We left Memphis right on time Friday after work and quickly made it into Arkansas. Google Maps and my car's GPS system both agreed that we should follow a route to the destination that didn't look obvious, but we took it anyway. This worked out for the best. We found a really good Mexican place in Wynne, AR that I'd like to visit again, and at a gas station Toby bought $1 scratch-off lottery tickets for each of us and I won $100 in cash.
The parking lot at the trailhead was empty when we arrived at 9:30pm and we set out across the field to the first water crossing. The water wasn't too deep, but it was cold. On the other side I decided that I'd leave my pant legs zipped off and just hike in shorts. The landscape was much more serious business on that side of the water; we walked under a lot of tall cliffs in the dark and stumbled over lots of loose rocks hidden under the leaves. Toby and Stephen brought a tent and were hopeful at each barely-flat place we came up on that it would be good enough to get set up on, but it was about 1.5 - 2 miles before anything suitable was found. They got set up as it started sprinkling and I got hung up a bit further back in the trees.
Next morning we packed up and took a good look at the place for the first time. The soil is settled on top of tremendous long flat sheets of stone. Since it was dry out there, it looked like there were lots of exposed veins of rock but I bet that in a wet season those look more like streams than smooth paths.
As we approached Blanchard Springs Caverns, I went to go take a picture of a big rock wall at the group camp site where some scouts had taken over the area. A cub scout den mother asked me if I wanted her to take my picture in front of the cliff and I said sure, please do. She took a couple of them and then invited me over for some hot dogs and macaroni. We talked a little bit about backpacking and what it's like, and then some of the kids saw a bald eagle. That was the first one of those I've seen in a long time but not the last one I'd see on this trip. I thanked them for the food and moved on.
From Blanchard Springs we hiked up the ridge to see some stunning views of the valley below. We eventually came across an old homestead frame that was barely still standing. From there we hiked back down the ridge to the creek and found a memorial marker to Trooper Jimmie White, who thought that this trail was the most beautiful one in Arkansas. Who am I to disagree?
The area nearby this marker was so pretty that we decided to stay there for the night. The bluffs were a powerful sight and the water was weirdly clear. Another eagle would fly overhead every now and then. The night was really cold and put my setup to the test. I woke up with ultra cold feet and a left shoulder in agony because my underquilt kept slipping away. Other than that I thought it was a success; I learned a couple of lessons and tweaks that I can't wait to try out next time.
<-- that black speck in the middle is a bald eagle
We hiked back out the way that we had come in but we got to see all of the things we missed the first night in the dark. There were two places that really struck me, one was a dry waterfall chute that had been carved out into gentle bends, and a huge amphitheater that I want to go see again after it has rained for a while. I wish that in this picture I had asked somebody to stand near the foreground as a scale reference, but I didn't so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was big.
I can't wait to go back there after it rains. As a matter of fact, after meeting and talking to a couple of the locals out on this trail (who recommended that we eat at Angler's Restaurant in Allison after we were done, thanks it was good) I'd like to get some Tim Ernst books and read about doing the Ozark Highlands Trail. I don't have the time to do anything like that right now but I think I do want to figure out how to get some. Thanks for reading!
edit: here's the rest of the pictures