Oct. 12, 2003

Sunday I went back to a place I came across on a scouting hike this summer. It's like nothing else I've seen in Arkansas, although that is no doubt because I haven't been looking long enough. While of course it is not at all like the almost other-worldy Antelope Canyon in Arizona, I think it can fairly be described as a slot canyon: it's an area where a creek runs through solid bedrock and has worn a twisting and turning passage about five or so feet wide with vertical walls that are 10 to 20 feet high, and above that very steep earth and stone sides of the surrounding ravine. I'm not sure how far back it extends because I haven't been able to get through it, since the way is blocked about 100 feet in by a large boulder wedged in the passageway, and then beyond that by a vertical rise that may be beyond my very limited ability to scramble up.

While I was up in the canyon photographing Sunday, Junie kept worrying about something, and every now and then she would let out with a kind of worried whimper. I just assumed it was because she didn't want to be up with me in that wet canyon but also didn't want to be separated, and it was her way of telling me to quit mucking around up there. But by and by I started hearing something that I ignored at first because it sounded like a truck laboring up a hill. Then I suddenly realized that I wasn't close enough to a road to be hearing a sound like that and that it was Junie growling, a low, loud, long growl that definitely sounded like she meant business. About that time she started barking, too; so I slipped and clambered my way down and out to try to see what was going on. Well, I didn't see anything, but as there was the distinct possibility that we were at the wrong end of a box canyon with a bear between us and the way out, I started making a little noise, too, to make sure we made our presence known. After a while Junie stopped barking, meaning that if it was a bear, she did what black bears usually do, which is avoid contact with humans if at all possible. So I went back up into the canyon and finished shooting.

On the way out as we were working our way back downstream we did come across what looked like fresh bear sign: several places where earth had been recently gouged, which may have been where a bear was digging for grubs. I hope we didn't disrupt the bear's search for food too much. Right now is a critical time for their survival, when they have to be getting fat for a winter's hibernation. In fact I expect a bear who isn't already fat by now is looking at hard times coming.

So Junie was the perfect bear dog, warning me of possible danger, raising a racket to warn off the bear, and showing no inclination at all to run off to investigate. Perfect.

Saturday's hike was without any sign of bear whatsoever, and started out as a great day for shooting pictures, wet, cloudy, and foggy, and our luck held until about one in the afternoon when it cleared off and started drying out. I took Junie on that hike, too, since she is my photo hiking dog because I can count on her to hang around pretty close to me even when I stop to set up for taking pictures.

There really wasn't much color yet around the creek I had chosen for the hike, but I shot anyway and had a good time, as did Junie, although I got fatigued fairly quickly, this being the first hike since spring that I've carried full photo pack and gear.

One thing I often notice on my hikes, and found to be true on this hike as well, is that many of these creeks that are now on public land once apparently had someone who lived there and tried to make a living from them. Sometimes I've come across what's left of a foundation and a hearth and chimney, and it's not unusual to find what appears to be an old road trace that will run along the creek. In fact, an old grown-up road can be the easiest route for making your way up and down a creek, if you can find one, although they do tend to cross the creek a lot, which means you will too if you use it. The creek I hiked up Saturday had a road trace that we made use of.

So what is that a picture of up there at the top of this page? Gentle reader, I almost forgot. As I was driving to the slot canyon hike, dawn was breaking and beginning to look interesting, and I thought I might just keep on driving so I could try to find a place I could view sunrise in case it turned out to be a keeper. Soon it was clear enough that the sunrise wouldn't be, but that the cloud formations being revealed were worth a better look, and the first place I came across where I was able to get a good unobstructed view of most of the sky turned out to be the Jasper cemetary, where I proceeded to shoot cloud formations for about half an hour. And as I was leaving, I thought that since I was there I might just go over to the Jasper convenience store and pick up some of their spiced potatoes. I do enjoy the spiced potatoes they have there, and come to think of it, my Shelley owes her life at least in part to the fact that I do. But that is a story for another day.