No Plan for Devil’s Eyebrow

Ben IceholeWe wanted to explore a new Natural Area that had been dedicated in 2012. There were no trail maps, no directions explaining where to see the best spots. No GPS coordinates for waterfalls or cascades. Nothing saying, “then turn left here.”

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It was January, 2015, and the directions I found only got us to the parking area. The rest we were left to discover on our own, in a tract of land about 1800 acres big. It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking.

After all, the place is called Devil’s Eyebrow.

UndercliffI had seen photos of interesting creekbeds and bluffs overhanging the water. To see that, and to help avoid getting lost, I planned to follow a creek.

The short dirt road, easily handled by our four-door compact car, led us to a grassy parking area bordered by a rope line. A large pasture about the size of a football field stretched out before us, then gave way to woods. On the east side of the parking area, we found what looked like a trail.

The trail dumped us out onto an old forest road, where we walked past a dry streambed with low cliffs above its banks. Our son, 11, loves exploring such areas, but we promised him he could stop and play there on our way back.

A few old, rusty household items and farming tools lay forgotten in the woods. They made it difficult to feel like we were wandering a wild area.

Bird's Nest

Shortly, we reached a fence at the edge of a hay field. We re-traced our steps, carefully checking for any sign of a spot to hike down into the woods. I knew a hiking group from Bella Vista had made its way into this area last year, and they were not really the bushwhacking types. There had to be some simple way to get started, at least.

Our first attempt had reached a dead end, so we turned around.

Benjamin and I played for a bit in the dry creekbed on our way back, and then we all made our way across the pasture that lay in front of the parking area. We picked up a gravel road on the other side and followed it into the woods. To our right was an area that recently had been clear-cut, including many cedar trees. On the left was deep woods and a sign indicating that it was public land.

Moss Icely

The road quickly became steep. The descent was so sharp at one point that I scouted ahead while the others hung back. I saw that the road soon reached the bottom of a gulley, then crossed a stream and flattened out a bit on the facing hillside. “Come on down. The steep stuff doesn’t last long,” I called to them.

We worked our way along the road, which led us uphill slightly and then turned downhill again. The road’s loose gravel gave way to a long, rocky streambed. Thick ice covered shallow pools of water.

Bend in the StreamI scouted up a steep ascent, and a bow hunter making his way down let me know that the road led to an open field. I headed back down and suggested to my crew that we should follow the creek downstream at this point.

We were rewarded shortly by a deeper pool, where my wife and son gleefully threw large rocks to crack the thick ice. Only in a few spots and after repeated hits did they break all the way through to water.

The wintry landscape allowed us to make our way along the banks fairly smoothly, with only the occasional brier patch to re-route us. Within about a hundred yards we had to start choosing our side carefully, due to steep banks. We crossed the creek a few times as we continued to find bigger, better scenery. Together, we discovered what each bend in the creek revealed.

Icefall Family

We finally turned around because the sun was getting low. After a steep ascent, I reached the edge of a field, my way blocked by an electrified fence. Maybe 50 yards across the corner of the pasture, I saw the same gate that had turned us back shortly after we had started our hike. We could cross that field and enjoy a short, flat walk to our car.

Instead of braving that and using private land, we scoped out the steep ravine between us and the opposite hillside. My crew wasn’t willing to hike that, so we headed back down the road and made the turn we missed the first time. It was the long way around, but it also was the only known quantity.

To help alleviate the steep grade, we made our own switchbacks by zig-zagging our way up the road. Again we passed the forest of cedar stumps, and then the woods opened up into the field, where our car waited patiently.

We had spent our day as a family, exploring a forest without a plan. It felt great.

I mapped the hike using GPS, and manually added a section that I didn’t track. Click here to see it.

Photographic Finale (Ozarks Weekend Part 8)

(concluded from Part 7)

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What a grand trip back to our home state. Here are several shots, some from “downtime” when we weren’t out hiking or driving, un-cropped but taken with two different cameras that feature different aspect ratios. Did I mention Long Pool Campground is a great place to camp? (click any pic to enlarge)

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Dam Fun

Finally, I have found a scenic spot within just 20 minutes’ drive of our home, and significantly closer to my work. I found it completely unexpectedly.

Last week at work I saw a detailed map of Allen, Texas sitting on a break room table. Its cover featured a picture of a small waterfall going over an old stone wall. I unfolded the map in search of information about the photo, but found nothing.

After painstakingly re-folding the map, I called the local Chamber of Commerce. A nice lady there said, “Hold on a minute,” and then returned to tell me the location. I had a goal for after work.

I wandered sidewalks and trails for about an hour, and somewhere in there I found the spot. My equipment was a cheap, broken tripod and my snapshot digital camera. Besides that, the water was very high and an ugly brown color from recent heavy rains.

The next day I brought in better equipment and headed out for a photo expedition on my lunch hour. I parked in a different spot this time, and after about one minute on the trail I was at the site. For the next 45 minutes I was in the zone that inspired me to take up photography as a hobby.

Mostly pictures follow, with a few comments from me on methods to the madness.

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Balloon Festival 2008 (Pic of the Week)

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“Daddy, do we get to ride in one?” Benjamin said.

“No, son. Most people who go to the Balloon Festival don’t get to ride in one,” I said.

“But I want to ride in one,” he whined.

“That’s not how it works, Ben,” Shannon said.

“But I want to ride in one.”

We repeated this conversation about three or four times that very long Saturday as the launch time slowly approached.

(veritable photo blowout coming after the jump)

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Avast for the Black Mast

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In a plan whipped up by my brother and me on Thursday, I got the second half of Friday off and whisked Benjamin away for his first cousin’s birthday party weekend. A six-hour drive later we arrived, and only after shaking off his nap did LC realize Ben really was right there in the same room with him — not just in an online video clip or in his dreams.

DSC_6482_sm_blog.jpgIt would be a tragic miscarriage of justice to state that the party had a pirate theme. Pictures convey the feeling only marginally better.

Early on, Benjamin channeled Errol Flynn as he leapt from one waterslide pool to the other. Seriously short on damsels in distress, he settled for saving his own skin.

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