The Trails Provide, Published in Do South Magazine

Here’s a link to the story I wrote for Do South Magazine, one of my favorite regional magazines. Thanks for reading!

 

THE TRAILS PROVIDE

WORDS AND IMAGES: JIM WARNOCK

Published in Do South Magazine September, 2019

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“Oh my!” Kathy yelled with a panicked crack in her voice. Scott and Kathy were part of a group at mile sixty-four of the Ozark Highlands Trail when the unthinkable happened. The left sole of Kathy’s shoe came apart, bringing her to an abrupt halt. We huddled around like paramedics taping a wound…..

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Morgan Mountain Quick Trip: Beauty and a Leave No Trace Reminder

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Beginning

Hiker-dog and I needed a camping trip, something quick and close. We drove 40 miles and parked at Morgan Fields Trailhead as the sun was dropping low on Friday evening. We hiked the Ozark Highlands Trail west up Hare Mountain. After pausing at the campsite on top of the mountain, we started back down the mountain with memories of the many friends who’ve gathered around that fire ring each October over the years. 

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The view at mile 1 up Hare Mountain

Since the trail was dry, I gave Hiker-dog some water in my palm, and she licked it dry. It was easier going downhill and cooler, too. I knew to expect some downed trees and noted locations so the Ozark Highlands Trail Association chainsaw pros can cut them out before the October Hare Mountain Hike-In. A lot of maintenance happens in September in preparation for backpacker traffic through the fall, winter, and spring. If you hike in the summer, what we consider the off-season, expect more vegetation and a few downed trees. 

Lightening bugs sparkled and danced through the air. Hiker-dog got excited when she saw a trail sign in the distance. Before I got to the road, she was down the trail wanting to keep going. I said, “This way,” and she returned to the road. 

On the short road walk back to the truck, I turned off my headlamp thinking I’d walk in the dark. There wasn’t a moon yet, and after a few moments of pitch-black walking, I realize the light was necessary. When we arrived back at the truck, I looked up at a light-pollution-free star-filled sky.

After I popped up the camper top, Hiker-dog surprised me by jumping in. She curled up on the floor and sent me a side glance that said, “I’ll just sleep here for the night.” She was easy to coax into her crate at the door and was silent for the night as usual.

After checking for ticks, and finding a few still crawling, I began to think about the next day’s schedule. It was pretty simple. Rise early, do an out-and-back east to Herrods Creek, then get a turkey sandwich at Turner Bend Store.  

Night temperatures dipped into the mid-sixties. The 12-volt roof fan pulled cool air across the sleeping mats, so I slept well and even turned the fan off around midnight.

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Hiker-dog’s crate made a nice camp table.

We woke early and, after coffee and tasty breakfast, hit the trail by 6:00.

Anyone who’s hiked during the summer knows the pleasure that spiderwebs add to the experience. Several years ago, I started adopting a more zen-like view of spiderwebs and letting them wrap across my face with less frustration. I had plenty of “zen-like” practice on this hike. 

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Cool morning temperatures made for nice walking. Morning light adds beauty to the most ordinary scenes. 

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Rotting log in the morning light

I found myself noticing small things. A snail shell next to the trail caught my eye. Love the beautiful patterns of nature!

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For at least a mile, ox-eyes (false sunflower) were constant companions along the trail.

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I inspected these guys a little more closely to appreciate their beauty from all sides.

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Pretty from all sides!

The ox-eye and ironweed attracted butterflies. I enjoyed watching this one for a few seconds.

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After about three miles, we reached Harrods Creek, a dry crossing right now. Water pockets were up stream, and Hiker-dog found a good spot for a satisfying drink.

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Trail crossing at Harrods Creek

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On our way back to Morgan Fields Trailhead, I planned to pick up some trash we passed going in. I had a small plastic shopping bag, but wished for a bigger bag when I realized how much was there.

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From the looks of it, poor planning was the culprit. There was a lot of unnecessary packaging. The markings on a can of insect spray made me wonder if a bear had bitten into it. Hole patterns were similar on both sides.

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These weren’t Leave No Trace (LNT) folks! I think of the seven LNT principles as a pass/fail assessment. If you don’t follow just one principle, damage is done. What we saw here represented at least two principles:
#1 Plan Ahead and Prepare – NO
#3 Dispose of Waste Properly – NO

It’s sad to see trash left on the trail, but it feels good to leave the trail better than you find it. Hiker-dog seemed pleased with the clean spot we left behind. 

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I regret to report that we violated the fourth LNT principle (leave what you find) because we carried a few ticks out of the woods. Maybe we can be forgiven since they hitched a ride with us against our will.

Friendship

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Early morning photo before beginning our hike in June of 2002.

Hiking trails are great places to build friendships. Seventeen years ago, an acquaintance learned that I liked backpacking and asked if I wanted to join a group on a trip to the Grand Canyon. I quickly said yes, and thus began several friendships that endure to this day.

Stories resulting from each of our trips become the screenplay of friendship that we enjoy retelling around campfires as if describing scenes from favorite movies. Those who were on the hikes might have heard the stories before but they still appreciate the retelling and remembering.

Below are just a few examples from previous trips with friends.

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Lonnie sleeping in the Grand Canyon’s cold Bright Angel Creek

1 A whole foil-wrapped fried chicken in the Ozarks
2 Fifteen-hours of hard rain at Fane Creek
3 Lightshow at Spirits Creek
4 Cold, wet night at the Rock House
5 The often-repeated freeze-dried meal review… “I’ve had worse sh*t.”
6 Rocky Mountain privy with a view
7 Bright Angel Creek napping

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Marinoni Scenic Area

Last weekend I had the opportunity to do a day hike with two friends from that first Grand Canyon trip. When I learned they hadn’t hiked into the Marinoni Scenic Area, I jumped at the chance to lead them in using the Dawna Robinson Indian Creek Spur Trail.

As we walked and talked, entertained by Hiker-dog’s prancing, I thought of the pure goodness of friendships. Even if we don’t see each other often, friendships are renewed as soon as our feet hit the trail!

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Some trail friends have four legs.

To see more of the Marinoni: Making Time for Marinoni, an article I wrote for Do South Magazine 

Exploring Arkansas special on the Marinoni Scenic Area

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.

Rattle Snake Falls on a warm winter day

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Mike next to Rattle Snake Falls

Mike explored this area alone a while back. It had been several years since I visited this spot. I did so by walking the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) from Dockery Gap and following Hurricane Creek downstream from where the trail crosses the creek.

I was pleased when he asked if Hiker-dog and I would like to tag along and looked forward to seeing the falls from a different approach. And no, we didn’t see any rattle snakes. IMG_2582rrAfter exploring the falls and surrounding bluffs in the late afternoon light, we followed an old jeep road up above the valley to the stream that feeds the falls. Mike said, “I wonder what’s up around that bend in the creek.” With that, we spent a few minutes walking upstream taking in some nice cascades and reflective pools.IMG_2590rrIMG_2597rr

As we headed back toward Mike’s truck, I asked if I could run back down into the valley to get some photos of the falls in a different light. Mike explored the top of Rattle Snake Falls while I photographed below.

After the sun went behind the Dockery Gap ridge to the west, Rattle Snake Falls took on a softer look and temperatures dropped.

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Notice Mike on top of the bluff to the left of the waterfall

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When we met back up at the jeep road, we picked up some trash at a nearby campsite. I said this was our small admission price to the beauty down in the valley and a way of giving back.

When I noticed the brand of the beer, I had to laugh. It seems like litterbugs always drink Busch Beer. I never find IPA or Guinness cans trashing up the Ozarks.

The Urge for Going

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High ridge on Hare Mountain

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And all the trees are shivering in a naked row
….
I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown

~ Joni Mitchell, excerpt from the first verse of her song, Urge for Going

Winter is such a wonderful time for hiking in the Ozarks! I like it so much, I wrote “Walking Through Winter” for Do South Magazine.

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Frost flower on the Ozark Highlands Trail

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Hiker-dog at the base of Senyard Falls

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McWater Falls on the Lake Alma Trail

Top Ten Posts for 2018

Thank you for letting me share my love for the Ozarks. I sometimes describe this blog as my online scrapbook. I enjoy looking back at previous trips, sometimes to check my memory or relive the joy of the trail. In one of these posts, I reflect on the loss of a friend and the positive impact of his life.

Below I’ve listed the top ten viewed posts from 2018. I hope you’ll sample some of these posts and be inspired to take a hike.  – Jim Warnock

1. Hiking Rush, an Arkansas Ghost Town Photo Tour

2. Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail 

3. Loss of a Friend A tribute to Roy Senyard

4. How to Prepare for a Multi-Day Backpacking Trip

5. Rock House on the Ozark Highlands Trail

6. Buffalo River from Boxley to Pruitt in “Typical” Arkansas Weather

7. Ouachita Trail Completed

8. My Morning Brew: Great Coffee on the Trail

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

10. My book – Five Star Trails: The Ozarks

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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.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Favorites

WordPress Photo Challenge: All-Time Favorites 

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Fireworks at Lake Alma

Sometimes a “favorite” photo is associated with my pleasure at getting the shot or some technical aspect as with the fireworks above or the waterfall below. The waterfall photo has been on a magazine cover and is on the back cover of my Ozarks guidebook.

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Shepherd Spring Waterfall

More often, a “favorite” photo is more about the experience or emotion I felt when capturing the image. The photos that follow provide anchors to memories.

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Breakfast at Wanda Lake (John Muir Trail)

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Selfie from the top of Mount Whitney

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Reflections from sunset over Lake Alma

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Ouachita Trail thru-hike 2018

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Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike 2014

Is it a coincidence that the only two heart-shaped frost flowers I’ve ever seen were alongside my two Arkansas long trail thru-hikes? Even with all of the expansive views on these two trails, the frost flowers are significant anchors to my memories of these long treks.