Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Bella Vista Back 40

Bella Vista Back 40
Sugar Creek meanders through much of the Bella Vista Back 40

For about the last year or so, I have been telling myself that I should hike the Bella Vista Back 40 trails. Until recently, I never got around to hiking them because they are off the beaten path (at least off my beaten path). However, the Coronavirus social distancing guidelines made me decide to hit some less traveled hiking trails - and the Bella Vista Back 40 made for a perfect solo hike!

There are several access points throughout Bela Vista. However, I connected to the Back 40 via the Slaughter Pen Trails just north of Bentonville. I know there is a parking lot and trailhead east of the Town Center off HWY 340. You can do a Google search to find all the access points and parking lots.

Hiking the Bella Vista Back 40 Trails

Bella Vista Back 40 Trails
Enjoying a slower pace and more scenery

The multi-use mountain biking and hiking trails of the Bella Vista Back 40 are no joke! Unlike the paved Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway, the Back 40 is rugged, rocky, and much less traveled. There are over 20 miles of trails that take hikers and bikers through a wide variety of terrain--terrain that varies from beginner to advanced. Just a word of caution: The most challenging terrain is not for the faint of heart!

The Back 40 trails are an excellent way to experience the scenic beauty of the area. This trek also gives you a chance to get away from all the development in Northwest Arkansas. Bella Vista is well-known for its many steep hills and beautiful bluffs. The first thing I noticed starting out on my hike is that it felt like I was climbing up hills lol. Seriously, I would look at a high point in front of me and think that once I got to that spot, I'd have a great vantage point below. Wrong! I would find another high point to climb in front of me - so I kept climbing--climbing up hills and along the edge of bluffs.

Back 40 Features

Back 40
Steep limestone bluffs above Sugar Creek

First, I'll say that hiking up to the bluffs was definitely a lot steeper than it looked from the bottom. Secondly, the cool rock formations made it worth the climb! I always think about the bluff dwellers who would have lived underneath these large rock formations cut out of the hillsides. They would have made the trek to Sugar Creek for water and game on a regular basis. What a workout!

The geology of the Ozarks is famous for two things: Caves and springs. The fact that the terrain in the Ozarks contains a large amount of limestone, as well as the fact that the area is home to thousands of springs, is the reason why this area has so many caves. (These limestone rocks have been hollowed out into caves by years of water cutting through them.

Bella Vista Back 40 Cave
Entrance to a small cave underneath a limestone bluff.

After hiking underneath the overhang of several large bluffs, I came across this entrance to a small cave. At the time, I didn't go inside it. I just stuck my phone in the entrance and snapped a quick photo (pictured above). Anyway, after I looked at the photo, I decided that those large rocks toward the back look a lot like a sleeping mountain lion lol. 

Remember how I mentioned all the water flowing out of the bluffs? Well, the next feature I came across was a large, awesome waterfall!

Bella Vista Back 40 Waterfall
I love waterfalls!

Since it was a warm day, I took my cap off and put it underneath the water to cool myself off from hiking. The spring water was still cold! Bella Vista is full of waterfalls - and the Back 40 trails will take you to many of them. Even though I didn't meet very many other hikers or bikers on these trails, this waterfall is a popular feature, so there were several people around it. That means I didn't get to enjoy it for long.

 Sugar Creek

After seeing the waterfall, I decided to venture down the hill toward the Sugar Creek valley. The area around Sugar Creek is generally flatter and not quite as heavily wooded as the hillsides above. This part of my hike was easy after climbing up and down all those steep, rocky hills. I loved watching the water flow over the flat, limestone rocks underneath it. The uneven rocks on the creek bed create little white water rapids.

Sugar Creek
Quiet spot to enjoy my lunch near the water

In accordance with the Coronavirus social distancing guidelines, I now pack a picnic lunch to eat on my hiking treks (instead of going out to eat). I found a scenic spot off the trail - and next to the creek - to enjoy my lunch. These rocks made a nice natural bench for me to rest my weary legs while I let my feat soak in the cool creek water.

All in all, I enjoyed a wondering hiking trek on the Back 40 trails. It gave me a chance to see quieter, more scenic side of Bella Vista - away from all the traffic and noise of Northwest Arkansas.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Wishing Springs Trail

Wishing Springs in Bella Vista

The Wishing Springs Trail is one of my favorite (and original) hiking spots in Bella Vista, Arkansas. Wishing Springs is an area where several small springs flow together to form the main tributary of Little Sugar Creek in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. The trail is about 2.5 miles long and connects Lake Bella Vista to the North Bentonville Trail. (These trails are part of the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway).

The Wishing Springs Trail is great for hiking, jogging, and biking in Bella Vista. If you are familiar with my blog by now, you can probably guess that I choose to hike this trail lol. It does make for a fun 5-mile roundtrip hike. The trail is good for hikers of all skill levels. I see a lot of families, as well as older adults enjoying it.  

Wishing Springs Trail in Bella Vista

Wishing Springs Trail
I usually begin my hikes on the Wishing Springs Trail at Lake Bella Vista. There is a large parking lot next to the lake. (However, you can also start on the south end of the trail at Hidden Springs on North Walton Blvd). The Wishing Springs Trail has low-to-moderate traffic most days - which makes it less crowded than other sections of the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway. The pathway is completely paved and wide enough for bikers and joggers to politely pass you.

