Eighteen TrailBlazers headed down to Mt. Ida to hike 7.6 miles on the new Joplin and Hickory Nut sections of the Vista Trail, a work in progress that will eventually be 40 miles long. It was somewhat cool at the trailhead, but after a short downward trek, we started hoofing upwards and soon started feeling warm enough to peel off our layers. This section of the trail has rocks, hills and rills with some deeper valleys. Down in this area most trails feature tall pines, white quartz, fern, and holly, and this one is no exception. 

After hiking for a while, we started to smell smoke and then saw that the valley below us was full of it. We began to wonder if this was a controlled burn, the Great American Smokeout, or a giant TrailBlazer roast that nobody had told us about! About this time we started huffing and puffing up the final steep, rocky stretch to the top. Fortunately the smoke was no longer a problem after the trail curved off to the right. On the other hand, it also started to feel much colder and the wind really kicked up. 

There was a neat view of Lake Ouachita at the picnic area where there was even a restroom. First we had to bundle up against the cold wind before wolfing down our lunch. Most people congregated behind the restroom, which served as a windbreak of sorts, to chat a little before heading down. 

The final leg of the trail is new this year. It has some steep ups and downs and features several benches and logs for weary hikers. There was the added benefit of pine needle carpeting! People have done a lot of work placing rocks along the trail to define the path. There are also rock cairns here and there just in case heavy leaf fall blurs the trail. This was a really neat hike that everyone enjoyed. Merry Christmas, everyone. We’ll see you on the trail next year!