Shores Lake

Memorial Day weekend we headed out for a backpacking trip on the Shores Lake/White Rock Loop with the best intentions for a two night trip to one of the most scenic hikes in Arkansas.  Unfortunately, this time our hike had some unplanned difficulties that caused us to turn back after our first night…so our first summit attempt has failed, but we will be back! 

Unplanned Side Trip Shores Lake is in the Ozark National Forest northeast of Fort Smith. A friend had mentioned that we should check out the Lake Fort Smith visitor center if we were going to be in the area, and although we had a late start on Saturday I had convinced hubby this was a good idea.  In hindsight, this is noted as mistake #1.  The new visitor center opened in 2008, our GPS hasn’t been updated since 2007.  Despite my assurances that we were not lost and we were almost there, the constant ‘make a U Turn’ flashing on the GPS was too much and hubby turned around.  (I know we were almost there, but wisely, I did not argue the point…there are always more weekends and this is where the Ozark Highlands Trail starts, so I’m sure we’ll be back).

DSCN2091Finding the trailhead We headed back down 540 to 40 East and took exit #24 to get to Shores Lake.  It’s about 13 miles north from 540, then down County Road 75 to get to the campgrounds.  The trailhead is tucked in on the back side of the campground.  The place was packed because of the long weekend, but the trail did not seem to be busy.  We unloaded the dogs and leashed them up with their brand new retractable leashes and were headed up through the lush forest.

DSCN2093Not long after the trailhead, the trail forks into the West Side Loop and the East Side Loop.  We headed to the left, up the West Side loop through the woods.  It only took a few minutes for the campground festivities to fade into the distance and we were soon trekking through on our own.  There are lots of rock gardens along the way and the vegetation was thick.  It was a really hot day, by this time it was about 3:30 in the afternoon and unseasonably warm and really humid.  At least the bugs weren’t too bad.

DSCN2092About 1/2 a mile in the trail crosses a gravel road (which is the road you would end up on if you kept going past the campground…an important item to note for later in the trip.)  This first little section was pretty easy and flat and we covered it really quickly.  The dogs were doing really good with their new leashes, but they have to be at the front of the pack, I stopped to snap a picture of the great hikers making their way to the other side.

DSCN2094

The trail headed across some benches and was relatively flat.  There were some good views across the valley that are undoubtedly better during leaf off.

DSCN2095

DSCN2098Because the day was so much hotter than we were used to, and we were carrying our backpacks, we stopped fairly frequently for breaks.  At mile 1 there was a creek which I think was Hurricane Creek.  We stopped for a break and to cool off for a bit.  The trail climbed up from this drainage for about 40 yards, then leveled off for quite a while.  There were impressive bluffs along the way and a nicely forested area that provided lots of shade.  The trail dipped down toward White Rock Creek and we took the dogs off of the trail for a drink before the trail swung back up the hill and started a fairly steep ascent.  The trail leveled out again and I could smell honeysuckle.  As we walked the trail went through a really neat area that was completely overgrown with it creeping up and down the hill on both sides.

DSCN2102DSCN2104

I was pretty happy to be on flat trail, in the shade with something good to smell, but it didn’t last for long.  After following close to White Rock Creek and travelling through another smaller honeysuckle thicket, the trail began to climb up.  We met a gentleman who had been to the Falls who warned us to be careful on the steep, washed out trail ahead and also mentioned the creek was pretty high.  By this point, I was already rethinking our plan since we hadn’t yet managed 2 miles and I felt like I had walked 200.

DSCN2106DSCN2107

We managed to navigate the steep parts of the trail and it was pretty narrow, but it was still mostly intact.  It was a pretty good climb though.  There were some nice views into the creek below, which was running really fast.

DSCN2108DSCN2109

DSCN2112

DSCN2113Mile 2…or 200 We paused for a second to catch our breath and I noticed the two mile marker laying against a boulder.  I remember thinking that surely we had made it farther than 2 miles and the marker had been washed away in a flood of some sort. 

DSCN2115We came to another stream crossing where a large tree had fallen across the path just across the stream.  It was a good sized tree and there was certainly no hope of the dogs jumping over it.  After some hunting around we negotiated a small spot where Buster could just manage to wriggle underneath it.  Katie wasn’t so sure about the whole thing and was tempted to turn around and go back to the car, but Buster came back and showed her the spot and encouraged her on through.  Stuart and the dogs started up the trail supposing I would be able to navigate the tree, but it came up almost to my chest, so I had to call for support to manage to clamber over the trunk.  It was not one of my most graceful moments, but I managed to overcome the obstacle and we were on our way.

