Never the Same Trail Twice


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Frog Bayou

Hiking buddy, Nick, said he needed some time on the trail and wondered what section we might try. Hiker-dog had never done the few miles from Dockery Gap to White Rock Mountain, so we decided to do Lake Fort Smith State Park to Fane Creek, just over 30 miles.

This route included new miles for Nick and Hiker-dog but repeats for me. As we walked this familiar path, I remembered once again that we never walk the same trail twice.


Nick checking out the fire bricks inside the remnants of one homesite along the trail.

IMG_6532rr Water was plentiful. This was my first filterless backpacking trip using only water treatment drops, so I enjoyed “selecting” my water from any number of small streams we passed.


Little Hurricane Creek

IMG_6569rrWe met a family camped at mile 10. While visiting with the father, Luke, I was impressed with his two young daughters’ ability to run without pain barefoot through the woods.

The next day we met two backpackers, Nick and Foster, from Kansas who’d camped in the area and were continuing on the OHT the next day. As we approached White Rock Mountain, a young man with a group called out, “Is that Hiker-dog?” She’s such a celebrity. Turns out, Chris had picked up a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, and met Hiker-dog at the Hare Mountain Hike-In. We expected a social hike due to the time of year and enjoyed meeting good folks on the trail.


For the first evening meal I boiled red potato slices a few minutes then added a Knorr side dish that cooked quickly. Good stuff!

On the second night at Salt Fork Creek, I used instant potatoes combined with a slice of Spam. Quick, easy, and light.


Hiker-dog enjoyed a nap early in our second evening as a soft rain began to fall. Stronger storms and a beautiful lightning show followed later during the night, although not enough to raise the level of Salt Fork or Spirits Creek by more than an inch. 


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Spirits Creek

As Nick crossed Spirits Creek, I thought back to my thru-hike with Bob a few years ago. A heavy rain raised the creek level enough to cause us to pay careful attention while crossing. Never the same trail twice…

Below is another example of how different the same trail can be depending on conditions. Early in our hike, the Shepherd Springs Waterfall was a trickle in bright sunshine. On a previous visit during a wet springtime day, I got one of my favorite photos of this same waterfall. Part of the pleasure of the OHT is repeated visits during varied conditions and seasons. In the Ozarks, just when you think you know a trail, you realize it has something new to reveal.

Word of thanks to Ozark Highlands Trail Association volunteers: The photo below right shows the obvious work of trail maintenance volunteers who hike in with chainsaws and cut out obstacles. The photo on the left shows a full day’s work by several volunteers although it would be easy to walk by without notice. At one time, water flowed across the trail continually washing it out and making this a difficult spot. Volunteers trenched an alternative route for the water, directing it away from the trail and toward a culvert that channels water under the adjacent road. They’d be proud of how well this erosion fix is working.

Fugit Springs Water Stop


After hiking the section of trail between Sprits Creek and Salt Fork Creek, we drove down County Road 77 stopping at Fugit Springs to fill water bottles and have a look around.

A U-shaped rock formation on the east side of the road marks the spring’s location. Next to that is a concrete box with a pipe coming out and clear, cold water. It is camouflaged by debris and easy to miss.


Across the road is a root cellar with concrete walls finished in stone. A walkway leads toward the concrete foundation of an old homesite. The stone walkway was clear of mud due to a well-built retaining wall on either side.


The wall that extended from the cellar structure parallel to the road included a walkway opening to the property. Whoever built this wall went to some detail to include what I imagine is the date of construction, 1936.




Concrete foundation with rock wall and root cellar in the background

In one corner of the foundation were two pipes that appeared to go to a septic tank. A pile of stones more centrally located in the structure looked like the remnants of a fireplace. I wish stones could whisper from time to time.

I’d like to learn more about Fugit Springs. Web searches revealed little. Maybe I need to drive the Shores Lake area and find some elders with connections or memories of the place.

Approx. GPS: 35.692824 -93.918149 on County Road 77 northeast of Shores Lake and two miles south of the Ozark Highlands Trail crossing.

Between Two Creeks in the Ozarks


Hiker-dog’s first overnighter close to Salt Fork Creek

Hiker-dog’s first overnight backpack trip after she joined our family was Shores Lake to White Rock Mountain, then east to Salt Fork Creek. On another occasion, she joined a group of us from Fane Creek west to Spirits Creek.

That left just over four miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail between two creeks uncovered by her paws, so we drove up a small road that intersects this four-mile stretch and hiked to both creeks out-and-back for a total of just over eight miles.

I’ve rarely hiked a section of trail with the feeling of checking it off a list, but that was the task for the day. What I found was beauty, sunshine, and the chance to clarify some troubled thoughts.


Some of the pleasure of the Ozarks comes from the simple open hardwoods and winter views of surrounding mountains. Restful sights for the eyes!


Salt Fork Creek was flowing nicely, a little milky from recent rains.


As we backtracked up and away from Salt Fork, we stopped to collect GPS coordinates for a couple of large trees that had fallen across the trail. The OHTA (Ozark Highlands Trail Association) has expert sawyers who clear the trail when they learn the locations of obstacles. They’re amazing!


A downed tree isn’t a problem for Hiker-dog.

As we approached the soft roar of Sprits Creek, memories of past trips came to mind. It was comforting to see the familiar campgrounds below and the varied surrounding landscapes carved out over time.


IMG_6230rrA White Trout Lilly greeted us as we approached the edge of Spirits Creek. We sat beside the water and enjoyed the sound.



After a snack, we headed back up out of the Spirits Creek drainage toward the trailhead for the drive home. We drank in the sunshine and enjoyed side-streams we passed as they came down from the hills, making their way toward Spirits Creek.


IMG_6243rrA big thank you to trail maintainers! The trail passed through a couple of devil’s walking stick forests, but they were cut back away from the trail.

I’ve always thought of these as bothersome, but evidently, these prickly plants have redeeming qualities. Seeds provide food for birds, and the leaves are browsed by deer. Nectar-insects and butterflies are attracted by the large bundles of yellow flowers put out by these prickly tree trunks. The aromatic spicy roots were used for toothaches by early settlers.

As we climbed back toward the trailhead, I felt stronger, relaxed, and thankful. Hiker-dog looked back as if wondering why I was lagging behind. I think she wishes I had four legs so she wouldn’t have to hold back so much to stay with me.


From Other Worlds: Stones, Water, & Wood

WordPress Photo Challenge: Out of this World

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Strolling through Elephant Rocks in Missouri is like walking another planet. This is a favorite photo included in my trail guidebook, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.


This Ozarks waterfall, a short drive from my home, is a magical place in wet season.


Next to the John Muir Trail, this surreal and solitary deadwood tree towered over the surrounding landscape.

Ozark Highlands Trail Inside Bella Vista

The title of this post is a little misleading. The Ozark Highlands Trail write-up is inside the magazine, Inside Bella Vista. I’m pleased to have a couple of photos and quotes in Lisa Florey’s article about the OHT. She did a excellent job telling this beautiful trail’s story. Begins on page 18 of the online publication.


This waterfall on Shepherd Spring Loop Trail is from my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

I’m looking forward to sharing the first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail on Sunday, February 11th at 6 p.m. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association meeting is free and open to the public.

Location: Washington County Extension Office at 2536 McConnell Rd. in Fayetteville, Arkansas. To get there from I-540 take Exit 66 south on AR 112 (Garland Ave), turn west at Drake Street stop light to reach McConnell Rd, turn south to WCES near the fair grounds. For gps users: 36.098 latitude 94.180 longitude

Ouachita Trail 0-160 Miles with More to Come

Take a five-minute photo tour of our first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail. We’re looking forward to adding the final 60 miles soon!

On Sunday, February 11, at 6 p.m., I’ll share preparation, packing light strategies, and a visual tour of the first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail. This free event is open to the public. There is a time of fellowship, so bring some snacks to share.

