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 thru-hike of the Ouachita Trail completed after this original posts about the first 160 miles.

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

Happy Birthday, Nimblewill Nomad!

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Happy 79th birthday, Nimblewill and safe travels!

Nimblewill Nomad (M. J. Eberhart) is somewhere on the western side of the United States completing Odyssey 2017: Historic Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. His walk began in July and will end in late November, covering 2,300 miles.

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Nimblewill is kindhearted, a gentleman, and a powerful long-distance backpacker! After retirement, he began walking, and he hasn’t stopped. A few years ago, he did the “Triple O” the Ouachita Trail, Ozark Highlands Trail, and Ozark Trail in Missouri. He walked from the end of one trail to the beginning of the next. His book, Ten Million Steps, tells the story of his walk from the Florida Keys to Quebec, Canada.

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Nimblewill is tentatively scheduled to speak at the December 10 meeting of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, beginning at 6 p.m. He’ll share his Route 66 Trek and probably throw a poem or two in for good measure. His book, Ten Million Steps, will be available for purchase and signing.

You’ll not want to miss this!

Ozark Highlands Trail Association December 10 meeting

Where? 2536 N. McConnell Rd!  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 Washington County Extension Service near the fair grounds. 36.098 latitude 94.180 longitude for gps users.

“Progressive Dinner” in the Ozarks – Hare Mt. Hike-In

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The Hare Mountain campfire felt good this year.

This fall’s first predicted freeze didn’t discourage hikers from gathering on Hare Mountain for the annual potluck meal and campfire fellowship that dates back to the 1980s. We were joined by fifteen hikers with a youth group from Oklahoma, so Hare Mountain’s population was up from zero to approximately fifty.

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Youth group from Oklahoma

I noticed the Oklahoma leaders discussing a cracked water jug and took pleasure in sharing extra water I’d carried in. I thought back to Joe who camped next to us on the John Muir Trail and gave me his Sawyer filter pouch when mine failed. It’s fun to play a small role in making trail magic happen for someone else. I enjoyed telling the Oklahoma leader that this jug contained Alma City water which won the Arkansas taste test in recent years.

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progressive dinner

The weather was beautiful for this year’s hike-in, and we were without last year’s forest fire down below the mountain. As food warmed on the fire, a “progressive dinner” ensued as more hikers (and food) made the trek up the mountain. 

It was a great time atop Hare Mountain this year!

Ozark Highlands Trail on The Trail Show Podcast

The Trail Show

Steven Parker, Maintenance Coordinator for the OHTA, gave an excellent discussion of the Ozark Highlands Trail on The Trail Show podcast. Seven’s interview begins 41 minutes into the podcast.

If you accidentally come in a couple of minutes early, don’t let the heavy metal-like “Back on the Trail” scare you. Just past this shocking sonic experience, you will be treated to a 20-minute discussion of the Ozark Highlands Trail.

Click on link to go to the podcast or paste address into your search window: http://thetrailshow.com/the-trail-show-60-the-oht/

Here’s an earlier blog post that includes some photos of Steven and other volunteers who keep the OHT open. In Praise of Trail Maintainers

Hare Mountain Annual Ritual

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View to the west from Hare Mountain

What causes folks of all ages and locations to climb a hill and eat a meal together for over 30 years running? This was my thought as I drove the 46-miles to the Morgan Fields Traihead next to Hare Mountain, with my to-do list for the next week weighing on my mind. This was probably my tenth Hare Mountain Hike-In. I couldn’t be sure.

I’d hiked Shepherd Springs Loop at Lake Fort Smith that morning so Hiker-dog wouldn’t be upset at being left behind for the Hare Mountain hike. The early morning clouded sky played with the light and made this a delightful hike so she seemed willing to rest when I left for Hare Mt. in the early afternoon.

Shepherd Springs Loop photos from our morning hike. 

As I stepped off the gravel road at Morgan Fields Trailhead and felt the cushioned surface beneath my feet in a quiet pine grove, my shoulders began to relax. The weight of my pack felt like a close friend’s hand on my back. The slight climb felt good, and my heart began to tap a stronger rhythm as cares dropped away like dust from the soles of my shoes.

Pretty quickly it became evident that a fire was burning to the west of the mountain this year. The woods were dry, so I was thankful that there wasn’t any wind.

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Smoke rising from the valley to the west.

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Rock wall next to the trail

Continuing past rock walls above the trail, I began to think of Hare Mountain Hike-Ins-past. I thought of Wildman, well into his 80s, and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he talked of the long trails he’d hiked or watched the energy of children playing around the campfire. I thought of others who, like Wildman, were no longer with us. I wondered what memories and feelings of nostalgia might follow those who’ve hiked this path for twenty or thirty years.

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Wildman enjoyed visiting with youngsters on Hare Mountain

When it looked as if the Hare Mountain Hike-In tradition might be discontinued a couple of years ago, Bob and Dana Cable stepped forward to continue scheduling the “Hike-In” as in the past.

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Dana and Bob

While sitting around the campfire, Bob announced that Grey Owl and his wife Lenna hiked up earlier in the day for a quick visit with other early arrivers and then walked back down the mountain to avoid driving back to Oklahoma in the dark. I was sorry to miss them but thankful that they made the hike in this year. Bob’s imitation coonskin hat was a gift from Grey Owl several years ago and he always wears it on Hare Mountain.

The fire burning below the mountain made a memory for this year’s hike-in. After the potluck feast, Steve and I took a few photos of the red glow below in the darkness. It was an unusual and beautiful scene, especially since we had word that the fire was contained.

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Ritual is the word that came to mind while walking away from the top of Hare Mountain. Doing this hike each year could be considered a “ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” It’s also fun, which I don’t think disqualifies the word “ritual.”

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Grey Owl’s quick hike up earlier that day confirmed my thoughts. The Hare Mountain Hike-In rises to the level of ritual for many of us. Maybe it’s the simple desire for fellowship with trail friends, or it’s a fitness check as you compare this year’s hike with those in the past. Maybe it’s a chance to share our collective memories and relive stories from the trails we’ve hiked. Whatever the reasons we choose to make this trek, my hope is that it will continue to be a tradition (or ritual) for years to come.

Trail Work in July?

A few weeks ago I was appalled to find some major tree blowdowns on my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I’ve bragged that since my section follows the Jack Creek drainage, it’s protected from winds and ice. We weren’t so lucky this time.

From the pattern of downed trees, a microburst must have passed through a portion of the area and dipped into my quiet little valley. Large trees fell like dominoes, some across the trail.

Mike LeMaster and I decided to work this section from Dockery Gap (approx.  mile 10.5) west to around mile 6. Out-and-back, this came to around 9 miles with numerous stops to cut and clear. Mike likes doing some trail maintenance in the summer to stay in shape for the busier maintenance and hiking months in the fall. We got a good workout on this day!

Mike cutting the first tree encountered.

Mike cutting the first tree encountered.

We found several large trees across the trail between mile 9 and 10, but this wasn’t the worst of it.

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Before photo: Typical “blowdown” encountered on the trail.

This was the scene in several spots on the trail. We first had to determine the trail route through multiple downed trees and then Mike began to do his chainsaw magic. My job as “swamper” was to pull stuff off of the trail and stay out of the way.

After

After

Large oaks toppled head-high across the trail at one creek crossing.

This large trunk was head-high across the trail close to a creek crossing.

One of the things I asked Mike to agree to was that I carry the chainsaw. It was the least I could do after he sawed on this July day with a heat advisory in effect. I later learned that Mike was looking forward to a cool dip in Jack Creek at the far end of our maintenance route. I was looking forward to filtering a fresh batch of water (upstream from Mike) for our return hike to Dockery Gap. It was nice to cool off and unusual to have so much water in the creeks in July!

Jack Creek close to mile 6

Jack Creek close to mile 6

I want to say a big thank you to Mike for braving the heat and helping me with my section of trail. As a board member of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association (volunteer position), he takes a hands-on approach to leadership! It felt good to walk back through the areas we’d cleared earlier. While working this section, I concocted a plan to backpack from Lake Fort Smith to White Rock Mountain and on to Fane Creek in the fall. Can’t wait to see this area again….in cooler temps!

Mike, a master sawyer!

Mike, a master sawyer!