Hard Work and Sweat

September 14, 2011

Imagine a group of Indians sitting quietly under the shade of a tree, wiping sweat from their brow and calculating how many more trips they must make with their baskets to complete their newest mound.  They have made countless trips already and their efforts are almost complete.  Hard work and sweat were some of the tools used recently to preserve a piece of Arkansas’ history.  Recently, the staff at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park worked side by side with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, volunteers from the Arkansas Archeological Society, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commissions “Stream Team” to stop the erosion of one of the mound slopes at the park.  A sense of accomplishment was the end result, knowing that we had done our part to preserve this piece of the past.  Here is our story.

Artifacts

Artifacts

One fall afternoon, the park staff was picking up trash along the lake bank and discovered several artifacts that had surfaced on Mound P.  The fluctuating water levels of the lake had partly caused the erosion of the back side of this mound.  The survey archeologist at the time was Dr. Jane Anne Blakney-Bailey.  Under her direction, we surface collected the artifacts and started making plans to stabilize the slope.  The picture to the right shows some of the artifacts that were collected.

Bone disc

Bone disc

One of the first things that needed to be done was to excavate a portion of the mound.  This area of the site was uncharted territory for professional archeologist so this was an exciting opportunity to explore the mound.  The Arkansas Archeological Society and the Arkansas Archeological Survey held the annual training dig at Toltec Mounds during the summer of 2010.  Under the direction of Dr. Blakney-Bailey, Mound P was selected as a dig location.  There were six units opened up and a wide variety of artifacts and features were discovered at this location during excavation.  The picture shows a one of the artifacts  that was found as a result of this excavation.

Once the excavation was complete, further plans were made to stabilize the mound so that more artifacts were not lost to erosion.  Park Superintendent Stewart Carlton worked to find the best possible methods to get the job done.  He enlisted the advice and help of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Stream Team” and the current resident archeologist Dr. Elizabeth Horton.  They worked together to develop a preservation plan.  The plan was carried out on August 31st, 2011.  The loose vegetation was cleared away and coconut matting was placed directly on the mound surface and held in place with wooden stakes.  Large tree trunks were then laid down and secured at the base of the mound with metal cables.  The final step was to plant and encourage vegetation to grow on the mound slope.  Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words…

This long vanished culture (archeologists call them the Plum Bayou Culture) can speak to us only through artifacts and features like the mounds.  Archeologists get one chance to read the true story of the Plum Bayou Culture.  If erosion, animal burrows or looting get in the way, accurate information is lost forever.  Preserving archeological features allows archeologists a chance to see features of the site undisturbed.  Saving these 1,200 year old features provides priceless information for future generations.

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe, Park Interpreter

Robin Gabe has been a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park for eight years. She began her career with Arkansas State Park system as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Poinsett State Park. She grew up in Caldwell, Arkansas and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1997.


Wings on the Wind

August 30, 2011

Sitting on a bluff overlooking a vast landscape is a great way to enjoy a September morning on Mount Magazine. Scanning the horizon with a good set of binoculars helps spot wings on the wind. Southward migration has started for many species of birds and some butterflies. The unpredictable nature of migration watching requires diligence. Some days are a bust due to weather conditions. But other days can be outstanding with a good diversity of species and numbers of individuals.

For the column of states including Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana Mount Magazine is the highest point above sea level. Perhaps to a migrant it represents a landmark and/or an obstacle for navigation. For many it is a convenient rest stop.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

A red-tailed hawk catching a thermal.

Broad-winged hawks usually top the tally. They rest overnight in forested areas. As thermals begin to build during the day, one by one, they leave the canopy to catch rising air. Circling in these unseen currents hawks gain elevation rapidly. It is possible to have over a hundred broad-winged hawks swirling in a thermal at one time.  This is called a kettle. Reaching the top of the thermal they slip out, with wings set, gliding southward. Losing elevation as they approach the northern edge of Mount Magazine where they take advantage of updrafts to lift them just over the bluffs.

Tall bluffs flanking Ross Hollow create a funnel which many birds of prey use to cross over the mountaintop as if it were a major highway. The northern tip of Cameron Bluff offers a great vantage point for scanning the horizon and the hollow. Birds can be above, below, or even at eye level, offering opportunities to study field marks for identification.

There are many other species seen migrating over Mount Magazine other than broad-winged hawks. Red-tailed, red-shouldered, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks, northern harriers, ospreys, vultures, bald eagles, American kestrels, and even peregrine falcons have been seen from Cameron Bluff during September. White pelicans, song birds, and butterflies are also seen.

Monarchs and a few other migrating butterflies use the same updrafts to lift themselves over the mountain. Many will take the Mount Magazine exit to refuel on patches of wildflowers along park roadsides. Tickseed sunflower must appear like “golden arches” to these adolescent insects. Late arrivals often cluster together on “tree hotels” with southwestern views.  Some monarchs will be tagged and released to continue their way southward to their winter vacation in Mexican mountains.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

A female Monarch Butterfly enjoys a stop over at Mount Magazine.

On the south side of the mountain migrating hawks seek out more thermals over the Petit Jean River Valley to help them get through the Ouachita Mountains. Turkey vultures are masters of riding updrafts and thermals. It seems as though some hawks key in on vultures to find thermals.

While sitting on Cameron Bluff, waiting for the next passerby, enjoy either solitude with a spectacular view or conversations with other watchers with various backgrounds and experiences. Pick up tips on hawk identification. Take advantage of unique photo opportunities.

A park interpreter is offering migration watching sessions at Mount Magazine State Park in September. Check the schedule.

So pack your binoculars, lawn chairs, water, and snacks, drive to the northern tip of Cameron Bluff Overlook Drive in Mount Magazine State Park, and watch wings on the wind.

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons is a Park Interpreter at Mount Magazine State Park. One of the state’s great naturalists, Don has been showing and explaining the “Natural State” to visitors for 29 years, at Daisy State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and now at Mount Magazine. Don is also an excellent photographer whose work can be seen throughout the Mount Magazine Lodge and Visitor Center and in publications. Don has the unique ability to entertain children and adults at the same time while also teaching about the world around them. Don is an active member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter.


Crater of Diamonds State Park: A wonderful and crazy place

July 28, 2011

When I accepted the park interpreter job at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, I had no idea what a wonderful, fascinating, amazing, and sometimes crazy place this park would turn out to be.  So, I want to share with you some of the wonderful and crazy things that make this park so unique.

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Of course, the first thing that makes this park so unique is that our visitors are allowed to hunt for diamonds, and then are allowed to keep them.  Yes, real, sometimes valuable, diamonds.  But, the crazy part is that they not only get to keep any of the diamonds that they find, they also are allowed to take home any of the over 40 other rocks and minerals that are found here.  In fact, each visitor is allowed to take home the equivalent of a 5-gallon bucket of those rocks and minerals.

The Crater is a small park, only a little over 800 acres, in a rural area of southwest Arkansas, 40 miles from the interstate and 60 miles from the nearest city.  The crazy part is that last year over 119,000 people found their way to this park.  Even more amazing is the distance that people will come to this visit this park.  Last spring I gave a demonstration to three men—one from Washington State, one from Florida, and one from Texas.  As I am chatting with visitors I often ask them if their stop at the Crater is part of a more extensive road trip.  I find it astonishing the number of times they answer “Oh no, we intended to come here and this was the only destination on our trip.”  So, this obscure little park is actually a destination, in the same way that Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks are destinations.  Every year we have visitors from almost every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii.  We even have a significant number of visitors from foreign countries.  It is a wonderful place to work because our visitors are so diverse.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

All of the dreams that people have when they come to this park is another wonderful thing.  For many of our visitors their Crater visit is the fulfillment of a dream that sometimes has continued for as long as twenty years.  The crazy part is that it is impossible to guess which person in the group was the one with the dream.  Sometimes it is a young child, as young as 10 years old, who somehow learned about the Crater and has been badgering his or her parents to bring him here ever since.  Sometimes it is an elderly person, like one visitor, who was in hospice and decided that one of the last things she wanted to do was to gather her family, come to the Crater, and watch them hunt for diamonds as she sat at the edge of the field in a wheelchair.  Grandparents who visited the park as a child bring their grandchildren.  Often the trip is a family outing, bringing everyone from the newborn to the great-grand parent, and all of the parents and cousins in between.

I enjoy eavesdropping on our visitors as they dream aloud to the other members of their party about what they would do if they found “The Big One.”  Everyone, young or old, always has something that they would do or buy if they found that large diamond.  But it is also crazy that coming to this small state park can be, and sometimes has been, a life-changing event for our visitors.  Everyone celebrates when they find a diamond, whether it is the tiniest gem that is just industrial grade, or it is a large, flawless diamond, possibly worth tens of thousands of dollars.  For those of us who work at the park and get to be part of these almost daily celebrations, each diamond registration is a fun experience.

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Most people have a pretty good idea about what they are going to do when they plan their visit to a state park.  They already know how to fish or play golf, and have been hiking and camping for many years.  At the Crater it is a rare individual who arrives already knowing how to hunt for diamonds.  Many expect it to be a mine and they will have to go underground.  Most have never seen a rough diamond, and so have no idea what they are looking for.  As a staff member it is a constant challenge to help our visitors figure out the information they need to find a diamond.  We provide videos, demonstrations, and exhibits on finding diamonds, so that our visitors will have the best possible chance.  However, I find it fascinating to see the inventive things that people bring to the Crater as potential diamond finding equipment.  The range is very broad, from a dryer lint screen to elaborate homemade and hand-powered shakers and sifters.

But, the most crazy and wonderful part of the Crater experience is what a good time people have when they visit.  It can be 20 degrees in January with a quarter of an inch of ice on the wash troughs, or it can be 100 degrees in the shade in July.  It can be a sea of mud from one end of the field to the other.  If you ask a visitor if they had a good time, when they bring up their precious rocks that they have carefully chosen, hoping that one is a diamond, they almost all will report that they had fun.  Many of them are already planning what they will do when they come back the next time.  With that kind of response, it is a privilege to work at this small unique park with its large visitor experience.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is a recent convert to working as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those beautiful and fascinating diamonds.


Exploring Nature on the Trails at Cossatot River State Park

March 15, 2011

“The book of nature has no beginning as it has no end.” (Jim Corbett)

I am excited to tell you about the four trails we have and how our longest trail (“River Corridor”) is now completed for you to “experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

The Visitor Center at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a good place to start before any hike.

Starting with our shortest trail, “The Waterleaf Interpretive Trail.”   This trail begins at the Visitor Center and includes a section of barrier-free trail along the ridge top.  This ½ mile trail goes down the North Slope to the Highway 278 river access.  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.  The trail is marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning a hill to climb either way back to the top of the ridge).

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Brush Creek Nature Trail Sign.

Our next shortest trail is, “Brushy Creek Interpretive Trail.”  This trail starts on the west side of the river and provides barrier-free access to a pedestrian walkway over the river.  The trail continues to the picnic area on the east side of this recreation area.  This ¾ mile trail meanders through mixed—Pine and hardwood, and offers a scenic view overlooking the Cossatot River/Brushy Creek union.  The numbered trees in the Trail Guide brochure corresponds with numeric labels placed near matching species along the trail.  The Trail head is located 9 miles east of Vandervoort on the east side of Brushy Creek Recreation Area.  It will end after you descend a flight of stairs into the parking lot.  This trail is also marked with yellow medallions with a backpacker in the middle to help guide you along.  This trail is rated easy to moderate (moderate meaning stairs to climb and a few small hills to get to the top of the ridge).  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Harris Creek Trail Sign.

Starting with our longer trails, the “Harris Creek Trail,” begins just off of Highway 278 near the Baker Creek Bridge and meanders through 3.5 miles of mature forest between Harris Creek and the river.  The trail is marked with a blue medallion with a backpacker in the middle to show you the way.  The trail is scenic, and sections of the trail are rugged and steep.  Wear appropriate shoes and clothing and carry water.  This trail is rated easy (short section of the trail), then moderate to difficult (moderate meaning several inclines and then it changes into steep switch backs.  After you have made it to the top of the switch backs you will be walking on an old log road back to the parking area/trail head area.)  Please be careful and enjoy Arkansas’s natural world.

Finally, our last trail is the “River Corridor Trail.”  The River Corridor trail has been reconstructed over the last two years and is now a first class hiking facility. This trail is 14 miles long with several access points along the way.  The trail is divided into three segments the first section starting at the park’s Brushy Creek Recreational Area on Arkansas Highway 246; approximately nine miles east of Vandervoort.  It ends at Ed Banks, which is a five mile hike.  The second section is from Ed Banks to the Falls, and it is a 2 mile hike.  The third and final section is the longest part.  It is a 7 mile hike from the Falls to the U.S. Highway 278 Access Area, below the Visitor Center.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

River Corridor Trail Sign.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

Steps and Bridge on the River Corridor Trail.

This entire trail is blazed in blue and is rated strenuous.  Hikers have the option of walking the entire trail or choosing a particular segment.  The trail is excellent for a two-to-three-day backpacking adventure; however, hikers are asked to camp at the park’s designated camping facilities located at the Cossatot Falls, Sandbar Area, and the Ed Banks Area, or the undeveloped U.S. Highway 278 Access.  Also you need to stop in at the Visitor Center (located on the U.S. Highway 278 Area) to fill out a Yellow Slip (Trail Register) to hang on your mirror.

According to Park Superintendent Stan Speight, “hikers have the opportunity to choose a trail length that best fits the amount of time they have to go hiking.”  He noted that the shortest segment is the middle section which stretches two miles in length.  “Trail enthusiasts can enjoy a morning or afternoon hike, and all-day hike, or a weekend of adventure experiencing the entire 14 miles,” said Speight.  “And since the trail follows the Cossatot River Corridor, each segment offers the opportunity to experience the seasonal natural beauty along this wild and scenic river.”

With all four of our trails, Please take only pictures and leave only footprints.  We support the LNT (Leave No Trace) Principles, which are:  Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave what you Find, Respect Wildlife, and Be Considerate of other Visitors.

If you have any questions or comments contact a park ranger or call (870) 385-2201.  We hope you enjoy your stay at the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area.

From start to finish there are 20 –miles of different diverse hiking trails.  Trails are a great way to engage in nature.  There are amazing things to see if you look close enough.  Start with experiencing aspects of nature that you can directly relate to with your physical, sensory, or emotional senses.  You can also join or make reservations to have a personal Interpreter Guide as you hike along a trail.Your connections with nature will continue to go deeper and deeper as you ask questions and follow your sense of wonder.  This connection is what brings about a sense of meaning in our lives—it deepens in each one of us a sense that we have a special place in this precious world.

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary, Park Interpreter

Shelley Flanary is a park interpreter at Cossatot River State Park – Natural Area. She has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2001, starting out as a seasonal interpreter at DeGray Lake Resort, Lake Catherine, and Petit Jean State Parks. Shelley earned her degree in Parks and Recreation Management from Henderson State University in 2005. She is also an NAI Certified Interpretive Guide, recreational kayak instructor, and emergency first responder.


Petit Jean State Park’s Archeological Treasures

July 1, 2010
Bison Drawing

Bison Drawing

Most visitors to Petit Jean State Park in the Arkansas River Valley remember it as a place of majestic scenery, beautiful trails, and hospitable, friendly people at the park’s visitor center or historic Mather Lodge.  But those interested in the distant past will also remember fascinating geology, as well as rare rock art found in the park’s primary archeological site: the Rock House Cave.  Petit Jean State Park holds a treasure trove of archeological significance.

By 900 AD, Native Americans across the southeast began to settle along main waterways, including the great Mississippi River as well the Arkansas River to the west.  This time

Footprint Drawing

Footprint Drawing

period is known as the Mississippian Era.  A new way of life developed based on the agricultural production of beans and squash, as well as corn imported from long-distance trade with people from the south.  Fortified towns arose, and platform mounds were used for ceremonial purposes.  Societies developed that were highly organized, and there were powerful leaders among provinces.

One such province was called Cayas, and it was located near Petit Jean Mountain.  The Arkansas River, which flows just north of Petit Jean Mountain, was then called the River of Cayas.  The people of the scattered settlement of Tanico, in the province of Cayas just

Head Dress Drawing

Head Dress Drawing

west of Petit Jean Mountain, made beautiful pottery, gathered crops, made excursions to find wild game, and to gather salt – a highly-valued element necessary to the survival of the people.  Salt was also traded for other goods when enough could be gleaned by boiling it from brackish ponds.  It is highly probable that rock art found today in Petit Jean State Park was created by the culture that inhabited Tanico.

During tours to the Rock House Cave, visitors often ask if Indians once lived on the mountain.  The answer is yes, especially in earlier eras dating back to the Paleoindiantime, around 10,000 years ago.  By the time of Mississippian culture, though,

Mississipian Symbol Drawing

Mississipian Symbol Drawing

what we know today as Rock House Cave, above Cedar Creek’s lower canyon, was only inhabited during special rites of passage or sacred ceremonies.  In fact, the Petit Jean Mountain plateau was possibly considered a sacred area – a great temple mound above the River of Cayas.

The meaning of the rock art that remains today is still mysterious in many regards.  Some figures clearly represent animals – zoomorphic.  Others are in the likeness of people – anthropomorphic.  Painted images are called pictographs.  Etched or carved images are called petroglyphs.  Long-lasting paint was probably made by adding ground-up mineral pigments of hematite, magnetite, or possibly charcoal to a sticky substance such as

Paddlefish in Trap Drawing

Paddlefish in Trap Drawing

blood, animal fat or even egg white.

In the Rock House Cave today, interested people may find the likeness of a paddlefish, next to a fish trap made of woven wood, or an often-used symbol which also appeared on Tanico pottery but whose meaning has been lost, or the likeness of a woodland bison, or a symbol of an important person in headdress, or a strange snake-like, or river-like, curved image next to a footprint.  The visitor’s guess may be as good as the local archeologist’s.

