Twenty-two TrailBlazers, one canine, and one cockatiel, led by Ed and Judith, headed up to Lake Fort Smith to hike about 3 miles from the Visitors Center and back at the start of the OHT. Although there was no sun and the skies were leaden, the weather was actually very comfortable for hiking, and there was not yet any sign of the bitter cold and rain forecast by our prophets of gloom and doom on TV! The Visitors Center was attractively decked out for Christmas. We were all happy to welcome back Billigene who really enjoyed the hike. 

The trail along the lake has its ups and downs with some rocky sections. Along the way we saw remnants of early settlers including an old cistern and a couple of tall fireplaces. The lake had lots of gravel along the shore due to the drought, and as we continued down the trail we saw several sand bars created by the low water level. The highlight of the hike was Golda the Cockatiel who, as usual, was much photographed and sought after. Glenda, Arlene and Lee had quality bonding experiences. 

All too soon the hike was over and we set out for home to await the onslaught of the much-hyped cold front!

Finally we caught a break. Last week, heeding the warnings of our drama queen forecasters, we canceled the Fayetteville hike on what turned out to be a nice day. Yesterday we had to cancel Big Bluff for today due to unsafe conditions on the icy ledge high above the Buffalo. Shifting gears, 13 TrailBlazers and 2 canines opted for Plan B, a neat 6-mile trek at Lake Fort Smith with Linda leading the pack. 

It was 25 degrees upon arrival, but the sun was brightly shining on a still-present winter wonderland with trees and bushes decked in winter white. With no wind it didn’t seem terribly cold, and it wasn’t long before we started shedding layers. Due to some snow and slick spots on the trail, Yours Truly (of bad knees fame) could not award it the “knee-friendly” rating today. We pussyfooted over the slick spots, and a couple of people sat down on the old humpus-rumpus, but names will remain confidential until or unless there is a financial incentive to spill the beans!

Eventually we reached the creek where most of the creek bed is exposed rock due to lack of rain. Some chose to return via the road, a steady uphill trek, to avoid the slippery trail, and the rest backtracked on the trail. It was a great hike followed by lunch at Cracker Barrel.

Twenty-seven TrailBlazers under the command of Captain Kenya headed up to Fayetteville to do a 5 ½ mile urban park trek as our last hike of 2011. The weather was sunny and cool – perfect conditions for hiking. Part of the hike was on a paved trail but most was on dirt side trails. They must have had good rains in the area because in places it was muddy, marshy, or slick. Along the way we spotted several frost flowers, some past their prime, but others in good shape. 

Here and there we were able to catch glimpses of the lake because of the leaf fall. There were also several bridges of various sizes. One creek crossing was a little tricky, so Tom offered a helping hand to the damsels in distress who were log-hopping and rock-stepping. Since this hike didn’t offer a lot of photo ops, at this juncture Magda stepped into the breach to provide us some camera (aka “Canon”) fodder. Avoiding Tom, she walked along the creek to cross a narrower part when all of a sudden a tree jumped out and bit her in the ear. She fell into the water, hurt her hand, and ending up emptying water out of her boots and wringing out her socks. What a trooper! After that nobody else rose to the challenge of offering us a good photo op! 

Toward the end of the hike we crossed an “award winning” bridge that featured water flowing over a dam on one side. Reaching the parking lot around noon, we all headed out to find places to eat and some stayed on to shop. Merry Christmas - see y’all next year!

Forty TrailBlazers, 5 canines (assorted sizes), and one bird led by Ruth Ann made the short drive to Alma to do the Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Trot around Lake Alma, a scenic trail with views of the lake and bayou. It starts out as a paved, family-friendly path and then turns into an actual hike. Unlike the River Trail in Little Rock, this is not just an urban stroll since it has some ups and downs and some rough ground as well as some tricky spots. Alas, Yours Truly aka Picture-Taker Woman cannot award it her Foot and Knee-Friendly Rating due to some steep patches with loose dirt, rocky sections, and some narrow ledges sloping sideways that could lead to a swift downhill slide! Of course, some trail volunteers could make some rock steps and stabilize the ledges to solve these problems. There are some parts where there are parallel upper and lower trails. On the plus side the trail is short (3 ½ miles), involves a short commute, is a neat place to hike, and can be done in a morning or afternoon for those short on time. 

It was good to see some new faces as well as some old friends whom we have not seen in many moons. We saw the ruins of a small homestead with a tiny one room stone cabin complete with fireplace as well as another small structure that might have been a washroom or icehouse or what have you. Imagine our surprise when Santa, not looking quite like his jolly old self, made a surprise appearance at the homestead. Unfortunately, he has not yet done his pre-Christmas limbering exercises, so instead of braving a descent down the chimney, he opted to hide behind it! 

We had an enjoyable afternoon with great weather and a big turnout.

Thirty-three TrailBlazers headed up Highway 23 to the St. Paul area to do two short waterfall hikes. In the process we took a long, scenic road trip, some on dusty dirt roads, all over North Central Arkansas. First we went to Kings River and trekked along its banks with views of some lush green pastures on the other side of the trail. Along the way there were some small falls in the river and some cascading falls down a hillside. Pleasantly surprised to find that the Kings River Falls had a nice flow of water, we took time to explore the area before heading back. 

As the crow flies, distances are short, but crows don’t drive, so it took us a while to get to the Sweden Falls area. It was a tad tricky to find on a narrow gravel road. As luck (bad) would have it, we got some input from a man driving a chicken poop spreader truck. He told us to give him the right of way since he had no brakes. We caved in because discretion is the better part of valor! 

After finding the dilapidated sign, we climbed over some barbed wire, bushwhacked for a while in the heat, lost our bearings for a few minutes, and eventually found the old road. We finally ate a late lunch and serenaded Kathy with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday – no wonder we didn’t see any wild life. Then we trekked down the rocky, slippery ridge trail to the cool, shaded box canyon to view Sweden Creek Falls and rest in the cool shade. It was a great day for hiking and we had a large turnout.

On a warm and sunny day twenty-seven TrailBlazers under the command of Buffalo Bob headed for the Pelsor area to check out Kings Falls and Pedestal Rocks while trying to find some fall color. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the falls were as dry as a bone since in recent years this usually has been the case. Water or no water, it’s worth a trek to the falls to see the beautiful view of the valley. Of course, long established TrailBlazer tradition requires us to take our group photo on top of this cliff, and we are big on tradition. 

The other loop to Pedestal Rocks is always a crowd-pleaser to newcomers as well as veterans because it gives us the opportunity to reconnect with our inner child while scampering down underneath the trail to play around and explore the caves. Much of the trail is actually above these caves, so there is just empty space underneath! There was some fall color showcasing the pedestals, but it is still a little early and lack of rain may be a factor. 

Next week is Hawksbill Crag so let’s hope that it will be dressed up in fall garb for us!

Sherri gives the following report: Started out cloudy and cool but it was an awesome sight to behold. Great color still on the trees and we did the Pedestal Rocks Loop first, had lunch under the cliffs, and then on to the dry bones of King's Bluff (just a small trickle of water that I did not expect to see) and then up and out and down the road to CJ's for burgers & fries. New faces and old friends ..... we had it all today and enjoyed every last minute! 

P.S. The funny sight to behold lying down on the trail is Rose, a friend who hiked for the first time today. We wore her plumb out she said ..... she's a HOOT!