It is fun to explore the least traveled parts of the park. To be honest I am not sure how far I hiked (at least 5 miles) as the last park marker was a metal post with no plaque. The trail continued and I assumed the section I entered was the “Fordyce Peaks” and after climbing up, up and more up I reached the tails end. The trails end is a relative term as it was marked by red neon nylon tape tied around two trees. It looked more like an arbitrary decision to call it the end and without a map I cannot say for sure. Yes I looked for a map but this is a side trip according to the NPS and judging by the trail is rarely used.
This is one of the best hikes in the park winding up, down and up again as you travel between ridges and peaks. It is a mixed Forest and will be beautiful in all four seasons. As I near the top of the first ridge on Sunset Trail I notice a spectacular display of Pink Oxalis lining the trail edges. Further along birdsong fills the air in the distance tiny Bluets begin to appear among the Oxalis. As in many places in Hot Springs National Park the ghost of a carriage road now sprinkled with Trees parallels the trail. Tiny yet to be identified white wildflowers and Pussy Toes now join the colorful display on the edges of the trail.
I pass a metal NPS post missing a plaque that likely once had valuable trail information, it saddens me that people often steal these important markers. The trail now steadily winds down from this first ridge and into a lovely valley, I love the silence of hiking on a trail of dirt, old pine needles and moss. Slowly the Trail begins to wind upward toward a once distant ridge I often photographed from the North Mountain Overlook. As I climb higher rocks appear and the Forest begins to change as Pines give way to a mix of deciduous Trees. This is a familiar landscape found on ridges throughout Hot Springs National Park and in nearby State Parks. The trail along the top of the Fordyce Peaks winds gently through the rocky Forest floor and now barren Trees waiting for Spring.
At trails end the first thing I notice is the silence, only myself, 20 or so moths and 4 Swallowtail Butterflies (3 yellow 1 black) are at the top. The Moths and Butterflies are engaging in a beautiful mating display flying in and around a glorious pink flowering Tree. For half an hour I stand within a perfect moment of serenity. A cool breeze begins to carry a sweet honey like scent as it circles the Flowers and blooming Trees. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and spread my arms as if to soar with the Vultures overhead. I will return often to see the the beautiful transition of this peaceful place.
On my return journey I spot a a sweet Tufted Titmouse moving and hoping on a branch, in it’s beak a lovely bunch of moss. It is nest building time in the park and I feel blessed to see this sweet bird. Further up the the trail to the next ridge a pair of Black and White Warblers are singing a joyful tune. The fly quickly together from Tree to Tree. Nature always reveals new sights along the trails once traversed earlier in the day.
Upon my arrival back at the Fordyce Ricks Pond Sunset Trail head a wonderful surprise from Nature awaited me. After I pack my cameras into the van I come around the back to the drivers side door. On a Tree next to my van door is a large green Moth. I slowly back up and get my camera. On my return the spectacular Luna Moth is still spread out across the trunk of the Short Leaf Pine. It is holding tight as winds tug at its delicate wings. This is my first chance to photograph one of these green beauties. Yesterday the Moon moved closer to the Earth than it has been in 20 years and I am a Moon Child, this Luna Moth is a wonderful sign… just not sure what it means, yet!
Thank You for traveling through the Forest with me.
PS I never know what I will see in the Urban Jungle heading out to go for a hike…
You can click on any image in my blog to see a full size enlarged Image.
Recently I received several emails indicating my wildlife shots were not perfect. I should consider setting up a feeder or perch so the bird, squirrel, chipmunk etc., the subjects would not be surrounded by vegetation. In my mind if I wanted shots at feeders etc. I might as well go to the zoo everyday and take photos. I prefer to present the wildlife of Hot Springs National Park in the actual environment in which they live. No stagecraft, illusion or lures, they are living beings not puppets for me to control.
The icy climb to into the park continues, I am glad my arms are strong enough to pull me up the ice ramp. It is a cold day 26 feels like 21 degrees and I decide to move to the Carriage Road to get a bit of circulation going. When I arrive I am greeted by a Eastern Phoebe and a Female Cardinal. It is a lovely way to start any day in the park.
As I head up the Dead Chief Trail I can hear the call of a Red Bellied Woodpecker coming closer. I turn my head and see him sitting in the tree next to me. It is a sight that always makes me smile. I quickly make my way to the Short Cut Trail and I hear the mischievous woodpecker again. I turn to see him on a distant tree looking at me. I am being followed.
