I awoke Sunday at 6:30 am to a car horn pealing out, over and over again, somewhere in the parking lots at the Ozark Folk Center cabins. Someone had bungled their car alarm, I suppose, and I had to grin when I heard them driving off with the horn still bleating. Perhaps it was car thieves, but more likely some befuddled guests. That set me to work uploading the rest of Saturday’s photos and videos – tedious work since the WiFi was being quite dodgy and required frequent resets.
But I finally got everything posted and could then march up the road once again to the Skillet restaurant high on the hill. On the way in, I met Joan and Frank, an elderly couple from San Diego. They invited me to join them for breakfast and they told me of their love for elderhostels, their volunteer work back in Chula Vista (the suburb where they live), and Joan wondered if she would enjoy the collard greens they were promised as part of their current elderhostel trip, which had led them to drive over 1700 miles from Chula Vista to Mountain View, Arkansas.
I was glad for the company and grateful to them for pointing out a hidden trail that led down through the woods back to the cabins. It was too steep and uneven for them, but I happily used it to avoid walking in a concrete culvert and alongside the shoulderless asphalt roads. It was my first, and by far my easiest, hike of the day.
I then packed up and drove to Tyler Bend, the site of the Buffalo National Scenic River Visitor Center (BNSRVC to its friends?) and a 4.2 mile loop trail. I parked at a trailhead away from the visitor center at about 11:45 am. My feet ached after hiking ten miles the day before in tennis shoes, so I was glad that my hiking boots were dried out and serviceable. Even though the temperature would be in the 90s all afternoon, I wore long hiking pants since I figured some of the trail might be overgrown. And I sprayed 100% Deet around all of the openings in my clothing, hoping to keep the ticks at bay – I still found myself the victim of four ticks at the end of the day. I guess I’m just ticklish, not tickless.
The trail began as part of the Buffalo River Trail, which extends for dozens of miles along the river and will eventually span its entire length. The first stop was the Collier Homestead, constructed in 1928 by subsistence farmer and river guide Sod Collier, who lived here without electricity or indoor plumbing. After a half century, the property was purchased by the National Park Service for preservation and the Visitor Center a mile or two away was built in 1990. The house had several rooms of poor construction, with remnants of newspapers on the walls, once used for insulation. Sod and his family must have been pretty short. I had to duck under the porch overhang and the ceilings were only inches above my head, and I’m only 5′ 8″. The structure looked sturdier, if less picturesque, from the rear. There was a shed out front by a huge tree and the trail ran past another building behind the house. I can’t imagine living in such a place, especially with the heat, humidity, and bugs that plague the area…I don’t even want to camp out under these conditions.
The trail ran along a ridge circling a deep hollow, approaching the Buffalo River far below. The trees were cut away to provide a splendid panorama of the mountains, forest, fields, and river below. A bird of prey even flew by while a group floated in the river below, creating a postcard moment. My telephoto lens revealed it was an inflatable boat carrying three couples. It also revealed plowed fields and hay bales with the gorgeous river and its bluffs in the forested background.
The trail turned to follow the river and descended to another viewpoint, where I could see canoes on the shore. I used my superzoom camera to shoot a video of a couple navigating the river far below in their canoe, starting in close on them as they paddled toward me, and later pulling back out to show what it really looked like from my high vantage point.
A bit farther down the trail another vantage point had a bluff-hugging tree in the foreground, and a final viewpoint allowed me to look downstream. The trail dove down into a hollow and while the full sun streaming down on this part left me drenched in sweat, it also revealed many of the little creatures enjoying the wildflowers. My little guide couldn’t help me identify one blue flower with a long white stamen, nor a another blue one sporting a tiny bug. I couldn’t miss a yellow moth that looked like chevron patch in the bushes and spotted a little fellow atop an oxeye daisy, a long-winged blue-bodied fellow, as well as a tiny lizard. Some dragonflies, a rabbit, and a deer wouldn’t hold still for photos, however.
When I reached the visitor center, I was welcomed by a blast of cold air. It was delightful and helped compensate for my disappointment that all they had on offer for refreshment was a water fountain. Oh, how nice some ice cream would have been at that moment. The displays were of mild interest and it wasn’t long before I was back outside on a big back deck, snacking on some trail mix on a shady bench. After another visit inside for the cold air and water, I was ready to finish the hike.
The next segment of trail was the Rock Wall Trail, named for an old moss-covered boundary wall erected by settlers years ago. It ranged from knee to waist height and the trail was not nearly as well maintained as the one from the Collier Homestead to the Visitor Center. While the trail was easily discernable, the overgrowth left me grateful for my long pants. I saw butterflies alighting on leaves and purple coneflowers as I struggled up the rugged hillsides in the heat. Finally the trail made a lovely gentle curve around a hollow as I approached the trailhead.
And that concluded my final day hike of this trip, 4.2 miles in 90-degree weather with plenty of bugs and humidity. A far cry from the Pacific Northwest, where I prefer to hike in summer, but I handled the heat well and can still bear up as I approach my 44th birthday. The return trip was almost a straight shot along US 412 to Tulsa for a big dinner at El Chico and then back to Bartlesville to unpack, do some laundry, and prepare this final post from my five days of Arkansas day hikes. Here’s my updated map showing where I’ve performed day hikes since September 2009.
Click here for a slideshow from this day hike or click here for individual slides
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