Walking Memory Lane

Paths sometimes act as anchors for memories. As a child, I spent many hours walking trails and roads in Hot Springs, Arkansas, while visiting my grandmother who lived on Highway 7 north of downtown.

I thought nothing of hiking through the woods to Gulpha Gorge where water cooled my bare feet. I can still feel the ever-present pea-sized snails that covered submerged rocks polished smooth from years of tumbling. 

Kodak cameraI sometimes carried a small plastic Instamatic Kodak camera, enchanted by rock formations and towering trees. I felt no fear, only freedom; freedom to go wherever my feet would take me.


As I drove into town early Saturday morning I felt jealous of my wife’s scheduled time for reading and reflection on the front porch of Mountain Thyme B&B. But, I also felt the excitement of knowing I would experience a day of learning while with Arkansas Master Naturalists.

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I stopped to view my grandmother’s old house and marveled at how small her front yard was where we played sandlot football and Frisbee. The uphill side had a definite advantage.

The chain link fence was a more recent addition. I remember near panic when momentum would take me close to that downhill edge as a child. I have a small scar on the inside of my lip from one of those games. I’d forgotten there were so many steps next to the driveway. My grandmother used those steps to pose us for dreaded family pictures.

On the other side of Hwy 7 stood an old hotel and long-retired swimming pool next to the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. As a child, I remember seeing the pool in use as my grandfather visited with the hotel owner.

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President Bill Clinton’s childhood home in the background

Continuing south on Hwy 7, I came to The Vapors, an old nightclub now way past its prime. While in college, I played percussion in pit bands at The Vapors. It was quite elegant back then but playing there influenced me to continue my education and finish college. After being offered an extended gig playing drums for a chain-smoking, hard-drinking musician, I realized that this wasn’t the direction I wanted to follow.

For several years, The Vapors was used for conference meetings, then as a church. Now it is only a dilapidated old shell of a place with ghosts and stories inside its silent walls. I was surprised that the marquee still stands in good condition.

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My favorite part of the Master Naturalists training involved walking through familiar areas while seeing through new lenses of learning.

A group walked north of the Arlington Hotel with geologist Doug Hanson as he shared from his knowledge using road cuts next to parking lots. He had extensive information about novaculite and its many applications as an abrasive. I knew the rock as a wetstone I’ve used to sharpen knives.

Shane Scott, a member of the Diamond Lakes Master Naturalists, led a group on the Hot Springs National Park Greenway. We began by walking alongside the springs above historic bathhouse row. I remembered walking this path many times as a child and marveled at how the springs and brick paths have remained so unchanged over the years.

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Lids secure and name the springs above Bathhouse Row

I was pleased to walk next to Hot Springs Creek where it emerged from its manmade covering that extends along Central Avenue.

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Before the first section of arched covering was built in 1884, rickety wooden bridges allowed early patrons to get to the bathhouses. The photo below shows the creek tunnel under construction.

Hot Springs Creek tunnel

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Hot Springs Creek flowing through a park

A highlight of our walk was seeing the butterfly garden maintained by the Diamond River Master Naturalists. I also enjoyed visiting briefly with a local who appeared to have all his possessions on a small dolly. He sat beside a section of railroad that ran through a small cutaway behind the butterfly garden.

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I broke away from the group for a few minutes and visited with the man, offering him some of the snacks from my pack. He was gracious and appreciative. I would like to have heard his story but decided to rejoin the group on the Greenway.

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Track where I met the hobo

After backtracking to the hot spring display pool where we began, I dipped my fingers into the water. This heat that traveled from volcanic depths before racing up to the surrounding hillside made me feel a sudden rush of childlike amazement.

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As I walked away from the springs, I felt thankful for the memories attached to these paths and the childlike fascination that we can feel at any age. These lines by Mary Oliver came to mind. 

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More about Arkansas Master Naturalists: A Pause for Learning

Friendship

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Early morning photo before beginning our hike in June of 2002.

Hiking trails are great places to build friendships. Seventeen years ago, an acquaintance learned that I liked backpacking and asked if I wanted to join a group on a trip to the Grand Canyon. I quickly said yes, and thus began several friendships that endure to this day.

Stories resulting from each of our trips become the screenplay of friendship that we enjoy retelling around campfires as if describing scenes from favorite movies. Those who were on the hikes might have heard the stories before but they still appreciate the retelling and remembering.

Below are just a few examples from previous trips with friends.

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Lonnie sleeping in the Grand Canyon’s cold Bright Angel Creek

1 A whole foil-wrapped fried chicken in the Ozarks
2 Fifteen-hours of hard rain at Fane Creek
3 Lightshow at Spirits Creek
4 Cold, wet night at the Rock House
5 The often-repeated freeze-dried meal review… “I’ve had worse sh*t.”
6 Rocky Mountain privy with a view
7 Bright Angel Creek napping

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Marinoni Scenic Area

Last weekend I had the opportunity to do a day hike with two friends from that first Grand Canyon trip. When I learned they hadn’t hiked into the Marinoni Scenic Area, I jumped at the chance to lead them in using the Dawna Robinson Indian Creek Spur Trail.

As we walked and talked, entertained by Hiker-dog’s prancing, I thought of the pure goodness of friendships. Even if we don’t see each other often, friendships are renewed as soon as our feet hit the trail!

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Some trail friends have four legs.

To see more of the Marinoni: Making Time for Marinoni, an article I wrote for Do South Magazine 

Exploring Arkansas special on the Marinoni Scenic Area

Just perfect!

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Hiker-dog and I needed a nice long dayhike. The expected rain began about one hour into our hike. The temperature hovered around 44-degrees. Just perfect!

Dogwoods provided accents across the forest understory. I paused to take a photo of a single bloom, causing Hiker-dog to return and do her head-cocking routine as if to say, “What are you doing and why aren’t you making a better pace?”

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Dogwood on a chilly cloudy morning

In spite of the thick foliage, I was able to see Spy Rock bluff on the next ridge and looked forward to being there soon.

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Spy Rock bluff in the distance

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The trail route is clearly marked and signs give good guidance in spite of the ax damage to the Spy Rock sign on top.

Rain increased a little and temperatures seemed to drop though it was probably the strong winds that made if feel colder. I stopped on the spur to Spy Rock to retrieve my windbreaker and a snack when a trail runner approached in the opposite direction. She seemed happy to see Hiker-dog and flew by. She would be the only person I saw on the trail on this day that many would call a bad weather day. For us, it was just perfect!

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View from Spy Rock

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Spy Rock didn’t disappoint even on this overcast and hazy day. Distant pine groves and new spring foliage provided colorful accents across the expansive forest. Hiker-dog found fresh water pockets on the flat rocks atop Spy Rock Bluff. She seems to always have proper respect for high bluffs, stepping with care when she’s close to the edge.

Speaking of pine groves. On this 8.3-mile loop hike, you’ll pass through several patches of pine, a treat for the feet because of their thickness and the soft pine needle forest floor. Smooth, easy walking!

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You’ll see several open fields above the trail providing food for deer and visual variety for us humans. I want to do this trail before dawn and sit quietly at the edge of one of these fields to see what wildlife comes around.

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Small streams contained water today, but waterfalls were mere trickles since new rains were just beginning. When I passed Redding Loop Falls, I thought of an earlier trip when we were writing Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. Taking photos of this little waterfall for the book was a special memory because Hiker-dog was totally puzzled by my decision to hang out in this hollow for 30 minutes. One of the resulting photos from that time made it into hike #5, Redding Loop Spy Rock Trail.

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Photo from page 44 of Five Star Trail: The Ozarks

I enjoyed every part of doing this book and was especially proud of the maps and accurate route descriptions.

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Trail map from Five Star Trails: The Ozarks

Several times during today’s trek I heard the distinctive call of a pileated woodpecker. I never saw the bird but did see evidence of a variety of woodpeckers on several pine trees next to the trail.

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As we got closer to Redding Campground, I leashed Hiker-dog to be sure she didn’t greet any unsuspecting campers. In the photo below, we’re both appreciating the work of trail maintenance volunteers. This trail is always in excellent condition! Thank you, Chris, Steven, Mike, or one of several other sawyers in the Ozark Highlands Trail Association.

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Redding Campground was empty which led me to wonder if the gate was closed, but it was open as were the restrooms. I guess the cool temps and rain discouraged campers, but I thought it was pretty perfect! While walking the road back out to the truck, I noticed this broken boulder, reminding me of the work accomplished by time and weathering. The patient work of nature is just perfect!

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A stop at Turner Bend Store is always a highlight when I’m in this area. I was craving one of their filling fresh sandwiches and was pleased to see my book on the shelf along with many other great titles. Good food and good books? Just perfect!

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If you can’t make it to Turner Bend Store for a sandwich and a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, check any of these locations or your own area bookstores or order online.

Cummins Falls State Park, Tennessee

IMG_3127rrWhile visiting family in Cookeville, Tennessee, my son-in-law, Taylor, offered to lead me on a hike to Cummins Falls. It was early and cold, so we had this popular trail to ourselves. IMG_3126rrDescending to the creek bed led us past beautiful bluffs followed by two wet creek crossings. IMG_3151rrWe passed massive boulders while approaching the roar of the falls. Notice the water level marked on Taylor’s pants. IMG_3166rr

IMG_3180rrI didn’t bring a tripod, but placing the camera on rocks along the creek provided stability for longer exposures. IMG_3196rrAfter enjoying Cummins Falls, we began the trek back downstream.

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Two hikers having fun with a wet crossing.

Most photos of Cummins Falls show swarms of people on the watery stair steps at the base. We saw only two hikers moving toward the falls as we were leaving. The parking lot was filling fast, so we were pleased we’d done this as an early morning hike.

The best benefit from hiking early was having more family time with this beautiful little fella after our hike. It won’t be long before Taylor and Anna have our first grandson on the trails!

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Walking My Adopted Trail: OHT from Dockery Gap to Lake Fort Smith SP

I’ve wanted to check my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail for several months but life wouldn’t cooperate, so we were thankful for this time. I love this section and Hike-dog does, too. It was a crisp, clear day and water was running perfectly.

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Immediately, I noticed the excellent work done by volunteers with the OHTA recently. Several downed trees on the upper ridge were cut out and made for easy walking.

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The first Jack Creek crossing was almost a wet crossing but it was fairly easy to step across rocks. A favorite feature of this 4-mile section is that you cross a series of small streams that flow down into Jack Creek. Each of these streams is a visual highlight and different in every season.

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Hiker-dog seemed to enjoy having this rock in the middle of one of the small drainages we crossed.

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The water in Jack Creek was flowing clear. We met about seven young backpackers having lunch at the nearby campsite. We’d passed a solo teenage backpacker and a father and 9-year old son duo for a total of 10 hiker sightings on my small section. It was good to see so many young people on the trail.

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Seeing Trout lilies means springtime is near. These little splashes of color dotted the forest floor.

 

 

Hiker-dog at creek

The photo above shows one of the small streams we crossed and a huge boulder that always impresses me. To get an idea about its size, I placed an arrow pointing at Hiker-dog next to a tree for a sense of scale.

IMG_2950rrI filled my water bottle twice, the first time simply dipping into one of the side streams that flow into Jack Creek. The second refill came from this favorite spot where water usually flows across moss-covered rocks before crossing the trail.

I used a small handsaw to cut a few smaller trees off of the trail and used my GPS to record waypoints for future trips out with OHTA chainsaw pros for larger trees, none of which were major obstacles.

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Hiker-dog enjoyed several cooling bathes over the course of the day and she definitely exceeded my 8-miles out-and-back distance with her dashes out through the woods. She and I were both thrilled to do this section of the OHT again!

Consider volunteering! Go to the OHTA website and check under maintenance. Use the maintenance coordinator email to see if there is a section you might want to adopt.

Rattle Snake Falls on a warm winter day

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Mike next to Rattle Snake Falls

Mike explored this area alone a while back. It had been several years since I visited this spot. I did so by walking the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) from Dockery Gap and following Hurricane Creek downstream from where the trail crosses the creek.

I was pleased when he asked if Hiker-dog and I would like to tag along and looked forward to seeing the falls from a different approach. And no, we didn’t see any rattle snakes. IMG_2582rrAfter exploring the falls and surrounding bluffs in the late afternoon light, we followed an old jeep road up above the valley to the stream that feeds the falls. Mike said, “I wonder what’s up around that bend in the creek.” With that, we spent a few minutes walking upstream taking in some nice cascades and reflective pools.IMG_2590rrIMG_2597rr

As we headed back toward Mike’s truck, I asked if I could run back down into the valley to get some photos of the falls in a different light. Mike explored the top of Rattle Snake Falls while I photographed below.

After the sun went behind the Dockery Gap ridge to the west, Rattle Snake Falls took on a softer look and temperatures dropped.

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Notice Mike on top of the bluff to the left of the waterfall

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When we met back up at the jeep road, we picked up some trash at a nearby campsite. I said this was our small admission price to the beauty down in the valley and a way of giving back.

When I noticed the brand of the beer, I had to laugh. It seems like litterbugs always drink Busch Beer. I never find IPA or Guinness cans trashing up the Ozarks.

The Urge for Going

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High ridge on Hare Mountain

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And all the trees are shivering in a naked row
….
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown

~ Joni Mitchell, excerpt from the first verse of her song, Urge for Going

Winter is such a wonderful time for hiking in the Ozarks! I like it so much, I wrote “Walking Through Winter” for Do South Magazine.

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Frost flower on the Ozark Highlands Trail

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Hiker-dog at the base of Senyard Falls

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McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail