Fall Color on Rocky Creek

The Rocky Creek area is one of the more geologically interesting and just plain beautiful areas of the park.  Add in the fact that the trees are beginning to show their fall colors and a drive through the area was irresistible.  So yesterday afternoon found Dayna, Bailey and myself bouncing along dirt roads, shooting lots of photos and even looking for a crayfish or two.

The first stop, as always when in this area, was Rocky Falls.  I imagine that the creek had been dry or nearly so a few weeks ago, but the recent rain — including nearly an inch the night before — had plenty of water tumbling down the rhyolite face of the falls.  There were a number of folks at the falls, not surprising considering the nice weather, the colorful foliage and the annual Arts & Crafts festival taking place in nearby Eminence.

Leaving the falls, we continued down NN Hwy and when the pavement ran out, we turned left, bypassing the road to the river and heading instead to Klepzig Mill and another of Rocky Creek’s shut-ins.  Upon reaching the mill, we walked past the old spring house and out onto the exposed granite in the creek bed.  Looking upstream  you see this view:

Downstream, you see the rest of the shut-in, with the old mill clinging to the rock.

We left the mill, continuing along the road and crossing the creek — don’t try this crossing unless you have plenty of clearance, it’s full of large rocks — and turned up Little Rocky Creek.  Just before leaving the park, the road crosses a small unnamed hollow.  It had water and somehow it was clear, unlike the main creek which was flushed from the rain the night before.

I can’t pass up any chance to look for crayfish, and I already had my wading shoes on, so I stopped the truck and hit the water.  The pool in the photo was about 40’ long and 10’ wide and no deeper than a foot.  And I found three species of crayfish in it: Orconcetes luteus, O. punctimanus and O. ozarkae.  I would have been surprised if the first two hadn’t been present, but this is the first time I’ve found O. ozarkae outside the main stem of the river, much less a first order stream like this.  Cool.  But Bailey had had enough by now and had her head out the window barking at me to get a move on.  And when Bailey talks, people listen.

The road climbs a hill then drops back down to Wildcat Hollow, a fork of Little Rocky Creek.  The road crosses the stream several times and we stopped on a gravel bar between crossings, mainly to let Baily take a leak, but also to look around.

When I shot this, I thought it was a vine, greenbrier maybe, but looking at the photo later, I realized there is a small dogwood entwined with the vine.

There were several Wild Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens,) their blooms dried, but resiliently hanging on.  On the gravel bar was a single Lobelia, probably L. siphilitica, common name Great Blue Lobelia or Blue Cardinal Flower.

By the time we reached the next crossing, the creek bottom had changed from gravel to bare rock, so it was out of the truck to shoot a few more photos.

I started to walk around the truck to see if the downstream view warranted any photos and I noticed something moving in the edge of the water.

It was a Green Heron, a species that’s usually gone by now, but we always seem to have a few hangers-on.  He was very tame, allowing me to approach to within 15 feet or so and I was really regretting leaving the 500mm lens at home.  This was the best photo I managed, but considering I was using a 18-55mm lens, I don’t think I did that badly.

We were back to the pavement now and headed back towards the house by way of Peck Ranch.  We had planned to look for elk in the refuge portion of the ranch, but it was closed because a managed deer hunt was underway.  That was ok, everyone was getting hungry, Bailey was snoring and it was time to go home.

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