Any Day in the Ozarks


We made a quick stop at one of our favorite barns on Hwy 23 just south of Turner Bend Store. Then, it was on to Turner Bend, one of the vendors who will be carrying my trail guide.

Hiker-dog and I were on a mission to find a driving route that would put a videographer close to a scenic area without a long hike. The morning was cool and clear, perfect for driving rough roads, but I was finding it hard to get down Hwy 215 because of the beautiful reflections on the still water of the Mulberry River.


The light caught my eye and demanded that I take a few photos and slide around on some slick river rock. The water was low enough that we walked upstream on the partially dry riverbed. Hiker-dog had the advantage and never missed a step.

While walking the rocky bottom of Mulberry River, I felt like I was visiting a forbidden land, remembering the power of rushing water I’ve seen in this valley during wetter seasons.


After some bumpy driving and walking, we finally entered our targeted destination by an alternate route. I made note that this access route would also be useful for trail maintainers needing to work the area.


The Marinoni Scenic Area is beautiful in all seasons, but I’d never seen Briar Creek so quiet. There were random pockets of water but none moving. The early morning sunshine had not found its way into the valley so we had a cool walk along the quiet trail as leaves fell around us.


Hiker-dog paused a moment at the base of one of my favorite bluffs. 


If your ego is getting enlarged, sitting at the base of an Ozarks bluff is a great way to remind yourself of the insignificance of daily problems and annoyances. It’s also a good place to pick up a tick as I discovered a few minutes later. It’s always nice when you find a tick from its crawling rather than its itching.

There was nothing particularly astounding about this morning spent walking a dry riverbed and the woods to the north, but I left in a much better state. Any day in the Ozarks is a good day, ticks and all! “Hey, come over here Hiker-dog. We need to check your underside.”

There’s always a plan-B in the Ozarks


Senyard Falls

I’d planned to hike Hare Mountain today. As I began climbing a muddy East Fly Gap Road with my two-wheel drive vehicle,  I imagined my wife riding along with Hiker and me. At the moment I could imagine her getting concerned, I decided to turn around.

In the Ozarks, a plan-B is always available. I decided to visit the nearby Senyard Falls, named for Roy Senyard who maintains this section of the OHT and has been involved in trail maintenance for years. Roy is a strong guy, so it’s appropriate that the paths leading to his waterfall involve some tough scrambling, especially when conditions are wet.

There was a light rain, so I avoided having my camera out except for a few quick photos. I look forward to returning to this waterfall and seeing it from below. I couldn’t resist trying to capture a spider web next to the trail above the falls. It was easy to see why a camera could become wet quickly in this morning drizzle.


As Hiker-dog and I headed back upstream, we stopped for a break at a crossing.


While sitting beside the stream, I noticed Hiker looking quite pensive. I began to watch her, wondering what was going on in that little head of hers. I don’t know if dogs are capable of prayer, but I’m pretty sure Hiker was demonstrating a sense of gratitude for what she was seeing and experiencing on this drizzly morning. Or, maybe she was just spotting a squirrel in the distance.

IMG_1499rrI wonder if Hiker remembers her time of starvation and being alone in the woods before she joined our family. She does seem to appreciate everything about her life now, and she’s wildly excited when we go hiking.


I paused to appreciate the bluff below the Cherry Bend Trailhead as we climbed back toward Hwy 23.

After driving south on Hwy 23, then east on 215, we did some hiking on the Redding Loop. While taking photos of the lower falls that were not running strongly, I noticed these fungi on a limb at my feet.



Hiker and I both enjoyed walking through the pine and cedar groves on the Redding Loop.

I’ve admired a long rock wall close to the trailhead. Today we decided to go off the trail for a closer look. The craftsmanship was obvious from a distance and confirmed on closer inspection.


Rock wall close to the Redding Loop Trailhead

We made a quick stop at Turner Bend for a turkey sandwich. The ladies behind the counter always try to guess my order. I usually fake them out with my ham or turkey decision, but they know I’m going to ask for the “whole garden.” Love those veggies!


Turner Bend Waterfall

We were driving away when I noticed that the falls next to Turner Bend were still flowing. Had to stop for a photo before heading home. Hiker slept in her crate, content and happy after her morning in the woods.

On the Road in the Ozarks

Old cabin at the old Lake Fort Smith turn off in Mountainburg.

Vacant cabins at the old Lake Fort Smith turnoff in Mountainburg.

