Hiker-dog’s Sunset Photo

Reflections from sunset over Lake Alma

Reflections from sunset over Lake Alma

Credit for this photo over Lake Alma last week belongs to Hiker-dog. It was early evening, and I was tired…too tired for a short walk. Not Hiker-dog! She was beside herself, running back and forth from me to the Jeep and staring at the door as if she could will it open.  I knew she needed to get out, so we loaded up and drove four minutes to Lake Alma.

Hiker ran with joy, bouncing around and chasing every bird or butterfly in sight. While watching her and walking along the trail, I noticed the changing sky. I decided to set up my tripod and watch. Below is the skyline about six minutes before the photo above, showing just how quickly light and clouds sometimes change. This is why photographers sometimes refer to the beginning and ending of days as the “magic hour.”

A big thank you to Hiker-dog for pushing me to get outside when I wanted a lazy evening. I think she knew there were things that needed to be seen out there…and butterflies to chase.

The scene six minutes earlier.

The scene six minutes earlier.

 

Hiker-dog celebrating the evening

Hiker-dog celebrating the evening in the fading light.

High Water Hiking on the Lake Alma Trail

McWater Falls

McWater Falls

We had more than six inches of rain within a 24-hour period last week. I did several out-and-back early morning hikes to have a look at water levels. With a few hours available this morning, Hiker-dog and I finally did the entire loop to see how high water levels had impacted the trail.

I was pleased that the trail from the picnic area all the way to Little Frog Bayou on the east side was in pretty good shape. McWater Falls was beautiful as always! An out-and-back on this section would be fine. See my trail description for this hike in E Fort Smith Magazine. The little bridge downstream from McWater Falls was washed out of position, but crossing on rocks is easy here.

Little bridge downstream from McWater Falls

Little bridge downstream from McWater Falls

Little Frog Bayou Bridge

Little Frog Bayou Bridge

Arriving at Little From Bayou, I was amazed that the bridge was still in place with only a few boards missing (nice work Joe S. and friends). Do not cross the bridge until repairs can be made.

Little Frog Bayou Bridge high water damage.

Little Frog Bayou Bridge high water damage.

Hiker and I did not follow my advice but carefully crossed the bridge. We immediately began to wade through water along side of Little Frog Bayou. As soon as the trail turned south after the crossing and began to follow the creek I found myself approaching waist-high water. We left the trail and went to higher ground past the old well then back to the trail about sixty yards downstream where it was above water.

Historic well west of Little Frog Bayou

Historic well west of Little Frog Bayou

The next adventure was crossing the west creek (what we call Little Clear Creek). The bridge was still standing and held my weight. Water levels are usually around five feet below the bridge. Crossing the bridge involved some wading on the west side. We then sought higher ground since the trail was under water.

Little Clear Creek Bridge

Little Clear Creek Bridge

I came across some nice little bluffs high up over the creek and then headed back down to the main trail. The remainder of the hike was dry crossing the dam and back to the picnic area. We both had a good workout and were pretty well soaked. Nice morning on the Lake Alma Trail!

Rock formations west of Little Clear Creek

Rock formations west of Little Clear Creek

Hiker airing out on the dam.

Hiker airing out on the dam.

Dry walking next to the fishing dock below the picnic area

Dry walking next to the fishing dock below the picnic area

Beauty in Our Own Back Yard – The Lake Alma Trail

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Area photographer at McWater Falls

Here’s a link to my article in the April issue of Entertainment Fort Smith. I’m pleased to share the Lake Alma Trail with the readers of Entertainment Fort Smith. Wouldn’t you know Hiker-dog made it into the article’s slideshow. Hope her ego doesn’t get out of hand.

Beauty in Our Own Back Yard – The Lake Alma Trail

http://www.efortsmith.com/features/index.cfm/Beauty-in-Our-Own-Backyard-Lake-Alma-Trail/-/aid/200/

The Snow that Wouldn’t Stay

Leaning rock next to the Lake Alma Trail.

Leaning rock next to the Lake Alma Trail.

Hiker-dog and I could almost feel the snow melting under our feet this morning. We walked from home to the trail rather than driving on snow. The little shaded road to my house was almost completely clear after our hike around Lake Alma.

This reminded me of the chorus to a song I wrote with kindergarten students years ago in south Arkansas after one of those rare snow flurries that were just enough to get excited about, but not enough to make a snowball for throwing.

What do you think about that?

Snow melting on my hat.

We went out to play, but the snow wouldn’t stay!

What do you think about that?

Ice flower

Ice flower

Since snow was fleeting, we watched for interesting ice. I had seen frost flowers, but never an ice flower quite this shape. Splashing water from the creek froze in this bell or flower shape. It was about two inches across.

McWater Falls

McWater Falls

The falls were barely flowing but the ice formations added something special.

Ice on the bluff at McWater Falls.

Ice on the bluff at McWater Falls.

Hike-dog checking out the Hexagon House.

Hike-dog checking out the Hexagon House.

Here’s closeup of the ice flower. Ice formations can surprise you sometimes.

Ice flower

Ice flower

This afternoon as I import these photos, the snow is mostly gone. The snow that wouldn’t stay was special for the few hours it was here. I’m glad we got out and enjoyed it.

Winter Beauty on the Trail

McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

I love hiking the Ozarks in winter!  No bugs, no sweat, and great views.  Add a little water, and you have the recipe for beauty!   These photos were taken this morning between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. The temperature was 17-degrees at the beginning of the hike and warmed up to 24 by the end.

Little Frog Bayou on the Lake Alma Trail

Little Frog Bayou on the Lake Alma Trail

Frost flower next to the trail.

Frost flower next to the trail.

Hiker is a winter dog!  She snuggles up in her straw bed inside her little house, but is ready to hit the trail regardless of temperature.  She got a little impatient at this creek while I was taking photos.  She was ready to move on down the trail!

Hiker-dog

Hiker-dog

Memories and Moments, Sights and Sounds

Hiker-dog and I hiked the sun down this evening.  This was from necessity since most of the day was spent before we could get to the trail.  I rarely hike with my iPod but, since the weather was clear, I decided to listen.  What I didn’t count on was a magical blending of sight and sound.

Dusk on the Lake Alma Trail.

Dusk on the Lake Alma Trail.

As I approached “the point” the view opened up toward the south as the last glimmers of sunlight subsided. Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien were singing Memories and Moments.  Geese flew in silhouette and called their way across the lake.  A train horn sang out a low tone in the distance. I stood in silence drinking in the sounds and sights.  After a moment, I snapped a picture with my phone and continued down the trail filled with gratitude, eventually hiking to the light of a full moon.

Home Trail Through Fresh Eyes

Spur trail to McWater Falls

Spur trail to McWater Falls

Today I walked my “home trail” with a group of hikers from the Ozark Society.  We took four hours to hike the four mile Lake Alma Trail, but it was a pleasure.  Part of the enjoyment came from seeing this familiar trail through other’s eyes.  Areas I’d walked past without a thought became places they stopped for photos.

McWater Falls

McWater Falls

We spent a lot of time at McWater Falls before heading on around the loop.  Seeing these hikers’ appreciation of our little waterfall was gratifying.  It’s a good thing waterfalls don’t have egos.  McWater Falls would be the most arrogant of them all after today’s photo session. IMG_3592rr

Hexagon House

Hexagon House

The group spent time speculating about the history and backstory of the Hexagon House.

Albino Nandina?

Albino Nandina? No red berries.

One of the plants the group noticed were these nandinas that grow throughout the area.  Two plants stood out because of their colorless berries.  This was something none of us had seen before. IMG_3639rr The group was interested in seeing this well just off the beaten path.  The stonework appears to be more recent than the hand-dug well it covers.  The group enjoyed discussing possible dates for the development of this well and the nearby root cellar.

Interior of the well.

Interior of the well.

Rustic root cellar

Rustic root cellar

Frank taking a shot.

Frank taking a shot.

It was a good day with good people on the Lake Alma Trail.  It was also a pleasure to see the trail through fresh eyes. Follow this link to read more about the Lake Alma Trail. IMG_3650

Lake Alma Trail: kid friendly out-and-back day hike

McWater Falls

McWater Falls (photo J. Warnock)

Trail description and photos: Jim Warnock

At a Glance

GPS:  N35 29.818 W94 13.073

Distance and Configuration:   2.6-mile out-and-back

Hiking Time: 2 hours (approximate)

Highlights: Lake views, waterfall, and beautiful creeks.

Facilities: restrooms and picnic area

Wheelchair Access: no

Dogs: yes

Comments: The 1.6-mile out-and-back to McWater Falls is an easier option for those wanting a shorter hike.

Contacts: facebook.com/LakeAlmaTrail    Email: hmcwater@windstream.net     Blog: ozarkmountainhiker.com

Overview

If you’re a parent looking for an easy day hike to introduce your children to the gentle pleasures of nature or a trail runner looking for a heart-throbbing but pleasant path, this out-and-back hike is for you!

Chuck Dovish, of Exploring Arkansas with AETN, said, “It’s amazing that so much variety and diversity of scenery is found right inside the town of Alma.”  You’ll see bluff lines and moss-covered boulder fields up close.  You’ll walk beside clear streams, rocky cascades and a 12-foot waterfall.   Situated within a diverse mixed hardwood forest, you may spot deer, rabbit, fox, great blue heron, and a variety of songbirds and wildflowers.

The Hike

We’ll be accessing the Lake Alma Trial by the paved walking path that connects to the parking area.  As you begin walking you’ll see another paved path down below and closer to the lake on your left.   Note:  There are mile markers on this trail, but they are approximate and based on distances calculated from the kiosk. Our mileage will be calculated beginning and ending at the parking area, making the mile markers on the trail shorter than our actual distance.

At mile 0.2, you’ll arrive at the Lake Alma Trail kiosk.  Stop and have a look at the map and check for updates on trail conditions.  This is where the pavement ends, and the work of volunteers begins.  The kiosk was built and installed by volunteers.  The trail logo was created by a young community volunteer.  The tread on which you walk was cut out, and continues to be maintained, by volunteers.

The first section of the trail is easy walking.   At mile 0.5, the trail turns to the right and goes up to cross a small drainage.   More easy walking until you arrive at the first bridge.  The trail follows around the base of a hillside and then crosses a second bridge.  If water is flowing under this bridge, the waterfall is flowing and definitely worth seeing.

Take a right on the McWater Falls spur trail, arriving at the falls at mile 0.8.  This is a nice out-and-back for children and novice hikers and provides a 1.6-mile hike.  If you have young children, consider this option and take your time returning to the trailhead.

This waterfall is named for Harry McWater, the man who had the vision for this trail. During the late 1990s as a member of the Alma City Council, Harry brought up the possibility of a trail around the lake several times only to be told that money for such a project wasn’t available.  In 2011, during a conversation with the mayor he asked, “What if I find volunteers to get that hiking trail built?”  The mayor said, “Go for it!”

With that, Harry sought expertise and labor from the Arkansas Master Naturalists, Ozark Highlands Trail Association, Fort Smith Trailblazers, and local volunteers, including student organizations and scout troops.  The trail began to see regular use in the spring of 2012 and its popularity has continued to grow.

Now, back on the trail.  After enjoying McWater Falls, backtrack one-tenth of a mile to the main trail and turn right.  You’ll get glimpses of the lake in the distance on your left.   At mile 1.0, you’ll turn right onto an old roadbed.  Watch to your right for some nice bluff areas and rock formations as you walk this section. At 1.3-miles, you’ll pass moss and lichen covered boulders that appear to have tumbled down the hillside on your right. Just past the 1-mile marker you’ll come to the Hexagon Hut.    This homesite is a great place to explore.  Please leave any historical artifacts in place.  Mystery surrounds the construction of these structures and their occupants.

Hexagon Hut

Hexagon Hut

At this point, you’ve actually hiked 1.4 miles from the parking lot and including the waterfall spur.  This is where we’ll turn around and return to the trailhead for a 2.6-mile hike.  Sometimes the best part of a hike is the backtracking portion.  You’ll often notice views missed on the first trip through.

Note: The Lake Alma Trail does loop all the way around the lake, returning to the trailhead by way of the dam, but this is a 4.5-mile strenuous hike.  There are some very rocky and difficult sections beyond the Little Frog Bayou crossing. Only experienced hikers with water and sturdy shoes should consider doing the whole loop trail around Lake Alma.

Directions

Take Exit 13 off of I-40 and drive north to the first traffic light.  Turn right (east) onto Collum Lane East.  Drive 0.2 mile and then left (north) on Mountain Grove Road.  Drive north on Mt. Grove Road for 0.3 mile and take a left just past the two green water tanks.  Drive down to the picnic area parking.  The Lake Alma Trailhead is at the opening in the parking guardrail.

Lake Alma Trail out-and-back

LAT3

Logo design by Ashley Campbell

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Leaf Lenses

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Sunlight slicing through ten thousand leaf lenses
Splatters vivid colors across the browns and grays of earth, stone, and bark.

A tender maple leaf whispers, “Enter this cathedral we’ve prepared for you.

Sit in silence.

Touch and breathe.

Rise and walk this new creation.” IMG_0729r IMG_0699rr

Even Hiker seemed to appreciate the beauty this morning during our pause on the trail.

Even Hiker seemed to appreciate the beauty during our pause on the trail…or, maybe she saw a squirrel.

Thanksgiving

McWater Falls

McWater Falls

Fall temperatures and long steady rain.  The perfect recipe for hiking and waterfalls. With only one hour available Sunday afternoon, I threw the tripod over my shoulder and headed out to McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail. A quick four or five shots and it was back to the trail head.

Walking the trail, I felt a sense of thankfulness for the movement of my legs, the air in my lungs, and the pumping of my heart.

Let the season of Thanksgiving begin.

Early fall color.

Early fall color.

Drainage below McWater Falls.

Drainage below McWater Falls.

Drainage below McWater Falls.

McWater Falls at sundown.

McWater Falls at sundown.