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Shady Lake Campout
November 6-8, 2009
For the second year in a row, I spent the last days of my fall vacation camping at Shady Lake with the family. Last year James and Melinda (and Molly the Schnauzer) went with us (we brought Emmy). We took the long route in across the Talimena Scenic Drive. I never mentioned it in last year's journal because I didn't take any good pictures and I didn't have a "snapshots" page for last Fall.
I stayed home Friday and packed for the trip, so that we could leave soon after the boys got home from school. Stacey couldn't go with us. We took Highway 71 south to Mena, and once we got into the Ouachita Mountains we saw nice splashes of colorful foliage in some places. I guess I was wrong about all the color being gone already.
The drive took two and a half hours, which meant we set up camp in the dark. It's a good thing I brought plenty of food because the boys and I devoured hot dogs and chili then went on to Jiffy Pop popcorn and marshmallows. And of course we had plenty of Yoo-hoo.
We awoke Saturday to a wonderful light fog filling the woods. After breakfast we loaded into the Tahoe and headed to Bard Springs for a quick visit. I stopped several times to photograph scenes along the road.
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We drove Forest Road 106 all the way to the Winding Stairs trailhead. We found an old road trace just east of the parking area and followed it down the wooded hillside to the Little Missouri about a quarter mile upstream of the mouth of Blaylock creek. We walked upstream about three-fourths of a mile. The boys brought their fishing poles and caught a few small sunfish but nothing worth keeping.
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On the return hike the boys ran up ahead of me to the point where they were out of my sight. Suddenly I heard them hollering for me and in a couple of minutes I was within sight of them and they yelled that they'd found a snake. The Black Rat Snake was obviously more afraid of them than they were of it. The snake slithered up a small tree to get away.
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After that we searched for an old cemetery I'd noticed on a topographic map. The small plot was located in a small, level clearing surrounded by woods. My memory's not too clear on how many markers there were… but it was under a dozen, with most of them marked only by squarish rocks. The oldest marked grave was that of E.C. Putman, Born Nov. 19, 1826, Died Feb 13, 1895. His headstone was a rough monolith of native sandstone, and the lettering and a masonic emblem was carved by hand.
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We returned to camp to find that our food containers had been raided by wild animals, probably racoons but we'll never know. They were hungry as bears, eating all of our Fritos, Munchos, and Clif bars. They must not have liked instant oatmeal, since they only opened one package and left its contents all over the picnic table. They even tore into some of my Coffee Singles packages.
Clouds hid the sun until 1:30, despite the forecast for sunny skies. We ate lunch then got back in the Tahoe and headed for the southern, downstream access to the Winding Stairs scenic area. The drive was supposed to be around 15 miles, but it took us a long time to get there because my GPS receiver lead us down a road that dead-ended at a private property gate. We finally our way by using waypoints I had stored in the GPS; the roads themselves weren't even on the GPS map.
The boys grabbed their fishing poles and I grabbed my camera backpack and we started walking down a jeep road toward the southern end of the Little Missouri Trail. We stopped at a primitive campsite on the banks of the river and fished for a while. Cliff caught a nice 12-inch smallmouth but we weren't sure of the legal size limit for the fish so we threw it back. I was really hoping to take the boys to the scenic area, but Grant had climbed up a tree and then scooted out onto a branch hanging over the water and fell. He wasn't hurt, but he was soaked and shivering! He took his shirt off and put on a way-oversized jacket I was carrying, and we walked back up to the Tahoe and returned to camp.
I cooked bratwurst over the campfire, which I was just sure the boys would love, but neither of them would even take a second bite. They said it was too greasy and they didn't like the spices. So they ate ramen noodles and canned chili while I downed a few thousand calories worth of bratwurst. Once it got dark I set up the camera to take pictures of our view overhead. Cliff helped out by throwing leaves on the campfire to light up the trees.
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Sunday morning I put a timer on my camera, aimed it at the picnic table and hid it inside the tent. We baited the table with bread, crackers, and marshmallows, then we drove down to the lake to fish. We all decided there weren't any fish in the lake since we didn't get a single bite.
As we neared camp on the return drive, we saw several crows flying off with something white in their beaks. A quick check of the camera revealed that we'd managed to catch a couple of crows in the act of taking our bait. We cooked a late breakfast then tore down camp, packed, and headed home. We got home around 1:30, and Grant couldn't wait to tell Stacey about the more exciting events of the weekend. I know I had a great time and look forward to more camping trips with my family.
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