Cottonmouth Encounter on the Bayou

My recent kayaking excursions have led to some pretty interesting encounters. This past Saturday I decided to explore Grassy Lake Bayou near Conway where I was fortunate to meet some others headed to the bayou. The paddle started innocently enough; cypress trees and swamp water as far as the eye could see. We passed a heron rookery where these birds nest and raise their young ones. One or two blue herons were visible at the time. A little ways further into the float we decided to take the spur route to see what this section had in store. To my surprise, this area was filled with ducks, white egrets, and smaller song birds. A fellow paddler informed me these ducks feed on the millet planted throughout this waterway. Since the Mississippi flyway covers this area, I believe the ducks migrate through the area at some point during the year.

After stretching our legs for a little while, we decided to brave the rest of the loop. We saw at least three beaver dams along the way; however, the beavers must have been hiding because they were nowhere to be seen. We also saw a few harmless water snakes along the trip, and then we came across another snake. This one was a little more dangerous and quickly identified as a cottonmouth! One of the members of the crew is a snake enthusiast, and she scooped the snake onto her paddle. While attempting to move the snake to a different location, the cottonmouth fell off the paddle and into her canoe! Needless to say, this caused quite a situation. Fortunately, this cottonmouth was not an aggressive snake and did not try to bite the canoe occupant. After attempting several different methods of removing the snake, a muck boot proved to be the answer. The snake obediently slithered into the boot and was subsequently tossed back into the bayou. Needless to say, I was quickly paddling the other direction! After  this excitement, the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful; however, I definitely experienced some authentic wildlife and nature during this trip.

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Toltec Mounds and King Cotton

With no concrete plans one recent weekend, I decided to visit two historic sites near Little Rock. Toltec Mounds was my first stop. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but the museum and outdoor trails were pretty interesting. According to artifact dating, Native Americans created a ceremonial gathering place at these Toltec Mounds from 660 until 950 A.D. There were a total of eighteen mounds at one time, but only three stand today. One theory proposes that the location of these mounds allowed the Native Americans to determine the winter and summer solstice as well as the equinox. Knowing these dates helped with timing their crop planting and harvesting. Additionally, this location was also thought to be a gathering place for local tribes to celebrate special occasions. The outdoor walking trails are pretty neat; they wind through the mounds and perimeter of the park. It is unknown why the location was abandoned, but needless to say, these people were pretty clever to survive on the land for that long.

My next stop was the Plantation Agriculture Museum. Surprisingly, I was greeted by the curator upon walking through the front door as I think it was a pretty slow day for the museum. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time learning about cotton in Arkansas. Cotton was a way for life for many in the state in the 1800s, and the process of plowing, cultivating, and harvesting the crop required much labor. Since I am a generation or two removed from agricultural and manual labor, I don’t think I possess quite the appreciation for the effort required to farm. However, looking at the information and pictures in this museum I almost had a longing for the satisfaction of a hard day’s manual labor. These workers picked cotton from sunrise until sunset, and over time, the process evolved from slavery to sharecroppers to the cotton gin.

There was actually an entire cotton processing operation setup in one building. This processing involved separating the cotton from the seeds and then compressing the cotton into bails. Another building highlighted information about the storage and transportation of cotton. A local enterprising cotton farmer established a warehouse along railroad lines for convenient transportation. Overall, this museum was pretty cool. While modest in size, all the displays were really interesting and well-organized. After touring this place, I definitely have a new respect for cotton workers and now realize how much effort was probably required to make my favorite pair of jeans.

 

 

The Local Bike Route

IMG_0477I had always seen signs for a bike route near my place of residence, so I decided to take my bicycle for a Saturday spin to see what this trail had to offer. Amazingly, this route actually connects to the Arkansas River Trail and downtown Little Rock. This discovery was definitely a pleasant surprise as the river trail is a network of several miles of designated walking and biking trails along the Arkansas River. My enthusiasm was dampens a little when I realized there is a little stretch of this local connecting route which passes through a rougher part of town. I think my first clue to this fact was the police car with sirens blaring accelerating towards the development of Section 8 housing. Nonetheless, I made it through this area unscathed and proceeded to enjoy my Saturday afternoon.

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One point of interest along the way was Dickey Stevens Park, home to the Arkansas Travelers. This minor league baseball team is a farm club for the Anaheim Angels. I think the stadium is undergoing some repairs as several sink holes had developed in the outfield recently… Probably can’t play ball with small craters scattered throughout the diamond.

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I then proceeded to the downtown area. Now downtown Little Rock is not a major metropolitan area, but it does have its charms. The trolley system could probably be counted as one of these charming features as it hearkens back to the days of electric transportation.

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I also discovered a bust of Count Pulaski; he is the man for whom Pulaski County is named. Born in Poland, he served in the army there and then came to the American colonies to serve in the Revolutionary War. Believe it or not, this man actually saved George Washington’s life and helped strengthen the Continental Army’s Calvary divisions. Despite these facts, I still think the county sales tax is too high.

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I then proceeded to leave the downtown area for the scenic ride along the River Trail. I passed some construction along the way. I’m not sure what is being built in the middle of the river, but my guess would be a bridge.

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I then proceeded to ride on the trails, over the bridges, and through the various parks of the river trail. The temperature was really mild and made for good cycling weather. The four hours on my bike passed really quickly. I rode a total of forty-eight miles, which was probably a little excessive as my right Achilles tendon started hurting, and I discovered why cyclists wear shorts with extra padding in certain areas. Nonetheless, definitely an enjoyable Saturday afternoon.

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To Bike or Not to Bike

Early one morning a few weeks ago I had the grand idea that I was going to attempt to bike to work. Granted, I was unsure of the route and do not actually currently own a bicycle, but these seemed to be minor issues compared to the benefits this activity would surely provide. After a bit of research, I discovered there is a fairly safe route to my workplace, and the total distance would be about thirteen miles each way.

Online bicycle advocacy websites cite many benefits of bicycle commuting to include saving money on gas and car costs, cardiovascular exercise, and fresh air. There was even a line that a bad day at the office could be changed by the rush of endorphins experienced while riding a bike home on a beautiful day. I think this idealistic picture nearly persuaded me to buy a bicycle immediately. After all, endogenous morphine sounds like a winner to me. To my dismay, it sounds like endorphins may only be release after a certain exertional threshold is reached such as 60% or 70% of a person’s VO2 max. Hmmm, I’m not sure how fast I would need to be pedaling to reach these numbers, but I’m sure I could make it work.

The next part of my master plan would be the purchase of a bike. After looking in a few local bike stores, it seemed like a decent hybrid commuting bicycle would cost about $500. As it stands currently, I am considering a Trek 7.2 FX and a Marin Fairfax SC2. I think both would be reasonable options, but the Trek brand seems to have a longer history with hybrid bicycles.

As for the route itself, the majority of the distance has either a sidewalk or paved path available. Technically, I do not think bicycles are allowed to be ridden on sidewalks, but I doubt it would be a problem in this area. There are a couple areas where I would need to ride along the shoulder, so I hope bright clothing and reflective gear will alert drivers of my presence. I have driven the route many times and am pretty confident this plan is possible.

According to statistics, Arkansas is not the most bicycle-friendly state; in fact, most of the top cities for cycling seemed to be college towns. I’m not sure if cost or environmental activism are the main reasons for these statistics, but aspects of both are probably responsible. It also seems like other countries view cycling as more of a mode of transportation than the average American. Our highways and transportation network are probably the cause for this difference.

Also, I believe commuting by bicycle might be a small step towards ending dependence on foreign oil. Granted, saving five gallons per week is probably not going to significantly alter America’s total gasoline use, but it would be a start. The principles of supply and demand would no doubt apply to this situation.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I will continue to consider purchasing the bike. There seem to be many benefits, but initial cost and the time commitment are also factors to consider.

 

 

Eagle River Cruise

IMG_0450Reading the newspaper this past week, I was surprised to see an advertisement for a nearby boat tour designed to ferry passengers around a local lake to search for bald eagles and other migratory wildlife. I honestly did not know that much about bald eagles besides the fact they are the national bird and were an endangered species in the recent past. However, I was definitely enlightened during this tour about their migratory patterns and distinctive characteristics. Since lakes freeze in the colder climates of northern states, Arkansas provides a suitable environment where these birds are able to live, hunt, and survive.

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Upon arrival at the Jolly Roger Marina, I was greeted by the tour guide and wandered around the facility before boarding the boat. I had been warned of the cold temperatures while on the lake, so I came prepared and was sufficiently layered. Since the cost of the tour was only $15, I guess I was not surprised the tour boat was of modest proportions. Our group of eight situated themselves onboard, and we proceeded with the tour under the direction of the guide.

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Initially, the main waterfowl we observed were loons. Named for their clumsy nature, these birds will dive underneath the water in search of food. If you squint a little bit, one is visible in the picture below this paragraph. Other birds observed included gulls, crows, vultures, and ducks.

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And then we saw what we had all been waiting to see… a bald eagle. This bald eagle was flying in its distinctive pattern of soaring and gliding, but it was tough to differentiate the bald eagle and vultures because they are both large birds. According to the guide, there are four or five bald eagles inhabiting Lake Maumelle year-round while the rest migrate from northern locations. During the course of the tour we actually spotted two or three more of these bald eagles flying. If you squint a little, there is a black speck in the middle of the picture below this paragraph…I believe that was a bald eagle. (One of the negative aspects of photography with an IPhone is the inability to zoom.)

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There were a few other points of interest on the lake to include the Little Rock Yacht Club. The song “Redneck Yacht Club” comes to mind, but I’m not sure if this description fits.

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We also viewed a strip of land recently damaged by a tornado in the local area. Again, photograph is below this paragraph.

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Overall, the Eagle River Cruise was definitely a unique and enjoyable experience, and I am slowly starting to realize “The Natural State” is an appropriate designation for Arkansas. I’m not sure if I would be technically be considered a bird-watcher now, but I guess there are worse hobbies.