Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Waterfalls of Little Rock

The vast majority of Arkansas' most impressive waterfalls are found in the northwest and north-central part of the state.  These make for great hikes/bushwhacks following a big rain and descriptions for finding them can be found in many of Tim Ernst's guidebooks.

But what about those of us in central Arkansas that don't feel like driving 2-3 hours (in the rain) to see a waterfall?  Well, we are in luck.  Little Rock happens to have quite a few hidden waterfalls that, while maybe not as spectacular as some along the Ozark Highlands Trail, are still spectacular and surprising to behold in the state's largest metropolitan area.

I got the idea for this post after reading Mason's recent post on some waterfalls he found in Riverdale, in and around Grandview Park and Rebsamen Park.  I lived in this part of town for several years and never heard of or came across the falls and cascades he discusses so I was excited to see his great photos and am hoping for rain during my next visit to Little Rock.

Nearby Allsopp Park also has some nice falls during and immediately following big rains.  Yet another nice, large, cascade that looks great after a rain, is located near the north side of Kanis on Rock Creek.

By far my favorite waterfalls in the area and, in fact, the whole state, are the 4 or 5 falls that form over the Emerald Park bluffs after a big storm.  Located in North Little Rock, you can still catch great views of them from the Little Rock side of the river along Riverfront Dr. and Rebsamen Park Rd.

I've included some photos and a map below.  I'm sure there are other great falls in Central Arkansas.  Do you know of some?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Floodplains and Utility Right-of-ways - Perfect For Trails

Floodplains and utility right-of-ways (think sewer, power, and gas lines) are perfect places to put trails.  Many types of development are prohibited in floodways and floodplains, so why not use them as park land and greenspace and put in some trails?  Because streams run into other streams, trails along floodplains would naturally form a branching trail network.  This idea is already slowly being put into practice in both Little Rock and Fayetteville.  Many of these towns' longest trails run along creeks.  See the multiple trails along Rock Creek and Coleman Creek in Little Rock and along Scull Creek, Mud Creek, Clabber Creek, and Hamestring Creek in Fayetteville.

Trails along utility right-of-ways, or "Utilitrails", make great sense as well.  Utility companies have to pay to regularly clear vegetation along their right-of-ways, putting in a paved or crushed gravel trail would decrease the amount of maintenance required along these routes and open up potential opportunities to split maintenance costs and work with city governments or trail-related volunteer organizations.  Some of the trails at Hindman Park in Little Rock are great examples of Utilitrails as they were built and maintained in a partnership between the local wastewater utility and MBNA neighborhood association.  The trails at Conner Park in Little Rock are connected to the trail in River Mountain Park by a power line.

Chenal Trails - Guest Post By Griffin (And My Dad)

This past weekend, while I was backpacking and floating the Buffalo, my young nephew Griffin was doing some field research for me back in Little Rock.  Having noticed what appeared to be a dirt trail when dropping off the recycling with my dad, Griffin decided to investigate.  The map below shows what he found.  A nice 1-mile stretch of dirt, gravel, and paved trail through a forested area that connects to a few different parts of Chenal Valley.  According to my field team, this trail is easy for adults and has lots of interesting features for kids to explore.  The trail can be accessed from Chenal Valley Dr. and, I believe, also from Marcella Dr. and Courts Dr.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Buffalo River Trail - Tyler Bend to Gilbert

The Buffalo River Trail is a relatively new trail that runs along parts of the Buffalo River.  It is still under construction but, two sections, from Boxley to Pruitt and Woolum to Gilbert are complete.  The trail connects to, and in places overlaps, the much older and longer Ozark Highlands Trail.    

Some friends and I wanted to get in some backpacking practice nearby before taking a larger trip this summer and decided to do the short, 5.6 mile stretch between Tyler Bend and Gilbert.  We parked at the Collier Homestead trailhead and backpacked east through some nice open woods that still showed signs of a recent controlled burn.  The trail parallels the road into Tyler Bend for nearly two miles before reaching the Hwy. 65 bridge.  The trail then crosses the bridge,  passes under it, and continues east along the north side of the river.

