera and begin taking photographs as the Deer move between the Trees. Deeming me nonthreatening the largest Deer, a Doe steps out of the Trees and allows me to take her portrait before heading back into the Tree line. Several minutes after she disappears the other two slowly begin to move past me. Not knowing a lot about Deer my best guess was a mother and her young. The two that hung back were smaller, although one was a bit bigger than the other and they seemed to be used to staying together often touching noses. This moment was beautiful new year gift from Nature.
At the bottom of the trail I step off and walk along the lake shore. Large Crows are flying back and forth from a large Tree to stumps now exposed from the low water levels. This beautiful flock of six seems to have staked out the shoreline for the winter. Their gleaming black feathers are a beautiful contrast to the blue water.
I catch up to the trail cutting through the campground and before long I am back at the trail head again. Special thanks to the staff of Lake Catherine State Park!
Much Love to ALL!