The Beautiful Ozarks

I love traveling the winding dirt roads through the Ozark hills where homesteads, farms, and woodlands passed down through the generations form the landscape for my Waterside Kennels series. When I can’t get out to explore on my own, I find inspiration in the tales and photos of people like Jim Warnock, author, photographer, and avid trail trekker. In addition to many articles on hiking and travel published in regional magazines, he also authored the book Five Star Trails: The Ozarks which is a “must have” resource for anyone interested in hiking.

I turned to Jim for advice while I was writing Dangerous Deeds and his thoughtful suggestions provided the details I needed when crafting trail scenes. I also drew inspiration from his photographs. Here are a few from one of Jim’s 2013 adventures; you can read the entire post here. I hope this inspires you to go out and explore, wherever you are!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The trail passes the oldest known structure along the Buffalo River.  Built by Alvin and Greenberry Parker between 1847 and 1849, the structure is now known as the Parker-Hickman cabin because it was occupied by the Hickman family from 1912 to 1978.

Parker-Hickman Cabin

Jim shared this bit about the cabin from Ken Smith’s Buffalo River Handbook:

Newspapers and magazines were used to cover the inner walls and some print can still be read. Mud and wood pieces were used to fill between some of the large timbers.  The cabin was skillfully built with precisely cut half-dovetailed log corner joints.

As shown in these two photographs, the wall coverings still exist (click on image to enlarge the view):

 

 

Video lovers will appreciate this 7-minute virtual tour of the beautiful Ozarks:

When not hiking and writing about trails, Jim might be found maintaining his adopted 4-mile section of the Ozark Highlands Trail from Jack Creek to Dockery Gap. He shares many of his trail adventures with his black Lab, Hiker-dog. (I shared part of Hiker-dog’s rescue story here and here.)

Want more beautiful photographs and stories? Be sure to check out Jim’s blog at https://ozarkmountainhiker.com/.

Advice From Hiker-Dog’s Trail Partner

In addition to featuring dog-related fiction and information, I also showcase writers, photographers, and bloggers who live and work in the Ozarks. I find it’s a great way to introduce readers to the beauty of this place I call home, and readers tell me they enjoy learning more about the Ozarks region.

Hiker-dog says, “The less you carry, the better you move.”

Hiker-dog says, “The less you carry, the better you move.”

As I’m working on Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, I’ve been researching hiking trails across the Ozarks. Many are on private lands, accessible with permission to individuals and groups for hiking and camping, often in exchange for trail maintenance. Other trails, including the famous Ozark Highlands Trail, are almost completely on public lands, with private landowners granting OHT easement for the rest. Much of that trail is maintained by volunteers. One of those is Jim Warnock of the ozarkmountainhiker.com blog. Longtime followers of this blog might remember I shared Jim’s story of how Hiker-dog came into his life last year with an update here. Since then, Jim has generously shared his expertise and experience on the trails, making my research much easier. (Thanks, Jim!) With his permission, I’m reblogging his advice to novice hikers. Even if you’re a veteran of the trails or live beyond the Ozarks, you’ll find some good information here.

“Hike anywhere your feet will take you.”

What do I wear? What do I take with me? Where should I go?

When should I go? What are the dangers? Will a bear get me?

Many questions come to mind when you consider taking a hike for the first time. We’re going to consider these questions and be sure we have some simple answers before heading out. A few good questions can keep us out of trouble and ensure that we want to continue hiking after our early experiences.

Disclaimer: This is not an all-encompassing day hiking guide. These are just my thoughts based on personal experience and a few mistakes along the way.

What do I wear?

You can wear almost anything and get away with it on the trail. Don’t worry about fashion, but function. We’ll look at this from the ground up since feet are very important to hikers.

Oboz hiking shoes

Oboz hiking shoes

  1. Socks are among a hiker’s most important pieces of clothing. I use SmartWool socks, but there are other options. Don’t wear cotton socks unless you like blisters and soggy, smelly feet. Any tennis shoes of reasonable strength are fine for day hiking. Don’t go purchase a heavy pair of hiking boots unless you just want to. I don’t even wear heavy boots when backpacking. I use low-top hiking shoes. I like Oboz right now, but whatever feels good on your feet should guide your decision.
  2. Pants – If the weather is nice, any pants will do. If it’s cold, I prefer anything but cotton pants. Cotton gets wet (making you colder) and then will not dry out in the humid Ozarks until a few days later. When hiking in the Ozarks I almost always wear long pants because of undergrowth, briars, and ticks.
  3. Underwear – For a short day hike, you can use cotton, but as you work up to longer hikes, you’ll want a pair of undies made from a fabric other than cotton.
  4. Shirt – A cotton shirt in summer is alright but if there is a chance of colder temperatures, something like an UnderArmor t-shirt will keep you warmer than cotton.
  5. Hat – A hat is good for sun protection and heat retention, depending on the weather. I accidentally left my hat in my car at the Grand Canyon once and was thankful I had a bandana to tie into a makeshift hat. In some conditions, a hat is a necessity!
  6. Rain protection (especially in cooler temperatures) – A light rain jacket can be wadded up in the bottom of your daypack and forgotten about until needed.
  7. Gloves – Anything but cotton and only if needed. I wear some cheap army surplus wool glove liners when I hike, and they’re fine. I also have some nicer gloves for colder weather but am nervous about losing them. They hook together which is nice for storage in my pack. Finding one glove is more irritating than finding one sock in the drawer.

What do I take with me?

As little as possible is my short answer, but there are some essentials you’ll want to have depending on the conditions.  This list is drawn from the ten essentials that are published in many forms. Below is my list roughly by personal priority.

Filtering water from Spirits Creek with a Sawyer Filter

Filtering water from Spirits Creek with a Sawyer Filter

  1. Water and access to water – Put your water in a bottle or a bladder in your pack. One expert hiker friend, Grey Owl, swears by prune juice bottles. He gave me a couple, and I use them all the time. I carry a small Sawyer water filter in my daypack in case I run low. It doesn’t add much weight and has made me a few friends on the trail when others needed water.
  2. Food – Snacks that you’re used to eating are what you should take on the trail. This is no time to try something new in the food department.
  3. Extra clothing – Think protection from the elements. If it looks like rain, carry rain protection. If it looks like cold, carry an extra layer. My all-time favorite is an insulated vest. Stuff it in the bottom of your pack and it’s like a little insurance policy against a cold snap.
  4. Navigation – Don’t assume that you can’t get lost on a well used trail. Like Jeremiah Johnson, “I’ve never been lost, just confused for a month or two.” Fortunately, I’ve only been confused an hour or so, but it can be a little scary if you’re not prepared. A trail map of the area you’re hiking can make or break your trip. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes I just copy the appropriate pages from a trail guide and put them in a zip-lock bag. A compass is important. Even a general idea about directions can save you some grief. Don’t count on the compass app on your phone or GPS. Batteries don’t last. I have a small compass/thermometer that ties to a belt loop or my day pack. It’s always there.
  5. Illumination – A small headlamp or flashlight in your pack can be a big help if a hike takes longer than anticipated and you’re walking the last part of your trail in the dark. I carry a small LED light in my day pack at all times.
  6. Sun and bug protection – A little sunscreen can make you a happy and healthy hiker. Bug spray around the cuffs of your pants can discourage ticks. A little spray around your hat area can discourage deer flies and mosquitoes if you’re hiking in summer. Check for ticks often. If they get attached and stay awhile, your chances of getting one of several tick-borne diseases increase. I can usually feel the little guys climbing up my legs and pick them off before they attach.
  7. First Aid supplies – I like a zip-lock with some bandaids and any medicines I might need if stranded for a while. Keep it simple and light and then forget about it until you need it. Avoid purchasing a first aid kit because it will not be customized for your needs and you’ll be carrying unnecessary stuff.
  8. Fire – I carry a lighter. Don’t smoke, but I always have a lighter with me just in case I need a fire.
  9. Emergency shelter – This is simple to do. Cut a 8-10-inch hole close to the bottom of a large trash bag. I stuff it in the bottom of my pack and forget about it. I can put the bag over me and sit inside for shelter. The small opening allows me to see and breath but protects me from the elements. I’ve never used this but it’s like that cheap insurance policy I mentioned earlier.
  10. Most ten essentials lists include repair kit, but for day hiking I don’t carry any tools other than a small pocket knife. One of my hiking poles has some duct tape wrapped around it for emergencies. I’ve used this twice to reattach a shoe sole for other hikers.

***

novice hiker guide photo 4

Link to the rest at ozarkmountainhiker.com, to include an important reminder to always tell somebody where you’re going. Sign in at the trailhead, leave a note, and tell a friend. And as Arkansas Parks & Tourism likes to say: “Go Outside & Play!

Celebrate Life, Land, and Beauty

April 3rd has been named Save the Ozarks Day by the city of Eureka Springs in honor of all those who worked together to preserve the beauty of our region and stop the wanton destruction of our way of life. From Doug Stowe, Vice President, Save the Ozarks:

We are coming up on the second anniversary of AEP/SWEPCO’s application to destroy a huge swath of Northwest Arkansas to build an unnecessary 345 kV power line. Its towers, placed 6 to the mile, would have dwarfed our tallest oak trees, and the clear cut right of way would have been kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations by the use of toxic herbicides….

[R]ather than gathering together as we have done in the past, we urge everyone in our community to breathe in the beauty of that which would have been destroyed. Please stand with friends or alone if you choose, in a spot of overlook or of intimate beauty and hold fast in joy and celebration the image of what you see. You have taken part in saving for generations yet to come, the beauty, sanctity and serenity of this special place..” [Read the entire post here.]

For those of you who may not have the opportunity to celebrate the moment here in the Ozarks,  here are images generously shared by Ozark photographers. Enjoy!

At this time of year, every day brings a new surprise in the woods. You have to look closely to see some of the blooms tucked among the leaves and rocks of the hillsides. Take, for example, these tiny beauties from the Viola family, captured by Madison County photographer Billy Baker Whorton:

Viola blooms Madison County Billy Baker Whorton

© Billy Baker Whorton

Turn up your speakers for this video and listen to the sound of water rushing through Bear Creek Hollow in Newton County. This was shot in the Ozark National Forest by Dan Nash, who’s with Hiking The Ozarks:

 

If you prefer a mix of old and new, check out Jim Warnock’s article in the magazine Do SouthAnd find more great photos and stories by Jim (with Hiker, the Wonder Dog) on his website http://ozarkmountainhiker.com/. Here’s one of my favorite shots from Jim’s website:

Cascade at Bliss Spring  ©  Jim Warnock

Cascade at Bliss Spring © Jim Warnock

Trust me when I say that water is COLD–as I learned to my chagrin when I slipped not long go when crossing a creek and water rushed over the top of my boots. (Tip: always pack extra socks!)

Here in the Ozarks, wintry conditions are still a definite possibility all through March and April or beyond. Last year, it snowed the first week of May. Some years back, we went camping one Easter weekend and the temp hit a low of 19 degrees. (The dog’s water froze in the tent!)

More often, though, April will bring sunshine and warm temperatures. And all too often those warm temps will usher in some wild weather. When I saw this fabulous photograph by Larry Waterman I was reminded of this line from Deadly Ties: “Weather in the Ozarks is notoriously unpredictable.” This shot says it all:

Heber Springs © Larry Waterman. All rights reserved.

Heber Springs © Larry Waterman. All rights reserved.

As we come to the end of our virtual tour, let me leave you with a view of the Buffalo River Valley and a line from Dangerous Deeds, the forthcoming book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series: “If I’ve learned anything since settling here, it’s that land and family are the heart of the Ozarks. The legends, the history—it all comes back to the hills and the people, doesn’t it?”          

Buffalo River Valley © Dan Nash at Hiking the Ozarks

Buffalo River Valley © Dan Nash at Hiking the Ozarks

Make a difference, one dog at a time

Here’s a happy update on a story I first shared back in June about Hiker, the dog found on the Ozarks Highlands Trail. Although little more than skin and bones when her path first crossed with Jim Warnock, she had an amazing heart and followed Jim and his hiking partner for 40 miles through some seriously rugged terrain. The photo below was taken in January, 2104:

Hiker January 20th 2014

By March, she was putting on weight and ready to hit the trail again. Here she is in the woods just a few months after she and Jim met on the trail:

Hiker in snowy March 2014

And here’s Hiker now. At her latest vist to the vet, she weighed in at a healthy 66 lbs!

Hiker on trail August 2014

Hiker August 2014

Jim says she’s enjoying her new life. Together they hike the Lake Alma Trail six days a week, and as we can see from the photo above, she loves playtime. She even likes to visit the vet clinic!

To keep up with the adventures of Hiker and her trail partner Jim, be sure to visit Jim’s blog at http://ozarkmountainhiker.com/.  Here’s hoping our paths cross soon on the Ozarks trails!

A Different Kind of Dog Story

Hiker crossing Little Frog Bayou on her daily morning walk. Photo © James Warnock

Hiker crossing Little Frog Bayou on her daily morning walk. Photo © James Warnock

The Ozark Highlands Trail is not for the faint of heart. It’s 218 miles of trails crossing 165 miles of rugged terrain, with a good bit of it in the Ozark National Forest. Here’s the description from the Ozark Highlands Trail Association:

The trail passes through some of the most remote and scenic portions of the Ozark Mountains, like the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area. It also visits White Rock Mountain (best sunset in the Arkansas!), Hare Mountain, the Marinoni Scenic Area, Dead Dog Bluff, and countless other breathtaking spots.

I live in the Ozarks and over the years have hiked many a mile in the region. Late winter hikes are sometimes the best (less worry about snakes, and spectacular views through the leafless trees), but the trail is a magical place year round. And while my boots seldom hit the trails these days, I love to read the stories shared by hiking enthusiasts, photographers, and others who celebrate the wonders of the outdoors.

One of those hikers is Jim Warnock, whose blog is a feast for the spirit. When I read the story of how a dog came to be his new trail partner, I knew I had to let others know where to find this remarkable tale. The story began in mid-January and when Jim and his hiking partner, Bob, set off to complete the last leg of the trail. Here’s Jim:

A third hiking partner joined us on our first night out.  We were setting up camp at mile 138 when an emaciated black lab appeared.  We ignore her in hopes that she would reunite with her owners but the next day she quietly followed us for fourteen miles.  At the end of that day we gave in and shared some of our beef and turkey jerky.  These were limited rations because neither of us packed much extra food. Bob said, “If we’d known we’d have a dog, we would have packed some Alpo.”

This black lab demonstrated good outdoor skills as she curled up in a nest of leaves next to a log. The following morning we feared we were going to witness the death of this dog but she persevered and continued mile after mile with only limited rations from our small surplus of food.

Hiker on the OHT

“We feared we were going to witness the death of this dog.” Photo © James Warnock

There’s much more to the story, and you can read it here. And once you’ve read how the story began, take a look at Jim’s most recent posts and learn the 12 qualities that make this dog an ideal hiking partner. Here’s a photo Jim sent along for the slideshow, showing his new partner ready for her next adventure!

Hiker

She’s ready to go! Photo © James Warnock

For more great photos and stories, view the slideshow at Jim’s blog. And then grab your boots and find a trail near you!