Where the trail crosses the gravel road, we took a detour down the road to camp on the gravel bar at Shine Eye.  We had the place to ourselves and the river, bluffs, and night-sky were amazing.

The next day, we walked back up the road and continued along the trail.  Just north of the gravel road is a steep uphill section that took us to the top of the bluff and around a major bend in the river.  After a while, we came upon the remains of what must have been a nice house with an amazing view.

A short distance from the house, there is a fork in the trail.  If it has rained hard recently, you might want to turn left and head down to Hwy 333 to get into Gilbert to avoid both a long, very muddy section of trail and crossing (Very Far From) Dry Creek.  Otherwise continue straight and head down into the flood terrace.  The dense river cane and other vegetation give his section a jungle-like feel.

For the final leg of our backpacking trip we waded across Dry Creek, hiked a short distance along the Buffalo, and into Gilbert.  After eating, we floated from Tyler Bend to Gilbert.  Since the river was at 9.5 feet and really moving, I don't have any photos of that much-shorter-than-usual trip.  Including a brisk, brief intentional dip in the river, the float probably took an hour.  In case you are reading this to plan a float, 2.5-4 hours is more typical for a relaxing paddle along this scenic stretch of the river.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Photography Fun

I got a new digital camera and have been having some fun learning how to use it. I enjoy photography and it's been awhile since I did any (not counting iPhone or basic trail photos). This post was created in 2015 but I set the date in the past to keep it a little hidden.  Here are some of my favorite photos taken on my old film Nikon or my new digital one. For more photos by me, feel free to checkout the photos page on this blog, or follow me on Instagram or Pinterest.

Here are some photos I made using a laser pointer (aka best dog toy in the world). Most exposures were 30 seconds.

Probably corny, but I thought this made it look plugged in.

For this one I attached a blinking light to Buddy's collar and let him chase the laser while I wrote his name.

This one is just me shining the laser into lightbulbs that aren't on.

Bald Eagle on the Buffalo River.

30" Exposure ISO 200 F-stop 3.5
Here are some examples of how playing around with F-stop, ISO, and shutter speed can impact photos:

1/40"  ISO 100 F22
(I set ISO low and F high to get longer exposure, which on a sunny day still wasn't that long)

1/4000" ISO 800  F5
(Higher ISO, low F-stop, means shorter exposure)
Zooming in on the previous photo, you can see that the super short exposure time allows you to see drops of water frozen in place.
Red-shouldered Hawk in Flight. Arkansas

Gull in Flight, Ano Nuevo State Park, California

Turkey Vultures in Flight, Arkansas

Red-shouldered Hawk Diving. Arkansas

Robin Attacking Window

Robin Attacking Window

Female Elephant Seal, Ano Neuvo State Park, California

Elephant Seal, Ano Nuevo State Park, California

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hamestring Creek Trail

After being trapped inside for much of the past three days (nice Spring Break!) Buddy and I decided to shake the cabin fever by hitting some trails, rain or shine (it turned out to be rain).

After exploring Finger Park and only getting a little wet, we drove north to the Hamestring Creek Trail, located on Marigold Dr. in a small neighborhood off of Shiloh Dr. near Mt. Comfort Rd.

This wide paved trail runs along Hamestring Creek through a forested area and at times behind some homes.  The stream corridor is home to some sycamore, oaks, cedar and a good mix of other tree species, but the understory in entirely dominated by bush honeysuckle

In its current state, this trail only serves a small population, but I believe the plan is for it to eventually connect to the Clabber Creek Trail to the west and to the Scull Creek Trail to the east, which would give people living in western Fayetteville a safe, scenic way to bike into the more happening parts of town.

