Beating the Heat in the Ozarks

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We needed an overnighter, and I wanted to give my Four Wheel Camper Raven Shell a trial run, so Hiker-dog and I headed to White Rock Mountain, the highest location close to home at 2,260 feet. I was encouraged to see the temperature reading on my dashboard go down from 90 to 82 during our drive up.

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When we arrived, we selected a site with the help of Jeff, one of the caretakers. He knew level would work best with the pop-up truck camper and was spot-on with site number 2.

IMG_5465rrAfter a quick camp set up, it was time to walk the loop trail as the sun went lower in the sky. We began by walking the eastern side, enjoying the shade and remembering earlier hikes when we first saw the stone well…or spring. Water was flowing several feet below.

I kept Hiker-dog on her leash the whole loop, and she handled it well though I noticed her looking longingly at movement she would have liked to pursue. 

Berries and blooms are benefits from warm weather hiking, but ticks are the downside. I picked some blackberries for snacks and then two ticks before they had time to attach to my legs.

Part of the reason for our hike was to give a new hiking stick some trail provenance before I passed it on to a friend for his years of service to our church. As part of his last sermon, Pastor Bob gave his hiking staff on to our new pastor as a symbol of the confidence he had in the younger pastor’s ability. His kind gesture impressed me, but I thought he needed a new staff, so I contacted Mike Park, an excellent carver and musician and asked him to do a stick for me. After receiving the new staff, Pastor Bob named it Elijah.

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Elijah’s first hike

It was a treat to sleep in the camper as the evening temperature came down to the upper 60s. The roof fan created a nice draft through the windows, and I realized this was going to be a useful rig in any but the hottest season. Hiker-dog slept in her crate next to the back of the truck and didn’t make a sound all night (one of her many good qualities). 

I woke to the sound of birdsongs. I realized the sun was coming up and sprang out of the camper and headed to the eastern side of the mountain with Hiker-dog. Breakfast would have to wait. We caught some views of sunrise and walked the trail for our morning exercise.

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IMG_5538rrThe morning light made Hiker-dog glow in the reddish morning sun as we took in the views from a shelter on the east side of the mountain. She was one happy dog, and so was I!

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I love backpacking, but on a trip where pack weight isn’t a concern, eggs and bacon are hard to beat. After breakfast with the morning’s beauty still fresh in our minds, we headed back home, rejuvenated by our quick summer camping trip.

Other favorites for summer hiking:
Mount Magazine, the high point of Arkansas at 2,753 feet.
Go west and get higher! New Mexico is a favorite state because it’s a shorter drive but any of the western states have jewels to explore during the summer. Even valley camping in New Mexico can easily be in the range of 5,000 feet and the dry air cools down quickly after sunset.

Please share your favorite summer backpacking, camping, or hiking locations. I’m always open to more options this time of year.

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.

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.

Quick Shakedown in the Ozarks

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Light rain with temps in the 50s… I must go now! So, Friday evening I arrived at Shores Lake as the sun went down, leaving a dim, soft light. The trailhead parking lot was empty.

I begin most walks with intense anticipation but felt a dull obligation this evening. I needed a shake-down outing in the rain in preparation for future trips, and my hiking buddy needed some time in the woods.

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Beginning the trail after sunset 

Thankfully, it only took a few steps on the trail for that sense of duty to drop away, replaced by feelings of magic while walking this familiar route in deepening darkness. The last couple of miles required a headlamp.

Seeing only the trail details right in front of me stimulated memories of previous walks on this path. Memories associated with each turn of the trail came back clearly like repeated hits of deja vu. As I walked past a couple of my favorite waterfalls in the darkness, I thought of past treks when I enjoyed these scenes in daylight.

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Little Roaring Falls on White Rock Creek

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Bedtime beverage

In the misty drizzle, it was easy to set up the tarp so that my down quilt stayed dry inside the trash compactor bag until I was ready for sleep. The small umbrella was helpful during the walk and while making the evening’s hot toddy.

The rainy night left me well rested. When I woke at 4 a.m., the sky was clear and the air was chilly. I felt great, so we packed up and started walking, thinking Salt Fork Creek would be an excellent location for breakfast. Walking the sun up was a treat! 

