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

Marinoni Revisited (Four-Star Treatment)

When I first began hiking, I’d check off trails as if that indicated that I’d seen those places.  While it did document that I had been at those locations, I later realized that I’d only grazed the surface.  This is especially true of the Marinoni Scenic Area.

Indian Creek sign

We entered on the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail that begins at the Indian Creek canoe parking area.  Watch for traffic when crossing Hwy 215.  We paused a moment to admire the memorial marker just a few steps up the trail.

Dawna Robinson Memorial Marker

We were immediately impressed with the condition of the trail which is only about two years old, built by volunteers with the Ozark Highlands Trail Association.  The switchbacks climbing up to the base of a bluff line are beautiful and you almost forget you’re climbing because of the steady grade.   When we arrived at the top of the climb we began an easy walk through open woods.  It was unseasonably cold with occasional rain.

Hiking the Marinoni

Our group of three included Robert who was visiting family in Missouri before returning home to Hawaii.  I wondered what his response would be to hiking in the Ozarks.  I was pleasantly surprised because he went on and on about the beauty of our little Ozark Mountains.  He was not the least bit disappointed even though he’d hiked some beautiful areas in Hawaii.

Crew marinoni

This was a short hike designed for novice backpackers with the hope for time to explore after making camp.  With only a three mile hike in this hike definitely did not meet Bob’s miles driving to miles hiking ratio.   The shorter distance did something nice for us though.  It demanded that we slow down and enjoy the passing of scenery. Robert was doing his first backpack trip and Bob’s nights backpacking numbered into the four digits but we all enjoyed learning from each other and sharing tips along the way.

Having hiked through the Marinoni many times, I wanted the chance to camp there.   This little spot looked better than a four-star hotel as we approached and pitched our tents.

Four-star hotel and gourmet coffee next to Briar Creek

Four-star hotel and gourmet coffee next to Briar Creek

The Marinoni never disappoints!  The soothing sounds of Briar Creek accompanied our walk along rocky bluffs and budding wildflowers.  The moist day made it feel like a rain forest with clear water droplets hanging from every leaf.  Cascades and waterfalls were flowing nicely.

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Marinoni waterfall

Briar Creek

Briar Creek

A trip highlight and something even four-star hotels can’t offer was a short afternoon nap in dry leaves under a bluff overhang accompanied by Briar Creek and song birds.  I was worried that it might be difficult to sleep after napping but slept pretty much straight through from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.  This was some four-star sleep!

Napping under a bluff overhang.

During our hike out on Sunday morning I was already looking forward to my next visit to the Marinoni Scenic Area.  No reservations required!

For location and more reading about the Marinoni Scenic Area visit the following link:

Making Time for Marinoni 

Making Time for Marinoni

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Making Time for Marinoni

story and images  JIM WARNOCK

Published in At Urban magazine of Fort Smith (This magazine is now named Do South)

There’s a treasure waiting for you in Franklin County, near the small town of Cass. One local backpacker recently said, “Hiking there is like walking through a beautiful cathedral!” Those who have experienced the Marinoni Scenic Area would completely understand this statement.

Imagine a place with twisting waterfalls, arching rock bluffs and towering trees. Walk along a gentle stream that flows over rocks into quiet, clear pools. The sounds of gurgling water, windblown trees, and a variety of songbirds will soothe your soul. Leave your cell phone in the car because there’s no coverage here; who wants to hear cold digital sounds in this acoustic setting?

The Marinoni is beautiful in every season. Fall colors glisten and shimmer,appearing as stained glass atop pools of water. Winter brings the possibility of stunning ice formations and frozen splash patterns around waterfalls. Spring brings dwarf crested irises peeking out from the most unlikely cracks and crevices. Their violet-to-purple hues sparkle against damp stone walls. During any season, you’ll find lush green moss-covered sandstone and lichen-speckled bluffs. Your greatest challenge on this hike might just be keeping your footing as you gaze up, entranced by the beauty.

Access to this jewel of a place used to be difficult and limited to strong, long-distance hiking legs. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) held a weeklong work camp in March of 2011 and built a .6 mile spur trail that connects to the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) just west of the Marinoni Scenic Area. You’re now able to hike a couple of miles and find yourself in one of the most beautiful places in Arkansas.

“Well worth a 3-hour drive,” says Dale Fudge, a hiker from Oklahoma City. Dale goes on to say, “The Marinoni Scenic Area is one of the most intimate and inspiring sections of the OHT. It’s secluded and packed full of dramatic landmarks. The area is now more accessible than before with the addition of the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail at Indian Creek, making for one of the best day hike opportunities in the entire region.”

It’s fitting that this area feels like a sanctuary and that it memorializes the lives of two special individuals. Paul A. Marinoni was from Fayetteville and was involved in volunteer efforts with Tim Ernst’s father. Tim, renowned outdoor photographer and author of the Ozark Highlands Trail Guide says, “My dad had his first heart attack when I was only six, so he was unable to take me to the woods like he would have wanted to. When I was seven, I began spending a lot of time with Paul Marinoni, hunting and camping during annual retreats into the woods. Paul was a real character, one of the most down-to-earth and honest people you would ever meet.” Given Tim’s sentiments, it seemed proper to name this area after a man who influenced others to appreciate the Ozarks.

The short trail allowing us to enter this natural area is named in memory of Dawna Robinson. Dawna and her husband, Bob, spent years maintaining sections of the OHT.  She was well known for her love of the trail and her desire to share it with others. “When the new Indian Creek Spur Trail was first proposed, Dawna’s spirited personality and dedication came to mind as a fitting tribute to memorialize how the entire trail came into existence through the hard work and perseverance of volunteers,” says Mike Lemaster, President of the OHTA.

In many ways the Marinoni Scenic Area reflects qualities of these two lives. Sitting at the edge of Briar Creek, you’d think these bluffs had always been as they appear today but this valley was shaped by centuries of water and ice. There’s an honesty and straightforwardness in its beauty. Giant rocks stand like monuments of strength where they folded down to the creek years ago. Although fragile, there’s a sense of permanence here and although subtle, the beauty is deep and unmistakable in any season.

If you’ve never visited the Marinoni Scenic Area, it’s an experience not to be missed. If you have hiked the area, you will want to return again and experience an even deeper appreciation of its beauty. So, lace up your walking shoes! Let’s go visit an Arkansas natural cathedral and pause there as it becomes our own special place of sanctuary and reflection.

Getting there:  From Hwy 23 just north of Cass, turn onto Hwy 215 east. Travel 7.4 miles to Indian Creek Canoe Launch and OHT Access. The trail is on the north side of Hwy 215 and begins at an opening in the fence directly across from the Indian Creek OHT Access sign. The spur trail is marked with 2×6-inch blue metal blazes. You’ll hike .6-miles to the OHT and then turn right, hiking another 2 miles to the Marinoni Scenic Area marker at the base of a bluff. Hiking out-and-back gives you approximately 5.2 miles. With a shuttle you can hike through to the Lick Branch Trailhead which will be a 5-mile hike and cover even more scenery.

For more information:

Ozark Highlands Trail Association  ozarkhighlandstrail.com

Ozark Highland Trail Association Facebook page

Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst