The Trails at Devil’s Den & Crystal Bridges

At Lake Devil (click image for slideshow)

Today was the first outing for my new compact superzoom camera, a Canon PowerShot SX 260 HS. I wanted to shoot some nice scenery I’d viewed before in a different season of the year, so I opted to drive three hours southeast to Devil’s Den State Park in northwest Arkansas. My day hikes spreadsheet reminds me that I first visited Devil’s Den in November 2010. I would hike the same trails today, comparing the exfoliation of late fall to the lush growth of late spring. After my initial visit 17 months ago, I returned to Devil’s Den a year later to hike the Vista Point bridle trail south of the primary hiking trails. Some day I’d like to make the estimated 12-hour trip around the 15-mile Butterfield Trail, but that would require some planning and perseverance since I don’t like to camp, just hike. Charlie Williams of Backpacker magazine, who makes great hiking maps, made a video of a wet two-day hike there at the end of 2006 he did with Dennis England.

Off to the Devil’s Den

I made a poor choice for a hot breakfast in Bartlesville. I won’t say which diner I picked, but I should have gone to Eggbert’s instead…lesson learned. The weather forecast for Devil’s Den said overcast skies in the morning with a 20% chance of thunderstorms and clearing skies in the afternoon. Reality reversed that, with the sun starting to rip through the low clouds as I sped east along the Cherokee Turnpike. The sun would break through intermittently at Devil’s Den during the morning and early afternoon and then the clouds would seal back up.

Exposure Issues

I drove into the park three hours after leaving Bartlesville, threading my way through a flock of mountain bikers and parking at the Yellow Rock trailhead at 10 a.m. I found that the new camera’s automatic setting produced shots which looked overexposed to me, blowing out the sky every time. So I often pointed up to the sky to get it to reduce the exposure, held the shutter button down partway to lock in the settings, and then panned down to take my shot. Unsure of how well this would work, I sometimes took a regular shot and then did my exposure adjustment trick, so I took over 300 shots on today’s hike, about twice the norm. At home I found the regular shots were indeed a bit overexposed but my trick worked overall. So I need to play around some more with the camera’s exposure settings.

Contrasting Shots

Once on the trail I promptly repeated a shot of a colorful bluff I vaguely recalled making 15 months ago, allowing me to construct a seasonal contrast shot if I upscaled and downscaled to match up the 3648×2736 shot made with my Panasonic DMC-ZS3 and the 4000×3000 resolution of the new Canon. In my shot the trees and groundcover were now leafed out and the rotten hollow of an old tree had crumbled down to a stump.

Panasonic Beats Canon on Panoramas

I tried out a macro shot of a spiderwort and then tried out the stitch assist feature on the new camera, which helps you line up a sequence of photos for a panorama. The same feature on the Panasonics had a nice “ghost image” of the previous shot, using an alpha channel transparency of the image, which made it much easier to align the shots. The Canon instead shows you a much-reduced image you have to overlay over the shot you are taking, made difficult by the reduced image size and lack of transparency. The Canon does provide more overlap, which is better for software stitching, but the Panasonic’s feature’s ease-of-use makes it far superior.

In the end, the panorama of the trail ascending to hug the bluff turned out okay, and the trail then led around the overhanging bluff, with colorful layers piled overhead. The trail hugged the bluff awhile longer and then turned and climbed the mountainside, with occasional sweeping views across Lee Creek, which was hidden in the foliage below. The twisted remains of a tree projected from the end of a trail overhang and soon through the trees the yellow bluff hove into view and soon I could see the Yellow Rock lookout, with a group of hikers enjoying the vista.

Yellow Rock Overlook

Yellow Rock Overlook

I passed huge tumbled rock shelves and reached the entrance to the Yellow Rock overlook. One of the hikers was stretched out at the edge of the bluff, taking in the sweeping view across Lee Creek, with three companions perched atop Yellow Rock itself. I shot a panorama of the Lee Creek valley, which I later compared with my fall 2010 panorama. I patiently waited for the hikers to vacate the spot, allowing me to shoot a close-up of Yellow Rock with Lee Creek in the background, walk north along the bluff to view the overlook area to the south, and walk out onto Yellow Rock itself with its convenient stone seats. Soon more hikers arrived from both directions on the trail, providing a sense of scale for the huge vertical bluff.

CCC Overlook

I headed on up the mountain, with the help of stone steps, following the white trail blazes for the long walk south to the CCC overlook. A group of horses, including an Appaloosa and a Bay, was tied up where the Yellow Rock hiking trail crosses the Old Road bridle trail. A large fallen tree had fungi growing along its trunk. I crossed a couple of footbridges and climbed the trail to join other hikers at the CCC shelter at the overlook. I was able to construct another shot contrasting the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2012.

Trailside Snake

As I backtracked down the trail, the hikers who had been at Yellow Rock were stalled out. One had walked near a snake, which had reared up and flattened its head. I was no more able to identify it than they were, but I did get a nice shot of it and we stared each other down as I passed by. Soon I was back down by the bluff but rather than retrace my way to the trailhead I took a side social trail leading down to the base of a bluff and running westward. A was surprised to find a couple of buzzards along here who allowed me to approach fairly close before flapping away.

[kaptainkory on Flickr identified the snake as a hog-nose. My father used the common regional name of puff adder for it, although the internet points out that popular nickname is technically incorrect.]

The Unofficial Bluff Trail

The trail extended quite far along the bluff, tucking under high overhangs with alternating dark and light walls. The trail led on and on for a very pleasant walk with no other hikers. I posed by a cylindrical wall erosion and later sheets of rock had fallen from the bluff but not yet crumbled away. The bluff finally began to shrink and common evening primrose appeared by the trail, fooled into opening by the shade. The unofficial trail ended at a campground, with huge tilted slabs of rock.

Lee Creek

I backtracked along the park road and down to Lee Creek and took the River Trail back to the main bridge and the picturesque small shelter nearby. Soon a father and his children were paddling a small pontoon boat alongside the shelter. I walked to the shelter toward some geese as another paddleboat slapped away down the creek. I posed in the shelter’s doorway to illustrate its diminutive size.

Devil’s Den Trail

I walked up to and along the Devil’s Den Trail, past the deep crevices, banned from intrusion as part of the ongoing effort to prevent white nose syndrome, although I saw several youths violating the ban and scrambling through a fracture cave. I suppose they’d be more conscientious if the white nose syndrome also afflicted humans. I crossed a stream which had eaten into a bluff and climbed up to shoot a panorama of the bluffside trail with a hiker providing some scale. Soon I reached Twin Falls, where I shot a panorama and constructed another seasonal comparison. I walked past the upper falls and saw that one of the sentinel trees had fallen. I saw the immense eroded rock block which reminds me of the Gaudi apartments in Spain with its window-like holes, then completed the trail and forded the creek back to my car, completing a 6-mile hike.

Devil Lake

I drove to the dam at Lake Devil, where everyone was gawking at a water moccasin, but one snake for the day was enough for me. I plopped down and had a late lunch and then washed up and changed clothes in a park restroom, glad to be rid of my sweaty clothing as well as the Cutter and sunscreen residue. I bid Devil’s Den adieu by 2:30 p.m. I was still willing to hike, but wanted more comfortable conditions. So I drove one hour north on Interstate 540 to Crystal Bridges at Bentonville.

Crystal Bridges

Crystal Bridges

Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton has put $317 million into the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a series of pavilions nestled in a ravine near downtown Bentonville, where Sam Walton opened Walton’s 5 and 10 back in the 1940s. I’m saving a visit to its interior for a future trip with a friend and fellow admirer of art. But this afternoon I figured I would have time to explore the roughly four miles of trails I’d read about which are incorporated into the museum grounds. I drove up to the main entrance, which is heralded by one of Roxy Paine’s stainless steel trees, or dendroids. This one is titled Yield and is less dramatic than his Conjoined, which I’ve seen at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The first parking lot was full, so I drove back to one at the end of the Orchard Trail, a wide wiggling concrete path leading through the trees back to the main entrance. Its borders were outlined with many tall wildflowers.

The main entrance leads to an elevator and stair tower which affords a view of the pavilions below. I descended to the courtyard and located another piece of exterior art, Robyn Horn’s Already Set In Motion, made of redwood that has been dyed black. Soon I was walking down the Rock Ledge trail, which led for half a mile due north. There were wild hydrangeas along the trail, and soon I walking beside the eponymous ledge, hewn out in the 19th century for a railroad which was never built. A stone monolith of fascinating hues and texture marked the end of the line but the trail curved back to form the mile-long Dogwood Trail leading south.

A number of trees had been cut down and the pieces stacked between trees or used for stools. Trees still to be removed had a large blue X sprayed onto them. There were tree thrones carved here and there, and I posed on one. By now I’d made over 275 shots for the day and the camera’s GPS has been on for almost six hours. I knew the previous Canon camera GPS units were notorious battery hogs, so I wasn’t too surprised that the battery was almost out. The spare I’d bought and charged up was back in my pack in the car, so I was glad to find the Dogwood Trail led straight to the outer parking lot so that I could replenish.

I headed northwest on the half-mile Tulip Tree Trail, which hugged and crossed a ravine. A short side trail looped around a ravine carved by Crystal Spring, a natural spring which feeds the museum’s ponds. I like the stone bench they had built into the side of the trail.

I reached the paved 1/3 mile Art Trail, which led across a creek to where some gentlemen were confronting Stella, a bronze pig by André Harvey with a funny expression. A lovely trail area was not improved, in my opinion, by Dan Ostermiller’s Shore Lunch. I just don’t care for the thick rounded forms he uses in his bear bronzes. I’m also a philistine when it comes to James Turrell’s Way of Color, a “Skyspace sculpture” I mistook for a restroom because of a nearby sign. Evidently when it is operating you sit inside the space near sunset and artificial colors and the view of the darkening sky through the oculus provides a fun visual experience. Too bad its exterior looks so much like a 1960s state park restroom boondoggle. The actual restroom is up a side trail and rather more prosaic…and smelly.

There were more bears to come, this time Paul Manship’s Group of Bears, this version being cast decades after it was modeled. It was originally made for a gateway at the Bronx Zoo. The minimal detailing on the figures originally would not have mattered, since they would have been positioned twenty feet up in the air.  I admired some blue false indigo flowers nearby and then climbed along the 1.5 mile Crystal Bridges Trail to an overlook area providing a view of the pavilions to the east, with tall trees rising beyond.

Beside the trail was one of the fifteen Grains of Sand stones by Robert Tannen which line the various trails. Farther along were stones crossing the creek, forming A Place Where They Cried by Pat Musick and Jerry Carr to commemorate the Trail of Tears, part of which flowed about two miles north of the museum site. I then backtracked to the North Lawn Trail, which is a wide grassy trail delineated by concrete curbs. I had seen couples and families spread out to relax and picnic on the expansive north lawn earlier when I passed above it on the Rock Ledge Trail.

That trail led to the most disappointing artwork of the day, Lowell’s Ocean by Mark di Suvero. Roberta Smith admired this 20-foot-tall 26,000 pound monstrosity when it was installed in New York. I wish it had stayed there, as I find such huge abstract steel jumbles an ugly blot on the landscape compared to the weird elegance of something like Paine’s dendroids.

I descended to the courtyard level and briefly toured the gift shop before heading to the car, passing more pretty flowers. I’d hiked 4.5 miles around the grounds of the museum and look forward to returning later this year to view the art collection inside.

My New Camera Has Significant Drawbacks

It was a fun day and my camera gave me some nice shots. But its automatic mode tends to overexpose photos and I had to resort to significant post processing at times. Compared to my previous Panasonic Lumix camera it has worse battery life, inferior panoramic stitching assistance, and the GPS is far worse, often failing to geotag photos with no discernible pattern or reason for that failure.

The camera’s body design has ergonomic and design errors, such as a power button which is too difficult to press, being buried in a slight hollow. And the battery and memory card compartment lid wraps around the tripod screw mount, forcing me to remove my GorillaPod’s quick release clip every time I need to remove or insert either the battery or the memory card.

These shortcomings are quite disappointing, but the camera does take nice shots overall. I’ll play around with the exposure settings and see if other owners are reporting GPS problems. Perhaps I just have a defective unit.

Click here for a slideshow from these day hikes

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
This entry was posted in day hike, photos, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Trails at Devil’s Den & Crystal Bridges

  1. George Parks says:

    Great shots from the hikes. I need to do some more experimenting with my Canon. I’ve not done a lot of shooting outdoors like you have. Vicki and are going on a European river cruise in June, and I need to work all the bugs out before then. We’ll go from Trier to Nuremburg–Moselle, Rhine, & Main. Really looking forward to it. Come to see us in Nashville.


  2. Pingback: Art and Commerce in Bentonville « MEADOR.ORG

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