The Hawksbill

_C1_9559.JPGThe forest sounds different without its leaves. Rather than rustling millions of leaves, Sunday’s gusts roared like a distant waterfall between the trees’ bare bones. A good strong wind always seems to accompany hikes along the heights of the Ozark National Forest.

Area hiking enthusiasts probably recognize the outcropping above instantly: Hawksbill Crag at Whitaker Point, near the Buffalo River. It’s one of the best known spots in the state, but in all of my time here, I hadn’t seen it. I tried almost three years ago and was foiled by a steep and wet dirt road. A good friend just bought a Jeep, so this time we were golden. (It turns out there’s also at least one easier route a little further down the road. Good one, Google.)



_C1_9602.JPGThe overlook at the end is obviously the primary draw of this trail, but the scenery on the way deserves its own attention. The trail runs along the top of a bluff line peppered with boulders and crowned by trees growing right out of the rock. The Boston Mountains swell and fall all around like immense ocean waves. These bluffs, like many around the Buffalo, can be deadly for those who go too close to the edge. Be careful if you visit.





_C1_9549.JPGAnd here’s a view from on the crag itself. An unseasonably warm December afternoon wound up being a terrific time to get acquainted with this landmark. Someday I’ll come back to see its greener self.




_C1_9576.JPGThanks for lookin’,


Over and under

_C1_2096.JPGThe Lost Valley near the Buffalo National River was lush and green the first time I walked its trail, yet Eden Falls at the trail’s end and Clark Creek down its middle ran almost totally dry. I took another look this past weekend, sure it would be different after days of rain.

High rivers and the water overtaking pasture fences on the way were promising signs, and the creek at the trailhead burbled just loud enough to hear in the forest’s quiet. But it wasn’t long before the boulders and other shattered remnants of the cave that once enclosed the creek were dry and silent. The forest floor was carpeted in green with splashes of purple, but no water.



Soon, though, I could hear the sound of falling water from higher up on the valley wall. A steep but short climb took us to an emerald gem that many have taken to calling the moss falls. No more doubts for me.








_C1_2037This is the creek’s source, where it comes gushing out of a cave high on the south side of the valley. Eden Falls was lively and the creek below it flowed brightly. It seemed nothing but bizarre that the waterway further down the trail would be so dry instead of even more lively. Walking back toward the entrance along the creek bed soon gave the answer to this puzzle: a big crack at the base of another waterfall, where the water disappeared in a swirl of bubbles.


It wouldn’t emerge until a few hundred feet downstream, right before the natural bridge in that first photo.

Thanks for looking.


Two seasons

IMG_8071.JPGPlaces have moods, and it takes a few visits to really see them. The first time I went to the Goat Trail along the Buffalo River, it was cold, windy, overcast, quiet and slightly creepy. Somehow it was literally the complete opposite last weekend: warm, calm, sunny, full of people and a lot less creepy with the glow of autumn. Without the wind threatening to blow me off of the bluff, I also ventured a bit further along the 5-foot-wide trail. Slowly.







IMG_8045.JPGI just love these junipers so much — strong, worn smooth with age and leaning into the steep drop of a couple hundred feet.

As the sun sank, a little bit of the old creepiness came out. I didn’t mind.




Thanks for lookin’.



IMG_5302.JPGI set out last weekend to explore a new corner of the Buffalo National River, and for the most part I failed.

The Cecil Cove Loop Trail braids back and forth over Cecil Creek, winding past an old cemetery, long-abandoned settlements and rock walls and a spur trail that leads to two lovely waterfalls. But I didn’t get to see those things. First, I drove down a dirt and gravel road I shouldn’t have driven down, and only the fact that we were going downhill saved us from getting stuck (a sign at the end of this road helpfully alerted traffic from the other direction to hazardous conditions). Almost as soon as we came to the first creek crossing on the trail, the sighting of what looked like a sizable cottonmouth spurred a quick about-face.

Back at the trailhead, we stopped by the century-old Erbie Church, a tin-roofed, five-pewed building that wouldn’t look out of place in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, or maybe The Walking Dead. Eventually I wanted to re-try the trail’s loop in the other direction, away from the creek. By then our water supply was too low to make the miles-long hike, so we gave up on that attempt, too.




IMG_5319.JPGI wasn’t ready for this one. I’ve hiked seven hours in sand and up quiet and rugged corners of Yosemite, not to mention all the time I’ve spent around this corner of the state, but little old Arkansas still has some tricks up its sleeve. My hiking ability doesn’t matter much if I don’t know enough about the place I’m going to. I didn’t even think of snakes as an issue, which I suspect is because I haven’t spent much time alongside quiet, slow-moving creeks. I was overconfident. Lesson learned.

The weekend wasn’t a total bust — I got some time at Silver Dollar City, both above and below ground, and caught an unusual sight in my apartment parking lot.






IMG_5232.JPGThanks for looking, and be safe out there.