Writing Through The Ozarks

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A wet Hiker-dog waits patiently as I photograph a waterfall in Missouri’s Hercules Wilderness

In November of 2012, I began this blog as an online scrapbook to record my adventures on the trails. I hoped it would help solidify memories of good times and lessons learned. It has more than fulfilled this wish. Sometimes I skim back through posts to relive the joy of previous trips and get inspired to explore some more.

An added benefit of writing is that others have chosen to virtually travel with me on the trails. Some have been inspired to hike as a result of this blog, and that gives me great satisfaction! This site is now approaching 150,000 hits and has more than 1,600 subscribed followers.

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A couple of months before beginning my blog, I wrote my first article for @Urban Magazine, now Do South Magazine. That portion of my writing journey is in a post entitled “When in Doubt, Write.”


In October of 2014, my blog opened another door. I received an email from Tim W. Jackson, an acquisition editor with AdventureKEEN/Menasha Ridge Publishing. He said they were looking at adding an Ozarks guidebook to their Five Stars series and asked if I was interested in authoring the book. I quickly did a Google and Twitter search and confirmed that Tim was a real person. I then realized I owned several Menasha Ridge publications. Tim began to answer my questions and thus began our long-distance work on a guidebook that would consume every extra moment of my time for the next two years.

At first, writing this book felt daunting. My mother says, “When in doubt, take a step” so I began. There was research, hiking, recording GPS tracks, writing, and photography, then the cycle continued, building in ever-expanding layers. There was also lots of driving with Hiker-dog in her crate. She loved exploring the new trails and revisiting the familiar ones.

Even at its most difficult stages, I found great joy in this work. The team at Menasha Ridge Press was wonderful and helped make Five Star Trails: The Ozarks an amazing resource for exploring the very best trails in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. I take great pride in this book’s accuracy, readability, photographs, maps, and the wonderful routes included.

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After the book’s publication, Marla Cantrell shared some of my story in an article entitled, “When in Doubt.” Marla had been a coach and mentor to me ever since my first published article in Do South Magazine.


I hadn’t anticipated how much fun it would be to share adventures and backpacking skills while promoting Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. Presenting at the Arkansas Literary Festival was a treat as well as various state parks and hiking groups.

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Presenting to a group of 90 at Hobbs State Park

After the Arkansas Literary Festival, I learned that my book was included in the 2017 Arkansas Gems List. It was a thrill to see Hiker-dog’s cover photo on the poster.

Arkansas Gems poster 2017

  • If you love hiking or know someone who does, get Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.
  • If you’ve used Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, write a review on Amazon. I’m proud of that this Five Star Trails guidebook has a five-star rating. screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-7-58-59-am
  • If you have a group that would enjoy hearing about the Ozarks, John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California, or Grand Canyon of Arizona, please pass along my contact info. I can be reached at OzarkMountainHiker@gmail.com

It’s been a fun ride with Five Star Trails: The Ozarks and the journey continues. Enjoy your trails! Jim Warnock

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While it’s a pleasure to see The Ozarks on bookstore shelves, the real thrill is seeing it in use! These young hikers shared this photo from one of their Ozarks trips. Thanks Trey!

Watch for the November issue of Do South. It includes my article, “Walking Through Winter,” one of our best seasons in the Ozarks.

Five Star Trails at REI

REI in Dallas 

The Trail Never Disappoints

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Yesterday’s steady rain promised potential waterfalls this morning, so Hiker-dog and I set out early. I never tire of walking the Lake Alma Trail. It’s always slightly different, depending on the light, weather, and my frame of mind. This morning, it was exactly 50-degrees, so my sometimes weather-related mood was pretty optimistic.

As we approached the creek below McWater Falls, I heard a soft flow. When we arrived, the waterfall greeted us in beautiful morning light. After Hiker-dog had her bath and a drink, I placed my camera on a tree root for a half-second exposure.

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McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

After picking up some trash, yes, trash right here at the waterfall, we began our walk back, picking up several other trash items on the way. I noted that some litterbugs were not adhering to the guidelines I wrote for these folks in another post. A couple of new pieces of trash had obviously been thrown off the trail, making them harder to retrieve.

As we walked back through the picnic area and across the dam, a bright morning sun beamed down its warmth, revealing hints of approaching fall colors on this trail that never disappoints.

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If you’d like a map of the Lake Alma Trail, open this pdf: Alma Park Map 2017

Quick Shakedown in the Ozarks

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Light rain with temps in the 50s… I must go now! So, Friday evening I arrived at Shores Lake as the sun went down, leaving a dim, soft light. The trailhead parking lot was empty.

I begin most walks with intense anticipation but felt a dull obligation this evening. I needed a shake-down outing in the rain in preparation for future trips, and my hiking buddy needed some time in the woods.

