My first real vacation of the 2010 summer break began today with a thunderstorm breaking out above Bartlesville as I fled south for yet another journey down the Muskogee Turnpike. I finally left the rain behind as I exited the turnpike, heading east on I-40 into Arkansas. I turned south at Ozark and drove to Mount Magazine on a cloudy and hazy afternoon that began in the 70s and reached up into the mid 80s.
I drove straight to the latest lodge, a $32 million structure which opened in 2006 and thus finally replaced a CCC lodge from 1940 which had burned in 1971. It is a striking structure with a commanding view of the Petit Jean river valley 2000 feet below. It has 60 guest rooms and, more important to me for this trip, a large restaurant.
The lodge featured another beautiful painted welcome sign like those adorning other Arkansas state parks I’ve visited this past year. It is a nice touch and this tourist appreciates the effort. I could see a hazy view of the river valley peeking behind the stone foundation of the lodge. The poor viewing meant I would have little company on this Wednesday afternoon, which was fine with me as I was escaping from inservice and bargaining work which had preoccupied me since school let out over two weeks ago.
A few vintage vehicles were pulled up in front of the lodge, including a tiny yellow trailer even smaller than the little unit my grandparents towed about for years to raccoon hunts in southwest Missouri. I especially liked one green machine, although I know it would not be half the car my trust Camry has been for me.
The big wooden double doors of the lodge silently swung open for me as I approached – the invisible doorman is another nice touch. Familiarity breeds contempt: I take automatic sliding glass doors for granted but was surprised and gratified by this simple gesture. I quickly made my way downstairs to the Skycrest Restaurant, which had only one couple by the big windows overlooking the valley, although some more groups joined us before I finished my tasty hamburger and fries.
Despite the nice viewing platform at the restaurant, the view was too hazy to delay me from my day hike. I pulled on my hiking boots, inundated myself in sunscreen and insect repellent, swung up my baby backpack, and set off on a seven-mile loop around the central portion of the mountain top, which I tracked with my iPhone MotionX GPS app and later mapped in Google Earth. The park’s trail maps, which I had previously downloaded to Dropbox for convenient access on my iPhone and iPad, were quite accurate. I grabbed a hard copy at the lodge, which turned out to be not only more convenient for reading but also much better for fanning away bugs!
I ascended the Signal Hill trail to Arkansas’ highest point at 2,753 feet above sea level, where I indulged in a self-portrait, posing in one of my newly acquired UnderArmour wicking T-shirts and Magellan shorts. The shirt worked fine today, but I should have stuck my wallet in the shorts when I was trying them out in the store – the deep back pockets smacked it up against the underside of my buttocks to my displeasure. I had the front pockets too stuffed with the iPhone and a power supply (the GPS drains its battery very quickly) and my superzoom camera to accommodate the wallet, and the little backpack was bursting too. So I had money on my mind much of the afternoon, alas. I’ll try a different packing strategy for the rest of the trip.
There were no views on the wooded Signal Hill trail, which I followed for a mile to the Cameron Bluff campground, which I traversed. A trail descends the mountain’s north face there to Cove Lake, 9.5 miles away. I had no interest in rapidly losing and then later working hard to regain so much gravitational potential energy on that trail, opting instead for the North Rim trail, which headed eastward for over two miles to the park’s Visitor Center.
The views were limited from the leafy North Rim trail, although there were frequent glimpses of rock bluffs jutting out from the forest across the way and some views of the hills to the north. I saw many ox-eye daisies and tickseeds (lance-leaved Coreopsis). If you’re wondering about my sudden botanical expertise, I’ll confess that I bought a sturdy pocket guide to Arkansas trees and wildflowers at the park’s visitor center. So I’ll speculate that I spied some Closed (and Open?) Gentian as well.
The view opened out big at the escarpment called Dill Point, where I exchanged greetings with the only other hikers I encountered on the North Rim Trail, two young men who looked like they could have used some wicking T-shirts as the temperature and the humidity soared. My trusty Tilley hat was another advantage I had over them, although I doubt they considered it very stylish.
Soon I was at the visitor center where I enjoyed a cold Sprite while a butterfly posed nearby. I then headed south down an old wagon road for 0.3 miles to Turkey Spring. As I approached several frogs hopped off the rocks around the spring down into the water. I could not coax them back out, although they did crawl out from the rocks and pop their heads up out of the water to keep an eye on me. I was rewarded with another pretty plant on the southbound Greenfield Trail, although my pocket guide couldn’t identify it.
I then headed back west for over a mile along the Mossback Ridge Trail, which had grass growing up across the trail that thankfully wasn’t too tall for comfort. This stretch of trail was a tad monotonous, as was my audiobook of the day, The Big Short by Michael Lewis. It tells the story of various investors who made a killing selling short on the credit default swaps and similar real estate gambles of the recent housing bubble. I was ready for a break from my other audiobook, The Subtle Knife, the second book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials heretical fantasy trilogy. But I think I perhaps went too far the other way. It may be a relief when I finish up The Big Short on tomorrow’s day hike.
Arriving back at the lodge, I walked along its south side overlooking the Petit Jean River, where I found the Old Lodge Trail, a short loop down the bluff. I found a rocky perch where I had a splendid panoramic view of forested mountain slopes descending to the river valley below. My surroundings reminded me of my scrambles on the bluff at our vacation home above Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks, and I shut down the technology and settled in for a relaxed spell.
Sufficiently recuperated, I climbed back up to the lodge and walked eastward to the rock climbing area, where I found another short trail offering a glimpse of Blue Mountain Lake down below and nice examples of Queen Anne’s Lace, which is actually a domesticated carrot and often has a dark purple flower in the center of the lacy blooms.
I was then glad to return to the car and switch back to tennis shoes and allow the air conditioning to assist my wicking T-shirt as I drove on the Cameron Bluff Overlook Drive. But I’d already seen the views from the various trails, so soon I was driving down the mountain’s south side, headed east to Russellville for my lodging.
I found my jacuzzi room waiting for me at the La Quinta, although I put off a dip in the tub until after a quick wash-up to prep for a yummy dinner at the Brick Oven Pizza Company. Then I took my well-deserved jacuzzi break before embarking on a several hours of photo editing and blogging, with a slow upload to Flickr via the hotel’s weak WiFi. I’m using my Asus Eee PC again for those tasks, although I used my iPad at the Skycrest Restaurant on its WiFi signal and at the pizza parlor, although it only had a slow AT&T Edge data connection, so I mostly read a book on the iPad there: Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack, who writes better than one might think from his name.
Tomorrow I’ll return to Mount Magazine for another day hike loop, this time on the eastern side of the rim.
Next day hike: Misty Mount Magazine –>