World of Beauty Down a Small Ozark Hollow

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I’ve read about the waterfall in Devil’s Canyon, but today was not a waterfall hunting day. We were merely scouting the driving directions and having a look around so that when the water is flowing strongly in the future, we can get to the area quickly. I made it to the first drain and ended up spending all of my available time exploring a small hollow as I followed the water downhill.

Continuing a short distance downstream, we came to this little grotto and waterfall. The large waterfall this area is known for is in another section of Devil’s Canyon (close by air, but distant by foot).

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At this point, I thought I’d seen the scenic features of this little side-valley, but the randomly placed car-sized boulders drew me ever downward. I quickly came to a reflective pool and realized little beauty-surprises were hidden around every boulder.

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Below is a wider view of the same area showing boulders stacked above.

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Massive stacked boulders

Continuing downstream, I heard flowing water but couldn’t see where the cascade was until I arrived next to an A-shaped opening.

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A young man who I’d seen running the jeep road on the edge of the canyon reappeared and exclaimed at how beautiful this little area was. I introduced myself and discovered that he worked for the US Forest Service. He’d been helping with a fire in Tennessee and was now headed back home to Oregon. After our short visit, I thought how easy it is to meet fascinating people on the trails of Arkansas.

While taking a photograph of the little cascade through the leaning A-shaped rocks, I heard a commotion close by and instinctively covered my head. Hiker’s 65-pound frame had dislodged some small rocks causing her to glissade down a slope, bringing rocks and dirt with her. She ran over next to me and stayed close by for a few minutes.

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A surprised Hiker-dog stayed close by for a few minutes after her slide down a hillside.

I needed to watch my time to allow for the uphill climb out of this little valley. The way these boulders caught my attention, it would be easy to remain until after dark.

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We spent some more time at the little grotto on our way back upstream. I ate some dry bread I’d packed as a nod to John Muir, who’s birthday was a few days before on April 21st. Born in 1883, he continues to influence thinking about the outdoors and conservation today. He was known to toss a dry loaf of bread in a sack and explore the mountains for several days…the original ultra-light backpacker.

As we continued upstream, I noticed this scene I walked past earlier. Its beauty wasn’t lost on Hiker because she hopped right in after I took this photo.

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As we crossed the creek that feeds into the hollow, I noticed the abstract patterns created by shallow water and sunlight. I couldn’t resist capturing the intricate dancing lines that flowed at my feet.

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Shallow creek crossing

It had been a beautiful hike down this small stream and back up. Today I learned again that you can’t predict the beauty you might find in the eroded valleys of the Ozark Mountains. I was already missing this place as we passed the overlooks on the edge of the canyon. We will return another day!

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Hiker seemed to enjoy the view as we hiked away from Devil’s Canyon.

Ozark Abstracts in Rock, Water, and Ice

WordPress Photo Challenge: Abstract

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I stopped this morning to admire the abstract patterns in this rock wall next to the trail. When I got back home, I decided to skim through previous photos from the Ozarks region that have an abstract quality about them. I chose to focus on photos with rock, water, and ice.

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Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area bolder 

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Rock floor next to Hurricane Creek

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Roaring River

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Little Clear Creek West on the Lake Alma Trail

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Ice on the bluff at McWater Falls.

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Frozen creek surface 

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Detail of frost flower 

Dinnertime on the Trail

Response to WordPress Photo Challenge: Dinnertime

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I enjoy the mental and physical winding down that occurs at the end of a day in the Ozarks. Dinnertime can take on the character of a sacramental act.

Preparing simple food surrounded by stone walls and towering trees, a natural cathedral. Quiet conversations next to a cascading stream as we replenish body and soul, an outward sign of inward grace.

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One Good Trail is Enough

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It had been several months since I checked my little adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. My last two visits were in July and then again in September. Mike LeMaster cut a number of trees off of the trail in July and then Steven Parker did some more chainsaw work recently. I’ve had some expert help in maintaining this trail!

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Mile marker close to Dockery’s Gap

This little piece of the OHT has become special to me. It runs from Old Locke Road (FR 1007) at the Dockery’s Gap Trailhead, west to a campsite next to Jack Creek at mile-5 of the OHT.

When the new Lake Fort Smith State Park was being built, this piece of trail was abandoned, and the beginning of the OHT was at Dockery’s Gap. I liked hiking the closed trail and marked sections with survey tape to make the route easier to follow. Sometimes I’d saw small trees off the trail to keep it passable. When this section of trail reopened around 2008 after the completion of the new state park, I adopted the 4-mile section.

