Rock House History

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Special thanks to Robert Jones for sharing information about the Rock House located on the Ozark Highlands Trail just west of Hwy 23. Robert was directed to my blog by one of his friends. I’m thankful that he shared the following:


I live at Cass on Fanes Creek and am proud of my family’s connection to the Cass area. I also want to state that the correct spelling is Fain as recorded on early deeds and government maps. All children of J. F. Owen are deceased and the grandchildren are getting on in age, so I want to record the following while my mind and memory is still good.

This is a family account of THE ROCK HOUSE According to some of the children of J. F. Owen, my mother, Laverve (Owen) Jones, my uncles .J. F. Owen, Jr. (Pug), Perry Owen, and Bobby Gene Owen, and my aunt Stella Owen. (Stella’s ashes were spread on top of the Rock House by Pug. I accompanied Pug on this occasion.

Granddaddy built the Rock House in the early 1900’s when he marked timber for his brother Hardy B. Owen, who apparently had some of the timber rights to this area. Hardy was very wealthy and his life is written in the history of Mississippi. The spring flowed in at the corner and into a rock and concrete basin which drained into a hole in the floor close to the basin. The rock shelf was used to store clothes and household items.

It’s hard to imagine that the mountains were home to many families at this time and before. Much of the land was farmed which accounts for the many rock fences and graveyards in the mountains.

Some stories told by the children are as follows:

The children would visit and stay with their father in the summer and pick the wild fruits in the mountains. They would visit the falls located down the hill on West Mountain Creek. The pool below the falls was described as “bottomless” and abundant with fish. I know the pool has a bottom as I have been there, but that is another funny story.

There was a rope swing above the house and the children would swing out over the front.

The road at the time was located up the mountain from the house but I have not tried to locate the old road. Uncle Hardy would drive his car there and walk down to the house. When the children would be with him, they said they pushed the car as much as they rode, probably why their uncle took them along.

Stella rode a horse from town in the night to inform her father of the birth of Bobby Gene.

Granddaddy sat down on a rock to rest one day and sat on a rattlesnake. He killed the snake, but said he regretted doing so since the snake didn’t bite him.

I feel the structure should be recognized as historic and preserved by our government as it has deteriorated a lot since my first visit. In the meantime, I hope all who visit will leave it as found.

 

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

Talking Trails at Hobbs State Park

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Sharing the joys of down layering

The next best thing to walking the trails is talking the trails. I had a great time with the Friends of Hobbs State Park on Sunday sharing my thru-hike of the Ozark Highlands Trail and Hiker-dog’s story. A young man from the audience assisted me by unpacking my pack as I described changes that resulted in a lighter load. I let him try my down vest, but he shed it pretty quickly due to its warmth.

After sharing my children’s book intended for second graders, Hiker-dog entered the room at the end. She enjoyed some petting and then curling up on the floor as the program continued.

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Jim Flickinger assisted with Hiker-dog

Just under ninety were in the audience. They were responsive, asking good questions and sharing their enthusiasm. The hour flew by!

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Almost 90 in attendance!

Steve Chyrchel, Hobbs State Park Interpreter, does a great job promoting programs and sets the schedule far in advance. He’s already scheduled me for March 3, 2019!

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Sallyann making announcements

Sallyann Brown, a fly casing instructor, heads up the Friends of Hobbs programs and always makes folks feel comfortable. When I presented the John Muir Trail in September, she made me promise to bring Hiker-dog if I returned.

Hiker-dog enjoyed the attention. I enjoyed signing copies of my book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, and talking trails with folks after the program.

Below you’ll find the Friends of Hobbs Speaker Series for 2018.

Hobbs schedule 1

Hobbs schedule 2

The Urge For Going

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Do them now.”  ~Paulo Coelho

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John Muir Trail

Yesterday a friend sent me a couple of links for the Rae Lakes Loop in the High Sierras of California. In a short conversation two weeks earlier we’d hatched the idea of hiking this area again. The thought lingered in both of our minds.

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John Muir Trail

As I remembered our John Muir Trail experiences, I felt deep thankfulness for that nagging, troubling, and sometimes inspiring “urge for going.” I also felt thankful that I can go, and admonished by the reminder that I have no guarantees of time and strength in my future. All is a gift. Let the planning begin!


I’m looking forward to sharing the Ozark Highlands Trail thru-hike on Sunday, January 21, at 2 p.m. Hobbs State Park’s Visitor Center is a beautiful venue. Hiker-dog will be there, too! Five Star Trails Poster 012118 Hobbs State Park

Hiker-dog’s Adoption Trail

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The view over a landslide site next to Richland Creek Wilderness Area.

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In January of 2014, Bob and I met a black Lab close to mile 138 on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT). If you want to know that story, skim this little book I wrote for children at my school, Gift From the Ozarks.

Since joining our family, Hiker-dog has covered most of the OHT but still lacked the miles from Fairview Trailhead on Hwy 7, east to where we found her. Hiking buddy, Eric, is working his way through the OHT and needed this section. Bob completed our group, being the first to meet Hiker-dog a few years ago.

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Eric and I drove to Richland Creek Campground to leave my truck, then shuttle back to Fairview to meet Bob. Hiker-dog enjoyed the ride and seemed to anticipate some good hiking as we drove next to the Richland Creek Wilderness Area.

We laughed at how hyper she was in camp. I took her on a short out-and-back walk in an attempt to calm her down but she needed more, and there hadn’t been time that day with all the shuttle driving. Since others were camping nearby, I put Hiker-dog’s mat inside the tent and was thankful when she curled up and slept all night.

IMG_3689rrSaturday’s hike was pleasant as we crossed old oak bore and ice damage saying a word of thanks for trail volunteers who keep this section passable. The canopy improves after a couple of miles, and the beauty of the Ozarks is revealed as you pass several creeks. As we stopped for lunch, two of the only other backpackers we would meet stopped for a short visit.IMG_3706rrI’ve hiked through the remnants of the CCC Camp before but never spent the night. This was a treat, and water access was easy. We enjoyed exploring before selecting tent sites.IMG_3708rr

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Someone was impatient with tent setup and curled up for a short nap.

After supper, we played with our cameras while warming by a fast burning cedar wood fire. Popping cinders left orange streaks and sometimes caused alarm when they landed on a leg or foot. IMG_3731rrWe experimented with some light painting to bring out the foreground and trees. IMG_3745rrLots of cinder streamers fly during 15-second exposures. Perhaps the ghostly remnants from the CCC structures made us wish for visitors from the past. Looks like some spirits stopped by as we sat by the fire. IMG_3742rrIMG_3739rrEric experimented with some light writing. Who would think three grown men could be so entertained by a couple of small cameras and headlamps!IMG_3733rrThe next morning, we explored a bluff area next to the camp. The open woods surrounding the CCC Camp were a joy for a well-rested Hiker-dog. IMG_3767rrIMG_3762rr

We came to the place we first met Hiker-dog close to mile 138 (now near 137 with route changes on the OHT). A deer from the previous day’s hunt was lying about fifty yards away, and Hiker-dog quickly found what the hunter could not. I thought about Hiker-dog’s condition just under four years ago and what rich meals this deer would have provided.IMG_3806rrIMG_3822rrWe came across our backpacking friends from the previous day and had a nice lunch as Hiker-dog fought the desire for a nap in the warm sunshine.IMG_3831rrHiking along Falling Water Creek was a pleasure until we came to an arrow indicating the bypass up and over the site of an old landslide. We huffed and puffed along the steep hillside, but the bluff above provided scenic views into the Richland Creek Wilderness Area. From our thru-hike a few years ago, I didn’t remember this section’s steepness. It was probably blocked from my memory because of the pain.

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Thanks to Eric for catching Hiker-dog and me on the reroute 

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One of many views from the bluff.

As we arrived at Richland Creek Campground to complete our 20-mile trek, Hiker-dog was nowhere to be seen. I heard children’s voices next to the creek and thought she might have been drawn to the sound, but she popped out of the woods a few minutes later, still strong and ready for more. I thought about how fortunate we both were to cross paths at mile 137 of what would become our adoption trail on that cold January day.

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Hiker taking a break on Spy Rock, Hare Mountain.

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Enjoying fall colors on the Lake Alma Trail.

“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!

OzarkMountainHiker in Arkansas Life

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Johnny Carroll Sain included an excerpt from my OHT thru-hike post in his wonderful article about long trails in Arkansas. Made me proud and he was a pleasure to work with! A link to the article is below.
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You can find Johnny Sain’s entire article plus my recommended hikes at this Arkansas Life link: Over the River and Through the Woods

Sauntering in the Ozarks

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Hiker-dog sauntering across a creek.

Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike! ~ John Muir 

Today was about checking my 4-mile adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail.  I’d recently read the above John Muir quote and planned to try a little sauntering. IMG_3109rrA drizzling rain wouldn’t interfere with maintenance plans since I was only doing light hand sawing and clearing. Almost every creek had pockets of water and about the time I was thinking this would be a great weekend for camping, I came upon a hammock. John, a thru-hiker I’d meet on my hike out in a few hours, was sleeping in during the light rain. I was proud that Hiker-dog ignored the hammock and continued across Jack Creek on the trail.

IMG_3126rrI purposefully stopped every few minutes to look and enjoy these woods I’ve passed through many times. This was my nod to Mr. Muir in my effort to “saunter.” Slowing down and pausing occasionally allowed me to notice things I’d typically miss like small fungi on a decaying log.

Two small mushrooms next to the trail glistened with moisture.

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IMG_3100rrAfter scouting the trail and beginning my return trip, I came across muscadines hanging right over the trail I hadn’t noticed my first time through. I picked a few and enjoyed their sweet centers and tart chewy skins as I walked along remembering muscadine jelly on toast. The rain had stopped and I was now sauntering along with a hand full of muscadines and blueberry cookies. A wonderful feast!

Spider webs covering greenery held water droplets that sparkled like diamonds next to the trail.

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Hiker-dog was elated to be on the trail for six hours. She enjoyed exploring rocky crags above the trail and staying wet from running through underbrush.

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Something fascinating in every pile of rocks. 

…these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them. ~ John Muir

I enjoyed my day of sauntering and a little trail maintenance, too.  I can relate to Muir’s comment about walking through the mountains with an attitude of reverence. I ended this day with a mind full of thankfulness.  Thankful for the gifts of sight, sound, smell, and especially taste. Time for some muscadine jelly!