September 23, 2012
The forecast said one of the remaining hiking spots on my list would only hit the mid-70s on Sunday, so on Saturday I graded in the morning and did the laundry to leave the next day free for the three hour drive to Withrow Springs State Park in Arkansas. It is less than 20 miles south of Eureka Springs, which I’ve visited countless times, but I don’t recall ever hearing of it until I scoured the internet for hiking trails in northwest Arkansas. The park has three trails which I walked in a loop, along with some connecting roads, to form a 4.4 mile hike.
The rising sun fought obscuring clouds as I drove south from Bartlesville, away from a small lightning storm and then through the rain along the familiar straight shot along 412 east of Tulsa into Arkansas. As soon as I entered our neighboring state, my progress was slowed by the interminable series of uncoordinated stoplights through Siloam Springs, Tontitown, and Springdale. Twenty-five miles after finally punching my way through the long north-south sprawling strip of Bentonville/Rogers/Springdale/Fayetteville, I turned north on familiar Arkansas 23 to pull off at the War Eagle trailhead immediately after crossing War Eagle Creek.
I’ve heard of War Eagle my entire life, but in association with the annual fall craft show at the mill 15 miles northwest along the creek, not Withrow Springs. The War Eagle Hiking Trail just north of the Highway 23 bridge led east along the bluffs of the north bank of the creek, the path using narrow shelves of rock. I passed a small cave and then the main cave entrance. Precautions against white-nose bat syndrome meant I could only intrude with my flash and zoom lens, however.
A more treacherous section of trail along a high part of the bluff had a steel cable handrail for security. The trail widened but still rode the bluff edge above a dry fork of the creek until the creek area widened out. There a couple of kayaks had been landed on the shore. I walked out on a thin ledge for a panorama of the creek and a view eastward of the mirror-smooth water. I sat on the thin ledge for a self-portrait. It would have been a perfect spot for lunch, but I wasn’t hungry yet.
The trail began to climb uphill, with a narrow animal trail leading off along the base of a high bluff. I climbed upward to a series of overlooks, where I shot a panorama and a view of a home situated above the creek. A tall young Native American male came bounding down the trail, joining a fellow hiker at one of the overlooks. I speculated that they might be the kayakers, since a stout old fellow and the younger woman with him whom I’d spied earlier hardly seemed likely to be out kayaking.
I followed the trail across fields, passing a state park sign to cross Highway 23. The War Eagle trail ends here but the Dogwood Trail begins right across the highway. It began with a climb uphill along an old roadbed and then wound past a dry waterway. I passed what was once a tree with two trunks and now was one surviving trunk beside a hollow stump. There were toadstools along the trail.
I reached a spur of Highway 23 and followed the road northeast until I reached a campground. Across the road was the start of the Forest Trail, which is an old forest road leading uphill northwest and then heading southwest across the rolling landscape. I lunched at a bench at the trailhead and then followed the old road. There were some enormous mushrooms along this trail; I placed a Sacajawea dollar beside one to provide scale. The road trail led onward, with more of the big mushrooms along the way and other fungi.
The trail curved past an large old dead tree and then ended at a paved road which I followed downhill to the main park area. Withrow Spring pours out of the mountainside here and the channel has been lined with rock and then dammed to form a large fishing pond. Plaques mounted above the spring were pleased to inform me that Roscoe Hobbs donated 320 acres to form this park back in 1962 and that the park is named for Richard Withrow, who homesteaded here in 1872 and built the first grist mill in the area.
I crossed the dam to follow an old neglected trail over to the park office. Past the park office in a picnic area I located the other end of the War Eagle Trail and followed it back to my car. I’d completed one of the few remaining trail sets on my to-do list, which I may wrap up this autumn.
It had only reached the mid 70s, but the humidity was sufficient to have me sweating. I cleaned up and decided I’d rather go back to Tulsa to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest flick, The Master, than walk more trails. Princess’s odometer reached the 200,000 mile mark near Tontitown and thankfully she kept on purring. I enjoyed the challenging film, a welcome break from the summer pap in the cinemas, and then dined at El Chico to bring the day to a close. A hike in the Ozarks, an art house film, and Tex-Mex food make for a fine weekend outing.