Once I was out of bed on Saturday I checked to confirm that my videos from Friday had finished uploading to YouTube while I slept, so I could insert them in the blog post and publish it. Then I prepared for the day and headed up the hill to the Skillet restaurant for the breakfast bar. I knew I should have a hearty breakfast since my day hikes would leave me with lunch on the trail. Then I headed out toward the ghost town of Rush, Arkansas.
My route wound through the mountains for fifty miles, eventually leading me down the steep grade to the Buffalo River and back up the other side to the Rush Historic District turnoff. A few miles off the main drag, the road descended steeply toward Rush Creek and the Buffalo River, converting to gravel as it descended. As soon as I reached the bottom I made a sharp right and saw the shells of houses and buildings which were abandoned decades ago.
Rush began with a failed silver smelter in 1886 and then a series of zinc mines which boomed in the 1890s and peaked during World War I. The mines failed in the Great Depression and the last of the town’s structures closed in the 1960s. A trail winds past many of the ruins and then up the mountain past the sealed mine entrances and down to the Buffalo River and neighboring Clabber Creek.
It was a sunny, humid, and hot day. So I took along extra water and wore plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent. Unfortunately my hiking boots were still drying out, so I had to rely on my tennis shoes. I hiked the Rush trail in shorts, a decision I would later regret.
The first stop was a large stone smelter, the oldest structure in the ghost town. Three prospectors built it in 1886 because they thought they had found silver ore, and were so disappointed and broke when no silver appeared that they tried to sell the smelter to another prospector for a tin of oysters…and he turned them down. It was finally sold to later zinc miners and used to burn lime for mortar in 1898.
The smelter is on the site of the Morning Star zinc mine, which operated a general store visible across Rush Creek and the road. That store was the last center of the community until it finally closed in 1956. The ruin next door was the store owner’s home. Next was a blacksmith shop, built in 1925 when the Morning Star mine had a brief revival. It closed in 1931.
I then climbed the steep hillside up to the sealed entrance of the Morning Star Mine. A whole series of mines runs southeast along the mountainside toward the Buffalo River. They were all sealed after mine inspectors reported in 1984 that they had large, loose ceiling rocks, deep pits, water-filled pits, and several tunnels showing signs of recent cave-ins. I recognized the same sort of metal bars as were used to seal up Onyx Cave up north on the Sugar Camp Scenic Byway up in Missouri.
Along the trail I found a butterfly that was intensely focused on the orange blossoms of a large weed, sufficiently intent that it let me take several shots, even returning to the weed if I got too close. Later I found the plant is aptly named Butterfly Weed!
The trail passed by an old mining car and the heat was really bearing down as the trail crossed tailings piles. It was hard to believe that in 1982 a record flood of the Buffalo River brought it all the way up here, several stories above Rush Creek and over a half-a-mile inland from the river’s channel. This week the Caddo and Little Missouri rivers in Arkansas’ Ouachita Forest rose 20 feet overnight, killing at least 20 campers at the Albert Pike and other campgrounds, so I suppose the Buffalo River’s power should not be underestimated. But today the Buffalo was in its banks, and pickups carrying canoes and tubes kept buzzing by far down below, on their way to and from the popular Rush Landing, which I was approaching from on high.
The trail finally reached the end of the mountain and I took a side trail down to Rush Landing. Three dozen vehicles were parked there and at the landing itself three motorized launches were, well, launching and a couple of canoes were being paddled into shore. I stood by the shore and watched the green water roll by and then headed back uphill toward a shelter.
It was almost noon and I was getting hungry, but a semi-nude couple were occupying the shelter: a slim girl in a bikini and a big fellow in trunks. Despite the intensifying heat, I decided to leave them undisturbed and just have lunch somewhere out on the trail. So I clambered back up the mountain and headed onward to rise out of the Rush Creek watershed and enter the Clabber Creek one to the north.
The trail ran high above the south bank of Clabber Creek, eventually joining an old wagon road, which petered out at the Monte Cristo mine, which was reopened in the 1960s and then abandoned yet again. A large engine was rusting away along the bluff there, reminding me of the ones littering the abandoned oil fields in the Caney River floodplain around Bartlesville.
I had come 2.3 miles along the Rush Trail, with an unmaintained section ahead that ran back over the mountain’s crest to Rush. In my attire that was out of the question and the heat and humidity were pounding away. So I backtracked on the wagon road, activating my GPS and playing an audiobook for the first time that day on the trail.
I was approaching the climax of The Subtle Knife and was sufficiently distracted that I missed the trail turnoff up the mountainside. I blindly kept marching down that wagon road as it descended toward Clabber Creek, only halting when I was startled to see some abandoned buildings ahead. I couldn’t be back at Rush, so what was this? Looking about I realized I had reached some abandoned settlement on the banks of Clabber Creek. Perhaps this was the remains of the 1960s mining operations, as some building clearly were for missing machinery and the structures were in sad shape but far newer than what one sees in Rush.
