Thursday, March 29, 2012

3/29/12 Elk, Floating and Wildflower Report

Spiderwort Wildflowers -- Broadwater Falls Road, Compton
This will be a great weekend to visit the Buffalo National River. Wildflowers arguably have just entered their seasonal peak now with only a few spring species left to bloom. We are roughly two or three weeks ahead of normal bloom dates. The very good news is that the timing of spring rains has been ideal for wildflowers. This is the strongest bloom in many years in this region.

Elk viewing remains very good. We continue to be in the north south pattern in Boxley Valley, I think of it as the "bookends" pattern. There is one herd near the Ponca Access, and a second near the Upper Wilderness Trailhead.  This has been a fairly reliable pattern now for some time. As a photographer I would rate the south trailhead as the better photographic venue. There is an old barn down there and some interesting fence lines that you can incorporate in your compositions.

Floating is absolutely outstanding now. The water and the weather are just right. Remember to check floating levels for the entire Buffalo River go to the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce website. It is the definitive guide for visitors to the entire Buffalo National River region.

Everything seems early this year due to the weather. Conditions could not be more ideal for a visit to hike, ride horses, watch wildlife, and experience the wildflower bloom this year.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jacob's Ladder at Lost Valley
There are now two elk herds in Boxley Valley, one at Ponca and a second just north of Cave Mountain Road. Usually when a herd locates in the field near Cave Mountain Road it is moving somewhere else. This one could be moving north or south to better pastures.

The wildflowers continue to march on. The season is so early this year. The earliest species are gone now. If my memory serves me correctly, this is very fast. There are more species on the way like the Virginia Waterleaf, one of my favorites. The bloom for all species is heavy, rain and warmth has been ideal. The next two weeks or so could be the peak for the entire season.

Remember to be safe in hiking the slippery rocks on many trails. Our water table is high and water seems to be seeping everywhere. Hiking is absolutely outstanding now.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

3/24/12 Elk and Wildflower Report

Blue Phlox at Lost Valley Hiking Trail
Elk positions today are pretty much unchanged except the herd at the south end of Boxley Valley has moved north by one field. Three herds are in the valley, one by the Ponca Access, one just south of the 43/21 intersection, and the third is in the south valley field north of Smith Creek.

Wildflower conditions remain outstanding. Favorite hiking destinations like Lost Valley and Smith Creek Preserve are also great wildflower venues. The blue phlox are blooming strong now along with all the violets.  And much more.

Be careful in Lost Valley. Yesterday a young man climbing over the Natural Bridge fell and was badly hurt. Respect the dangers of wet rock trails. They are no place for casual climbing and horsing around. During these high water table conditions there are plenty of slippery spots.

Floating conditions now are very good, even a little swift. For information on outfitters, river conditions, and maps visit

This is also perfect hiking weather. All the trailheads are loaded with visitors.

Friday, March 23, 2012

3/23/12 Elk Viewing Map & Wildflower Report

Reflecting Pool on Smith Creek 
Three elk herds this morning in Boxley Valley. One near the Ponca Access, another just south of Moore Creek, and a third down by the trailhead to the Upper Wilderness. Good viewing all around with lovely morning light and light fog.

This morning was great landscape weather. This is due primarily to relatively cool temperatures and high humidity from all the flooding. The river continues to rage above flood stage.

Unless you are ready to wade, the wildflowers in Lost Valley are pretty much out of reach. Today the dogwoods are in bloom -- just. Some are white and many blooms are still green. This will evolve very rapidly so if you plan to visit, certainly most will be white this weekend. Wildflower fans can locate plenty along trails on high ground all along the river hiking trails. Rain has been pretty ideal this year and the wildflower bloom is heavy.

Waterfall and cascade fans will experience what could be the very best weekend in 2012 for visiting so far. It could be the best all year because it does not get much better than this. There are now cascades where they seldom occur, and the traditional cascades and falls are running hard.

Smith Creek Preserve will be very good now. The road down to the creek is lined with wildflowers. The creek itself has many beautiful cascades and water features. Dutchman's Breeches are in bloom and Smith Creek is one of the best places to see them. The hike down to the creek descends about 500 feet in a mile, it is not hard, but it is also not easy. Experienced hikers will have no problem with it. See the website for directions and details. It is now marked with a sign on the north side of 21 as you head out of Boxley Valley. Park near the sign, and walk past the gate following an old road down to the creek. Remember this area is not patrolled so you should not hike alone, and also let someone know you are going to hike there.

If you don't mind getting a little wet, you can wade the bridge at Lost Valley and see the falls, cascades, and wildflower bloom along the trail. Water levels drop pretty fast so it might be dry by the time you visit.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

3/22/12 Redbuds Peak Now, Dogwoods Starting

Dogwoods Are Starting to Blossom in Many Locations
I know some of my readers like to take waterfall pictures framed in redbuds and dogwoods if they are in bloom. For your information, this must be peak weekend for redbuds and dogwoods are just starting to bloom.

I doubt there will be better waterfall weather in 2012 than right now. The heavy rains have the water table topped off and more rain is predicted tonight, perhaps as much as a half inch. After that, this will  be perfect weekend weather for hiking and camping.

If you have been waiting for ideal hiking and waterfall photography weather, this is about as good as it gets. The falls will be running hard for a couple of days.

The wildflower show is very good now too.

If you want to float, watch the river gauges at the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce website.
They shows data for each river gauge and the recommended floating levels below the gauge. As I write this, the river is just too high to float for the average person. It does drop very fast in about 4 or 5 days as a rule with no further rain.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

3/15/12 Wildflowers Exploding, Good Elk Viewing

Morning Rue Anemone, Lost Valley
To Get Dewdrops, Get Up
Wildflower viewing is really picking up steam. Early warm weather and rain has many species blooming early. Many of what I would call mid-season species are now in bloom. Some of the marquee species like Dutchman's Breeches and Jacob's Ladder are kicking off or will be by the weekend. This weekend should be a perfect time to visit to get photos. Two of the very early species, White Trout Lilies and Harbinger of Spring are about done. If you dig around you might see some here or there, but  after last week, they are done for 2012. Lost Valley and Smith Creek are both very good now. Red bud trees and wild cherry trees are also in bloom now.

Elk viewing is quite good as well. We are now in what I call the "bookends" pattern with 2 mostly cow herds at opposite ends of the valley. There is also a small bull herd at the intersection of 43 and 21.
With the heat and sunlight we have now, expect elk viewing to be pretty close to a summer pattern. This means that by 8 or 9AM viewing will be done until about 4 or 5PM.

If you are a waterfall fan, there is plenty of flow right now.

A good itinerary now would be to come watch the elk, then move to lost valley to see the outstanding wildflower bloom. After that there would be time for a float if you got an early start. The float from Ponca to Kyles Landing has to be as scenic as any. We are definitely in floating season and this year looks like it could be exceptional.

For the single best website on outfitters, lodging, dining and river levels go to

Saturday, March 10, 2012

3/10/12 2012 Wildflower Gallery & Tutorials

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica Lost Valley 3/9
Thought I would share some pictures from this year's wildflower season with commentary. It is still early, but I have a few wildflower images that please me. This blog entry is a brief wildflower tutorial based on my voice. The important thing though is perhaps to copy my approach to composition, even if you arrive in a totally different place.

My takeaway point for you is to THINK, please ask and answer your own questions about wildflower pictures and composition. This blog entry is a glimpse into my thought process. I want you to have one of your own.

This first photo is of a sharp-lobed hepatica that I took yesterday. I like long contrast scales with brights and darks. When wandering looking for compositions, I am drawn to selective lighting and shadow plays. This photo has them both. I believe pulling back to grab the context and grabbing the texture of leaves is essential. Spring wildflowers are about the renewal of life. Dead leaves provide the contrasting backdrop for rebirth. To me at least, the shadow tracing the bloom expresses the cycle of life -- it makes the connection. Note that the two flowers are counterpointed (facing a different direction and at different bloom stages). The photo has a huge negative space to the left that is unified with the flower though the shadow.

