What We Drop on a Quiet Trail

IMG_5933rr

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!

IMG_5941rr

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?”

IMG_5942rr

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!

IMG_5944rr

End of the day over Lake Alma

Variations on an Icy Theme

WordPress Photo Challenge: Variations on a Theme

IMG_5449rr

I captured these images next to the Lake Alma Trail on a recent morning. They’re variations of the same theme from the same scene.

IMG_5483rr

Endless variations in texture…

IMG_5457rr

IMG_5479rr

IMG_5413rr

Various perspectives on the same ice…

IMG_5396rr

Frozen McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

Icy bonus shots: These are not from the same location, but do fit with variations on the theme. Frost Flowers on the Ouachita (Wash’-i-taw) Trail a few weeks ago.

IMG_5193rr

IMG_5160rr

IMG_5181rr

IMG_5171rr

The Lake Alma Trail and 42 more of the best trails in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri can be found in my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Icy Home Trail

IMG_5413rr

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.

IMG_5396rr

McWater Falls

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

IMG_5411rr.jpg

McWater Falls

IMG_5483rr

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.

No Nonsense Guide to Day Hiking – Do I Go or Do I Stay?

dyer-lfs-0117r

Darian, Delaney, and Trey enjoying a fall day on an Ozarks trail.

What do I wear? What do I take with me? Where and when should I go? Will a bear get me?

Many questions come to mind when you consider going on a hike, especially if it’s your first. Thinking about a few good questions can ensure that you want to continue hiking after your early experiences in the woods.

This is not a comprehensive day hiking guide, but my thoughts come from personal experience and a few mistakes along the way. If you want more information about hiking and trails, pick up a hiking guide for your area.

What do I wear?

You can wear almost anything and get away with it on the trail. Let function, not fashion, be your guide.  We’ll look at this from the ground up since happy feet are essential for success.

  1. Wool blend socks are among a hiker’s most important pieces of clothing. Use wool blend socks and avoid cotton unless you like blisters and soggy, smelly feet. Any tennis shoes of reasonable strength are fine for day hiking.
  2. Clothing – If the weather is nice, any clothes will do. If there’s a chance it might be cold and/or wet, avoid cotton. Cotton gets wet (making you colder) and then will not dry out in the humid Ozarks. For added insurance against the elements, put warm gloves and a hat in a rain jacket pocket and stuff it in the bottom of your daypack.

What do I take with me?

As little as possible is my short answer, but there are ten essentials you’ll want to have with you on every outing.

  1. Water and access to water – Put your water in a bottle or a bladder in your pack. Rather than purchase a bottle, you can recycle any plastic water bottle. I carry a small Sawyer water filter in my daypack in case I run low. It doesn’t add much weight and has made me a few friends on the trail when others needed water.
  2. Food – Snacks that you’re used to eating are what you should take on the trail. This is no time to try something new in the food department.
  3. Extra clothing – Think protection from the elements. If it looks like cold, rainy weather, carry an extra layer and be sure that rain jacket is stuffed in the bottom of your pack.
  4. Navigation – Don’t assume that you can’t get lost on a well-used trail. Like Jeremiah Johnson, “I’ve never been lost, just confused for a month or so.” Fortunately, I’ve only been confused an hour or so, but it can be a little scary if you’re not prepared. A photocopy of the appropriate pages from a trail guide in a zip-lock bag is always a good idea, and a compass can help you avoid confusion. Don’t count on the compass app or GPS on your phone. Batteries don’t last.
  5. Illumination – A small headlamp or flashlight in your pack can be a big help if a hike takes longer than anticipated. I carry a small LED light in my daypack at all times.
  6. Sun and bug protection – A little sunscreen can make you a happy and healthy hiker. Bug spray around the cuffs of your pants will discourage ticks and other crawling insects. Check for ticks often, even in cooler weather. I can usually feel the little guys climbing up my legs and pick them off before they attach.
  7. First Aid supplies – I like a zip-lock with some bandaids and any medicines I might need if stranded for a while. Keep it simple and light then forget about it until you need it.
  8. Fire – I always carry a lighter just in case.
  9. Emergency shelter – Cut an 8-10-inch hole close to the bottom of a large trash bag then stuff it in the bottom of your pack and forget about it. If you need shelter, sit on top of your daypack with the bag over you like a small tent. The opening allows you to see and breath but protects from the elements. It’s like having cheap insurance policy on your trip.
  10. Most ten essentials lists include repair kit, but for day hiking a small pocketknife is sufficient. One of my hiking poles has some duct tape wrapped around it for emergencies. I’ve used this twice to reattach shoe soles for other hikers.

IMG_2124rr

Where should I go?

Fortunately for those in the River Valley and Ozarks, the answer is, “Hike anywhere your feet will take you.” We live in one of the best locations in the country for hiking, especially through the fall and winter.

Begin with 1-2 trail miles. I say trail miles because hiking on most trails is more demanding than walking a paved path.  I learned this lesson many years ago on the Seven Hollows Trail at Petit Jean State Park. I was sure we could do four miles in just over an hour since that was our pace on pavement. Two hours later as it was getting dark, my wife and I finished our exhausting hike. Even as an experienced hiker, I always allow about one hour for every two miles of hiking distance.

IMG_1264rr

Copperhead in the Marinoni Scenic Area

What about the bears and snakes?

Bear sightings are rare because our sounds and smells alert bears to our presence. I’ve only seen two bears in Arkansas, and both were at a distance. They avoid humans when possible.

Many fear snakes, but they also avoid people. Just don’t step on or antagonize a snake and you shouldn’t have a problem.

Deer season coincides with some of the best times of year to hike. I tie a hunter-orange bandanna to my daypack year round and avoid impersonating a deer while in the woods. I’ve never had a problem.

Creek crossings are a real danger in the woods. If you have any doubts about crossing safely, turn around and go back the way you came or go upstream looking for wide areas in the creek bed.

Always tell a friend or family member your itinerary, even if it’s a short day hike. Do this whether hiking alone or with a group.

Do I go or do I stay?

Hiking has enriched my life, enhanced my health, and connected me with some great folks. It’s a great big beautiful world out there. Get out and enjoy!

devils_den_yellow_rock03

Jim Warnock authored Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, a trail guidebook that covers the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. He has thru-hiked the 180-mile Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas as well as the 210-mile John Muir Trail in California. The Ouachita Trail is next on his list. Follow his adventures at OzarkMountainHiker.com.

img_8858rr

Five Star Trails: The Ozarks is in bookstores and available online.

Novice hiker prescription for healthy and happy hiking: Hike the Lake Alma Trail from the picnic area to the waterfall and back (2-mile round trip). Next outing, hike to the Hexagon House and back (3-mile round trip). Gradually work up to hiking the entire 4.2-mile loop. Many trails lend themselves to this approach for increasing distance and endurance.

A map for the Lake Alma Trail is on page 2 of this link:  CAS900 Alma Park

LAT Map 2

100 Steps

 

IMG_2514

Here are a few photos from an assignment I thought up during a morning hike on my home trail. I took a photo using my smartphone camera every 100 steps, allowing myself to move up to ten steps from each stopping point to locate a photo.

This little exercise had a couple of effects. One was the realization that 100 steps pass quickly on the trail. Another was that I paid closer attention to what I was seeing every step of the way. An added effect was I learned my cell phone memory fills up quickly and that I prefer the flexibility of my real camera. Nevertheless, it was a good experiment.

Fiery Sky Over Lake Alma

IMG_2196rr
Eric Scowden and I hiked to The Point well before dark and determined where to place our tripods. In the water was the best spot. As we prepared our cameras I asked, “Would this be a bad time to tell Tim Ernst’s cottonmouth story?”

Eric had been at Tim’s slideshow so we were both remembering it at the same time as we stood in grassy water close to shore. We were not waist-deep in water as Tim had been and there were no boulders for cottonmouths to get eye-to-eye with us.
IMG_2176rrrrr
The show began at 9 p.m. with color still in the sky but the brightness and sounds were still startling and beautiful.

IMG_2202rr

Plant growth at the bottom of the frame where we stood in the water.

Delayed percussive booms traveled across Lake Alma with jarring impact. On the hike out, we heard continued fireworks provided by local residents, mixed with distant thunder provided by Mother Nature. I was glad that Hiker-dog was hunkered down at home since she doesn’t care for loud noises, though she may have been fascinated by the fiery skies over Lake Alma.

With lightning showing thorough the foliage in the distance, we spent some time experimenting with light painting and long exposures. Eric took a photo of me swinging my headlamp around to illuminate the scene.

Warnock070317LAT_1rr

Thanks to Eric for the photo coaching. His advice helped me capture some pleasing photos of our small town fireworks show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Follow this link to download a pdf of the Alma Park Map 2017.

Be sure to check out Tim Ernst’s website and journal for wilderness stories and photography.

New Lake Alma Trail and Disc Golf Map

IMG_1850rr

The following link will open a pdf of the Lake Alma Trail Map and Disc Golf Map, suitable for printing or using with your electronic device. We’ll eventually post this link on the City of Alma website. Hardcopies are being distributed through Arkansas Tourism Visitor Centers.

Alma Park Map 2017

  • Thank you to Western Arkansas Planning and Development Commission and Rep Charlotte Douglas for design grant.
  • Thank you Crawford County Advertising and Promotion Commission for printing grant.
  • Thanks to Mayor Keith Greene, the City of Alma staff, and Harry McWater, for technical assistance and support.
  • Thank you to Arkansas Master Naturalists for inspiring me to invest the time to write grants!
  • Thank you to Calvert McBride Printers in Fort Smith
  • Thank you to Kristian Underwood, for his commitment to producing beautiful and functional maps, whether for a city park or the Ozark Highlands Trail!

IMG_1848rr

New Map of Lake Alma Trail and Rec Areas

LAT Map 1

partial page 1

Coming soon! A beautiful map of the Lake Alma Trail, Disc Golf and recreation areas designed by Underwood Geographics.

  • Thank you to Western Arkansas Planning and Development Commission and Rep Charlotte Douglas for design grant.
  • Thank you Crawford County Advertising and Promotion Commission for printing grant.
  • Thanks to Mayor Keith Greene, the City of Alma staff, and Harry McWater, for technical assistance and support. 
  • Thank you to Arkansas Master Naturalists for inspiring me to invest the time to write grants!
  • Thank you to Calvert McBride Printers in Fort Smith
  • Thank you to Kristian Underwood, for his commitment to producing beautiful and functional maps, whether for a city park or the Ozark Highlands Trail!

We’ll be able to share this map/brochure in print and digital forms soon!

LAT Map 2

partial page 2