My mistake was fortuitous, because I could easily reach Clabber Creek, which has hollowed out part of the bluff above a small creekbed waterfall. This cool and shady spot was perfect for my luncheon of trail mix and Gatorade. I entertained myself by offering seeds to tiny fish in the creek.
Refreshed, I headed back to Rush. It was around 90 degrees when I arrived back at the car after a hike of about five miles. I cranked the air conditioning and cooled off during the brief drive to Buffalo River State Park, where I would be hiking more two trail loops. My legs had several cuts from the Rush trail and I discovered three ticks had ignored the Deet I had applied.
So when I arrived at the Buffalo Point trailheads, despite the heat I changed back into the stinky long hiking pants I’d soaked on yesterday’s hike. I renewed the sunscreen and Deet, put three pints of water in my pack, and headed out for the most wearying hike of the trip thus far.
I felt like I was melting as I headed down the first loop to a viewpoint above the Buffalo River. But I did get a nice view of the campground downstream, spying a number of folks enjoying the water. This viewpoint reminded me of when I was high above the river at Broken Bow last year and a kayaker down below hollered up at me. The wildflowers along the trailside seemed to think the sunshine was A-OK, while I was grateful when the trail entered a part of the forest with tall trees.
After surviving that 1.2 mile loop, I was ready to tackle the 3.2 mile Indian Rockhouse one, which promised a variety of features I could enjoy in my dazed delirium. The “ice house sinkhole” is supposed to spew out cool air from the caverns below, and I struggled a few feet down its steep slope, having to hang onto a tree to spot its bottom. It wasn’t worth photographing, and I could barely feel a touch of cool air.
But I did cool off briefly after the trail passed a much smaller sinkhole and then ran below a small waterfall near Panther Creek, where a bluff was heavily eroded. Soon I saw a gash cut into the hillside by the trail, leading to an abandoned mine some homesteaders dug searching unsuccessfully for zinc.
My glasses fogged up when I entered a cool cave off the trail that formed a small rockhouse, complete with skylight courtesy of a section of collapsed roof. It took some courage to face the sunlight pouring in from the wide entrance and head back out onto the steamy trail. But I’d just finished The Subtle Knife and begun the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. The characters in those tall tales faced far worse, so I screwed up my courage and left my cave.
The trail ran beside Panther Creek, which was dry as a bone for the most part, but I did cross some creeks that were flowing. I had just crossed one when I spotted a bunch of butterflies gathered together on a creek stone. They were feasting on something, and declined to give up even with an annoying paparazzo hovering right over them. A few paces farther I came across a colorful blue-black-and-more butterfly like the one I’d seen on the King’s Bluff Trail yesterday, dining at a flower patch.
I crossed a section of Panther Creek that not only had water, but water which had carved a wriggly channel through the bedrock. Suddenly there was a distinct drop in temperature along the trail – I must be approaching the Indian Rockhouse. Yes, there it was – an immense gash in the hillside spewing cool air and the sound of rushing water. The huge shelter came complete with its own skylight, a creek roaring against one rear wall, and stalagmites.
I dawdled there for awhile, enjoying the cool air and the solitude. No one else was crazy enough to hike several miles through the forest in this heat and humidity, but I’d been rewarded with several interesting sights, and there was more to come.
The trail looped back to the car, passing by a natural bathtub where the water has scooped out a basin that seemed perfect for a cool dip. Later a creek supplied a big shallow pool which also looked inviting. As I ascended the final big hill, my iPhone’s GPS app chirped about losing its signal, which it never regained all the rest of the way to the car. I think it was too hot and bothered to care anymore about where I was going. A short side trail led to the old quarry where the CCC boys carved out the stones to build the park buildings and I rejoiced when I spotted my car through the trees.
After frightening off some Japanese tourists, who took one look at me and scurried off down the trail to find out what had happened down there, I peeled off my dripping garments and threw them into the trunk, scrubbing off the grime and chemicals with a washrag and putting on fresh socks, shorts, and a shirt to make myself presentable at the park restaurant.
It was 5:30 pm and all I’d had for lunch was some trail mix, so I thoroughly enjoyed two pieces of pressure-fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, a trip to the salad bar, two scoops of chocolate ice cream, and three Cokes. There’s nothing like hiking almost ten miles in heat and humidity to make you throw out any dietary control!
I then zipped back to Mountain View, where I enjoyed a dip in the pool, which I had to myself. So I splashed and floated and even pretended to swim a bit, finally getting out as a chubby little fellow entered the area. As I left, he plaintively asked if I didn’t want to stay in the pool and play. I declined, although I did not point out that I had several hours of blogging and photo and video editing ahead of me before I could clamber into bed for a well-deserved rest.
In the end, the balky WiFi at the cabin forced to spend a few hours Sunday morning finishing up this extraordinarily long post. Now I’m ready to drive over to Tyler Bend for some hiking, and right after that I’m headed home.
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