It’s good to know your limitations.
Especially when it comes to driving up a mountain in the snow.
Not that I can’t drive in snow and ice; far from it. In my previous life as a photojournalist, not only did I willingly get out in wintry weather, it was expected of me to drive to spots where the weather had affected the traffic in the worst possible way and return with photos for the next edition.
But, it’s always good to have friends with Jeeps.
The most recent snow day proved that to be true. This year, winter has meant that March definitely came in like a lion. Several weeks of repeated ice and sleet storms had me definitely suffering a bit of cabin fever. It has interfered with assignments and kept me inside far too long.
I tried to amuse myself through some of it. Doing office work, even setting up my GoPro on our front porch to do a time lapse of sleet piling up couldn’t shake the cabin fever. So, when the last round of winter came through, I was up early and ready to go – even if it was just walking around my neighborhood.
Fortunately, my friend Bill had the same idea.
Bill’s a great motorcycle mechanic and a photography buff who is definitely enjoying honing his craft. And, he’s doing a really good job with his landscape work; that’s something I really enjoy doing but don’t practice nearly enough. It usually shows, too.
When his number popped up on my phone and he asked if I wanted to get out and do some photos, I was already showered and sipping a cup of coffee.
We sat in the driveway in Bil’s idling Jeep and hatched a plan to go to Petit Jean, one of my favorite spots in the state. It’s close, it’s beautiful, and it would be a fun excursion in the snow.
I mentioned that I was game as long as he felt like he could handle the drive. No problem, he said.
He was mostly right.
As we traversed a backroad in Perry County, I told Bill the roads didn’t seem too bad, since we were going okay. He pointed out that I wasn’t driving, and that there was about an inch of ice under the snow and that it was not as easy driving as it might appear.
After that, I noticed the Jeep’s subtle slipping and Bill’s corrections as we drove.
I had assumed that the road going up the mountain would have been treated, but the amount of rain that preceded the snow would have meant any chemicals spread would have simply washed away. So, we were going up the mountain on mostly snowy roads.
The sun had been out for a little while, so some melting was beginning, but not enough to have been a comfortable drive in my Honda Fit. The Jeep handled it just fine.
We spent a while at Stout’s Point, which is the first overlook on the mountain as you approach from the south side. It overlooks the Arkansas River, and you can see Morrilton in the distance as well as Ada Valley to the southwest. The snow had made the landscape even more stark, with the sun casting shadows from trees in the pastures below, making beautiful graphic scenes.
The cool thing about being on Petit Jean at that time is the silence and solitude. We had the area to ourselves; there were no footprints marking the fresh snow. The only disturbance was a truck that came through, its driver probably wondering what those two crazy photographers were up to.
Bill and I worked separately, each with different lenses and different images we were trying to capture. I worked mostly with a wide angle lens, a 14-24mm zoom lens that took in almost too much of the panorama.
I had switched to a longer lens to try to isolate some of the details of the landscape, walking along the boardwalk along the overlook rather than picking my way along the rocks. That’s when I saw my favorite image of the trip.
As I walked along, I noticed the low sun shining through the barren branches of the trees near the Petit Jean grave site and thought it made a nice composition. I quickly set up my tripod, carefully metered to get the shot at the top of this post. I probably should have called it quits after that.
We moved on to Davies Bridge and Cedar Creek, working our way down the creek and trying to avoid areas that have been overworked photographically. It was at that point I hit the wall. I had used the shorter lens and couldn’t really find an angle that worked.
Lesson learned: next time, take the long lens, too, even if it means lugging it and not using it.
We had both decided that lunch was next on the agenda.
Mather Lodge was thankfully open, although operating on a skeleton crew. We weren’t in a hurry.
As a result, the conversation was fun and by the time the burger had arrived, we were hungry enough to appreciate the nourishment.
By the time we left the mountain, the sun had melted the snow from the roads on the southern side of the mountain. The descent was very uneventful, as was the drive home.
If you ever have the opportunity, make a trip to Petit Jean to see it covered in snow. If it means a stay at the lodge anticipating the weather, it’s certainly worth the effort. It’s a beautiful trip.
And, if you have a friend with a Jeep, it makes it even better.
I think I owe you a burger, Bill.