November 16-17, 2001: A Visit to San Antonio and Leakey
September 1-4, 2001: Southern Decadence in New Orleans
Return to the Index for 2001


November 5-8, 2001
A Trip to Oklahoma and Arkansas

 

Fred has some additional vacation days that he can take from the greenhouses this year, and so we've planned a hiking trip over to Arkansas for the weekend of the 6th and 7th. Fred will also take Friday the 5th and Monday the 8th (Columbus Day this year) off as well. We'll be making a route north into Oklahoma to the Billy Creek Recreation Area (which actually goes into northwest Arkansas, and then spend three days in Arkansas- mostly near the Albert Pike Recreation Area. Here is a high-level map of the area that we'll cover:


On Friday, we drove generally northeast up US 75 into Oklahoma and then south of McAlester and into the Billy Creek Recreation Area of Oklahoma. There, we did a couple of short hikes and camped in the small campground. On Saturday, we drove into Oklahoma, down around Mena, Arkansas and around to the south of the Ouachita National Forest, heading into the Forest near Langley. We did a very nice hike in the afternoon to the Winding Stairs area, and camped that night in the Albert Pike Campground.

On Sunday, there were two hikes in the Albert Pike Recreation Area to streams and waterfalls- all on the Little Missouri River. At the end of the day, we drove north out of the Ouachita National Forest and up past Fort Smith to the White Rock Mountain Recreation Area where we camped for our third night. On Monday, we hiked the White Rock Rim Loop before leaving for home.

It was a really pleasant long weekend, and the weather was pretty much perfect.

So let's take a look at the hikes we did, beginning with our first afternoon at the Billy Creek Recreation Area in Oklahoma.

 

The Billy Creek Recreation Area (Oklahoma and Arkansas) (11/5)

As we came into the Billy Creek Recreation Area, we were at the beginning of the Talimena Scenic Drive, which heads east into Arkansas from here. We stopped at the campground to secure a space for the night, and spent some time setting up the tent before we went off on an afternoon hike along the Billy Creek Trail.


The Billy Creek Recreation Area is located within the Ouachita National Forest, and the trailhead for the Billy Creek Trail was at the end of the campground where we'd set up our tent. This recreation area, as well as the national forest, spans a small part of Oklahoma and a larger part of northwest Arkansas. In fact, we found, hikers and campers refer to the area as "Arklahoma," and seem not to be very much concerned with which state they are in.

The trail we hiked this afternoon is a long, winding one, and trails intersecting with it lead on into Arkansas. The marked trail we were on forms a six-mile loop, winding up and down the hillsides (gaining and losing some 600 feet elevation) and down into small valleys, one of which has Billy Creek running through it. It was a neat hike through the forest, and we even got to see some Fall color. Click on the thumbnails below for a couple of other pictures from the hike:


When we got down in the valley to Billy Creek itself, we found a rock-strewn riverbed with not all that much water going through it.

Loading the player...

Fred has recently gotten a digital camera that allows him to take movies, and he used that feature to film me down by Billy Creek. You can watch his short movie with the player at right.

Our hike took about three hours altogether, and when we returned to the campground, it was getting quite dark. While Fred fixed supper, I inflated the air mattresses and got the inside of the tent in shape. We had the campground pretty much to ourselves, and we got a good night's sleep.

 

The Winding Stairs Hike (Arkansas) (11/6)

On Saturday morning, we struck the campsite and did a bit more walking around the Ouachita Forest near the campground. Then we headed off, driving along the Talimena Scenic Drive towards Mena, Arkansas, and from there worked our way around to the south of the Albert Pike Recreation area, coming into it from the south. We planned to camp in the Recreation Area, but first we wanted to hike through an area called "the Winding Stairs."


At the Little Missouri River

We drove along the Talimena Scenic Highway, winding down around through Mena to come up into the Albert Pike Recreation Area from the south on highway 369. About six miles into the area, we found the Little Missouri campground.

We found the Little Missouri trailhead in Camp Area B, although we could have driven to another trailhead for the Winding Stairs trail about a mile and a half west on a forest road. But we decided to take the longer hike; it was a nice afternoon and there was a lot of fall color to see on the first part of the hike through the forest.

From the trailhead, we walked through the forest to come alongside the Little Missouri River, and we followed the river downstream to the National Forest boundary.

The walk, especially along the river, was through an area known for its scenic beauty, popular swimming holes and challenging fishing opportunities. There were small cascading waterfalls, abundant wildflowers and impressive fall colors- all of which contribute to the popularity of this trail.

Loading the player...

Down at the river, Fred made a movie (at my request), and you can watch it with the player at right:

Below are clickable thumbnails for some of the pictures we took as we were hiking along- and crisscrossing- the river and some of its little tributaries:



The trail provides several spectacular overlooks of the river. The most scenic spot on the trail is where Raven Branch flows into it. The afternoon was perfect for the hike, although when we had to wade the river, we found the water to be darn cold.


At One of the Rock Outcrops Along the River

The river flows through an area that seemed to have layers of rock; sometimes these were evidenced by straight fracture lines as these layers, forced vertical eons ago, crossed the riverbed. At other places, the layers were still horizontal, and the action of wind and water had made small, shallow caves and overhangs. These novaculite outcroppings were the setting for a number of the pictures we took along the river hike, and I've put clickable thumbnails below for some of these:



Although we didn't encounter anyone else on the trail this afternoon, we have come to understand that it is a popular one with both day and overnight hikers; the trail, combined with the Little Missouri Trail, provides about 16 miles of trail along the Little Missouri River- quite enough to satisfy the needs of hikers who want to backpack and camp overnight.

We went ahead and stayed in the campground that was back at the beginning of the trailhead; by the late evening the campground was only about half full, which is one reason why we take our fall trips in October, when the kids are all back in school.

 

Tributaries of the Little Missouri River (Arkansas) (11/7)

The Little Missouri River is a rocky mountain river that, in northwest Arkansas, flows through narrow forested canyons. This river has numerous small waterfalls, crystal clear water, and outstanding scenery including towering rocky bluffs crowned with pine. The Little Missouri River was so named because its lower reaches were said to remind early French explorers of the Missouri River.


Along the Little Missouri River

Our first hike today was to go along the course of the lower Little Missouri, where we were expecting to see numerous waterfalls- most just rocky cascades. McKinney Falls, on one of the tributaries of the Little Missouri, was one destination.

The Little Missouri flows in a generally north-to-south direction through Pike, Clark, and Montgomery counties in northwestern and north centrak Arkansas. There are numerous tributaries, each of which has its own charm. The Little Missouri River is dammed by Narrows Dam and forms Lake Greeson; the stretch above lake is wide and has an average drop of 35 feet per mile, making it an excellent canoeing river. Down below the dam, however, the river is much more placid, and it turns out that its various tributaries, many of which run through the Albert Pike Recreation area, where we are this morning, are more picturesque and interesting.

The watershed of the Little Missouri River is quite small, which means that its upper reaches ordinarily contain little water during the dry summer months, and there is relatively little water in the tributaries as well, since we are here after the dry summer and before the fall rains and snows.


A Small, Picturesque River Tributary

Our hike, which took us until after lunch, was very, very pleasant. We were always alongside a river, sometimes higher up on the rocky cliffs, or sometimes right down in the riverbed where, at one point, we found a large number of what looked like miniature lobsters. Towards the end of our hike, we reached an unusual little waterfall, where the creek flowed through a hole in the tablerock. Fred got a nice picture of me sitting atop this waterfall.

Use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of the pictures we took along the hike and at the various small waterfalls we found:


Portions of the Little Missouri River flow through the Ouachita National Forest, and the lower segment flows past the Crater of Diamonds State Park. The Albert Pike Campground provides camping facilities for visitors to the area.

Fred took some movies this morning while we were at some of the small waterfalls; they are short and mostly show me walking around the rocks or the waterfalls themselves. You can watch them with the three players below.

Loading the player...
Loading the player...
Loading the player...

 

Hiking in the Albert Pike Recreation Area (Arkansas) (11/7)

We went back to the campground to the truck and had some lunch, and then took off on a different hike in a different direction. Before we head off, however, you might be interested in knowing the story behind the name of this recreational area in Arkansas, and there was a sign near the campground that explained it. You can read the sign if you want to, using the scrollable window below:

So after getting a little background on who Albert Pike was, we headed off along a different trail that would lead to a different stream.


This afternoon hike involved another walk through the woods, just as pretty and peaceful as our hike this morning had been. Now, in October, the weather in Arkansas was just about perfect- sunny with a temperature right around 70. After a mile or so, we came to another one of the many streams that flow through Albert Pike, and I thought this one was even prettier than the one this morning.

We hiked upstream for a ways, walking on the rocks in the streambed, until we came to a pretty nice waterfall. It consisted of a couple of different cascades over the same rock outcropping, and it was easy to get up on top of the ten-foot falls to sit and enjoy them.

Below are clickable thumbnails for some of the pictures that we took on this peaceful afternoon hike:

You may not have looked closely at the last picture of those above; if you didn't, you should click here. The insect you are looking at is a Phasmatodea, or, more commonly, the "stick insect." As its name suggests, the creature looks like a twig on a branch, bush or tree, and is thus difficult for predators to spot. Stick insects are found in the forests, rainforests and jungles around the world where they live a peaceful lifestyle, expertly camouflaged into their surroundings.

There are more than 3,000 different species of stick insect in the world, with more being thought to have not yet been discovered. Stick insects can range in size from just over an inch to almost a foot long; if you can't tell from the picture, this one was about six inches long. This species had a long, cylindrical body- stick-like in both shape and color. Others have flattened bodies that make them look more like leaves than sticks. Stick insects are herbivorous, feeding on leaves and other green plants, along with the odd berries or fruit.

Stick insects have numerous predators in their tree-surrounded environment, if they can be seen that is. Birds, small reptiles, and rodents all feed on the stick insect if they are able to find one. After mating, the female stick insect lays up to 1,500 eggs which are cleverly camouflaged to look like plant seeds. The eggs of the stick insect are able to lay dormant for months before the larvae begin to hatch out of the eggs- already closely resembling their adult form.

After our hike here, we returned to the truck and headed further north through the recreation area, leaving it and continuing north through Fort Smith and into the White Rock Mountain Recreation Area. There, we found a campsite and settled in for the night.

 

The White Rock Rim Loop Trail (Arkansas) (11/8)

On the morning of our last day over here in Arkansas, we planned to hike around the top of White Rock Mountain. So we arose and struck the campsite, loading everything back into the truck and planned the hike. We had a guidebook with us that described the trail.


The View From White Rock Mountain

According to the hiking book we had with us, the White Rock Rim Loop is easily one of the most scenic hikes in Arkansas. There are no waterfalls, but wonderful views in almost all directions. The trail follows along the top of the bluffline up on White Rock Mountain. Although we weren't there to do it, it is, apparently, a great spot from which to watch sunrises and sunsets. We stayed in the campground, although there are cabins for rent as well as a lodge.

To optimize the views, the trail runs close to the edge of the tall bluff most of the way, and so folks are admonished not to take small children with them- the risk of a fatal fall is just too great. It's also not a good idea to hike after dark (in fact, much of the trail is closed after sunset) or while intoxicated. There have been a number of deaths related to these factors in the past few years.


Around the campground, and from all along the trail, the fall colors were impressive, even though they won't be at their peak in this part of Arkansas until later in the month. At left are clickable thumbnails for a few of the pictures we took that will illustrate.

From the campground, we went to the end for a trailhead marked for the Ozark Highlands Trail, headed down that road, following blue blazes, until we passed the last cabin and came to the beginning of the actual Loop Trail.


A High Bluff Along the Trail

As we headed out towards the end of a point, another trail came in from the right- our return from the Loop, as it turned out. We continued straight to a trail intersection. There, the Ozark Highlands Trail took off to the right, but we continued straight ahead. The trail from this point on was not marked or blazed, but it was easy to follow. Soon beyond, the trail came to the end of the point and swung sharply back to the left (at a popular point for watching the sunrise when the leaves are off the trees). All along this part of the hike, we were looking up at bluff faces or down into canyons, and it was pretty easy to see why this trail is not recommended for small children. Use the clickable thumbnails below to see what I mean:

As the trail headed on around on top of the bluff, we got some great views down onto the bluff itself- lots of lichen and moss and even a few ferns growing on the sandstone rock.

The drainage out in front of us is called the Salt Fork Creek valley. The trail continued to hug the bluff, going past several large hardwoods. Looking out across Salt Fork, the first mountain beyond was Potato Knob, and we could see six or seven ridges beyond that.

About a mile into the hike, we passed a trail off to our left; it turned out to be a shortcut back to the campground for folks who didn't want to do the whole loop. We next passed one of the four rock pavilions along the trail- all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s. Just beyond, we passed lots of rocks both above and below the trail that wee covered with a thick carpet of moss.


The View to the West

The trail swung away from the bluff for a while to follow a road for a hundred feet or so. We almost missed the point where the trail veered away from the road again. The trail went level for a bit and joined the top of the bluff again on the west side of the mountaintop. From this point, we had great views off the the west for a while, as the trail went up a flight of steps and actually right through the second pavilion. We crossed that cutoff trail again along the bluff.

The views were just tremendous. Below are clickable thumbnails so you can see some of them:


When the trail returned to the bluffline around the mountain, not only were the views really great, but walking along the bluffline was also a lot of fun. At one point, I let Fred get out ahead of me so he could look back and get a picture of me on top of the bluff, and you can see once again why this trail isn't recommended for small kids- particularly rambunctious ones!


The Bluffline and Third Pavilion

One of the best views is along here looking to the south at the rest of the bluffline out in front of us- and the third pavilion that is perched out on it in the distance. This turns out to be an iconic view from this hike, and in my research for this album page, I found a number of similar pictures on sites like Flickr and on many of the trail-definition sites as well.

You can see our view of this iconic scene at right, and you can see a second, closer view (taken from a bit further along the bluffline) here.

Below are clickable thumbnails for two more pictures we took along this portion of the hike:


And this whole part of the hike would be the spectacular spot from which to view the fall colors in late October; even now, early in the month, they are beautiful.

The trail made its way on over to the third pavilion, which is perhaps the most scenic, and popular, spot on the mountain (although this morning we had it pretty much to ourselves). The trail wrapped around the point, swung back to the left and headed to the fourth pavilion. The last stretch of trail led back below the lodge and cabins and back to our starting point.

Before we headed off for home, we took a few more pictures around the trailhead, and you can have a look at them here, here and here. On the way back to the highway, we passed a deer camp, along with its humorous sign.

After we had some lunch at the campground, we went back to Van Alstyne via I-40 and Fort Smith, and we were going through Sherman-Denison at dinnertime. We stopped at El Chico (one of our favorite "after-trip" places) and got back to Downhill Run Acres (Fred's house) about eight-thirty. After unloading our stuff and relaxing for a bit, I got back in my Honda Civic and headed back into Dallas.

A great trip with lots of nice hikes.



November 16-17, 2001: A Visit to San Antonio and Leakey
September 1-4, 2001: Southern Decadence in New Orleans
Return to the Index for 2001