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Jack Creek

About three years ago, I realized just how strong my sense of ownership was when I discovered that some campers had trashed a special spot on the trail. I cleaned it up while cursing under my breath. I describe this incident in Jack Creek Criminals. It felt like a personal attack that someone would have so little respect for “my” section of the OHT!

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Hiker enjoyed the trail and cool air.

Today, Hiker-dog and I walked from Dockery’s Gap to Lake Fort Smith State Park where my wife, Becca, would meet us. Wildflowers were popping, creeks were flowing, and the sun was shining through cool, crisp air. It was a magical day and every step held beauty. I felt like I barely knew this trail as if hiking it for the first time.

Sometimes I’ll say, “I’ve done the OHT,” meaning I’ve hiked the 180 miles from Lake Fort Smith to Tyler Bend. I’ve “done” the section from Dockery’s Gap to Lake Fort Smith many times. What I can’t say is “I know this trail.” Today taught me that I never “know” a trail. Each mile has something new to offer every time I walk it. My life would be plenty full with just this little stretch of Ozarks landscape. One good trail is enough! 

…..

As I approached Lake Fort Smith, I met a hiker from Joplin. It was his first time on the OHT, and he was pleased with his new map. I enjoyed telling him that he was standing on the section adopted by Kristian Underwood, the cartographer responsible for the OHT maps.

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Map by Underwood Geographics

Below are a few photos from today’s hike.

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Hiker unsuccessfully seeking a mole.

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Hiker-dog inspecting a very clean campsite at Jack Creek. The group was from Kansas City, MO.

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I enjoyed giving out a couple of bookmarks with Hiker-dog’s “signature.”

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Wild iris on the trail

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Looking into Jack Creek drainage and the mountain ridge on the other side with new leaves on the hardwoods

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Boulders broken by time and the elements

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Crossing Frog Bayou that feeds Lake Fort Smith

I’ll end with a few photos of history along the trail approaching Lake Fort Smith and next to the lake.

Waterfall Cures from Do South Magazine

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Glory Hole Falls, Eric Scowden

I’m proud to be published with friend Eric Scowden in the beautiful Do South Magazine. If you enjoy waterfalls, you’ll like our article that gives detailed information to find nine beauties in our area of Arkansas. The following links take you to the web version of the article.

Digital magazine format with article beginning on p 58:

“Waterfall Cures” Words by Jim Warnock  / Photos by Eric Scowden and Jim Warnock 

Do South Blog format:

“Waterfall Cures” Words by Jim Warnock / Photos by Eric Scowden and Jim Warnock

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Turner Bend Falls on the Pig Trail, Jim Warnock

Photo Challenge: “Half-Light” at the end of evening walks

Half-Light

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I completed my evening walk as the sun went down over Lake Alma. It was the latter part of that magic hour just before dark. I was sorry I’d failed to carry my camera, but pleased with the resulting photo made with my phone. I say, “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

Below are more sunset views over Lake Alma, three minutes from my home. I don’t think I’ll ever exhaust my love for sunsets!

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Reflections of sunset over Lake Alma

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

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Sunset after a stormy day

Diverse group on a 20-mile stretch of the OHT

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How often do you plan a trip for five 10th-graders, one college student, four older adults, and a dog? Two of the youngsters had never been backpacking while several of the group had done many nights in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado as well as Arkansas. A diverse team for sure!

I was a little hesitant about our itinerary, especially the long first day from Cherry Bend Trailhead to Harrod’s Creek, but everyone was packed and ready to go on Saturday morning. The boys spent Friday night in the Rock House just west of Cherry Bend Trailhead, so they began the trip with an experience few others their age have had.

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The group minus Bob’s wife, Dana who joined in at Fly Gap Trailhead.

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Pausing to take in the view from Hare Mountain

While hiking over Hare Mountain, the highest point on the OHT, we wondered how anyone could eke out a living on such a rocky terrain. A rock wall, fireplace, and still usable well are the only remnants from the early settlers.

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Creeks were flowing, so water options were plentiful.

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Crossing Harrod’s Creek after an 11-mile day.

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Cedar grove campground at Harrod’s Creek

Several of us packed our bear canisters in preparation for a future trip. We enjoyed the convenience of keeping all food enclosed in a secure container rather than suspending food from tree limbs. I had my traditional tater soup with a few slices of dehydrated sweet potatoes added.

Day 2

Hiking toward Indian Creek brought us alongside a beautiful stream with water features and cascades. I’d passed this small waterfall in the past, but since day two was a shorter mileage day, I took time to scramble down for a few photos.

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The group enjoyed an early lunch after crossing Indian Creek.

The trail holds beauty with every step. In places, the moss-covered trail surface glistened green in the distance despite foot traffic.

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The younger hikers in our group showed no indication of discomfort. They kept on trucking down the trail.

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Bob at the Marinoni Scenic Area campground next to Briar Branch

We enjoyed referring to the new OHT map during our trip to see the lay of the land and forest roads surrounding the trail. Bob scrambled up above the area for a look at the top of the natural bridge.

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Briar Branch has clear water most of the year. I enjoyed exploring upstream during the lazy afternoon.

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Hiker-dog ate something that didn’t agree with her system and took an extended siesta. I was a little worried about her, but she bounced back to her hyper self the next morning.

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Day 3 

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Coffee is best next to an early morning fire.

Hiking through the Marinoni is always a treat! The modest Briar Branch flows next to massive boulders brought down by years of erosion. Within a week or so, the place will be alive with wild iris and many other floral displays.

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Natural Bridge in the morning sun.

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Bob and Dana passing through a rocky maze about one mile from Lick Branch

After arriving at Lick Branch, we drove away with hamburgers on our minds. As we approached Oark, we slowed down while sharing the road with horses. They stopped in at the Oark General Store, and we had a full house for lunch.

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Nick heading in for lunch.

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Good food and fellowship.

By the end of the trip, I couldn’t tell you which two of our younger hikers had never done a backpacking trip. There was no whining, and they handled themselves like veteran backpackers. I enjoyed seeing their energy and enthusiasm, and I’m sure they enjoyed the comic relief we older hikers provided during our three days on the trail.

If you want to learn more or get driving directions to the Marinoni Scenic Area, go to Making Time for Marinoni.

Here’s a link to the Rock House where the boys spent their first night on the OHT.

There’s always a plan-B in the Ozarks

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Senyard Falls

I’d planned to hike Hare Mountain today. As I began climbing a muddy East Fly Gap Road with my two-wheel drive vehicle,  I imagined my wife riding along with Hiker and me. At the moment I could imagine her getting concerned, I decided to turn around.

In the Ozarks, a plan-B is always available. I decided to visit the nearby Senyard Falls, named for Roy Senyard who maintains this section of the OHT and has been involved in trail maintenance for years. Roy is a strong guy, so it’s appropriate that the paths leading to his waterfall involve some tough scrambling, especially when conditions are wet.

There was a light rain, so I avoided having my camera out except for a few quick photos. I look forward to returning to this waterfall and seeing it from below. I couldn’t resist trying to capture a spider web next to the trail above the falls. It was easy to see why a camera could become wet quickly in this morning drizzle.

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As Hiker-dog and I headed back upstream, we stopped for a break at a crossing.

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While sitting beside the stream, I noticed Hiker looking quite pensive. I began to watch her, wondering what was going on in that little head of hers. I don’t know if dogs are capable of prayer, but I’m pretty sure Hiker was demonstrating a sense of gratitude for what she was seeing and experiencing on this drizzly morning. Or, maybe she was just spotting a squirrel in the distance.

IMG_1499rrI wonder if Hiker remembers her time of starvation and being alone in the woods before she joined our family. She does seem to appreciate everything about her life now, and she’s wildly excited when we go hiking.

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I paused to appreciate the bluff below the Cherry Bend Trailhead as we climbed back toward Hwy 23.

After driving south on Hwy 23, then east on 215, we did some hiking on the Redding Loop. While taking photos of the lower falls that were not running strongly, I noticed these fungi on a limb at my feet.

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Hiker and I both enjoyed walking through the pine and cedar groves on the Redding Loop.

I’ve admired a long rock wall close to the trailhead. Today we decided to go off the trail for a closer look. The craftsmanship was obvious from a distance and confirmed on closer inspection.

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Rock wall close to the Redding Loop Trailhead

We made a quick stop at Turner Bend for a turkey sandwich. The ladies behind the counter always try to guess my order. I usually fake them out with my ham or turkey decision, but they know I’m going to ask for the “whole garden.” Love those veggies!

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Turner Bend Waterfall

We were driving away when I noticed that the falls next to Turner Bend were still flowing. Had to stop for a photo before heading home. Hiker slept in her crate, content and happy after her morning in the woods.

Ushering in Spring on the Ozark Highlands Trail

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trout lily

This trout lily peeped up through the leaves and whispered, “Spring is near.” Mike, a fellow hiker, noticed these small wildflowers as we passed. I stopped and spent a few minutes looking and listening to what the subtle blends of color might be saying about the approaching spring.

The open woods revealed a contrast between the trout lily’s tiny voice and the soft roar of wind through the overhanging leafless hardwood canopy.

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On the OHT southeast of Arbaugh trailhead

Our route began at Arbaugh Trailhead, north of the little town of Oark, and headed east and south on the Ozark Highlands Trail. Kerry, a strong hiker and mountaineer, led our group of twelve. We enjoyed a short level walk before beginning a long steady downhill toward Lewis Prong, a beautiful stream flowing just enough to require a wet crossing.

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After crossing, I sat to enjoy the flow for a moment before moving on. Maybe recent practice at slowing down was paying off. In the past, I might have hurried on down the trail, but pausing gave me a chance to enjoy Lewis Prong and this rushing cascade downstream from our crossing.

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Turner Hollow made a nice lunch stop. Doug found the perfect sitting-rock with a view.

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We crossed several creeks that day under Kerry’s watchful eye.

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Waterfall Hollow was littered with downed trees from ice storms of the past. We saw evidence of trail maintenance all along this section. Randy, the adopter of this section, and other volunteers had spent many hours here, and we were thankful.

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The climb up and over Moonhule Mountain was tough followed by smooth sailing down to Hignite Hollow where we camped.

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As the sun went down, we began to enjoy the warmth of a fire as well as conversation and marshmallows. I used the fire to cook my broccoli cheese soup with dehydrated potatoes. The temperature probably dipped down into the upper 30s on this clear, star-filled night.

The next morning I was up at first light and headed out for a short hike with camera in hand. I hiked along the trail and then down an old roadbed to a drainage that led back to Hignite Hollow Creek. It was a pleasurable hike, especially where the creek formed small cascades that shimmered in the morning light.

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Morning coffee before continuing toward Ozone Campground

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Boomer Branch was a dry crossing though the water was clear and inviting. Once on the other side, the route continued up and away from the creek. Mike stopped for a photo as the group headed out.

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After a short climb, we followed a beautiful ridge walk before descending to, and crossing, the Mulberry River. At my feet’s request, I remained standing in the creek a few extra seconds. The cold water felt good on tired feet and legs.

Some tough climbs awaited us as we moved away from the Mulberry and eventually to Ozone. A familiar looking trout lily stood silently as I passed. It seemed to be saying, “Hope you enjoyed your springtime hike. Think of this cool morning next July!”

I thought about how much this little stretch of trail had given me during my two-day trek. Gifts from the trail are often more than expected, and this hike was no exception.

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Back to Morgan Mountain and Lessons in Slowing Down

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Hiker at a potential wet-season waterfall after our climb.

It had been 20 days since I resolved to slow down and do some exploring on Morgan Mountain. Hiker-dog and I decided to use the Redding Loop as a jumping off point. Several rocky drains asked to be explored, so I answered by using the rocky routes to see some new landscape and get in some good climbs.

As I was climbing pretty hard, I looked up to see Hiker-dog in the distance already at the top. She seemed to be looking down and wondering what was taking so long. Then she flew down the hill, arriving at my side within a few seconds. I was envious.

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From the lower falls on Redding Loop, we climbed up the drainage, finally reaching the dome of this small mountain. After a break, I looked at the map and decided to follow the next drain down, thinking it would probably take us down to the upper falls. After reaching those falls (all pretty dry), we followed the loop around and back to Redding Camp Ground.

Along the way, Hiker did some serious dog-work looking for moles. She came up empty today but had a dirty nose to prove her work.

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Digging for moles

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A recent controlled burn gave the woods that familiar campfire smell. Hiker leashed up when we got close to Hwy 215 and the campground.

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We stopped off to view the Mulberry River before heading toTurner Bend for lunch. Today was a good blend of covering some miles, but taking time to explore and sit still for a while. I still need more training in slowing down and letting my routes be flexible, but today was a nice beginning.

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Turner Bend’s “Almost Famous” ham sandwich is awesome!