Part of the pleasure of hiking is the drive to the trailhead.  Here are just a few of my favorite places along side of Ozark roads. I drive through Mountainburg in route to many trailheads, but only recently noticed these little cabins.  They are a short distance off of AR 71 at the turnoff that led to the original Lake Fort Smith State Park, closed in 2002 when the lake was expanded.

Dairy Dream in Mountainburg.

Dairy Dream in Mountainburg.

The Dairy Dream is on the east side of AR 71 in Mountainburg.  I noticed their “Mountainburger” is priced at $2.50 according to the menu in the window.  The Dairy Dream was closed for the winter.  I’ve never stopped there but hope to try the Mountainburger someday.

Artist Point on AR 71

Artist Point on AR 71

Artist Point, north of Mountainburg, is one of my favorite places on AR 71.  In 2001, when we were thinking about moving to Alma, we stopped in at Artist Point.  A helpful young lady was working behind the counter as her grandparents looked on.  I asked where she attended school, and she said, “Alma.”  Both she and her younger brother were my students, and I enjoyed watching them grow up.

I became friends with Mr. and Mrs. Blaylock, owners of Artist Point.  There was a steep trail behind the store.  Mr. Blaylock wasn’t able to hike the trail down to the waterfall anymore, but enjoyed hearing reports and seeing photos of the area.  Sadly, Mr. Blaylock has been gone for several years, but his store remains and is definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Abandoned house on Highway 23

Old structures along the roads sometimes demand that my Jeep hit the shoulder.  Even though I’m rushing to the trail, I’ll pull out the camera for a few pics.

Barn on Highway 23

Barn on Highway 23

Sometimes food is the motivator.  Such is the case with the Turner Bend Store, located on Highway 23 close to Cass.  Great sandwiches and good people!  Stopping there is always a treat!

Turner Bend Store

Turner Bend Store

The Oark General Store serves up a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They are known for being Arkansas’ oldest continuously open restaurant.  A necessary stop if you’re hitting the western part of the Ozark Highlands Trail.  It’s a short drive from Arbaugh Trailhead.

Oark General Store

Oark General Store

Oark General Store

Oark General Store

The Hagarville Country Store on Highway 215 north of Clarksville is a great little stop.  The owner also runs shuttles for hikers when needed and usually has some good trail stories to share.

Hagarville Country Store

Hagarville Country Store

Hankins Country Store

Hankins Country Store

Another favorite stop on the road to the trails is Hankins Country Store, located at the intersection of AR Scenic Highway 7 and AR 215.  An old post office and several interesting old items are inside.  There’s even a barber’s chair that is used from time to time if someone needs a haircut.  The wood burning stove feels great after a winter hike through the Hurricane Wilderness Area.  They make a good sandwich….especially good after a hike.

Pelsor Post Office inside the Hankins Country Store

Pelsor Post Office inside the Hankins Country Store

If you’re up in the Buffalo River region, a stop in at the Ozark Cafe is a must.  Lots of good food and history!

Ozark Cafe in Jasper

Ozark Cafe in Jasper

The Boardwalk Cafe

The Arkansas House Cafe

Another great place to eat in Jasper is the Arkansas House Cafe, connected to the Arkansas House, an old, but clean establishment.  The Elk Chili was a treat!

Buffalo Outdoor Center

Buffalo Outdoor Center

The Buffalo Outdoor Center is a long-established business that began when Mike Mills started running river shuttles about forty years ago. The staff loves to talk trails, and they give good directions to some beautiful spots close by.  They also have good food, books, and run shuttles. I’ve used them several times to shuttle my Jeep over to Highway 7 when I hike the Buffalo River Trail.


Inside the Buffalo Outdoor Center

Inside the Buffalo Outdoor Center

Across the street from the Buffalo Outdoor Center, you’ll find the Ponca Elk Education Center.  This is a great place for all ages.  I enjoyed spending a little time looking at the nature displays inside.


The closest I’ve come to an Arkansas Black Bear.

Display at the Elk Education Center

Display at the Elk Education Center

The Boxley Baptist Church is a highlight just a few minutes from Ponca.

Boxley Valley, Arkansas

Boxley Valley, Arkansas

Many old structures can be found on the roads to the trail.  This little house is located on the dirt road to the Lost Valley Trail.

Close to Lost Valley

Close to Lost Valley

Inside the two room structure.

Inside the two room structure.

To be continued…. So many roads to so many trails.

House on the road to Lick Branch Trailhead

“Fixer-upper” on the road to Lick Branch Trailhead of the Ozark Highlands Trail

Making Time for Marinoni


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

Ozark Highland Trail Association Facebook page

Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst