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

Hiking

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.

Compass 


Compass

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!