Hiking the Marinoni Scenic Area with Exploring Arkansas


Chuck in the Marinoni Scenic Area

It’s always an honor to post on the Menasha Ridge Press Blog. Below is a post about sharing the Marinoni Scenic Area with Chuck Dovish of Exploring Arkansas, a program from the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN). The Marinoni broadcast is scheduled for August 2nd at 6:30 p.m. All episodes are loaded to YouTube for future reference.

Hiking the Marinoni Scenic Area with Exploring Arkansas

Below is an email I sent Chuck following our trip. It reflects my thoughts about the value of what he does. He has an authentic love for the natural areas of our state and helps us all celebrate their discovery and preservation. Chuck#2 was what we called the videographer during our hike.


Chuck’s episode about the Lake Alma Trail begins 7 min. and 15 seconds into this Youtube link.


We posed for a quick photo after completing the day of hiking and filming.

Evening Walk in the Marinoni

IMG_1270rrHiker-dog and I scouted a route into the Marinoni Scenic Area on Monday evening. Hiking late in the day offered views in a new light, but my concern was how long that light would last in this deep Ozark hollow. IMG_1268rrThe woods were alive with the sounds of flowing water. Briar Branch and the inlets on each side were flowing nicely. I recorded a few seconds of the waterfall as seen from the trail above.

I caught Hiker-dog in a rare pause at the base of one of my favorite bluffs. She was excited to see this area again and explore the ridges above and creek below the trail.IMG_1294rrA copperhead was enjoying the warmth next to a tall bluff. I wondered if this snake was alright at first because it was in an awkward pose, almost as if smelling the surroundings. It remained in this position while I took photos and then moved on. IMG_1264rrI enjoy seeing snakes in their natural environment, but I will admit that I watched my step a little more carefully after meeting my copperhead friend. Hiker-dog never came close to the snake. I’m sure they smelled each other’s presence. I’ve read that snakes will sometimes “dry bite” to defend themselves against mammals that aren’t a food source. Snakes prefer to save their venom for killing things that are good to eat, not dogs or people.IMG_1286rrrI set the camera on a rock in the middle of Briar Branch to record this view upstream as the sun drifted lower in the sky. We then explored the little cave next to the Paul Marinoni sign placed here many years ago by the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. IMG_1246rrWe scrambled uphill to have a close look at the Natural Bridge. During leaf-off, I’ve viewed this rock formation from the trail below, but it wasn’t visible with all of the spring growth. One of my favorite photos from an earlier hike caught the morning sun underneath the bridge. Today I realized the “bridge” was smaller than I thought. A unique little formation at the top of the bluff. IMG_1313rr


Natural Bridge during a winter hike

Today’s hike was special because of the cool temperatures, flowing water, evening light, and good company provided by Hiker-dog and my calm copperhead. I didn’t need my headlamp but was glad to have it in my pack. Darkness came as we drove back toward home, thinking about all the beauty we’d seen on this trail.

Going With the Flow on Our “Home Trail”

IMG_1190rrI woke at midnight to a lightning show and intense rain. I pulled back the window curtains to get a better look then went back to sleep anticipating this morning’s walk on my “home trail,” alive with flowing water.IMG_1213rrBluffs rained down along my approach to Mc Water Falls. This was a good sign and meant I was in for a treat.IMG_1204rrMcWater Falls ran strong and the water almost seemed to generate its own breeze in the hollow below the falls.IMG_1219rrSometimes you catch yourself entranced as you look down a trail. Colors seem deeper and filled with contrast after a storm.IMG_1220rrWe heard Little Frog Bayou long before arriving at the bridge. I exclaimed to Hiker-dog, “This is how you fill up a lake!” The bridge had held strong, so we crossed but not without sitting in the middle for a few minutes to appreciate the roar.

I enjoy seeing, hearing and even feeling water when hiking in the Ozarks. The best hikes tend to be the ones where you get your feet wet. Today was no exception!

A Shiny Chain – Mother’s Day Poem

I wrote the following poem as a thank you note to my mother. She’s an amazing lady and continues to inspire.

A Shiny Chain

R001-018rThis one who chose to give us life
Now sits with quiet kind eyes.
She wishes for strength
To serve others as in her past
Unaware that her gentle presence
Now serves all who stand within her gaze.

Surrounded by friends and borrowed flowers
She and my young father were married.
They shared their vows as he left for war
Loving through letters and cold nights apart.
Upon his return, they had a son and daughter
And then they did the most remarkable thing!

In a world filled with dread and strife
They did right things again and again
Making of their lives a shiny chain,
Each link tempered in courage and goodness.

Many have touched this lengthy chain
And felt its strength of love and promise.
These links connect us all to their love’s beginning
Sharing sweet stories polished smooth from our remembering.

Jim Elsie Jimmy


Arkansas Master Naturalists: Pausing to Learn

Ark Master Nat logoSince January I’ve been involved in training with Arkansas Master Naturalists (AMN), putting a crimp in my hiking plans but with great rewards. It’s easy to plow ever forward almost mindlessly from one outdoor adventure to another without appreciating the gifts to be found along the trails.

Becoming a Master Naturalist required completing 40 hours of formal training on Saturdays, so I sacrificed some trail time, but I met a great group of diverse people with many talents and areas of expertise. This training served as a beginning point for future learning and helped me realize how little I know about our natural world. The AMN encourages participants to follow their interests in learning and volunteer efforts.

At the graduation program while listening to others discuss our path to this point, I decided to draw a visual aid to show how the training lays a foundation for future learning and service to our environment. My favorite part of this visual is the two arrows up and out indicating future work and continued learning. Master Naturalist graphic0517.001My formal pause for learning is coming to an end, but I’ll be sure to slow down and look more carefully as I hike along the trails. I also look forward to meeting my classmates as we volunteer in service to our natural areas.

Now, my mind is buzzing with ideas for future trips. So many trails and so little time!


A few of the graduates of the Naturalists in Training


Tom was my mentor and encourager

Sharing Trails at the Arkansas Literary Festival

Ark Lit Fest Warnock pic

Excerpt from the festival website

If you’re in the Little Rock area, come enjoy two great books at this free event!

Ark Literary Festival exerpt

Excerpt from the printed program

Time: Saturday, April 29 at 11:30 a.m.

Place: Witt Stevens Building Central Arkansas Nature Center, 602 President Clinton Ave, Little Rock, AR


Matt Moran and I will be taking you on a tour of the Big Woods of the Delta Region and the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri. We’ll share the beauty and history of these regions and help you plan future adventures. Check out the full schedule of events and make a weekend of it!

Help spread the word by printing or sharing with your friends: Five Star Trails Poster 042917 Literary FestivalFive Star Trails Poster 042917 Literary Festival

When in doubt, write.

As a child, I thought writing was magic. For real writers, words must flow without effort in finished form, or so I thought.

My senior English teacher was Inez Taylor. She was pretty tough but got me excited about writing. I worked particularly hard on a short story about a newspaper photographer who realized he wanted to make a career change as he photographed a tragic fire scene. Ms. Taylor liked the story, especially my description of the photographer’s boss. This positive experience was memorable but didn’t transfer into continued writing.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m an educator, working with young children. In a workshop by a wonderful teacher named Dee Post, I learned some strategies for leading children in writing. I applied what I learned and ended up creating some fun products with the children in my school. Later, I felt the desire to share my thoughts about learning and began writing short features in our school’s newsletter. Slowly my confidence increased.

Over the years, I grew to love hiking, largely by reading trail guides by Tim Ernst.  My desire to share trails with others led me to write short blogposts about my outdoor adventures. I discovered a beautiful regional publication in Northwest Arkansas called @Urban, now known as Do South Magazine.


October 2012 issue of @Urban, later to become Do South Magazine

In September of 2012, while working with volunteers to build a trail around Lake Alma, I wanted to share this trail with others. I was reminded of something my mother often said, “When in doubt, take a step.” One morning while browsing the @Urban Magazine, I decided to email Marla Cantrell, Managing Editor, and propose an article about the new Lake Alma Trail.

Marla responded by asking if I could share something I’d written. I sent one of my school newsletters that included the story of one of my former students and a book review I’d written for an education publication. Her short response the next day was, “I love your writing.” An award-winning writer like Marla Cantrell making this statement had a strong impact on me. She went on to ask for a 700-word article about the Lake Alma Trail and photos for their October issue. That article was “Lake Alma Trail: A Trail for All Reasons.” IMG_0199rrMarla Cantrell became an important influence in my writing. I told her I should have paid tuition with each article written because of her excellent coaching and encouragement. Writing still didn’t flow like magic, but it was worth the challenge because of the chance that my words might open others to new learning and beauty.


October 2016 article by Marla Cantrell in Do South Magazine

In October of 2016, I was honored by a Do South article written by Marla about the publication of my first book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. I’m thankful for my mother’s advice to take action in spite of my doubts. I’m thankful for mentors and encouragers along the way and for readers who’ve shared in my joy of continued learning and discovery.

5-Star Ozarks cover

An unforeseen pleasure of writing this book has been working with a great group of professionals. A few words of thanks to the following individuals:

Tim Jackson, Acquisitions Editor, for asking me to write a trail guide for the Ozarks, and for guidance during the two years we worked on this book.
Scott McGrew for his beautiful work with mapping and cover design.
Kerry Smith for copy editing and insightful clarifying questions.
Laura Frank, proofreader, for attention to detail.
Holly Cross, Managing Editor, for support and guidance through the writing and publishing process.
Tanya Sylvan, Marketing, for promotional expertise and encouraging me to share on the Menasha Ridge Press Blog.

Deep Greens and a Healing Spring

Photo Challenge: It IS Easy Being Green


Alley Mill, Missouri

My wife and I spent three days exploring springs in the Ozarks of Missouri. Alley Mill Spring was one of my first springs to visit two falls ago*. Revisiting this week reminded me of the rich grays of limestone and wood mixed with blues and deep greens.

The unifying and ever-present element that connects each scene for me is the color green. Sitting still to drink in the greens on mossy rocks and swirling under the water heals my soul and quiets my spirit.


Cascades below Alley Spring


Looking across the deep spring vent toward Alley Mill

After my first visit to Alley Mill, I immediately changed my travel plans and camped close by so I could visit the next morning and avoid the crowds. Hiker-dog and I walked the trails and included a description in Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, (my two-year labor of love).