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.

Why Visit the Ozarks?

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I’m proud to share posts written this month for Menasha Ridge Press. Below are links to each of these fall-focused posts. Come enjoy the beauty of fall in the Ozarks. I’d be honored to guide you on the trails with my new book, Five Star Trails: The Ozarks.

Part I: Top Reasons to Visit the Ozarks This Fall

Part II: Why Visit the Ozark Mountains? All the Fall Colors! 

Part III: Why Visit the Ozarks? The Rich History of the People of the Ozark Mountains 

 

World of Beauty Down a Small Ozark Hollow

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I’ve read about the waterfall in Devil’s Canyon, but today was not a waterfall hunting day. We were merely scouting the driving directions and having a look around so that when the water is flowing strongly in the future, we can get to the area quickly. I made it to the first drain and ended up spending all of my available time exploring a small hollow as I followed the water downhill.

Continuing a short distance downstream, we came to this little grotto and waterfall. The large waterfall this area is known for is in another section of Devil’s Canyon (close by air, but distant by foot).

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At this point, I thought I’d seen the scenic features of this little side-valley, but the randomly placed car-sized boulders drew me ever downward. I quickly came to a reflective pool and realized little beauty-surprises were hidden around every boulder.

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Below is a wider view of the same area showing boulders stacked above.

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Massive stacked boulders

Continuing downstream, I heard flowing water but couldn’t see where the cascade was until I arrived next to an A-shaped opening.

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A young man who I’d seen running the jeep road on the edge of the canyon reappeared and exclaimed at how beautiful this little area was. I introduced myself and discovered that he worked for the US Forest Service. He’d been helping with a fire in Tennessee and was now headed back home to Oregon. After our short visit, I thought how easy it is to meet fascinating people on the trails of Arkansas.

While taking a photograph of the little cascade through the leaning A-shaped rocks, I heard a commotion close by and instinctively covered my head. Hiker’s 65-pound frame had dislodged some small rocks causing her to glissade down a slope, bringing rocks and dirt with her. She ran over next to me and stayed close by for a few minutes.

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A surprised Hiker-dog stayed close by for a few minutes after her slide down a hillside.

I needed to watch my time to allow for the uphill climb out of this little valley. The way these boulders caught my attention, it would be easy to remain until after dark.

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We spent some more time at the little grotto on our way back upstream. I ate some dry bread I’d packed as a nod to John Muir, who’s birthday was a few days before on April 21st. Born in 1883, he continues to influence thinking about the outdoors and conservation today. He was known to toss a dry loaf of bread in a sack and explore the mountains for several days…the original ultra-light backpacker.

As we continued upstream, I noticed this scene I walked past earlier. Its beauty wasn’t lost on Hiker because she hopped right in after I took this photo.

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As we crossed the creek that feeds into the hollow, I noticed the abstract patterns created by shallow water and sunlight. I couldn’t resist capturing the intricate dancing lines that flowed at my feet.

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Shallow creek crossing

It had been a beautiful hike down this small stream and back up. Today I learned again that you can’t predict the beauty you might find in the eroded valleys of the Ozark Mountains. I was already missing this place as we passed the overlooks on the edge of the canyon. We will return another day!

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Hiker seemed to enjoy the view as we hiked away from Devil’s Canyon.

On the Way and a Change of Plans: Hiking a Wet Marinoni Scenic Area

Stream flowing over the top of Marinoni Falls

Stream flowing over the top of Marinoni Falls

Hiking the Marinoni was my plan B today. Plan A was to check on my adopted section of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I got eleven miles east of Hwy 71 on Old Locke Road when I came upon a downed oak across the road. At first I thought my handsaw might be used to clear a single lane. After making a couple of cuts, I abandoned that idea. It was a chainsaw job. Hiker was restless and probably wondering what I was doing when we should be hiking. When we got back into cell range, I reported the tree and then headed to the Indian Creek Dawna Robinson Spur Trail east of Cass.

I’ve written about the Marinoni Scenic Area before, but I haven’t hiked it when water was flowing as strong as today. What could have easily been a two to three-hour hike was more like five with all of the photo stops. I felt thankful for that tree that changed my itinerary because the Marinoni was what I needed. Sometimes the best plan is plan B.

View of Marinoni Falls from a short distance.

View of Marinoni Falls from a short distance.

Marinoni Falls

Marinoni Falls

Small falls upstream from Marinoni Falls

Small falls upstream from Marinoni Falls

I spent enough time around these falls that Hiker-dog got impatient. She begins to bark when she thinks I’ve had enough time at the camera. I noticed that she began to pause and glance my way each time we passed any flowing water as if anticipating a photo stop.

Hiker watching the trees for squirrels while waiting patiently.

Hiker watching the trees for squirrels while waiting patiently.

I found it difficult to walk away from the Marinoni Falls. They provided an enjoyable time with my camera.

Small falls upstream from Marinoni Falls

Small falls upstream from Marinoni Falls

The towering walls above Briar Branch seem to envelop you like cathedral walls.

The bluffs above Briar Branch

The bluffs above Briar Branch

Bluffs above Briar Branch

Bluffs above Briar Branch

Edge of bluff with Briar Branch down in the distance

Edge of bluff with Briar Branch in the distance down to the right of the trail

Cascade close to the Marinoni marker

Cascade close to the Marinoni marker

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Little cave next to the Marinoni marker

Little cave next to the Marinoni marker

Large boulder across Briar Branch

Large boulder across Briar Branch

I never hike this section without pausing to be amazed at the size of this boulder down next to the creek.

Crossing Briar Branch

Crossing Briar Branch

Stone memorial for Dawna Robinson

Stone memorial for Dawna Robinson close to the trailhead

To read more about the Marinoni:

Making Time for Marinoni (includes driving directions to the trailhead)

Marinoni Revisited (Four Star Treatment) 

Fall in the Marinoni

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “On the Way.”

Exploring the Ozarks

Rock House

Rock House

Follow this link to the Do South Magazine to read my article, “Exploring the Ozarks.” I enjoy writing for Do South because it’s a beautiful publication with a diverse readership. Their managing editor is an excellent writer and encouraging to others. My article begins on page 48 (p. 50 of the digital version).

Exploring the Ozarks

Thanks for reading!

Jim Warnock

Favorite Old Trails With a Favorite New Friend

Had a great day sharing some favorite old trails with my “new” hiking buddy, found on the Ozark Highlands Trail in January of 2014.

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Shores Lake to White Rock Mountain Loop Trail is one of my all time favorites in Arkansas. I’ve done it as a day and overnighter many times. Part of the attraction might be its proximity to Alma, but the real attraction for me is the water, scenic valleys, and the visual payoff of passing by White Rock Mountain. It dawned on me that Hiker-dog had never done any of this trail, so we decided to remedy this and drive through the little community of Fern to Shores Lake.

I’m working on a trail guide and decided a few months ago that this entire loop trail would not fit the book’s criteria for a typical day hike. However, the first section of the West Loop fits beautifully. The plan was to get GPS readings from Shores Lake to the White Rock Falls and then drive up to the White Rock Mountain Loop Trail. These two trails together gave us about 8 miles for the day (or maybe 10-12 for Hiker since she does a lot of off-trail sprinting).

Cascade at Bliss Spring

Cascade at Bliss Spring

We met up with a delightful group of Boy Scouts at the Bliss Spring crossing. They were taking care of the environment and obviously had strong adult leadership for their troop.

Little Roaring Falls

Little Roaring Falls

White Rock Creek was flowing. We left Hiker’s pack and my hiking poles on the trail and scrambled down (no trail here) to check out the Little Roaring Falls. “Little Roaring Falls” is my name for this waterfall because you’ll hear a low roar as you approach. Hiker loved this spot and took the opportunity to explore over, under, and around the falls. She also had a good swim below the falls.

Hiker exploring Little Roaring Falls

Hiker exploring Little Roaring Falls

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I wished for a cloud cover, but it was a crystal clear day making for less than ideal photography lighting.

White Rock Falls

White Rock Falls

We continued down the trail, arriving at White Rock Falls at 2.8 miles. We returned to Shores Lake for  a roundtrip hike of about 5.6 miles; a perfect day hike!

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Hiker taking in the view of White Rock Creek as we returned to Shores Lake.

Other than the scout group, we passed by a nice couple from Little Rock and then saw another couple beginning their hike as we finished. I remembered Tim Ernst’s comment during his photo presentations, “The Ozark Highlands Trail is Arkansas’ best-kept secret!”

Great trail maintenance work was done in early fall on this trail. Because of the loss of parts of the tree canopy in areas, maintenance can be challenging, and it’s a tribute to the volunteers of the OHTA who maintain this trail. Check the OHTA website for trail maintenance dates. Good fellowship and good work! ozarkhighlandstrail.com

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We drove up to the Top of White Rock Mountain to hike the 2-mile loop trail. It had been several years since I did this loop on a foggy day, so this was like a brand new hike to me.

The sign saying to keep an eye on your children gave me pause. I guess Hiker-dog could be thought of as a child at less than two years old, but between the two of us, I was more likely to fall. In fact, children suffer falls less often than adults. Maybe this sign should read, “Children, keep an eye on your parents.” I decided Hiker would be careful around these high bluffs.

Ice on the east side of White Rock Mountain

Ice on the east side of White Rock Mountain

Some massive ice flows covered portions of bluffs, especially those protected from the sun.  Some snow remained on the east side of the trail but it was now a slush and safe for walking.

West side of White Rock Mountain

West side of White Rock Mountain

It took a while to walk this short loop trail. Found myself gawking at views every step of the way. If you do this hike, glance at the trail often to ensure you don’t go over the edge while being entranced by the views. Thank you to the volunteers in the Ozark Highlands Trail Association for trail maintenance! I saw a lot of evidence of work done last fall.

Hiker-dog and I would like to spend a few days camping on White Rock Mountain and exploring this loop with my camera in different light and at different times of the day. Rustic cabins close to the trailhead are nice options, too, but Hiker is definitely an outside dog!

West side of White Rock Mountain

West side of White Rock Mountain

White Rock Mt.

White Rock Mt.

Shelter on the southwest side of White Rock Mt.

Shelter on the southwest side of White Rock Mt.

Getting there:

Shores Lake Campground – Take Exit 24 from I-40 and drive north on AR 215 for 9 miles to Fern. Follow AR 215 right at 9.4 miles.  At 12.2 miles, drive straight off of AR 215 onto Bliss Ridge Road. Turn right into the Shores Lake Campground at 13.6 miles. The trailhead is at the north side of the campground.

White Rock Mountain Loop – Continue past Shores Lake Campground on Bliss Ridge Road (dirt) for 4 miles then turn left onto White Rock Mountain Road.  After 2.2 miles, turn right and drive the final 1 mile up to White Rock Mountain. Continue past the White Rock Mountain Campground, caretaker’s residence, and cabins. The White Rock Mountain Loop Trailhead is at the end of the road. Total distance from I-40 is approximately 21 miles.

A Special Place Somewhere in the Ozarks

Mirkwood Cabin

Mirkwood Cabin

This is a special place located in the Ozark Mountains.  Several guys went in together back in the 70s and purchased a piece of land located in the Ozark National Forest that had been designated as a wilderness area.  They spent years building this cabin using timbers from a cabin close to Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  The timbers date to around 1852.  While planning where to locate the cabin, they discovered footings for a previous cabin located exactly where they determined to place this cabin.  They also discovered a well located a few feet away from the kitchen area of the cabin.

The owners of this cabin are generous in providing hospitality to others.  Those who are guests see it as a  treasure and show respect for this special place.  There is no electricity or plumbing but there is a surplus of quiet and beauty.

Front porch of the Mirkwood Cabin

Front porch of the Mirkwood Cabin

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Window in the loft.

Window in the loft.

View from the front porch.

View from the front porch.

Dining table and lanterns.

Dining table and lanterns.

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Looking up into the loft.

Travel Theme: Mountains

White Rock Mountain, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas

White Rock Mountain, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas

White Rock Mountain is one of my favorite mountains because it is beautiful in every season and especially friendly during winter.  The Ozark Highlands Trail passes across White Rock at about mile 18.  I like traveling to White Rock because the trailhead is only 45-minutes from home which means more time on the trail and less time in the Jeep.

Campsite with a view on White Rock Mountain

Campsite with a view on White Rock Mountain

Camping on White Rock is a treat.

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This picture of the morning after the previous picture demonstrates just how quickly conditions can change on this relatively low elevation mountain (2,320 feet).

There are overlooks for viewing sunset and sunrise on a 2-mile loop trail on top of White Rock Mountain.

Sunrise from White Rock Mountain

Sunrise from White Rock Mountain

 

On the Ozark Highlands Trail just east of the spur to the top of White Rock

On the Ozark Highlands Trail just east of the spur to the top of White Rock

 

Visit http://wheresmybackpack.com to get more travel themes and possible locations for your own travels.

White Rock Creek along side the Shores Lake White Rock Loop Trail.

White Rock Creek along side the Shores Lake White Rock Loop Trail.

Making Time for Marinoni

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Making Time for Marinoni

story and images  JIM WARNOCK

Published in At Urban magazine of Fort Smith (This magazine is now named Do South)

There’s a treasure waiting for you in Franklin County, near the small town of Cass. One local backpacker recently said, “Hiking there is like walking through a beautiful cathedral!” Those who have experienced the Marinoni Scenic Area would completely understand this statement.

Imagine a place with twisting waterfalls, arching rock bluffs and towering trees. Walk along a gentle stream that flows over rocks into quiet, clear pools. The sounds of gurgling water, windblown trees, and a variety of songbirds will soothe your soul. Leave your cell phone in the car because there’s no coverage here; who wants to hear cold digital sounds in this acoustic setting?

The Marinoni is beautiful in every season. Fall colors glisten and shimmer,appearing as stained glass atop pools of water. Winter brings the possibility of stunning ice formations and frozen splash patterns around waterfalls. Spring brings dwarf crested irises peeking out from the most unlikely cracks and crevices. Their violet-to-purple hues sparkle against damp stone walls. During any season, you’ll find lush green moss-covered sandstone and lichen-speckled bluffs. Your greatest challenge on this hike might just be keeping your footing as you gaze up, entranced by the beauty.

Access to this jewel of a place used to be difficult and limited to strong, long-distance hiking legs. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) held a weeklong work camp in March of 2011 and built a .6 mile spur trail that connects to the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) just west of the Marinoni Scenic Area. You’re now able to hike a couple of miles and find yourself in one of the most beautiful places in Arkansas.

“Well worth a 3-hour drive,” says Dale Fudge, a hiker from Oklahoma City. Dale goes on to say, “The Marinoni Scenic Area is one of the most intimate and inspiring sections of the OHT. It’s secluded and packed full of dramatic landmarks. The area is now more accessible than before with the addition of the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail at Indian Creek, making for one of the best day hike opportunities in the entire region.”

It’s fitting that this area feels like a sanctuary and that it memorializes the lives of two special individuals. Paul A. Marinoni was from Fayetteville and was involved in volunteer efforts with Tim Ernst’s father. Tim, renowned outdoor photographer and author of the Ozark Highlands Trail Guide says, “My dad had his first heart attack when I was only six, so he was unable to take me to the woods like he would have wanted to. When I was seven, I began spending a lot of time with Paul Marinoni, hunting and camping during annual retreats into the woods. Paul was a real character, one of the most down-to-earth and honest people you would ever meet.” Given Tim’s sentiments, it seemed proper to name this area after a man who influenced others to appreciate the Ozarks.

The short trail allowing us to enter this natural area is named in memory of Dawna Robinson. Dawna and her husband, Bob, spent years maintaining sections of the OHT.  She was well known for her love of the trail and her desire to share it with others. “When the new Indian Creek Spur Trail was first proposed, Dawna’s spirited personality and dedication came to mind as a fitting tribute to memorialize how the entire trail came into existence through the hard work and perseverance of volunteers,” says Mike Lemaster, President of the OHTA.

In many ways the Marinoni Scenic Area reflects qualities of these two lives. Sitting at the edge of Briar Creek, you’d think these bluffs had always been as they appear today but this valley was shaped by centuries of water and ice. There’s an honesty and straightforwardness in its beauty. Giant rocks stand like monuments of strength where they folded down to the creek years ago. Although fragile, there’s a sense of permanence here and although subtle, the beauty is deep and unmistakable in any season.

If you’ve never visited the Marinoni Scenic Area, it’s an experience not to be missed. If you have hiked the area, you will want to return again and experience an even deeper appreciation of its beauty. So, lace up your walking shoes! Let’s go visit an Arkansas natural cathedral and pause there as it becomes our own special place of sanctuary and reflection.

Getting there:  From Hwy 23 just north of Cass, turn onto Hwy 215 east. Travel 7.4 miles to Indian Creek Canoe Launch and OHT Access. The trail is on the north side of Hwy 215 and begins at an opening in the fence directly across from the Indian Creek OHT Access sign. The spur trail is marked with 2×6-inch blue metal blazes. You’ll hike .6-miles to the OHT and then turn right, hiking another 2 miles to the Marinoni Scenic Area marker at the base of a bluff. Hiking out-and-back gives you approximately 5.2 miles. With a shuttle you can hike through to the Lick Branch Trailhead which will be a 5-mile hike and cover even more scenery.

For more information:

Ozark Highlands Trail Association  ozarkhighlandstrail.com

Ozark Highland Trail Association Facebook page

Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst