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Weekly Photo Challenge: Campfire “Reward”

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Reward.”

Campfire at the end of the day.

After hiking in the snow today, I was reminded of what a “reward” a warm campfire is at the end of a cold winter’s day.

Dinner at the end of a long day's hike.

Pasta dinner. 

A hot dinner cooked over the fire is one of life’s simple pleasures and a just “reward” for miles traveled.

Campfire at the end of the day.

Time with friends around the campfire is a great way to end the day on the Ozark Highlands Trail.

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Photo Challenge: Scale

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Scale.”

Bluff in the Buffalo River area of Arkansas.

Bluff in the Buffalo River area of Arkansas.

On a recent hike to Hawksbill Crag in the Buffalo River region I was fascinated by a smaller bluff close by. The young lady peeking around into the valley added a sense of scale to the stacked rocks on the bluff.

Little rock in the Grand Canyon

Little rock in the Grand Canyon

Playing with a small rock in the Grand Canyon.

Playing with a small rock in the Grand Canyon.

This photo was from a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t resist sharing this older photo because it is another example of imposing human scale into the natural landscape.

I photoshopped my hiking buddy out from under the rock in the first version just for fun. Did the addition of human scale influence your perception of the size of the rock from the first photo to the second?

The Snow that Wouldn’t Stay

Leaning rock next to the Lake Alma Trail.

Leaning rock next to the Lake Alma Trail.

Hiker-dog and I could almost feel the snow melting under our feet this morning. We walked from home to the trail rather than driving on snow. The little shaded road to my house was almost completely clear after our hike around Lake Alma.

This reminded me of the chorus to a song I wrote with kindergarten students years ago in south Arkansas after one of those rare snow flurries that were just enough to get excited about, but not enough to make a snowball for throwing.

What do you think about that?

Snow melting on my hat.

We went out to play, but the snow wouldn’t stay!

What do you think about that?

Ice flower

Ice flower

Since snow was fleeting, we watched for interesting ice. I had seen frost flowers, but never an ice flower quite this shape. Splashing water from the creek froze in this bell or flower shape. It was about two inches across.

McWater Falls

McWater Falls

The falls were barely flowing but the ice formations added something special.

Ice on the bluff at McWater Falls.

Ice on the bluff at McWater Falls.

Hike-dog checking out the Hexagon House.

Hike-dog checking out the Hexagon House.

Here’s closeup of the ice flower. Ice formations can surprise you sometimes.

Ice flower

Ice flower

This afternoon as I import these photos, the snow is mostly gone. The snow that wouldn’t stay was special for the few hours it was here. I’m glad we got out and enjoyed it.

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Photo Challenge – Rule of Thirds with Water and Dog

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Rule of Thirds.”

I looked at photos from a hike into Lynn Hollow last Saturday for evidence of the “Rule of Thirds” and found it in use for the following photos among others.

Blue-green swimming hole in Lynn Hollow.

Blue-green swimming hole in Lynn Hollow.

Placing the active movement of water using the rule of thirds is a useful tool.

Small cascade in Lynn Hollow, Ozark Highlands Trail

Small cascade in Lynn Hollow, Ozark Highlands Trail

Hiker-dog heard something in this dead tree that she wanted desperately.  The last photo shows the use of “Rule of Thirds” to place Hiker-dog’s rear for a balanced, and humorous depiction of  typical K-9 behavior.

Hiker pausing from her digging into the trunk of this dead tree.

Hiker pausing from her digging into the trunk of this dead tree.

Hiker-dog doing what dogs do.

Hiker-dog doing what dogs do.

Rock House on the Ozark Highlands Trail

Rock House

Rock House

The Rock House is one of my favorite landmarks on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT). It’s easily accessed, but most drive Highway 23 unaware of the history perched under a bluff a mere quarter mile walk from the road. As the crow flies, the distance is much closer and during the winter it’s easy to see the highway down below. Don’t let the roundtrip 0.5-mile by trail deceive you. It’s a steep climb on the Ozark Highlands Trail and a short spur trail to the structure.  If you walk to see Rock House, wear sturdy walking shoes and carry some water.