Finger Park Trail - Fayetteville

Finger Park feels surprisingly wild and natural given that it is located at the end of Farmers Rd. off MLK, just seconds from Walmart, strip malls, hotels, and the interstate.  I took my dog around the rocky dirt trail there today and he really enjoyed it.  Many parks and trails in Fayetteville have signs saying to leash your dog, but I didn't see one here.  The trail begins south of the parking lot and heads gradually uphill to an interesting moss, fern, and wildflower covered rock wall.  From there the trail loops back, crossing several small, pretty streams that are probably dry most of the year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Build Trails Close to Water

Streams and rivers are beautiful and they are a natural point of attraction along trails.  In fact on longer trails, it is important to bring the trail close to running water to provide drinking water for backpackers, pets, or pack animals.  Given all this, it is perfectly understandable that trail designers often want to place their trail right along a creek, but it turns out that is a horrible idea.  In honor of this week's large amount of rainfall, here are some reasons why you shouldn't place your trails too close to a stream or river.

Trail in Golden Colorado Closed due to Flooding. Photo by Jess Daniel
1.  Money - If you build too close, you will lose your trail after one or two flood events.  The
University of Arkansas learned that lesson when they lost a section of trail that was built along the normally tiny and calm Mullin's Branch.  I cited this and other examples when advising UALR not to build the Coleman Creek Greenway too close to the creek.  The photo below shows another example of costly damage resulting from placing a bike/pedestrian trail too close to a creek.

Be sure to look for evidence of rapid bank erosion and find out how large the floodplain is where you are building your trail.  Seemingly tiny creeks can easily rise 6 or 10 feet following a large rainstorm.

2.  Safety and Usability - No one can use a trail when it is 3 feet underwater.  Placing a trail just 10-15 feet away from the creek might mean it can be used 10 more days of the year.

3.  Time and Effort - In addition to money, it takes a lot of time to rebuild sections of trail that get washed away.  Even if your trail doesn't get washed away, it takes time and effort to clear mud, sticks, rocks, and other debris deposited by a flood.  The trail below has been damaged for nearly a year and has yet to be repaired.

4.  Habitat and Water Quality Protection - Building a trail, paved or unpaved, along a stream edge can damage vegetation and encourage streambank erosion.  Increased bank erosion harms water quality and destroys habitat for many species of fish and other aquatic organisms.

If you want to avoid these issues, simply place your trail a reasonable distance away from the stream and either add short spurs to the water or occasionally bring the trail closer where the bank is a little higher or looks most stable (see examples below,  Red=Bad  Green=Good).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Clabber Creek Trail - Fayetteville

Clabber Creek Trail is located in NW Fayetteville and winds a short 0.6 miles through an area of greenspace paralleling Clabber Creek and surrounded by fairly cookie-cutter suburbia and some pasture.  If you don't live nearby, the best place to park is on Hosta Dr.  The 12 ft. concrete trail is pretty flat and in great condition.  This easy trail is perfect for taking the kids out for a short bike ride or taking the dog for an easy walk in the outdoors.
Also, we went in mid-March and our dog picked up a tick.  I guess that's what happens when you have no winter.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Eden Falls - Lost Valley Hike

Today we took advantage of the rain to go check out one of Arkansas' many amazing waterfalls; which generally are at their most spectacular during or immediately following a rain.  Eden Falls is located in Lost Valley near Ponca, home of wild elk, and the stunning Upper Buffalo River.  The trailhead is located about a mile south of the intersection of Hwy 43 and Hwy 74 at the end of Lost Valley Rd.  Along the short hike to the falls, the spring wildflowers were already starting to bloom and trout lily leaves were up.  The trail follows the creek all the way and seeing the stream bed completely dry made me worried the falls would be dry.  Little did I know that just a few hundred yards from the falls, the stream heads entirely underground except during major rain events.  So many things about this trail were incredible including the high bluffs, blooming wildflowers, moss covered boulders, large beech trees, the multiple caves, and of course the stunning waterfall.

As I forgot my GPS/phone during this rainy hike, I've included an approximation of the hike on the map below. A detailed map and description of the hike can be found over at Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery.