The sunset before the storm

The text from my friend said, “Did you make the sunset?”

My reply: “Ho. Lee. Cow.”

The sunset photos weren’t quite what I had hoped for. The story behind it was much better.

We had decided that this weekend would probably be the last free one for a Friday night sunset trip. We wanted to do it right, going to Mt. Nebo State Park; after all, they have a “Sunset Point.” Can’t go wrong, right?

So, plans were made, and despite some hiccups, we started out. Quick stop for a bite in Morrilton – which included having to hit two restaurants since one couldn’t accept debit cards due to a lightning strike that took out their machine. Foreshadowing?

We took a shortcut that helped us skirt Russellville, all the while fretting over gathering clouds that the sun had ducked behind. No worry, maybe the sun would pop out at the last moment, making for a dramatic shot.

It was Crystal’s first trip up Mt. Nebo, as well as the girls. The steep switchbacks had Sarah worried, thinking we would plunge off the side at any moment. Crystal was in awe of the steep, twisty road, but I was just looking forward to the beautiful views that would await us.

Finally getting to the top, with Crystal noting at one point, “Wow, it’s really getting dark over there . . .” Still, we were optimistic.

On top of Nebo, we had to slow to a crawl at what looked like a deer sculpture that looked too real. It was real, in fact, as the deer twitched and turned to watch us with the same curiosity that we showed watching it. A little further down the road, another. And another. At sunset point, a small herd of about six grazed in an open area, occasionally giving us nervous glances to make sure we kept our distance.

Sunset Point proved to be a beautiful view, but with no sunset. Instead, a huge storm was boiling off to the west and north, wrapping around us and kicking up a steady breeze. Lightning flicked tongues down to the ground with more frequency as we sat there. The wind went from a steady breeze to gusts to powerful blasts that kicked up dirt into our eyes.

Katie was determined to get a lightning shot. Crystal and Sarah quickly decided that it would be safer to head to the car.

I gave Katie some quick instructions about exposing for the lightning, but she also decided that the weather was getting too close.

I held out for another few minutes, fighting gusts of wind that were sandblasting me with dirt from the parking area. Not too long after that, I beat a retreat for the car as large drops began to pelt me.

By the time we started moving, the storm hit. Sheets of rain and blasts of wind rocked our little Honda. We briefly stopped in the visitors center parking lot, hoping the storm would quickly blow through and leaving a dramatic sunset. A quick check of the radar revealed that trying to ride it out probably wouldn’t be very productive. So, we headed down the mountain.

Seeing a few feet in front of the headlights does not build confidence as you head down the side of Nebo. We went over streams of water pouring off the side of the mountain, as well as one good sized tree that blocked half the road. However, by then another problem became apparent:

Sarah and I needed a potty break.

No problem. Dardanelle’s not too far away. We’ll stop there, take a bathroom break and ride out the storm.

After a very slow and painstaking drive down the mountain, we made it back to the highway leading into Dardanelle, and realized our next big issue: the electricity was out.

Creeping along, barely able to see, we pulled into a Burger King parking lot. Sarah and I bailed out of the car, only to be greeted by an employee missing more than a few of her teeth explaining that the restaurant was out of electricity, since the darkness wasn’t a dead giveaway.

“Can we please just use your bathroom?” I asked.

They obliged, and a handy flashlight app for my iPhone provided much-needed illumination. I held it over the stall for Sarah, promising her I wouldn’t look.

Bathroom break accomplished, we were back on the road.

The 50-mile drive home was not without its hazards as well. We kept catching the storm as it marched east toward Conway, and repeatedly had to find an exit as the storm grew in intensity. Lightning strikes were popping all around us, and at one point Crystal decided to try to catch a bolt with her phone.

Her phone was horribly slow, so she tried mine. I gave her a quick tip about holding the phone’s shutter button until you were ready to take the shot, and then release, which cut down on the lag time.

Sure enough, she nailed one. Perfectly.

Then, the final hazard. Somewhere between Morrilton and Plumerville, the low fuel light popped on as the needle hit the “E”. Right about the time we caught the storm again.

I decided to press on. Crystal wondered why I took the Menifee exit, but I blamed it on traffic. The real reason – if I ran out of gas, it would be easier for someone to get to us on Highway 64 rather than on I-40.

All in all, an interesting time with the family. I wasn’t as pleased overall with the variety of the shots, but we all had a great story to tell our friends.

As my friend said in his last text, “Hey, the free State of Yell County is always an adventure!”

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