April 13, 2014

Wendy and I escaped to the Ozarks on Saturday, enjoying a 4.5 mile hike on the Firetower Trail at Roaring River State Park and taking a drive along the nearby Sugar Camp Scenic Byway.

Firetower Trip (click image for slideshow)

Our visit to Roaring River began near the base of Seligman Hill with lunch at the Emory Melton Inn at Roaring River State Park, enjoying the beautiful redbuds out front. Our meal prepared us for a 4.5 mile loop hike on the Firetower Trail.

Firetower Trail Loop

Small CCC Firetower

We drove over to the Nature Center to start the hike, noting a large woodpecker hole in a tree at the start of the trail just behind the center. Soon we reached the trailhead near Camp Smokey. I had chosen to have us ascend the steepest section of trail first, climbing to the top of the ridge where we were grateful for the now-level trail.  Eventually we reached the old CCC firetower, which has been dwarfed by the surrounding trees for many decades. Wendy posed at the base and was willing to climb this diminutive tower before returning to the ground to shoot me leaning over from atop the tower.

Dogwoods were in bloom all along the trail, and Wendy picked various flowers, happily pressing them into a book as we made our way around the park. We enjoyed the peaceful walk alongside Roaring River to complete our loop back to the Nature Center.


Sugar Camp Firetower

Next we drove up Seligman Hill to enter the forest and turn off on the Sugar Camp Scenic Byway. We made the requisite stop along the old forest road at the Sugar Camp Firetower, a classic Aermotor tower. A bunch of pickups with trailers for 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles were parked at the base. I knew Wendy would not want to climb the big old tower and the last time I ventured to the top its cab was rather decrepit, so we stayed on the ground.

We then drove on to the unmarked Onyx Cave Overlook, which now offers a view of the Eagle Rock Christian Conference Center down below. Wendy sketched the view and then we made our way down the steep trail across the road to little Onyx Cave. The narrow passage off the entrance has been barred off for years, so instead of spelunking I bushwhacked my way downslope for panorama of the hillside.

Onyx Cave on the Sugar Camp Scenic Byway

Wendy was very glad we trekked down the cave trail, despite our failure to wear proper footwear, because she found a lovely stone with crystals along the trail. That was a far more impressive find than anything we managed to scrounge up at the crystal mine in Arkansas over Spring Break.

Wendy’s find

I thoroughly enjoyed the slow drive along the old gravel forest road, admiring the farms down below. We spent the night in Cassville, but the next time we visit Roaring River for hiking, we’ll try staying at the Emory Melton Inn in the park.

The next day we returned to Bartlesville, driving along US 75 to see very impressive clouds above Jarrett Farm. Little did we know that the same storm system was even then sweeping over Caney to the north, with powerful winds stripping off shingles from the roof of the home of our friends, the Hendersons. Nature was displaying both its beauty and its power on this spring afternoon.

Storm clouds over Jarrett Farm

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Posted by on April 13, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


Buds and Blossoms on the Elk River Trail

April 6, 2014

I hiked a bit of the eastern end of the Elk River Trail today with the Hendersons; Wendy was under the weather. I’d hoped to hike at Table Mound, but the overlook was closed, so we drove down to the dam to clamber about on the end of the Elk River Trail.

We found the trees at the trail head all decked out, with blossoms adorning their branches.

Springtime (click image for slideshow)

Someone had replaced the board across the creek with a new set of boards with concrete abutments. The Hendersons posed for me in the rock corridor on top of the ridge. Along the trail we saw several nice red buds and blossoms on the trees.


Lake Shore

We’d had a heavy lunch at Brothers Railroad Inn in Independence and the forecast said rain was likely in the mid-afternoon. So when we reached the gravel road from the dam, we took it down to the lake shore, where I found a tree that made a nice benchWe then bushwhacked amidst the driftwood for awhile and followed a deer trail back to the road and walked alongside roadways back to the trailhead with its welcoming blossoms

It was a short but enjoyable early spring walk, and the Hendersons led me back to Caney along old roads through Elk City and Havana, where we passed by John’s mule, which he will be riding at Robbers Cave next month.

Back Roads to Caney

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Posted by on April 6, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


Spring Break 2014: Mount Nebo

March 20-21, 2014

The final stop on our Spring Break 2014 vacation was Mount Nebo, a favorite of mine for its vistas on all sides.  I have visited it several times and hiked all of its trails, but I had never stayed overnight up on the mountaintop. This time I rented the Overlook Cabin #61 for Wendy’s first trip to this state park, and it did not disappoint. We made two short hikes along the north and west edges of the mountain during our stay.

Mount Nebo (click image for slideshow)

Roadrunner at Sunset Point

At the visitor center we found a convenient stand for a timed photo at the overlook above Lake Dardanelle with Arkansas’ Nuclear One in the background. We then walked the Rim Trail over to Sunset Point. Wendy found a heart rock along the way, and we enjoyed watching and listening to a roadrunner which was hopping about the edge of the bluff, eyeing us warily as we struggled to imitate its call.