Done well, photography is poetry, communicating various inflections of the human experience. If an image does not pull you to take it, that quality of evoking viewer engagement and emotion is not there, after all, at some plane we all resonate as one. 

Emerging Trillium Sessile -- Lost Valley 3/9
The photo on the left is of an emerging trillium sessile. No purple bloom yet, but there is a bud. I was drawn to this because of the light and that magnificent leaf. The moss makes the photo sensuous to me, adding lush texture and color.

There is no need for a bloom. An effective photo can be carried by light, texture, lines and color. This image is rich in contrasting forms and textures.

To get a photo like this one you need to take pictures at the ends of the day. Low angular light is a key ingredient that animates texture and form with subtle shadows and gradients of light. What I often see is a nuanced composition absolutely fried by on-camera flash. Found light is your friend.

Found light and long tonal scales separate an artistic composition from a snap shot. 

Emerging Trillium Sessile 2. Lost Valley 3/9
This image goes to the issue of texture, lines and negative space, meaning here space away from the main subject. Note that the rib on the leaf on the left roughly resonates with the curve created on the right by the three trillium. This photo has a circular flow to it. Note that the light dynamics create their own shapes.

Maybe the biggest lesson here is to give your compositions space, and please, don't just slam your subject in the center of the frame. I call those pictures "splats".  I have taken my share of splats, but I hardly do anymore. Getting past "splats" is the first step to creating your photographic voice. The natural experience is both subject and context. Mine the context.

Now back to my first and most essential takeaway point. If you are to find your voice, you need to think, you need to question, you need to experiment and you need to fail. Be fearless about failure, failure leads you to insight and learning. If you gain a critical insight from coming up short is that really a failure? I don't think so.

I believe it was Einstein who said "insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result". Be thoughtful. Ask questions and experiment -- dig in. Inspired photography is about thoughtful hard work. Try this and that, learn, and bring together all that learning. You will find your voice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

3/9/12 Early Wildflowers Are Peaking, 2 Elk Herds

Ozark Wake Robin Trillium at Lost Valley
Early wildflowers are now peaking. I like to think of the wildflowers in 3 shifts, so these are the late February and March wildflower species. Some like white trout lilies and harbinger of spring are at about peak now, and in a couple of weeks they will be harder to find.

If you want to see the white trout lily bloom this weekend is surely peak. The white trout lily bed in Lost Valley is just past the bridge on the left. These are great flowers but the bloom is always short-lived.

Elk viewing is good. Two herds are now in the valley. One is about mid-valley, the second view-able one is just south of the 43/21 intersection.  A bull herd is kicking around in that same area.

This will be a great weekend for wildflower viewing if you are into them. Don't wait more than another week if you want to see all the early species.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

3/4/12 Ozark Wake Robins are Blooming in Lost Valley

Elk Viewing
Elk watching is now limited to one cow elk herd by the Ponca Access. This is a pretty good sized herd of all cows (and young bulls). The next big thing for elk will be calving that peaks traditionally around June 1. March is considered the last month that big bull elk will still have antlers so they can still be seen for a few weeks (just not today).

Wildflower Season
Ozark Wake Robin in Canopy Light
The wildflower bloom at lost valley has really accelerated. This morning I saw the first Ozark wake robin trillium blooms and pale corydalis. It is a little alarming to see the bloom so early in Lost Valley, it is a couple of weeks early.

Wildflowers can be found all through the Buffalo River region now. Generally speaking, the low lands along tributary streams are very good, moisture is the key. In many areas springs provide the moisture needed. Check with locals about your area.

Wildflowers are also a study in micro-climate. East-west hollers have different bloom dates, that north-south hollers. Altitude also factors into bloom dates, mountain tops are generally a week or two later than low land areas for the same species. Some species only occur at altitude or at river level. The bottom line is that there are many variables and these make the season fairly long.