Those who come to Petit Jean State Park are invited to see this authentic Native American rock art first hand.  But please treat it with care.  Graffiti and wear-and-tear from heavy park visitation takes its toll.  The Rock House Cave is one of the few places where anyone, with no special permission required, may discover such precious windows to the past on any day of the week, from 8:00 AM until dusk.  Come and see them for yourself.

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones, Park Interpreter

BT Jones is a park interpreter at Petit Jean State Park and has worked there since 2005.  He holds a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  BT is a member of the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) and holds a Certified Interpretive Guide credential.  He is also a Leave No Trace (LNT) master educator and works as an advocate for Arkansas wilderness as a wilderness ranger.  BT’s pasttimes are nature and wildlife photography, hiking and backpacking, and helping to preserve Arkansas’s wilderness and natural areas.  He most enjoys hiking with park visitors and presenting programs on Petit Jean’s natural and historical features.


An Adventure in Spring

April 5, 2010
The main trailhead for three of the trails at Lake Catherine.

The main trailhead for three of the trails at Lake Catherine.

Spring has come to the park once again. I love the smells and sounds of this time of year. There are tiny buds all over the trees. The spring birds are back and filling up the air with their songs.  The winter bleakness is behind us. The warm air hits my face as I hike on one of our trails here at Lake Catherine State Park. I decide to hike Falls Branch.

There is so much to see on this trail. There is a nice little creek that greets you at the beginning. There are a series o f bridges that you must cross to traverse the trail. In front of me, I find a fern garden. The fiddleheads are poking through.

As I start to climb upwards I am greeted by the novaculite glade. Novaculite is a very special rock found in Hot Springs. The Native Americans used this rock extensively in their everyday life. You may know it as the knife sharpening stone or whetstone. This rock weathers very slowly.

I continue on my journey stopping for a moment at a bench to rest and take a drink. There is a slight breeze blowing that gently pushes my hair from my face. I hike on. There is a group of rocks to my left that overlooks the area I just came from, I affectionately nicknamed them the Pulpit Rock as I can imagine someone standing in front of them and reading a verse or two.

Serviceberry is one of the early blooms of spring.

Serviceberry is one of the early blooms of spring.

There is no creek on top of the mountain right now, but I know that I will pick up Falls Creek Falls soon. Upwards I climb, I pass the intersection of where Falls Branch meets Horseshoe Mountain and I know that I am on the downward stretch.  All around the Serviceberry has bloomed. I hear that they received their name because of the early days when there were traveling preachers, this was the bloom that coincided with the first services of the year as the snow melted and roads became passable again.  I start hearing the creek and I know that I will be on the home stretch soon.

There are many downed trees from previous storms around me and I am in awe to see the root system that they have and know that this tree had stood for 50 years before an ice storm or a mighty wind took it down.

Sitting and listening to Falls Creek Falls is a great way to spend an early spring day.

Sitting and listening to Falls Creek Falls is a great way to spend an early spring day.

CCC steps along the trail.

CCC steps along the trail.

As I continue my journey down, I start seeing the series of waterfalls that will lead to the major waterfall. One waterfall has moss growing down and the water drips off the moss into the pool below.  I watch my footing as I descend steps built by the Civilian Conservation Corps many  years ago. Finally, I am at the waterfall. It is flowing pretty well as we had rain and it filled the creek. I take a few pictures and head on. I am almost to the finish now.  I see the lake in front of me and then there is Remmel Dam. The dam was built in 1924 and was the first hydroelectric dam in the state of Arkansas. This dam created Lake Catherine.

The Swinging Bridge on the Falls Branch Trail.

The Swinging Bridge on the Falls Branch Trail.

I come to the swinging bridge. I love this part, wobbling across this bridge that expands over a small ditch.  I round the curve and see Bald Cypress trees to my right. This about the only place in the park that these trees are found. They love wet soil.

I walk on to the parking lot and my journey is finished for now.

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp is the park interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park and has worked there since 2006. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide and a member of the National Association for Interpretation. Julie enjoys photography and playing with her dogs in her spare time. She grew up camping in the state parks and likes to share nature with park visitors.


One of these days…to the moon!

April 1, 2010
Moon Phases

Moon Phases

Some people believe it can foretell bad weather; others say it heralds good fortune. Some say it’s made of cheese while others think it controls their moods and mental state.  Superstition or no, the moon does hold a certain sway over many people. The first people to study the moon were Babylonian astronomers, beginning a science still cultivated in nearly every country. It’s the only other rock in space which mankind has bothered to visit, spending decades of time and billions of dollars for the right to plant a flag and be the first there. And nearly everyone can recall a time when they have heard, or said, “Wow! Look at the moon!”

Where's the Cheese?

Where's the Cheese?

Simply viewed from Earth with the unaided eye the moon can be a beautiful sight, but have you ever taken a closer look?

Solidified volcanic pools and giant impact craters cover the moon, giving evidence of its violent past. When viewed with the naked eye, these features appear as various black, white and gray areas. The first astronomers to map the moon believed these areas to be full of water and named many of them as seas. The name has stuck, even though today’s astronomers know there is no liquid water on the moon.

When viewed with even low power binoculars, these formations sharpen into an impressive three dimensional picture. Many people are amazed to discover that the edges of the moon are not smooth, but riddled with craters, giving it a “chewed” or torn appearance. Cracks feather out from the point of impact, giving them depth and showing the force behind their creation. Each phase of the moon creates a new “edge” on the moon, highlighting different formations, making each of these nights spent with the moon a new treat.

The moon has created wonder and legend for centuries.

The moon has created wonder and legend for centuries.

Just as you have a story for each scar earned, each formation on the moon has its own story. A moon map or astronomical field guide can help you learn more of the moon’s tale. Many astronomy web sites offer free moon maps, with natural features and moon landings marked. Looking more closely at these features on the moon can help you imagine the sites welcoming our astronauts.

As the moon rises and the sky darkens, the shadows cast across its surface give our natural satellite even more depth. As with the stargazing, the best moon watching is often done from dark areas. The lack of light pollution helps create a sharper image and increase clarity. Parks are a great place to go when looking for darker skies, but any remote, open area will work.

Throughout time, people have held many beliefs centered on the moon, with some cultures even worshiping it as a deity. While we know the moon is made of rock, and not cheese, it still holds a fair amount of mystery. Whatever your astronomical and astrological beliefs about the moon may be, head out into the dark and take a closer look at your moon.

Arkansas State Parks has numerous moon oriented programs, events and tours. Try a Full Moon Cruise or Kayak Tour, Astronomy Program or other evening program. The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park was designed with dark skies in mind and is a perfect place to view the moon and other celestial bodies.

Brandy Oliver, Park Interpreter

Brandy Oliver, Park Interpreter

Brandy Oliver is the lodge activities director at Mt. Magazine State Park. She has been a seasonal interpreter at Lake DeGray and Lake Catherine State Park. She has a Bachelors Degree in Outdoor Recreation and Park Management from Henderson State University and is a Certified Interpretive Guide.


Two Roads…

March 22, 2010

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.     -Robert Frost  “The Road Not Taken”

A portion of the Great River Road passes through Mississippi River State Park.

A portion of the Great River Road passes through Mississippi River State Park.

I’m lucky enough to have several roads less traveled in Mississippi River State Park.  Two of these roads are pretty well-known:  the Great River Road, running the entire length of the Mississippi River, and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, that highlights Arkansas’s most unique natural division.  Being two of only three national scenic byways in Arkansas, you would expect these roads to draw lots of traffic.  But here in Lee County, they, like much of the region, quietly exist.   Both byways turn to dirt roads as they plunge through the murky heart of the only national forest on Crowley’s Ridge.  I have seen it time and again: motorcyclists wisely turn around and bypass this section of road, while birders and nature lovers delight in the wilderness.

The Great River Road, or the “low road”, as called by locals, skirts the eastern edge of Crowley’s Ridge.   When the spring rains bring the Mississippi River out of its banks, the low road often goes under water.  Because of this floodplain, you can count on one hand the number of people living on the low road.  Here, Crowley’s Ridge acts as the levee to protect the rest of the Delta from flooding.  It also creates swampy lowlands bordered by giant overhanging trees.  At one point you can drive down to the banks of the Mississippi River, experiencing the river on a personal level.

Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, called the “high road”, drives directly through the National Forest.   This section is uninhabited until you reach the outskirts of West Helena.  Overlooks allow views of the Mississippi River and the Delta.  Limbs seem to interlock overhead creating a green tunnel to drive through.  At times the winding, twisting road comes within 100 yards of the low road, just 150 feet higher and worlds apart.  The trees, the plants, and even the wildlife are different.

Wildlife abounds at Mississippi River State Park

Wildlife abounds at Mississippi River State Park

Animals abound along these roads.  Grey Squirrels prefer the upper forest, the huskier Fox Squirrels the lower areas.  Birds likewise separate into woodland and water-loving species.  At night, deer, opossum and raccoons seem to be around every corner.  Stopping, turning off your vehicle and sitting still will produce the sounds of the deep woods rather quickly.  Owls are guaranteed at this time of the year – Barred in the evening and Great Horned deep in the night.

These roads were not built for speed.  A stately 20 mph is about all you can do on the twisting, loose gravel.  On the high road, if you try to go too fast you can very quickly find yourself on the way to the low road.  This forces you to slow down, take in the scenery and appreciate the going, not just the getting there.

For me, in life and in traveling, the road less traveled is always the better one to take.  Take some time, take out your map and turn off the GPS – they don’t work well on back roads anyway.  Spend a little time exploring the back roads in your area.  That road that most folks say leads to nowhere, often leads to the best somewhere of all.

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

John Morrow, Park Superintendent

John Morrow began work at Mississippi River State Park as the first superintendent for the park in February 2009.  He has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2000, first as interpreter at Lake Chicot (2000-2003), then as interpreter at Petit Jean State Park (2003-2005), then as the first Chief Interpreter at Historic Washington (2005-2009).  His specialties are in interpretation and the application of interpretation to planning and managing a park.  He has graduated from the Park Superintendent Training Program, is a Certified Heritage Interpreter, Certified Interpretive Trainer as well as a First Responder and SAR Tech II.  He likes spending time with his family and antiquing with his wife.


Capturing the Magic of Waterfalls

March 18, 2010
Longer exposure times will help you "silk" the water as it falls.

Longer exposure times will help you "silk" the water as it falls.

There is something uplifting about natural waterfalls. They are simply examples of gravity at work. It could be a little ripple and splash over a rocky rivulet.  It could be a brook babbling playfully through the heart of a forest or a trickle tumbling down a series of stair steps of a wet season streambed.  It could be a washboard cascade sliding down a mountainside or rapids of a young river bouncing from boulder to boulder.

It could be a thunderous leap from a high cliff into a pool below.

No matter its size or volume a waterfall adds quality to any hiking adventure: Beautiful in so many ways, yet these same sites would go almost unnoticed without splashing water. Mount Magazine State Park and a few other Arkansas State Parks offer plenty of opportunities to truly experience nature at its best.

Waterfalls enhance our senses.  Listen to their trickles or roars.  No two have the same music or rhythm.  Each seems to have a pulse like a living entity.  Feel their spray and vibration. Breathe in their pure, cool, misty air.  Soak in light and dark contrasts of their natural colors.  Let them wash away your worries.

There is a scientific explanation for this. Thunderstorms, crashing waves, and waterfalls split air molecules, creating negative ions which have positive effects on our brains. So if you suffer from cabin fever, seek out a waterfall.

Artists spend hours trying to capture essences of waterfalls with oil or watercolor paints.  Many people whip out little pocket cameras for quick snapshots.  Some pose in the foreground to let everybody they know they had been there.  Almost every coffee table book and calendar of natural scenery contains magnificent images of waterfalls.  Tim Ernst published a wonderful coffee table book that focuses on waterfalls in Arkansas, as well as a guide to locating many of them.

Look around, sometimes it's a unique perspective that makes the picture.

Look around, sometimes it's a unique perspective that makes the picture.

Most of today’s point-and-shoot cameras don’t have the features or lens quality to take more artistic photos.  For good quality landscape photography you need a camera that has changeable settings. 

Two things to remember when trying to capture such quality images are “slow down” and “hold still.”  

“Slow down” refers to the shutter speed on your camera.  Exposure times need to be at least half a second.  “Hold still” suggests that a tripod is required.

More important is getting out to those wild places. Many waterfalls are in rugged, hard to get to locations that can challenge adventurous explorers. This is true about many of Mount Magazine State Park’s waterfalls. Creeks flow in all directions from the mountain, especially after rainfall. Many of these waterfalls are outside state park boundaries, are seldom visited, and lack names. This writer has not seen all of the waterfalls Mount Magazine has to offer. This rugged mountain does not give up all her secrets easily.

Sometimes the season matters. A clear view of the falls is the norm in Winter but it maybe obscured in the Summer.

Sometimes the season matters. A clear view of the falls is the norm in Winter but it maybe obscured in the Summer.

“Slow down” also refers to your experience in wild places.  Before taking photographs, study, listen, and soak in all it has to offer.  Memories will come flooding back each time you view images captured by your camera.  Let them wash away your worries.

Tips for taking great waterfall photographs will be shared during a new program at Mount Magazine State Park on March 19th.  The following morning an expedition will venture out to visit at least four waterfalls in the park.  These activities will be repeated on March 25th and 26th.

For details check our website: www.MountMagazineStatePark.com.

 

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

Don Simons, Park Interpreter

–Don Simons works as the Park Interpreter at Mount Magazine State Park. One of the state’s great naturalists, Don has been showing and explaining the “Natural State” to visitors for 28 years, at Daisy State Park, Lake Chicot State Park and now at Mount Magazine. Don is also an excellent photographer whose work can be seen throughout the Mount Magazine Lodge and Visitor Center and in publications. Don has the unique ability to entertain children and adults at the same time while also teaching about the world around them. Don is an active member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter.


Musings of a Westerner on the Natural State

March 1, 2010

I moved to Arkansas in March last year to take the position of park interpreter at the Crater of Diamonds State Park.  Until that time I had spent most of the previous twenty years living in the Pacific Northwest, in particular Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon.  In my life I have moved around quite a bit, living in 13 states if I include Arkansas.  Moving to different parts of the country is a bit like visiting a foreign country, even though we supposedly all speak the same language and have the same general culture.  So, I have had fun over of the last year getting to know Arkansas’ countryside and cultural idiosyncrasies.

The mountains of Arkansas are an unexpected pleasure of our out-of-state visitors.

The mountains of Arkansas are an unexpected pleasure of our out-of-state visitors.

I will admit that before moving to Arkansas I knew very little about the Natural State.  I grew up in central Illinois and my family travelled fairly widely.  However, the only family visit to Arkansas was a spring break spent in Hot Springs, and those memories were very faint.  Somehow, Arkansas never came up when people talked about beautiful places to visit.  This surprises me now, because Arkansas really is one of the most beautiful places that I have lived.  It doesn’t have the dramatic beauty of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Big Sky Country of Montana and Idaho.  It isn’t as lush as the Pacific coasts of Oregon and Washington.  And it doesn’t have the dramatic canyons of Arizona and Utah.  Instead, it has a gentle and comfortable kind of beauty with panoramas of blue hills seen from its high points, like Mt. Magazine and Queen Wilhelmina State Parks.

Beautiful hardwood and pine forests make for great hiking throughout "The Natural State."

Beautiful hardwood and pine forests make for great hiking throughout "The Natural State."

I particularly love the open woodlands with their mix of hardwoods and pines.  In the summer they embrace like a lovely green room, and in the winter, after the leaves fall, the horizon returns with red sunrises and sunsets glimpsed through the black trunks of trees. In the spring the woods are full of white and rose clouds from the blooming dogwoods and redbuds.  Each season seems to bring some new beauty to be admired.

One of the fun things about living in different places is appreciating the little cultural differences.  Probably the local people would be surprised at the things that I find unusual.  For example, I have never lived anywhere that campers routinely pack fans and air conditioners in addition to their tents and outdoor stoves.  But, having now lived through the warm and humid summer nights, I understand why fans are standard camping equipment items.  Also, I was driving home late one evening last summer and noticed that my car windows were fogging up.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the condensation was on the outside of my car windows, and even though it wasn’t raining I had to run the wipers to clear my windows.

As I have traveled around I have also noticed that Arkansans seem to love their lawns. They have the biggest expanses of beautiful green grass carpets of anywhere I have lived.  In the West most lawns are only green if they are watered regularly, so with water in short supply, the lawns are usually small.  When I moved to Portland, OR, a place that most people in the rest of the country think of as the epitome of greenness, I was amazed when all the lawns were left to turn brown.  Perennial water shortages in the late summer, with the resulting high water bills to water their lawns, mean that most lawns are left to dry up.  But, in Arkansas, with higher rainfalls and lots of riding lawn mowers, the lawns expand to cover acres, dotted with beautiful pine trees.

Diamonds, Mountains and Wetlands add to the wonderful diversity of Arkansas.

Diamonds, Mountains and Wetlands add to the wonderful diversity of Arkansas.

Finally, even some things that are practical and obvious to the resident can catch the eye of the newcomer.  One of my favorites is the open-sided steel buildings I see in the local cemeteries.  It is an obvious thing to provide permanent shade for graveside services and extremely practical given the summer temperatures and humidity here, but I just never have seen it in other states.  I also love the small cemeteries that I encounter as I come around curves on the winding Arkansan byways, some family cemeteries but most left from an era when the small towns were close together.

I am looking forward to continuing my exploration of Arkansas.  I have not yet visited the Ozarks or the Mississippi Delta.  When I think of the term “Natural State”, it is usually defined as “unspoiled”.  However, I have come to a different view—to me the Natural State is beautiful because it is unembellished and unpretentious, so that its native beauty is completely visible.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is a recent convert to working as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those fascinating diamonds.


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