Sauntering in the Ozarks

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Hiker-dog sauntering across a creek.

Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! ~ John Muir 

Today was about checking my 4-mile adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail.  I’d recently read the above John Muir quote and planned to try a little sauntering. IMG_3109rrA drizzling rain wouldn’t interfere with maintenance plans since I was only doing light hand sawing and clearing. Almost every creek had pockets of water and about the time I was thinking this would be a great weekend for camping, I came upon a hammock. John, a thru-hiker I’d meet on my hike out in a few hours, was sleeping in during the light rain. I was proud that Hiker-dog ignored the hammock and continued across Jack Creek on the trail.

IMG_3126rrI purposefully stopped every few minutes to look and enjoy these woods I’ve passed through many times. This was my nod to Mr. Muir in my effort to “saunter.” Slowing down and pausing occasionally allowed me to notice things I’d typically miss like small fungi on a decaying log.

Two small mushrooms next to the trail glistened with moisture.

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IMG_3100rrAfter scouting the trail and beginning my return trip, I came across muscadines hanging right over the trail I hadn’t noticed my first time through. I picked a few and enjoyed their sweet centers and tart chewy skins as I walked along remembering muscadine jelly on toast. The rain had stopped and I was now sauntering along with a hand full of muscadines and blueberry cookies. A wonderful feast!

Spider webs covering greenery held water droplets that sparkled like diamonds next to the trail.

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Hiker-dog was elated to be on the trail for six hours. She enjoyed exploring rocky crags above the trail and staying wet from running through underbrush.

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Something fascinating in every pile of rocks. 

…these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them. ~ John Muir

I enjoyed my day of sauntering and a little trail maintenance, too.  I can relate to Muir’s comment about walking through the mountains with an attitude of reverence. I ended this day with a mind full of thankfulness.  Thankful for the gifts of sight, sound, smell, and especially taste. Time for some muscadine jelly! 

World of Beauty Down a Small Ozark Hollow

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I’ve read about the waterfall in Devil’s Canyon, but today was not a waterfall hunting day. We were merely scouting the driving directions and having a look around so that when the water is flowing strongly in the future, we can get to the area quickly. I made it to the first drain and ended up spending all of my available time exploring a small hollow as I followed the water downhill.

Continuing a short distance downstream, we came to this little grotto and waterfall. The large waterfall this area is known for is in another section of Devil’s Canyon (close by air, but distant by foot).

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At this point, I thought I’d seen the scenic features of this little side-valley, but the randomly placed car-sized boulders drew me ever downward. I quickly came to a reflective pool and realized little beauty-surprises were hidden around every boulder.

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Below is a wider view of the same area showing boulders stacked above.

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Massive stacked boulders

Continuing downstream, I heard flowing water but couldn’t see where the cascade was until I arrived next to an A-shaped opening.

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A young man who I’d seen running the jeep road on the edge of the canyon reappeared and exclaimed at how beautiful this little area was. I introduced myself and discovered that he worked for the US Forest Service. He’d been helping with a fire in Tennessee and was now headed back home to Oregon. After our short visit, I thought how easy it is to meet fascinating people on the trails of Arkansas.

While taking a photograph of the little cascade through the leaning A-shaped rocks, I heard a commotion close by and instinctively covered my head. Hiker’s 65-pound frame had dislodged some small rocks causing her to glissade down a slope, bringing rocks and dirt with her. She ran over next to me and stayed close by for a few minutes.

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A surprised Hiker-dog stayed close by for a few minutes after her slide down a hillside.

I needed to watch my time to allow for the uphill climb out of this little valley. The way these boulders caught my attention, it would be easy to remain until after dark.

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We spent some more time at the little grotto on our way back upstream. I ate some dry bread I’d packed as a nod to John Muir, who’s birthday was a few days before on April 21st. Born in 1883, he continues to influence thinking about the outdoors and conservation today. He was known to toss a dry loaf of bread in a sack and explore the mountains for several days…the original ultra-light backpacker.

As we continued upstream, I noticed this scene I walked past earlier. Its beauty wasn’t lost on Hiker because she hopped right in after I took this photo.

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As we crossed the creek that feeds into the hollow, I noticed the abstract patterns created by shallow water and sunlight. I couldn’t resist capturing the intricate dancing lines that flowed at my feet.

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Shallow creek crossing

It had been a beautiful hike down this small stream and back up. Today I learned again that you can’t predict the beauty you might find in the eroded valleys of the Ozark Mountains. I was already missing this place as we passed the overlooks on the edge of the canyon. We will return another day!

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Hiker seemed to enjoy the view as we hiked away from Devil’s Canyon.

Random Walking with John Muir in the Ozarks

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Detail of ice formations at the base of a bluff

I drove up AR 23 (AKA Pigtrail) to collect GPS waypoints for an article I’m working on with photographer and hiking friend, Eric Scowden. My only traveling partner today was Hiker-dog. It was a cold morning, but the sun warmed the air quickly. I enjoyed the “popcorn” ice formations that formed on roots and rock along wet bluff lines.

This morning was like many others over the last eighteen months. I have places to go and data to collect. Working on a trail guide to the Ozarks has been a wonderful experience, but every outing’s purpose has been to hike and collect information about specific trails. I had my to-do list for today though it was shorter than usual.

After hitting the required locations, I picked a random pullout spot on Morgan Mountain Road that I’d driven past many times. On impulse, I walked down an old jeep road just to see what was there. I didn’t jump over a fence but thought of John Muir’s statement that he would often “throw bread and tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence” to begin an exploration of nature.

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Large boulders at the edge of an open field

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the randomness of this walk. I formed my route by following what looked interesting to me. I arrived at an open, level field lined with large boulders along the eastern ridge. They bowed to the forces of gravity, drifting down toward the next bench fifty feet below.

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Hiker exploring the field on the eastern side of Morgan Mountain

I walked past a hollow filled with jagged boulders that begged me to enter, but they’ll have to wait for another day when I return with a dry loaf of bread, tea, and hours to spend. I’d like to apply Muir’s “method of study” and his ultra-light packing techniques to my next hike on Morgan Mountain.

“My method of study was to drift from rock to rock and grove to grove. I’d sit for hours watching the birds or squirrels, or looking into the faces of flowers. When I discovered a new plant, I sat beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance and try to hear what it had to tell me. I asked the boulders where they came from and where they were going. And when I discovered a mountain, I climbed about it and compared it with its neighbors. It’s astonishing how high and far we can climb in the mountains we love, and how little we require for food and clothing.” – John Muir

I look forward to spending an entire day meandering my way down that rugged hollow on Morgan Mountain. I look forward to simply sitting still to listen, watch, and learn. Maybe I’ll even ask a boulder or two where they came from and where they’re going. I think even Hiker-dog might enjoy a little less goal-oriented travel in the Ozarks.

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