Pic of the Week 7/23/21
“The Devil’s Punchbowl”
Location: Shades State Park, IN
Date taken: 7/22/19
For this week’s Pic of the Week, we are going back a couple of years to my trip to Indiana. We were having a family reunion up in the Hoosier state and with that came the opportunity to photograph and explore the local landscape. I made a journey to Shades State Park near Waveland, IN. This was a little over an hour away from Indianapolis and the airport. Today, I would by flying back to Texas, but I wasn’t leaving Indiana until after 5pm. Then I had a two-hour layover in Dallas before finally getting back to Wichita Falls. This put me arriving back at home around 11:30pm so I really wanted to enjoy the day.
The previous three days I spent checking out McCormick’s Creek State Park, Spring Mills State Park, Bluesprings Caverns, Cataract Falls and Brown Valley State Park. Unlike those days, the weather on this day was particularly nice. A light rain hung around early morning and messed up my chances for a sunrise shoot, but after saying my goodbyes to family I was on the road heading to Shades state park. I didn’t know too much about this park, but after doing some research I saw something that stirred my curiosity. A fiendish sounding landmark known as the “Devil’s Punchbowl”. With such an unusual name I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I arrived to Shades state park just after 11:00am. The skies were still overcast and a rain shower had just moved through the area. This brought the temperatures down to a pleasant 71F which was much better than the 96F from the day before. I pulled into Shades state park and noticed the parking lot was empty. Naturally, this excited me I like being alone out in nature and I don’t like having to fight people coming into my compositions. Not soon after I unloaded all my gear a brown minivan pulled up and a family of seven leaped out. It was time for me to get on the trail. The hike started like most others, flat on a wide trail with packed dirt. Thick vegetation above me blocked all the light and made it feel closer to nighttime than midday. Shades state park gets its name from the early settlers of the area. In the 1800’s this area was referred to as the “Shades of Death”. The unbroken canopy of trees and vegetation keeps almost all light from reaching the ground. Its easy to see why they though this place creepy. No sun, no wind, and a thick canopy of trees blocking everything.
The path quickly transitioned from the packed dirt to an old rickety staircase. Here I would begin my descent into the Devil’s Punchbowl. Two intermittent streams send water down the ravine forming a circular grotto undercut in the sandstone—this formation is the Devil’s Punchbowl. These high bluffs are coated in thick green moss and vines and ferns dangle from the rocky cliffs. For a moment, I forget I’m in Indiana. In my mind I was on the fictional island Isla Sorna from Jurassic Park. Sure, it wasn’t Hawaii, but the heavy canopy, fern plants, and eerie green rock made the area feel prehistoric. I might as well expected pack of Compsognathus to be hiding somewhere in the bush. Once down in the grotto, I immediately started to notice the incredible carvings on the rock. Although the area was beautiful, it was all overwhelming trying to bring a scene of chaos to some kind of order. It also didn’t help that the family of seven was now down in the Punchbowl and the kids were screaming listening to the echoes off the canyon walls.
The Devil's Punchbowl © Ben Jacobi
Trying to avoid the family as much as possible, I started hiking away from them and when I rounded the corner, I spotted this scene. A small shaft of light was illuminating a small portion of the cliff. I had managed to find one of the few breaks in the canopy and it was paying off. The moss-covered rock glowed in the direct sun while the rest of the are received soft reflected light. I could hear the family starting to close in on my location and I knew I didn’t have much time, so I set up a simple but effective composition and captured a few frames before moving on. This was the only light I saw all day and after finishing up at Shades state park I made the drive to Indianapolis and eventually made it back home to Texas. I wish I would’ve had more time to explore this park, but who knows maybe I’ll return to it again someday.
Pic of the Week 7/16/21
“Grandview Vista Revisted”
Location: Rich Mountain, AR
Date taken: 6/12/21
Well, we have arrived to our final day of the Honeymoon Adventure and this would prove the be a very eventful one! Our morning started as it typically does for the landscape photographer, begrudgingly getting out of bed to go check the sunrise conditions. The prospect of low hanging clouds didn’t do much to motivate me to get out of bed. I looked over to see my wife soundly sleeping (and snoring) and so I pressed on into the cold morning without her. The Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge was now much different from the bustling busy atmosphere of yesterday evening. All the tenants were in the warm beds sleeping and I was up shuffling around the hallways looking a window with a good view to the east.
I reached the front entrance and turned my eyes toward the east. High cirrus clouds loomed overhead and were just starting to get some pink color. My body/heart/brain jumped into high gear, and I rushed back to my room to wake up my sleeping wife. It was time to get going for sunrise! After I woke Ashlee up we quickly gathered our gear and made our way to the 4Runner. Now the skies overhead had turned to a saturated reddish orange and the entire parking lot glowed in hues of purples and pinks. We could not miss this spectacular sunrise.
Driving down the Talimena Scenic Byway, I remembered a spot I used to shoot sunrise the last time I was here, Grand View Vista. Despite the fact there are incredible vistas all along this drive we could not find a vista that positioned us towards the sunrise. One thing I seem to forget about the Ouachitas is they run west to east not north to south like most other mountain ranges. Eventually we pulled into the Little Acorn vista, and we watched the sun rise just above the distant mountains before becoming shrouded in clouds. So much for our sunrise shoot.
Disappointed, we drove back to Grand View Vista hoping to capture some early morning light on the mountains. In the valley down below a thin veil of fog/mist hovered above the valley floor. Ashlee knew she wanted some tighter shots and took my Tamron 70-200 lens—the lens I was hoping to use for the sunrise photos. But I was ok with using her large 500mm lens and scope out small pieces of the much grander landscape. I used my tripod to try and stabilize the photos the best I can. At 500mm even the pulse of your thumb is enough to shake the camera.
For a brief few minutes the sun peered through a gap in the clouds. Strips of warm golden light spilled into the valley emphasizing the unique shape of the mountains. What a beautiful scene, I rushed back to the car to grab my wide-angle lens to try and capture the vista. I didn’t even have time to attach it to my tripod, so I snapped a few frames handheld. This image is not as sharp as I would have liked, but I did not have enough time to before the light faded away.
Grand View Vista Revisted © Ben Jacobi
Since I was limited with time and the light, I shot the first composition I saw. I framed up Round Mountain in the breaks of the trees standing on my tippy toes to get as high as possible. The fog/mist encircled the 2037ft peak in a semi-circle of hazy mystique. The dramatic side light on the mountain helped separate the scene into layers turning an almost flat and boring image into something far more interesting. I really wish I would have taken the time to get my tripod and do this scene justice. Not long after taking this image, the light evaporated and all the depth to the scene was lost. I went back to capturing the intimate details of the landscape. I even combined some of them to create this triptych. There wasn’t too much color with the lack of light, so I opted for a monochrome treatment to highlight the tones and textures of the scene.
Ouachita Mountains Triptych © Ben Jacobi
As morning progressed, more and more clouds rolled in. We decided to get back in the car and grab some breakfast back at the lodge. Along the windy roads we came across something I never expected to see—a black bear! The bear was crossing the highway was we rounded the corner. It was quite the sight to witness as the bear hurled itself over the guardrail in an action-hero-movie-like maneuver. We were so excited and happy to see the black bear that our sunrise bust didn’t even phase us. We returned to the lodge to enjoy a wonderful pancake breakfast and watch an early morning wedding taking place on the overlook. Our time at Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge was finished and we checked out of our room. We were not finished with the state park, however. We did two more trails before finally saying our goodbyes to Arkansas and bringing our Honeymoon Adventure to a close.
Pic of the Week 7/2/21
“Coon Creek Cascades”
Location: Robbers Cave State Park, OK
Date taken: 6/11/21
© Ben Jacobi
The Honeymoon Adventure continues! On what was originally supposed to be our last day, Ashlee and I woke from our room at the Belle Starr View lodge. We had spent the previous day driving to the park and hiking/exploring Robbers Cave. Now we were hoping to hike a few more miles before bidding adieu to Robbers Cave State Park. Right outside our door was the trailhead to the Belle Starr Trail Loop. This trail is rated as easy, but the rocky terrain and elevation changes keep the hike interesting.
The sky that morning was crystal clear which likely meant were not going to shoot sunrise images. Regardless, we were still eager to get out on the trail and see what we could find. The trail starts out on the top of Coon Ridge and follows a path through the forest behind some of the cabins. Following the white blaze markers, you start to quickly lose elevation as the trail takes you down the ridge. Slowly and steadily, we navigated the rocky terrain keeping mindful and careful of our footing—this was ankle twisting territory!
After a short while, we reached the edge of the rock outcrop. Now it was time to get down. The path switchbacked its way down through the rock garden. Walls of conglomerate sandstone encircled us as the trail lead us downhill. This was a favorite part of both Ashlee and I. Maybe its because we’re both from north Texas, but tall rocks mesmerize the both of us. Eventually, we reached the end of the hill and the intersection of the Equestrian multi-use trail. Directly across our line of sight, the still waters of the Coon Creek reservoir reflected the unique topography in the morning stillness. We stood there admiring the mirror-like reflection before moving onwards on the equestrian trail.
Equestrian trails are usually quite a bit different from standard hiking trails. For one, they are wider to accommodate the larger modes of transportation. The also tend to be less rocky and sandier or gravely. This can be both good and bad. Good in that the trail is pretty easy to find and stay on. But bad when it rains. The path came to a junction with a closed off service road. The white (and now yellow) blazes disappeared from the trees, and I wasn’t sure where the trail was. Keeping the same direction, we came to a muddy bog with hoof prints in the mud. We looked up in the trees and saw another yellow blaze with a sign saying “CAMP” we were back on the trail.
For another half mile was walked amongst the forest listening to the birds call and running face first into spider webs! We reached another marker on the trail, this time it pointed us to the direction of the old CCC pumphouse. I could hear the spray of the water as it careened down the dam and after a bit more walking, we were able observe it with our eyesight. Although interesting for the historical context, these structures don’t really do anything for me or my photography. So, I have to say I was disappointed, I had hoped we might run into some small rapids or waterfalls.
Once we walked past the pumphouse; I could make out the sound of rushing water. Now I was much more excited and as we approached the source of the noise, I disregarded the junction to our return trail. I was focused on the creek and oblivious to the world around me. But we did find a nice cascade on Coon Creek. Ashlee and I spent the next half hour jumping from rock to rock photographing this small waterfall. Though not as impressive as some of the others we’ve experienced, this one was entirely new, and I had no idea it was on the trail. I was glad I had a reason to pull out my camera on this hike.
Our clear skies were now being encroached by low hanging clouds to our north. This sent streaks of golden light on our waterfall. I was particularly pulled in, by this fascinating rock in the creek. I thought it would serve as a good anchor point for my composition. After playing around with the shot, I decided to try a vertical orientation and I found the comp had a much better flow. I really love the texture on that foreground rock. Its unique patterns and lines point the eye directly to the sunlit portion of the waterfall, which brings the eye to the main cascade. The color and light in this image is so subtle that it creates a stark contrast against that dark rock. Sure, it may have taken a little extra effort, and I did get my feet wet, but all in all I would say it was worth it!
Our adventure is not over yet, after the waterfall we followed the equestrian trail for a short distance. Here we came across a creek crossing, but something didn’t feel right. We were not going the right direction. Thankfully, I had cell service and I discovered that we missed the trail junction…whoops. We crossed the creek again and met back up with our trail. We began our uphill ascent to return to the Belle Starr View Lodge. After another .8 miles we made it back to the lodge. Although a short 2 miles, it really was a wonderful hike and I highly recommend it if you visit Robbers Cave State Park. After reaching the lodge, we packed up our gear and luggage and got ready to check out.
I thought this was the end of our Honeymoon Adventure, but on our way back home I saw a sign that said “Talahina 60 miles”. That got me thinking, maybe we could stay one more night on the Talimena Scenic Byway. Ashlee had never been there before, and I knew she would love it. On a whim, I called Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge to see if there were any vacancies. To our remarkable fortune, they had just had a cancellation a few minutes prior to my calling. Ashlee and I had a brief discussion, something like, “Wanna go?” “Uh, YES!”, and we made our reservation. We would stay one more night on our Honeymoon Adventure at the Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge on Rich Mountain in Arkansas and get up to hike and explore the Ouachita Forest the next morning. Basically, I’m setting the stage for next week’s Pic of the Week. There’s still one more day left from this trip.
Pic of the Week 6/25/21
Location: Robbers Cave State Park, OK
Date taken: 6/10/21
Today brings us to day 4 of our honeymoon adventure. We had spent the previous time exploring the Lake Eufaula area and while we were saddened to leave our tree-top cabin oasis, the drive for more adventure leads us through the Sans Bois Mountain range and into the depths of Robbers Cave. Once a hideout for notorious outlaws such as Jesse James and Belle Starr, Robbers Cave is an area of Oklahoma I have always wanted to visit. Not just for the fascinating history, but the rocky terrain and thick pine forests have intrigued me for some time now.
The drive to the park was mostly uneventful as we wound our way through the forestry catching glances of some of the peaks of the mountain range. The Sans Bois mountains are part of the much larger Ouachita Mountain chain and mark the “frontal belt” of the range. I have visited the Ouachita’s in the past, and I was excited to be back in the territory. Though last time, I was much further south. After entering the park, we checked in with the main office and got the keys for our room. We would be staying one night at the Belle Starr View Lodge. I thought this would be a more peaceful and relaxing way to enjoy the park. Although now that I have visited, I would like to return for a proper camping experience.
The Belle Starr View Lodge resides high up on Coon Ridge overlooking Coon creek and the reservoir 175 feet below. The lodge is more primitive and dated, but they are working on a new one that will be open in 2022. We got to our room, unpacked our gear, and opened the window to find a male Summer Tanager tapping on the sliding glass door. This was an exciting way to be greeted to the park! Ashlee managed to capture a few nice images of the persistent bird. His bright red plumage gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. The view from our room was quite nice. Although we didn’t have expansive vistas in front of us, we could see the distant Sans Bois mountains and hills framed by the branches of loblolly pine trees. A short walk from our patio brought us to edge of a cliff where car-sized boulders collapsed and tumbled down the hill 30 feet below. Ashlee and I both felt the sense of exploration and adventure welling up inside us.
After a quick lunch we decided to head down to the main attraction of the park—the infamous Robbers Cave. The trail here is not long (at least if you just want to visit the cave) only about .8 miles, but it looked to be quite rugged. We gather our gear and start off on the trail. The trail starts flat as small trees and rocks line the path. Very quickly we start to enter the rough terrain as we ascend the hillside traversing loose rock and stepping over tree roots. Following the trail blazes and signs we reach the pathway to Robbers Cave. We stair step our way up over a slab that slopes sharply downward into the entrance of the cave. The rock is glistening from a recent rain and the wear from hundreds of previous hiker’s boots polish the rocks surface to a smooth but slippery state. We carefully walk ourselves down the steep slope. From the mouth giant rocks, tall vertical cliffs, and lofty pine trees block out the entrance to the cave. Its easy to see why fugitives picked such a place to hide in.
The cave itself is not very large and only goes back about fifty feet, though this is quite large by Oklahoma standards. At first, we can stand when entering the cave, but the roof starts to lower the deeper we go. Now, I am forced into an uncomfortable crouching position and must remove my pack to move freely. We reach the back end of the cave where one can’t go any further. Above my head, I can see the different layered rock of the karst topography. Water intermittently drains through the rock and causes the rock to collapse in sheets forming the cave. I can hear the “plink” of a water droplet falling into a nearby puddle and I wonder when the next caving will occur—hopefully not too soon. I started scouting some possible compositions and I found one that interested me.
From my angle the mouth of the cave has shrunk into an upside-down triangle shape. Directly in my view I see a similar upside-down triangle in a puddle on the cave floor. Another puddle reflects the trunk of a pine tree guarding the main entrance. The black wet rock envelops the rest of the scene; its smooth glossy texture only disrupted by the brilliant green moss clinging to the cave walls. I pull out my ultra-wide-angle lens and turn my camera to a vertical orientation to capture the scene. Since I was so close to the puddle, I needed to focus stack to ensure a sharp image throughout the photo. It takes more time, however, we had the cave all to ourselves and I was able to work unhurried.
© Ben Jacobi
After I grabbed my shot, we headed back on the trail to complete the loop. Here the trail takes you up on the top of Robbers Cave with a great view of the park and the Sans Bois valley. Then the trail brings you through more forest before leading you back down through rocky descents that require some scrambling and bouldering before you connect back to the main trail. We left Robbers Cave feeling tired and hot. The early summer sun was just reaching its highest point as we climbed back into the luxury of our airconditioned vehicle. We decided to “beat the heat” with a dip in Lake Carlton. Then after properly cooling off, laid on the grass drying in the sun. Fully exhausted from the day’s adventure we return to the cabin for showers and dinner. Our day ends to the sounds of crickets chirping and sight of fireflies flickering into the night. There’s still plenty more stories and photos to share from our honeymoon trip.
Pic of the Week 6/18/21
“Lake Eufaula Sundown”
Date taken: 6/8/21
Location: Lake Eufaula State Park Arrowhead Area, OK
Wow oh WOW what a busy month June has been!!! I know I’ve been saying that for the past few months, but this has to be the pinnacle of all our stress, time and energy. Within the last few weeks of May into June we moved my apartment, Ashlee graduated college, our wedding venue dropped us only five days before the wedding, and we had our wedding. So yea, its been exceptionally busy. There was one thing that was keeping me motivated, however. That was our honeymoon. It remained a secret until the night of the rehearsal, but our parents got us a three-night stay at the wonderful Calico Heights cabins in eastern Oklahoma. These tree top cabins hang along the cliffs around Lake Eufaula and offer a spectacular view from the hillside. We stayed in the Green cabin at the far northern end of the property. Our cabin had everything we could need for our stay (including a jacuzzi tub!) What an incredible way to start our lives together.
Photo by © Carla Blanchard Photography
The journey up there was a bit rough, after all the adrenaline and nerves from the wedding calmed down, we were tired and exhausted. We left a little later than I wanted, but we arrived to cabins just after sundown. The sky was bursting with brilliant pinks and oranges on the way reminding us that everything was going to be just fine. We awoke the next morning to find thunderheads billowing over the lake. The early morning sun was just filtering through lighting the puffy clouds in a pinkish hue behind a cobalt blue sky. The occasional rumble of thunder could be head echoing through the canyons. We watched the storms through morning until they were on top of us, and we retreated back to the comfort of our cabin. Not a bad way to start our trip.
Our tree top cabin at Calico Heights.
The spectacular view of the lake from our terrace. We enjoyed many meals under the shade of that umbrella.
It rained a good majority of that day, but once the precip stopped we decided to take the nature trail that surrounds the property. Ashlee enjoyed this time as she found many different subjects to photograph. She shot images of mushrooms, birds, bugs, and flowers. We decided we would head into town to a nearby state park Lake Eufaula State Park Arrowhead Area. I had never been to this state park before, so I was interested in checking it out. Our drive took us through wooded hills and small ravines until we reached the flat open area outside of Canadian, OK. On our way into the park a rafter of turkeys greeted us not far from the sign. We also startled some white tail grazing near the side of the road. Ashlee was already out of the car before I had the chance to stop! I believe she really enjoyed this part of the trip.
The Arrowhead Area of Lake Eufaula State Park is different than the main area of the park which is located another 20miles north of Arrowhead Area. It is the designated equestrian area, golf course, and RV camping. So, trails were limited, and we didn’t have a lot of time before sunset. After driving around for a several minutes, we came to an old picnic area that looked like it had the potential for some photography. Ultimately, we decided for another location to shoot sunset. Not too far down the road we came across another day use area just across from the main RV campground. This provided us with a nice view to our west so we could watch the sunset of the lake. On the way into the day use area I spotted an old dead tree near the water’s edge. I kept this location in the back of my mind. We arrived on site and much to our disappointed saw a layer of low clouds moving in from the south. Our sunset looked like it was about to be snubbed.
Thin beams of sunlight stretched out over the lake outlining the trees and rocks with fantastic backlight. While it was beautiful, it did not translate well into a photograph, so I moved on to my backup subject—that old dead tree. I walked closer to the tree and got more excited as I began to circle the relic taking note of any interesting shapes and compositions. Finally, I decided on the angle and managed to capture the sunset just in time. For a brief moment, the sun dipped below the clouds and just above the horizon. This painted the sky in a pastel of orange and reds which stood out nicely against the stark silhouette of the tree. The composition was simple and easy, but I feel like it captured the moment in just the right way. Something about old trees really interests me. Imagine the sunsets this tree has seen. I wonder what stories it would tell. We finished up our sunset shoot and made the short drive back to our tree top cottage excited for the next day’s adventures. Our honeymoon was an unforgettable experience and I have so many more stories to share from this trip!
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Recent PostsPic of the Week 7/23/21 "The Devil's Punchbowl" Pic of the Week 7/16/21 "Grand View Vista Revisited Pic of the Week 7/2/21 "Coon Creek Cascades" Pic of the Week 6/25/21 "Robbers Cave" Pic of the Week 6/18/21 "Lake Eufaula Sundown" Pic of the Week 5/28/21 "Flooded Lake Whitney" Pic of the Week 4/30/21 "Thundering Skies" Pic of the Week 4/23/21: Cotton Candy Sky on Sugar Ridge Pic of the Week 4/16/21: Gorman Falls #2 Pic of the Week 4/9/21 "White Deer Monster"