Completing our goals in the Ozarks

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Scott raises his hands in celebration as he completes the OHT

I had the privilege of leading Scott’s first backpacking trip a few years ago. I then had the honor of capturing his final steps on the Ozark Highlands Trail to complete the traditional 165-miles of its length from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Woolum. As a fly fisherman and guide, he already had outdoor skills, so backpacking was an activity he enjoyed from the beginning.

Congratulations to Scott! We’re proud of your persistence and the fitness goals that this accomplishment represents!

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Hiker-dog enjoyed her two nights on the trail, too. She celebrated by having a good chew while we loaded up for the shuttle. She is about 23 miles away from being an OHT thru-hiker. Guess I’d better be contemplating my own goals for 2017!

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Thru-Hike patch earned for hiking the first 165-miles of the OHT.

Special Times and Place: Petit Jean State Park

img_8089rrI may have been 10 or 12 years old the first time I approached this breezeway. Today as my dog and I began our short trek to Cedar Falls, I was reminded of how this view of the valley took my breath away.img_8091rrOne morning many years ago I stood transfixed by the rock wall on the far side of the valley. Sunlight reflected colors in the lichen-covered rock as light crept slowly down the wall in response to the rising sun. This was a unique experience for a teenager who rarely focused his attention on anything. There was no sun this morning, but I looked forward to an early morning hike with cool, moist air and soft light.img_8104rrCedar Creek was flowing gently, and I began to anticipate Cedar Falls farther upstream. My patient hiking buddy let me tether her to a tree limb in case other hikers approached so I could take a photo of the creek. img_8106rrHearing the soft roar of Cedar Falls caused my pace to quicken. As the falls first came into view, I stopped and found a rock in the creek for my little tripod. I wanted to get low next to the water.img_8111rrThen I raised the camera using a very high-tech technique – I crawled up higher on the boulder with my flexible little tripod. The higher perch allowed me to capture the reflection of the falls in a quiet pool upstream. Thanks to my friend and creative photographer, Eric Scowden. I’ve admired a photo he did with reflections in this pool and wanted to try it myself.img_8138rrWhen we arrived at the falls, I enjoyed a few more photos while Hiker-dog waited leashed to a nearby tree. She seemed to understand that I needed this time. She also appeared to understand that this was a special place and quietly absorbed the scene. img_8148rr

Daily Prompt: Sacred Walls Come Down

via Daily Prompt: Sacred

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These lights and windows shaped my thoughts of the sacred. I’d stare at the arches pointing upward and think of space without end. Infinite distances and time. God.

I’m thankful for those early encounters with the sacred, but later God became more boxed and packaged by the society around me. It seemed that “God” was used for adding credibility to opinions or as a way of excusing the mistreatment of others. I came close to rejecting the sacred as irrelevant. I felt and a sense of loss, even though I continued to sit each week within walls similar to those of my childhood.

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Glory Hole Falls – Ozarks

Creation became the place I could sense the sacred. In the outdoor world my thoughts could explore the infinite pointing ever upwards and into distances over the horizon. My cathedral expanded, and the walls of my childhood came down.

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John Muir Trail

Walking is like praying. Traveling a trail is my place of worship, and I feel intense gratitude as I walk.

The sacraments might also appear along the paths. Stopping to drink from a mountain stream can be like sipping the finest communion wine, and the dry tortilla in my pack is unleavened bread.

The campfire is a place of contemplation. Brought together by its warmth and light, our community shares in the celebration of creation and the sacred we find there.

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Ozarks Highland Trail

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My home trail…a place of worship.

First Frost

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Ice crystals on Hare Mountain during my winter thru-hike in 2014

This morning as I began my 5:15 a.m. hike, I was greeted by sandy sparkles reflecting in the dim light of my headlamp. Gloves felt good, and I was comforted by the knowledge that my fingers would be toasty warm in about 30-minutes or so.

I’ve missed my frozen friends having just had one of the warmest Novembers I remember. First frost marks the beginning of a wonderful hiking season in the Ozarks. First hard freeze may not be far behind. Bring on the winter!

Off the beaten path

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While visiting relatives, we took a paved path that circled a nearby city park. We had the wide urban trail to ourselves except for an occasional runner. It felt good to walk among the trees on this sunny day.

The trail crossed a small stream several times. I couldn’t resist the urge to slip off of the concrete route and explore. The sunlight danced across the water and begged me to pause for a photo. Sometimes a slight move off of the beaten path reveals beauty easily missed.

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Hiker-dog Opts Outside

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No malls for me!

Short message from Hiker-dog:

Happy Thanksgiving! After too much eating, I like to go for a run on the trails. I fly between the trees and feel the power in my legs. Being in the woods is a time of celebration and discovery for me.

I’ve heard that humans do something strange after they eat too much on Thanksgiving. They go out to shop and eat some more the next day. Sometimes they’re even rude to each other as they scramble to grab items from store shelves.

I say skip out on the Friday madness and head to the woods for a hike! Get outside and be thankful for the wild places where we can still run free.

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“Sometimes I just stare in amazement.”

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“There’s always something to discover on the trails.”

Hare Mountain Annual Ritual

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View to the west from Hare Mountain

What causes folks of all ages and locations to climb a hill and eat a meal together for over 30 years running? This was my thought as I drove the 46-miles to the Morgan Fields Traihead next to Hare Mountain, with my to-do list for the next week weighing on my mind. This was probably my tenth Hare Mountain Hike-In. I couldn’t be sure.

I’d hiked Shepherd Springs Loop at Lake Fort Smith that morning so Hiker-dog wouldn’t be upset at being left behind for the Hare Mountain hike. The early morning clouded sky played with the light and made this a delightful hike so she seemed willing to rest when I left for Hare Mt. in the early afternoon.

Shepherd Springs Loop photos from our morning hike. 

As I stepped off the gravel road at Morgan Fields Trailhead and felt the cushioned surface beneath my feet in a quiet pine grove, my shoulders began to relax. The weight of my pack felt like a close friend’s hand on my back. The slight climb felt good, and my heart began to tap a stronger rhythm as cares dropped away like dust from the soles of my shoes.

Pretty quickly it became evident that a fire was burning to the west of the mountain this year. The woods were dry, so I was thankful that there wasn’t any wind.

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Smoke rising from the valley to the west.

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Rock wall next to the trail

Continuing past rock walls above the trail, I began to think of Hare Mountain Hike-Ins-past. I thought of Wildman, well into his 80s, and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he talked of the long trails he’d hiked or watched the energy of children playing around the campfire. I thought of others who, like Wildman, were no longer with us. I wondered what memories and feelings of nostalgia might follow those who’ve hiked this path for twenty or thirty years.

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Wildman enjoyed visiting with youngsters on Hare Mountain

When it looked as if the Hare Mountain Hike-In tradition might be discontinued a couple of years ago, Bob and Dana Cable stepped forward to continue scheduling the “Hike-In” as in the past.

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Dana and Bob

While sitting around the campfire, Bob announced that Grey Owl and his wife Lenna hiked up earlier in the day for a quick visit with other early arrivers and then walked back down the mountain to avoid driving back to Oklahoma in the dark. I was sorry to miss them but thankful that they made the hike in this year. Bob’s imitation coonskin hat was a gift from Grey Owl several years ago and he always wears it on Hare Mountain.

The fire burning below the mountain made a memory for this year’s hike-in. After the potluck feast, Steve and I took a few photos of the red glow below in the darkness. It was an unusual and beautiful scene, especially since we had word that the fire was contained.

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Ritual is the word that came to mind while walking away from the top of Hare Mountain. Doing this hike each year could be considered a “ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” It’s also fun, which I don’t think disqualifies the word “ritual.”

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Grey Owl’s quick hike up earlier that day confirmed my thoughts. The Hare Mountain Hike-In rises to the level of ritual for many of us. Maybe it’s the simple desire for fellowship with trail friends, or it’s a fitness check as you compare this year’s hike with those in the past. Maybe it’s a chance to share our collective memories and relive stories from the trails we’ve hiked. Whatever the reasons we choose to make this trek, my hope is that it will continue to be a tradition (or ritual) for years to come.

Five Star Trails: The Ozarks – Book Signings

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Harry McWater receiving a book and map from Jim Warnock

How often do you get to share a new trail for the first time in a Five Star Trails Guide and present one of the first copies printed to the man who had the vision for the trail? Menasha Ridge Press gave me permission to print enlargements of the book’s map of the Lake Alma Trail for display in the trailhead kiosk. I couldn’t resist printing an extra copy to present to Harry McWater to thank him for making this beautiful trail possible.

Here’s information about three book signings in the next two weeks. Please come by and grab a few copies of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.



Chapters on Main in Van Buren, Arkansas book signing with author, Jim Warnock

  • Thursday, November 10, from 5-8 p.m. Businesses in historic downtown remain open late for Living Local, so this is a good chance to do some Christmas shopping.
  • Saturday, November 12, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The first 100 books signed at each session will include a bookmark with Hiker-dog’s photo and paw print.
Chapters on Main, 816 Main Street, Historic Downtown Van Buren, AR 479-471-9315

South Arkansas Arts Center (SAAC) in El Dorado, Arkansas book signing

  • Tuesday, November 15, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. 

Book signing with author, Jim Warnock, in the lobby from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with one 20-minute trail discussion and slideshow at 6:30 inside the theater.  The first 100 books signed will include a bookmark with Hiker-dog’s photo and signature. A $1 donation for every book sold will go to Union County Animal Protection Society.

SAAC, 110 E. 5th Street, El Dorado, AR, United States 71730 Phone: 870-862-5474

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