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Better Late than Never: Fall Foliage Drive Across Arkansas

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Normally the fall foliage is a feast for the eyes and the lens, just lift the lens and a beautiful photo is inevitable. My procrastination this year changed that formula and yet it forced me to work that much harder to find the image.

This  year the dry weather caused more of the leaves to either turn brown or fall off the tree without much color change. Add that to a late afternoon drive across the state and I knew I would have to work to get the images I was seeking. 

I love a challenge. As the sun rose and my first bit of good light dissolved I was eager to see beyond the obvious flat light and faded colors. I set my course for Queen Wilhelmina State Park, a place I have heard about for many years but have never visited.

The views around Lake Catherine were painted with morning light but as I got on the highway going west the landscape became much less interesting. I was eager to see the rolling mountains of the ouchitas, I got turned off onto several roads leading to spillways and lake access and yet I didn't find the images that I was seeking. It was going to be a long day and yet a beautiful cool autumn day so I wasn't complaining.

The feeling of isolation from the day before and the melancholy that haunted my drive was absent. I was excited about being on the road and yet instead of getting farther away from home, I was happy to be heading home. I'm still getting used to his alone time, at this moment I was free and the Arkansas highway was beautiful.

I followed the light all along the road. At one moment one tree with rich oranges and golds would be singled out by the light and I would work to isolate the form. I found myself on long barren stretches of hidden roads following signs for points of interest along the way.

At one point I decided I need to press on, especially as the light was getting more flat by the moment. Once the sun gets high in the sky, about noon, the once blue sky turns a flat grey and the dynamic shadows disappear.

Wonderful People Along the Path

When photography fails to interest, it was time to eat and that by itself was an interesting point on the path. I met a veteran, appropriately it was Veterans' Day, I thanked him for his service and with a solid handshake he thanked me for thanking him. I mentioned most of us really appreciate his service and the great work of our veterans past and present, he laughed and commented, "It's a diverse world were living in." Wisdoms along the highway.

I stopped at a small place called the Yellow Store. I noticed a sign that bragged on the greatest burgers so I tried a bacon cheeseburger. While I sat there I listened. Several people came in, you could tell they were regulars, greeting each other by name talking about local gossip and who was in the hospital. I felt for that twenty minutes or so, everything stopped-I was a literal fly on the wall and I enjoyed both the anonymity and a realization.

All the politics and pundents have nothing to do with these people. These people are doing business, sharing with neighbors and looking out for each other. There was conversation and eye contact, this was a small, beautiful snapshot of America and I felt assured, everything would be just fine. I paid for my burger and she assured me I'd be back and guess what she wasn't lying-I think it was one of the best burgers I've ever had. The flavor was full and complex, I knew I was eating quality corn feed beef. Juicy and tender, I will definitely be back to the Yellow store. 

Filled up both physically and mentally I continued on the long road to Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The turns got more severe and my ears started to pop. I had arrived in the heart of Arkansas fall foliage. Although the light and the colors were not optimal, I was still in awe of the grandeur of the mountains laid out before me.

Historical Markers: Sometimes You Just Need to Explore

Many times I drive along historical markers and wonder why they were chosen to be a marker. In the future, I think I want to explore these more and perhaps a book of photographs will follow. This particular historical marker was near Queen Wilhelmina State Park and I drove off the highway to find a small place in history that was both haunting as it was interesting.

The Historic Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery: 

It is a small cemetery, barely discernible except for one stone that is clearly marked. This was a family cemetery. During the Civil War, a few families settled in this area trying to avoid the ravages and raids in the valleys. 

One story that has become a legend is about  a mother and her children. During a severe ice storm, the mother took ill with fever, the oldest daughter in an effort to gather firewood, in another story she was seeking a local spring for water, she was cornered by wolves and never returned. The next morning they found her frozen to death still clinging to the tree she sought as shelter. 

There are stories of her haunting the area and lights in the trees at night. I didn't see any signs but was haunted by her memory and can only imagine the hardships they endured.

The Controversy of the Borders of Arkansas and Oklahoma

Something else I learned along the way is how the boundaries of states were moved and treaties were altered to suit Americas' drive out west and how much the native american people suffered during this period. You learn a lot about history and the native people as you stop and read the historical markers along the way, I am intrigued...stay tuned for a book on the subject.

After a long day of driving and fighting with the flat light, I found one glimmer of light as it lit up the mountains and only for a moment and it was gone. Notice the difference in the saturation, the oranges and greens come out of the haze of blues.

In the end, as I drove down through Beavers Bend State Park and the memories of past family vacations flooded my mind, I realized I was ready to get home. I was tempted to stop by the blue rooster where the fried chicken and home made pies are incredible or the Grateful Head where the pizza and beer made a wonderful memory.

As I drove down 259 heading for the long ride on west on Highway Thirty, I felt I had accomplished my goal. A wonderful day finding the foliage in Arkansas, I will return again next year or maybe even in the winter.

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