Nov. 23, 2003

This week we visited two places that have to be among the most beautiful in Arkansas, one very well known, and the other not very well known at all, both within a few miles of each other, within sight of each other, as a matter of fact. Since one of the visits was on Monday, which by my arbitrary criterion is officially next week, I guess I'll just tell you about the well-known place this week and save the other one for next time. But before I get started I'll just mention that the photo above is in honor of the wintry weather we've had lately. I took it in February of 2001, and it's a picture of ice on a canyon wall along Indian Creek in the Buffalo National River.

Saturday Sophie and I picked up again on the OHT where we left off a few weeks ago, and I've about decided that we ought to continue to do that until we've day hiked the entire trail (which is about 180 miles long, I believe). At the rate we're going, it will take a couple of years to do, but it ought to be fun. Access points to the trail are pretty close together over here at the western end, so we haven't had any problem taking bite-sized chunks out of the trail, but I haven't looked into what it's like farther east. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Saturday's hike started where the OHT crosses a forest road not far from White Rock Mountain, and we followed the trail as it headed toward the mountain and then as it took a loop around its western and southern slopes, mostly along an old road cut, much of it on a broad bench. The day was cloudy and warm, with a nice breeze, and the understory still was alive with splashes of color, most spectacularly the vivid yellow of sassafras saplings, which were all the more spectacular for having as a backdrop the dark and muted trees that no longer had color. Fallen oak leaves predominated on the forest floor, but they still had the waxy texture and not-quite-orange color of freshly fallen oak leaves rather than the dry and pale brown that will soon form a carpet for the woodlands that will persist until spring.

Occasionally there would be a break in the forest canopy and I could see up and to the left the grand gray bluffs that give the mountain its name. Every so often I would hear Sophie yip up ahead as she would find and follow a scent, and once I saw her momentarily across a hollow as she disappeared down into it, but after a few minutes when I didn't see her appear on this side and I began to wonder if I should call her, she suddenly came flying down to the trail from behind and uphill. The little lady can cover ground in a hurry.

As we worked our way around the south end of the mountain we passed the junction with the west side of the Shores Lake loop trail, and farther on we came to the intersection with the White Rock Mountain spur trail, which is where we stopped to rest for a bit, or I should say, where I stopped to rest. Sophie does not rest on hikes, and she continued to make forays into the surrounding woods for as long as I sat there.

This is also where my old Darby and I stopped and rested on a day in April of 1996 when we were at the midpoint of a hike of the Shores Lake trail. That was no ordinary hike that day. We found out later that the trail had been closed not long after we started due to tornado damage, and we had indeed had a rough time making it through some areas on our walk up the east side of the loop, but we didn't know as we rested there that we hadn't seen anything yet. Our sojourn down the west side was through areas of utter devastation where the trail was completely obliterated and impossible to follow, and we had to fight our way along White Rock creek through a whole forest that had been knocked down by the tornado. I'll have to tell you, dear reader, more about that day sometime. It was kind of an adventure.

Anyway, as I was resting I decided this would be a good place to break off the hike today and pick up next time, and rather than re-trace our way along the trail as we usually do, I thought it would be nice just to follow the spur trail up to the mountaintop and then take the road back to the car. We could have walked the Rim Trail along the bluffs, but I was afraid Sophie might accidentally launch herself off one of those bluffs onto about a hundred feet of thin air and then not be able to turn herself around in time to make it back to the bluff. So we walked down the road instead, which took us through the home territory of a couple of dogs, which meant we had to stop a couple of times so that the resident could say hi, sort of to me, but mainly to Sophie. One of the two, a beautiful male huskie, seemed to take a particular interest in Sophie's hindquarters, which is peculiar because I had her fixed not long after I got her, over five years ago now. Anyway, after he followed us about a quarter mile down the road I decided I needed to encourage him to go on home, which I did and he did.

Farther along the road as the mountaintop narrows, I could look right and see down into the Salt Fork drainage and across it to ridges on the other side, and I could look left and see the White Rock creek drainage and its surrounding hills. The overall color of the trees and hills was a muted rusty red, beautiful enough in itself, but when there was a break in the clouds that lit up the hollow to the west so that the hillside seemed to glow from within with its own brilliant light, it started to feel sort of like I was walking in a dream. The road wasn't yellow brick, just old Arkansas dirt and gravel, and there weren't any lions and tigers (maybe bears, though), but I think I started to understand maybe why there were all those old stories that were always talking about enchanted forests and such. That forest looked pretty enchanted to me.