The Rock House was probably built as a shelter for loggers sometime during the 1890s to 1920s when the area was heavily logged for white oak, in high demand because of the expansion of railroads across the country. By the 1930s, the old-growth forests were pretty much exhausted. It still makes a good shelter today in spite of some shifting of the ground that has caused a separation between the wall and bluff. It has a rough concrete floor, and a small spring located in the back of the single room.

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The short hike to Rock House begins at Cherry Bend Trail Head, located approximately five miles north of Cass on AR 23 (AKA Pig Trail). This is a popular trailhead for accessing the OHT. Watch for fast traffic when crossing the highway as you begin your walk.

Cherry Bend Trail Head

Cherry Bend Trail Head

A spur trail leads to a nice view behind the trailhead sign, but to access the OHT and Rock House, you’ll cross the highway on a short trail marked with blue blazes.

Lost sole…

Lost sole…

There is a thru-hike trail register at the intersection with the OHT. We’re going to turn left onto the OHT and head sharply uphill following white blazes. I only saw one “lost sole” on my hike up to Rock House. You’ll often have the OHT all to yourself, but you might encounter thru-hikers and enjoy a short visit about their time on the trail.

Sign indicating spur trail to Rock House

Sign indicating spur trail to Rock House blue blazes marking the spur and white blazes marking the OHT

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Front door facing the approaching spur trail

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On a thru-hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail in December of 2013, a hiking buddy and I spent a cold night in the Rock House sheltered from the rain. Seeing car lights below made me want to rush down and beg someone to bring pizza from Clarksville, but staying warm in my sleeping bag won that short mental argument.

Today as I revisit the Rock House, it’s sunny and mild for February. The views of the Ozark Mountains to the east are enticing. I feel the desire to load my pack and head out for a multi-day hike over Hare Mountain and through the Marinoni Scenic Area to Lick Branch.

Hiker and spring in the back of the Rock House

Hiker and spring in the back of the Rock House

Hiker attempted to drink from the spring in the back corner but the water was a couple of feet below the edge, and she didn’t couldn’t reach it. The water from this spring  needs to be filtered. The single time I filtered water here, it wasn’t the best.  It would be good water if you’re in a bind or have time to filter it through cloth before using your water filter.

Inside the Rock House

Inside the Rock House

You can see the toll that time has taken. The separation of the rock walls from the bluff ceiling are evident as well as the loose rocks around doors and windows. Please leave this fragile structure as you find it. The Rock House is a little historic treasure we’ll want our children and grandchildren to see for years to come!

Note: I’ve enjoyed sharing a glimpse of the rich history surrounding the Ozark Highlands Trail. If you know of other structures in the Arkansas or Missouri Ozarks, please share them with me on my feedback page or comment on this post.

Route from Hwy 23 to Rock House

Route from Hwy 23 to Rock House

Cherry Bend Trail Head GPS: N35 44.554 W93 48.799

Cherry Bend Trailhead is located approximately 5 miles north of Cass on Arkansas Highway 23.  The second waypoint on the above map is the intersection with the OHT. The OHT route showing on this web map is an approximation.  The last waypoint on the east side of Highway 23 is the Rock House.

Back door of the Rock House

Back door of the Rock House

On the Road in the Ozarks

Old cabin at the old Lake Fort Smith turn off in Mountainburg.

Vacant cabins at the old Lake Fort Smith turnoff in Mountainburg.

Part of the pleasure of hiking is the drive to the trailhead.  Here are just a few of my favorite places along side of Ozark roads. I drive through Mountainburg in route to many trailheads, but only recently noticed these little cabins.  They are a short distance off of AR 71 at the turnoff that led to the original Lake Fort Smith State Park, closed in 2002 when the lake was expanded.

Dairy Dream in Mountainburg.

Dairy Dream in Mountainburg.

