Sept. 28, 2003

I'd be proud to say I got up at midnight, drove for hours and hiked for another couple hours in the dark, uphill all the way, and tossed up my pop tarts in order to get to the right place at the right time to take this shot. But I didn't do that. I drove up the Talimena Scenic Byway one day in March of 1997 after a day of hiking with Megan and parked a little before sunset at a pull-off with a nice view, set up my tripod and camera, waited a few minutes, and snapped this picture.

In case you get the idea that it was just that easy, though, let me say that even though this wonderful opportunity just fell into my lap and I was given the perfect time and the perfect place to take a perfect photograph, I still managed to screw things up by leaving the polarizing filter on my lens, which resulted in some pretty major league lens flare that ruined about half the picture. Ah, the perils of photography. Still the part that wasn't ruined looks pretty good.

This past Saturday Junie and I continued our attempts to get down to the mouth of Falling Rock Hollow, trying to find the road the map said should be there. The forest road that ought to have been the right one gave out about a mile in; so we scouted around hoping to pick up a road trace we could follow. We did find an old grown up logging road, but the occasional sumac and grasses we encountered at first soon gave way to an impassable thicket of brush, saplings, briars, and other vegetation. Well, trying to fight our way through that wasn't any fun, and it didn't seem to be getting us any closer to our goal of finding a passable way down to the hollow; so we gave up on that and headed back to the car. I had about given up on finding that road, too, and was ready to conclude that it just wasn't there any more. But on the way out I noticed a side road that looked like it would just go back a few hundred yards and then end at a logged area, and wouldn't you know, it turned out to be the way we were looking for. Unfortunately it was impassable to my little car, and maybe impassable to about anything but a tractor or an ATV, although a jeep might make it.

It was about a two mile walk from there down to the hollow and about a thousand foot elevation drop, most of the drop occurring in the first and last half miles with a fairly level mile in the middle. Several times along the way I very distinctly smelled grapes, and even found some that had fallen in the road bed, but couldn't find the vines they came from left or right, until finally it occurred to me to look up, and that's where the vines were, entwined in the lower branches overhead.

Junie took off after something at one point, and though I heard whatever it was she was chasing, it seemed like it was moving so fast I couldn't turn fast enough to ever catch up with the sound and actually see what it was. Needless to say, it was too fast for her and soon enough she came trotting back.

The hollow is broad and flat at its mouth, and although we didn't stay long, we did discover a sign that the land had at one time been settled and farmed: several adjacent piles of rock situated along a slight rift between two large level areas, no doubt rock cleared from land used as fields or pastures at one time. Of course the entire area is wooded now.

Sunday was Sophie's turn for a hike, and I decided to take her down to the Ozark Highlands Trail and walk along it for awhile in the area between Hurricane Creek and White Rock Mountain. It was a beautiful, cool, sunny early fall day, and unlike the day before, I did not pick up an escort of gnats; so maybe the cool nights we are having are beginning to lay siege to the kingdom of insects and will soon put an end to the bugs of summer. I will not miss the chiggers.

The trail was for the most part pretty level and easy walking for as long as we followed it. All along the way I noticed signs of fire damage that had occurred within the last few or five years, burnt stumps and blackened trunks, as well as a dead and bare generation of understory trees and saplings. But apparently the fire or fires hadn't been severe enough to affect the large mature trees of the canopy much.

I think Sophie and I would have made it all the way to White Rock, but a couple miles in we encountered a big patch of dense brush and vegetation that completely obliterated the trail and was a fight to get through, and that left me covered with an assortment of burrs and seeds. We did get through it but couldn't find the trail on the other side high or low, even though we went back through that mess again to see if we could figure out where we went wrong, but still with no luck. So after exploring in that area a little and enjoying it for awhile, we turned around and headed back with the idea that we would come in from the other direction next week to try to find out where we went wrong. I wonder if this grown up area is part of a transitional ecology resulting from the disruption caused by fire?