National Parks

El Morro

El Morro -New Mexico -1

Just down the road from my new home is El Morro National Monument .  My last visit was in 2010 when I went to a workshop at Crow Canyon sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. 


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This natural pool provided the run off water so people could stop and rest on their travels and have a drink...and autograph the rock.  

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So, natural resources are important.  Water is extremely important in the American west, which made this a great place to stop and have a drink before getting back on the trail.  

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Of course it was an inscription rock long before the colonists arrived.   The Ancestral Pueblo people were busy inscribing on this rock. 

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Telling their stories in stone a thousand years ago.  

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I love the petroglyphs.  

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If you take the half mile hike to the top of El Morro you can arrive at the ancient village of the Shiwi people.  Atsinna.  

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The Kiva is the church of the pueblo people.  A house of prayer.   

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I've hiked El Morro every week since I've been in New Mexico.  This Saturday was particularly pretty.  

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Of all the things I missed about New Mexico, I missed the sky the most.  I am in love with the sky on these days where the clouds dot the dark azure sky.   

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The passed through here in 1709, the year the little ice age struck Europe.  

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They came in the 19th century and wrote their names besides the ancient ones, beside the Spaniards and marked their journeys west.  

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The oldest inscription from Onate, is dated prior to the Mayflower.   This history in North America that we often miss in our history books,   we forget about the Spanish and the French in North America.   We need to remember they were here too.   

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I like the hike up El Morro, the views are spectacular.   

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It was a beautiful day. 

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There is the volcano that I can see from my back yard.  This landscape is amazing.   

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and you can look down on the other side of the mesa.  

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You can look out and see Highway 53 and in an hour you can be in Arizona.   

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These stairs carved in the rock to make your hike easier.   

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Highway 53 and El Morro is kind of out of the way but it is well worth your time if you are in the area.  

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Inscription Rock, a little place in western New Mexico that documents centuries of travelers who were seeking a new life, or were just continuing to live their lives out on the Colorado Plateau.    





Back to New Mexico

I have returned to New Mexico.  I had an opportunity presented to me that I couldn't turn down.  I've been here nearly a month now and am slightly settled in.  Here are some images from my initial drive out on September, 24th. I lived in New Mexico in 2003-04. I took my first teaching position in The Pueblo of Zuni.   That year had an incredible impact of my understanding of the world and people. It was the impetus for my fascination with Native culture and heritage and it's importance..  

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I probably should have stayed home a few more days and got over my cold.  But I left the day after I finished my last day of notice on my Oklahoma job.   I made it to New Mexico fairly early but New Mexico is a large state (the sixth largest), I had a few more hours to go.  I was doubting my decision but I know that I can do anything for a year (or two).  I also know there are a lot of places I want to see in the Southwest and work on my photography portfolio and this is an excellent time in my life to do it.   

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This is El Morro... the closest National Monument  to my new home.  

As I returned to familiar scenery and a landscape of my past....  I was longing for Oklahoma and my family.   But I was also curious about this new school and new students, and schedule.  I also feel that I'm in a position where I'm treated as a professional which I never felt working for large school systems.   I am in a state that values the fact that I've valued my education and the pay represents that.  

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The grandeur of nature and the signatures of the people who traveled through in the past at El Morro.   This is an amazing landscape.  I understand the inspiration New Mexico provided for artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe. But I've got a lot more images and perhaps I'll  begin working on my blog more often now.  

Carlsbad Caverns

So we did a super quick trip to New Mexico over Spring Break -  and by quick I mean like 36 hours quick.   We drove to New Mexico on a Thursday evening and home on a Friday night, but we still went to a place we have never been before but always heard about.   So I spent the day looking at the weather and checking different state parks and places within four or five hour drives that we could go to but since it was St. Patricks Day I also knew that I really didn't want to be in downtown Dallas or Tulsa that night.   After watching the weather Carlsbad was our destination of choice, my husband's suggestion and it was a good one.   

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We left the house at four thirty or so and made it to Carlsbad around midnight.  Of course New Mexico is in Mountain Time so I'm not really sure what time it was by the time we arrived. 

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I haven't been to New Mexico since 2010!!!  When I went to a National Endowment for the Humanities workshop up in Colorado at Mesa Verde.  It has been a long time and I love New Mexico it is one of my favorite places.   I can't believe it has been six years since I've been out there already.   

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So we make it to Hobbs and I get to drive from Hobbs to Carlsbad.   Which was a decent little drive.   We arrived at the hotel and went to bed for some much needed rest after our 463 mile drive.   

Carslbad to the Caverns Highway-1

It's pretty flat until you get to the mountains,  and you only get to the mountains near the caverns.  

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So you drive up the mountain and eventually arrive at the visitors center. 

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It was incredibly windy when we got to the top of the mountain to go into the visitors center for our self guided cave tour.   

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This is probably a REALLY, REALLY GOOD IDEA.  If you are in horrible shape and don't like walking uphill this is not the national park for you.  Also, small children, good luck with that.  If you want to carry them and hope they aren't scared of dark places.  I consider myself in "decent" shape and this cave hike kicked my butt.   It takes three to four hours and the hike back out is brutal and uphill.  The hike down isn't too bad, but it is one of the most incredible places that I've ever been to.  

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They weren't kidding.   

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As you enter it is truly other worldly.  I used a tripod and a 15-30 2.8 lens on a Canon 6D,  I still struggled to get the shots that I wanted out of these caves.  Of course it was so packed with tourists it is truly difficult to enjoy America's National Parks sometimes because they are always relatively crowded.   

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Now for the pictures inside the caverns.   

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I hope to have some more time at home now which will allow me to catch up on everything that I'm behind on.  

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I can't even caption these photos because they do not do it justice.  It is a place that you can only imagine if you see it and experience it.  A photo does nothing to help you understand the vastness.   

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I'm trying to show you the images that are in focus more but I felt like I was battling shooting in this not quite dark situation on crowded pathways.  

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We hiked a total of two miles in the caverns  but four round trip and that is all underground.  It is impressive.  I can't explain or tell you what it is like.  You need to go see it for yourself.  

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These were all shot at 15mm, ultra wide but you really can't tell can you? 

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See the trail going through the bottom of this room.   

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So it was time to hike out and I didn't take any photos on our brutal hike out.  Mainly because the 15 year old decided we should "jog" out, or walk very quickly.  It didn't bother me to leave because I really don't like enclosed places that much!   But I was definitely sore the rest of the weekend. 

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Just beautiful.  Other worldly.  

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And as today is Easter, this photo is symbolic to me because it reminds me of so many Native American emergence stories of how they came out of the middle place.  Emerging from the cave just as we as humans emerge into this world from the womb.   I sure was glad to see the light and go back to the outer parts of this earth.  


Hot in Hot Springs

On July 31st my daughter and I went to Hot Springs.  We got to Arkansas a day earlier than we usually do and decided to take a vacation day sight seeing. I hope next summer we can do even more of this.  

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What was my prior knowledge of Hot Springs Arkansas before going there?  Not much, I knew there were hot springs, I didn't know why.  I knew that it was a popular tourist spot and I also knew it wasn't too horribly far from the family place but we had never been there.   

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The water out of Hot Springs average 143 degrees f. and people have been drawn to the springs for hundreds (and likely thousands) of years.  The water that come from the springs are over four thousand years old (well obviously all water is "old" it's just not something we think about).   In 1832 under the Jackson administration the government set aside four sections of land to "reserve" them for the people.  In 1877 the government took control over the springs and approved the private bathhouses which you will see some more photos of.  

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In 1921 Hot Springs National Park was established.  

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Bathhouse Row is an interesting area. I believe one bathhouse is still in operation.  By the 1960s many of the bathouses had closed their doors and fell into disrepair.  By 2004 the park began renovating the buildings to help economically revitalize the area.  

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The water is hot! 

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These photos are more of a documentary style and of a tourist nature.  Not my best shots, but I wasn't trying very hard.

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Some images of Bathhouse Row   

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I hope to add enough historical information to educate you about your visit to Hot Springs or any other unusual places I've been to. I need to start working on educational power points, which was my original plan when I began visiting historical places. 

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I will do another post about the bathhouse museum we toured in Hot Springs. 

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This has a beautiful design. 

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Now if you actually want a real bath in Hot Springs the Buckstaff is the operational bathhouse there. 

Buckstaff Baths

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My daughter really wanted to do this. 

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We shopped a little and ate and then drove up the mountain to go up the observation tower.  

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I don't really like observation towers as I learned in Sioux Falls.  I don't like heights that much not in these situations.   

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It's a nice rainy day here in Oklahoma.   I just feel like staying inside.  Next week the job officially begins and I'll be a tired person.  

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You really can't see the forest for the trees out here...

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Mom's Mudflaps at Chimney Rock

So in the 1970s and early 80s my parents had a trailer manufacturing business in Butte Nebraska- S&S Trailers it was called.  They were pretty successful for a while. 

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This is where I spent my early childhood.  This is the kind of town where I could ride my bike to the store a few blocks down at age seven and be safe.  This is the kind of childhood our kids deserve but most don't have.  I was fortunate.   

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The paint shop, where some of my earliest memories are helping wipe down trailers to clean them before they were painted.  

So not a lot to say about Butte Nebraska but I'm one of the Sharp kids.  Which even decades after moving away people know whose family you belong to.  That's what small Nebraska towns are like. So when I was a kid my parents sold mud flaps that she designed with the outline of the state map around them.  

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One of the shop buildings.   

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The big green shop.  The old burnt out shop caught on fire before I was born sometime.  The irony of internet addiction when your phone has no coverage is for whatever reason I had 3G coverage if I walked over on the property.  I was staying across the road at my best friend's home.  

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But a few days later I was on the way on a spur of the moment last moment change of plans with my Plainsgirl buddy from Omaha...

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Way out west - we were taking the Great Nebraskan Pilgrimage to Chimney Rock, a place that was far, far away from our Eastern Nebraska.  Yet, it has always been such a huge part of the state's identity having never been there seemed kind of wrong in our advanced ages of the somewhat early middle.  

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So Chimney Rock in the Platte River Valley which was incredible.  This just doesn't seem like the Nebraska I've known.  Yet there it is Chimney Rock.   

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And WOW.  We were there.  

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So there was a museum, cool, we can go learn about this monument.   

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I walk in and see these.  I kind of did a double take.  I told my friend that my Mom designed those and my parents sold them all over Nebraska when I was a kid.   I had to call Mom and make sure I was correct that she did indeed design these mud flaps.  COOL.   My Mom did this and it's in a National Monument Museum that many people walk through and see every day.  

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So were it not for flooding in Omaha, and our random decision to travel west I wouldn't have known about this.  But I'm proud of my Mom's creativity in this museum.   Also, yeah how cool is that to go into a museum and see a part of your own family history preserved. Chimney Rock Joy Franklin -5585

I'm trying to work my way through more of my images from The Great Plains tour 2014, because I just confirmed the dates of The Great Plains tour 2015 this evening.  I'm excited!  I love going North in the Summer.  Maybe I just love traveling anywhere, anyways!  Yay for road trips.  I'd be a happy person if I could travel more.  

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So it was an interesting day last June when we visited Chimney Rock and Scottsbluff, and I'm even more thankful that we had more time with Grandma that evening.  

Nature is Non-Essential

America, we have a problem.  Those old men who've long been passed away are busy rolling over in their graves tonight; John Muir, John Wesley Powell, Teddy Roosevelt, 19th century dreamers, poets and early 20th century activists who crusaded to protect natural beauty from development would be in outraged.  Nature in 2013 is "non-essential."  I shot these photos at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area today. One of the nation's oldest National Parks once called Platt National Park.  It features a travertine spring and a beautiful creek with natural swimming areas.   The Sulphur Springs is in an area of the park that is always open for people to stop and sip the strongly scented sulphur water.   

Government Shutdown of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur Oklahoma-4489
Not only has the federal government taken natural beauty away from the people as "punishment" by labeling the National Parks Service employees as non-essential this is a petty show of the will of governmental power.  This is in effect showing "We the People" of the United States that we are not responsible enough to visit a National park without a nanny state guardian available.   Yet, we educate our citizens that they have ownership in our national places. That these places are for everyone, all the time.  

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A symbolic cone placed to tell people that we aren't allowed to walk freely throughout this park collectively owned by American citizens, that the stewards who are hired to work here aren't important enough.  A tradition of protecting natural beauty for over a hundred years is now subjugated to political games and ploys to show the power of the Government.   

Government Shutdown of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur Oklahoma-4482
This show of the "might" of the US Government is just as mighty as a parade of 10,000 soldiers down the streets of a big city.  It is a flagrant slap in the face to the American people telling them that this country is not theirs, it belongs to "the Government" and the Government will determine what we need and what is essential and "non-essential" so while regulators and tax collectors continue to go to work and harass and fine ordinary citizens, our parks are unnecessary.   This is no different as unveiling giant paintings of a dictator, this is the marching of troops, this is a group of soldiers invading a home to look for one person in Boston.   This is a show of power.  

Government Shutdown of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur Oklahoma-4460
Yet, Government excess exists, an unsustainable path of destruction exists for a country whose expenditures outstrip income.  We are beholden to the full faith and trust of a system whose show of might is to put barricades up to keep citizens from seeing collectively owned natural beauty.

Government Shutdown of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur Oklahoma-4476
In many ways this reminds me of the historic treatment of Native peoples in this Nation.  The government has deemed what is essential and nature is not.  Native people have always held land as sacred within certain religious ceremonies.  The sense of place holds a power with people whose ancestry may be traced back tens of thousands of years on this continent.  Yet, ultimately the government with it's courts and judges decide what is sacred and what land is to be protected.  This time the Government has decided what is important and nature is not important.   

Government Shutdown of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur Oklahoma-4496
The Governmental shutdown is a passion play that our legislators like to have with each other every so often, yet I disagree that running the country into the ground is the best idea for our children.  But, at the same time I don't see that an entire park system needs to be shutdown especially as our national parks produce revenue.  Maybe we need fewer insurance companies, agents, and lawyers sitting around making up regulations and laws to protect their own self interest.  

Government Shutdown of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur Oklahoma-4497
Maybe for the most part we don't need to be hovered over at National Parks and for the most part at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area I never see park workers, especially near the Sulphur Springs.  This show of Governmental power is to show the American Citizens -- the very citizens that we educate about their ownership of the government--that we are indeed powerless against barricades and cones that tell us that "this land is not our land."  This land is Government Property and you, the citizens are to keep out.  The sad part is that the park system provides the only nature that some people enjoy.  A controlled beautiful nature, not a wild nature to be explored but a highly regulated, legislated natural beauty.  

No one owns the land,ultimately all civilizations rise and fall and change. A short millenia ago this land was also occupied great civilization who left us echoes of their mounds which we can visit at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, which is not closed by the Government of the United States.  

It is not time to privatize the National Parks, privatize to development and corporate ownership along with more fines and fees. It is time for the old men running the country to show some respect for the people who put them in office and take a step back and re-prioritize the essentials.  

Old Military Trail on The Winding Staircase

Tuesday didn't go as planned. I was stuck for the night in Talihina.   Now, being stuck in one of the most beautiful places in Oklahoma is really nothing to complain about.  After we ate at the Hateful Hussy Diner in Talihina and got settled in I drove out east of town to Highway 1 to capture the sunset.  But, the history behind this old military road fascinated me when I began going on the scenic byway. 

Winding Stair Old Military Road Picnic Grounds-1629
These are some of the highest mountains in the Ouachitas.  Everytime I come back I learn something new.  Learning isn't about doing something once, it must be reinforced and explored.  

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So this place that I explored, still needs to be explored some more. I'm drawn by the numerous hiking trails down the mountain, yet serious hiking is not something I've ever done before.  

Old Military Trail near Talihina Oklahoma-1637
So I really want to come back out here for a couple of days and hike some of these trails.  

Old Military Trail near Talihina Oklahoma-1644
But I didn't have time. I knew when the sun was going to set and had places to go and things to see. Now, I know this is bear country. 

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I don't want to meet a bear.  Bears don't care, bears will eat your face.   Now back to the Military Road markers, you might miss them when you drive through.  The scenery is amazing on your first couple of visits. 


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The landscape always overwhelmed me in the past and I never stopped and read these markers.  But, as my knowledge of Oklahoma grows my interest in the details also grows.  Last January I visited Ft. Towson.  I was going to find Ft. Towson Cemetery where my Great-Grandfather was buried and discovered Doaksville. 

First Military Road Marker mentions Jesse Chisholm-1643
The old historial markers are interesting.  Different tidbits of information written in different eras, revisionist history.  

Military Road of 1832 connecting Ft Towson and Ft. Smith-1631
A little more information for you.  

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and another shot of the old military trail... 

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After reading about this military road I was even more fascinated about visiting Fort Smith. It has been on my list of places to see for a long time.  I finally made it over on Wednesday afternoon. 

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More photos to come but this was mainly a post to focus on a little bit of the history of the region. 

Talimena Scenic Drive in The Fall

I have never been a great fan of the falling leaves and the weather that Autumn heralds, but I have to say this is a glorious drive to take in the Fall.  I was afraid I would miss it with appointments being changed from late October to early November, but apparently we had perfect timing.  

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I love this view in the Spring and Summer but I didn't imagine the array of colors that there would be in the fall. 

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Such a beautiful afternoon in the mountains.  People don't really think about the mountains of Oklahoma.   They talk of the Rocky Mountains, or the Smoky Mountains in other states but we don't hear about the Ouachitas very often.  It's a shame this is one spectacular place.  But maybe it isn't a shame, there arent' always hordes of tourists here.   It is peaceful.  

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The window for fall photography is brief, we have such a vibrant display of colors for such a short time that you have to grasp the opportunity to photograph them while you can. 

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There was a fire off in the distance...

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We could talk about the election?  The stock market dropped 300 points.   Fear and social issues forced many one issue voters to the polls, and unfortunately religious zealotry keeps many people away from a party who has a realistic grasp on the economic realities that this nation faces.  

Ouachitas near Rich Mountain-2922

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Nature doesn't care about politics.  There was nature before there was politics.  There was nature before the man tried to control it and tell it what to do...

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I have more shots but this is enough for now! 

Swimming at Bear Falls in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area

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Bear Falls and underneath is the Chickasaw Language Translation.   The Chickasaw National Recreation was once the historic Platt National park.  A park that maintains the natural beauty of the cold spring water that runs down Travertine Creek into the historic town of Sulphur.   

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A blade of grass sitting peacefully in the water. 

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With temperatures over 105 today the water was refreshing.  While lakes often have blue-green algae alerts the water of the creek is cool and refreshing.  Frigid most of the year, but perfect in July.  My kids love this place.   

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The boys.  Clearly used to my camera,  they no longer protest.  They are in the acceptance stage.  

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On the way to Sulphur my boys were discussing how to "make money" and my youngest son told his older brother that "the easiest way to make a lot of money was through hard work."  Not a bad sentiment from an eleven year old child.   

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In another discussion later this evening the same son was discussing watching "Through the Wormhole" on the Science Channel and he popped off with another bit of childhood wisdom:  

"We're like Pokemon, just a little bit.  But it takes a long, long time to evolve."  

Justin in the creek-4006
He is my son who shouts "THIS IS NOT HISTORY" at the History Channel when they are showing their reality shows.   

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Even in the murky water there is a glimpse at beauty. 

Fish Swimming-4037
See the little fishy? 

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The beautiful creek.  

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If you sit still and look just right you can capture the reflections of the trees in the creek, and the sky in the natural mirror.   

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The little waterfalls that are found throughout the creek and its natural swimming holes make this a great place to be in the summer.  

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This was the only flower I could find today. I miss seeing all the wildflowers they were beautiful this year.  

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I also like the tree in the background, an interesting tree.  With interesting roots.  

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What fun for children, to swim in a creek.  Like kids did before there were swimming pools in our backyards filled with chemicals.  

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leaves in the water.  

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To see more of this delicate beauty please see my previous posting.  

Orange Butterfly at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area

So, my enthusiasm for photographing this beautiful park is waning.  I've got numerous posts on it, we go here to swim in the summer often.  We love the cold water and the park, but photographing it.  Well I wasn't excited today. I took the camera, I didn't anticipate any great photography to happen. I thought "why am I photographing this place...AGAIN."   But, after I got there and went out in the creek for a while I was getting some nice macro shots and then this stunning butterfly few up on the only flower in sight.   I don't know what kind of butterfly this is, but it is one of the more beautiful ones.  

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I was like WOW! Look at that orange! Brilliant!  And then I was excited about photography and knew I had a good subject.   

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What a pop of color - in the greenery of the Travertine Creek.  

Butterfly at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area-4112

"Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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"Butterflies are self propelled flowers."

R.H. Heinlein

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"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." 

Rabindranath Tagore
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And you think you'd like to gather it up and take it home.  Because it is so beautiful, but you know it would die, and no longer flutter among the greenery.  

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"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."

Maya Angelou
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"We must remain as close to the flowers, the grass, and the butterflies as the child is who is not yet so much taller than they are. We adults, on the other hand, have outgrown them and have to lower ourselves to stoop down to them. It seems to me that the grass hates us when we confess our love for it. Whoever would partake of all good things must understand how to be small at times." 

Friedrich Nietzsche

Oklahoma Butterfly -4120
Butterflies are beautiful because of their symmetry, the beautiful perfect symmetry of a butterfly, its uneven wings, filled with its lines and angles.   The deceptive designs of evolution.   The work of god, no matter what  you believe these tiniest of creatures whose lives are brief bring us, humans awe and wonder.   

Shadow butterfly bw-4107
In the shadows even butterflies can have an air of mystery and darkness.  

Summer Butterfly-4122
The butterfly got it's own post.  Beautiful little butterfly.  I thought the butterflies I photographed earlier this spring were amazing, but whatever this little one is - is pure beauty.