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ARKANSAS WILD EXPLORING OUTDOOR LIFE IN THE NATURAL STATE

6 amazing visit hawksbill crag! page 32

arkansans hike iceland

a four day adventure

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RIVER CRAFTING The Batesville Climbing Hot Spot

SPRING 2018 a r K A N S A S w i l d.c o m ARKANSASWILD.COM | 1


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SPRING WILD 2018

Stacy Price gazes at Roark Bluff from the Buffalo River Trail.

ARKANSASWILD.COM ¸ FAcebook.com/ArkansasWild

28

ARKANSAS’ FAVORITE OVERLOOKS Great climbing abounds in the Natural State

24

TURKEY TIME, AGAIN The One That Almost Got Away

26 PHOTOGRAPHY BY BOB ROBINSON

RIVERMAN’S FAVORITE WATERWAY Nearly Drowning Creates a Lifelong Bond

34

CLIMBING JAMESTOWN CRAG Batesville Hotspot

38

HIKING ICELAND The Laugavegur Trail

DEPARTMENTS

10 OUTDOOR ESSENTIALS 12 GAME & FLAME 16 ARKANSAS OUTOOOR ARTISANS 20 OUT & ABOUT 50 OUTDOOR ORIGINALS

4 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

ON THE Cover: During a trip with author Bob Robinson to see some of the best overlooks in the state, Stacy Price peeks over the edge of Hawksbill Crag, located in the Ozark National Forest. See story page 28.


DISCOVER

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ARKANSAS WILD REBEKAH LAWRENCE Publisher rebekah@arktimes.com ELIZABETH HAMAN Associate Publisher elizabeth@arktimes.com MANDY KEENER Creative Director mandy@arktimes.com LACEY THACKER Editor At Large Lacey@arktimes.com ADVERTISING LESA THOMAS Senior Account Executive lesa@arktimes.com

E HEADS

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KIMBERLY BENNETT Account Executive kimberly@arktimes.com PRODUCTION WELDON WILSON Production Manager/Controller ROLAND R. GLADDEN Advertising Traffic Manager LARISSA GUDINO Advertising Coordinator GRAPHIC DESIGNERS KATIE HASSELL JASON HO MIKE SPAIN OFFICE STAFF ROBERT CURFMAN IT Director

ARKANSAS NATIONAL GUARD MUSEUM LOCATED ON CAMP ROBINSON, NORTH LITTLE ROCK Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm Take exit 150 off I-40 and follow signs to Camp Robinson 501.212.5215 • arngmuseum.com

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LINDA PHILLIPS Billing/Collections KELLY JONES Office Manager/Accounts Receivable ANITRA HICKMAN Circulation Director

arkansas times publishing 201 E. MARKHAM ST., SUITE 200 LITTLE ROCK, AR 72201 501-375-2985 All Contents © 2017 Arkansas Wild

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CONTRIBUTORS

BUY · SELL · TRADE GUN CLEANING SERVICES CONCEALED CARRY CLASSES #10-641

DARRELL POTTS is an outdoorsman, a

founder/owner of Lewis & Clark Outfitters and a writer (former humor columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette).

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS DOUG “RIVERMAN” ALLEN grew up

BELLA VISTA | BENTONVILLE | EUREKA SPRINGS | FAYETTEVILLE HOLIDAY ISLAND | HUNTSVILLE | ROGERS | SILOAM SPRINGS | SPRINGDALE

just a few miles from Eureka Springs, near the Kings River, where his family of fishermen and biologists inspired his own passion for water and fish.

JILL ROHRBACH loves writing about

outdoor adventures and is proud to be a board member of Trout Unlimited Chapter 514. She has 25 years of experience as a journalist and travel writer. She and her family reside in Northwest Arkansas.

Hike our scenic Ozark mountains, paddle our sparkling rivers and lakes, and shred our 200+ miles of epic mountain bike trails!

RICHARD LEDBETTER is a south-

Arkansas outdoorsman who has published a pair of historical novels, The Branch and the Vine and Witness Tree 1910.

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ansas.org

BOB ROBINSON enjoys all things

outdoors and is the author of three bicycle guidebooks, all of which can all be purchased at spiritscreek.com.

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ARKANSASWILD.COM | 7


SPRING IS HERE! It’s such a joy to be part of Arkansas Wild. I continue to meet dedicated people making impressive strides to further participation in the outdoors, and I can’t thank them enough for how they’ve welcomed me at every turn. Each season has its own unique traits, but spring is special. The daffodils are peeking out, and we know warmth is on its way to stay. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent the last two months hibernating inside, so I’m ready to pull on my hiking boots, load up my kayak, and get out to explore what Arkansas has to offer. From a list of favorite overlooks to one man’s special relationship with the Kings River, to climbing Jamestown Crag in Northeast Arkansas, in this issue we cover adventure across the state. Richard Ledbetter spins a tale about a spring turkey hunt, and I share with you my day trip to Wilson, where the town is being revitalized through local food, education and tourism. And, when you’re packing cooking supplies for your next camping trip, consider taking along an Arkansas-made Blue Moon Disk—or use it while you’re enjoying the outdoors in your own backyard. Artisan Donny Schaap shares how he makes his custom serving trays, while Arkansan Darrell Potts will keep you laughing with his retelling of a hiking trip to Iceland with friends. I hope this issue entertains and inspires you. If you haven’t already, get in touch with us and share your favorite Arkansas adventures.

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See you outside,

Lacey Thacker Editor at Large, Arkansas Wild

PHOTOGRAPHY: NOVO STUDIO

FROM THE EDITOR AT LARGE


ARKANSASWILD.COM | 9


OUTDOOR ESSENTIALS

HIKING MUST-HAVES

DARRELL POTTS, AN OWNER OF LEWIS & CLARK OUTFITTERS, SHARES HIS PICKS TO MAKE ANY HIKING TRIP AS COMFORTABLE AS POSSIBLE

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Blended in Alexander, AR!

BLUE MOON DISK FAJITAS

THE CUTTING DISK TURNED COOKING DISK IS PERFECT FOR AN ENTIRE MEAL WHEN GRILLING AT HOME OR CAMP BY LACEY THACKER 12 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

Chuck Peyton, owner and inventor of the Blue Moon Disk, sprinkles Discada Seasoning over deer-steak fajitas during a backyard cookout. The all-purpose seasoning includes a custom blend of spices that brings out the savory flavor of any dish.

PHOTOGRAPHY: NOVO STUDIO

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C

huck Peyton never dreamed a mission trip to Mexico would inspire him to start a business. In 2005, after completing a mission trip spent constructing medical facilities, Chuck and the rest of his group were invited to a celebratory cook out. He says he’d been told about the cooking dish used by the locals; “I didn’t think anything of it until I saw it, but then I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.” Chuck was, he says, almost more interested in how they were cooking the food than he was in what particular food they were cooking. The residents indulged his curiosity, showing him how the cooking tool was made. After Chuck arrived home to Little Rock, the memory continued to percolate, but it took several years before the idea came to fruition. He searched for something similar but was unsuccessful, though he now knows several cultures have a similar cooking tool. “It just kind of bothered me for a few years, until I went into a hardware store in Harrison and saw a new disk for sale. I thought, ‘All right, it’s on,’” he explains with a laugh. He collected a few used disks no longer suitable for farming, had a welder fill in the hole in the middle and had a sandblaster blast off the paint. Chucks points to a well-used disk and notes that it likely came from a field in Lonoke or Carlisle, saying “My wife has cousins that are farmers, so they kind of supplied me while I was perfecting what I wanted.” Today, the Blue Moon Disk is made from new crop cutting disks, but they’re still authentic tractor disks—in fact, Chuck must smooth the sharp edges before sending them to customers. The carefully-welded handles are unused horseshoes. The bottom of each steel disk is stamped with the name of the company and “Little Rock, Arkansas.” Though Chuck originally intended for the disk to be used outside on a propane cooker, he found many customers were using them directly on stovetops—so he invented a method to make it easier and more effective to do so. Now known as the Blue Moon Disk Ring, the simple device allows home chefs to safely use the disk on a gas or electric range. The cooking properties of the steel disk are somewhat different than cast iron, but like cast iron, the Blue Moon Disk isn’t fussy. After removing food residue, chefs simply rub a little cooking oil on the disk to season it. Chuck, who works in IT, says, “I love to hunt and fish, but with kids I pretty much concentrate on hunting.” His daughters, ages 23 and 15, have shown little interest in hunting, and his son, who is 16, is often too busy with school to join in, but the entire family reaps the benefits of Chuck’s efforts in the woods. On the afternoon I make a visit, I also benefit. Chuck makes his almost-famous Blue Moon Fajitas, a succulent, flavorful and easy dish, but he also spoils us with deer steaks—tender, juicy and perfectly cooked. One of the handy features of the disk is its cooking area—the hot center allows for cooking up meat or sautéing vegetables, while the periphery is perfect for keeping already-cooked food warm until time to eat. “It lends to creativity when you’re cooking to have other dishes still on the same cooking surface,” he says. And creativity is the name of the game—Chuck even suggests cooking down fresh peaches before serving them topped with ice cream. Visit bluemoondisk.com for a list of retailers. 14 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018


Facing page: Chuck Peyton offers a Blue Moon fajita fresh off the disk after warming the flour tortillas over the veggie and venison mixture.

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BLUE MOON FAJITAS Yields 6 servings

1 green bell pepper, cut into strips 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips 1 yellow onion, cut into strips 1.5 pounds of your protein of choice (deer, chicken or beef) 3 tablespoons fajita seasoning 1 can stewed tomatoes, drained 1 lime, quartered cooking oil for the disk flour tortillas INSTRUCTIONS: Coat your protein with the fajita seasoning. Set aside. Heat several tablespoons of cooking oil in the cooking disk over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and onions; sauté for five to ten minutes. Remove from heat, cover and keep warm.

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Add meat to center of disk. Cook over medium heat until slightly crispy on the outside. Turn. When almost cooked through, cut into strips with a chef’s knife. Move to the outer edges of the disk. Add stewed tomatoes to the center of the disk and toss peppers, onions and tomatoes together to heat through. Add meat back to the center. Lay tortillas over the mixture to warm. Serve.

Steel Buildings

ARKANSASWILD.COM | 15


PHOTOGRAPHY: NOVO STUDIO

Each of Donny Schaap’s trays are one of a kind. When a customer orders a tray, they select their favorite waterway to have inlaid into the wood.

RIVER CRAFTING A RIVER RUNS THROUGH ARTISAN DONNY SCHAAP’S WORK BY LACEY THACKER

A

fter beginning his career as a production manager for Spalding, Donny Schaap and his brother-inlaw decided to go into the construction business. While they primarily did remodeling jobs, they also occasionally built log homes. Later in life, Schapp went into the insurance business, and after twenty years he retired. It was then, he says, “My wife and I decided to build a cabin on the White River, so I got back into carpentry and woodworking.” It was a hobby that took root in his childhood. Donny’s father did a lot of carpentry, including building a fishing boat and a few pieces of furniture for their house. That, Donny says, is where he developed the interest in woodworking as a young kid. His father-in-law was also an excellent carpenter, and Donny says he learned a lot from him as well. After he and his wife finished the cabin, Donny continued building pieces as people requested them. Friends and family encouraged Donny to sell his work, so he contacted his friend Duane Hada of Rivertown Gallery, in Mountain Home. He and Duane have been friends since the 1990s, and it was Duane who taught Donny how to fly fish. Together they even started a club, the Fort Smith Fly Fishers, which still exists today. When Donny called, Duane was looking for a woodworker to feature in the shop; the timing was perfect. 16 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

Some of Donny’s favorite things to make are stools, tables and benches, because, he says, “I can be a little more creative with them.” But that’s not all he makes—he also crafts custom serving trays with an inlay that depicts the route of a particular creek or river. “When you’re building with wood you have to let it dry for a long time, and most people don’t realize that,” he explains. After the wood dries for a year or more, he cuts a piece to fit the size and shape of the tray he has in mind. Then he runs it through a planer to smooth it out. Next comes what Donny describes as, “a lot of sanding—a lot of sanding.” He applies a single coat of food-safe butcher block oil before putting in the design of the river. “I have a map that I’ve had scaled down. I lay out my river with pencil, then I come back and route it in,” Donny says. Next he pours colored resin into the route. Every river he inlays is to scale—it shows every bend and every curve: exactly as it is on the map. Once the resin dries, he applies finish to the whole piece. Donny also makes the feet the trays sit on. For a time he purchased pre-made feet, until one day, he says, he realized, “What am I doing? I’m a woodworker!” Donny’s daughter-in-law suggested he put “fancy” handles on the trays, and he says that’s added yet another layer of variety, which is what he so enjoys about custom woodworking— not only can a different handle change the whole look of a


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“I LAY OUT MY RIVER WITH PENCIL, THEN I COME BACK AND ROUTE IT IN.”

Clockwise from top: Trays are one of Donny’s favorite pieces to craft, as the relatively large amount of real estate allows him to be creative with his embellishments. Most of the wood Donny uses must be aged for at least a year before the moisture level is low enough for the wood to be worked. A mallet is one of the key tools of a woodworker, allowing Donny to hammer two pieces of wood together without injuring the work in progress.

18 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018


piece, so too can the finish, the style of the legs, and even the grain of the wood. As for preferred species, Donny explains, “Oak is harder to work with than any of them. I really do enjoy walnut and cedar. For my other things, like stools, tables and benches, I use a lot of sassafras. The key is, if you’re making rustic furniture, two to three times a year you’ve got to be out in the woods cutting material you’re not going to use for another year or two.” Donny and his family enjoy gathering at the cabin on the river, where his sons and daughter and their spouses, along with his grandchildren, can appreciate the outdoors. He says the garage there is full of non-motorized watercrafts, because, “We do a lot of kayaking and canoeing. We’re right there where all the rivers are, so we have our pick.” When asked what he thinks goes into making a piece special, he tells a story: After seeing the kingsized bed he made from cedar logs for their cabin, his daughter-in-law requested a dining table. He and his wife were tearing down an old family barn, and he used that salvaged wood to make the dining table. Another woman emailed to ask if he could craft a tray made of walnut from her family land. “You just try to make things that are going to have memory and feelings and traditions in them,” he reflects. Donny Schaap can be reached at donnyschaap@yahoo.com.

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OUT & ABOUT

EXPLORE WILSON A TOWN REVITALIZED BY LACEY THACKER

A “Not Really Philly” sandwich with smoked pork shoulder on an amoroso roll served by the Wilson Cafe, a farm-to-table restaurant on the square in Wilson. Bouquets of cotton plants can be purchased at The Grange, a year-around farmers market.

Wilson, Arkansas is about three hours from Little Rock and 45 minutes north of Memphis. Founded in 1886, the town was originally a “company town” built by Robert Wilson to provide shopping, dining, housing and other community services to the people who worked in the area—primarily in his cotton business. In 2010, the Lawrence Group purchased Lee Wilson & Company. That acquisition included many of the historic buildings in town and much of the surrounding agricultural land. The Lawrence Group is working extensively with the town to revitalize the community and create, according to the town website, “a nurturing, inclusive and inspiring community based on the simple values of honesty, authenticity and hard work.”

FOOD

As a friend and I drove to Wilson one morning, I had little idea what to expect. When we hit the edge of town, I was greeted by a row of huge old hardwoods. We turned down a street near what was clearly the town square and found ourselves exactly where we hoped to be—in front of the Wilson Café. The café is one of the community’s restored buildings; the walls behind the bar are covered with subway tile, and the tables have a natural wood finish. The café menu is simple, with something for everyone; when my “Fire Bird” sandwich arrived, I was delighted at the smoky buffalo sauce and the extra crispy fried chicken in the middle. My salad, too, was perfection—a generous portion of fresh lettuce with a sweet curl of carrot on top.

