Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ozark Highlands Trail

NW Arkansas in the Ozark National Forest

Sections 7 & 8 plus the Buffalo River Trail

Resources – Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst, publishers

This is perhaps the best trail guide we have ever used. The maps were so complete that we did not buy a separate map. This is the only trip for which this is true. The map has distances between significant land marks.

Web -

We flew into Springfield MO airport and drove south past Branson MO and through Harrison AR.

Shuttle was prearranged with

Buffalo River Outfitters.

Route 1, Box 56

St. Joe, Arkansas 72675

Phone:870-439-2244, 1-800-582-2244

Shuttle And Half Day Hike31 March 2006 – Breakfast at the stone bakery in Harrison. Wonderful cinnamon/pecan rolls with eggs. (Colton’s - Good steak house last night with peanut shells on the floor, etc.) Arrived at Buffalo River Outfitters about 8:45. Our shuttle driver was late so we played fetch with the dog. They had us put the car inside a fence to be safe. The shuttle driver was born and raised in the area. Her family owned property “down in that holler”. She dropped us off at Fairview Campground on Highway 7.

We were walking by noon. It rained lightly. We found the actual OHT after a few minutes of reviewing the book/map. This is a walk in the woods. We stopped on a fallen log for lunch and found our first ticks. Took a break next to a stream. Found more ticks. We saw a snake, a few squirrels but few birds today. We had done 5.5 miles by 4:30. We first stopped next to a small creek but Jerry walked on and found a nicer spot near a larger stream in Greenhaw Hollow.

We heard a 2 cycle motor vehicle, dogs and a shot was fired. Don’t know more than that but that was enough to fuel a few imagined scenarios. We ate a very good teriyaki steak with rice dinner. Jerry made a fire and we solved three 5 Minute Mysteries and answered 50 trivia questions. We wanted to sleep under the stars but we could feel the dew forming. We put our sleeping bags under or in plastic. Condensation formed and we had damp sleeping bags by morning.

To Falling Water Creek1 April 2006 – Cool when we awoke so not in much of a hurry to get going. Walking by 8:40. Today we saw wild turkey, squirrels and a family in a golf cart with three dogs. We crossed several two tracks and three roads. The afternoon was more rugged, less traveled and less well marked. The hike up from Richland Creek is steep and long. We could have trained a bit harder to get ready. We explored around the old CCC camp. There are still remains of some buildings. We saw a three foot black snake which got our attention. We then heard a strange squeak and followed it to find a frog being eaten by another snake. Survival of the fittest… The book uses the abbreviation SSS meaning Special Scenic Spot. We had our first SSS at the end of the day, a deep ravine with huge boulders. It was interesting to cross.

We ended at a river near a bridge where roads 1219 and 1205 cross Falling Water Creek. We found a nice level rock shelf jutting into the river. We made 9 miles today. Ate stroganoff for dinner but we could have eaten a bit more tonight. It rained twice during the night. Jerry joined Norm in the tent during the first rain. When it stopped he went back out. When it started again, he just put his sleeping bag and himself into a construction sized plastic bag. He had his rain jacket on already. The plastic bag on his pack blew off, so much of his stuff was damp. Having the tent on the rock turned out to be a poor idea since the water pooled around and under the tent.

Richland Creek Campground2 April 2006 - The sky cleared about 11am. The trail included several SSS. It was cloudy and misty so we didn’t get any good pictures. We reached the National Forest Campground by noon.

It had tables, a water pump and an outhouse. We planned to use the afternoon to visit the Twin Falls and/or Richland Falls. There is no trail and so we were constantly looking for the easiest walking. We crossed the creek one too many times and ended up stranded on the wrong side (the east side). We walked back to camp and cleaned up and napped. There was no other party within ear shot but we had seen a car-camping party in another part of the campground during our walk. We were visited by a skunk twice during the night. Norm shined it away with his flashlight. Slept under the stars. Got down to 50 degrees. It seemed colder.

Beyond Stack Rock Trailhead3 April 2006 – On the trail by 8:00. Cooler walking compared to yesterday. Got confused once by missing a turn off a jeep road. Recovered in about 10 minutes with only 100 yards of back tracking. This is the prettiest section so far. More boulders and little water falls. Took a climb up through the large boulders surrounding a stream. This morning we met Ed and his friend. They were doing trail maintenance. Ed had a chain saw over his shoulder looking for dead fall across the trail and his friend was nailing up metal “blazes”. Ed informed us we were entering the section where the “problem” bears are released. Great. Just what we wanted to hear. Ed’s friend said he had never seen an Arkansas bear that did anything but run away. That was more in line with what we wanted to hear.

We had been expecting dogwoods in bloom. Saw our first today. Also saw thousands of trillium just about to open up. Saw lots of May Apples. We got confused once in the afternoon. On a jeep road we got to a place where the road goes left and right. Fortunately we guessed which way to go correctly and double luckily the trail crossed our road. I believe we should have left the road onto a trail sooner. Originally we intended to stop at Stack Rock but there is no water, so we went on about a mile and found the best spot of the trip. Water down the hill to the right and the foundation and chimney to an old cabin to the left. We were done for the day at about 4:30. We could see smoke rising through the trees in the direction we would be going the next day. Not what we wanted to see. We had beef stew for dinner. It was pretty good. We solved all three of the mysteries we tried. It got down to about 40 degrees. Jerry slept out by the fire.

To the Buffalo River4 April 2006 – Cold. On the trail by 8:40. Unremarkable morning. Saw deer after lunch. We took a break by a creek. It was green on one side and burned on the other side. Our trail went right through the burned part. We proceeded with caution and wondered if we would be turned back at some point. We saw some smoldering logs so deduced the fire had been there within a day or two. A single tree was still burning and fell after we passed it. It got smoky and the smoke got thicker and thicker. Eventually we could see the edge of the burn up ahead. Fortunately, the fire was really only burning the dead leaves and so we just crossed the line of small flames and proceeded up the trail. The trail lead away from the active burn but we saw burned patches throughout the rest of the day.

We reached the last source of water for this stretch of trail much too early to stop so we decided to press on to the Buffalo River. This required five more miles of walking. It was on a jeep road, so the walking was relatively easy and level. Portions were even shady. There was a huge pasture on one side. It was a pretty pleasant walk.We made decent time but Norm ran out of water. The final event of the day was to cross Richland Creek. We reached it where it intersects with the Buffalo River, so the creek was backed up and looked deep. Perhaps we could have walked upstream a half mile but it would have been bushwhacking so we just walked straight across. Norm took a trial walk. It was about chest deep but the bottom was reasonably firm and smooth. There was little current at that point. We just carried our packs above our heads and walked across. The water temperature was refreshing but not too cold. We definitely wanted to do this in the heat of the day rather than tomorrow morning, so we camped on the far side. The shore was very soft dirt but not quite mud. It wasn’t the greatest site but it was OK. Shaved and cleaned up. Spaghetti for dinner. The Mystery stumped us tonight.

Buffalo River Trail5 April 2006 – When we crossed Richland Creek yesterday, we technically left the Ozark Highlands Trail. Continuing on the OHT would require crossing the Buffalo River somehow which would definitely require a boat. The Buffalo River Trail took us directly back towards our car at the canoe livery.

We heard thunder soon after we awoke. We hustled to get all our stuff packed so it would stay dry. The rain started before Norm could get his long johns off. Fortunately, at least, he had slept in his rain pants. We put our slickers on and covered our packs with plastic bags and ate breakfast standing in the rain. The rain stopped for about 20 minutes, just long enough to take a nature call and then we headed up the trail. I do mean up. The trail immediately heads up the side of the bluff on some wooden steps and hugs the side of the bluff for miles. It started raining again. We stopped only briefly and we didn’t even snack or take pictures. When it’s raining, the only thing left to do is just walk. There were some nice views back down to the Buffalo River. We could see large parties of canoers who were camped on the far side of the river. It rained until about noon. Some of the trail is quite beat up by horse traffic and there is quite a bit of hiking on normal roads. There is some color coding on these trail markings. We followed yellow or if both marks were in evidence we followed white. We referenced the book frequently. At one point the book and the marks clearly disagreed. We followed the marks. They lead to a small cemetery. It had stopped raining at that point, so we took our packs off and hung them on the cemetery fence and had lunch. Everything was wet so we didn’t even sit down. After lunch we found out that following the marks had given us a bit of a shortcut and then we were back in agreement with the book again. Rained again in the afternoon for about an hour. We had expected to find water in a creek at about 6 miles but that creek was dry. The next creek bed had small pools of rain water. We anticipated a dry camp so we filled all of our bottles. It stopped raining at about 3:30 and since we had not taken many breaks, we had enough miles in, but we just couldn’t find a decent camping spot. At 11+ miles we found a marginal flat spot off a side road. We were just north of Calf Creek. There was a pond nearby but the water didn’t look clean enough for us to wash up. The sun came out so we hung everything out to dry.

After dinner we tried the 5 Minute Mysteries again. First one stumped us but we got the second one. Norm got so cold he just wanted to get into his sleeping bag. Strangely, it seemed to get warmed through the night and we both took off layers of clothes. We heard owls and coyotes.

Back to the Car6 April 2006 – Due to the long day yesterday, we were not very far from the car. We were awakened by thunder. Again we hustled to get all of our stuff packed to keep it dry. This time it did not rain. The trail markers took us into some big hay fields. Then there was a fork in the trail and no marker. We backtracked but couldn’t find a marker right away. When we did find one it took us back to the road we had been on yesterday. We never figured out why any markers took us into the hay fields. After following the road for just a little ways we found the trail into Tyler Bend Recreation Area. There is a nice sign at that point. We were very early so we took some trails in the Recreation Area and visited the visitor center. At an overlook we could clearly see down into the hay fields. We laughed the the locals had put the confusing markings on the trails just so they could watch hapless out-of-state hikers wander around in those hay fields. Even though the road would have been shorter we took the trails all the way to the bridge and then walked up the highway the 1.2 miles of hill to the outfitter and our car.

Under the category of “nothing is ever easy” we found a sign on the door. “Went to St. Joe” with a phone number. No one was there and our car was locked inside the fence. We had no cell phone so Jerry walked back down the hill a hundred yards to another outfitter/store and called the number from the sign. No answer. The fellow at the store figured out what Jerry was trying to do, knew where our guy was and suggested a different phone number. Jerry got through on this number and our guy was back by the time Jerry walked back. We had lunch at Colton’s in Harrison, and got a room at Big Cedar Lodge (a Bass Pro Shop fishing theme park), about the only place to lodge between Harriosn AR and Branson, MO.