Shortly after passing the intersection at the short spur to White Rock Mountain, someone said “good morning” from inside his tent. I’m sure he was relieved that Hiker-dog wasn’t a bear.

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Important sign on the approach to the top of White Rock Mountain

The downhills east of White Rock Mountain were the most difficult footings I encountered in darkness. No falls, but two close calls and a little rock-skating here and there.

As we approached Salt Fork Creek, we saw headlamps from a campsite. A camper’s dog joined us and played with Hiker-dog. The two of them had a great time while I sat close to my stove to protect the boiling water from their prancing.

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Salt Fork Creek had clear water

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egg burrito

My dehydrated egg crystals turned out great, but I’ll pack some bacon bits next time. I dipped out some clear Salt Fork Creek water for coffee and treated another pouch full for the day. A couple of breakfast bars completed my meal as we backtracked a short distance to the East Loop Trail and continued south.

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The woods and rocks surrounding the trail were a welcome sight after so much night walking. We saw evidence of trail maintenance by the OHTA all along the trail. I think Hiker-dog appreciated this cut!

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Before arriving back at Shores Lake, the trail crossed this stream that flows down to Salt Fork Creek. This water level is pretty typical of fall in the Ozarks. You can usually find water pockets, but sometimes, creeks are bone-dry this time of year. I still had water from Salt Fork Creek, so we continued and arrived at the trailhead relaxed and ready for lunch (and an afternoon nap).

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Shakedown thoughts: The following are my thoughts about a few recent pieces of equipment or practices. I’m not that gear conscious so you won’t get technical info here. Often, I can’t remember the brand names of items while on the trail.

Headlamp – The little Nitecore NU25 headlamp worked well. It’s rechargeable so only repeated uses will tell how long the charge will last, but with the low setting I used most on this outing, it should last several hours. The higher settings were great for scanning the campsite before departing. I carried a Petzl with the retractable strap for backup. I’ve used the Petzl for several years with good results.

Coffee recipe: Details of my trail brew are available on another post, My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail. I’ve used Mount Hagen instant with good results, but my current coffee brewing method doesn’t leave any trash to carry out.

Hoosier Hill Farm Premium Whole Egg Crystals: Practice making these at home and you’ll have a protein-rich breakfast on the trail. I’m not finding this product now, but hopefully, it’s available or will be soon. I measure the crystals into a small ziplock, then add salt and pepper. When the water boils, I add a few drops of olive oil and then the egg mix. If it’s too thick, I add a few drops of my coffee since I’m mixing in the cook pot. If it’s too watery, I pour off the excess after the eggs scramble.

Shelter: I’ve used the Zpacks tarp in light rain, so this outing gave me a slightly stronger test though I’m looking forward to getting it out in a heavy rain for a final test before using it on the Ozark Trail this winter. My Big Agnes tent is a good option if I lack confidence with the tarp, but I like the lightness of the tarp. The Big Agnes was my John Muir Trail shelter and it worked well. If I hike the High Sierras again in summer, I’ll take my tarp.

Hot Toddy recipe (for medicinal purposes): Put a little bourbon in a cup (depending on taste). Boil a cup of water and add 4-6 whole cloves toward the end of the boil. Pour into cup and stir in a pinch of True Lemon crystals. Enjoy!

Senyard Falls

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We hopped out of the truck and headed down the steep incline, slipping and sliding with excitement as we went. From far below we heard the soft roar of a creek. I wanted to approach the falls from downstream, so we followed the upper bench south until it met with a small drainage leading down to creek level. 

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Roy_10As last week’s August rains fell, I knew it was time to revisit Senyard Falls, named for a great person we lost last month. To learn a little about Roy Senyard, read Loss of a Friend.

Hiker-dog and I got started later than we’d planned but the drive up Hwy 23 (Pig Trail Scenic Byway) was beautiful underneath a cloud cover and occasional patches of fog.

IMG_9610After bushwhacking down to creek level, we began making our way upstream, stopping for a few photos along the way. Hiker-dog was excited and made many trips up to the rim of the hollow and back down for a reassuring pat on the back. She took several cooling dips in the water.

As we made our way upstream, I caught a hint of campfire smoke and thought someone must have camped on a bench above the hollow. It turns out the camper was a friendly guy named Robert who had hammock camped the night before over boulders next to the creek. We visited briefly then moved to the base of Senyard Falls.

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Robert and Hiker-dog

After a couple of quick photos, the sun came out from behind the clouds so we moved to another position and waited for better light. Waiting was a good decision. The light never got right for another photo, but sitting under the bluff of Senyard Falls for an hour gave my mind exactly what was needed. Hiker-dog sat quietly as if she understood the importance this time. Or, maybe she was worn out from all her ridge running.

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I finally used the sunny scene for a short video clip of the falls. Tim Ernst says that sitting next to a waterfall has healing qualities. Spending time next to Roy Senyard Falls today definitely had that effect.

Whole Life Challenge: Taking Life Up a Notch

 

Sometimes we need a little motivational kick in the pants. That’s what I thought Whole Life Challenge might do, but it was a boost and much more.

By taking concrete steps to address 7 specific daily habits that are important to health, you move toward a better self physically, mentally, and spiritually. The seven habits include Nutrition, Exercise, Mobilize, Sleep, Hydrate, Well-being, and Reflect.

Exercise and hydration were the easiest habits for me, but being more consistent with workout times and prescribing the amount of water based on body weight made me more consistent in both areas.

Mobilize (stretching) and well-being (meditation) are two areas where I struggle. I learned that becoming mindful of my breathing and stride while walking helps me enter a form of meditation that meets the challenge and benefits me personally. I’ve come to enjoy stretching as never before, avoiding monotony by varying stretches each day. 

Sleep was an underrated habit in my thinking, but it has a significant impact. By increasing time and consistency of rest, I’m feeling better and more ready to exercise each morning. I feel awake throughout the day and can avoid bad snack choices resulting from fatigue.

The reason I was attracted to Whole Life Challenge was my struggle with nutrition. I’ve been surprised how easy making some changes has been and how much the loss of a point motivates me to make good decisions. Resources and readings provided have been helpful, with practical advice on which foods to choose and which to avoid.

I’m not receiving any financial incentive from Whole Life Challenge. The only benefits to me are health and wellness. It’s an excellent motivational tool for anyone wishing to establish healthier habits.

Twitter: @wholelife

Website: Whole Life Challenge

Hiker-dog Jim

Hiker-dog, my personal trainer for daily walks and longer weekend treks.

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Hiking in the Ozarks for exercise and mental health! Photo from Five Star Trails: The Ozarks

Ultralight Shakedown & Wonderful Walk

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Open woods on the east loop trail

To friends, I’ve said, “The older I get, the lighter my pack.” Over the last 20 years, I’ve gone from a very heavy backpack to much lighter backpack. I say “very heavy” because I never actually weighed it or the items inside back then. I’d guess 45-50 pounds because I remember hoisting it to my knee before lifting it to my shoulders in a second move. I also remember the smothered feeling I felt while breathing under its weight.

Moving to lighter loads has been a process over time. By the time we did the John Muir Trail in 2016, my pack was at 32-36 pounds. That included a 2-pound bear canister and food for up to nine days.

This week I tried my ultralight sleep system and shelter. I considered it a “shake-down” hike to prepare for the last 63 miles of the Ouachita Trail coming up soon. My loaded pack weighed 18 pounds with food and water. Base weight (without food and water) was 14 pounds. There’s no heaving this pack, just a smooth swing from the ground to the shoulders.  I’d love to shave off more and approach a 12-pound base weight. It might be easier to lose a couple of pounds in bodyweight. 

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Shores Lake White Rock Mountain Loop is one of my favorite routes and close to home. After dinner, Hiker-dog and I drove to the trailhead as the sun dropped low in the sky.

This treasured Bliss Spring that crosses the trail required that I pause for a photo, so Hiker-dog waited patiently.

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I love the waterfall that roars softly below in White Rock Creek close to mile 2 but knew a side hike down was out of the question in the fading light. This waterfall was one of my earliest pleasing waterfall photos. I thought about the time I spent there as I hiked past the spur trail.

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Waterfall on White Rock Mt. Creek from several years ago.

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White Rock Mt. Creek in fading light

As we approached White Rock Falls, I knew we were close to home for the night. I used a rock as a tripod and took the photo below before continuing across the creek to a campsite close to mile 3. I thought we might stealth camp away from the trail, but the undergrowth in this area changed my mind.

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Photo in fading light from a rock tripod

I sat up the tarp by headlamp. It went nicely since I didn’t have to avoid rocks on the site. This tarp is 7 ounces and durable, a far cry from the 5-pound tent I used 20 years ago. After feeding Hiker-dog on a nearby flat rock, I crawled under the quilt. Soon I felt the familiar weight of Hiker-dog curled up next to my feet. She slept soundly all night. I was distracted a few minutes by moonlight through the translucent tarp but then fell asleep in the cool air.

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The next morning we packed and began walking by headlamp. It was fun to see the sunrise as we walked. After a breakfast stop, we continued the loop clockwise. Where I most benefited from a lighter load was on the climb up the first couple of miles toward White Rock Mountain. Speaking of “lighter,” I failed to pack one so coffee was cold. Forgetting a lighter was an embarrassing oversight and reminded me it’s important to check that list before I leave home.

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Nice signs at junctions at White Rock Mt.

The loop trail follows a portion of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) where you’ll see both blue and white blazes. When we reached the OHT mile marker 19, in earshot of Salt Fork Creek, we turned to the south and began the east side of the loop. A muted sun lit distant hillsides through the clouds, and we had several small rain showers as we walked along.

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Mayapples and Dwarf Crested Irises were prolific in many spots. We enjoyed pausing to enjoy the color and variety. With my light pack, I never felt the urge to take it off. Click on the wildflower images for plant names. Yes, I like Crested Irises a lot…

 

 

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Hiker-dog walking past one of many Dogwood trees

 

Hiker enjoyed taking a dip to cool off as temperatures rose to the mid-sixties. I filled a water bottle and carried it for the drive home. The next morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee at home from that creek water while planning another hike with my lighter backpack. 

Little Gems Along the Trail

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Hiker-dog getting ahead of me

On Friday, April 13th, a tornado damaged several homes and buildings in Mountainburg, Arkansas, about eight miles from my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I was anxious to see if winds had caused damage to the woods, so Saturday morning Hiker-dog and I headed out, wondering what we’d discover.

What we found was an open trail with temperatures in the mid-40s. It stayed cool all day as the sun peeked from behind puffy clouds. Quite a contrast from the ominous storm clouds of the afternoon before!

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I was thankful for little gems that sparkled with color alongside the trail. In spite of the cold, several patches of Mayapples greeted us with a few hidden blooms below their leafy umbrellas.

 

 

IMG_7056rrDwarf Crested Irises were starting to open and share their pinks and purples.

Later in the day, we passed full blooms, their petals raised toward the sunshine.

Because of the influence of my Arkansas Master Naturalists friends, I now read about the plants I see and was interested to learn that Native Americans used the roots of this Iris for medicinal ointment and tea. IMG_7099rr

Just as I was sensing relief that the trail was intact, unnatural objects started to appear. By the end of our 8-mile out-and-back, my daypack was full of hard foam insulation that had blown over from Mountainburg. I tossed the debris and a little trash on the truck floorboard at the end of our hike.

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Several pages of text also appeared next to the trail. I found myself reading these little snippets with interest. I photographed each of the pages then slipped them into my pocket. Were they trash or did they add meaning to today’s walk? Probably a little of both. I did think the chapter title on one page was appropriate given what brought it here.

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Excerpt from The Hobbit

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The first line of this sliver of a page might apply to several backpacking trips from the past when challenges grew with the accumulating miles.

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Jack Creek next to a campsite

I was interested to see the campground at mile 5 of the OHT. It’s an easy hike from Lake Fort Smith State Park and gets trashy sometimes. The area was clean today and carefully inspected by Hiker-dog.

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Open views above Jack Creek

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Repeated crossings of tributary streams are a special treat on this section of trail. These pretty drainages all flow into Jack Creek as it makes its way toward Lake Fort Smith. One of my favorite stops crosses a flat rock stream. Its slippery surface is avoided by crossing large boulders downstream.

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It was a beautiful day to be in the Ozarks. Thankfully, no one was injured by the tornado the previous afternoon. As a bonus, the trail was undamaged other than a few gems (or trash) brought over by strong winds.