The Little Missouri

_MG_2907.JPGIt’s time to see a little more of what makes Arkansas the Natural State. Instead of a massive trip to Yosemite Valley or the Badlands, my plan this year is to take several shorter,  smaller trips around this state and fill in some gaps in my personal Arkansas map. There’s no shortage of gaps to fill, with Petit Jean State Park, the state’s northeast and most of the Ouachita Mountains in the state’s center-west as some of the most egregious examples. I began this week with the Little Missouri River trail in the southern Ouachitas. (For you non-locals, that’s pronounced wah-shih-tahs’).

The Ouachitas feel like a different beast than the familiar Boston Mountains here in the northwest. Unlike the chaotic Bostons, these run west to east in rugged, roughly parallel rows, essentially massive wrinkles pushed up before the dinosaurs by northward and southward geologic forces. Their bones also seem sharper than those of the north, with boulders and outcroppings of craggy, flinty novaculite. But these strange hills are still coated in dense forest and laced with streams, just like home.

This is all to say it’s a challenging and beautiful place to explore. The Little Missouri and its tributary creeks run strong and gorgeous and clear. Spring has fully arrived.

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_MG_3025.JPGWe hiked just short of a rocky area known as the Winding Stairs — the path crosses the river, which was a bit deep for that. Next time, I guess. We went back the way we came and drove down a couple of gravel roads to another trail landmark, a series of cascades and pools called the Little Missouri Falls. It was a peaceful and easy end to a long day of tough hikes.

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_MG_3367.JPGSomehow this corner of the Ouachitas reminded me of multiple states at once, recalling the falls and swimming holes of Johnson’s Shut-Ins in Missouri, the thin, towering trees and rocky streams of Yosemite, the dark, pine-covered hillsides of the Black Hills. Arkansas’s no slouch in its own right.

There’s a lot more to see around this area, too, if anyone’s interested. We hiked just part of the Little Missouri trail, which in turn is just a segment of a 27-mile loop. As with much of the state, it’s good to bring a good map to not rely too much on Google’s fanatical adherence to the shortest way. Unpaved roads are the rule throughout much of the range’s interior. Some were essentially car-width creek beds.

Thanks for looking.
Dan

Winter’s last

_MG_2773.JPGSpring is here. It’s here. It’s here, no matter how many snowflakes fell Saturday morning and regardless of the fact that it’s forecast to fall below freezing yet again this week. The sun is higher in the sky, the waterfalls are flowing and the flowers are out, if they can endure the freezes. Fresh fern fronds are unfurling over last year’s worn-out models. But the forests around Devil’s Den State Park and the rest of this region are still largely bare for the moment — dogwoods and redbuds are busy, but oaks are slowpokes. It seems less like a seasonal transition than a seasonal battle.

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_MG_2852.JPGNo matter how many last-minute freezes nature throws in, soon spring will win out and the place will explode with green, and I’ll be there. Thanks for looking.

Dan

The square

_MG_2352.JPGThe Columbine High School shooting happened when I was 8 years old. I heard somehow that 12 students and one teacher were killed and remember immediately going to my bunk bed and crying for a while. The event was such a horrifying shock for the country that years later we watched a documentary about it in history class during my freshman year of high school. It’s not the same now. The country has experienced several mass shootings in schools and other places during the past few years with more victims than Columbine, sometimes several times more.

One of those shootings killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month. Several of the school’s surviving students have since become a political force, pushing Florida to tighten some laws for purchasing guns and calling for marches around the country and beyond. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in them yesterday, including several hundred in a couple parts of northwest Arkansas.

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_MG_2332.JPGMy coworker Ashton Eley reports in today’s paper that more than 400 people gathered for the demonstration in Bentonville’s square, where I took these photos. (And if you want to see more photos, our photographers have a gallery of great stuff.)

Teachers, students, parents, grandparents and others together demanded such policies as providing more complete mental health services in schools, supporting research into gun violence, banning assault-style rifle sales and confiscating guns from domestic abusers (which has some conservative support and happens in several states). Volunteers helped people register to vote, and teenagers coming of voting age swore they would soon wield their votes for the gun-control cause.

Police and sheriff’s deputies meanwhile paced around the square and watched from the surrounding buildings. A few counter-protesters came out, too, including black-clad members of a white nationalist group started by an Arkansas neo-Nazi. Other counter-protesters, including a group in blue called the Freedom Crew, vehemently distanced themselves from such racism and said they were there simply in support of the Second Amendment. Folks on this side of the debate generally see tightening gun laws as burdening a constitutional right or a dangerous limit to personal liberties.

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_MG_2505.JPGThe debate’s an old one, but it does seem different after the Parkland shooting. I’ve seen veterans and doctors speak out about the unique devastation assault-style rifles can inflict on a human body, which I don’t remember before. Others rightly point out complications: School shootings are still rare, and most firearm deaths in this country happen because people turn their firearms on themselves. Many of the youngest among us say they won’t just go to their rooms to cry, that their voices will be part of the debate. We’ll see what happens next.

Dan