Unexpected Yellow in the Grand Canyon

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

Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon

Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon

I was surprised by the winter yellow/gold of cottonwood trees in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  In this desert environment, the cottonwood grows close to creeks and streams, especially along Bright Angel Creek as shown here.  Snow covered Indian Gardens Campground the next night, just a few thousand feet higher in elevation.

Hiking up Bright Angel Trail.  Winter gold is gone.

Hiking up Bright Angel Trail two days later. No winter gold to be seen up here.


Ozark Mountain Frost Flower – Gone, But Not Forgotten

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”

Frost flower next to the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas, USA

Frost flower next to the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas, USA

This cold morning discovery while thru-hiking the Ozark Highlands Trail was a special little gift.  My wife enjoys looking for heart shapes in nature, and now I’ve picked up the habit.  This frost flower would disappear shortly after being touched by sunlight, but it would never be forgotten.

David’s Bread, Memories, and a Chance Meeting on the Trail



My cousin, David and I were born the same year.  He died in 1983 while working on his doctorate in music at North Texas State University.  He was an amazing classical guitarist.  He was a brilliant and gentle young man.  It was heartbreaking to his parents, my Aunt Lucille, and Uncle Reese, sister Carol, and our whole family.  I learned a lot about how to deal with a loss by watching them.  Uncle Reese wrote a book about David that was a great tribute to him and comforting to friends and family.


For several years, David baked whole wheat bread.  He shared his recipe with me, but I don’t remember if I ever used it.  After his death, I began to bake his recipe each Christmas.  This baking of bread became one of my annual traditions and a time for me to think about David and what his life meant to our family.

David's bread

David’s bread

Not long after David’s death, fellow musicians held a tribute concert in his memory. Proceeds went to a memorial concert fund at Stephen F. Austin University where David got his college degree and where Uncle Reese worked as an art professor. Our family drove down to Nacogdoches for the concert held at a local coffee shop. It was a wonderful event.

Both Uncle Reese and Aunt Lucille died several years ago, but David’s death was a constant shadow of sadness in their lives.  The memories of our loss of David still sting today. I sometimes wonder how David’s talent would have influenced the world if he had lived longer.

Fountain in the restaurant of the Saint Francis Hotel.

Fountain in the restaurant of the Saint Francis Hotel.

A couple of summers ago, I took Becca to Santa Fe.  We stayed at the Saint Francis Hotel.  We weren’t roughing it but we had access to some beautiful hiking trails.  I would rise early and hike, and then return for some afternoon touring with Becca and a good meal.  We called it food tourism, and it was great fun!

View of Sante Fe Baldy from my break spot.

View of Santa Fe Baldy from my break spot.

While taking a break on a day hike up to Santa Fe Baldy, two ladies approached up the trail and asked if I was alright. Maybe I looked tired from the elevation but I replied, “It’s 60-degrees with no humidity, so this guy from Arkansas feels great!  It’s in the upper 90s back home.”

One of the ladies said she knew about high humidity, having lived in East Texas for several years. I said I used to have family in that area. She asked where, and I said Nacogdoches to which she replied, “That’s where I lived.”  I mentioned Reese and Lucille’s name and she said she knew them well. Turns out that she owned the coffee shop where the memorial concert for David was held, and she remembered it well. We shared memories of Reese, Lucille, David, and Carol. She also recommend a couple of other day hikes to me while I was in the area. The lady with her just stood there stunned at what she was hearing. I only saw two hikers on the ascent up to Santa Fe Baldy that day.

Looking down on Lake Catherine from the top of Santa Fe Baldy.

Looking down on Lake Katherine from the top of Santa Fe Baldy.

At the end of the day while preparing to drive away from the trailhead, the two ladies came off of the trail. The one who had lived in Nacogdoches came running up with a trail guide she thought I might like to have, saying it was an older edition but had some good hikes around the area. I thanked her and gave her an Ozark Highlands Trail Association water bottle.


As I drove away, I was thankful for this chance meeting on the trail and the kind words I heard about David from this “stranger.” I was reminded that there are no real strangers on the trail, where we often have connections with others just waiting to be discovered.

This evening Becca and I tasted David’s bread, and it was good. I read an excerpt from his father’s book and pulled out the old hiking guide to view the trail to Santa Fe Baldy. I thought about David’s far reaching influence and how memories of him and his parents live on in others.

Just another day on the trail…

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Part of the fun of hiking is driving to the trailhead. I just had to stop when this abandoned house caught my eye.


I was looking forward to hiking with Mike LeMaster.  He is a “heavy hitter” when it comes to trail maintenance, but today he hiked without his chainsaw.  We had a good visit while on the trail.  He is shown here with his famous Toyota go-anywhere truck.  This little truck has slid into a couple of ditches and a barbed wire fence, but just keeps going and going.


We decided to avoid running a shuttle and did the Redding Loop.  We passed this “would be” waterfall.  I thought about a kayaker who often said, “If there were water, we could float this.”   I thought to myself, “If there were water, this would be a waterfall,” but it was just a trickle today.  The little valley was a pleasure to see as the trail followed around its edge.

Spy Rock

Spy Rock

We didn’t make the spur to Spy Rock but enjoyed seeing it from a distance.  Below is a picture taken from the bluff a couple of months ago.  Sean is cutting up (carefully) on the edge of Spy Rock.


After completing Redding Loop, Mike headed back to Fayetteville to catch a football game.  Hiker-dog and I had one more hike in mind.  We drove up to Morgan Fields Trailhead with the idea of doing an out-and-back to Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT.

Trail entrance from Morgan Fields Trailhead

Trail entrance from Morgan Fields Trailhead


This out-and-back hike was on the Ozark Highlands Trail, passing mile marker 43, and 44.  I’m always pleased to see these little trail signs at road crossings.  I must associate them with good experiences on the trail.


The trail passes a rock wall.  I wish these walls could tell stories of the people who built them.  Below is a picture of a small portion of rockwork that forms the base of a section of historic roadbed.  The trail follows this road for a short distance.   Over the years, some of the stone retaining wall has been torn up by falling trees but much of it has stood the test of time.  I can’t imagine how much physical labor went into building this little section of road.

Rock base of historic roadbed

Rock base of historic roadbed


The trail climbs steadily and cuts through a couple of rocky crags.  It’s December 6, and I’m hiking in a t-shirt.  I was chilly but avoided breaking a sweat on the climb.


Hickory nuts were plentiful on top of Hare Mountain.  I picked one up and tossed it for Hiker to chase.  To my surprise, she began to crack it with her teeth.  Half fell out on the ground, and she chewed up the other half.  I dug out some of the nut and tried it.  Pretty good but a lot of work.

The hickory nut Hiker cracked for me.

The hickory nut Hiker cracked for me.

Hiker chewing a hickory nut.

Hiker chewing a hickory nut.


Hiker inspected the homestead chimney and well.  I’m always impressed with the mantel stone on this fireplace.  It appears that some mortar may have been used, but there are no firebricks.   I would like to know the date of construction.

Hare Mountain Well

Hare Mountain Well

I peeked under the well lid to check the water level.  It was about two feet from the top and pretty cloudy as usual.  Rain water had collected in the bucket.


Even on foggy days, the view from Hare Mountain is a joy to see.  A quick hike down the mountain and we called it a day, another very good day on the trail!

If you’d like to see more of the Ozark Highlands Trail, here’s a slideshow from my thru-hike last winter.


Gone But Not Forgotten: Shimmer of Color

Wet crossing on the Ozark Highlands Trail

Wet crossing on the Ozark Highlands Trail in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness

I long to hold onto fall, wishing I could stop the progressive changes in color.  The sunny day, when gusts of wind begin to deliver spent brown leaves to the ground, is always a day of mixed emotions.

I love fall, but only the extremes of winter seem to connect with childhood memories.  In south Arkansas, there were the rare snow days.  We called them “free days” to miss school and play.  More often, there were ice storms and the cannon booms of pines snapping like pencils in the woods behind our house.  Memories connected with winter are easy, but those surrounding fall are vague.

Much is forgotten as the concerns of adulthood pile high over the seasons of childhood. Now, I sometimes pause to own a moment, hoping it will stay.  Two falls ago I stopped beside a small stream to celebrate a shimmer of color, soon to be washed from its rocky perch.  The leaf is gone, but the joys of that day are not forgotten.  I should pause more often.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”


Water, Sky, Clouds, and Land – Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

Sunset on the Lake Alma Trail - Water converging with the land and sky.

Sunset on the Lake Alma Trail – Water converging with the land and sky.

Continuing to view the "convergence," the clouds moved into a symmetrical form on an axis formed by the land on the far side of the lake.

Continuing to view the “convergence,” the clouds moved into a symmetrical form on an axis formed by the land on the far side of the lake.

The show continued.

The show continued.

I liked this view of the clouds as the sky "converged" with the grassy shore and turned my view of the lake upside-down.

I liked this view of the clouds as the sky “converged” with the grassy shore and turned my view of the lake upside-down.

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

2014 Photo Challenge, Week 47 Nature and Wildlife – Litter and Trash

Some trash is unsightly but easily corrected.  The deeper problem of pollution that finds its way into our  wetlands is not so easily remedied.

Some trash is unsightly but easily corrected with a little physical action. The pollution that finds its way into our wetlands is not so easily remedied.  This picture was taken today next to a small pond north of Dallas, Texas.

Here’s a short story about trashy folks….  The Jack Creek Criminals


Photo Challenge: Angular

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

Bridge over the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Bridge over the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I cross this bridge on morning walks when visiting Little Rock.  I call it urban hiking.

Killing time in Grainfield, Kansas.

Killing time in Grainfield, Kansas.

Got stuck in Grainfield, Kansas while traveling to a backpacking destination.  We spent the whole day exploring this little town.  Turned out to be a good day.

The Metro in Washington, DC

The Metro in Washington, DC

The Metro – One of my favorite things about visiting Washington, DC.

Lake Alma Trail: kid friendly out-and-back day hike

McWater Falls

McWater Falls (photo J. Warnock)

At a Glance

GPS:  N35 29.825 W94 13.066

Distance and Configuration:   2.6-mile out-and-back

Hiking Time: 2 hours (approximate)

Highlights: Lake views, waterfall, and beautiful creeks.

Facilities: restrooms and picnic area

Wheelchair Access: no

Dogs: yes

Comments: The 1.6-mile out-and-back to McWater Falls is an easier option for those wanting a shorter hike.

Contacts: facebook.com/LakeAlmaTrail    Email: hmcwater@windstream.net     Blog: ozarkmountainhiker.com


If you’re a parent looking for an easy day hike to introduce your children to the gentle pleasures of nature or a trail runner looking for a heart-throbbing but pleasant path, this out-and-back hike is for you!

Chuck Dovish, of Exploring Arkansas with AETN, said, “It’s amazing that so much variety and diversity of scenery is found right inside the town of Alma.”  You’ll see bluff lines and moss-covered boulder fields up close.  You’ll walk beside clear streams, rocky cascades and a 12-foot waterfall.   Situated within a diverse mixed hardwood forest, you may spot deer, rabbit, fox, great blue heron, and a variety of songbirds and wildflowers.

The Hike

We’ll be accessing the Lake Alma Trial by the paved walking path that connects to the parking area.  As you begin walking you’ll see another paved path down below and closer to the lake on your left.   Note:  There are mile markers on this trail, but they are approximate and based on distances calculated from the kiosk. Our mileage will be calculated beginning and ending at the parking area, making the mile markers on the trail shorter than our actual distance.

At mile 0.2, you’ll arrive at the Lake Alma Trail kiosk.  Stop and have a look at the map and check for updates on trail conditions.  This is where the pavement ends, and the work of volunteers begins.  The kiosk was built and installed by volunteers.  The trail logo was created by a young community volunteer.  The tread on which you walk was cut out, and continues to be maintained, by volunteers.

The first section of the trail is easy walking.   At mile 0.5, the trail turns to the right and goes up to cross a small drainage.   More easy walking until you arrive at the first bridge.  The trail follows around the base of a hillside and then crosses a second bridge.  If water is flowing under this bridge, the waterfall is flowing and definitely worth seeing.

Take a right on the McWater Falls spur trail, arriving at the falls at mile 0.8.  This is a nice out-and-back for children and novice hikers and provides a 1.6-mile hike.  If you have young children, consider this option and take your time returning to the trailhead.

This waterfall is named for Harry McWater, the man who had the vision for this trail. During the late 1990s as a member of the Alma City Council, Harry brought up the possibility of a trail around the lake several times only to be told that money for such a project wasn’t available.  In 2011, during a conversation with the mayor he asked, “What if I find volunteers to get that hiking trail built?”  The mayor said, “Go for it!”

With that, Harry sought expertise and labor from the Arkansas Master Naturalists, Ozark Highlands Trail Association, Fort Smith Trailblazers, and local volunteers, including student organizations and scout troops.  The trail began to see regular use in the spring of 2012 and its popularity has continued to grow.

Now, back on the trail.  After enjoying McWater Falls, backtrack one-tenth of a mile to the main trail and turn right.  You’ll get glimpses of the lake in the distance on your left.   At mile 1.0, you’ll turn right onto an old roadbed.  Watch to your right for some nice bluff areas and rock formations as you walk this section. At 1.3-miles, you’ll pass moss and lichen covered boulders that appear to have tumbled down the hillside on your right. Just past the 1-mile marker you’ll come to the Hexagon Hut.    This homesite is a great place to explore.  Please leave any historical artifacts in place.  Mystery surrounds the construction of these structures and their occupants.

Hexagon Hut

Hexagon Hut

At this point, you’ve actually hiked 1.4 miles from the parking lot and including the waterfall spur.  This is where we’ll turn around and return to the trailhead for a 2.6-mile hike.  Sometimes the best part of a hike is the backtracking portion.  You’ll often notice views missed on the first trip through.

Note: The Lake Alma Trail does loop all the way around the lake, returning to the trailhead by way of the dam, but this is a 4.5-mile strenuous hike.  There are some very rocky and difficult sections beyond the Little Frog Bayou crossing. Only experienced hikers with water and sturdy shoes should consider doing the whole loop trail around Lake Alma.


Take Exit 13 off of I-40 and drive north to the first traffic light.  Turn right (east) onto Collum Lane East.  Drive 0.2 mile and then left (north) on Mountain Grove Road.  Drive north on Mt. Grove Road for 0.3 mile and take a left just past the two green water tanks.  Drive down to the picnic area parking.  The Lake Alma Trailhead is at the opening in the parking guardrail.

Lake Alma Trail out-and-back


Logo design by Ashley Campbell

Trail Maintenance – A High Paying Job

We take a break and refill our water at the Jack Creek west camp site.

We took a break and refilled our water at the Jack Creek west camp site.

This Stihl hedge trimmer pictured above works well with small woody growth encroaching on the trail. I checked it out from the Ozark Highlands Trail Association to use on my adopted four-mile section. The Stihl website shows this being used to trim hedges, hence the name.  I wonder if Stihl realizes this is a favorite tool for trail work in Arkansas.

Hiker wasn’t impressed with the tool. After about five hours, she began to pause and bark as if to say, “Why don’t you quit playing with that and pick up your pace.” We covered four miles out-and-back for a total of eight. That would typically be a four-hour walk. We got started at 8:00 a.m. and finished at 4:20 p.m.

Practice "Leave no Trace" so I don't have to pack out your trash.

Practice “Leave no Trace” so I don’t have to pack out your trash.

Hiker carries some food in her pack. She packs out any trash we find. She ended the day with an empty plastic bottle, a tin can, and a few candy wrappers. I wonder how litterbugs would feel, knowing that a sweet dog like Hiker is cleaning up after them.

I feel a sense of pride when “my section” of the Ozark Highlands Trail is in good shape. I would recommend trail adoption to all hikers.  It’s satisfying work and a way to ensure that trails will be available for future hikers.  It’s also a good workout.  I always end a maintenance day feeling like I’ve been highly paid for my work.  To see some of those who make the OHT possible, read In Praise of Trail Maintainers/Volunteers.

Bear Creek at the trail crossing.

Bear Creek at the trail crossing.

Just being here is a cause for thanksgiving. Another cause for thanksgiving is the meal my creative wife prepares. Good food and company after trail maintenance is the best!