I can hear voices and laughter as two young men come in to view. Richard and Jerry are visiting from Paris, Texas and have been enjoying the ice and snow in the Park for the past two days.
When I reach the top of the mountain I can hear the call of another woodpecker but have yet to locate them so I head over to the Pagoda for my view shots. It is like grand central station for birds. I see my first flock of Blue Jays but they are in the distance weaving in and out of bushes. Both Male and Female Cardinals drop in for a quick visit, pecking in the snow and grass gathering up a meal. Jay calls Ring out and they are in trees all around me, they are in a playful mood as gather seeds for their breakfast. The call of a Pileated Woodpecker rings out and I am able to spot him on the distant tree. I feel so blessed to see so many beautiful birds on my hike today.
I promised Rick (my Beloved Fiance’) I would be home earlier today so I can rest up for hiking on the two big up coming snow days. This mean I need to move down the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and exit via the Peak or Honeysuckle Trails. The hike along the HSMT is always enjoyable, it has varied terrain, wildlife and climates. I can hear both woodpeckers and Jay calls as I move down the trail, they are both still following me. The air has warmed a bit and I am finding the paths easier to navigate, the snow is not as crunchy. As I reach the the lower section of the trail I see a cardinal chasing sparrows. The snow and ice are forcing birds out of their normal territories to battle for food. My heart sinks as think of the next snow fall and the stress it will put on resources for the wildlife in the park. The air was rapidly cooling and I noticed the once soft snow was becoming icy again.
When I reached the fork of the Honeysuckle and Hot Springs Mountain Trail the path was now a thick sheet of ice both directions. The trail had warmed and refroze in the 1 hour I had been hiking along the trail. Camera safely in it’s case, I picked up a broken limb that was a perfect walking sick with a sharp point that I could jam into the ice. As I looked down trying to decide how to proceed I noticed a set of deep prints frozen in the ice. Like Cinderella I slipped my boot into one then I stepped forward into the next, the boot fit and stride distance was doable. I was grateful and wished I could thank the hiker who had left me their footsteps in which to follow. Slowly I made my way down the Honeysuckle Trail concentrating on matching my stride to the prints and stabbing the ice with my stick so I would not slide. It was a slow agonizing descent.
I had never been happier to see the Fountain Street Trail, it took me directly to Hot Springs Mountain Road. Although I would have to carefully pick my way down on the dry patches it was not a thick sheet of ice. The miracle footprints went down the two sets of stairs and were even on the road edges. That was when the penny dropped, these were my footprints from Feb 08, the day I was in both a blizzard and a sleet storm. The frozen slushy Slurpee splashes that iced my pants were perfectly preserved by the hard freeze that night. I was the mystery hiker that had blazed a trail that I would need later.
The Universe was looking out for me.
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Hot Springs National Park Facts: The floral trail is the only trail in Hot Springs National Park that you have to go up hill to access either of the two trail heads. The Floral Trail has a trail head on North Mountain and one on Hot Springs Mountain and it does matter which way you travel on the trail you have to go up hill to exit at trail heads.
As I entered the park at 10:30 am the sky was overcast, the Robins were sounding an alarm from the tree tops and there were no Blue Jays or Cardinals to be heard or seen. I immediately looked to West Mountain and saw a Hawk soaring above the trees. It looked like the Hawk was catching a good ride gliding straight and then in slow circles. If you want to clear the lower park of birds and small mammals a Hawk over West Mountain will do it.
I had planned an extensive hike of nearly 7 miles so I headed directly to the top take my Pagoda View Photo. No birds in site and the skies darkening I continued on my journey. As I stepped back onto the Hot Springs Trail a Blue Jay teased me darting in and out of the trees like a game of hide and seek, I love their companionship. Blue Jays are always so quick, I was lucky to get any photos of him/her.
The Blue Jay lightened my heart, I felt as it I was dancing along the many trails on my hike. I connected with the Gulpha Gorge Trail so I could hike the Goat Rock Trail. All night I had dreamed of the lovely wildflowers I had photographed for my blog. I hiked with great care checking all the trail edges and was rewarded with a chance to see a several new wildflowers. Beautiful little blossoms peeking out from dried grass, pine needles and rocks. So delicate in various shades of purple, each with it’s own unique shape.
I hated to leave the little flowers but there were more trails to hike before my return home to my beloved fiance’ Rick. Now for a confession, for the first time since I started hiking I was singing out load heading up the last section of the Goat Rock Trail. Near my connection with the Upper Dogwood Trail a sweet little Black-Capped Chickadee sang back to me and came close enough for me to see them sing. I was having a wonderful day in the forest.
I hiked the Upper Dogwood to the Lower Dogwood and them connected with the Floral Trail. I was excited, this was the only trail on Hot Springs and North Mountains I had not traveled. The trail was rough and it appeared it was not used often, segments of the path had gnarled roots and loose rocks making the upward hike slow. I photographed the rocks on the trail and when I edited the photo I discovered a sweet little yellow and black hover fly with it’s wings out stretched. So many little details in Nature, I wonder how many I miss each day. I was happy to see the honeysuckle trail, it felt like I had been going up hill all day.
The biggest surprise was to be revealed to me on one of my favorite trails. As I crested the first incline of the Honeysuckle Trail I was greeted by a flock of Robins, it was the first time I had seen them on this part of the trail. The bigger surprise was their traveling companion, a large Cedar Waxwing. I kept thinking when I got home my photos would really show it was only a pale Robin, a fine feathered illusion.
I connected with the Peak Trail and as I neared the Tufa Terrace still no birds in site. Walking bent over I checked under bushes and not one feathered creature was to be found. Walking the last of the Tufa Terrace I looked up at a tree on the Promenade and saw several Robins and another Cedar Waxwing, this one smaller than one I had seen earlier. It made me wonder if they had stayed when their flock left before the ice storm. As I was not looking for them amongst the Robins it was a possibility. I had seen Blue Jays and Cardinals together, so why not Robins and Cedar Waxwings.
Everyday in the park is a learning experience, Nature is a wonderful teacher.
Much Love to You All,
You can click on any image in my blog to see a full size enlarged Image.
“Best part of hiking is not know who you’ll meet or what tiny gift nature will give you.” ~ Lee Hiller ©2010
Cloudy skies and birds of prey kept the small mammals and song birds hiding undercover. When I entered the park the only sound was the distant call of a Blue Jay. Not even the Robins were out in force. I looked up to see two large crows fly overhead, the Jay calls became louder.
I hiked up the Dead Chief Trail, the skies darkened and I thought the rains were coming. Some days are meant to be dark so that we can see the beauty often lost to our sight in the bright sunlight. I looked up in the sky and smiled at the clouds. As I looked down I noticed buds were forming on the branches near to where I stood, so sweet the life about to burst forth.
Along the Dead Chief and Short Cut Trails Nature wove a beautiful display in cream & white. Delicate fungus fans layered over the fallen logs on the forest floor. Again I looked to the sky, clouds swirled and branches became black silhouettes.
At the Pagoda the skies remained dark and the voice of a Eagle range loudly as it passed over Indian Mountain. Even the Blue Jays stayed deep in the the bushes sounding the alarm. As I scanned the horizon looking for the eagle Geoff and Chris arrived and let me know they had hiked up the Dead Chief and Short Cut Trails. They were visiting from Florida and Pennsylvania and needed get down the mountain soon as their car was parked on Central Avenue. I suggested they use the Peak Trail for a quicker trip back down to their car.
I suddenly felt the need to go out to Goat Rock and hiked the Hot Springs Mountain Trail to the Gulpha Gorge Trail. The hike was peaceful but I missed the usual bird song. With an eagle so close who could blame them for staying still within the forest trees and bushes. I connected to the Goat Rock Trail and when I arrived at Goat Rock climbed up to the view platform. In the distance an eagle soared on the wind between North and Indian Mountains. It was so beautiful to watch, the eagle left when a small plane appeared over Indian Mountain. (Would love to know the make of the Aircraft see pictures below).
From Goat Rock I followed the trail heading toward the North Mountain Overlook. A jogger was heading my way and I moved to the side to let him pass. I glanced down at my feet, I saw a beautiful violet colored wild flower. As I was positioning myself to take a photo my eye caught site of a tiny lavender bloom. In the darkness of the day Nature revealed two beautiful wildflowers, a posy for my heart.
The memory of the pretty little wildflowers made the trip to the North Mountain Overlook seem mere seconds. The view up top was spectacular, dark sky made the trees seem greener. A car pulled up and lovely blue color (really a blackish gray) American Pit Bull Terrier bounded over to show me some love, she was a real sweetie. A couple from arrived next and I offered to take their photo with his Blackberry.
I looked at my watch and it was already 1:00pm, yikes I had been out three hours. I walked down Hot Springs Road to connect with the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, on to the Honeysuckle Trail, to the Peak, Across the lawn and out of the park.
Live with Nature in Love and she will embrace you.
Love All, Lee
You can click on any image in my blog to see a full size enlarged Image.
Hot Springs Fact: Medical Arts Building was the tallest building in Arkansas from 1929 to 1960. At 16 stories tail this Art Deco Building became the tallest building in the South when built. (see pictures below)
It was a dark and stormy morning, literally. My camera is not an all weather model and I discovered when mist and rain cover the sensor it makes it nearly impossible to use the auto focus LOL. I kept it under the wide brim of my oil cloth Henschel Hat so I could get a few pictures of my lovely adventure.
Rain is a miracle element in the forest and as I entered the park the birds were all in the tops of trees and appeared as silhouettes against the darkening sky. They were basking and feeding in the life giving rain. When I reached the carriage road a tiny little bird was flitting amongst the leaves of a tree. It was moving so fast it took me 10 shots to get one full body photo. (If you can identify the mystery bird I would it you would leave a name in the comments section of the picture page.)
Heading up the Dead Chief Trail I was trying to dry my lens when a squirrel jumped across to a tree and I barely caught him peeking out of the ivy at me. A friend seeing me on my journey. As I moved up the trail I could see everything blossoming around me. Against the darkened sky the colors popped out from everywhere. I am always amazed at how new the trails feels each day I hike.
Up top at the Pagoda the view worsened as fog began to rise up from the ground and the rain came down a bit harder. In the distance I could hear a tree frog chirping and I felt elation at the thought of new lives waking in the park. So small, with a loud voice of joy proclaiming their birth in the forest.
I hiked down the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and the path was glorious. Nature has painted rocks and logs with vibrant greens and oranges. I could hear creeks flowing from the melted ice and 2 days of rain. It was wonderful to feel the change around me. I felt as if I too were a part of the renewing and rebirth.
I decided to go up to the North Mountain Overlook, the view was turbulent not even the eagles were flying today. Darkening clouds and swirls of rising fog spread out before me. The colors were spectacular, blue on the horizon, green and orange framing the hills When I reached the Upper Dogwood I headed back over to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail. The path was vivid, colors exploding from trees and rocks, the clouds remained dark in the sky above me.
When I reconnected with the Hot Springs Mountain Trail I could hear two creeks flowing and I stopped to listen to their song at the point where they merged. My traveling companion, rain, kept falling as I hiked back to the top of Hot Springs Mountain. Then it was back down the Peak Trail to the Tufa Terrace and out the park entrance to my home.
Love the Adventure of Life and let a little Nature in.
Much Love to You All,
Hot Springs National Park Facts: In May 1862, Arkansas Governor Henry Massie Rector moved the state government to his hotel and bathhouse located on Hot Springs Reservation, now Hot Springs National Park. That July, the government seat was moved further south to Old Washington for the remainder of the Civil War.
As I went up the incline of the main entrance I passed remains of the tree that blocked the path for two days. Sadly the tree that broke in two at the entrance was one that has berries which provide food for many birds. Although there are many such trees in the park this one was near the hot spring cascade so was a refuge to eat with a bit of warmth in the icy winter months. It’s life supported so many others in it’s large branches and soft green leaves. The Amazing part, one branch on the broken trunk survived.
Up on the promenade the Robins were singing and having their breakfast feast. On the Tufa Terrace I could here bird call but they were moving to fast to photograph. As a gesture of goodwill a Robin landed in a tree next to me. I was focusing the shot when he flew away and was replaced by a wonderful Red Bellied Woodpecker. A spectacular way to begin my hike.
As I hiked toward the mountain top I notice new bits of green beginning to emerge. Where once dry yellow grass stood little spouts of green appeared. Even the coniferous trees seemed to be a richer green. The ice storm had taken lives, but it has also created new life. The green was exploding everywhere.
Up top a male cardinal allowed me one photo, while his female counterpart sat in a bush nearby. The view from the pagoda still held the after effects of the storm and the sun did not pierce the cloud cover. I headed out on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and began to notice Nature’s after storm artistry. A leaf and some needles trapped in the bark of a short leaf pine. Rocks, trees, stumps and logs were painted with Moss and Lichen. Baby ferns poked their tiny fronds out from under dries leaves.
Further down the trail I met a fellow hiker John from Texas. His wife was busy at the convention center and he was enjoying the many Hot Springs National Park Trails. He had a wonderful smile and my favorite kind of handshake, firm. After a lovely conversation we both headed down the trail in opposite directions.
