Arkansas’ Island in the Sky

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Cameron Bluff on Mount Magazine

Residents of the Ozarks hanker for higher elevations this time of year. I wish Arkansas had an 8,000-foot mountain, but it would be crowded with the whole state huddled at the top through July and August.

Fortunately, there is a place where you can sometimes escape the south’s summer heat and humidity. Mount Magazine, at 2,753 feet, is Arkansas’ island in the sky and offers a wide array of beautifully maintained hiking trails and facilities.

Years ago, I visited Mount Magazine and saw the remaining footprint of the 1940 WPA Lodge that burned in 1971. The huge stone wall that formed the terrace for that earlier lodge now stands below a massive new lodge, completed in 2006. All rooms feature views across the Blue Mountain Lake and valley. To learn more about the history of this area, check out Don Simons’ book, Mount Magazine (Images of America).

The lodge and surrounding cabins are beautiful as is the campground, located a short walk from Cameron Bluff. We traveled through driving rains in the River Valley to reach Cameron Bluff Campground, arriving in an eerie cloud atop Mount Magazine. The next day brought temperatures in the low 60s, heaven for the summer dayhiker!

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Sunset at Cameron Bluff

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Taking in the views from the North Rim Trail

Hiker-dog and I wanted to hike around the “island” and decided to do a longer variation on the hike I described in Fives Star Trails: The Ozarks. We accessed the trail by the High Point Trail and then added the full length of Mossy Bluff Trail, East Benefield, Bear Hollow, and Will Apple’s Road Trail.
IMG_1890rrWe completed the morning with the North Rim Trail to make a 12-mile loop, arriving back at our campsite ready for lunch and a nap.

Color provided visual highlights along the trail on this summer hike. A lone coneflower called caught my eye as we hiked Mossback Ridge Trail.
IMG_1982rrButterflies danced from bloom to bloom, sometimes landing long enough for a picture, despite my lack of a long lens. Mount Magazine and the nearby town of Paris hosted their 20th (and last) Butterfly Festival in 2016. Thankfully, the diverse butterfly population didn’t get the news release and still arrives on Mount Magazine to enjoy its unique blooms and cool temperatures.
IMG_2098rrIMG_2056rrA subtle collection of frog calls announced our approach to a small hidden pond located on the historical Benefield homestead. While Hiker-dog grabbed a drink, I captured a short sample of the pond’s soundscape.

Between the flowers, bluffline vistas, cool morning air, and wildlife, we ended our day filled with thankfulness for Mount Magazine, our gorgeous green island in the sky!

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The view from Sunrise Rock on the Bear Hollow Trail

A few more glimpses of color and beauty from our hike…

R-Pod’s First Voyage

Mount Magazine Cameron Bluff Campground

Mount Magazine Cameron Bluff Campground

For our first R-Pod voyage, we drove the short 60-miles to Mount Magazine State Park. The Pod was a joy to pull up AR 309 to the mountaintop. Entering the visitor center, I couldn’t help but notice the trailhead I would be walking the next morning. I was looking forward to customizing a loop route linking three separate trails for my trail guide.

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The next morning, Hike-dog and I headed back to the visitor center for a nice hike. We started out on the Will Apple’s Road Trail with low expectations because of the “road” in the name. This old roadbed that was used in the 1800s to transport produce down the mountain turned out to be the perfect beginning for the day. It was a level trail for warming up early in the morning before tackling rougher paths.

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We took the spur off of Will Apple’s Road to see a small pool that would have held a strong attraction for Hiker later in the day when she was thirsty. A small concrete footing was poured a few feet away which may have held a pump at one time. Creeks were dry, but this little concrete pool held water, so a small spring or seep must be located up the rocky drainage.

We quickly arrived at the Mount Magazine Horse Camp, a great place to park if you’re hiking Bear Hollow. We quickened the pace as we entered this beautiful hollow. The trail skirts the upper ridge and eventually comes to some nice overlooks. We decided to hang out at Inspiration Point for a while at sunrise. As the sun came up Bear Hollow filled with clouds. You could see them moving up the valley.

A hazy sunrise

A hazy sunrise

Looking up the hollow to Sunrise Point from Inspiration Point.

Looking up the hollow to Sunrise Point from Inspiration Point.

After enjoying Bear Hollow, we arrived at Benefield Picnic Area. Along the way, you pass a grave marker that reminds you of how common it was to lose a child before modern medicine.

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Benjamin Benefield had a large homestead on top of the mountain.  Hiker acted as if Mr. Benefield built this little pond just for her. We heard some nice frog songs around the edges.

Benefield Pond

Benefield Pond

Eventually, the trail came alongside a bluff line overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley. On this morning, the valley was filled with clouds, but still beautiful. We continued around our customized loop and ended the day back at the visitor center. We were both thirsty and ready for a nap. It was a wonderful day, and I was already planning my next trip to Mount Magazine.

Petit Jean River Valley

Petit Jean River Valley

After a nap it was time to satisfy a couple of healthy appetites and plan the following day’s hikes!

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Temperatures were so mild that we didn’t use the air conditioner on our second night on the mountain. I must brag on Hiker-dog. She sleeps in a wire crate next to our trailer and doesn’t bark or disturb fellow campers through the night.

We thought of the pullout as a negative while shopping, but have decided that it creates enough additional space that it is worth the extra weight. This 16-foot camper is a comfortable little tent on wheels for two.

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