March 14-18, 2022 | Photo Album
When there is nothing left to learn from the winter, move on to the spring!
―Mehmet Murat İldan
We welcomed the spring of 2022 after a winter that brought the Omicron variant. We endured new highs in local coronavirus cases, driven by many who refused to take even the simplest precautions. Wendy and I thankfully continued to avoid infection, with layers of protection from vaccinations, boosters, masking, air purifiers, and curtailed activities. That was despite direct exposure in an overloaded hospital emergency room and a COVID ward in Oklahoma City at the height of the Omicron wave. But precautions are not impervious, and this is the first of my blog posts that my father will never read.
Dad fell at my parents’ home early on New Year’s Day, fracturing his pelvis. He was hospitalized, and then Mom and I identified a nursing home for his recovery. He was boosted, had an air purifier in his room, and his caregivers wore masks. But the Omicron wave was too much, and Dad was hospitalized with COVID in late January just before his 97th birthday and a planned move into assisted living. In less than a week he was released from his second stay in a hospital, but on oxygen and in hospice. Dad found it more difficult to breathe in late February, but Mom was with him every day except when wintry roads were too dangerous, and he took great comfort in that. Dad died on March 4.
For over two years I have labored to protect my loved ones and the students and staff of our school district from COVID. It is emotionally wrenching that I could not adequately protect my father in 2022. But he had a full, happy, and honorable life. Our little family will cherish our yesterdays, dream our tomorrows, and live our todays.
I made 11 round trips between Bartlesville and Oklahoma City before Spring Break, and there are more to come as we prepare to help Mom move into independent living in Bartlesville. But after a cold and windy graveside service for Dad on March 10, Wendy and I headed into Spring Break. It always falls just before spring actually begins and is often chilly and cloudy. Sometimes winter snow reminds us of the misnomer. But we were grateful to enjoy several warm and sunny days in Arkansas, in an area of the Ozarks that my father loved.
The threat of Omicron faded so rapidly that by Spring Break Wendy and I could safely forego masking for our first visit to Crystal Bridges in Bentonville since before the pandemic began. We had to park in a temporary lot since a building for the Whole Health Institute was being constructed on the former overflow lot. A six-story parking garage is also under construction and will open in the fall. The museum itself will expand by 50 percent in the coming years.
I led us along the Tulip Trail to enter the museum by the less-used south entrance. Wendy posed by the huge Holy Grail quartz cluster by the pond. When we made our way to the main entrance to get our tickets for the main temporary exhibition (which were free thanks to the NARM benefit from our membership at Woolaroc), I was startled to find a new dome transforming the sunken courtyard into a lobby with an improved front to the gift shop, which were welcome improvements.
We viewed the exhibition The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse. Wendy liked The Heavens Rain by Emma Amos, Zulu Boogie-Woogie by James Little, and The Burning Bush by Beauford Delaney. I wasn’t engaged by most of the exhibition but did find the video King of Arms by Rashaad Newsome to be striking.
We have stayed at Sugar Ridge Resort on Beaver Lake several times. This time, I opted for Lake Shore Cabins on Beaver Lake, which is 3.5 miles south of Sugar Ridge off Mundell Road. We were in Mountain Top Cabin #7 and could see the Sugar Ridge buildings in the distance across the lake. The decor was hokey, and I missed having a dishwasher, but the mountain top was peaceful with a great view of the lake below.
Before spending the first of four nights at the cabin, we drove 11 miles to Hart’s Family Center in Eureka Springs, where Wendy stocked up on groceries for our stay. During our stay, she cooked while I cleaned.
There was a so-called trail down the mountainside to a boat dock about 200 feet below our cabin. But we found it was treacherously steep with plenty of opportunities to slip on gravel. We opted to take a longer route back up using the roadway, which was still steep but not as daunting.
Wendy has long enjoyed searching for rocks with crystals along a stream that feeds into Lake Leatherwood at Eureka Springs. We parked at the upper level near the bike huts and made our way along the Foster, Beacham, and Fuller Trails to what I call Crystal Creek. There Wendy set off southwest along the creek bed, searching for crystalline rocks.
I proceeded along the Fuller Trail to the dam, intending to cross it and explore a trace on the east side of the lake that was shown to lead up to a knob just northeast of Pivot Rock Hollow.
But I was stymied, finding the dam walkway fenced off. Deterioration of the dam’s railings led the city to shut down the walkway a year ago. The dam has long been neglected, so I won’t hold my breath for the city to fund repairs. But the deterioration at one of the largest hand-cut limestone dams in the nation was minor compared to what we would see the next day at the nearby Black Bass Lake.
I made my way down the dam’s spillway side to enjoy the cascading flow, but there is no easy path across the flow to the rest of the trails. I am not sure why the city doesn’t simply provide stepping stones to make it easy to ford there.
I didn’t feel like trying to ford the stream, so I returned along the Beacham Trail to await Wendy at the high end of Crystal Creek. She had found several nice specimens.
We returned to the car along the Beacham and Fuller Trails, stopping to photograph the seven-foot-high seated Sasquatch installation by Stephen Feilbach.
Black Bass Lake
The following day we drove to Black Bass Lake, which is just southwest of downtown Eureka Springs. It was constructed in Oil Spring Gulch in 1893-1894 after the town had burned four times between 1880 and 1892. The dam was hand-cut stonework and is now the oldest stone cut dam in Arkansas. Steam pumps moved water up to an iron standpipe at the top of the mountain. Hotels in the resort town paid $1/room/month for their water while private homes without a meter paid $4/year, or $7/year if they had a bathtub.
Fermenting vegetable matter made the water taste offensive, so the dam was raised from 20 feet to 28 feet in 1914-1915. It remained the town’s water supply until wells were drilled in the 1960s, and Eureka Springs switched to water from Beaver Lake around 1970.
The mortar in the 8-foot high dam expansion has failed, with much of the later fill washed away and major leaks developing by 2009. The city lowered the water level to what it was before the expansion, repaired and lowered the dam’s spillway, and had grout injected into the dam. The injection effort was a failure, but the lake was lowered to reach a concrete face below the spillway to stop much of the leaking.
However, the dam is still in danger of failing. That would wipe out the water lift station for half of the town, so the city has secured $300,000 in FEMA funds and will need to augment that with over $100,000 of its own funding to preserve the dam and save the lift station as well as the trails the city has constructed around the scenic lake.
I had driven us down the narrow gravel Oil Springs Road to the lake on a previous trip, but limited parking at the time led me to abandon that visit. This time we were early enough to be one of only three vehicles when we arrived, so we disembarked and started out on the Bluff Trail on the north side of the lake.
The trail ascended past the lower Sycamore Spring Trail to a fork with the Oil Spring Trail, which we will return to hike some day. We turned to follow the Bluff Trail along the St. Joe limestone outcropping that rims the valley.
The trail was pretty even in winter, with nice views of the lake below and the large Standing Rock formation that juts out from the lake’s southern shore.
I was surprised to see a tree that seemed to be holding in a branch its own broken top section that must have broken off and slid down in a storm.
At the far end of the lake, social trails led off the official park trails in the day use area. We ventured far enough to see Black Bass Pond, formed by an earthen dam upstream of the lake which failed some time back, with a large gash torn through it.
Upstream along a northern feeder creek there were the remains of a rock wall, which I presume was once a small rock dam.
We crossed West Leatherwood Creek via a new wooden bridge, and there was another new bridge across the dry creekbed of Hobo Hollow.
I saved the trail loop there for a future visit, pausing to take a shot from the far end of the lake toward the dam.
We then made our way back to the dam along the south side of the lake on Standing Rock Trail, which is a former pump road. A couple and their daughter were taking pictures at Standing Rock, so I offered to take a shot of the three of them together, and the daughter returned the favor by snapping a photo of Wendy and me there.
By the time we returned to the dam, the parking areas were filling up. The trails at Black Bass Lake were quite nice, and we look forward to exploring more of them on a future visit.
We entered Daylight Saving Time just before our trip, and I composed this post on the first day of spring. Wendy and I had a wonderful time relaxing in the Ozarks at the end of a rough winter. Mom will be joining us in Bartlesville in a week to tour an independent living facility, and we look forward to her move to town, 33 years after I moved here from the metropolis. May this spring serve as a lovely reminder of how beautiful change can be.