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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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


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.


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



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


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.


Frost flower on the Ozark Highlands Trail


Hiker-dog at the base of Senyard Falls

Lake Alma05_McWater_Falls

McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

Lessons From the Landfill

Detour – A roundabout route to visit somewhere along the way. Forgive this detour from my typical hiking posts, but writing this story allowed me to explore my father’s character. This story is in response to the prompt: Lessons I learned from my father. I wrote it while a student in Marla Cantrell’s short story class at Chapters on Main in Van Buren, Arkansas.

Lessons From the Landfill
by Jim Warnock
January 29, 2019

On a sunny spring morning, I hopped out of bed looking forward to the freedom of riding my bike on the rolling hills of Highway 167 in south Arkansas. I easily pushed aside concerns for homework or the next week’s busy tenth-grade schedule. While pulling on my favorite frayed bluejeans, I heard dad from the hallway. “Jim, we need to make a trip to the dump this morning.” I sighed as my Saturday freedom faded.

We lived in “the country” as we defined it because we were outside the city limits. There was no trash pick up. We had a concrete burn barrel I tended every couple of days, but we hauled the trash that wouldn’t burn to the landfill or “the dump.”

Daddy let me help him hoist the full trash trailer onto his Chevy truck hitch. He’d built the trailer from an old truck bed someone gave him when he came home from the Korean War before I was born. He used it to move my mom to south Texas for one year, then back to Arkansas. He worked as a chemist in an oil refinery and could have bought a nicer trailer, but we’d lose the entertainment of fender-less wheels wobbling and dancing at highway speeds.

I started to smell the landfill from memory while climbing into the cab of the truck. Daddy’s hands rested easy on the steering wheel, his bare arms rippled with muscle. I noticed a couple of scabs on his knuckles, ever-present trophies from doing physical work with his hands.

“So, Jim, how are things going at school?”

I said, “fine,” knowing that response wouldn’t prompt follow-up questions. Dad was a quiet man and I’d learned that teenager sentence fragments were enough for most adults. After that, there was only silence between us. Not an awkward silence, but very familiar.

When we drove up to the entrance of the landfill, an elderly man with dark wrinkled skin came out of a small wooden stall. “That’ll be $1,” he said.

Dad handed him a dollar. “Yes sir,” he said. Then Dad said, “I appreciate your help, sir. It’s a beautiful day.”

The man smiled and gave us a friendly wave as we drove into the landfill.

Dad stood with one foot on the trailer wheel and the other balanced on the rusty-blue trailer wall while tossing sacks of trash toward the roaring bulldozer working nearby. His slim body swayed easily and his biceps swelled as he tossed heavy trash bags as easily as I might have thrown my basketball against our garage. I stood inside the trailer and pushed bags of trash toward him so he could toss them out. I took shallow breaths to reduce the stench in my nostrils. It didn’t work. The front of my head ached from the musty charred smell.

Soon we were pulling back onto the paved road. I cranked the window down and leaned my face into the wind. As we drove, I looked across at Daddy’s hands and those scabbed knuckles. Then I glanced at his face. He had a distant look in his eyes and a slight smile.

I cleared my throat. “What was the Korean War like?”

“It was cold,” he said.

His answer, suddenly, wasn’t nearly enough. “Is that all, just cold?”

Dad rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand and stalled for a second. “No,” he said. “sometimes it was dangerous, but mostly it was just doing patrols, checking boundary lines, and trying to stay warm.”

Just then we were passing an old wood-framed house converted into a bar. I’d wondered about that old joint for years. I was sixteen, five years from being able to order a beer, but I’d have given a month’s allowance just to go inside.

Dad seemed to read my mind. “Let’s stop in here for a Coke.”

He turned into the dusty parking lot with our truck-bed trailer bouncing lightly behind.

As we entered, a cloud of cigarette smoke floated just above my head and glowed silver in the dim light seeping through pulled curtains. A lady sat on a stool behind the bar, so I assumed she was the bartender. Her bleach-blonde hair was piled up like a Viking helmet and her red blouse was cut low enough to be distracting. I remember thinking she’d probably been pretty at one time, but years of cigarette smoke and bartending must have worked against her beauty. Still, she had a broad smile.

“What’ll you guys have?” she asked.

“Just a couple of Cokes.” Dad said.

She smiled and winked at my dad, “You sure this kid doesn’t want a beer?”

I felt the blood rise to my cheeks. It was a joke, of course, and Dad shook his head no as he laughed.

I was glad mother wasn’t there.

