- Exposure: 5 seconds @ f/8
- Focal Length: 45 mm
- ISO: 100
- Flash: No
- Camera: Nikon D800
- Lens: Nikon 24-70 mm 2.8
- Tripod: Yes
- Captured: July 5, 2019 @ 5:41 a.m.
I’ve always had a strong affinity for nature and the outdoors. The moment I first held a camera, I discovered a connection between nature and technology. Indeed, I enjoy connecting with nature to capture a compelling moment in time. As a landscape photographer, I strive to seek out diverse and fascinating landscapes. Unsculpted by the hands of humanity, and located in the Arkansas Ozark National Forest, Whitaker Point possesses a powerful attraction that offers an intoxicating connection to nature that’s difficult to ignore.
Why visit Whitaker Point when you can travel to other exotic locations?
I often daydream about embarking on new adventures and traveling to exotic locations. No doubt, there are many spectacular prospects awaiting discovery. However, as we fill most of our days with work and the worries of life, free time becomes a rare commodity. Exploring nearby options for a weekend retreat is often overlooked. As an ardent landscape photographer, seeing the beauty in our everyday ordinary surroundings is nothing new. In fact, while exploring options for a weekend excursion, I found an exciting prospect not far from my residence at the time. After a bit of research, I discovered a possibility for a sweeping vista encapsulated in the dense forest of the Arkansas Ozark. Faced with a mere three-hour drive and a subsequent three-mile hike, the journey to Whitaker Point, also known as Hawksbill Crag, was simply a foregone conclusion.
What’s so special about Whitaker Point?
Growing up in eastern Kentucky, one could say that I’m partial to the forest. Honestly, in my humble opinion, not many places can rival the awe-inspiring magnificence of the Daniel Boone National Forest. Nevertheless, when standing on the precipice of Hawksbill Crag, the extraordinary majestic power of the Ozark National Forest can truly capture one’s soul. Not to mention, how could Disney be wrong in filming the opening scene of “Tuck Everlasting?” Indeed, it’s difficult to describe the affinity I have for this majestic rock. On the other hand, how many rock formations resemble a hawk’s bill? Perhaps it’s more of a feeling or a childhood connection to the forest that continues to call for my return. Truly, you simply must see it for yourself!
Scenic views with many points of interest.
As an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast, simply having the opportunity to meader about the beautiful lush Ozark forest is reward enough. The short 3-mile round trip fuels one’s spirit with grand vistas and the echoing sounds of nature. Forgive my feeble attempt to describe the awe-inspiring magnificence of Whitaker Point. Words alone fail to convey what only mother nature is capable of expressing. At any rate, the trail to Hawksbill Crag has many points along the bluffs to stop and admire incredible rock formations and beautiful open vistas. A waterfall, diverse wildlife, wildflowers, and a river are just a few of the many attractions bestowed in this remarkable forest.
Whitaker Point trailhead is clearly marked.
Depending on the time of year, one can expect at least a fair to moderate amount of foot traffic, especially in the fall. At any rate, the trail is identified by a simple marker that reads “Trail.” The marker is located adjacent to a large commemorative stone at the head of the trail, and it’s fully equipped with an arrow pointing you in the right direction. Fortunately, the trail and parking area are visible from the road. It would be difficult to pass by without noticing the trailhead.
Adequate parking and no fees.
Despite being a dirt lot, I think the space available for parking is sufficient, and there’s no permit or parking fees. During the fall, the lot does fill up quickly, and many people tend to pull off to the side of the road.
Whitiker Point is undoubtedly an isolated area, but it’s open 24/7. On that note, I am partial to locations that are off the grid and accessible 24 hours a day. Although many state and national parks offer fantastic services and generous hours of operation, many are closed during the most photo-friendly times of the day. As a landscape photographer, I want access to my subject during the golden hours.
Whitaker Point is a great place for backpacking and camping.
Although I very much enjoy camping and hiking, my main focus was on capturing an image of Hawksbill Crag. With this in mind, I did ponder the possibility of an early morning hike as opposed to setting up camp the night before. However, arriving in advance offers many advantages. For example, in addition to enjoying a beautiful evening in the great outdoors, an overnight stay allows ample time to scout the area and line up compositions well before sunrise.
After setting up camp, I was able to capture a few evening images as well. In fact, with a waxing crescent moon at 8 percent, clear skies, and no distracting light sources for miles, I had the perfect conditions to try my hand at a little astrophotography. Switching gears, the Arkansas Ozark is home to the black bear. Although a bear encounter is unlikely, bears forage at dawn and dusk, and it’s wise to avoid a surprise encounter, especially when cubs are present. Merely another reason to forego hiking through the forest before dawn.
Whitaker Point is a perfect location for primitive camping.
Nothing beats a good campfire, especially in the fall, and I found plenty of firewood lying about. On that note, there are several primitive campsites available. Moreover, all sites are near Hawksbill Crag and offer bountiful tree coverage and hammock anchoring points. Furthermore, a nearby small waterfall provides an opportunity to filter water during your stay. Primitive camping is allowed almost anywhere in the Ozark National Forest unless there is a posted sign stating otherwise. Whitaker Point information.
For some, landscape photography is a full-time job. For others, it provides a temporary escape from our hectic and sometimes mundane lives. Whitaker Point is the perfect place to retreat from the clutches of reality and embrace the mind healing power of Mother Nature. Trade the rumbling noise of downtown traffic for a warm summer breeze coupled with the spellbinding harmony of the Ozark forest. In all sincerity, a moment alone on the summit of Hawksbill Crag bestows an unfettered solitude that one seldom experiences.
A picturesque photographer’s dream.
Indeed, the Ozark National Forest offers a diverse playground for any type of photography. In addition to the Hawksbill Crag, The trail along Whitaker Point yields a mixture of exciting compositions, including a small waterfall. There are no shortages of subjects to photograph along the trail. Honestly, with my finger on the shutter release, I could trip over a rock, hit the ground, and inadvertently snap an award-winning image. Of course, a little planning goes a long way. Keep in mind, people visit Whitaker Point year-round, especially in the fall, where large crowds are not uncommon. Be patient, expect to wait for a clear shot of the hawksbill, particularly during morning and evening hours. No doubt, I’m partial to the golden hours, sunrise and sunset at Whitaker Point are utterly breathtaking! I simply can’t imagine photographing Hawksbill Crag at any other time of day.
A long drive across several miles of dirt road.
Whether traveling from highway 16 or 21, the journey to Whitiker Point trailhead can be a rough ride. In addition to the miles you’ve already traveled, expect a bit of excitement on the remaining six or seven miles on country road 5. Indeed, a steep winding rugged pothole fill road stands between you and Whitiker Point. Anyhow, it’s far from impassable, but it can be rough, especially in a smaller vehicle. An SUV or truck would be ideal for this trip, but in dry weather, the family car will most likely get the job done. In any case, the road does have a few points with numerous potholes. Expect some turbulence during the ascent. Overall, I think the road condition is fair, but one should proceed with caution, especially in inclement weather.
The parking lot has the potential for theft.
It goes without saying, any secluded area has the potential for theft, especially when valuables are visible. There are no surveillance cameras or security guards. That being the case, I left my vehicle here overnight on more than one occasion without incident. I suspect most vehicle theft is likely a result of temptation derived from an easy opportunity. Lock your doors and take your belongings. Honestly, theft is a concern, but I gave it little thought while parked at Whitaker Point. Besides, I don’t think many thieves are interested in driving six miles on a dark, bumpy dirt road to steal your car stereo?
No restrooms at the trailhead.
Nowadays, finding a restroom or some type of primitive toilet at the trailhead seems fairly common. However, there’s nothing common about Whitiker Point. For backpackers and campers planning an overnight stay, the absence of a restroom is probably not much of a concern. Most backpackers are well equipped to brave the hurdles of nature! Nevertheless, for those planning a few hours for a day hike, this may be a concern.
Whitaker Point is located miles away from the nearest store.
After driving several miles and finally arriving at the trailhead, you don’t want to leave something behind, especially the water. In any case, expect about a 30-minute one-way drive to the nearest gas station or store. Needless to say, planning on this trip is paramount!
Hunting Season and Whitaker Point.
From September through February, deer and bear hunting season in the Ozarks makes hiking a bit more interesting. I sometimes see hunters riding by the trailhead on ATVs. In fact, hearing an occasional gunshot in the distant background is not unusual. Honestly, as long as one keeps to the trail, I don’t see much reason for concern. In any event, it’s wise to wear bright colors during hunting season. See the Ozarks Highlands Trail Association website for more information.
The fall season at Whitaker Point is very congested.
Nothing beats those fall colors and cooler temperatures! Everyone gets excited and flocks to Whitaker Point for a glimpse of the glorious autumn colors of the Ozark forest as viewed from the summit of Hawksbill Crag. Admittedly, in November of 2019, I too flocked to Whitaker Point with the hopes of capturing a magnificent award-winning image. Indeed, my vision involved the Haws Bill Graig encapsulated by the stunning fall colors of the Ozark forest. However, upon arrival, I was genuinely dumbfounded to find myself surrounded by fellow autumn splendor seekers.
From the moment I arrived, people were settled with chairs, hammocks, and tents at every turn. As a camper, I normally welcome the company. However, my preplanned vision for this image did not include people on the summit. Unfortunately, due to high winds (motion blur) and heavy foot traffic on the summit, I was unable to capture the image I had in mind, both at sunset and sunrise. As a landscape photographer, planning and persistence is key to success. Oh well, maybe next year or the year after.
Know the rules and appreciate the forest.
Being prepared can undoubtedly save time and significantly improve one’s experience in the Ozark. Knowing what to expect is half the battle. For example, knowing where and when a fire is permissible is very important when backpacking. Check for burn bans in advance. Primitive camping is permitted anywhere in the Ozark unless there’s a posted sign stating otherwise. Currently, there are no overnight permits or fees required for dispersed camping in the Ozark National Forest. However, it’s prudent to verify no policy changes have occurred before heading out. Visit the forest service website for more information.
Let someone know where you are.
As with any hiking or backpacking excursion, letting someone know your plans is always a good idea, especially when hiking alone. After all, anything is possible. Moreover, cellular companies consistently strive to expand their service, but they may never reach remote locations like Whitaker Point. In fact, I was unable to acquire any signal with Verizon. That being the case, I strongly recommend the use of a satellite communicator such as the Garmin or Spot. The cost of a communicator is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Not to mention, they can send and receive text messages, that alone is worth the cost in my opinion.
Wear the right gear and shoes.
I realize people enjoy shorts and t-shirts, and so do I. However, hiking to Whitaker Point with flip flops or sandals is not the best option. Besides, traipsing over rocky terrain demands adequate ankle support. I think hiking sandals may be a decent option for flat terrain, but when it comes to rugged rocky territory, I recommend sticking with a boot that provides ankle support and protection from insects and snakes. On the other hand, hiking sandals do make great camp shoes, after arriving at the campsite of course.
Watch your step near the bluffs along the trail.
Falling from the crag is possible and could happen to anyone. Indeed, there are numerous points along the trail where one could easily slip and fall. Self-awareness and staying focused are key components to a safe hike, especially when near the bluffs. Standing on the summit of Hawksbill Craig, one can easily become distracted while immersed in the beauty of the Ozark. Taking selfies and photographing the group is common on the crag. Consequently, just three months prior to my first visit, a young college student fell from the crag while attempting to capture a selfie. Others have fallen as well! All in all, I feel Whitaker Point is a relatively safe hike and positively one of the most astonishing places I’ve ever seen. However, one should always take caution when hiking and backpacking in the Arkansas Ozarks!
Don’t rush, plan to stay awhile.
As I previously mentioned, Whitaker Point is quite a spectacle! The solitude, gentle winds, and scenic view make it quite difficult to want to leave. As for myself, setting up camp and spending the night was undoubtedly the right decision. Not only did I capture one of my favorite images the following morning, but the clear night’s sky was also quite a treat! Indeed, a comfortable chair or hammock is an essential component necessary to absorb the therapeutic properties of this stunning paradise. Whitaker Point is truly a feast for the senses.
Visit Whitaker Point in the morning or evening, and stay the night.
Of course, as a landscape photographer, I am habitually drawn to the golden hours. From the perspective of a nature enthusiast, sunrise and sunset usually offer the best ambiance. As for myself, morning is simply the best time of day. Nothing beats a cool, calm, and quiet morning on a secluded mountain top. Most often, in the early morning hours, one can enjoy these fantastic views free from the crowds that are sure to follow. That being the case, I highly recommend a morning excursion to the summit of Hawksbill Crag.
Concerning morning, it’s essential to understand that the Arkansas Ozark is black bear country. Statistically speaking, a bear encounter is rare, but that doesn’t mean one should not take precautions. A little forethought can not only help minimize the risk but also provide peace of mind. Bears are most active during early morning and late evening hours in spring and summer. Therefore, a chance bear encounter increases when hiking at dawn or dusk. Although bears tend to avoid humans in most cases, hiking in groups and making a bit of noise can further decrease the chance of meeting a bear face to face. When hiking solo, l prefer to head out in the afternoon and camp for the night. These days, I always carry bear spray when in bear country.
Pack a snack and bring water or a water filter.
Regardless of one’s plan, there’s nothing wrong with being prepared for an unexpected situation. Having food and water is always a good idea when hiking. In fact, a Lifestraw is inexpensive, lightweight, and can be a lifesaver! Carrying extra water in the car can also be helpful, especially in the summer.
Use a checklist.
After years of camping trips and hiking excursions, I have learned some precious lessons. Whether you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants or plan down to the last detail, forgetting something at home is inevitable. Indeed, making a list offers the best defense against being human. Of course, some people are more forgetful than others, and I know myself. In fact, I began my list for a trip to Zion National Park about a year in advance. Check out my photoshoot checklist.
Equipment on hand during the shooting of The People’s Rock:
- Nikon D800 with RRS L plate
- AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED
- Soft graduated ND filter 0.9 (LEE 150 x 170mm )
- Circular polarizer filter (LEE 150 x 150mm)
- Osprey Xenith 88L backpack (With camping gear)
- Peak Design Travel Camera Cube
- Gamin GPS and satellite communicator
- Lens cleaning materials
- Rocket blower
- Photographic Solutions Pec Pads and Eclipse fluid
- Microfiber cloth
- Cellular phone with DOF calculator
- Gitzo Series 2 Traveler Carbon Fiber Tripod with Center Ball Head
- Nikon MC-30A remote trigger release
- Notepad and pen
- Hand towel
- Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
- Camera rain cover
- Knee pads
- SILKY Gomboy Curve Folding Hand Saw
- Lifestraw Flex
- SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray
- Osprey Hydraulics Reservoir (3L)