Pic of the Week 3/1/18
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Date taken: 2/25/18
I really enjoy hiking. I like getting outside and experiencing nature first hand. While I almost always hike with camera, photography is not the main goal. But during the hike I like to take note of locations and potential photographs in the area. Then I will return under better shooting conditions. Sometimes this means hiking for long distances, sometimes it means I might need traverse a high ridge or mountain, and sometimes it means I need to return to the location again and again to get it right. Spider Split was one of those times. I had searched for Spider Split a couple of times before. The first time I went all around Bat Cave Peak looking for the fissure and after a couple of hours I gave up and returned back to my vehicle. The second time I took a friend and fellow photographer (Chris Martin) out with me and tried to find it together, but with no luck. Thankfully however, we ran into some hikers (thanks Kim and Michelle) who were able to show us the entrance to split. I was amazed at how close I was the first time. It just proves that you need to know where you're going to find it. It can easily be overlooked and passed right by--believe me I've done it, twice! I am happy to report that this past weekend I had no problems finding the entrance. Third times a charm I guess...
This time my good friend and fellow photographer Elizabeth Hawley came along. She had never been to this part of the refuge before. I am always excited when I get to introduce people to Charon Gardens and see their faces light up when looking on the massive boulders, tall cliffs, and unusual rock formations. It reminds me of how I first felt when I experienced the area and realized there was more to the Wichita Mountains than Mt Scott and Quanah Parker Lake. We left Wichita Falls around 6:00am and started off towards the refuge. Along the way we passed through blankets of thick fog near the Red River. It was a fairly chilly morning as a cold front had moved through the area earlier in the week. The temperature was just around 30 degrees and the dewpoint was near 30 as well. The wind was calm and the sky was clear. As we drove on the interstate the fog gave way and I could start to see the mountains in the distance, but the grass on the side of the road was covered in a light frost making the dew sparkle like diamonds in the early morning light. This had me concerned, with the recent rain the rocks were likely saturated and frozen by the cold temperatures, but we pressed on. We reached the refuge and after a quick stop near the prairie dog town to photograph Mt Lincoln in the warm sunlight, we continued on towards the Exfoliation Dome parking area and Bat Cave Mountain. It was now a little after sunrise and we gathered our gear and started off in the westward direction towards Monolith boulder. I have been to this area before and its very easy to get to. In fact you can see the boulder from the parking area.
We began the steep climb up the smooth granite slab and followed along the rocky ridge. We could see a small arch to our south known as the "Window of the Wichitas" while photogenic from this angle we did not have time to deviate from our route if we wanted to reach Spider Split in time. We crossed a few streams and wet rocks and I took a small slip on the slick granite but returned to my feet unscathed. We continued our westerly heading passing through rock and brush and eventually came toe to toe with Monolith Boulder. We had a short break at the boulder and took in the wonderful vista before us. If you really want to experience the Wichita Mountains than you need to get higher. From the boulder we could see the smaller Lobo (French) mountain, Mt Scott, Mt Wall, Quetone Point, Mt Roosevelt, Mt Sheridan, and Mt Marcy to our east and north east. To our immediate north we could see Mt Lincoln and the eastern face of Elk Mountain. After the short break we continued up towards blocky summit of Bat Cave Peak and after some minor bushwhacking we made it to the entrance to Spider Split. The entrance doesn't look like it goes anywhere, but after entering and turning to the left the fissure opens up and you're tucked between twenty foot tall granite walls. We walked through the split taking a quick peek through a small archway in the rock and exploring the area before we set up our shots.
I knew what shot I wanted to capture and what composition I wanted to use. I decided for a vertical orientation to accentuate the height of the granite walls and use the sky and surrounding rock walls to frame my subject. The composition is from a very low perspective making the rock spires appear to tower over your head. We sat in the split waiting for the light to become just right and after an hour the sun reached a point where golden light spilled into the fissure igniting some of the walls in a glow that resembled hot embers from a fire. The light reflected and bounced off the cliffs giving us nice reflected light on the rocks.
© Ben Jacobi
After the fantastic reflected light dissipated we were still not done yet. The sun made an appearance through one of the cracks and sent a small shaft of light through the split. This reminded me of a smaller version of Antelope Canyon and getting to photograph it was a real treat. We finished up in Spider Split and made our way back to our vehicles. We would continue to explore more of the Charon Gardens and also made it Post Oak and Little Post Oak Falls. The recent rains kept all the creeks alive and flowing with fresh rain water down the mountains and cliffs. We ended up spending a little over four and a half hours exploring and shooting the area before heading to nearby Medicine Park for a well earned lunch. I was very grateful to share one my favorite places of the Wichita Mountains with an excellent photographer and a great friend.