Never the Same Trail Twice


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Frog Bayou

Hiking buddy, Nick, said he needed some time on the trail and wondered what section we might try. Hiker-dog had never done the few miles from Dockery Gap to White Rock Mountain, so we decided to do Lake Fort Smith State Park to Fane Creek, just over 30 miles.

This route included new miles for Nick and Hiker-dog but repeats for me. As we walked this familiar path, I remembered once again that we never walk the same trail twice.


Nick checking out the fire bricks inside the remnants of one homesite along the trail.

IMG_6532rr Water was plentiful. This was my first filterless backpacking trip using only water treatment drops, so I enjoyed “selecting” my water from any number of small streams we passed.


Little Hurricane Creek

IMG_6569rrWe met a family camped at mile 10. While visiting with the father, Luke, I was impressed with his two young daughters’ ability to run without pain barefoot through the woods.

The next day we met two backpackers, Nick and Foster, from Kansas who’d camped in the area and were continuing on the OHT the next day. As we approached White Rock Mountain, a young man with a group called out, “Is that Hiker-dog?” She’s such a celebrity. Turns out, Chris had picked up a copy of Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, and met Hiker-dog at the Hare Mountain Hike-In. We expected a social hike due to the time of year and enjoyed meeting good folks on the trail.


For the first evening meal I boiled red potato slices a few minutes then added a Knorr side dish that cooked quickly. Good stuff!

On the second night at Salt Fork Creek, I used instant potatoes combined with a slice of Spam. Quick, easy, and light.


Hiker-dog enjoyed a nap early in our second evening as a soft rain began to fall. Stronger storms and a beautiful lightning show followed later during the night, although not enough to raise the level of Salt Fork or Spirits Creek by more than an inch. 


Nick and Hiker-dog crossing Spirits Creek

As Nick crossed Spirits Creek, I thought back to my thru-hike with Bob a few years ago. A heavy rain raised the creek level enough to cause us to pay careful attention while crossing. Never the same trail twice…

Below is another example of how different the same trail can be depending on conditions. Early in our hike, the Shepherd Springs Waterfall was a trickle in bright sunshine. On a previous visit during a wet springtime day, I got one of my favorite photos of this same waterfall. Part of the pleasure of the OHT is repeated visits during varied conditions and seasons. In the Ozarks, just when you think you know a trail, you realize it has something new to reveal.

Word of thanks to Ozark Highlands Trail Association volunteers: The photo below right shows the obvious work of trail maintenance volunteers who hike in with chainsaws and cut out obstacles. The photo on the left shows a full day’s work by several volunteers although it would be easy to walk by without notice. At one time, water flowed across the trail continually washing it out and making this a difficult spot. Volunteers trenched an alternative route for the water, directing it away from the trail and toward a culvert that channels water under the adjacent road. They’d be proud of how well this erosion fix is working.

Between Two Creeks in the Ozarks


Hiker-dog’s first overnighter close to Salt Fork Creek

Hiker-dog’s first overnight backpack trip after she joined our family was Shores Lake to White Rock Mountain, then east to Salt Fork Creek. On another occasion, she joined a group of us from Fane Creek west to Spirits Creek.

That left just over four miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail between two creeks uncovered by her paws, so we drove up a small road that intersects this four-mile stretch and hiked to both creeks out-and-back for a total of just over eight miles.

I’ve rarely hiked a section of trail with the feeling of checking it off a list, but that was the task for the day. What I found was beauty, sunshine, and the chance to clarify some troubled thoughts.


Some of the pleasure of the Ozarks comes from the simple open hardwoods and winter views of surrounding mountains. Restful sights for the eyes!


Salt Fork Creek was flowing nicely, a little milky from recent rains.


As we backtracked up and away from Salt Fork, we stopped to collect GPS coordinates for a couple of large trees that had fallen across the trail. The OHTA (Ozark Highlands Trail Association) has expert sawyers who clear the trail when they learn the locations of obstacles. They’re amazing!


A downed tree isn’t a problem for Hiker-dog.

As we approached the soft roar of Sprits Creek, memories of past trips came to mind. It was comforting to see the familiar campgrounds below and the varied surrounding landscapes carved out over time.


