Jasper, AR Family Vacation

Christa got this photo of me wading hip-deep into the coolness of the Buffalo River, just north of Jasper, Ark., off Scenic Highway 7. Torrential rains had just moved through the area, prompting us to relocate from one river landing to one several miles downstream. We took pictures, fished, swam, sat in chairs, dodged more rain, and generally had a fantastic time. That is a beautiful bluff formation in the background; I'm angling, as always, for the definitive photograph.

Christa got this photo of me wading hip-deep into the coolness of the Buffalo River, just north of Jasper, Ark., off Scenic Highway 7. Torrential rains had just moved through the area, prompting us to relocate from one river landing to another several miles downstream. We took pictures, fished, swam, sat in chairs, dodged more rain, and generally had a fantastic time. That is a beautiful bluff formation in the background; I’m angling, as always, for the definitive photograph.

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.

Bluff overlooking the Buffalo River

Bluff overlooking the Buffalo River

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.

My brother-in-law, Larry Jess, Taylor, casts his line in the Buffalo River. I am sheltering underneath a tree on the bank as a light rain falls.

My brother-in-law, Larry Jess Taylor, casts his line in the Buffalo River. I am sheltering underneath a tree on the bank as a light rain falls.

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.

Rapids, Buffalo River. I sat in this churning little stream and really enjoyed it!

Rapids, Buffalo River. I swam in this churning little stream and really enjoyed it!

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.

Elk graze in a field in Lost Valley.

Elk graze in a field in Lost Valley.

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.

Cave formations, Fantastic Caverns, Springfield, Mo.

Cave formations, Fantastic Caverns, Springfield, Mo.

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.

View from our windshield as we head south on U.S. 65, just north of Marshall, Ark. Another example of the spectacular scenic beauty we have in this state.

View from our windshield as we head south on U.S. 65, just north of Marshall, Ark. Another example of the spectacular scenic beauty we have in this state.

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.

Bluff, Buffalo River, Jasper, Ark.

Bluff, Buffalo River, Jasper, Ark.

Rapids, Buffalo River

Rapids, Buffalo River

Fog rises from the Buffalo

Fog rises from the Buffalo

Highway 7 bridge as it spans the Buffalo River

Highway 7 bridge as it spans the Buffalo River

River bed

River bed

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Lost Valley. This was the field where we saw elk grazing, including a massive buck.

Lost Valley. This was the field where we saw elk grazing, including a massive buck.

Elk herd, Lost Valley. I was standing about 100 yards away on the side of the highway, using my 70-300mm NIkkor lens. I was lucky to get this shot; the big buck was simply too far away.

Elk herd, Lost Valley. I was standing about 100 yards away on the side of the highway, using my 70-300mm NIkkor lens. I was lucky to get this shot; the big buck was simply too far away.

Clothes dry on the porch of our vacation house, Mountain Garden.

Clothes dry on the porch of our vacation house, Mountain Garden.

Fantastic Caverns. This was a great little tour, lasting about an hour. We rode through on Jeep-drawn wagons about 2 dozen people per wagon. We suffered a loud and obnoxious woman; just about everyone was ready to strangle her by the end of the tour. We think she was either on or off her medication. In the visitor center, she was overheard summoning her family: "Kids? Husband!"

Fantastic Caverns. This was a great little tour, lasting about an hour. We rode through on Jeep-drawn wagons, about 2 dozen people per wagon. We suffered a loud and obnoxious woman tourist; just about everyone was ready to strangle her by the end of the tour. We think she was either on or off her medication. In the visitor center, she was overheard summoning her family: “Kids? Husband!” She also threatened to feed her children to hide-wearing cave trolls.

Fantastic Caverns

Fantastic Caverns

Fantastic Caverns and tourists

Fantastic Caverns and tourists

Passengers ride through Fantastic Caverns

Fantastic Caverns

Passengers ride through Fantastic Caverns

Passengers ride through Fantastic Caverns

Christa at the Buffalo River, Jasper. As you can see, the river was considerably low.

Christa at the Buffalo River, Jasper. As you can see, the river was considerably low.

Marshes, Brummetts and Taylors, Jasper, AR

Marshes, Brummetts and Taylors, Jasper, AR

Christa on the Buffalo. Believer it or not, it's raining in this photo.

Christa on the Buffalo. Believer it or not, it’s raining in this photo.

You can't beat a funny sign.

You can’t beat a funny sign.

Barn, Searcy County, AR

Barn, Searcy County, AR, taken from the window of our car

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