A Warm Winter’s Day in the St. Francois

With forecasted highs near 60F, there was no question what I would be doing this past Saturday.  The only problem was where to take a hike!  Being mid-January and a warm, sunny day, I knew that Lower Rock Creek would not disappoint.  As expected, the Ozark Witch Hazel was in full bloom and beautifully fragrant.  The sky was completely clear and the lighting harsh for much photography of the many water features the area has to offer, but of course I had to try.  Ultimately I just tried to enjoy the hike and experience the wilderness that life continually rips from my fingertips.  There were a good number of ice formations still left on north-facing canyon walls and this particular patch was beginning to melt, releasing its maker into a mirror-like pool that ultimately fell down this drop and married with the rest of the stream.  I looked for ways to get closer to these formations but could not find a safe passage.

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Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 40mm, ISO 200,  f/11, manual blend of two exposures

On the way upstream, I stayed off the trail as much as possible; I preferred following the creek bed although wet and icy rocks often made this a challenge.  A couple of times near bends I was forced to go up and over a ridge because of lack of good foot or handholds above the creek.  After about three hours of rock hopping with my 30lb pack, fatigue started to creep in and I twisted my ankle bad enough to cause a minor sprain/strain.  This was very close to this wonderful swimming hole, so I pulled my boot and sock off and dunked my foot into this spring-fed water… for about 30 seconds.

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 Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 25mm, ISO 100,  f/11, manual blend of two exposures

 On the way back downstream I followed the trail most of the way, shedding layers as the temperature rose over 5oF.  Along the route I was fortunate to spot a coupling couple of Eastern Garter Snakes.  These light-bodied snakes, much like grasshoppers and Morning Cloak Butterflies, will often wake up and see what’s happening on a warm winter day.  And usually, the males have something other than food in mind.  As can be seen in this image, the female was about two thirds larger than her mate.  Following a successful copulation, the female can store sperm until closer to the warmer months, and many snake species can and do copulate several times and will actively select sperm of her choosing.  I tried my best not to disturb this pair too much.  They were rather laid back and didn’t seem to be alarmed, even when I lowered the diffuser mere inches from them.  When I left the male was still busily making his intentions known, while she kept her eye and tongue focused in my direction.

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Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/11, 1/40 sec

 After having some lunch at the car I tried my best at finding the John James Audubon Trail that I have been wanting to visit for a while.  After some fruitless searching I was unable to find a single trail-head, placard, sign or blaze marker that I was confident in.  Unless I hear otherwise I will consider this a defunct trail.  So I decided to visit the Castor River Shut-ins and spend the remainder of the daylight hopping around on even more rocks.  The lighting was still rather poor and I had little inspiration for finding a composition so I experimented a bit, focusing on the effect of minute changes in exposure time on capturing the movement of flowing waters.

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 Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 60mm, ISO 320,  f/7.1, 1/13 sec

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Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 80mm, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/40 sec

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