IMG_6230rrA White Trout Lilly greeted us as we approached the edge of Spirits Creek. We sat beside the water and enjoyed the sound.



After a snack, we headed back up out of the Spirits Creek drainage toward the trailhead for the drive home. We drank in the sunshine and enjoyed side-streams we passed as they came down from the hills, making their way toward Spirits Creek.


IMG_6243rrA big thank you to trail maintainers! The trail passed through a couple of devil’s walking stick forests, but they were cut back away from the trail.

I’ve always thought of these as bothersome, but evidently, these prickly plants have redeeming qualities. Seeds provide food for birds, and the leaves are browsed by deer. Nectar-insects and butterflies are attracted by the large bundles of yellow flowers put out by these prickly tree trunks. The aromatic spicy roots were used for toothaches by early settlers.

As we climbed back toward the trailhead, I felt stronger, relaxed, and thankful. Hiker-dog looked back as if wondering why I was lagging behind. I think she wishes I had four legs so she wouldn’t have to hold back so much to stay with me.


A Painted Walk

LAT013018_3This evening’s walk brought the magic of color. I’d carried only my smartphone camera, but it captured the color I was seeing.


Light show at the shore

I hurried to the water’s edge when I realized the potential light show I would find. Hiker-dog was excited for another reason and strode proudly into the water for her evening bath.


The places closest to us often surprise and amaze if we’re paying attention. This evening’s painted walk was no exception.


What We Drop on a Quiet Trail


Crossing Little Frog Bayou

Hiker-dog and I both needed the trail this evening! The trappings of life and full schedules had left us both tight and in need of a hike.

At the end of our 3-minute drive, I was surprised to see an empty parking lot. We walked the whole 4-mile loop without seeing another person. Part of the reason might have been recent rains that made Little Frog Bayou a wet crossing.

After watching Hiker cross, I paused and sat down for a photo of the creek. A minute later I realized she was sitting quietly at my back. Stealthy little dog!


Slightly wet crossing at Little Frog Bayou

We continued at a brisk pace since light was fading. At one point Hiker-dog paused and took that familiar backward glance as if to say, “So, are you coming?”


Hiker’s backward glance

As the day drew to a close, I realized that my feelings of anxiety and stress had passed down through my legs and into the trail. What a gift to have this beautiful path sitting quietly in our own backyard!


End of the day over Lake Alma

Talking Trails at Hobbs State Park

Hobbs 012118_2

Sharing the joys of down layering

The next best thing to walking the trails is talking the trails. I had a great time with the Friends of Hobbs State Park on Sunday sharing my thru-hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail and Hiker-dog’s story. A young man from the audience assisted me by unpacking my pack as I described changes that resulted in a lighter load. I let him try my down vest, but he shed it pretty quickly due to its warmth.

After sharing my children’s book intended for second graders, Hiker-dog entered the room at the end. She enjoyed some petting and then curling up on the floor as the program continued.

Hobbs 012118_3

Jim Flickinger assisted with Hiker-dog

Just under ninety were in the audience. They were responsive, asking good questions and sharing their enthusiasm. The hour flew by!


Almost 90 in attendance!

Steve Chyrchel, Hobbs State Park Interpreter, does a great job promoting programs and sets the schedule far in advance. He’s already scheduled me for March 3, 2019!


Sallyann making announcements

Sallyann Brown, a fly casing instructor, heads up the Friends of Hobbs programs and always makes folks feel comfortable. When I presented the John Muir Trail in September, she made me promise to bring Hiker-dog if I returned.

Hiker-dog enjoyed the attention. I enjoyed signing copies of my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, and talking trails with folks after the program.

Below you’ll find the Friends of Hobbs Speaker Series for 2018.

Hobbs schedule 1

Hobbs schedule 2

Silent and Pensive Hiker-Dog

WordPress Photo Challenge: Silence

Current River Owls Bend Vista 1

Relaxing above the Current River in Missouri

When I read the photo challenge for this week, I immediately thought of Hiker-dog. A trait I like is that she is always silent through the night, whether at home or in the Ozark Forests. Sometimes she sits silently looking awestruck by the beauty of the Ozarks.


Hurricane Creek

Even though she’s a dog, it seems like she expresses a worshipful gratitude for natural places. I sometimes wonder if her near-death experience on the Ozark Highlands Trail where we first met four years ago accounts for her sense of appreciation. Or, maybe she’s just intently looking for a squirrel. Regardless, she’s a silent trail partner until it’s time to eat.


Mulberry River


Camping close to the Salt Fork River on the Ozark Highlands Trail


Hiker-dog in awe of nature…or is that a squirrel up there?


Hiker taking a break on the Redding Loop Trail


We’ll be sharing the Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike on Sunday, January 21, at 2 p.m. at Hobbs State Park’s Visitor Center in Arkansas.  It’s a beautiful venue and Hiker-dog will be there, too! Five Star Trails Poster 012118 Hobbs State Park

The Urge For Going

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Do them now.”  ~Paulo Coelho


John Muir Trail

Yesterday a friend sent me a couple of links for the Rae Lakes Loop in the High Sierras of California. In a short conversation two weeks earlier we’d hatched the idea of hiking this area again. The thought lingered in both of our minds.


John Muir Trail

As I remembered our John Muir Trail experiences, I felt deep thankfulness for that nagging, troubling, and sometimes inspiring “urge for going.” I also felt thankful that I can go, and admonished by the reminder that I have no guarantees of time and strength in my future. All is a gift. Let the planning begin!

I’m looking forward to sharing the Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike on Sunday, January 21, at 2 p.m. Hobbs State Park’s Visitor Center is a beautiful venue. Hiker-dog will be there, too! Five Star Trails Poster 012118 Hobbs State Park

Icy Home Trail


Years ago we asked my youngest daughter about vacation ideas. This young lady is now more widely traveled than her father, but at that time she named several options that we’d already visited. When asked why she liked these places, she said, “Because we’ve been there.”

After 160 new miles on the Ouachita Trail, I understood my daughter’s feelings and looked forward to a walk on my “home trail.” The familiar Lake Alma Trail is comfortable, but continues to provide new sights or sounds. Today was no exception.


McWater Falls

With temperatures in the low 30s, ice remained from the previous days of temperatures dipping into the teens.


McWater Falls


Ice patterns at the edge of Little Frog Bayou fascinated me. I ended up spending some time along the shore while Hiker-dog enjoyed some leash-free time. IMG_5466rrI’m thankful for the comfort of a familiar trail and my little hiking partner’s energy. Below are a few ice patterns I noticed while on our home trail walk. 

I’m looking forward to sharing the Ozark Highlands Trail and others at Hobbs State Park on Sunday, January 21st at 2 p.m.

Best of 2017 OzarkMountainHiker


Here are my top five posts in no particular order based on views for 2017. Following these five are my personal favorites for 2017, posts that were particularly rewarding to write or that reflect on an experience I enjoyed on the trail. 

In 2012 when I first started this blog, I had no idea that it would provide such enjoyment and learning. Thank you for reading and letting me share my love of the trails! Pass along to others who love the outdoors. 

Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)Perfect Time

Walking Toward Authenticity: Nimblewill Nomad

Hiker-Dog’s Adoption Trail 

Exploring Arkansas Features the Marinoni Scenic Area

Completing Our Goals in the Ozarks

Personal Favorites 

When in Doubt, Write 

A Special Guest on My Home Trail

New Strings

Evening Walk in the Marinoni

Hiker-Dog’s Resume 

My Sometimes “Cheeky” Hiker-Dog

WordPress Photo Challenge: CheekyIMG_5175rrHiker-dog gave me this scoffing look on a rainy day in the Hercules Wilderness Area in Missouri. She gave me this same look moments earlier after I fell on a muddy trail.

On a sunnier day and trail closer to home, Hiker-dog looked back as if to say, “Are you coming or not?” This is a “cheeky” look I often get when she pauses to see if I’m still progressing down the trail. IMG_2542 Hiker’s curiosity is entertaining. img_8381rrBelow is a little resume I share at slideshows. I offer it here if you’d like to know a little of her story.

Hiker-dog resume 072217