The Dairy Dream is on the east side of AR 71 in Mountainburg.  I noticed their “Mountainburger” is priced at $2.50 according to the menu in the window.  The Dairy Dream was closed for the winter.  I’ve never stopped there but hope to try the Mountainburger someday.

Artist Point on AR 71

Artist Point on AR 71

Artist Point, north of Mountainburg, is one of my favorite places on AR 71.  In 2001, when we were thinking about moving to Alma, we stopped in at Artist Point.  A helpful young lady was working behind the counter as her grandparents looked on.  I asked where she attended school, and she said, “Alma.”  Both she and her younger brother were my students, and I enjoyed watching them grow up.

I became friends with Mr. and Mrs. Blaylock, owners of Artist Point.  There was a steep trail behind the store.  Mr. Blaylock wasn’t able to hike the trail down to the waterfall anymore, but enjoyed hearing reports and seeing photos of the area.  Sadly, Mr. Blaylock has been gone for several years, but his store remains and is definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Old structures along the roads sometimes demand that my Jeep hit the shoulder.  Even though I’m rushing to the trail, I’ll pull out the camera for a few pics.

Barn on Highway 23

Barn on Highway 23

Sometimes food is the motivator.  Such is the case with the Turner Bend Store, located on Highway 23 close to Cass.  Great sandwiches and good people!  Stopping there is always a treat!

Turner Bend Store

Turner Bend Store

The Oark General Store serves up a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They are known for being Arkansas’ oldest continuously open restaurant.  A necessary stop if you’re hitting the western part of the Ozark Highlands Trail.  It’s a short drive from Arbaugh Trailhead.

Oark General Store

Oark General Store

Oark General Store

Oark General Store

The Hagarville Country Store on Highway 215 north of Clarksville is a great little stop.  The owner also runs shuttles for hikers when needed and usually has some good trail stories to share.

Hagarville Country Store

Hagarville Country Store

Hankins Country Store

Hankins Country Store

Another favorite stop on the road to the trails is Hankins Country Store, located at the intersection of AR Scenic Highway 7 and AR 215.  An old post office and several interesting old items are inside.  There’s even a barber’s chair that is used from time to time if someone needs a haircut.  The wood burning stove feels great after a winter hike through the Hurricane Wilderness Area.  They make a good sandwich….especially good after a hike.

Pelsor Post Office inside the Hankins Country Store

Pelsor Post Office inside the Hankins Country Store

If you’re up in the Buffalo River region, a stop in at the Ozark Cafe is a must.  Lots of good food and history!

Ozark Cafe in Jasper

Ozark Cafe in Jasper

The Boardwalk Cafe

The Arkansas House Cafe

Another great place to eat in Jasper is the Arkansas House Cafe, connected to the Arkansas House, an old, but clean establishment.  The Elk Chili was a treat!

Buffalo Outdoor Center

Buffalo Outdoor Center

The Buffalo Outdoor Center is a long-established business that began when Mike Mills started running river shuttles about forty years ago. The staff loves to talk trails, and they give good directions to some beautiful spots close by.  They also have good food, books, and run shuttles. I’ve used them several times to shuttle my Jeep over to Highway 7 when I hike the Buffalo River Trail.

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Inside the Buffalo Outdoor Center

Inside the Buffalo Outdoor Center

Across the street from the Buffalo Outdoor Center, you’ll find the Ponca Elk Education Center.  This is a great place for all ages.  I enjoyed spending a little time looking at the nature displays inside.

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The closest I’ve come to an Arkansas Black Bear.

Display at the Elk Education Center

Display at the Elk Education Center

The Boxley Baptist Church is a highlight just a few minutes from Ponca.

Boxley Valley, Arkansas

Boxley Valley, Arkansas

Many old structures can be found on the roads to the trail.  This little house is located on the dirt road to the Lost Valley Trail.

Close to Lost Valley

Close to Lost Valley

Inside the two room structure.

Inside the two room structure.

To be continued…. So many roads to so many trails.

House on the road to Lick Branch Trailhead

“Fixer-upper” on the road to Lick Branch Trailhead of the Ozark Highlands Trail

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The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Express Yourself” Boxley Valley Church

Boxley Valley, Arkansas

Boxley Valley, Arkansas

Faith in things you cannot see
Hope in things that may yet be
Mountains and lives intertwined, but free.

Stopped to photograph this church last week while hiking several trails in the Buffalo River region.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Express Yourself.”

A Couple of Classic Arkansas Trails

IMG_4603rrThe first time Becca and I drove down the steep switchbacks into Devil’s Den State Park, it was after dark.  We’d driven all day from the southern part of the state to get to our campsite. We hadn’t been married long, so Becca probably wondered about her safety and her future. Years later we hiked these trails with our daughters. Now, more than thirty years after my first visit, I was driving down those switchbacks, looking forward to some familiar trails.

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Devil’s Den Trail

The Devil’s Den Trail is short but packed with sights.  Every one-tenth of a mile, there is another point of interest.  I saw, as if for the first time, the Devil’s Theater.  I’d walked past this several times in the past, but never looked closely. It was a much larger outcropping than I’d remembered.

Devil's Theater

Devil’s Theater

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Devil’s Cave

Devil’s Cave is closed to protect the bat population.  Several years ago, before the cave closed, I helped with a trash cleanup.  I’m sure the park rangers’ lives are simpler now.  They have no worries about trash or cave rescues.

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Steam can be seen exiting the cave entrance.

Spending a few minutes at the cave entrance reminded me of hikes with my daughters when they were younger.  We didn’t go far into the cave, but it was just the right amount of adventure for a family outing.

Anna and Christen on one of our visits to the cave.

Anna and Christen on one of our visits to the cave.

Shortly after the cave, the trail comes along side of intricate crevices that deserve respect.  Some of them are deep.

Some of the crevices next to the trail.

Some of the crevices next to the trail.

There are several examples of eroded bluffs where years of spinning water carved out bowl-shaped caves in the rock.  Some bluffs were spotted with many eroded places that looked like mini-caves.  This made me wonder what mysteries might be found beneath the surface of the rock.

Devil's Bowls

Devil’s Bowls

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The bluff, where the waterfall is located, was icy in spots.  Spots where you wouldn’t want to fall!

Icy bluff

Icy bluff

After the short Devil’s Den Trail, it was time for the second classic hike, Yellow Rock. The trail goes right around the base of this tall bluff. On the hillside below you could see evidence of hikers taking shortcuts across switchbacks damaging the trail. I noticed a few young guys walking around down there and asked, “Have you lost the trail, or are you just trying to tear up the hillside.” They looked startled and got back on the trail. They probably thought I was a teacher, school principal, or something like that.

Yellow Rock Trail

Yellow Rock Trail

It is one mile to Yellow Rock Bluff. I spent some time there and was glad this young man stopped on a crag close by so I would have someone to add perspective to the view.

View from Yellow Rock down into the Lee Creek drainage.

View from Yellow Rock down into the Lee Creek drainage.

The Yellow Rock Trail goes up to the Overlook Shelter, built by the CCC in 1934. They built it right! If you look closely, you can see the bridge in the valley. Just down the road to the left of the bridge is the Yellow Rock Trailhead. We’ve covered a little distance.

View from the Overlook Shelter

View from the Overlook Shelter

I spent some time at the shelter, then headed down the trail, thankful for the memories tied to these two classic treks.

Devil's Den Dam around 2002.

Devil’s Den Dam around 2002.

Three Day Hikes – One Fine Day

I typically like hiking a long section of trail and camping along the way.  I think of day hiking as what I do around the Lake Alma Trail, training for “real” hiking trips. My wife and I spent the weekend in Jasper at the Arkansas House, an old, but clean establishment with two great restaurants on either side of us.

Walking to the Arkansas House

Walking to the Arkansas House

My goal was to do some day hiking.  I was feeling particularly guilty about two of the hikes.  As a backpacker, I should probably have my Arkansas citizenship revoked for the following two infractions: First, I have only hiked Whitaker Point (Hawksbill Crag) once, and that was over sixteen years ago.   Second, I have never hiked to Hole-in-a-Rock Falls (Glory Hole Falls). Yesterday I corrected these deficiencies and hiked both trails as well as Lost Valley.

It was a wonderful day. I began with the familiar trail, Lost Valley. Sometimes the drive to the trailhead provides some visual treats.  I had to stop a the little community of Low Gap and take a picture of this historic church and their restroom facilities right next to the church.

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Ladies' facilities poised on the edge of a bluff next to the church.

Ladies’ facilities poised on the edge of a bluff next to the church.

I wanted Lost Valley all to my self.  By beginning early, I got my wish.  As I left the trail following my hike, cars began pouring into the parking lot.  Below are a few photos from this hike.

Eden Falls from a distance.

Fifty-foot Eden Falls from a distance.

This was my first visit to the Eden Falls Cave.  I didn’t crawl into the room I’m told has a 30-foot waterfall since I wasn’t equipped for caving.  I did enjoy doing some light-painting with my flashlight and a 15-second exposure.

Inside Eden Falls Cave

Inside Eden Falls Cave

Next on the agenda was Whitaker Point.  I drove up Cave Mountain Road and drove a hundred yards past the trailhead before finding a spot to park.  People were everywhere, but it was fine.  I was glad there would be someone on the crag to add perspective.

I didn’t anticipate that gymnasts would be doing handstands on the crag.  I was glad they didn’t try anything close to the edge.  How I do hate getting involved in rescue work…

Handstand on Hawksbill Crag

Handstand on Hawksbill Crag

Met a nice couple from Fayetteville.  Their dogs were cooperative and let me snap a shot of them looking at the crag.

A couple looking at Hawksbill Crag in the distance.

A couple looking at Hawksbill Crag in the distance.

One of my favorite outcroppings is just past Hawksbill Crag.  After taking a photo for a family on this bluff, they agreed to let their daughter pose for a photo.  I like the way those two leaning stones are supporting each other near the edge.

Young hiker taking in the views and staying away from the edge.

Young hiker taking in the views and staying safely away from the edge.

Parking on Cave Mountain Road was challenging.  The drive back down off of the mountain was also tricky with so many cars approaching in the opposite direction.  It was a slow 6-miles out.

Parking on Cave Mountain Road.

Parking on Cave Mountain Road.

It was now early afternoon, and I realized I hadn’t had breakfast or lunch.  I snacked through the day and never felt hungry. Anyway, no time for a meal with so many beautiful trails to see.

From Whitaker Point, I drove out to Hole-in-a-Rock Falls, also known as Glory Hole Falls.  No worries about finding the trailhead, just watch for the cars parked along the highway. This hike was almost all road walking until the last little bit.

As I approached the falls, I realized that the afternoon sun was aimed right at the falls.  With the strong sunlight and crowds of spectators, my best option was to focus on the “hole in the rock” itself.  Between setting up a shot of that and taking pictures for families and friends crowding around the waterfall, I stayed pretty busy.

The hike out was a pleasant climb, and I felt great relief that I had now made my first (but not last) visit to this famous Arkansas waterfall. IMG_4233rr

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Photo Challenge: Serenity in Lost Valley

IMG_3990rrSerenity – The state of being calm, at peace, and untroubled. This morning I paused at this pool below the Natural Bridge and Cascade on the Lost Valley Trail. This water flows to the Buffalo National River a short distance away.  Serenity best describes what I felt while taking in this scene.

Inside the cave above Eden Falls

Inside the cave above Eden Falls

A few minutes later I sat in the darkness of  a cave above Eden Falls and light-painted this scene with my flashlight during a 15-second exposure.  The water at my feet flowed down Eden Falls, eventually blending with water flowing from under the Natural Bridge, where I sat earlier.  Inside this cave, I felt like a small piece of the world, observing in peace and serenity.to crawl more often.

The next morning I realized it took a difference set of muscles to crawl into position for this photo.  Just a little sore, but well worth it.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Serenity.”