Coming down the Peak Trail a flock of tiny brown birds arrived, they were so fast. Each smal move I made to get closer sent them farther away. I had all but given up on taking a photo when one landed on a rock in front of me. I pecked at the a large piece of fungus, then flew away. Later at home I identified my first Carolina Wren, so beautiful.
As I headed out of the the park a lovely Robin sang a song to be me farewell.
Find time to get in touch with Nature, it will lift your soul.
Hot Springs National Park Facts: Hot Springs National Park Ranger James Cary was the first National Park Service ranger to be killed in the line of duty. He was shot by bootleggers while patrolling West Mountain on March 12, 1927. (NPS)
I have been wanting to write a poem about my experience in the park, but how could words ever compare to the beauty I see each day. It is a blessing to be able to share with you my experiences in the here, thank you for traveling with me.
Side Trip: Last night a comment appeared in my blog from Ralf Montanus (USGS). He was letting me know the USGS would be uncapping the the springs and installing probes Monday 10:00 am. Once operational the probes will send information to both a Kiosk in the Fordyce Bath House (NPS tourism headquarters) and the USGS online. So of course my first stop was photograph one of the team climbing down in to the spring. It will be amazing to link to the probe data when it’s online and of course take a picture of the new Kiosk. Thank You Ralf for the head up! Those pictured are USPS Ralf Montanus, The guy in the spring box was Dr. Phil Hays, USGS, on loan to UofA, Fayetteville as a professor, Tim Kresse, Ar Water Science Center Water Quality Specialist, Jonathan Gillip, Hydrologist, and part time Geo-Physical specialist. Ralf notes, “I’ll let you know when they put it on line. I hope to have the 1st one up and recording today then our IT Specialists will have to hook it up to the internet. There are 2 planned. Both will be on line and we’ll have a display in the Fordyce Bath house where the public will see the spring as well as the others, on some kind of display. “
I hiked in at the old entrance steps as the tree that fell two night ago had not been removed from the main entrance. It was a blessing, I never would have seen Nature’s artistry on the concrete steps if the tree had been cleared form the path. A delicate filigree pattern that appeared almost as if only a shadow was on each step as climbed up into the park.
Once in the lower level of the park I could hear the ice fall near and distant. Although many of the lower bushes and trees had begun to shed their icy coatings the larger trees where only just beginning. There were no small mammals moving about and the birds were less than happy to be on open ground. I had only seen two squirrels in 3 days as jumping from limb to limb had become risky,ed being on the ground riskier.
The ever adaptable Robins were having breakfast in a frozen tree grabbing ice coated berries. Most of the other birds were flying low under bushes and pecking the ground for food. Getting a photo of any of the birds was problematic as the shifting ice kept sending then deeper into the bushes. If I did not like being pelt with leaf size pieces of ice, it must be brutal for them. As I watch a Blue Jay darting about looking for cover I caught sight of a female Cardinal in a tree above the rising steam from a hot spring release. She looks contented in her tree top sauna.
As climbed up the Dead Chief Trail I can see lovely patches of green re-emerging, the melting ice is rejuvenating the forest. I notice the only sound is the pelting of the ice on the ground and me as I head up the Short Cut Trail. It’s another hail storm and I pick up my pace to get past the larger tree.
As I reach the top I am greeted by a female black throated warbler searching for food and a white throated Sparrow in a near-by tree. I am grateful to be in the company of these lovely creatures. Blessed to have them as my neighbors.
I stroll through the now empty picnic area and over to the Pagoda to embrace the view. As always it was spectacular. I headed down to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail as Robert (see earlier posts) was exiting, he indicates it’s raining ice on the the trail. Like that would ever stop me :o)
Part way along the Trail I decide to hike down the Gulpha Gorge trail and back round to the Dead chief. It had been several weeks since I had gone this route, I was curious to see if the impact of the ice on the south side of Hot Springs Mountain. The Gulpha Gorge Trail is steep, rugged and rocky with lots of older trees, a feeling of being in a more remote location. The Dead Chief Trail in comparison has a wide open, new forest feel with vast clearings.
When I reach the Dead Chief at the Gulpha Gorge incline I do not see the same abundance of damage I have witnessed on the other trails. Yet, I feel great sadness at each broken tree which lays stretched out across the trail, it’s life ended so quickly. As the winter holds dormant the greenery the forest fungus creates it’s own beautiful flowers in yellow and orange along the trail. Nature itis a lovely artist weaving color and texture throughout each season.
Once I reach the carriage road I hear bird song and can catch only glimpses of my feathered friends as I make my way out of the park.
Make everyday an Adventure