Here’s the scoop from guest reporter Patty: Seven Trailblazers opted for a kinder, gentler hike at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Oklahoma, on Saturday. The heavily wooded Coon Creek Ridge Trail led us to an area of crevices, large rock formations, and a scenic bluff offering a beautiful view of the surrounding hills. Billigene was happy to find a service berry in full bloom. We followed an adjacent trail down to Coon Creek and enjoyed lunch in a pretty area complete with a waterfall. A couple brave TrailBlazers even made their way across the creek while the rest of us took bets on whether they would make it back to us drenched or dry. After hiking, we enjoyed the wildlife museum and heritage center located in the visitor center. Lastly, we explored Robbers Cave, where the likes of Belle Starr and Jesse James hid out long ago. The area is very rocky and offers fantastic views. We even watched some rappellers before making our way back to Fort Smith. It was a glorious day to be outside enjoying a beautiful eastern Oklahoma park. 

Billigene reports that it was a delightful hike in perfect conditions led by our very own Bonanza Bob who maintained a nice middle-aged pace that didn’t leave them breathless – amen to that!

A group of eight TrailBlazers made up of 7 bag ladies and 1 brave man (who is not a misogynist!) picked up trash at the River Valley Nature Center along with other area volunteers. As you can see, they had to get down and dirty in their grungy pursuit, but it looks like they managed to have a few laughs in the process. 

Good job! Wouldn’t it be nice if the people who used this facility could pack out their own trash so that others wouldn’t have to clean up after them? I guess we can dream, but it wouldn’t be a good idea to hold our breaths waiting for this to happen!

Tonight we learned about the Civil Air Patrol, something that many of us didn’t know a lot about. First Cecil Engles explained how this all-volunteer group was founded in 1941, earlier than the Air Force, for homeland defense. It used 60 hp unarmed planes to protect our ships off the Florida coast from German subs. The patrol has grown to be the 5th largest air force in the world. Today is does 95% of the search and rescue for lost downed aircraft. There is a squadron in every state and territory. 

Next, Scott James, a private pilot for 20 years, talked about his 4 years with the patrol, mostly with search and rescue. Besides SAR, they also do disaster relief by photographing earthquake sites, hurricane areas, and the like to assess damage. A second program is the Cadet Patrol for 12 to 18 year-olds who learn leadership, accountability, and moral training by participating in the ground operations of search and rescue under the supervision of adult members. About 8% of them later become Air Force candidates. 

Jeff Wilson explained that a third part of their program is aerospace education. He was in the cadet program and received an ROTC scholarship to the U of A because of this training. Jeff explained that, when requested by other agencies, their work can also involve searches for lost hikers, hunters, or disoriented people who wander off. The patrol is always looking for volunteers to train for various roles in ground or air operations. The group meets Tues. evening twice a month in Fort Smith. More info is available at: . A big thank you to Cecil, Scott and Jeff for their presentation.

Twenty TrailBlazers made the scenic drive down to the Ouachitas enjoying flowering forsythia, serviceberry, magnolia, wild plum and Bradford pear trees. It was damp, chilly and windy as we waited for the shuttle drivers, so to keep warm some of us started out immediately from Charlton Campground heading for Lake Ouachita. The first leg of the trail has a significant elevation gain, but the trail climbs gradually and has switchbacks, so it wasn’t hard. As we climbed, the wind started to really whip around, so out came some windbreakers and gloves. There was a lovely, hazy view from the high ridge.

Bonanza Bob took the early lead and was praised for his restrained pace, welcome to many of us! We saw several serviceberry trees along the trail, and of course there were lots of pines, some holly trees and tons, literally, of quartz rocks because all of these are characteristic of this area. After a while, Billigene grabbed the lead. Although it wasn’t long until the shuttle crew was gaining on us, our octogenarian matriarch held them off until lunchtime! We finally found an area, out of the wind, with some rocks and logs to sit on, so we decided to eat. No sooner had we plopped down when the wind started to pick up – oh, well, Murphy’s Law is alive and well! 

Hike leader Katie finally gained command of her troops as we trekked up and down, crossed some little creeks, saw an old spring, and finally reached Lake Ouachita. The sun only put in a few cameo appearances of short duration, but the temps did warm up some. A highlight of the hike was Hanna’s head gear – her mosquito net was either for mourning, to block the wind, to make a fashion statement, or an attempt to impersonate Mata Hari. Only Hanna knows. It was an enjoyable hike and 4.3 miles was a comfortable distance.

Some 29 TrailBlazers and 2 canines did a little urban trekking at Fort Chaffee and hoofed up to the new amphitheater on the top of a hill. A brisk, sunny Sunday afternoon made for perfect hiking conditions, and a short commute was also a welcome change. 

An ailing Yours Truly with a bad back got the time wrong and missed the group hike because when she followed the group down the road, she couldn’t figure out where they had turned off the road! Making the best of it, she trekked the trails near and around Wells Lake.

Seventeen TrailBlazers finally had a picture perfect day for hiking, complete with great temps and sunshine. Today we did something different at Petit Jean. We have done Seven Hollows several times, and many of us have hiked down to Cedar Falls and back up the same trail. Today, under the command of Buffalo Bob, we hiked down to the falls, which were full of water, and then looped around for about 8 miles, eventually taking another route back to the lodge. 

Part of the hike was next to swollen creeks with lots of rapids and mini-falls. Lunch featured a neat view of the creek. After a while we started trekking upward and had a long ascent up a dirt road until we came to a trail through a pine forest on a ridge. There were some breathtaking views across the canyon to the other side where the lodge is. We also saw some impressive turtle rocks that rival those at Seven Hollows. We also looked around in Rock House Cave, but we must confess that the rock art eluded us. 

We descended down to the creek again, crossed a bridge, and then carefully picked our way along a narrow trail of rocks along the creek. After that we began the final steep, rocky assault to get back on the ridge to the lodge where we were able to have a final distant view of Cedar Falls. Great day! 

For the curious, Becky did a public service by opening a stall door locked from the inside, in the ladies room. On her back she slid under the door, limbo-style, and the camera caught her enjoying the sweet smell of success when the door swung open. There was a long line of women out in the hall waiting in line, so she saved the day!

About 15 TrailBlazers led by Wilson headed down to the Ouachitas to hike Caney Creek. The day started out cool, but it was sunny and quickly warmed up all day long. This was about a ten-miler, so the hikers would have been warm no matter what. 

Buffalo Bob reports that there was “Not much to write about.” Now this was probably a good thing as this hike with its FIFTEEN creek crossings could possibly involve de-booting and re-booting, a process that gets old really fast. Fortunately the drought eliminated the need for this so it was possible to rock hop with the occasional assistance of a helping hand. Otherwise this long hike might have taken a lot longer. There was still the opportunity for a good foot wash crossing the Cossatot, but this is not unwelcome on a warm day.

The really great thing was that Katy Falls were rolling in spite of the dry spell. This is always a neat lunch spot. There wasn’t a lot of fall color, but it is warmer in the Ouachitas, so it might be a tad delayed.

Bob suggested that Katie aka Princess Hiayaha “should throw in a few notes” for this report since he wasn’t feeling his “creative juices flowing.”. In this he deluded himself as Katie’s succinct answer to my plea for help was, and I quote, “NOT ME.” She is off the hook, however, since she did send me photos!