Legacy of Love and the Outdoors – Scott Crook

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Chally Sims, Scott, and Carolyn Crook, celebrating Pack Rat’s 40th year

“When I was 19 he gave me a chance to come and work for him. That changed my life and opened opportunities I would have most likely never have had. I’ll never forget his dry wit and work ethic. Farewell friend.” ~ Rick Spicer, Pack Rat Outdoor Center

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Rick Spicer, with Pack Rat Outdoor Center

Rick’s words of tribute were the kindest way I could have heard of Scott’s death. Rick is one of many excellent young people that Scott and Carolyn Crook employed over the years. Scott and Carolyn sold outdoor supplies from their garage in the early 70s and built it into a thriving business that has a positive impact on Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas. On my many visits to the store, I learned that employees view working for Pack Rat Out Door Center as much more than a job. There’s a team mentality and those who work there have a passion for the outdoors, the environment, and low impact business practices. 

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

I first met Scott in 2001 while in a photography workshop taught by Tim Ernst. The class portion was at the Pack Rat, the most amazing outdoor store I had ever visited.  After a day of photography in the Ozarks, the soft-spoken Scott showed up in a sports car to pick up our slide film and race it back to Fayetteville, so we would have photos for analysis during our evening session.

A few years later, I got to know Scott and Carolyn as the sweet couple who brought supplies and made coffee for Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) meetings. I also noticed that whenever funds were needed for a project, Scott or Carolyn would quietly make a donation. When the OHTA needed leadership, Scott stepped up to fill in as president of the organization.

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Stone memorial for Dawna Robinson, one small example of Scott’s donations

During one of our visits, Scott mentioned that he had fond memories of building the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) west of Dockery Gap. That was my adopted section to maintain, so I often think of him when walking or checking those four miles. I can imagine him doing some of the original side-hilling as I walk along.

Scott and I also visited about our mutual love of the Grand Canyon. Later, when they were moving their store, I got a call from Carolyn to see if I would like a large geological map they had of “The Canyon.” She sent the map to me, and I used it in presentations with students and other hikers.

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

Several years ago, awards were presented to volunteers who were instrumental in the development and maintenance of the Ozark Highlands Trail. Scott and Carolyn Crook received an award for their commitment and many years of service.

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Scott and Carolyn receiving the Eagle Service Award from Boy Scouts of America

Nothing brings out someone’s strength like adversity. When Scott became ill with Parkinson’s Disease, his tenacity and dedication became all the more evident. He continued to attend OHTA meetings and would still speak up when wanting to put funding behind a project. Carolyn demonstrated amazing commitment as she assisted in his care and remained active in work and as a volunteer.

Scott was a quiet person, but I noticed that heads turned and eyes fixed on him if he spoke. When his speech was unclear due to Parkinson’s Disease, no one minded if it took a few seconds to understand what he was trying to say. As his illness progressed, he would often communicate his thought to Carolyn, and she would relay it to the group. I only saw portions of their lives, but they were a lifelong team and their love for each other, and the outdoors, was evident in everything they did.

Farewell to our wonderful friend.

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Photo courtesy of Pack Rat

Scott Crook’s Obituary

We are very sad to inform you that our founder and owner Scott W. Crook, 72, departed this world for his next adventure June 10, 2019 surrounded by loved ones and family.

Scott was born February 6, 1947 in Atlanta, Georgia to James and Mary Crook, who raised him, his brother and two sisters in an Air Force family moving all over the country.

Scott earned a degree in Chemistry from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, he moved to Fayetteville to pursue a post graduate degree in Organic Chemistry at the University of Arkansas, where he met and married the love of his life, Carolyn while she was pursuing post-doctoral research. They were married on September 30th, 1971.

He loved the outdoors and animals. Scott’s father started him fishing from the time he could hold a pole, and he pursued becoming an Eagle Scout to be outdoors as much as he could. Growing up, Scott’s family always had small pets, including flying squirrels. Carolyn and Scott have kept up the Crook tradition of keeping flying squirrels as pets to this day. Barney and Simon are both about 10 years old.

After a backpacking trip with some friends in Wyoming, Scott and Carolyn realized the nearest outdoor outfitting store was over two hours away in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wanting to bring outdoor supplies closer to home, they opened Pack Rat Outdoor Center in 1973. Pack Rat is a Fayetteville icon and has become one of the most influential and philanthropic local business in the Northwest Arkansas region.

Scott was one of the original members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association and with Carolyn, he remained committed to the outdoors with his involvement in the Southern Utah Wilderness Association, the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas, National Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, the Sierra Club and a life-long member of the Ozark Society.

Scott made Northwest Arkansas and the world a better place through his passion and devotions to the outdoors. His contributions will be remembered and missed.

Walking My Adopted Trail: OHT from Dockery Gap to Lake Fort Smith SP

I’ve wanted to check my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail for several months but life wouldn’t cooperate, so we were thankful for this time. I love this section and Hike-dog does, too. It was a crisp, clear day and water was running perfectly.

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Immediately, I noticed the excellent work done by volunteers with the OHTA recently. Several downed trees on the upper ridge were cut out and made for easy walking.

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The first Jack Creek crossing was almost a wet crossing but it was fairly easy to step across rocks. A favorite feature of this 4-mile section is that you cross a series of small streams that flow down into Jack Creek. Each of these streams is a visual highlight and different in every season.

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Hiker-dog seemed to enjoy having this rock in the middle of one of the small drainages we crossed.

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The water in Jack Creek was flowing clear. We met about seven young backpackers having lunch at the nearby campsite. We’d passed a solo teenage backpacker and a father and 9-year old son duo for a total of 10 hiker sightings on my small section. It was good to see so many young people on the trail.

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Seeing Trout lilies means springtime is near. These little splashes of color dotted the forest floor.

 

 

Hiker-dog at creek

The photo above shows one of the small streams we crossed and a huge boulder that always impresses me. To get an idea about its size, I placed an arrow pointing at Hiker-dog next to a tree for a sense of scale.

IMG_2950rrI filled my water bottle twice, the first time simply dipping into one of the side streams that flow into Jack Creek. The second refill came from this favorite spot where water usually flows across moss-covered rocks before crossing the trail.

I used a small handsaw to cut a few smaller trees off of the trail and used my GPS to record waypoints for future trips out with OHTA chainsaw pros for larger trees, none of which were major obstacles.

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Hiker-dog enjoyed several cooling bathes over the course of the day and she definitely exceeded my 8-miles out-and-back distance with her dashes out through the woods. She and I were both thrilled to do this section of the OHT again!

Consider volunteering! Go to the OHTA website and check under maintenance. Use the maintenance coordinator email to see if there is a section you might want to adopt.

Coloring Our World: 88 Miles on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

IMG_1147rrWhile working on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, I scouted several trails that followed portions of Missouri’s Ozark Trail. Those experiences left me wanting more.

IMG_1562Using the Ozark Trail Association website trip planner, I entered how many days were available for the outing and decided on a south-to-north trek following the Eleven Point, Between the Rivers, and Current River sections for a total of 87.6 miles. I rounded our total trip mileage up to 88 since we poked around in the woods a couple of times where the trail became difficult to follow, mostly around the Peck Ranch section.

On Friday, November 2, I drove up to Fayetteville and picked up Bob, then drove about 5 hours to Powder Mill, east of Eminence, Missouri. Jerry Richard (Richard’s Canoe Rental) met us promptly the next morning and shuttled us to the Western Terminus of the Eleven Point River section close to Thomasville. Our itinerary was simple from there. Just walk 88-miles back to my truck at Powder Mill (AKA Owls Bend on the Current River).

IMG_1138rrAs we set foot on the trail Saturday morning, we were immediately captured by the fall colors. The first day flew by, and we arrived at Bockman Spring early in the afternoon.

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Bockman Spring

The cave is closed, but a photo could be taken from the door frame to the bluff built by earlier inhabitants. I used my headlamp to “light-paint” the cave’s walls during a 15-second exposure. We filtered our water from the PVC pipe that carried water from the cave to a metal catch basin in front of the spring.

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Bockman Spring

While preparing our evening meals, several friendly locals on four-wheelers drove up, and we visited about our itinerary. They had many questions about the trail and the distance we would travel over the next few days. The first day for gun hunting would be November 10, but we had hunter orange for the final days of our trek.

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Coffee, eggs and bacon bits

After a rainy night, I woke to the silhouette of trees against a dull morning light. Drops of water falling from nearby trees sounded like hundreds of little animal steps. I prepared egg crystals and bacon bits with coffee while warming under my quilt.

Packing lightweight food that would satisfy and provide fuel for the miles took some planning, but I was pleased with the results.

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Chicken, rice, and veggies

Mountain House dehydrated chicken combined with Knorr meals or instant potatoes made excellent dinners! The addition of selected dehydrated veggies added flavor and balance. I’m looking forward to including examples (and samples) from my backpacking menu during my March 3rd, 2019 presentation for the Friends of Hobbs State Park.

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My small umbrella was put to good use as drizzling rain fell on and off the next day. I began to walk a familiar trail included in my guidebook as we passed the McCormack Lake spur. We stopped for a break at a view of the Eleven Point River I’d looked forward to seeing again.

IMG_1310rrAfter passing Greer Recreation Area, we followed the upland route. We toured the well maintained Bristol Cemetery that contained grave sites from the 1800s and early 1900s.

After thirteen hilly miles, we made camp four miles into the Between the Rivers Section. As the sun went down, coyote howls echoed through the surrounding woods with a stereo-like high fidelity purity.

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The tarp combined with bivy sack as a groundcloth, air mattress, and down quilt kept me dry and warm. I like the closeness I feel with surroundings when using a tarp. If strong thunderstorms had been in the forecast, I might have carried my tent instead.

Monday began cold! Rain started around 11 a.m. and continued throughout the day, slacking up around 6 p.m. My camera was safely stowed inside my waterproof stuffsack so no photos from that day.

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Cotham Pond

Tuesday treated us to more water than we’d expected on this typically dry section of trail. We found good water and sunshine at Cotham Pond. A starry night and strong coyote songs followed that evening.

The next few days sailed by as we covered miles and found water plentiful along the trail. Mint Spring was a special place with its soft green color.

 

We didn’t see any elk in the Pike Ranch Conservation Area, but saw more deer than we could count. The trail got sketchy at a burned out area, but we found our way. Trail markers were sometimes plentiful but more often spaced so that they reassured us we were on the right path. As part of our planning, we passed through Peck Ranch a couple of days before the route would close for hunting season.

The trail became easier to follow once we got north of Peck Ranch. Climbing up Stegall Mountain was exciting as distant views revealed themselves while we walked through stunted, windblown oaks. We spent a few minutes on the glade mountaintop taking in the beauty then continued toward the Rocky Creek section.

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Rocky Creek held wonderful water. I treated it lightly with some Aquamira drops. Our seventh and last night on the trail was our coldest yet. The next morning was a delightful chilly walk to Klepzig Mill followed by several cold creek crossings. Bob said, “The cleanest parts of our bodies are definitely our feet!”

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The water of Rocky Creek and adjacent creeks was clear and cold! I enjoyed watching this small leaf dance on the surface of the water and follow its shadow on the rock below.

We walked across a field of frost flowers on this sunny morning. I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a bite from one of the large ice formations.

As we approached our final Current River crossing over the Hwy 60 Bridge, a pickup truck pulled up and one of our deer hunter friends from day one at Bockman Spring greeted us. We enjoyed a short visit before continuing to Powder Mill Trailhead and our trip’s end. The only backpacker we met in eight days was Joe B. going the opposite direction early in our hike.

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Current River from the Hwy 60 Bridge

We looked forward to a good meal but drove east for a while before stopping at Mountain Grove to have a delicious dinner at Grove Family Restaurant. Great service! Great food!

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Bob and Jim

We were thankful to conclude our colorful trek on the Ozark Trail still feeling healthy and strong. Maybe we’ll return and explore more miles of this beautiful trail in the future. Like my dayhikes from three years ago, this first longer walk on the Ozark Trail left me wanting more. Check out the links at the end of this post to read of our other long hikes.

A note of thanks: We passed hundreds of cuts, old and new, that cleared our way on the trail. We saw areas recently maintained and the white tree blazes were essential to following the trail. Bob and I have adopted sections of the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas, so we appreciate the work it takes to keep a trail open. Thank you to the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) and the many volunteers who give their time to Missouri’s Ozark Trail!

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Evidence of volunteers with the OTA

Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail of Arkansas

A Few Steps in Paradise – The John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California

Ouachita Trail’s First 51 Miles at the (Im)Perfect Time (Includes links to posts that complete the 223 mile trail)

Loss of a Friend

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Roy Senyard on the OHT (photographer unknown)

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On July 28th, the trails of Arkansas and many hiking enthusiasts lost a good friend. Roy Senyard was deeply committed to maintaining the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) and served as Maintenance Coordinator for many years. Roy and his wife, Norma, also volunteered on trails in Colorado and other locations out west. 

In 2009, Roy encouraged me to adopt the section of trail west of Dockery Gap. That 4-mile section of trail has meant a great deal to my personal health and sense of ownership of the OHT. 

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L-R Roy Senyard and Duane Woltjen, two great builders of trail.

Roy was plain-speaking and didn’t have much patience with folks who talked but didn’t do. He got stuff done, but you had fun and laughed a lot in the process! He was an expert sawyer and made thousands of cuts to clear trails for others to walk.

During the Vietnam War, Roy served as a medic. He was a gutsy guy, not easily rattled while out on the trail. He knew how to get onto the OHT using obscure backroads known by few. There weren’t many forest roads in the Ozarks that he hasn’t driven to access a downed tree or washed out tread.

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Roy, on the distant right, taking a break from work on Hare Mountain. L-R Mike Lemaster, Bob Robinson, and Chris Adams.

We used to laugh when Roy gave maintenance reports to the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. He often began by saying there wasn’t much to report and then he’d launch into a lengthy summary of work recently completed and work needing to be done as Norma tried to signal him to wrap it up.

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Roy’s smoky cut

During a US Forest Service chainsaw training, Roy demonstrated a cut on a cedar log. His attention to safety and technique was impeccable, but he had inadvertently put a dull chain on his saw. This became evident to all as smoke engulfed him while making the cut. He was a little embarrassed and may have uttered an expletive or two, but we had a good laugh, knowing he was top-of-the-line when it came to anything related to trail maintenance.

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Roy and his wife, Norma, were a team. They both maintained and hiked trails. They thru-hiked the OHT and walked many miles in the Ozarks, Rocky Mountains, and other locations. They loved to bring the grandkids to Hare Mountain and let them experience hiking and nature.

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Roy and Norma on the OHT

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Preparing for a day hike at Tyler Bend

I’m going to miss Roy. He was the type of friend you might not see for a year, then run into as I did recently at Tyler Bend, and take up as if no time had passed. I’m thankful to have known Roy Senyard and will think and speak of him often, especially when walking the trails.

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Roy Senyard Falls, named by Tim Ernst in recognition of Roy’s commitment to the OHT. Thanks to Eric Scowden for the photo.

Thru-Hiker-dog Completes 180 miles of the OHT

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Saturday, March 31, was our day to walk the few miles needed by Hiker-dog to complete the 180-mile Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT). Of course, the OHT keeps growing, but the first 165 miles qualify for thru-hiker bragging rights. Hiker-dog has walked or run every inch of the first 180 miles of the OHT from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Tyler Bend.

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Excellent maintenance work made these five miles a pleasure to walk. 

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We planned to walk from Fane Creek to the Rock House close to Hwy 23 as an out-and-back for a 10-mile hike. The sounds of water and gentle winds added background music to our day.

We met only one hiker. Ian was doing an out-and-back from the opposite direction, so we enjoyed two short visits in passing.

Wildflowers were a visual highlight today. Mayapples were leafing out, but no blooms yet. There were more varieties than I could photograph and still make timely progress on our 10 miles.

 

 

It was fun to see the Rock House again and remember how thankful I was for this shelter one cold and rainy winter evening after a long hike from Spirits Creek. Today the Rock House only provided shelter from sunny skies. Temperatures climbed from the 40s to the 60s as the day progressed.

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We enjoyed exploring the Rock House for a few minutes. A gentleman who lives on Fane Creek wrote to me a couple of months ago to share his, and relatives’, childhood memories of the Rock House.

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After getting back to Fane Creek, we took a break at the campsite and alongside the water. I’m looking forward to putting a thru-hike patch on Hiker-dog’s pack. She has no idea that she’s covered 180 miles, but she knows the simple joys of physical movement and exploring the Ozarks with total abandon.

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Hiker-dog having a cold beverage after completing the OHT

To learn more about Hiker-dog, check out her resume: Hiker-dog resume 0318

Never the Same Trail Twice

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Ozark Highlands Trail Inside Bella Vista

The title of this post is a little misleading. The Ozark Highlands Trail write-up is inside the magazine, Inside Bella Vista. I’m pleased to have a couple of photos and quotes in Lisa Florey’s article about the OHT. She did a excellent job telling this beautiful trail’s story. Begins on page 18 of the online publication.

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This waterfall on Shepherd Spring Loop Trail is from my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

I’m looking forward to sharing the first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail on Sunday, February 11th at 6 p.m. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association meeting is free and open to the public.

Location: Washington County Extension Office at 2536 McConnell Rd. in Fayetteville, Arkansas. To get there from I-540 take Exit 66 south on AR 112 (Garland Ave), turn west at Drake Street stop light to reach McConnell Rd, turn south to WCES near the fair grounds. For gps users: 36.098 latitude 94.180 longitude

Ouachita Trail 0-160 Miles with More to Come

Take a five-minute photo tour of our first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail. We’re looking forward to adding the final 60 miles soon!

On Sunday, February 11, at 6 p.m., I’ll share preparation, packing light strategies, and a visual tour of the first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail. This free event is open to the public. There is a time of fellowship, so bring some snacks to share.

Who?: Ozark Highlands Trail Association and guests

What?: The Ouachita (Wash’-i-taw) Trail: Preparation, packing to travel light, and a photo tour of the first 160 miles. Bonus – Children’s book, Gift From the Ozarks, telling Hiker-dog’s story.

When?: Sunday, February 11, at 6 p.m.

Where?: Washington County Extension Office at 2536 McConnell Rd. in Fayetteville, Arkansas. To get there from I-540 take Exit 66 south on AR 112 (Garland Ave), turn west at Drake Street stop light to reach McConnell Rd, turn south to WCES near the fair grounds. For gps users: 36.098 latitude 94.180 longitude

Nimblewill Nomad in the Ozarks Dec. 10, 2017

Nimblewill Nomad posterI had the pleasure of hearing Nimblewill’s presentation two years ago and am looking forward to stories from his recent trek on Historic Route 66 from Chicago to the west coast. He’s an inspiration to all who meet him, so mark your calendar for December 10 so you don’t miss this opportunity!

Here is a pdf suitable for printing if you’d like to share: Nimblewill Nomad poster