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Beginning the trail after sunset 

Thankfully, it only took a few steps on the trail for that sense of duty to drop away, replaced by feelings of magic while walking this familiar route in deepening darkness. The last couple of miles required a headlamp.

Seeing only the trail details right in front of me stimulated memories of previous walks on this path. Memories associated with each turn of the trail came back clearly like repeated hits of deja vu. As I walked past a couple of my favorite waterfalls in the darkness, I thought of past treks when I enjoyed these scenes in daylight.

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Little Roaring Falls on White Rock Creek

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Bedtime beverage

In the misty drizzle, it was easy to set up the tarp so that my down quilt stayed dry inside the trash compactor bag until I was ready for sleep. The small umbrella was helpful during the walk and while making the evening’s hot toddy.

The rainy night left me well rested. When I woke at 4 a.m., the sky was clear and the air was chilly. I felt great, so we packed up and started walking, thinking Salt Fork Creek would be an excellent location for breakfast. Walking the sun up was a treat! 

Shortly after passing the intersection at the short spur to White Rock Mountain, someone said “good morning” from inside his tent. I’m sure he was relieved that Hiker-dog wasn’t a bear.

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Important sign on the approach to the top of White Rock Mountain

The downhills east of White Rock Mountain were the most difficult footings I encountered in darkness. No falls, but two close calls and a little rock-skating here and there.

As we approached Salt Fork Creek, we saw headlamps from a campsite. A camper’s dog joined us and played with Hiker-dog. The two of them had a great time while I sat close to my stove to protect the boiling water from their prancing.

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Salt Fork Creek had clear water

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egg burrito

My dehydrated egg crystals turned out great, but I’ll pack some bacon bits next time. I dipped out some clear Salt Fork Creek water for coffee and treated another pouch full for the day. A couple of breakfast bars completed my meal as we backtracked a short distance to the East Loop Trail and continued south.

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The woods and rocks surrounding the trail were a welcome sight after so much night walking. We saw evidence of trail maintenance by the OHTA all along the trail. I think Hiker-dog appreciated this cut!

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Before arriving back at Shores Lake, the trail crossed this stream that flows down to Salt Fork Creek. This water level is pretty typical of fall in the Ozarks. You can usually find water pockets, but sometimes, creeks are bone-dry this time of year. I still had water from Salt Fork Creek, so we continued and arrived at the trailhead relaxed and ready for lunch (and an afternoon nap).

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Shakedown thoughts: The following are my thoughts about a few recent pieces of equipment or practices. I’m not that gear conscious so you won’t get technical info here. Often, I can’t remember the brand names of items while on the trail.

Headlamp – The little Nitecore NU25 headlamp worked well. It’s rechargeable so only repeated uses will tell how long the charge will last, but with the low setting I used most on this outing, it should last several hours. The higher settings were great for scanning the campsite before departing. I carried a Petzl with the retractable strap for backup. I’ve used the Petzl for several years with good results.

Coffee recipe: Details of my trail brew are available on another post, My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail. I’ve used Mount Hagen instant with good results, but my current coffee brewing method doesn’t leave any trash to carry out.

Hoosier Hill Farm Premium Whole Egg Crystals: Practice making these at home and you’ll have a protein-rich breakfast on the trail. I’m not finding this product now, but hopefully, it’s available or will be soon. I measure the crystals into a small ziplock, then add salt and pepper. When the water boils, I add a few drops of olive oil and then the egg mix. If it’s too thick, I add a few drops of my coffee since I’m mixing in the cook pot. If it’s too watery, I pour off the excess after the eggs scramble.

Shelter: I’ve used the Zpacks tarp in light rain, so this outing gave me a slightly stronger test though I’m looking forward to getting it out in a heavy rain for a final test before using it on the Ozark Trail this winter. My Big Agnes tent is a good option if I lack confidence with the tarp, but I like the lightness of the tarp. The Big Agnes was my John Muir Trail shelter and it worked well. If I hike the High Sierras again in summer, I’ll take my tarp.

Hot Toddy recipe (for medicinal purposes): Put a little bourbon in a cup (depending on taste). Boil a cup of water and add 4-6 whole cloves toward the end of the boil. Pour into cup and stir in a pinch of True Lemon crystals. Enjoy!

Everything is Holy Now

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As I loaded my pack for a fall trip in the Ozarks, this favorite quote came to mind and made me think. What do I really need to carry with me when walking a trail? Then a larger question came to mind. What is it I need on this walk through life?

What I’ve thought was indispensable to a happy life often proved to be insignificant clutter, based mostly on what our culture proclaims we must have. Much of what we label as sacred has shown to be hollow, or at best, a shallow imitation for holy.

I’ll place a few essentials carefully into my pack – food, water, shelter, and coffee. In addition to the pack, I’ll carry my mind and a pounding heart. The trail will provide the remainder of what I need.

