The Marsh, Taylor and Brummett clans again headed out for our annual summer vacation, this time going to North Arkansas and a little town called Jasper rather than the Gulf of Mexico as last year. This was, if anything, an even more satisfying trip, with all 15 of us staying together in a multi-bedroom, multi-bathroom vacation house in deep woods, with nothing but green views of trees all around.
I have a history with the nearby Buffalo River, one of the most scenic places in all of Arkansas and Reason 1 why, in my 46th year, I have come to love and truly appreciate what we have in this state. It is unparalleled gorgeousness and purity, and I remembered it well from my youth, having made several trips to swim in the Buffalo with my aunt and uncle (who live in Leslie, about 60 miles to the southeast). It was great to return to the area and walk out into the stream; I recalled very clearly having days when I lived in Texas and Oklahoma doubting I would ever see the tributary again.
We arrived at the house in the dead of night – sometime around 2 a.m. – after our caravan traversed the state from south to north, first on I-30, then I-40 and finally U.S. 65, which leads on up in to Missouri (and the fabled Branson). Our itinerary was crowded, and we surely must have known we’d never get around to doing everything, but No. 1 on everybody’s list was hitting the Buffalo as early as possible. We raced rain clouds several miles down a dirt road toward Erbie Landing, but the deluge was upon us by the time we arrived at the river. (This was true back country, by the way – no phone service, no nothing.) The rain defeated us here and sent us back to Highway 7, which offered another swimming hole a few miles north of Jasper.
Here we were definitely satisfied. The kids dove in, Christa immediately began snapping pictures of foliage, and I, of course, waded out into the middle of the Buffalo to photograph anything that came into my imagination. I had never taken pictures of the river before, so I was both perplexed and perhaps overly excited. To my eye, every initial photo “sucked,” prompting a wiping of the SD card and starting over from scratch. Adding to the situation was the light rain that persisted even as we took full advantage of the river. I had a kit full of lenses (every lens we own, in fact) and was somewhat concerned about water damaging their electronics. I sheltered the kit under an umbrella at the craggy foot of an old shore-side tree and took what pains were necessary to protect my own camera as I headed out for photos. After about 20 minutes, the rain passed, and we were in clear weather.
My brother-in-law Larry Jess is an avid fisherman and he and his sons ventured downstream for some casting. I did a little swimming and some imaging before following them. Beneath the Highway 7 bridge I found some short green grass and fast-moving water, culminating in a bubbling rapid that was calling my name. While my family members fished, I waded out and sat in the middle of the rapid. It was like relaxing in a washing machine, and the only word that came to mind to describe the experience was “awesome.” I did a little long-exposure photography at this spot, trying to make the rapids look like cotton candy, but without a tripod that was a bit of a tall order. Still, I was pretty satisfied with what I got – an image that reflects my sense of adventure.
That evening, we drove west to Lost Valley, several miles from the house, in search of elk. North Arkansas is home to thousands of these animals, and we found some in a field, grazing and tending their young. Larry Jess and his dad spotted a massive buck with an enormous rack, but it was just beyond the magnifying power of my 70-300mm Nikkor lens for an image. Still, it was quite an adventure, made slightly nail-biting by the fact we were low on gas and far from a fuel stop.
We headed farther north into Missouri next day, first touring Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, then visiting our favorite family restaurant (Lambert’s, home of the “Thowed Rolls”) and then a large Bass Pro Shop (is there any other kind?). It was well after 1 a.m. when we returned to the vacation house.
Our trip home offered only a few photo opportunities – actually, almost none at all, safe for a few frames I grabbed out the windshield of our Highlander. There is a barn in northern Searcy County, just north of Marshall, Ark., that I want to photograph sometime at the magic hour. I grabbed a quick snap of it today, out the passenger-side window, as Christa slept. I’ll be back for a better pic.