The trail takes hikers, joggers, and bikers through a somewhat scenic area of Bella Vista near HWY 71. There are a few spots where you will hear the traffic. However, most of the trail is quiet with the sound of nature and flowing water (my favorite). There are spots along the trail where you can see sections of the Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Trails on the other side of the creek.

As you might be able to guess by the name, there are several springs in the area. They run very close to the pathway which makes this area prone to flooding. (Sometimes the trail must be closed after heavy rains). On my last hike, I noticed that the recent flooding has changed the terrain around the springs. Channels that used to have water flowing in them are now dry and they have been replaced by new channels cut out of the creek banks. 

Wishing Springs in Bella Vista, Arkansas
Recent flash floods have altered the flow of these springs in many areas.
The last floods have dumped a lot more gravel along the creek bed. I've noticed several large gravel bars, as well as some small "islands" that I will have to explore when it gets warm. (During the summer, I often "hike" off-trail in the creek bed to cool off). I will have to make sure that my favorite (secret) swimming hole is still around lol.  

Typically, when I go hiking, I pride myself on my speed and the number of miles I can power-walk per hour. However, flowing water in a beautiful setting often distracts me. Therefore, I often find myself stopping along the Wishing Springs Trail to take in the beauty of the crystal-clear streams. I love watching them flow over rocks and form tiny rapids. When I'm hiking on the trail, it's like the sound of the water is calling me over to take a break from walking. 

Hidden Springs
Hidden Springs "Rapids"
There is a creek bed along the entire length of the Wishing Springs Trail. However, highway construction has altered the flow of water in one section. Hidden Springs is pictured above near the south end of the trail. Less than a half-mile north of here the creek bed is totally dry. The spring flows underground (except after heavy rains) which makes my heart sad. The spring resumes north of 71B.

Speaking of 71B, the trail runs underneath the highway via two long tunnels. The tunnels are dark and damp, so I usually walk fast through them. Oftentimes, they are closed after it rains due to flooding. What I do like about the tunnels is that on a hot, summer day, they feel like a natural air conditioner. As you approach the openings, you can feel cool air hitting you in the face. 

Wishing Springs Headwaters

If you aren't familiar with the Wishing Springs Trail you wouldn't notice anything different about the pic above. However, before the last floods, this section of creek had a long gravel bar than ran along the bank. However, the gravel got washed away, leaving behind a steep bank above the water. During the summer, this was a fun, quiet spot to sit and enjoy the creek. I would often see fishermen along here.

This is also one of the more scenic areas of the trail. I have seen a great blue heron in this spot many times. The trees offer good shade from the sun on hot days. There are also some benches along the pathway. I enjoy sitting and watching and listening to the water flow by. The benches make this trail a really fun hiking trek to bring a picnic lunch. 

Little Sugar Creek

Little Sugar Creek
Little Sugar Creek above Lake Bella Vista
I always hate to see my hiking adventures come to an end. However, when I return to my starting point on the Wishing Springs Trail, I get to enjoy some stunning views of Little Sugar Creek.Several years of flooding have changed the creek's channel dramatically in this spot. First, the major flood in December 2015, damaged the Lake Bella Vista Dam. (Before the flood, the creek started backing up into the lake where the picture above was taken). The creek now continues to flow where it used to form the lake. The second major change from all the flooding has been the creation/addition of the massive gravel bar in the picture above. The gravel bar is probably now a good half-mile long. During the summer, it's full of people on the weekends who come to enjoy the cool waters of Little Sugar Creek.

Friday, March 6, 2020

5 Hiker Survival Tools


5 Survival Tools That Can Save a Lost Hiker's Life

I have never heard of a lost hiker who planned on getting lost when they started their hiking trek. However, it happens to a lot of people. In fact, more than 2000 hikers get lost every year in the United States. Unfortunately, since people don't plan on getting lost in the wilderness, they are unprepared to survive on their own. According to National Geographic, day hikers are especially vulnerable when they get lost because most of them carry very little gear on their (intended) short treks.

If you have ever watched the show "Dual Survival" - you have seen the show's hosts take on extreme survival challenges in the wild. The show's hosts portray survival scenarios where people are lost and unprepared. (By the way, Joe and Matt were my favorite hosts on Dual Survival). Many lost hikers don't survive in real life. Therefore, before you head out on any hiking treks, make sure that you carry the essential tools that can save your life should you get lost and be faced with a dire survival situation.



Many remote areas in the wilderness do not have cell phone reception. Therefore, GPS doesn't look. That's why every hiker should carry a compass (and know how to use it) on their hiking treks. It can be very easy to lose your sense of direction - especially when you are venturing into unfamiliar surroundings. Most hikers get lost do so by getting confused about which direction they are supposed to go. Unfortunately, relying on the sun isn't always an option. For example, if you are walking under a thick canopy of trees, you might not see much sunlight. If you are hiking on a cloudy day, you won't be able to judge your direction using the sun. A compass can help you keep your bearings. However, you must know how to use it properly. If you are unsure as to how to use a compass for navigation, check out some videos on YouTube.

First Aid Kit

The worst thing that can happen to you - in addition to getting lost on a hiking trek - is to have an injury that prevents you from walking to safety. For example, a minor scrape or cut could turn into a serious infection that can take you out of the game if it goes untreated. A first aid kit can prevent minor injuries from turning into major injuries that take you out of the game. You can find a good, inexpensive first aid kit on Amazon, as well as in most outdoor stores. You could also make your own first aid kit. Make sure to include cotton, some kind of disinfectant, pain reliever, bandages, gauze, and whatever else Google says you should have lol.

Fire Starter

Many lost hikers don't realize that as soon as the sun goes down, their chances of getting hypothermia go up. Even in "warm" climates like the desert, once the sun sets, it can cool off fast. If you are in a tropical climate, you can also be at risk of hypothermia if you are wet. Therefore, starting a fire can be critical to preventing hypothermia if you get stranded overnight. A small book of matches can be a good fire starter if the matches stay dry. However, many hikers use magnesium sticks to start fires. I recommend carrying a magnesium stick, because depending on how long you are lost, you could run out of matches. If you are unfamiliar with how to use a magnesium stick, find a YouTube video and practice starting a fire with one.

Water Purification

Spring Water
Water like this may look clean but it can be deceiving.

You can last up to three weeks without food. However, you won't last three days without water. Unfortunately, most water in nature - even if it looks clean - is not safe for consumption. You don't know what's upstream that might be polluting the water. Also, you can't see any parasites in the water. Furthermore, if you get sick from drinking untreated water, it will only speed up dehydration. A few common misconceptions about spring water is that it's clean after flowing through rocks and rapids. Unfortunately, parasites aren't killed by rapids.Therefore, you need a reliable method to purify water to make it safe enough to drink. You have a couple of good options. For example, you could buy a water bottle with a filter on it. You could also buy iodine tablets to purify water. Boiling water is an option for some. However, it won't work if you can't get a fire started. Whatever you do, don't go hiking without a way to make water safe for consumption.

Camping Knife

Camping Knife

One of the most important things that I learned from watching "Dual Survival" is that every hiker should carry a camping knife with a blade between 8-to-10 inches. A good knife is a critical survival tool to have out in the wild. First, it can be used to cut small tress and branches to build a shelter. It can be used to create other tools and defensive weapons from large sticks or small branches. A knife is also needed to process any wild game or fish that you can catch for food. Lastly, a knife can serve as a self-defense weapon against a predator. (Many areas have dangerous animals that can seriously injure or kill you).

Don't Let Nature Take You Out of the Game

In short, when you are planning your next hiking adventure, make sure to plan on taking these five essential survival tools that could help you survive out in the wild. You need a compass for navigation. You should carry a first aid kit to treat any injuries. Make sure you have some type of reliable fire starter in case you need a fire to keep warm. Remember, you are going to get thirsty real quick if you get stranded out in wilderness. Therefore, you need a system to treat water to make it safe for drinking. Finally, a camping knife can save your life in the wilderness.

Here are a few other hiker safety tips:
  • Tell Others Where You Are Going
  • Leave Notice at Trailhead 
  • Study Trails and Maps
  • Be Weather Aware
First, let your family and friends know where you plan to go hiking. Give them an approximate time for when you should return. 
Secondly, if you are hiking in a major park, there should be a ranger station that you can check in at before your hike. Let them know that you are about to venture out. If no ranger station is available, look for a sign in sheet at the trailhead to leave your name, as well as the date and time you are starting. 
Before you go hiking, make sure study your trails and any maps that are available. That way you will have a good idea of where you are going. Sometimes Google Maps even has trail directions.

Lastly, make sure you pay attention to the weather forecasts. Bad weather can strand you out on a trail - even if you aren't lost. Also, if you notice that the weather seems to be deteriorating, turn back on the trail.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Slaughter Pen Trails

Slaughter Pen Trails

The secret is out: Bentonville, Arkansas is home to world-class mountain bike trails that attract riders from all over the country thanks to the challenging terrain and beautiful scenery. The most popular "toys" are located along the Slaughter Pen Trail System - which features more than 20-miles of single track surface - that takes riders through the scenic foothills of the Ozark Mountains surrounding this emerging mountain biking mecca. Bentonville  hosts several major bike events (races and competitions) throughout the year on the Slaughter Pen trails. 

Slaughter Pen Hollow Multi-Use Trail System

Slaughter Pen Trails Map

The Slaughter Pen Trail system runs on the north side of Bentonville around a mountain and through the surrounding valleys. The city continues to add new trails and "toys" for riders to enjoy. Slaughter Pen offers trails for beginning, intermediate, and advanced riders. However, many of the most popular "rides" are also the most challenging ones.

You can access the Slaughter Pen Mountain Biking Trails in several areas around Bentonville via the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway, as well at Hidden Springs on North Walton, Compton Gardens, Crystal Bridges, and near Bella Vista Lake. (I usually park at Hidden Springs). In addition to mountain biking, Slaughter Pen is open to hiking and trail running as well.

The unusual name "Slaughter Pen" comes from the history of the area that contained numerous slaughter houses. I believe they were probably for hogs. 

All-American Trail

All-American Trail

The Slaughter Pen Trails are actually a network of several trails that connect together. Many of these smaller treks have their own names. For example, the All-American trail runs along the hills next to the Razorback Greenway. Many bikers enjoy the fast, smooth ride of the paved Razorback Greenway. However, they enjoy being able to take some quick, scenic "excursions" on the rugged All-American trail into the woods, up and down steep hills, and along the edge of cliffs.

The All-American trail also offers riders several fun obstacle courses that are built into the terrain. The ramp (pictured below) is near Crystal Bridges. There are several more ramps to the north as well.

Slaughter Pen Mountain Biking Trail

If you are familiar with my blog, you know that I go hiking on the Razorback Greenway often. I feel like there is a new mountain bike trail, obstacle course, or ramp nearly ever time I go hiking down there lol. Since Slaughter Pen is a multi-use trail system, I often take my own scenic excursions into the hills and woods that surround the Razorback Greenway. The rugged paths offer a more challenging hike that give my legs a real workout.

Bentonville Mountain Bike Scene

Bentonville is definitely a bike town. In fact, it has become known as the "Disneyland" and "Mecca" of mountain biking. If you don't have your own bike, you can rent one from several rental shops around the square. Phat Tire is very popular. There is another rental place across from the 21C Hotel. Crystal Bridges welcomes bikers. The museum even offers them free admission. (I am jealous they don't offer hikers free admission too). 

Bentonville's Slaughter Pen Trail system is home to several major mountain biking festivals throughout the year. These festivals attract riders - of all skill levels - from all over the country. I have actually been hiking on the Razorback Greenway during a few festivals. That gave me a front-row "seat" to watching some very talented riders compete in the challenging Ozarks terrain. 

Not all of the unpaved mountain bike trails are dirt. I have seen a few sections of trails that are made from a really expensive stone. 

Slaughter Pen Bike Trail

The stone trail (pictured above) takes riders from the Razorback Greenway to the Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike trails to the mountain just north of Bentonville.

Much of the Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Trails run in a valley along a creek. Unfortunately, after heavy rains, the creek turns into raging rapids that flood everything around it. In the trail system's early days, riders would cross the creek with a very small, light-weigh wood crossing. However, flash floods would regularly destroy those little crossings. In the last year, the City of Bentonville has built these more substantial bridges that should be able to take more punishment from flash floods.

In short, whether you are a mountain bike novice or enthusiasts, you need to take a trip to Bentonville, Arkansas to enjoy the Slaughter Pen Trail system. My pictures don't do it justice. No matter your skill level, you can find the perfect trail to enjoy the perfect ride through the scenic Ozark Mountains. If you get up the courage, go cliff riding or better yet, take on a few ramps and some steep turns on an obstacle course!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

My Favorite Pikes Peak Attractions

Pikes Peak

My favorite childhood family vacations were to Colorado Springs, home of America's Mountain: Pikes Peak. Standing at 14,110 feet, the mountain has inspired countless visitors. For example, during the Colorado gold rush, it became known as a popular rally cry among minors who proclaimed Pikes Peak or Bust. In the late 1800s, Kathleen Bates was so inspired by the beauty of the mountain that she penned the lyrics for "America the Beautiful" while riding to the summit in the cog railway. The Pikes Peak region is home to many awesome outdoor attractions. Here are my favorites.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is the best free attraction in the Pikes Peak region. Garden of the Gods offers miles of hiking trails that take hikers past the park's tall sandstone rock formations. The park is a fun place to spend a few hours (or even the entire day) exploring. The park's visitors center offers a lot of information about the unique geology of this area. You can also pick up a free map and trail guide at the visitor's center.

Garden of the Gods was donated to Colorado Springs in 1909 with the stipulation that it remain free for visitors to enjoy. Colorado Springs has honored its commitment by keeping the park free and an amazing place for visitors to enjoy.

Pikes Peak Cog Railway

(Closed since 2019)

Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Me and my dad circa 1999

Between 1891 and 2018, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway carried passengers from Manitou Springs up the mountain to its 14,110' summit. Unfortunately, the cog railway closed after the 2018 season. However, I have heard a rumor that it's scheduled to open for the 2021 season. I hope so!

I love hiking. However, hiking Pikes Peak is a bit out of my league. I really enjoyed riding to the top of the summit in the cog railway. I think the trip up took about an hour. You pass by a waterfall that is taller than Niagara Falls. Once you get above the tree line, the terrain dramatically changes. Everything is covered in snow and looks wind-swept. I remember the wind taking the wind out of my sails upon exiting the train on the summit. First, the thin air at 14,110' is hard to breath. Secondly, the strong, cold wind packs a punch. I just remember running inside the Summit House to get out of the cold lol. The train's tour guide recommended that we adjust ourselves to the high elevation by eating donuts and drinking water. I happily took her advice! The Summit House does have several large glass windows that offer a good view from the top of Pikes Peak. I did go outside for a few more minutes to snap some pics.

Seven Falls

Seven Falls

Cheyenne Canyon - at the base of Cheyenne Mountain - features a really cool waterfall. Actually, it's a series of seven waterfalls known as Seven Falls. You know how much I love hiking! If you look closely at the picture above, you will notice a staircase climbs the canyon wall next to the waterfalls. That means you can get an up close view of each of the "seven" falls. At the top of the canyon, you can hike to Helen Hunt Falls. I forget the number of stairs you have to climb to make it to the top but it's quite the workout lol.

At the bottom of the falls is a pavilion that features Native American dancers. You can also go inside the canyon's walls and take an elevator to an observation deck located adjacent to the waterfalls. I am sure there is a souvenir shop too.

During the summer of 2012, Seven Falls sustained extensive damage from a severe flash flood. At least one of the falls was destroyed. However, this attraction has been repaired to its original glory.

Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun

Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun
Cheyenne Mountain Summit
The summit of Cheyenne Mountain features a really cool memorial to Will Rogers. The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun is a free and open to the public. You just take the road up to the summit of Cheyenne Mountain. This unique attraction offers breathtaking views of Colorado Springs below. You can get a good look at where the foothills of the Rocky Mountains transition into the high plains. Funny, I don't actually remember going inside the shrine. I just remember admiring the views from on top of the mountain.

Manitou Springs Historic District

Manitou Springs, Colorado
Historic clock tower
Downtown Manitou Springs is one of my favorite places on planet Earth. Luckily, the area around downtown Manitou Springs has been preserved in one of the largest historic districts in the nation. The area feels like you are back in the late 1800s. I love the brick buildings that are now shops, eateries, and mom & pop businesses. The town has a lot of historic homes like the Cliff House and Miramont Castle.

Manitou Springs became famous from its springs that many believed contained healing powers. In the late 19th Century, many health-seekers "chasing the cure" came to the region hoping the springs would provide medicinal benefits. Unfortunately, the springs have no medicinal value but they add to the area's unique history.

Downtown Manitou Springs is quite walkable and much more fun to explore on foot. This is a fun area to grab a bite to eat and browse the unique shops. If you enjoy vintage motels, there are several in town. (My family always stayed in Manitou Springs on our Colorado vacations).

Manitou Springs Historic District

For a really spectacular view of the Pikes Peak region, take U.S. 24 west of Manitou Springs up the area known as Ute Pass. The highway takes you more than 10,000-feet above sea level. Sometimes this drive even takes you above the clouds!

Cripple Creek Historic District

Cripple Creek Mining District

The Pikes Peak region became famous because of mining. Just on the other side of Pikes Peak is a beautiful small town called Cripple Creek. Before WWI Cripple Creek was the site of a large gold mining district. If you would like to visit a real mine, check out the Molly Kathleen Mine. The tour will go more than 1,000' underneath the surface. You can also ride the vintage Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gage Railroad. This train ride takes you through the entire mining district.

Cripple Creek sits more than 9,000-feet above sea level. The small mountain town that has been revived by casino gambling. There are several historic hotels downtown, as well as unique shops and restaurants. This side of Pikes Peak is much less crowded, so you can get some spectacular views of the mountain.

Cripple Creek, Colorado

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is my favorite place to hike on planet Earth. The 1300-acre park features more than 20-miles of hiking trails that take visitors around its towering sandstone rock formations in the shadow of Pikes Peak. Those unique rock formations were formed during the same geological event that created Pikes Peak. This is my favorite outdoor attraction in Colorado Springs. In my humble opinion, Garden of the Gods is much more fun to explore from its hiking trails than by driving through it. 

Garden of the Gods Park and Visitors Center

Garden of the Gods Visitors Center

The Garden of the Gods Park and Visitors Center is free to the public because of a stipulation made when it was donated to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909. The stipulation states that the park must always remain free and that no buildings should be constructed except for the necessary upkeep of the park. (This is the best free attraction in Colorado Springs). The park is a registered National Natural Landmark that gets more than two million visitors per year. I am glad that the park has been kept free from commercial development and that all are welcome to explore.

The visitors center is a good place to start your hike. It has a really nice observation deck with several telescopes that let you get up-close views of the rock formations and Pikes Peak. The visitors center also shows an interesting video about the geology and history of Garden of the Gods. You can also pick up free trail maps and grab a bite to eat before exploring the hiking trails. In addition to exploring on your own, the park's staff offer several free guided hiking tours throughout the day. 

Garden of the Gods Rock Formations

Balanced Rock

Garden of the Gods is most famous for its 300' tall sandstone rock formations. Many of these interesting rocks have names - and some are quite famous. For example, "Balanced Rock" (shown above) is a geological marvel because it looks like it should tip over. Many visitors stop for a photo at "Balanced Rock" and take poses like they are holding up the rock.

Garden of the Gods Park

There is a tall sandstone formation called "Kissing Camels" because it looks like two camels kissing each other. The "Siamese Twins" are another popular rock formation. I really didn't take time to learn the names of most rocks because I was just in such awe by them. However, if you are interested in learning all the rock names on your visit, you can pick up a free guide at the visitors center. The park's hiking trails will take you by all of the major geological features. Since I am from the Ozarks, I have hiked below steep cliffs and bluffs. However, exploring the Garden of the Gods felt a lot different. You just have to experience it yourself to understand.

Garden of the Gods Hiking Trails

Garden of the Gods Hiking Trails

The cool sandstone rock formations are much more fun to explore by hiking through the park because it's easier to walk right up to them, feel them, and be awed by them. I guarantee that most have never experienced a hike like this one. Be sure to bring water, a snack, and some sunscreen. Depending on your health and acclimation to higher altitudes, you might want to start off with a slower walking pace. Here is an overview of the park's most popular hiking adventures:
  • Buckskin Charlie Trail - This rugged and hilly trail circles the park and offers distant views of rock formations. 
  • Palmer Trail - If you want to get away from the traffic and crowds, this hiking trek loops around most of the park. 
  • Perkins Central Garden Trail - For a short, easy hike, this trail takes you to the park's tallest rock formations.
  • Ridge Trail - This short hike makes you feel like you are really part of the rock formations.
  • Siamese Twins Trail - This trail gives hikers the best views of Pikes Peak. 
For a complete list of trails and their respective skill levels and lengths, pick up a free park map at the visitor's center. Some of the trails also have more than one name. However, a map will point you in the right direction.

Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods

I loved hiking at Garden of the Gods because it felt like I was walking among giants. (I was in fact walking among giant rock formations). The majestic views of Pikes Peak in the background create the perfect backdrop for this beautiful park. I think the park holds a special place in my heart because it offered me my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. I remember thinking how they looked like these giant blue clouds before I realized they were mountains.

I recommend taking a picnic lunch because you can't beat the view from any of the picnic tables. I am grateful that this natural treasure is free for everyone to enjoy. The city of Colorado Spring does an outstanding job of maintaining the park. Depending on your length of stay in the Pikes Peak region, you could spend an entire day exploring the park, or explore it in parts on multiple days.  I look forward to visiting this incredible park again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Har-Ber Village Museum

Har-Ber Village Museum

Har-Ber Village Museum - located on the shore of beautiful Grand Lake in Grove, Oklahoma - is like a history museum on a walking trail that offers visitors a stroll back in time to life on the frontier. The seasonal museum is open from the 3rd Saturday in March through the 1st Sunday in November. The hours of operation are from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm on Thursdays through Mondays (closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Har-Ber Village charges the following admission fees based on the category you fall under:
  • Adults - $10
  • Students - $5
  • Seniors - $7.50
  • Military - $7.50
  • Children Under 6 - Free
Har-Ber Village has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I can remember visiting the museum on field trips and family picnics. It is just a short drive from Tulsa, Northwest Arkansas, and Joplin. This place is definitely well worth your visit. In addition to visiting the museum, visitors can enjoy hiking on the Har-Ber Village Nature Trail next to Grand Lake.

Har-Ber Village

Har-Ber Village

Har-Ber Village was founded 50 years ago by its generous benefactors Harvey and Bernice Jones (owners of the Jones Trucking Company). My favorite thing about Har-Ber Village is that unlike most museums, this one is outdoors - and all of the exhibits are connected by a nice paved walking trail. You will definitely get a decent workout from all the walking. (Be sure to bring your walking shoes).

The museum features a collection of 19th Century structures that offer a glimpse into life on the frontier. Each building is an exhibit that contains priceless antiques and collectibles. For example, there is a bank, doctor's office, dentist, barber shop, church, and more than 100 others. It would be impossible for me to mention every exhibit. Instead, I am going to highlight my favorites.

Grand Lake

Grand Lake

If you are familiar with my blog, you know that I love water. The shoreline of Grand Lake creates a beautiful setting for Har-Ber Village in the foothills of the Ozarks. I love hearing the sound of the big waves hitting the rocky shore as I walk by the lake. I consider Grand Lake an exhibit that represents something vital to surviving life on the frontier: Water. Without water, homesteads and frontier towns died. Wars were even fought on the frontier over water rights. 

The waterwheel (pictured above) powered many gristmills before electricity. In fact, the Ozarks were home to many gristmills because of the region's abundant springs. 

19th Century-Style Buildings

Har-Ber Village Grand Lake

Har-Ber Village Museum contains dozens of 19th Century-style structures that were common in frontier towns. My great-grandfather was a blacksmith, so the blacksmith exhibit is one of my favorites. The old fashioned doctor's office makes me grateful for modern medicine lol. My great-grandmother and great-aunt both taught in one-room schools that were similar to the schoolhouse exhibit. Also, some of my ancestors were country preachers that would have preached in small congregations like the church exhibit. 

If you love antique China and vintage items, you are in luck. Many generous people have donated their family heirlooms to make Har-Ber Village an awesome history museum. I love viewing all of the old wood furniture and hand tools.

 Frontier Justice

Hanging Gallows
The Gallows' exhibit is definitely a bit creepy. However, the frontier was full of dangerous outlaws that robbed and killed many innocent people. Therefore, in order to tame the frontier, these outlaws had to be brought to justice. Hanging was the most common form of capital punishment throughout much of the 1800s into the early 1900s. These gallows were used by Judge Parker - known as the "hanging judge" - in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

I Found Myself in Jail

Speaking of frontier justice, I even found myself in the frontier jail. (This exhibit was actually from the original Springdale, Arkansas jail). As if being stuck in a frontier jail weren't bad enough, the iron ball chained to your ankle made escaping that much more difficult lol. Typically, frontier justice was pretty swift, so most outlaws didn't spend much time in jail.

Life in the Early 20th Century

Horseless Carriage
The dawn of the 20th Century marked an end to life on the frontier (in most places). The automobile represented a major change to transportation by replacing horse travel (which had been used for thousands of years). The last few exhibits at Har-Ber Village show life in the early 20th Century. I like the vintage tractors and farm equipment that show the beginning of modern farming. 

When you leave the museum, you can stop by the gift shop to browse souvenirs and pick out your favorite old fashioned candy. If you worked up an appetite from all that walking, you can visit the Har-Ber Village Cafe for a bite to eat. I like their ice cream!  

Har-Ber Village Nature Trail

If you enjoy hiking, check out the 2-mile Har-Ber Village Nature Trail located next to the museum's parking lot. The hiking trail is partially paved. It takes hikers through the hills and trees along the shore of Grand Lake. The hiking trail is free and open to the public 7-days a week year-round. There are also several picnic tables to enjoy a picnic lunch by the lake.

Friday, February 7, 2020

5 Cool Swimming Holes in the Ozarks

Great Blue Heron in Arkansas
Even the Great Blue Heron Enjoys a Good Swimming Hole!

Those of us who live in the Ozark Mountains - or get to visit here - are blessed by the abundant supply of crystal clear spring water that feeds into larger rivers. These streams offer fun water recreational activities for outdoor enthusiasts during the summer:
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Inner-tubing
  • Rafting
  • Swimming
This post is about the last item on that list - swimming. The Ozarks are home to many cool, refreshing swimming holes that are fun to enjoy on a hot summer day. These are my top 5 favorite swimming holes because they are less crowded than many of the more well-known swimming spots in the Ozarks. They are located in extreme Southwest Missouri or extreme Northwest Arkansas.

Grand Falls

Grand Falls Joplin

Grand Falls is the largest waterfall in Missouri - located just a few miles south of Joplin. However, Grand Falls is more than just a beautiful photo spot on Shoal Creek. Below the falls swimmers can enjoy one of the largest swimming holes in the Ozarks. The water gets pretty deep here. There are also some cool rock formations that have been carved out by Shoal Creek over the years. You can get to Grand Falls by taking Riverside Drive a couple miles west of Redings Mill. Most visitors park along the road near the falls. I usually hike from Wildcat Glades.

Tanyard Creek Waterfall 

The Tanyard Creek Waterfall Nature Trail in Bella Vista takes hikers past one of the best secret swimming spots in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. This swimming hole is probably a half-mile hike below the Tanyard Creek Waterfall. Tanyard Creek is shallow, but it's still fun to wade and splash around in. This swimming spot is a little deeper than the rest of the creek because the water pools in an area behind some large rocks that slow its flow. You can find the Tanyard Creek Natural Trail by taking HWY 340 a couple miles west of the Bella Vista Town Center. The swimming hole is about a mile hike from the trail head.

Little Sugar Creek Above Bella Vista Lake

Little Sugar Creek Bella Vista

Little Sugar Creek - just above where the creek flows into Bella Vista Lake - offer swimmers a fantastic swimming spot. First, this is like clear Ozark Mountain spring water. Secondly, there is a long gravel bar where the water starts off shallow and then gradually gets deeper as you get closer to the other bank. (The gravel bar is probably 1/4 mile long). Pictured above are some small rapids that are fun to play in. This is a really fun spot to bring a water chair and picnic lunch, and enjoy an afternoon on the water. This swimming spot is located between the Bella Vista Lake parking lot and Walgreens. You can access it from the hiking trail, or by parking behind Walgreens and walking down the hill.

Little Sugar Creek Farm

Little Sugar Creek Farm

Another fun swimming hole on Little Sugar Creek is located about a mile south of Bella Vista Lake just off the Wishing Springs Trail. However, this swimming spot is completely hidden from the trail. You will just notice a well-beaten path in the grass that leads to some trees next to the creek bank. You will often hear voices from behind the trees, which is how I discovered this spot. There is a rope swing on the other side of the bank. You can try it out if you are brave enough!

Dabbs Greer Town Hole Park 

Dabbs Greer Town Hole Park

McDonald County, Missouri is famous for being home to the Elk River - which is popular for float trips between Pineville and Noel. However, just a few miles north of the crowded Elk River, Indian Creek offers a much more quiet, peaceful setting for a good swimming spot at Town Hole in Anderson. The park is located next to the Post Office on Main Street. Town Hole is at the confluence of Indian Creek and Beaver Branch. Both are typically shallow streams. However, the water pools in this spot, making it a good place to swim. 

Safety First

Before you enjoy these cool waters on a hot day, you need to take some safety precautions. First, never dive headfirst into any swimming hole. I don't care how deep you think the water is, there still could be rocks or other debris underneath the surface of the water that you can't see. Also, the water level in these streams is always changing. Therefore, please play it safe and always jump feet first AFTER you know the water is deep enough for a cannonball lol. Secondly, this is the Ozarks, so you need to watch out for snakes. I recommend staying away from trees and logs in the water. Lastly, don't go swimming after heavy rains when these streams are flooding. 

In short, if I haven't scared you away, I hope that you can enjoy some of these fun swimming holes in the Ozarks of Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. They are kind of like a best-kept secret because many don't know about them.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Blowing Springs Trail

Blowing Springs Trail Bella Vista

The Blowing Springs Mountain Biking Trail is a 6-mile multi-use trail that's good for hiking as well. The rugged trek takes hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers on a scenic journey into the Ozarks of Bella Vista, Arkansas. I would rate this trek as moderate as there are lots of steep hills, cliffs, and rocky, narrow pathways. However, hiking this trail was a really awesome and enjoyable experience - something different from my usual hikes.

As far as I know, only Bella Vista POA members are allowed in Blowing Springs Park, so non-members must access the trail from outside the park. Therefore, I began my hike on the Blowing Springs Trail by taking the Cooper Connector that runs between the Smith's Trout Farm and Cooper Elementary School. (I parked by the Bella Vista Lake Dam - which is just across the street from the trout farm).

Blowing Springs Trail in Bella Vista

Smith's Trout Farm in Bella Vista
Spring-fed Lake That Looks Like a Painting

I have done plenty of hiking on dirt and rock surfaces before. However, this was my first hike on a mountain biking trail. This is a popular mountain biking spot in Northwest Arkansas, so I did meet a few bikers. Since I was on foot, I wanted to show a bit of courtesy on the narrow pathway. Whenever I met a biker, I just politely stood on the side to let them pass. I am impressed by how skilled mountain bikers are who can go cliff-riding up and down steep, rocky hills on narrow, rugged paths like this.

Ozark Mountain Workout

Blowing Springs Mountain Bike Trail

This was definitely a workout! My pace was a lot slower from my usual hikes on the paved Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway. Unlike paved surfaces, the Blowing Springs Trail resembles what I call authentic hiking in the Ozarks. The trail was built with a very limited impact to the scenic nature that surrounds it. There is no crushed rock to walk on, so much of the pathway is uneven. Also, there is not much grading - just enough to cut a small path out of the hillsides. The trail meanders along the side of cliffs, underneath bluffs, into deep valleys, all under a thick canopy of trees. You will definitely need a good pair of walking shoes - or even some hiking boots. I recommend a good walking stick like the one that I left in my trunk lol. This trek was quite muddy and slick in many spots due to all of the rain. Just pace yourself and take it one step at a time to avoid getting hurt. During the warm weather months, you will want to bring insect repellent and watch out for snakes!

The Blowing Springs Trail is a 6-mile loop. However, there are several sections where the trail divides to give you two choices of where you could go:
  • Loop
  • Low Ride
If you enjoy hiking along the cliffs above the valley, just follow the arrows to stay on the main loop. I mainly stayed on the loop to hike the full 6 miles.
However, if you enjoy trekking through more of the deep valleys, you can take the "low ride" options at various spots along the trail. This will give you more chances to explore the springs below the cliffs. The "low ride" options are also good if you would like hike more than 6 miles.

Blowing Springs Cave
Bear's Den?!
Just south of the Blowing Springs RV Park are a series of tall limestone bluffs that tower above the trail. I spotted a small opening to a cave. I wonder if this could be home to a hibernating bear lol? (Luckily, I didn't see any bears on my hike). Much of the limestone is covered in green moss where water likely drips through the rock. After passing by the limestone rocks, the trail takes a steep turn up the side of a hill. The trek then takes you along the side of a cliff that runs above these bluffs and limestone rock formations.

Blowing Springs Park

Blowing Springs Bella Vista

Blowing Springs Trail and park are named after the many springs that flow through the area. Typically, the springs flow next to the trail in the valleys. There are some wooden bridges that occasionally cross a spring. However, due to all the recent rain, there were many 'wet' springs running across the trail in several spots. I love flowing water so it didn't bother me. However, I had to take a few short detours to avoid getting my feet wet.

I imagine that many Native Americans camped around these springs because they provide a good source of water. Also, the caves would have made nice shelters. This would probably be a good area to go hunting for arrowheads. All of these little springs eventually flow into Little Sugar Creek which runs just west of the park. 

Blowing Springs

On the hike back to my car, I decided to do a quick loop around Bella Vista Lake.  Just above the lake, I caught this cool view of Little Sugar Creek. Notice the small white water rapids? That's due to the creek flowing higher and faster from all the rainfall we have had. A recent flash flood took out a small portion of the Bella Vista Lake Trail, as well as some tall trees next to the creek. Shout out to all of those responsible for maintaining the trails in Northwest Arkansas. You have had your work cut our for you over the past year.

Little Sugar Creek Bella Vista
Little Sugar Creek Headwaters

In short, if you are looking for a decent hiking adventure on a rugged, moderately difficult trek, I recommend the Blowing Springs Trail. The trail gives you an excellent opportunity to enjoy a fun trek into the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas without venturing too far off the beaten path. It also connects into the Slaughter Pen Trails and Bella Vista Back 40 trail systems. I enjoyed a good workout climbing up and down the steep hills, as well as taking in some awesome views of the valley below from the top of cliffs. I would rate this hiking adventure suitable for most skill levels, as long as you are in good shape.