As I receive what the trails have to offer, I sometimes whisper this song. “Wine from water is not so small, but an even better magic trick is that anything is here at all.”

Boondocking in the Ouachitas and Lake DeGray

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Early morning view of the Fourche LeFave River.

Where the South Fourche LeFave River crosses Highway 7 just south of the Hollis Store, you’ll find a beautiful little campground suitable for tents or small RVs. There are no hookups for water or electrical, so some would consider it “boondocking.”

We made camp in the dark, thankful for a break in the drive after a full day’s work. As anticipated, this was a great overnight stop for Becca, Hiker-dog and me on our way to Lake DeGray to meet up with family members. Avoid this campground if heavy rains are in the forecast since it’s in a flood zone.

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Campsites include a picnic table, tent pad, lantern pole, fire ring, and a grill.

Our 20-foot “tent-on-wheels” was a perfect fit and slept nicely in the cool mountain air of the Ouachitas. We set up in the dark and did some early morning exploring the next day before heading south on Hwy 7 toward Hot Springs and then Lake DeGray.

Hiker-dog loved the woods surrounding the river. Since we had the place to ourselves, she could roam leash-free. In addition to the well-appointed campsites, there are pit toilets, bear-proof trash cans, and a group picnic pavilion. These well-maintained pit toilets were luxurious by thru-hiker standards.IMG_0358rrIMG_0410rrWe’d packed water which was good because the campground kiosk said no water was available due to vandalism though no obvious damage was visible.  A short unmaintained path leads up beautifully built stone steps to what looks like a pump house next to Hwy 7.

 

 

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Steps leading to stone pumphouse

 

We enjoyed walking back to the bridge and checking out the tools being used to build a replacement for the 1933 structure. I hope there are plans to relocated it for a footbridge because of it’s beautiful form and character.

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I couldn’t help but think of a dental drill when I saw the machine that held the 10-foot wide drill bits used to bore into the earth before pouring concrete pillars. Some of the rebar forms were already in place.

 

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Our early morning drive to DeGray State Park was fun as we anticipated seeing this area we’ve enjoyed since our college days. We arrived early and spent time walking and enjoying a lunch at the Lodge Restaurant.

The next morning, Hiker-dog and I went for a walk. She enjoyed running along the muddy shoreline, kicking up chunks of dirt as her paws pounded across the soft soil.

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It had been years since I walked the short Towering Pines Trail, so we did it both ways to get a little more distance.  Sure enough, there were tall pine trees that reminded me of the woods behind my childhood home in south Arkansas.

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It didn’t take long to warm up, so Hiker-dog was glad when the trail passed close to Lake DeGray for a quick bath.

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The Saginaw Railroad Trail is a very short trail, but still worth doing because it follows an old narrow route that was used in the early 1900s to harvest virgin timbers at a time when humans thought forests were inexhaustible. Teams of mules dragged the felled trees to the rails where they were then transported to a lumber mill.

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Hiking on an old railroad bed

Even walking the roads to and from trails is a pleasure at Lake DeGray State Park. This view in early morning mist presented itself as we headed back toward the campground after our walk.

IMG_0482rrOur afternoon family hike was a pleasure later that day though I wished for the cooler temps we’d enjoyed earlier. I was proud to see my daughter’s fitness level and ease on the trail.

IMG_0595rrIt was a good time with family and made me think back to earlier dayhikes with my daughters. My only regret is that we didn’t do this more often during their childhood. I felt intense gratitude for the beautiful ladies they’ve become.

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Dayhike with daughters at Petit Jean State Park a “few” years back.

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Lake DeGray

Advice for Littlerbugs

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View of Lake Alma from the dam

This cool rainy morning was perfect for picking up trash on the Lake Alma Trail. The sight of trash in the Ozarks sometimes interrupts my enjoyment of the walk. I try to contain my emotional response to seeing an abandoned cup because it confuses Hiker-dog. She’s always happy in the woods and worries if I’m not enjoying my time, too.

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I’ve wondered what folks are thinking when they toss trash on the trail, so I decided to Google it. Didn’t find any explanations of the litterbug’s inner thinking, but the Journal of Applied Social Psychology published a study that confirmed something I’ve long suspected: “The littering rate was…lowest in a clean environment.” I was surprised to learn that positive (“Pitch-In”), and negative (“Littering is Unlawful”) signs had the same minor effect on reducing litter. It’s sad to see anti-littering signs in natural areas.

Since they are not likely to stop, I decided to list a few pieces of advice for litterbugs. If you know anyone guilty of littering, please pass these along.

