Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle slept for 20 years, so it was appropriate that I broke a 20-day streak of no day hikes with a visit to the Van Winkle area of Hobbs State Park in northwest Arkansas. I’d never heard of this park, although I’d glimpsed Flickr photos from it recently taken by friends, even though it is the largest in Arkansas. It is relatively new, consisting of over 12,000 acres of fragmented plots which had made the fortune of local businessman and conservationist Roscoe Hobbs, who used the woods for railroad ties. The area’s natural resources had similarly benefited the Peter Van Winkle family in the 1800s, which had a major steam-powered sawmill in the area that produced the lumber for homes in surrounding communities, including Eureka Springs.
When the Hobbs acreage came up for sale in the 1970s a coalition of state interests and all of the area banks managed to save it from resort development. The park lies south of the shores of Beaver Lake and is rolling limestone terrain with many springs, seeps, and disappearing streams.
My primary target was to hike a 9-mile loop composed of the two trails near Beaver Lake’s Pigeon Roost and Van Winkle Hollow Coves, the Dry Creek Loop and the Huckleberry Ridge Loop. I found one car at the trailhead when I parked there at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The trails were well marked with white blazes which tilted at turns, etc. and good signage at the intersections.
The gravel strewn trail led along the side of a hollow down to Dry Creek, which it crossed repeatedly on wood bridges. Spiked Lobelia grew in the dry creek bed and over the centuries the water had cut through long flat bedding planes.
I reached the Pigeon Roost Cove access to Beaver Lake, named after the millions of Passenger Pigeons, now extinct, which once lived here. A group of kayakers had tied up and climbed up to the trail for lunch. Not much farther along the trail was a so-called overlook which led down to the shore bluffs along the Pigeon Roost Arm. I posed for a self-portrait and marched onward to the intersection with the Huckleberry Ridge Trail, which would take me over to the Van Winkle Hollow Cove.
Surrounded by tree bark and sinkholes, I spent much of the hike fanning myself with the trail map to clear my view of gnats. The temperature only reached the low 80s, but the humidity and gnats kept it from being overly pleasant. I reached another beach access point as a powerboat sped by and stopped for lunch and admired a plant with rows of tiny flowers.
Boats approached from both directions and both then slowed, one with a fisherman. I set back off down the trail, finding nothing interesting to shoot on the long meander back to the trailhead. By then I’d gone 8.9 miles and still had some spunk left in me, so I drove along Highway 12 to shoot through the parking lot of the 17,500 square foot $4.5 million visitor center which opened in 2009. It looked too swank for a sweaty stinky hiker like me, so I circled back to the highway and drove to the Van Winkle Historic Area trails at Little Clifty Creek, recognizing this was where my friends Carrie and Trish had visited on Beaver Lake a few weeks back.
I set off down the 1/2 mile Sinking Stream Trail, which looped through the woods around the disappearing stream, which gets lost in the limestone layers. I passed a tree with a hollow base and a few pools of water were in the stream bed. The other historic area trail was all paved, with a tiny lizard scuttling about. A paved tunnel under the highway led to the area of the former Van Winkle Mill.
Many signs gave the history of the area, including the former home site, which has made the National Historic Register. I was interested to see that the remains of the old home were purchased by Harvey and Bernice Jones in the 1960s and used to build the chapel and some other structures at Har-Ber Village near Grove.
I passed the Spring House and took a closer look at its ruins. I passed the old road to Elkhorn Tavern, made impassable today by the impoundment of the White River. Archaeologists have poured over all of the sites, including the steam-powered mill, the blacksmith shop, and the garden terrace. Besides the steps and wall remains, the only feature of the garden terrace today is a tree with a large knot.
I followed a family back through the highway underpass, echoing with the refrains of Scooby Doo. The kids sported hiking staves; I’d found my own more annoying than useful on the easy trails. Back at the parking lot, I stripped off my shirt and washed up, unzipped the cuffs to convert my long hiking pants into shorts, and headed home having completed 10.2 miles of trails.
While I was glad I’d taken my first day hike since the weather turned from the 100s to the 80s, it had not been a particularly scenic outing. I suspect my trail mileage, and thus my car mileage, will not build up as quickly as it has in the past couple of years as I run out of new trails I can manage in a single day from home. But I do look forward to more day hikes to come.