Winter Snapshots
February 15, 2009
We didn’t get out much this winter. In fact, the season was almost half over before Grant and I spent the afternoon of Sunday, February 1 geocaching and exploring in the woods northeast of Shores Lake. We took Highway 215 north of Mulberry to the lake, then drove County Road 77 up Mineral Hill. We turned east onto County Road 76 then stopped 1.4 miles later, where the road crosses Spirits Creek. We hiked downstream along an old jeep road and soon came to a beautiful little waterfall that the local kayakers call “First Drop”.
We returned to the Tahoe and continued east. I was surprised when we passed Gray’s Spring, which is wonderful picnic area built by the CCC. I’d been there many times, but had always reached it by driving west from Highway 23. Connecting the dots between all the landmarks in the wilderness is a continual process, and now I get the connection between Shores Lake, Spirits Creek, and Gray’s Spring.
At Bunce Gap we turned south onto Country Road 1007. Around 2 miles later we stopped at Hawkins Flat Cemetery. Grant hunted for a geocache hidden just outside the tiny cemetery, while I searched for a group of headstones I’d read about.
The headstone for Susie Thomas and those of five of her 12 children were in a row side by side. She died on 11-10-1903 at the age of 38, three days after the death of a child who was born and died on the same day. According to the headstones, three of the other infants died at birth, and the fifth died at 2 years of age.
Grant and I continued south and hit “highway” 215 (it wasn’t paved in that area!) and turned west. Then we turned south onto a road leading to the Campbell Cemetery access point on the Mulberry River. We parked and walked north through the woods and a few minutes later were at the old cemetery to find another geocache. It was at this same spot 6 years ago, when Grant had just turned 3, that we went on our first geoaching find.
The following Saturday, February 7, the boys and I went on our first family backpacking trip. For Christmas I had given Stacey and the boys backpacks, sleeping bags, air mattresses, and a tent.
The air was unusually warm and humid that afternoon. We drove up Highway 23 to Cass then took Highway 215 along the Mulberry River to Oark. The deep pools of the river were the most amazing shades of teal.
At Oark we turned north onto Road JE34 then continued north on Country Road 1404. We turned left onto County Road 1474, drove about half a mile, and parked at the Ozark Highlands Trail crossing.
The plan was to hike north into Eldridge Hollow for about 2 miles. At several locations we had to leave the trail and detour around trees that had fallen in the recent ice storm. But once we dropped a little bit in elevation it seemed like we were away from the storm damage. Grant wasn’t his usual energetic, optimistic self. The backpack was making his neck hurt, and his jeans were too loose and kept falling enough to distract him (I had to create a makeshift belt out of rope). He wanted to stop for camp at the first little rock fire ring we passed, but Cliff and I protested.
We passed a pretty little 8-foot waterfall that I can’t wait to return to when its surrounded by foliage. About half a mile into the hike, the trail crossed a larger stream (running northwest from Hignite Gap) with several waterfalls below the trail. Just beyond, the trail ran beside a wide, flat camping area. We were only a half mile from the Tahoe, but both boys wanted to stop and set up camp and I didn’t feel like arguing. The falls we’d just passed were making some wonderful white noise that would be nice to have once things settled down around camp.
We set up our tents then gathered firewood. The boys made a fire and we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Cliff cooked ramen noodles on my gas stove.
It got dark around 6. The only sources of light were one compact LED lantern and our flashlights, not that we had much to do anyway. Grant and I turned in by 7.
We awoke not long after it got light outside. I boiled water on the stove for hot cocoa, coffee, and instant oatmeal. Then we packed up camp. Before starting the return hike we scrambled down the hill to explore the small stream, and found another nice waterfall. I marked it on my GPS receiver for a return trip some time.
The return hike took no time at all, and the boys realized we hadn’t gone very far from the truck.
I only got out one other time the entire season, mainly because my workload is always heavy January through the first half of April. The area saw some heavy rains the second week of February, and I had Sunday the 15th off from work. The waterfalls would be running, but where should I go? I decided to visit one of the many unexplored locations on my list of places I’d like to see.
Curtis Creek begins its short life in the very upper reaches of the Big Piney Creek drainage southwest of Deer, Arkansas. To be honest, the only reason I added Curtis Creek to my list is because a county road runs beside it, making it easy to get to.
I headed out of town early. For the first time, I listened to a couple of podcast audio programs which made the time fly. A program named “Stills in the Hills” by the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History was highly entertaining!
I actually missed my turnoff at Clarksville, but decided to continue on to Russellville since the overall drive wouldn’t be much longer. Along Highway 7 I got to see some of the worst devastation from the January 26 ice storm. There were places where it seemed every single tree had been snapped in two or uprooted.
West of Deer I turned south onto County Road 29, which leads to Home Valley and the Limestone community. I parked at the fourth hairpin curve, about 1.9 miles down. I walked down the steep embankment to the stream just below the road, and headed upstream. It was cold out and I had to keep my hands and head covered, even though I was exerting myself. The stream ran steeply down the mountainside, which is probably the reason I only saw pools of water in isolated spots. There were long stretches where the stream disappeared completely underground. At one small gurgling spot I was amazed to find fossils sticking out of a slab of sandstone that had split in two. I’m no geologist, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods and I didn’t expect to see fossils in sandstone or at that elevation. I did find one pretty spot where the water cascaded four feet over a jumble of boulders into a pool of blue-green water.
I only explored the stream for six tenths of a mile, though the elevation increase was around 750 feet. As I got higher, I encountered ice storm damage that made the streambed unattractive and hard to traverse. I spotted some small waterfalls in the uppermost side drainage to the east, but I wasn’t up for climbing to them. I plan on returning a couple of times and exploring the other side drainages of Curtis Creek.
I began the return hike by heading for the second hairpin on the country road, which ran near the stream. In one of my more embarrassing moments, I tripped on an invisible rock in an area of open woods. My forward momentum and high center of gravity (due to my backpack) caused me topple head first!
I walked the road for half a mile, passing by a spectacular bluff area, until I realized I’d be better off bee-lining it back through the woods.
On the drive out I used the road map on my recently-upgraded GPS receiver to locate a spot above the second hairpin curve where I could park and walk down through the woods to a narrow overlook above the bluffs next to the county road. I hope to return  and catch the sunrise from there next winter.