The lady returned with two 10-ounce bottles and glasses of ice and Dad said, “Thank you, ma’am,” in the same respectful manner I imagined him using when a coworker brought him a lab report. She smiled and cocked her head to the side as if startled by his kind tone.

So there we were, a Baptist deacon dad sitting next to an under age kid, in a smoky bar. After a couple of sips on our Cokes, dad said, “I was kinda lucky in the Army. There was a lot of combat in Korea before I arrived and a lot after I left, but while I was there things were pretty quiet.” He said this as if he needed to apologize.

I’d been thinking about what he told me in the truck. I knew there had to be more to the story. After another sip, I asked, “What was the most dangerous thing you saw?”

He stared at his glass. “I was leading a platoon through a minefield when the point man froze. Frozen solid with the whole platoon behind him! He wouldn’t move so I crawled to his position and told him to crawl directly behind me so the others would follow.”

“So you led the whole group through the minefield,” I asked. I looked at my hands. Both were gripped around my glass, the condensation wet against my palms.

My Dad nodded yes.

I wanted to ask more but just then a stooped man in a loose-fitting flannel shirt put a quarter in the jukebox at the end of the bar. When the music started I felt the vibrations through the brass foot bar rails. Merle Haggard’s twangy guitar intro to “I’ll Leave the Bottle on the Bar” broke our conversation.

We each took a last bite of ice, mouthed a thank you to the bartender, and left our bottles at the bar. As we opened the door to leave and dad’s eyes squinted against the bright sunshine, I remember thinking we probably wouldn’t mention this stop to mother.

As we drove home, I considered asking about the war again, but somehow I knew the moment was meant to stay in that smoky bar. But then, I looked again at my father’s strong scuffed hands on the steering wheel. They were still the hands of a quiet man who loved and provided for his family, but now they seemed much more complex.

I looked at my father. He had a dimple in his chin. Already his whiskers were growing out, something he fought every day. He seemed like every dad I knew.  

But he was not. My father was a war hero who spoke with the same respect to a man of a different race working in a landfill as he might use with his boss at work. There was respect and kindness in his voice, whether addressing his pastor at church or a woman working in a smoky bar. There was a fearless quiet confidence at his core that viewed all others as equals.

I rubbed my chin. I wouldn’t need to shave for another year but at that moment I was anxious to. When I was five he put lotion on my palm so I could pretend as he shaved. It seemed like something that would connect me to my dad, that would say I was at least a little like him. 

As I grew older, I heard that if you lack qualities you admire in someone, pretend to be that person and do as they would do. It made me recall that day in the landfill and our visit to the bar. On more occasions that you can probably imagine, I’ve pretended to be my father. I’m happy to report that each time, I’ve met with good results.

lt jim warnock

Note to reader: For this short story, I took a scene (trip to the landfill) that was factual, then added some details and embellishments. My cousin, dad, and grandfather once stopped at a smoky bar for a Coke after installing some ornamental iron. I was jealous. I pretended daddy and I went to that bar which gave us a location for our conversation and the character of the bartender.  I learned of my father’s minefield Army experience in little bits over time. For this story I condensed it down to a single conversation.

Recently my sister found the following letter, written in October, 1951. Sharing just a portion here.





Food, Fellowship and Healing: Blessings of a Zero Day


Disclaimer: This is not a typical hiking post but it is about subjects important to most who travel by foot.

On Saturday, January 12, 2019, my father’s 91-year old body died. He was a remarkable man as I shared in an earlier post, A Father’s Influence Along Life’s Trail. Today’s post recognizes the importance of food, fellowship, memories, and time in coping with heartache and loss.

Immanuel Baptist Church in El Dorado, Arkansas was my parents’ church from the 1950s until 2016 when they moved to Northwest Arkansas to be closer to us. Members provided a family luncheon prior to my father’s funeral service.

Mother had served as church librarian for many years, so when we arrived Librarian Joy Godwin gave us a tour of the new church library. The entrance and a stained glass window from the original sanctuary were highlights in the new church lobby.


Historical stained glass preserved

The stained glass window might have been disposed of when new windows were installed in the 1970s, but my parents felt the need to preserve one. This window spent several years in our garage behind a freezer.

In the early 1980s, the church built a new family life center that would house a large library. This window was cleaned and framed by a carpenter named Buddy Lewis, (our next door neighbor) and displayed against a wall in the library. In 2018, when the church was moved to Hwy 82, west of El Dorado, this window was placed in the lobby where it continues to provide a visual connection to the original sanctuary.


A special dish.

When we entered the room where church members had prepared a wonderful lunch, my eyes immediately rested on a glass bowl filled with fruity jello and cream cheese.

I was having severe deja vu when Brenda Robertson approached and said she’d bought the bowl from mother’s estate sale. Mother had given her the jello salad recipe, and that was what she made for this day. We were all touched by her thoughtfulness and the tangible connection with family memories. The kindness of all who prepared this meal allowed us time to share family stories and memories.


View from my front door after a rainy day.

Recently I was on the Ozark Trail in Missouri. Because of rain and approaching cold temperatures we decided to take a “zero-day,” the term distance hikers use to indicate a day off from walking.

While relaxing in my tent, thoughts went to family and those who provide encouragement and love in my life. I thought of the struggles my parents have experienced due to aging. I thought of my father and the influence he has had on my life and the lives of others.


Father and son hiking with daughter, Martha, taking the photo

As it turned out, the trail provided exactly what was needed and that “zero-day” was timed to prepare me for future events. During that day I thought of Jim Barton’s poem, “Faith of My Father.” I didn’t have the text but remembered that it captured how I imagined my father might approach death when the time came.

He didn’t have to polish it
when company was coming;
it never had to hang outside
to air out or dry.
It was nothing he could tear or muss,
or stain or ever lose;
it was invisible, it was visible
in everything he did.

And, when at last, he faced the end,
on linens white as snow
He filled his lungs and straightened out,
then slipped into the pool,

         a lone and graceful swimmer
         backstroking through the waves,
         smiling with anticipation for
         those waiting on the other shore.

Excerpts from “Faith of My Father” by Jim Barton, poet from Huttig, Arkansas From his book, For the Animals Who Missed the Ark 

Thank you to Pastor Jimmy Meek for comforting and wise words and Peggy Hargett for beautiful music.  Thank you to all friends and family who provided encouragement and shared stories of my father.

Below are a few photos from the dinner and visitation.

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Missouri’s Ozark Trail: 76 (all-weather) Miles


John Roth Memorial

After doing our first 88 miles of the Ozark Trail during a week in November, I was hooked and wanted to hike every mile of trail built so far. The Ozark Trail Association website has a trip planner that helped determine the first leg of our journey. For this trip, we started from the last hike’s ending point and continued north. In the process, we’d complete the Blair Creek, Karkaghne, and Middle Fork Sections of the Ozark Trail, traveling south to north from Powder Mill to the Hwy DD Trailhead.

On Friday evening, we camped near the DD Trailhead so we’d be ready for a Saturday morning shuttle to Powder Mill. We were impressed with the John Roth Memorial and read about his life and his hope that the Ozark Trail would eventually connect to Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands Trail making one continuous walk from Lake Fort Smith State Park in Arkansas to Saint Louis, Missouri. Sadly, his life was cut short in an accident, but his vision for the trail continues.


Day 1 (Saturday, December 29) The morning began with a cool 27-degrees. Shortly into our walk north of Powder Mill, we came to a special location high above the Current River. I couldn’t resist asking Bob to take a photo of me on this same bluff where Hiker-dog and I once paused while working on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks. The photo I took of her on this bluff became the book cover as you can see below. We laughed that Hiker-dog would be upset if she saw the picture and realized she missed a trip, but carrying seven-days of dog food wasn’t possible for this outing.

After walking just over eleven miles, we made camp north of Harper Spring and remnants of an old springhouse. Water was never a concern during our week as we followed creek drainages and crossed many lesser streams over the route.



My chicken and rice Knorr meal with added veggies and chicken hit the spot. The broccoli was especially good! We were off to a good beginning. 


Day 2 (Sunday, December 30) Good walking day! We passed an old root cellar that had held up well against the elements and time. 

Rain was in the forecast for Sunday night so we were hoping to make camp before it started.  It was dark by 6 p.m., so I got under my quilt wondering how I was going to get by on just 12-hours of sleep! My body uses the time of rest and recovery since most of the daylight hours are spent walking. I’m always surprised at how well I sleep while camping.


Small stream flowing toward Blair Creek

Day 3 (Monday, December 31) I woke to mild temperatures and constant rain. We hoped to begin hiking when the rain stopped because the next day was supposed to be very cold and we wanted to avoid having wet clothing and shoes, but the rain continued so we decided to take a zero-day.


The luxury of time… After a few hours of nothing but think-time, where do your thoughts go? I found that they drifted toward those I love. I thought of my wife’s care and commitment and our beautiful daughters and their many gifts. I thought of my new grandson and how we look forward to watching his growth and learning. I thought of my aging parents and their positive influence and life-long love for each other.

I then turned my phone on (in airplane mode) and read a portion of Ron Carlson Writes a Short Story and drafted some notes. After a day filled with intermittent naps, I still slept through the ushering in of 2019 without any fireworks.


View of the last 2018 sunset from my front door

Day 4 (Tuesday, January 1, 2019) The morning was warmer than the expected teens, probably in the upper 30s. We had light rain and occasional snow and sleet during the day, so we just walked! As Bob said, “What else are you gonna do?”

We were fired up about being back on the trail and made 18 miles before camping. My typical day with a loaded pack is 12 so this was quite a pull but made easier by the relatively flat route that followed a historic railroad bed once used in logging operations.


Historic rail line bed that now functions as part of the Ozark Trail

Day 5 (Wednesday, January 2)

At the end of our long walk on Tuesday, darkness dictated that we camp near Bee Fork, so we woke at a low elevation with damp tents. Our first task was to cross the cold and slightly swollen Bee Fork followed by 11 miles before camping at 3 p.m.


Bee Fork

Day 6 (Thursday, January 3)

We passed through Sutton Bluff recreation area which included a low water bridge across the Black River. The campground was closed but included RV hookups and attractive facilities.


Small bluffs close to Sutton Bluff Trailhead


We hiked 12.5 miles through some beautiful and open woods before making camp at 3:15 p.m.

I paused in the middle of Brushy Creek for the following photo to capture the clear rushing water. I used only Aquamira water treatment drops for the duration of the trip.


Brushy Creek

As we approached Strother Creek, we noticed an odd sulfur smell. Water from this creek runs through lead mine tailings and hikers are advised not to use this as a water source. It looked pretty but smelled funky.


Strother Creek

A word about campsites: Our final campsite was on a low bench near the Barton Fen Trailhead, an excellent site! We passed several fire rings over the seven days of hiking but chose to avoid those few high-use spots. We didn’t build fires and left nothing more than a small tent-shaped impression in leaves where we camped.

Psychological resources in the Ozarks: We passed several log cuts that reminded us of inkblots. The Rorschach inkblot test was developed in 1921…Funny what you’re motivated to look up after a long hike. Bob took a photo of the star and I got another one that was more random. I thought some of the fungi we saw could also fit with psychological testing…maybe “Ozarks Fungi Assessment of Psychological Associations (OFAPA).”

Day 7 (Friday, January 4)


Packed and ready to go except for rainfly

Woke to a light rain that must have begun around 4 a.m. Loading the pack under my rainfly went well.


Light rain began to be mixed with sleet and then became fairly strong sleet. With the high humidity, temperatures probably felt colder than they measured, but we were trucking across a series of small creek crossings at a pretty good pace.


Bob crossing one of many intersecting streams

warnock_1 bobrr

Wet creek crossing and refreshed feet. (photo: Bob Cable)


Wolf Pen Hollow Waterfall

I thought it was probably noon and was surprised when we arrived at the Hwy DD Trailhead to learn it was almost 2 p.m. Time flies when you’re having fun! We paused to pay respects to John Roth and the many volunteers who make this trail possible. 

It felt great to now have approximately 160 miles of the Ozark Trail completed, and we’re looking forward to more! 


To read our first Ozark Trail report: Coloring Our World: 88 Mile on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

To read our report of Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands Trail trek: Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail


Top Ten Posts for 2018

Thank you for letting me share my love for the Ozarks. I sometimes describe this blog as my online scrapbook. I enjoy looking back at previous trips, sometimes to check my memory or relive the joy of the trail. In one of these posts, I reflect on the loss of a friend and the positive impact of his life.

Below I’ve listed the top ten viewed posts from 2018. I hope you’ll sample some of these posts and be inspired to take a hike.  – Jim Warnock

1. Hiking Rush, an Arkansas Ghost Town Photo Tour

2. Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail 

3. Loss of a Friend A tribute to Roy Senyard

4. How to Prepare for a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip

5. Rock House on the Ozark Highlands Trail

6. Buffalo River from Boxley to Pruitt in “Typical” Arkansas Weather

7. Ouachita Trail Completed

8. My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail

9. Coloring Our World: 88 Miles on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

10. My book – Five Star Trails: The Ozarks


Slideshow for the 223-mile Ouachita Trail

Previously, I did a slideshow for the first 160-miles of the Ouachita Trail. When we completed the 223-miles, I never updated the slideshow to include the last 63 miles. It was a wonderful experience so please enjoy traveling along with us for 223-miles on the Ouachita Trail in five minutes.

If you’d like to read the reports of our hike, begin with Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)Perfect Time.