Switching Gears…

Once again, we’ve switched gears and shelved plans for RMNP this year.  Broken record, I know.  Depending on how things go with Covid, Deep Woods and I will attempt to return to the AT for a week in the Spring or Fall.  Loonie and I, however, have set a different course.  In order to make the most of the time we have available, we’ve chosen to stick closer to home.  The long drive back and forth to PA is starting to wear on us, me in particular.  RMNP would require an even longer drive.  Why not fly, you ask?  Plans were to do some car camping and day hiking in addition to a couple of three or four night trips into the backcountry.  Considering all of the gear we would be dragging along, flying didn’t sound practical (or economical) at all.  So what now?

Seeing as how Arkansas is just a bit over five hours away, we’re looking into that.  The Ozark Trail in MO and River to River Trail in IL are close enough that they could be reserved for long weekends.  Opportunities for backpacking in AR are abundant but we’re thinking of starting off with the 37.1 mile upper section of the Buffalo River Trail (BRT).  After that, we could start knocking off sections of the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) or Ouachita National Recreation Trail (OT).  A recent trip to Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake in MO provided a good opportunity to drive down and get a look at what’s in store for us in the Buffalo River region.

Big Cedar sits just a few miles from the AR border and a bit over an hour from Boxley AR, the western terminus of the upper BRT.  Perfect.  We drove down 65 to Harrison AR then headed SW up into the Boston Mountains.  For the most part, the sky and roads were dry but once in the mountains the ground and trees were covered in snow and ice.  Absolutely beautiful.  Reaching Boxley Valley, we caught glimpses of two herds of Elk reintroduced here from the Rockies.  We pulled off to get a better look at one and a Bald Eagle swept down a mere 15 feet or so right over our heads.  Very cool.

After locating the trailhead, we drove East with the intention of stopping at the eastern terminus at Pruitt before swinging by Tyler Bend on the way back to Big Cedar.  Got a good look at a Bobcat in the trees just off the road, a first for the two of us.  Sadly he didn’t stay put long enough to get a pic.  We had Tim Ernst’s “Arkansas Nature Lover’s Guidebook” with us and decided to take forest service road FR 1205 back to Falling Water Falls.  Spectacular!  From there, we drove seven miles more on 1205 to Richland Creek primitive campground.   This entire area is neat and we can’t wait to return to explore more extensively.

Falling Water Falls

We continued on FR 1205, eventually turning off onto FR 1201.  The guidebook indicated that this would eventually take us to the town of Snowball, putting us close to Tyler Bend, Hwy 65 and on our way back to the resort.  However, it didn’t show the complete route there nor how many miles it would be.  We neglected to bring a detailed map and Google Maps was pretty much useless, showing numerous roads ending in the middle of nowhere.  By now, the sun had set, the roads were sketchy at best and we were in a FWD Chrysler Town and Country.  Were it to start pouring rain or dumping snow, we could very well find ourselves stranded.  Not wanting to push our luck further, we did an about face and made the long, slow drive back to the paved two-lane where we had started.  By this point, we couldn’t see a thing so we passed on Pruitt and Tyler Bend and returned to the resort.

Ozark Highlands Trail crossing at Richland Creek Campground

All in all, we were very impressed with the area.  It certainly lived up to the hype, at least what little we were able to see.  Now, as for a return, it’s hard to say.  We’re targeting mid-April but Loonie’s nursing a bad back.  Time will tell.  I’m not sure that I would want to go any later in the Spring, so a Fall trip may have to suffice.  I will say that I highly recommend one or more of Tim Ernst’s books on the state.  Prior to the the trip, we picked up “Buffalo River Hiking Trails” which covers the entire BRT as well as a multitude of other hikes in the Buffalo region.  During a stop at an outfitter prior to dropping down into Boxley Valley, Loonie grabbed the copy of “Arkansas Nature Lover’s Guidebook”, which covers hikes all throughout the state.

It would seem that one could spend a lifetime in Arkansas and not make it to everything covered Tim’s books.  We’re looking forward to returning.  Hopefully Loonie will recover soon and we can make that happen.

More to come…

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