The Falls We were planning to camp by the falls, which were 2.8 miles in and could not possibly be much farther.  Soon, we heard the sound of the water and were faced with a fairly challenging water crossing.  I dumped the backpack and scampered toward the falls to get some pictures before we tried to figure out how to get us and the dogs to the other side. 

DSCN2118

Crossing the River We picked a spot close to the falls to cross which wasn’t too deep.  It came up to my thighs, so there was no question about the dogs being able to cross.  Stuart had negotiated his way farther down river, so I switched to the water socks and slogged across the creek with my pack.  When I got to the other side I dropped off the pack and headed back across to begin the dog ferrying.

DSCN2121After a lot of cajoling, promises of cookies and a pretty good chase, I managed to catch the dogs and get them across the river.  Neither was very happy about it and we were all pretty wet and muddy.  Fortunately, there were campsites just up the falls where we could set up for the night.  It was pretty overgrown, but it looked like heaven to me.

Ill-fated water mission Having proven my worth as a water gatherer on our hike from Boxely to Ponca, I volunteered to go back to the creek and filter water for the campsite.  I kind of wanted to jump in that pool underneath the falls and cool off anyway.  The creek was colder than I thought it would be and I decided to forgo getting completely wet and headed down to try to find a nice pool to filter water from.  I filled up both 1 liter Nalgene bottles and the 2 liter water bag and was fiddling with the water filter putting it back in the bag.  The noise of the falls drowned out anything else and I was thinking that maybe I was hasty in my desire to turn back.  I packed up the filter and picked up the two water bottles then started hunting around for the 2 liter water bag.  I looked where I thought I had set it…turned around in a complete circle, looked under the rock I was sitting on…no water bottle.  This was not good. 

Not wanting to lose my prestige as a reliable water retriever, I began to hastily traverse the creek looking for the water bottle (mark this as mistake #2).  The bottle was gone and the creek was slippery and I managed to fall down, hitting my elbow and twisting my knee…but fortunately not hitting my head.  Admitting defeat, I started the trek back to the camp with defeat written on my face.  I met Stuart and the dogs on the trail who were worried because I had been gone for so long (which was kind of nice, at least I wouldn’t have lain alone for very long if I hadn’t been able to move).  After making sure I would live, Stuart handed me the dog leashes and went to look for the lost water bottle.  (Good luck with that one).

DSCN2123Get me out of here After a very long and tick infested night, I was ready to go the next morning.  My knee was really hurting and I could barely walk and we made the decision to turn back and go to the car.  It was a slow hike back for me and remembering the road I requested Stuart go get the car and come pick me up 1/2 mile before the end of the trail.  Buster and Katie waited with me along with a butterfly that found a nice resting place on Stuart’s pack.  It only took him about 20 minutes to make the quick trip to the car which was just enough time for a group of hikers with their dog to walk by and send Buster into an over-protective frenzy (and he was being such a good dog until then!).

Lessons Learned I was pretty glad to see the car and to have air conditioning again.  On our next drive, we planned out our next summit attempt and vowed to return to conquer White Rock Mountain soon.  We also reviewed what we had learned:

1 – Two people should go get water so one can hold onto the water bag

2 – Don’t treat the dogs with Frontline right before you spend the night in a tent in the woods with them.

DSCN2126

Posted in Hiking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lake Leatherwood–Beacham and Fuller Trails

DSCN2049This weekend, we hiked at Lake Leatherwood in Eureka Springs.  This trail has been on my list for quite a while, having read about it in Tim Ernst’s Arkansas Hiking Trails.  There are several trails around Lake Leatherwood, which is a municipal park in Eureka Springs.  Thinking of most city parks, images of a true ‘hike’ are not what come to mind, which is probably why this wasn’t one of the top trips on our list.  We were surprised to find a really nice hiking trail around a very scenic lake.

The weather was great with blue skies and sunshine, which have been missed lately given all of the rain in the area.  Yesterday was a rainy day, so things were a bit soggy, but we were not deterred.  Since dogs are allowed on these trails (leashed of course), Buster and Katie were able to accompany us.  It’s been a few weeks since they’ve gotten to go on a hike, and they were very excited.

DSCN2050Lake Leatherwood is on the west side of Eureka Springs off of Highway 62, close to the ball fields.  The road into the park is a little rough, but it would still qualify as paved.  Several trails cross the road and there were mountain bikers riding on it, so taking it slow is advised anyway.  When we drove to the campgrounds we took a right and went past the visitor center into the lower campground area by a meadow.  The trail maps are available at the visitor center, or can be downloaded from the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission.

DSCN2052We opted to start at the Meadow Trailhead and take the Beacham Trail south around the lake then head north toward the dam.  It didn’t take long before we encountered a bit of a hiking challenge.  With the rains and the high drainage levels, the footbridge across Leatherwood Creed had been washed out. The creek wasn’t too deep, so we all splashed through to the gravel bench that the bridge (and lots of tree limbs) were washed to.  There was a bicycle leaning up on the bridge, so I figured some kid was able to cross the creek, we should be able to as well.  It turned out to be a bridge to nowhere, as the next section of creek was obviously deeper.  Given the challenges we had with Buster crossing Lee Creek on the Butterfield Loop, things did not look promising.  Stuart wasn’t too keen on crossing the creek either.  I was not one to be deterred, however!  The plan was to hike this trail, and I was ready to build a bridge with the tree limbs laying around.  I was not getting much assistance, since both dogs and the husband were herding the opposite direction, so I tried another tactic.  Convinced this was not a barrier, I started switching to my water socks. DSCN2054 Stuart took the plunge first and found the log that looked like it would be a good stepping stone was not on level ground and sunk down almost to his waist.  At this point, there wasn’t much point in turning back.  I headed after him and we got to the other side…minus the dogs.  I dumped my back and headed back across to coax the puppies into doggie paddling.  With a pocket full of cookies, I used my most encouraging voice, but neither dog was going for it.  Finally, I picked up the very wet and muddy Buster and carried him across.  When I went back for Katie, she was having no part of it, and started to run off.  DSCN2057Since there was water at the other end too, she didn’t make it very far, so I scooped her up and we were headed across the creek again.  Once we were at the other side, she spent a while looking longingly back up the trail.  I can only imagine she was thinking we should be getting back to the car.

The next bridge was intact, and we were on our way once again.  The trail is mostly level and well marked and maintained.  There was a bit of a climb out of the Leatherwood Creek, DSCN2059probably less that 100 foot elevation change.  The trail travels along fairly level for a while and follows the shoreline of the lake.  There were a few boaters and canoers out enjoying the sunshine that were visible occasionally through the trees.  Eventually, it started heading downhill to another creek, this one not nearly as deep.  We splashed through uneventfully and came to a fork in the trail where the Hyde Hollow trail heads south away from the lake.  We stayed on the Beacham trail and started heading north.  The trail headed up the creek we just crossed and I could see where it fed into Lake Leatherwood.  The trail follows the lakeshore, with some nice views of the lake.

DSCN2063DSCN2067

DSCN2069There were a couple of more streams to cross, one of them deep enough that Katie had to swim for it.  Both dogs apparently overcame their fear of running water, and made it through without much hesitation.  The trail started to head up a small hill and came out to a quarry about a mile after the fork in the trail.  DSCN2071This was the site where the limestone for the dam on the north side of the lake came from.   It was an interesting area to check out because there were blocks of limestone still around that had been cut from the quarry.  There was also a lot of water that had pooled in various places.  I guess it had been there a while because one of the pools was full of tadpoles.

DSCN2072DSCN2077

Shortly after leaving the quarry, we came to the dam.  At the time it was built, it was the largest cut limestone dam in the world.  It was pretty impressive and with the high water, there was a lot of water flowing over into the creek below.

DSCN2080DSCN2081

On the other side of the dam, there is a path to go down and view the falls from the bottom of the dam, but there were other people about and we opted to keep hiking down the trail.  I did snap a picture of the falls from the top of the dam, which is kind of disorienting if you don’t know that it was taken from the top and looking down.  I liked this picture though, because you can see the shadow of the railing from the bridge and of me taking the picture.  (I don’t actually get into many of the pictures on this blog, so I guess this is my way of getting my picture in.)

DSCN2084DSCN2087

DSCN2088Shortly after crossing the dam, there is a fork in the trail.  We took the left fork and followed Fuller Trail along the lake.  It was a little muddier and we probably should’ve opted for the higher ground, but after crossing several creeks, we were all pretty muddy anyway so it really didn’t matter.  There were several small creeks and some pretty DSCN2090little waterfalls along this section of the trail which made it interesting.  The Fuller Trail has a branch that is the Fishing Trail and there was a couple trying to catch a few on the lakeside.  We tiptoed past, to avoid scaring the fish.  I looked back at the sign showing the fork in the road and there was a nice little note mentioning that the bridge at the other end of the Beacham Trail was washed out and recommended turning around at the dam.  Hopefully, anyone hiking the other direction will take note or be ready for a wet crossing.  Not long after this, we were back to the main campsite.  The total hike was almost 4 miles, which we did in about 2 1/2 hours.  Even though it was a humid day, and a little warm, the trail was shady and there was a cool breeze coming in from the lake, which made it a pleasant walk through the woods. 

Posted in Hiking | Leave a comment

BRT Boxley to Ponca

Stitched_001

This week we backpacked the first section of the Buffalo River Trail from Boxley to Ponca, a total of 11.1 miles.  We had originally planned to do this hike with a couple of friends, but alas, Mother’s Day interfered with that plan.  Since we’d already tried twice before to hit this trail and been delayed by Easter (oops, thanks Denise) and the huge flooding (ugh, thanks Mother Nature), we went ahead took off of Saturday morning.  DSCN1987The planned leave time was 5 a.m.  Time I got out of bed? 6:30.  We still managed to make the drive and get to the Buffalo Outdoor Center by 10 and arranged for our car to be shuttled.  The folks at the BOC are great, we’ve used their shuttle service both times we’ve gone to the Buffalo River and they are very friendly and helpful. 

The parking area for the trail is across the highway from the actual trail, next to the Whiteley homestead.  I snapped a couple of shots of the root cellar and the foundation and chimney before we headed across the highway to start the trail.  The rain had cleared out and it was going to be a beautiful day!

DSCN1983DSCN1985

DSCN1988This section of the BRT is on the east side of the Buffalo River and meanders along the hillsides looking down into Boxely valley.  There are several stream crossings and with the rainfall we’ve had, they were definitely wet!  DSCN1989Our first crossing was Smith Creek and came at the beginning of the hike, just past the sign marking the start of the trail.  The water was high enough to go over the top of your boots, so I opted to switch my hiking boots for water shoes.  Stuart’s hiking boots are more substantial (and more waterproof), so he just tromped on through.  He still had to wait for me to do a shoe switch and get a picture though.

DSCN1990The trail follows along Smith Creek for a little way, then heads past a field to follow a narrow trail by a steep hill.  It runs alongside the hill, right next to the field and an evil barbed wire fence for a while.  There were a couple of trees down across the trail and some clambering to get around the obstacles.  The vegetation is thick along the hill, with a boulder or two peeking out every once in a while.  Eventually, the trail starts climbing up the hill.   We stopped to catch our breath on the climb up and I saw at least 6 different kinds of trees in about a three foot area and none of them were oak.  There were maple, elm, sycamore, dogwood, and one I wasn’t quite sure about.  After about a 500 foot elevation change, the trail begins to level out

DSCN1991DSCN1995DSCN1996DSCN1997

DSCN1999Our last hike on the BRT from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing was filled with dramatic views during leaf-off.  This hike was different, in that the views were not as dramatic, but the landscape and wildlife were much more varied.  There were lots of butterflies and birds flitting about the field we were hiking through and the wild roses were blooming, making the day smell wonderful.  Unfortunately, there were also lots of ticks and mosquitoes to cause consternation.  Although the grassy field was just a little over two miles in, it was one of the best spots for a great view and we took some time to check out the scenery.  The panorama at the top of the post was the view from this field.

DSCN2007After leaving the field, the trail headsDSCN2006 down to a county road and follows it for about a half a mile before heading back through some fields to Arrington Creek.  The wet weather provided some muddy hiking as well as some great little waterfalls and streams.  I snapped a shot of a pretty little run-off into the ditch beside the road as we trekked on our way.  There were a couple of ponds along the roadside and lots of frogs were croaking out their little songs.

DSCN2010DSCN2008On the left hand side of the road was a signpost for the trail and we started our descent into Arrington Creek.  This hike went through a field for a short way, then through a forested area with really tall trees.  It was good to have the shade and there was a bit of a breeze, but the day was really starting to warm up.

At 3.3 miles in is Arrington Creek, which was running fairly swiftly, but there were enough stepping stones to avoid getting too wet.  This was the first good spot to camp, with two campsites in the area with fire rings and level ground for a tent.  It was still pretty early in the day, about 1:30.  DSCN2017We couldn’t decide if we should set up camp there for the day and have a long Sunday hike or keep going.  We had read about a camping spot 8 miles in, but nobody wanted to go 8 miles and we thought maybe there would be another suitable site along the way.  With so much rain, water wasn’t really a problem, but sometimes it can be hard to find level ground.  With all of the indecision, we decided it must be time to have lunch.  After some tuna salad (ready to go from a foil packet…awesome) and crackers and some exploring, we decided to hike a bit further to even out the mileage for each day. 

DSCN2024

This part of the trail skirts along a bluff line and is fairly level walking.  There are a few stream crossings and lots of waterfalls down in the hollows below.  The sound of the breeze in the trees above and the crashing water on the rocks below was peaceful, but every once in a while sounds of the motorcycles on Highway 43 could be heard echoing off of the walls of the valley.  After a few miles, I couldn’t go any further and plopped down in the middle of the trail announcing it was break time.  We hadn’t seen a good place to camp and I was becoming concerned as it was getting close to 5 and my tummy was growling.  Knowing my propensity to stop just before a good spot, Stuart set down his pack and said he was going around the corner to see what was there.  About 2 minutes later, he yelled at me and I dutifully dragged myself around the corner to a great overlook spot.  We went back and grabbed the packs and took a break. 

DSCN2031

We looked around the overlook site and found a couple of fire rings where folks had camped before.  We were thinking it was quittin’ time and were both pretty excited about it.  Checking out the first spot though, there wasn’t really a good place to put the tent.  It was too muddy.  We headed a bit farther back and found another ring, along with a big critter hole of some sort.  It looked more promising, but then we noticed about a dozen ticks crawling on us both.  Upon further inspection, there appeared to be a healthy crop of poison ivy covering the ground.  After much debate and indecision, we made the decision to carry on, even though it was about 5:40 by this point. 

There aren’t any pictures of the next couple of miles, because I was too busy working up to a hissy fit a two year old would be proud of.  I was tired and hungry and the terrain was looking worse and worse for camping.  No level spots, no water, nothing.  I started to panic and envision us trying to tromp through the woods with our headlamps while snakes and raccoons would creep closer and closer.  I was moving at a pretty good clip and finally stopped to figure out where Stuart was.  He finally came around the corner and announced that his new boots had given him a blister.

DSCN2033Finally at mile 7.8, we came to the field next to Pearly Spring.  The sign said no camping, as the spring is on private property, but we collapsed on the ground to regroup and plan our next move.  At least we finally had some water.  Looking around we started seeing evidence of elk using the area, maybe to drink from the spring.  After about 15 minutes a walked up the trail a bit and found a campsite.  Home at last!  And still daylight.  We did a quick camp setup and wolfed down some ramen noodles, then turned in to fall asleep to the call of a whip-poor-will under the tiny sliver of the moon.

The next morning, we were up early to a foggy morning.  I discovered my air mattress had sprung a leak in the night, which explained why I just couldn’t get comfortable, there really was a rock in the middle of my back. Because we had gone so far the day before (a new record for us), day 2 was a short hike of about 3.5 miles.

DSCN2032

DSCN2035Less than half a mile from our campsite, we came to Running Creek.  At the spot where the trail crosses the creek, it looked like it was about waist high.  I decided to go down river and pick my way across a fallen tree and some stepping stones.  Stuart followed, but balancing on a tree with a 30 pound pack isn’t the easiest thing in the world.  After a few tense moments, he leaped to the rocks in the middle of the creek and we were on our way.

DSCN2036DSCN2037

DSCN2041The trail climbs up out of the Running Creek drainage and heads through some broken limestone bluffs along the way.  We took timeout for a few minutes to evaluate the blister situation and catch our breath and there was a neat looking tree that had grown around a vine.

DSCN2042

DSCN2047The trail started to head down hill and we knew we were getting close to the end.  We had our copy of Tim Ernst’s Buffalo River Hiking Trails which has some pretty great descriptions of the items of interest along with mileages and elevation charts.  When I spotted the sinkhole, I knew we were less than a mile from the end of the trail.  If you hike in Arkansas, Tim Ernst is a great resource, and his books help support trails in Arkansas.  Take some time to visit his website at timernst.com.

DSCN2048The trail seriously starts to head downhill at this point and the road trace suffered a bit from the rain.  It’s pretty rocky and steep and then all of a sudden, you are at the Ponca low water bridge.  It was pretty busy with canoe people and we sat down to plan our next move.  Our car was at the Buffalo Outdoor Center, which is just a short half-mile hike up the highway, but after 11.1 miles in two days, that last half mile seemed like a long stretch on hot pavement up a big hill.  Stuart spotted a BOC shuttle driver who was going to Kyle’s Landing, but he graciously offered to give us a ride back to our car.  We were pretty darn excited and jumped in his SUV and headed up the highway.  We were in the car and headed back to air conditioning by noon.

Posted in Hiking | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments