My first trip of Spring Break 2010 ended with a sunny warm day spent hiking about 6-7 miles atop Mount Nebo. I slept late and after checking out of the Conway Microtel had a warm breakfast at the nearby iHop. Then I drove back west along Interstate 40 towards Russellville, turning off to pass through Dardanelle and then ascend Mount Nebo. It was the second state park in Arkansas and features two encircling trails plus several side trails. The small mountain had white settlers by the 1890s and there once was a large hotel on top which burned and was not rebuilt. The settlers built most of the trails, which were improved by the CCC in the 1930s. Since then there has been trail refurbishment from area youth and garden clubs in 1976 and the YACC in 1996.
I approached Nebo from the east and my car slowly ascended the very steep road, making numerous switchbacks. At the Visitor Center up top I grabbed a trail map and set out on the trails at about 11 am. First was the Summit Park Trail, named after the former hotel. That National Recreation Trail descends the mountainside, with many stone steps, to some springs and Fern Lake. The first stop was Darling Springs, its water made orange by the insoluble iron compounds that hotel visitors once thought of as medicinal. I was about ready to try some, since my allergies were giving me fits. Then came Crystal Spring, which has clear water. At the bottom was what remains of Fern Lake, which was built by the hotel owners as a relaxation spot and source for ice. They tried to drain the lake after the hotel burned, but it is fed by natural springs and lingers on in a reduced state.
That first segment of the trail was originally used by hotel guests who preferred to walk to Fern Lake rather than ride in a carriage to it along the Bench Boulevard, a dirt road encircling the mountain on a sandstone ridge about 300 feet below the flat summit and which is now a hiking trail. The next segment of the Summit Park Trail was a long climb of steps up to one of the many rock slides on the mountain, where I posed atop one of the huge boulders. The CCC made a nice stone paving for the trail from the materials at hand, and I posed again by the high rocks beneath the summit.
At the top I had a great view of Spring Mountain, another flat-top a couple of miles to the west. Soon I reached Lovers Leap, a rock formation that juts out from the mountainside and which made a nice spot to sit for a photo. I didn’t see any Lovers around – they must have already leapt. An adjacent crag allowed me to compose a panoramic shot with Lovers Leap in the left foreground and Spring Mountain in the distance. Then I reached the stone foundations the CCC erected for a planned lodge that was never built – the park could not acquire enough land to support having a lodge in that era. The stacked stones making up the foundation pillars reminded me of the stacked concrete blocks underneath the cabin my folks owned in Missouri throughout my childhood.
The last stop on that trail was a picturesque stone bridge where I shot some video of the little brook flowing under it. Soon the Rim Trail joined the Summit Park trail and I met my first fellow hikers of the day. On the summit edge an artist was at work, painting the landscape. Having completed the mile-long Summit Park Trail I headed along the Rim Trail toward Sunset Point on the mountain’s northern tip. There I shot another panorama and down below could see the Arkansas Nuclear One power plant and Lake Dardanelle.
Daffodils adorned the east side of the rim and the trail led right past Cave Spring. Then it crossed the entry road and I passed a couple relaxing and enjoying the view where the trail descended to the base of the rim rock and became much more rugged. At one point I was walking in the shadow of the steep bluff with the sun just peeking out past its upper edge. The southeast rim had a rugged rocky spire with a precarious passage up behind it which I was wary of attempting. Soon I was at Sunrise Point, where I shot another panorama looking out on another mountain to the southeast which was about 400 feet shorter than Mount Nebo. A bit farther on a lone pine tree poised like a sentinel on the mountain rim as the trail continued to wind along the base of the uppermost bluff with overhanging pines.
As I reached the southwest edge of the mountain, I descended it on the Gum Springs Trail, which crossed a brook cascading down the mountainside. At a seasonal 40-foot waterfall below, I encountered a couple with a young daughter and a dog. I snapped a family portrait for them and shot my own short video of the brook and its falls. Then the trail wound down a huge rockslide where the CCC had created a massive stone staircase down to the Bench Trail. There I found Gum Springs to be another iron-rich flow.
I took the Bench Trail all way up the west side of the mountain, passing a wetlands where I recorded an exercised frog. I was exercised myself – it was a sunny afternoon in the high 60s and my sweatshirt was living up to its name. I wound past the north tip again, 300 feet below Sunset Point where I had stood a few hours earlier, and navigated to Nebo Springs on the northeastern side of the mountain. This was a final iron-laden spring which was the center of a small settlement in the late 1800s. Then I climbed back up to the Rim Trail and over to my car at the Visitor Center. Another splendid day hike was over. Soon I would be speeding back to Bartlesville.
[Previous Hike: Second Day at Petit Jean: Looping Cedar Creek ]