We then drove over to Sunrise Point, where I posed out on a rock ledge and admired the cones in a pine tree before charging back up the slope to where Wendy sat, guffawing at my energetic style.

Our cabin was perfectly perched along the Rim Trail on the southwest edge of the mountain with its wonderful patio providing a gorgeous view of the sunset with a pine tree in the foreground.

Our Cabin at Mount Nebo

Sunset view from our cabin

Stone Bridge on the Rim Trail

In the cabin kitchen I noticed that the refrigerator doors opened inconveniently and was commenting to Wendy on how simple it would be to reverse them as I opened the freezer door. An ice pack I had placed in the freezer door slipped and pulled a support right out of the door, and I clutched at the falling items frantically, making a huge racket and sending her into gales of laughter at Mr. Fix-It’s dilemma.

The last day of our Arkansas vacation was overcast as we made a loop on part of the Summit Park and Rim trails, climbing up to the stone bridge to cross it and reach Lovers’ Leap. We enjoyed our brief stay at Mount Nebo so much that we pledged to return.

Arkansas was a great choice for our Spring Break and I’m sure we’ll both be daydreaming about it for awhile.

Lovers’ Leap

Click here for a slideshow from our stay at Mount Nebo

Spring Break 2014: Petit Jean

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Posted by on March 23, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


Spring Break 2014: Petit Jean

March 18-20, 2014

The second part of our Spring Break trip in Arkansas was spent at Petit Jean State Park. I’ve hiked all of the trails at the park over multiple visits, but this was the first visit to the park for Wendy as well as for John Henderson. During our stay we would hike above and along Cedar Creek north of Mather Lodge, visit the various overlooks, and make brief hikes to Rock House Cave and the Bear Cave Area.

Petit Jean Hikes (click image for slideshow)

We had a lunch and two breakfasts at the historic Mather Lodge, which was recently expanded with a new lobby and restaurant which follow the same design as the newer lodge at Mount Magazine. I’m glad that they preserved the adjacent original lobby and dining room of the lodge, with their 80-year-old furnishings.

Trek Along Cedar Creek

Wendy and I posed at the Cedar Creek Overlook at the lodge, with John dramatically looking ahead at our hike northeast from the lodge to the Cedar Falls Overlook, where Wendy would spot some interesting orange lichen. At the overlook, the others wisely stayed behind the barriers while I ventured out onto a cantilevered rock slab.

Cedar Falls


Cedar Falls

Besides the dramatic views of the large falls, I saw a tiny lizard and tiny blossoms along the trail, with Betty insisting Wendy and I stop for a photo op on a convenient limb. We later reached the side stream that marked the beginning of the Cedar Creek Trail loop and I had the Hendersons pose on the first bridge crossing the creek before we began forging upstream on the opposite side of the creek.

Near the northeast end of the trail Wendy posed for me beneath a massive tumbled slab, and then we reached the upper bridge leading back across the creek. Here the trail turns back to follow the creek downstream, but a narrow upstream path leads to the cozy and secluded Honeymoon Creek Cabin where Wendy and I stayed during our visit to the park.

We returned to the side creek and then made it back to the lodge, with my fellow hikers saying the rough terrain made it feel like far more than a three mile journey.

Red Bluff Drive & Overlooks

The next morning we drove across the Davies Bridge to the Red Bluff Drive, stopping to see the turtle rocks and explore Rock House Cave.

Rock House Cave

We then visited the overlooks on the western edge of the mountain plateau.

CCC Overlook

Later we would drive over to Stout’s Point on the eastern edge of the mountain for the sweeping view of a bend in the Arkansas River below.

Stout’s Point

Bear Cave Area

Bear Cave Area

We drove over to the Bear Cave Area, where I made two descents down the steep slope for a look out over Cedar Creek, with Wendy coming down to join me at one of the overlooks. We saw the caves and slots amidst the rock formations, and we had Betty do her Mary Katherine Gallagher tree-hugging pose.

On a later visit, I’d follow the tip from former student Benjamin Rhodes to locate the steps carved into the rock to provide access to the top of the formation. The narrow “needle” slot through the formation from the parking area has a blind lead off to one side where you can find the steps. The others waited below while I climbed the steps to the top for the view of Mather Lodge in the distance, shooting a 360-degree panorama video from the top.

View from atop the Bear Cave formation

Cedar Creek

The various small waterfalls along Cedar Creek were beautiful and relaxing, as was the sunset Wendy and I enjoyed at the Mather Lodge.

Sunset viewed from Mather Lodge

Off to Mount Nebo

After the Hendersons departed Petit Jean for a visit to Van Buren and the drive home, Wendy and I visited the Palisades Overlook on the western edge of the mountain, where we could see Mount Nebo looming in the distance. That would be our beautiful final stop on our Arkansas trip.

Palisades Overloook

Click here for a slideshow from this portion of the trip

< Spring Break 2014: Coleman’s Crystals

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Posted by on March 22, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel, video


Spring Break 2014: Coleman’s Crystals

March 17, 2014

Wendy and I spent most of Spring Break 2014 in the Ouachita Mountains and Arkansas River Valley in west central Arkansas.  We hunted crystals north of Hot Springs with Betty and John Henderson, who also joined us for a couple of days on Petit Jean Mountain. Our parties then separated, with Wendy and I enjoying a stay atop Mount Nebo.

Spring Break 2014 (click map for slide show for this day)

Coleman Crystal Mine

Both of our parties spent a couple of nights in Hot Springs so that we could spend a day digging for crystals at Ron Coleman’s mine north of town.  Betty had loved hunting for crystals there on previous occasions, having been introduced to the mine by our friends Lynne and Jim Shaw. Previously I managed to substitute day hikes for that activity, but this time Wendy and I were lured in, scratching through mounds of dirt and rock in search of gleaming quartz crystals.

Coleman Mine

John and Betty had brought a handy wagon to haul our buckets and tools over to the tourist digging area, a massive mound of dirt and rock tailings where old and fresh loads from the adjacent mining pit could be scrounged for crystals.

The Hendersons A-Diggin’

We began with some fresh piles and John and Betty worked steadily to excavate around some large boulders. John was rewarded with a large pointed crystal and Betty and Wendy found some points here and there. I found nothing, losing interest and wandering over to scrounge some old mounds featuring huge boulders. I found one rock with a crystal face and that was about it for me.

Wendy was more diligent and found a number of interesting rocks while I lollygagged, hopping around the boulders and sending small avalanches of pebbles down the side of the mound.

The next day would be much more to my liking, with an extended hike at Petit Jean Mountain.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Spring Break 2014: Petit Jean >

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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in photos, travel, video


Return to Timber Ridge

February 22, 2014

I’ve now taken Wendy on several hikes to enjoy the trails at Elk City Lake, an hour’s drive north in Kansas. Together we have hiked both the north and south ends of the Table Mound Trail as well as the east and west ends of the Elk River Trail. So on a warm February afternoon we opted to hike the Timber Ridge Trail between Card Creek and the western shore of the lake.

Timber Ridge Trail (click image for slideshow)

I first hiked that trail four years ago, revisited it two years ago, and now the 2.5 mile route has become somewhat faded and overgrown. The fading blue tree blazes are crucial for locating the leaf-obscured path, so we were glad to hear from the Card Creek Recreation Area host that he will have some Boy Scouts working this spring to clear and re-blaze the trail.  All of the trails at Elk City have rugged areas, and this trail is gentle up top but rugged on its lower sections.

Tree Growing Out of Rock

Our first stop was a surveyor’s mark. Soon the trail dissolved into a shallow leaf-filled depression in the soil with only faded blazes to offer guidance. I enjoyed pointing out trees which had struggled to grow up out of cracks in the rocks, and from previous hikes here I recalled a section of bluff where a huge pie-wedged piece of rock has popped out.

Somewhere along here a crashing of brush made me whirl and cry out, and we laughed when we saw it was just another darn armadillo.

The lower trail eventually intersects and briefly follows part of an old road running diagonally up the ridge, and Wendy and I posed in silhouette form on the roadbed. We dawdled on a rock above Card Creek, enjoying the view west across flat fields.  After ascending to the top of the ridge, we paused again at a big rock providing an overlook.

A scattering of what at first looked like ice-covered stones led us to investigate, discovering the remnants of what I suppose was a glazed terra cotta basin that was completely coated in glass. Later the camp host speculated it might be a remnant from an old glass factory in the region; before World War I the natural gas supplies in the area led to a number of glass factories, which eventually folded due to a shortage of suitable sand.

Glassy remains

Our dawdling stretched out the hike enough so that Brothers Railroad Inn in downtown Independence would be open for a tasty Italian dinner. I enjoyed my baked meat ravioli, but Wendy’s chicken parmigiana was atypical and she’ll choose something different the next time we’re in town to hike more trails; there are still a few sections of trail at Elk City she has yet to experience.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


Oak Leaf Trail at Okmulgee Lake

February 22, 2014

Another Lakeside Hike (click image for slideshow)

Last weekend Wendy and I took advantage of warmer weather to escape for another lakeside hike, this time at Okmulgee Lake. Although she grew up mostly in her home state of Texas, she graduated from Okmulgee High and once taught elementary and high school students there, so she was familiar with the lake, although she did more swimming than hiking there. I had a more photogenic hike there back in the autumn of 2011, but Wendy and I enjoyed the chance to escape the pressures of our jobs on another day hike.

We stopped for some delicious Chatsworth boxty at Kilkenny’s in Tulsa, then drove on south to Okmulgee for a 3.5 mile hike. I like how the Oak Leaf Trail has distinct sections, beginning with the shoreline trail with its lichen-covered slabs, followed by a hillside with scattered picnic tables, and then a hill with a paved lower trail leading over to a shelter in a camping area with a parallel and more primitive trail higher up which passes by a slab of rock providing a nice overlook of the lake.

Okmulgee Lake Overlook

Wendy enjoyed examining the graffiti at the overlook, ranging from romance to comedy. At the pretty rock shelter we were ungrammatically commanded to visit the bathroom, but nothing much was going down there. :-)

Lake Shelter

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


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