With flying colors

_MG_4271.JPGI got a dose of wildness right next to a Sam’s Club and an interstate highway in Fayetteville. A 121-acre wetland prairie called called Wilson Springs Preserve sits there, owned and managed by the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. It’s strange in some ways to call the place wild: A lot of human effort and machinery is almost done mulching trees and invasive shrubbery to get it back to its original state. But, to me, it felt wilder than some others I’ve hiked.

It might be because of the green and blue and white and gold-flecked dragonflies that continuously zoomed around me, or the vivid, metallic ebony jewelwings and dogbane leaf beetles. There were the tiny tadpoles that filled short-lived puddles to the brim and later emerged as toads the size of a fingernail. I heard the huffs and grunts of startled deer and carefully stepped over two box turtles. There was no avoiding the squads of ticks, some just a couple millimeters across, pulling themselves up my legs like gung-ho rock climbers scaling a cliff. And I had two experts with the land trust on hand to introduce the area and some its inhabitants to me Friday for a newspaper article. They’re probably the real reason for how I felt about the preserve. They helped me see it’s thick with life.

Speaking of that article, here’s what’s happening: The land trust works to either preserve or restore tracts around this corner of the state and is launching a campaign to bring 5,000 more acres into its protection in the coming years. The trust says wetlands like this one and other pieces of land, even farms, can clean rainwater and soak up its floods, protect rare species of fish and reptile and insect — the benefits go on and on. I’ve got a lot more information in the story here.

I didn’t have my camera with me Friday, and with all of these living things buzzing or growing in every direction, I had to go back. So I was up with the bugs the next morning.

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_MG_4229.JPGThe land trust holds tours here, but the preserve generally isn’t open to the general public; I had to sign a waiver to get in. Trust director Terri Lane told me it could open fully sometime in the next year or so. If you end up going one way or another, I’m not kidding about the ticks. I recommend a good coating of repellent, khaki pants to make the bugs obvious, and a thorough screening when you get home. That’d probably be a good approach for any hike, really, since tick-borne diseases are surging around the country. But don’t let the ticks stop you.

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_MG_4169.JPGThanks for looking.

Dan

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