  1. Leave your trash on the trail rather than tossing it off of the path where it’s difficult for volunteers to retrieve in poison ivy and greenbriers.
  2. Leave the labels on your water bottles. When you tear off the label, volunteers then have two pieces of trash to pick up. This pisses off some volunteers, and we don’t want to see angry people on our hiking trails.
  3. If you are unable to resist the urge to take a dump right next to the trail, please pick up the book, How to Shit in the Woods and give it a read.
  4. Please leave contact information on your trash (or next to it in the case of human excrement), so we can fill your email inbox with words of thanks for practicing “courteous” littering and providing us with volunteer opportunities.
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Hiker-dog on top of the LAT Dam

We only saw a few pieces of trash on the trail this morning, but cooler temperatures reminded me that Arkansas’ hiking season is just around the corner. I’m looking forward to sharing Five Star Trails: The Ozarks at several fall events. I might even include a few Leave No Trace reminders just in case any litterbugs wander in by accident.

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Five pieces of trash were found on the trail with the remainder found in the picnic area.

My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail

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I love coffee! On the trail, even the most disgusting instant coffee tastes pretty good, but if we can have gourmet coffee while “roughing it,” why not?

I once felt guilty about my coffee obsession, but many nutritionists now say it’s a healthy drink, so I feel no shame when enjoying my morning shot of stimulant.

There are many instants and brewing techniques out there, but I’ve learned that less is best. Some cringe when they see my backpacking version of “cowboy coffee,” but this is similar to the way professional coffee tasters do their work, so it has some credibility. It also fits into the ultra-light approach because no special equipment is required.

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What you’ll need: A cup, spoon, boiling hot water, and espresso grind coffee. A coffee shop will do the espresso grind for you. I like a dark roast bean. The important thing is that this coffee is a powder-fine grind. Regular grinds result in a chewy brew with less flavor.

The brew:

  1. IMG_0127rrBoil creek water and pour into a cup.
  2. Add a rounded teaspoon of espresso grind coffee and let it sit on top of the water for a minute.
  3. Stir the coffee and let sit another minute or two.

Enjoy a great cup of coffee, but don’t drink the sludge at the bottom of your cup. It’s biodegradable, so there’s no mess and no fuss! 

Senyard Falls

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We hopped out of the truck and headed down the steep incline, slipping and sliding with excitement as we went. From far below we heard the soft roar of a creek. I wanted to approach the falls from downstream, so we followed the upper bench south until it met with a small drainage leading down to creek level. 

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Roy_10As last week’s August rains fell, I knew it was time to revisit Senyard Falls, named for a great person we lost last month. To learn a little about Roy Senyard, read Loss of a Friend.

Hiker-dog and I got started later than we’d planned but the drive up Hwy 23 (Pig Trail Scenic Byway) was beautiful underneath a cloud cover and occasional patches of fog.

IMG_9610After bushwhacking down to creek level, we began making our way upstream, stopping for a few photos along the way. Hiker-dog was excited and made many trips up to the rim of the hollow and back down for a reassuring pat on the back. She took several cooling dips in the water.

As we made our way upstream, I caught a hint of campfire smoke and thought someone must have camped on a bench above the hollow. It turns out the camper was a friendly guy named Robert who had hammock camped the night before over boulders next to the creek. We visited briefly then moved to the base of Senyard Falls.

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Robert and Hiker-dog

After a couple of quick photos, the sun came out from behind the clouds so we moved to another position and waited for better light. Waiting was a good decision. The light never got right for another photo, but sitting under the bluff of Senyard Falls for an hour gave my mind exactly what was needed. Hiker-dog sat quietly as if she understood the importance this time. Or, maybe she was worn out from all her ridge running.

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I finally used the sunny scene for a short video clip of the falls. Tim Ernst says that sitting next to a waterfall has healing qualities. Spending time next to Roy Senyard Falls today definitely had that effect.

My First Trail

This kind post from my Cousin Sue took me back in time.

Absolutely still very proud of my cousin Jim Warnock on the publication of his book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. I re-read Ms. Cantrell’s review and realized that I was one of those friends who shared Jim’s love of “the Cherokee Trail” at the back of his folks’ home on Calion Highway in south Arkansas. While I did not do any overnights on the trail, I can still smell the pines and hear their needles rustle in the wind. Magical memories! Thanks, Uncle Jimmy, for cutting the trail, and congrats again, Jim!

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1970s photo of “my trail” with my Kodak Instamatic

That little trail and adjacent woods were a palette that colored many childhood memories. There was time for climbing trees, swinging on vines, and looking at the sky in wonder. I once lay flat on my back in pine straw and gazed at a blue sky while strong winds bathed the swaying pines above. My heart felt light, and my mind soared with thoughts of a hopeful future.

Instamatic cameraAs it turned out, my teenage mind couldn’t comprehend how wonderful life would be and the undeserved gifts that would come my way. Hardships? Yes, but by comparison, they were cluttered corners in a large room filled with blessings.

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Walking the Ouachita Trail in 2018

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Giving thanks.