Who?: Ozark Highlands Trail Association and guests

What?: The Ouachita (Wash’-i-taw) Trail: Preparation, packing to travel light, and a photo tour of the first 160 miles. Bonus – Children’s book, Gift From the Ozarks, telling Hiker-dog’s story.

When?: Sunday, February 11, at 6 p.m.

Where?: Washington County Extension Office at 2536 McConnell Rd. in Fayetteville, Arkansas. To get there from I-540 take Exit 66 south on AR 112 (Garland Ave), turn west at Drake Street stop light to reach McConnell Rd, turn south to WCES near the fair grounds. For gps users: 36.098 latitude 94.180 longitude

A Painted Walk

LAT013018_3This evening’s walk brought the magic of color. I’d carried only my smartphone camera, but it captured the color I was seeing.


Light show at the shore

I hurried to the water’s edge when I realized the potential light show I would find. Hiker-dog was excited for another reason and strode proudly into the water for her evening bath.


The places closest to us often surprise and amaze if we’re paying attention. This evening’s painted walk was no exception.


What We Drop on a Quiet Trail


Crossing Little Frog Bayou

Hiker-dog and I both needed the trail this evening! The trappings of life and full schedules had left us both tight and in need of a hike.

At the end of our 3-minute drive, I was surprised to see an empty parking lot. We walked the whole 4-mile loop without seeing another person. Part of the reason might have been recent rains that made Little Frog Bayou a wet crossing.

After watching Hiker cross, I paused and sat down for a photo of the creek. A minute later I realized she was sitting quietly at my back. Stealthy little dog!


Slightly wet crossing at Little Frog Bayou

We continued at a brisk pace since light was fading. At one point Hiker-dog paused and took that familiar backward glance as if to say, “So, are you coming?”


Hiker’s backward glance

As the day drew to a close, I realized that my feelings of anxiety and stress had passed down through my legs and into the trail. What a gift to have this beautiful path sitting quietly in our own backyard!


End of the day over Lake Alma

Talking Trails at Hobbs State Park

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Sharing the joys of down layering

The next best thing to walking the trails is talking the trails. I had a great time with the Friends of Hobbs State Park on Sunday sharing my thru-hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail and Hiker-dog’s story. A young man from the audience assisted me by unpacking my pack as I described changes that resulted in a lighter load. I let him try my down vest, but he shed it pretty quickly due to its warmth.

After sharing my children’s book intended for second graders, Hiker-dog entered the room at the end. She enjoyed some petting and then curling up on the floor as the program continued.

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Jim Flickinger assisted with Hiker-dog

Just under ninety were in the audience. They were responsive, asking good questions and sharing their enthusiasm. The hour flew by!


Almost 90 in attendance!

Steve Chyrchel, Hobbs State Park Interpreter, does a great job promoting programs and sets the schedule far in advance. He’s already scheduled me for March 3, 2019!


Sallyann making announcements

Sallyann Brown, a fly casing instructor, heads up the Friends of Hobbs programs and always makes folks feel comfortable. When I presented the John Muir Trail in September, she made me promise to bring Hiker-dog if I returned.

Hiker-dog enjoyed the attention. I enjoyed signing copies of my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, and talking trails with folks after the program.

Below you’ll find the Friends of Hobbs Speaker Series for 2018.

Hobbs schedule 1

Hobbs schedule 2

Variations on an Icy Theme

WordPress Photo Challenge: Variations on a Theme


I captured these images next to the Lake Alma Trail on a recent morning. They’re variations of the same theme from the same scene.


Endless variations in texture…




Various perspectives on the same ice…


Frozen McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

Icy bonus shots: These are not from the same location, but do fit with variations on the theme. Frost Flowers on the Ouachita (Wash’-i-taw) Trail a few weeks ago.





The Lake Alma Trail and 42 more of the best trails in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri can be found in my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.