Hot Springs National Park and Ouchita National Forest – Arkansas 5/27/18

 

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

 

Driving through Arkansas with stops at Hollis CCC Camp and Hot Springs National Park

 

Not much hiking today, but some interesting sights for sure.

We headed out of Fayetteville, through the Ozarks and Ouchita National Forest on Scenic Byway 7.  We made a quick stop at Turner Bend, which is a whitewater rafting destination that we will keep in mind for the future.  There’s a little store there with all kinds of gear that reminded me of Neel’s Gap on the AT.

There were several overlooks along the road with pretty views.

Scenic Byway 7

My favorite stop of the day was at the remains of the Hollis CCC Camp.  Again, one of the New Deal program’s vestiges.

I love the idea of the CCC.  There’s a great section in Ken Burns’ National Parks documentary series that really gets into what the CCC was about and how it changed the lives of so many during The Depression.  I think we are actually in a great place to bring back something similar today.  With our infrastructure in dire need of repairs and updating and the coming job market shake up due to automation and the loss of retail, it makes perfect sense.  But I don’t run things up in this joint.  I digress.

We walked around the ruins (only 90 years old or so, but still) and read the many informative signs describing what once was.

Building foundations at Hollis CCC Camp
Fireplace from the Rec Hall

After a couple more stops at picnic areas we got to Hot Springs National Park.  It is really more of a town than a park, with most of the hot springs having been transformed into bathhouses in the early 20th century.  There is a small mountain that the hot springs flow out of that you can drive or hike up to the top of with a great view of the town.  We chose to drive up today.

Court and Finn
View of Hot Springs

I got the stamp for my National Park Passport at the Visitor Center and we felt a couple of the hot springs flowing directly out of the ground.  They are really really hot.  Not just a clever name.  There also is apparently a strong baseball history in Hot Springs, which I will have to research more later.  The dogs were a bit of a handful, with the town being full of people for Memorial Weekend, so I didn’t get many pics.

If you would have asked me when I thought I would get to Hot Springs National Park on my list of parks to visit, it would have been way down the list, but I’m glad we got to visit and it was pretty interesting.  No grand mountains or epic wildlife, but pretty nonetheless.

 

Lake Fort Smith State Park – Ozark Highlands Trail – Arkansas 5/26/18

 

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

 

Lake Fort Smith State Park – Ozark Highlands Trail – near Fort Smith, AR

sunny, clear, hot, low 90s

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

1.8 miles

 

 

We reached Lake Fort Smith State Park in the early afternoon and I had no idea until we got there that this was the western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail.  I had seen the OHT mentioned in various hiking forums, but this was a pretty cool surprise.

From the Ozark Highlands Trail Association page:

The OHTA builds and maintains the growing Ozark Highlands Trail across northwest Arkansas from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Lake Norfork where it will connect to the Ozark Trail of Missouri.  About 230 miles of trail are built as of 2017, not including about 15 miles of trail route in the Lower Buffalo Wilderness.

Sign at Visitor Center

 

We started down the trail with the dogs, not sure of how far we would go.  It started off hot and exposed, but quickly dove down into the shaded forest along the lake shore.

View of Lake Fort Smith
Western Terminus of the OHT

The trail was well marked and we soon got to a seasonal waterfall, but sadly, no water.

Metal blaze
No water
Court is sad

We went a little bit further, but then noticed a tick crawling on Finn’s coat.  And then another. And then another.  We decided it was time to head back and it was getting pretty hot anyway, even under the canopy of trees.  The tick key I bought last year ended up coming in handy.  We spent the remainder of the night at the hotel, and parts of the next couple of days, picking ticks off both the dogs.  Most were tiny and had embedded themselves in the pup’s paws.  Not something we are very used to in Texas.

I was glad to have visited my third long trail terminus (adding to the PCT and AT southern terminuses) even though we only got to go about a mile in.

The next day we would start the journey home,  stopping at Hot Springs National Park and several Ouchita National Forest sites along the way, which will be documented in next post.

End of trail pic, complete with thumb over lens

Devil’s Den State Park – Arkansas 5/26/18

 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

 

Devil’s Den State Park – various trails – near Fayetteville, AR

Warm, sunny, clear, mid 80s

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

 

We had quite the adventure this Memorial Day Weekend.  The original plan was to go camp on the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas.  The issue is that all of the campsites are first come, first serve.  Supposedly, the “check in” time for those sites is 1pm.  Well, we found out the hard way that check in is not enforced.

We drove halfway from Austin the night before, staying at a La Quinta in Durant, Oklahoma.  Lovely.  We then woke up at 6am and drove to the Buffalo National River through the Ozarks, arriving at the first campsite around noon.  It was PACKED.  We called the ranger station and it quickly became apparent that there were no sites to be had.  After a short freak out session and driving through the mountains aimlessly, we settled on going to Fayetteville and getting a hotel and doing some day hiking at nearby state parks.  This actually turned out to be a lot of fun.

On the way to Fayetteville the sky ahead got really dark and ominous.  We pulled into a Walmart (like you do in Arkansas) and waited out a pretty intense storm in the parking lot for an hour or so.  We made lunch in the car and were thankful that we weren’t out in this weather on the river.

We checked into the hotel with the pups and then went out to explore a bit of Fayetteville.  It’s actually a pretty nice little college town.

The next morning we headed south to Devil’s Den State Park.  When we arrived at the Visitor Center, a CCC-era building, I went inside to pay for my permit, like I always do in Texas.  I came to find out that all state parks in Arkansas are free!  The funding apparently built into their taxes.  Take note Texas.

We started exploring and took the short main trail from the Visitor Center that winds up through the rocky hills and the many caves and crevices that give the park its name.  The rock formations were spectacular.

Into the Dwimorberg!
Devil’s Den

Giant chair

 

We then went down to the dam (also CCC-era) that created Lake Devil.

The day was still young, so we headed to a different part of the park and hiked a lesser traveled path that followed Lee Creek and allowed for some water fun for the dogs as well.  The water was cold and refreshing.

Turtle on trail!
Nice path through the woods

A very brittle shale (I think) lined the creek bed and would crunch as it broke when you walked on it.  It was fascinating.

After getting a bit lost, we headed back to the car and then ate lunch by the creek while families celebrated Memorial Weekend in the water.

Which way?

After lunch, we pushed on to Lake Fort Smith State Park, continued on the next entry.

Lake Somerville – Nails Creek State Park 5/19/18

 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

 

Lake Somerville – Nails Creek State Park – near Brenham, TX

Partly cloudy, warm, pleasant, upper 70s

Ian, Biff, Finn

5.6 miles

 

Another new State Park!  We went to Navasota for the weekend and I went hiking with the dogs while Court drove up to Tyler with her mom for work stuff.

Trail head

I left early to make the hour drive to Lake Somerville and got to the trail just before the park headquarters opened at 8am.  The Texas heat is starting to hit and that means the hikes have to be early, especially if the dogs are coming along.  The Lake Somerville Trailway is a hiking/equestrian trail that actually goes 13 miles (one way) around the lake, but due to some recent flooding, horses aren’t allowed right now.  I would also find out, the hard way, that the trail I had chosen today was cut short due to this same flood damage.

 

I started out doing the short Nails Creek Trail loop which goes along the lakeshore and is very sandy with a lot of flowers.  There were a lot of flowers in general on this hike, which was a nice surprise, especially this late in the spring.

Sandy trail

Lake view in the morning

 

After that I hit the main trailway.  It is a wide track for horses, but is still very pretty.  I only saw two other hikers the whole day.  A couple of miles in I got to a bridge and that was to be my turnaround point for the day, due to the unexpected closure.

Perhaps the real reason for the trail closure? That pesky Nedry shutting off the power again.

As we backtracked, Biff decided it was time for a break.

I used Finn’s new leash which attaches to a hip belt so it made hiking with two dogs much easier, as I had one hand free most of the time.  When we got back to the car we had a quick water and snack break.  I was going to do another short loop by the lake, but about 5 minutes down the trail Biff gave me the look that it was time to call it a day so we got back to the car and blasted the AC.

Snack time

Map: https://www.gaiagps.com/public/DSqnU5sTLqjIY4x342ozq5ci?embed=True

Steiner Ranch Trail System – Bear Creek Trail 5/6/18

 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

 

Steiner Ranch Trail System – Bear Creek Trail

Sunny and humid, but nice

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

1.6 miles

 

We once again headed out to Steiner Ranch to do a quick hike with the pups.  We ended up doing part of the trail that we never had done before and it was really nice.  Felt very Oregon-y at points.  Very forested and a nice creek running through.

Bear Creek was the name of this short trail and we followed it down into the woods and then back up to the neighborhood.  Small loop, but nice when you are short on time.  Court’s parents should have their house out in Steiner in the next year, so I’m sure we’ll eventually become connoisseurs of this whole system.

All in all, a nice spring hike in Texas.  The heat is about to officially hit though, meaning morning hikes only for a few months.  We have a quick trip to Seattle and Mount Rainier this summer and also a big international trip this fall though!

Map Link: https://www.gaiagps.com/public/M7esUuQaLrxFjXzTU6Xc0nnH?embed=True

Guadalupe River State Park 4/29/18

 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

 

Guadalupe River State Park, near Boerne, TX

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

Warm, partly cloudy, low 80s

3.5 miles give or take

 

Another new state park for us!  We have been wanting to get out to this park for a while and I’m glad we finally made it.  We started off at the “Discovery Center” and then combined a few trails for about 3 miles total.  The dogs were very happy and are both such good hikers.  The prickly pears and other cacti were blooming nicely.  There was a nice view of the river from above as well.

Discovery Center

Happy Biff

River View

 

We then headed down to the river to cool off and eat lunch.  There were a ton of people enjoying the river, including some not well-behaved dogs, so we went pretty far down the river trail to find a spot.  The first spot I chose ended up harboring a bee hive, which sent me into flashbacks of when I was a little kid in Pennsylvania and got stung about 100 times.  Luckily I wasn’t allergic.  I made an immediate u-turn and went back up the river trail in the opposite direction before finding a semi-quiet spot to put our feet in the water and eat.  It’s amazing how good food tastes after even a short hike in decent heat.  I can’t even imagine the hunger and then satiation that thru-hikers experience.

Finn begging for sandwich
Rejected (they both got some though)
Lunch View

 

After the river, we took another short trail a half mile or so more through the moss-covered oaks and then headed back to the car.  On the way home we stopped at Sonic and got a slush and a limeade to cap off the warm day.

Mossy trees

Grelle Recreation Area 4/8/18

 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

 

Grelle Recreation Area 

Cloudy, 50s-60s, giving way to sun and 70s

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

3.8 miles

 

Another new trail for us.  It turns out there are a lot of trails within the LCRA parks that aren’t well known or traversed.  Grelle Recreation Area is right near Muleshoe Bend, which we hiked a few weeks ago, but I liked this trail much better.  It was a true hiking trail (not a mountain bike trail) and had lots of ups and downs that made for a semi-challenging experience, especially with our relative lack of hiking, and therefore fitness, as of late.

The original plan was to hike on Saturday morning, but a random cold front came through on Friday night and temperatures went from the 70s on Friday to the low 40s all day Saturday, so we pushed the hike until Sunday when things got a little closer to normal.

We drove out in Courtney’s new car, a Tesla Model 3, which is certainly not a normal car to take out to the trail, but we figured it would hold up on gravel roads and save us gas money.  Moreover, there is just something about taking an electric car to go hiking that seems right.

The trail started as your typical rocky Texas trail, but eventually gave way to more traditional tread and even soft dirt in some places along the ridge, which challenged our ankle strength.  The dogs did great for the most part, though Biff pulled a fake injury at one point, causing me to carry him for a couple hundred yards until he miraculously recovered.  What a goof.

As we climbed up the ridge and hit the Mustang Ridge trail, the sun decided to show itself and the temperatures rose, which was a welcome occurrence and made us shed our jackets and stow them away in the pack.  Towards the end of the hike, the sky was clear blue and the trees showed their normal Texas spring time selves.

What a great day to get out and enjoy the trail and life in general.

I generally don’t like it when blogs have all the text first and all the photos second, but that’s how I did this one.  Deal with it.

Finn and cairns
Climbing up in the cold

First trail marker

Lake is a little low
Blue skies starting to break through

Spring in Texas
Donquita