Night Lights

July 28, 2010
A field of lights, photo by gmnonic.

A field of lights, photo by gmnonic.

Recently, I had an eye opening experience.  It was when my back sliding glass doors were replaced.  You see, the old ones had clouded over to the point that you couldn’t really see out of them into my backyard.  I had lived with it that way for a few years and had gotten used to it.  However, when the new doors were put in, my eyes were opened up to all of the things I had been missing over the last couple of years.  It really hit home when one night a few weeks ago my backyard lit up in a dance of lights.

Fireflies in a jar, photo by jamelah.

Fireflies in a jar, photo by jamelah.

When I was a child, one of my favorite evening pastimes was to chase down the little flickering lights in my yard known as Lightning Bugs.  Others may know them as Fireflies.  They are the small flying beetles that create light and flash it in patterns that help to attract mates.   My friends and I used to love catching a bunch and putting them in a glass mason jar with holes in the lid and watch them light up.  They would dance around inside and climb up the walls of the jar flashing their lights and generating wonder in our minds.  A short time later we would release them back out into the night and watch them dance away, still repeating the same patterns as we had watched earlier.  We would do this night after night until it was time for us to go inside.

Firefly up close, photo by James Jordan.

Firefly up close, photo by James Jordan.

When I was cut off from that sight on a nightly basis it made me forget the wonder that I felt watching those tiny beetles.  Sure, I still saw them from time to time when I was out in the evenings.  But when my back doors were replaced and I was able to watch for them on a nightly basis, that excitement crept back in.  It was fun waiting in anticipation for the first one to flash each evening.  It drew me outside again to watch them dance and catch one or two to marvel at.  They opened my eyes to what I had been missing spending too many evenings indoors instead of outside enjoying the sights of the transition from day to night.

I’m glad those back sliding glass doors were replaced; not because they let more light in or because they are more energy efficient, though those are both important, but because they encouraged me to open them up and walk outside.

Kathy Evans, Assistant Park Superintendent.

Kathy Evans, Assistant Park Superintendent.

Katherine Evans is the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park.  Educated at the University of Michigan, she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology.  She began her career with Arkansas State Parks at Village Creek State Park in 2008 as a Seasonal Interpreter.  She became the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park in January of 2009.  She is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide.

(Photos obtained on Flickr.com through creative commons license.)


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.


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.


Parks—Places Where “Everlasting Moments” Are Born

March 8, 2010

If you asked me what I ate for dinner yesterday, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t remember. Yet, I can recall in such detail—and with such clarity—encounters I’ve experienced in Arkansas’s state parks over the past 37 years since that winter day in 1973 when I, like so many of my colleagues here at Arkansas State Parks, choose this park system to be my life’s work, too. Those myriad moments—personal, poignant and often profound encounters that I lived through—are always with me. Some occurred in solitude. Others were shared experiences with park visitors, or friends and family. But these encounters when I connected with nature or history, or with another human being whose life was being enhanced by that time in that park, too, are etched in my mind, and in my heart, forever. Like the parks themselves, these memories are something I can always reconnect to. George B. Hartzog , Jr, who served as director of the National Park Service in the 1960s and early 1970s, keenly called these heart-moving minutes in a park that stay with us forever “everlasting moments.”

I’m picturing some of those everlasting park moments right now that occurred in early September in 2002. Back then during the final years of my beloved mother’s life, she lived near my two older sisters in northwest Arkansas. I would often drive from Little Rock to spend a day or two with Mother on weekends. While traveling back to Little Rock late that September afternoon after spending the day with her, I couldn’t shake this sense that I was supposed to take a detour off I-40 and go across Petit Jean Mountain.  As I approached the Russellville Hwy. 7 exit, I gave in to the mountain’s pull, took the detour and headed towards Petit Jean State Park. I’m glad I did.

For over 75 years the overlook behind Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park has been a favorite place to watch the sunset.

For over 75 years the overlook behind Mather Lodge at Petit Jean State Park has been a favorite place to watch the sunset.

I hoped to watch the sunset from behind Mather Lodge, the park’s 1930s-era CCC lodge there on the bluff overlooking rugged Cedar Creek Canyon, but I missed being at that vantage point by just minutes. Instead, I watched the sunset through my rearview mirror as I drove along Ark. 154 from Centerville past Holla Bend. The months of August and September are when sunsets viewed from the lodge are often their most dramatic, and it was a spectacular sunset, although not viewed from where I hoped to watch it. I stopped briefly at the lodge, an Arkansas historic treasure where I worked in the mid-70s and which was the setting of so many cherished park memories.  Then, I headed through the park to Stout’s Point on the mountain’s east brow to enjoy the sweeping scenery from that overlook. I walked around the overlook’s elevated walkway and then climbed up a large rock so I could sit and enjoy the view of the Arkansas River and valley below. Twilight darkened to dusk.  As the minutes went by, the night grew darker. Far down below in Morrilton, located there alongside a big curve in the river, the lights of the city were shining brightly. As far as I could see, lights marked where other smaller communities were scattered through the Arkansas landscape.  Those lights were mirrored by stars shining in the clear sky above me.

Eventually, all the other sightseers left, but I was in no hurry to go. That time there in that park was so peaceful, and so perfect.

Then I noticed a man with long dark hair walking along the opposite side of the walkway. He didn’t see me. The man stopped and looked to the east at the view across the Arkansas River. He stood there perfectly still in that position for several minutes. As I watched his dark silhouette against the darkening blue of the night sky, I saw him reach down and pull something out of a long slender bag. He raised the long straight object to his face. Suddenly, I felt panic wondering if he was about to take his own life and I would be the silent witness to his act. Just as I was drawing my breath to call out and make my presence known, he began to softly play his American Indian flute. I sat there spellbound listening as he played the Cherokee courting flute. I’ve attended many a musical performance in my life. None were more memorable than this. I’ve sat in many a concert hall featuring acoustic ceiling panels and walls, but none were more beautiful, or offered any better acoustics that I can remember, than this park setting. He continued to play for, I guessed, well over half an hour. The only sounds accompanying his flute were crickets, cicadas and the wind rustling leaves.

Only two people were experiencing this park experience—a Cherokee playing his love flute in thanks to Mother Earth and Father Sky and an unnoticed Arkansas State Parks staffer who took a detour off a busy highway.

As he played, I quietly, and reverently, took it all in—his music, the view from the mountain, the night sky. I thought about the time I’d watched a sunrise from this same overlook almost three decades earlier with two park colleagues the day before I left Petit Jean to go work at another Arkansas state park. I can still remember every moment, color and detail of that sunrise. I knew I’d remember every detail of this starlit concert, too.

I finally made my presence known as he was heading towards his car, and we spent about an hour talking. The story he shared with me was as moving as the earlier sounds from his flute. He said that an elder Cherokee had dreamed about him and then sought him out to tell him to learn to play the flute. It would be part of his destiny. And so, this young Cherokee would drive from Russellville to Petit Jean Mountain in the evenings and play his flute from points north, south, east, and west there on the mountain in tribute to earth and sky. Ironically, because of the lure of the mountain and my detour that late afternoon, I was destined, too, to be there and witness his flute playing at the park’s overlook on the mountain’s east brow.

Stout's Point on the East brow of Petit Jean Mountain is a wonderful place to enjoy one a scenic views of the Arkansas River.

Stout's Point on the East brow of Petit Jean Mountain is a wonderful place to enjoy scenic views of the Arkansas River.

Arkansas’s state parks are here to protect natural and cultural resources.  They’re here for outdoor recreation and to support tourism, too. And the parks are here to connect us to those natural and historic resources, and to inspire those personal and profound “everlasting moments” that become memories we cherish a lifetime. As George Hartzog said as he reflected on the first time he stood on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and looked at that magnificent view in front of him, “These are everlasting moments that stay with you and influence your life all your life.”

The next time your travels present the opportunity for a detour to an Arkansas state park, I hope you take it so you can experience some everlasting moments, too.

 
 

 

Joan Ellison, Public Information Officer

Joan Ellison, Public Information Officer

Joan Ellison is a 37-year veteran of the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. She has served as the Division’s public information officer since 1987. Prior to that she held positions as administrative assistant to the state parks director, state field naturalist, park naturalist at Lake Catherine, and in lodge management at two state parks. A creative force in the Arkansas state park system’s advertising and promotion efforts in print, electronic and outdoor media, she has written and produced hundreds of Arkansas State Parks television and radio spots. Her work is featured in state travel brochures, regional and national magazines, and the park system’s 12 Web sites. Ellison holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Park Administration from Arkansas Tech University. She has served in leadership and membership roles in a wide array of parks, recreation, environmental education, and government communications organizations including the Arkansas Information Coordinators Association, Arkansas Recreation and Parks Association, Arkansas Advisory Council on Environmental Education, the Southern Regional Environmental Education Council, Training Resources in Environmental Education, Project Learning Tree, Project Wild, Outdoor Biological Instructional Strategies, Arkansas Native Plant Society, and the Arkansas Herpetological Society.

 


Words Get Cheaper by the Day

February 1, 2010

Words get cheaper by the day.  So do pictures.  The technological revolution has made almost everyone an author and photographer.  When I started in this line of work some 26 years ago, pictures required film.  Film cost money.  As a result, much more care was taken when aiming the camera and hitting the shutter. 

The same is true for the written word.  In the days before word processors, when everything had to be typed and copied on real paper, people were more judicious in what they wrote.  It had to be important to warrant the time and cost.  Back then, if you overexposed the film or realized that the paragraph you had written didn’t make sense, you were faced with the choice of using the inferior product or doing it over.  Now, we fix the digital image and quickly edit the poorly written paragraph.

The written word is now so cheap that even I can enter the blogosphere as an author instead of a reader.  Joe Jacobs, our Manager of Marketing and Revenue and coordinator of this blog, warned the correspondents, “We don’t need War and Peace.”

Don’t worry, Joe; I just hope I can come up with one original idea.  Tolstoy is safe.

"Make sure you get the lodge in the picture."

"Make sure you get the lodge in the picture."

"Next time it's my turn to be in the picture."

"Next time it's my turn to be in the picture."

This blog writing assignment got me thinking about old photo albums.  I have always believed that if you really want to know what is important to people, look at their photo albums.  This would be especially true of photo albums from the age of film.  What would we find in a random survey of the albums?  Pictures of the people who were important to the photographer would be a common theme.  Many of these pictures would be obviously staged.  Many would be in front of automobiles, which were also important.  Besides, taking a photo was often done as the visit ended and they were collected at the car anyway. Note these examples from decades past, taken at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Another theme of my own personal albums is natural and historic places.  My family is usually standing awkwardly in front of them or near signs identifying them.  “We were here!”, the picture screams.  Special people are at special places.  This place and time rose to the level of expending one of the valuable 24 frames of film allowed on a roll. 

Oddly, we never lined up for a picture in front of a Wal-Mart sign even though we’ve been to more Wal-Mart stores than State Parks.  Hmm…where did we buy the film?  What about food?  We have eaten in hundreds of fast food places while in route to the natural and historic sites of our past vacations, yet where are the pictures of us standing in line at the counter ready to order?  My apologies to Ronald and the Colonel, they are not included even once.   Buying film and eating were important, but somehow they didn’t quite reach the level of pressing the shutter.

The Queen Wilhelmina Lodge has been a popular photo back drop, no matter it's condition at the time.

The Queen Wilhelmina Lodge has always been a popular photo backdrop, no matter its condition at the time.

We would have taken a lot fewer pictures if it had not been for our picnics and other visits to natural places.  Even though they were a small part of our lives in total time, they loom large in the photo album and in our family’s collective memory.  They are right up there with weddings, graduations, and squiggly babies.

The fact that you are reading this blog tells me that you probably have a similar life experience.  Your photo album contains shots of different people at different places than mine but lead us to the universal idea.  People place a high value on natural and cultural sites.  These are great places to create quality experiences with the people we love. 

If your own album were composed mostly of photos in strip mall parking lots, this blog would seem a strange and alien place.  The odds that you would have read this far down into the article are small.

Some photos become important family keepsakes.

Some photos become important family keepsakes.

Isn’t it nice that everyone has the means to register a snapshot of their ideas and valued places?  Could it be that Facebook and blogs have taken the place of the photo albums of yesteryear?   War and Peace is a story of several families responding to the invasion of Russia by Napoleon.  It is still read because of the universal concepts it contains.   Maybe through the wonder of modern technology, some of us are writing our own personal version of War and Peace.  This is a collective story about a part of our lives that is worth taking pictures of, worth remembering, worth sharing, worth preserving.

Words and pictures may be cheaper than they once were, but the ideas and emotions they capture still have the power to take us to another time, to give our lives meaning.  Look once more into your own albums.  Search them for your own story and the part parks had in shaping you and your family.   Maybe things have not changed that much after all.

 

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

–Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park and Lake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.