LOCATION: Just over three hours east of Little Rock and about an hour north of Memphis GPS: 35.566257, -90.041932

20 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

SHOPPING

Our original after-lunch plan was to drive a few miles to the Wapanocca Wildlife Management Area, where photography and canoeing were high priorities. But after we left the café, I spotted the magic word: mercantile. So, we drove approximately 100 feet and parked again. We’d found White’s Mercantile, a carefully curated shop full of items that the store’s owner, Holly Williams, hopes will serve whomever buys them for years to come. While visiting with the lovely lady running working that day, she mentioned the dog-friendly nature of the shop—and what did I have in my vehicle but a dog? And how convenient that White’s has a small pet section with attractive, reasonably-priced leashes. White’s Mercantile also carries dishes, gift items, bath items, baby gifts, a few pieces of jewelry and plush pillows and blankets.

PHOTOGRAPHY: BRIAN CHILSON/LACEY THACKER

HISTORY


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Left to right: The town square is surrounded by multiple buildings that have been restored for the town’s use, including the Wilson Cafe and a bank. The Grange is home to a year-round farmers market, but it is also available for weddings, concerts and other events. It is surrounded by the lush grounds of the Wilson Garden.

NEARBY OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

If roaming the town isn’t your speed, consider checking out the following wildlife areas after an early lunch at the Wilson Cafe: ST. FRANCIS SUNKEN LANDS WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA One hour from Wilson. The WMA offers access to hunting, fishing and canoeing. Later in the year, this is a hot spot for duck hunting. WAPANOCCA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE Forty minutes from Wilson. The diverse habitat here includes a hardwood forest and a flooded cypress/willow swamp. At the viewing area on the east side of Wapanocca Lake, bald eagles, blue herons and great egrets can regularly be seen. An hour and a half northwest of Wilson. Crowley’s Ridge State Park offers kayaking, camping and impressive hiking trails.

22 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

CULTURE

The woman at the mercantile suggested we meander across the tracks to Wilson Gardens. What I found was out of this world. The garden itself is around 200 acres and includes several greenhouses, chickens, nut trees and exposed beds. The garden supplies a yearround farmer’s market housed in “The Grange,” a two-story, multi-use building available for rent that also occasionally hosts musical acts. The event coordinator was in, and she walked us around the property and into the greenhouses, my dog again in tow, because, as the coordinator said, “The whole town is pretty much dog friendly—except maybe the café.” And the café, we discover, purchases its produce from Wilson Gardens, a mere block or two away. Now that’s local food. At this point, I accept that I’m not making it to the WMA, and once again we make the trek cross the square, this time into the pharmacy. The pharmacy is the original Wilson Pharmacy, but it also carries a selection of gift items. Just down the sidewalk is Priceless Galleries, full of Wilson-branded items to help you remember your trip—and I am a sucker for a good T-shirt. From there, we wandered the streets for half an hour or so, just taking in the architecture of the town, including the newly remodeled bank building.

INNOVATION

To round out the trip, we drove around the town to see what we could see. Aside from the sign indicating the upcoming opening of an archaeological museum in the town square, we also discovered The Delta School, an innovative institution offering a makerspace, garden and apiary, among other innovative programs. I realized before we drove off that my gas tank was empty, and, after asking around, found my way to the only gas station in town. I cheered when I found it was full service, since pumping gas is one of my last favorite activities. Rest assured, if you’re not into that, there is another station only a few miles out of town. Wilson feels, in the best way, as though it’s part of another dimension, yet there it is: a reviving Arkansas treasure, surrounded by the beauty of the Delta. To learn more about Wilson, visit WilsonArkansas.com.


Pinnacle Mountain State Park

YOU’VE GOT SOME

EXPLORING TO DO.

With 52 state parks, Arkansas is made for adventure. Bring your mountain bike, hiking boots, canoe, kayak, Jeep, ATV or simply your sense of wonder, and set out on an exploration that’s as wild as you want it to be. Go to ArkansasStateParks.com to plan your trip today. #ARStateParks

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TURKEY TIME, AGAIN THE ONE THAT ALMOST GOT AWAY BY RICHARD LEDBETTER

A

few years back I was hunting a patchwork of various woodland stands. The acreage contains multiple stretches of mature hard woods, all ranging from 40 to 80 acres, set amongst recent clear-cuts of open ground and numerous pine plantations of varying ages. One particular 80 acre plantation is a rectangle of 15-year-old pines surrounded by hardwood bottoms on three sides and bordered by a gravel road to the east. Turkey hens commonly use the brushless understory of 10- to 20-year-old pine stands for nesting. Surrounded on three sides by hardwood forests, the plantation has a nearby abundance of forage. Hens move in and out of the tree farm, to and from their clutches, alternating between setting, feeding and breeding throughout the day. This, of course, draws gobblers in pursuit of their amorous intentions. The 80 acres are surrounded by a woodsy road with three diagonal trails cutting across at even intervals. When I was there, I’d spent several mornings in a row chasing a big bird who’d been roosting near the furthest corner from the road. Leaving my truck in the predawn darkness, I donned my vest and shouldered my gun, beginning the trek into position for gobbling time. I slipped quietly down the border trail as first light encroached upon the firmament of twinkling stars. Nearing the back corner of the 80, I was fully expecting him to sound off from his roost tree of previous evenings. Understandably surprised, I stopped cold in my tracks when his first gobble came from the exact opposite direction. Listening intently, I confirmed from which point of the compass I’d heard him. “Perhaps,” I thought, “it’s an entirely different bird.” Moments ticked by as he busted off gobble after gobble while not a peep came from where I’d expected. With it growing ever lighter, I needed to decide whether to stick with my original plan or reverse track toward the hot 24 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

gobbler in the opposite corner. I chose the boisterous bird, hotfooting back from whence I’d just come. Stopping at the middle cut-through trail, I listened to distance and, of course, my prey. He was strutting between the gravel road and my location at the far end of the next trail over. I turned onto the middle trail, quietly making my way to a spot parallel to his locale.His frequent gobbles excited me as I scrambled to find a likely young pine against which to set and make my first calls. With shotgun propped on a raised knee, I scratched out a few clucks and yelps on my slate. He immediately replied with a triple gobble. Old timers will tell you, “He answered; now lay down your call and wait him out. He’ll eventually come find you when he finishes the girls he’s with.” And so I did. As the minutes passed, I could hear him working his way up and down the neighboring trail from one end to the other and back again. This transit went on for the next hour with him repeatedly traversing back and forth over the same ground. Listening to the tom’s repeated romantic soundings, the temptation was too great, causing me to occasionally offer up a short sequence of calls to encourage his attentions. Waiting, I heard the whisper of wings in the tree above my head. On a limb, craning its neck in search of the hen he believed my calls to be, was a curious crow looking to raid a clutch of fresh turkey eggs. Unable to spy the calling hen from his perch, he silently glided down to the ground, hunting and pecking all around for the nest he hoped to rob; all the while, the gobbler repeated his same trek up and down the neighboring trail. By ten o’clock, I finally decided I’d wait until he was at the far end of that trail, then hustle through the pines to a location where I’d be in position the next time he returned. Stealthily, I jogged across the neck of woods until arriving on the neighboring pathway. Eyeing the length of the trace in his direction

PHOTOGRAPHY: PEDRO ARDAPPLE/RICHARD LEDBETTER

A group of eastern wild turkeys after the morning fly down. The male in the background is strutting, hoping to catch the eye of the ladies.


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Richard holds a turkey harvested in the spring of 2016 near Fordyce. The shotgun blast took out part of the bird’s tail fan, and as Richard reached for the turkey to end its struggle, the bird spurred him in the hand with its oneand-a-half-inch spur.

to make sure he wasn’t watching, I slipped into position and readied myself for his return. At that point, he apparently decided to go in pursuit of the hen he thought he’d been hearing from my previous position. Anguished, I listened to his gobbles as he turned off the cut-through trail he’d been occupying and worked his way around west to the one I’d just left. With every gobble, it became ever more obvious he was headed toward the spot I’d just vacated. Again, it was decision time. I grabbed my gun, quickly retracing my steps through the pines. Arriving at the trail where I started, I glanced in the direction of the approaching gobbles to make sure the coast was clear. With mere moments to spare, I slipped back into position under the same tree and raised my gun in preparation. In less than a minute, he came into view, sauntering coolly down the trail, stopping to rack off another gobble every few steps. As he came within 30 yards, I steadied the bead and squeezed the trigger. With the loud report, he dropped to the ground. I jumped up and closed the short gap as he flopped in his death throes. I’ll never forget the evil eye he gave me—looking much like the dinosaurs from whom his kind descended—as his life ebbed away.

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Riverman’s Favorite Waterway NEARLY DROWNING CREATES A LIFELONG BOND

M

BY DOUG ALLEN

y earliest memory of the Kings River is as a young child, at about the age of 4. One summer day, my father—the original Riverman—took my whole family to the Kings River near Keels Creek for an afternoon of fishing and swimming. Dad, who mostly fished, was dressed in cutoff jeans, army boots without socks and no shirt. He had a pair of binoculars for bird watching around his neck. He was carrying his pride and joy, a Mitchel Garcia rod and reel strung with six-pound test line, in one hand and a gold number two size hook and a metal crawdad bucket full of live bait in the other. I thought he was the coolest thing ever. Dad was an avid smallmouth bass fisherman and came from a family of biologist/naturalists. He and the world’s greatest crawdad catcher, my mom, had just caught a bucket of live crawdads for that day’s fishing adventure. Dad decided to take the bucket of crawdads downstream to do a little smallmouth bass fishing. As he began to make his way downriver, he didn’t know that his four-year-old son was following. His long strides soon left me behind, but that was no matter. I slowly made my way after him without Rivermom becoming aware. Suddenly I stepped into a deep pool and found myself sinking to the gravel at the bottom. I remember the ripples of 26 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

the cool crystal-clear water going by and the small minnows swimming back and forth in front of my face. My eyes were wide in wonderment. It happened so quickly that I wasn’t quite sure what was happening; but after the initial shock of the cold water, I was calm. What felt like forever was probably only less than a minute and then everything began to get dark. I was drowning. Then it went black. I wasn’t scared. I felt at peace. The next memory I have is sitting on the hood of my Dad’s green 1970 Chevy stepside pickup as he was patting me on the back telling me to cough. “You’re going to be okay, son,” he said. My mom had panic in her voice, as she found a few choice words for my father while the water was draining from every orifice in my head. Since that day, I’ve had a special connection to the Kings River. I feel at home on the Kings River: I feel its pulse, so to speak. I long for it when I’m away, drawn to the water like a divining rod. My dad always reminded me that I caused him to ruin his expensive binoculars that day. My mom always reminded my dad that he almost caused her only son to drown. I was lucky in more ways than one. Through the years my family and friends have had many great days on the Kings River, shooting the rapids in a kayak, catching crawdads, hellgrammites, minnows and smallmouth bass.

PHOTOGRAPHY: CHRIS MOORE ARKANSAS PHOTOGRAPHY

Christopher Moore enjoys scenic bluffs considered the highlight of a float trip on the Kings River.


FISHING THE KINGS RIVER Top to bottom: Green water at a spot immediately after the put-in at Marble. A lovely view captured early on during a float down the river in early June.

The author catches so many fish on the Kings River that he wants his ashes spread there when he dies so the fish can get a little payback. As he nearly drowned, he saw minnows darting in front of his face, but it’s the big fish he catches nowadays. The Kings River is home to many species, but the ones listed below are the most commonly caught. SMALLMOUTH BASS These are the kings of the Kings. Pound per pound, smallmouth bass are a tough fighting fish. When catching a smallmouth, it’s not unusual for it to leap and try to shake the hook out of its mouth. If that doesn’t work, they dive hard to the bottom toward some kind of structure, like a log or rock. Smallmouth are a never-quit fish that will fight you all the way to the shore or boat. When measured for pure tenacity and heart, the smallmouth swims alone. SPOTTED BASS Also known as Kentucky Bass, they are not nearly as dominant as the smallmouth bass in terms of numbers, but the Spotted Bass can get just as large and fight almost as hard. They are often mistaken for the Largemouth Bass. CHANNEL CATFISH This elusive, adaptable fish has a flat, wide head, and its upper jaw juts out past the lower jaw. It is a ferocious fighter when first caught but will fade quickly. They can be caught on chicken liver, worms, crawdads, live minnows and jigs. SPOTTED GAR The Spotted Gar has a short snout with one row of teeth and a long cylindrical body. One of the reasons they’ve survived as long as they have is their ability to thrive in even the most inhospitable, murky, low-oxygen waters. They have a swim bladder they can fill by gulping air in order to supplement their gill breathing in low-oxygen environments. *Note: Gar eggs are toxic to humans. OZARK BASS The Ozark Bass is a species of freshwater fish in the sunfish family and is often mistaken for the very closely related Rock Bass. It is native to the White River area of Missouri and Arkansas and can be found nowhere else in the world.

I love teaching everyone I bring there the special intricacies of this extraordinary water resource. It’s important to note that not one of my Riverkids has drowned following me downriver. I told my wife that when I die, my wishes are for her to cremate my body and sprinkle my ashes across the river. I know just the spot—my favorite fishing hole, below a big bluff near where I came close to drowning many moons ago. She has promised to do that so the smallmouth bass can eat me and get a little payback. Turnabout is fair play. This is an excerpt from Doug Allen’s book-in-progress, A Riverman’s Guide to the Kings River: Kayaking, Canoeing, and Fishing.

PROTECT AND ENJOY As beautiful and magnificent as the crystalclear Kings River is, it’s also fragile and at the mercy of landowners and the people who use it for recreation. The Kings River Watershed, which totals 591 square miles, is still very rural but has seen a significant increase in population over the last decade. With the added pressure that comes with population increase, it’s important that we appreciate and preserve this extraordinary water source for all future generations to enjoy. ARKANSASWILD.COM | 27


arkansas' favorite overlooks

When asked to list my top Arkansas lookouts it turned out to be quite a challenge. Because the Natural State has both the Ozark and Ouachita Mountain ranges, there are a lot of great lookouts to choose from. However, after much contemplation, I was able to narrow the list down to six I felt stand out above the others. Below are my choices and why they made my list. By Bob Robinson

1. petit jean mtn.

Bob Robinson takes a break from driving and looks out over the River Valley after arriving at Petit Jean Mountain State Park in Morrilton.

Although it does offer a spectacular panoramic view of the Arkansas River Valley several hundred feet below, it was the stirring legend of Petit Jean Mountain that tipped the scale in favor of including it on my list. Adrienne DuMont’s fiancée was on a ship sailing for the New World. In order to accompany him, she disguised herself as a cabin boy and sneaked aboard the ship. After becoming gravely ill of fever, Adrienne’s body was laid to rest atop the mountain that bears the name her shipmates bestowed on her, which translates as “Little John.” My favorite view is located at the rocky point near her gravesite. GPS: 35.1600849°N, -92.9260029°W Near Morrilton

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2. roark bluff

If it was good enough to be featured on a Tim Ernst poster commemorating the Buffalo National River’s 25th Anniversary, Roark Bluff definitely deserves a place on my humble list of favorites. The sheer sandstone bluff is impressive from any location; however, my favorite spot is the lookout located one mile east of Steel Creek Campground on the Buffalo River Trail. Even with the dense foliage of an Arkansas summer you are rewarded with an unobstructed view of the bluff and valley several hundred feet below.

PHOTOGRAPHY: BOB ROBINSON

GPS: 36.0440° N, 93.3421° W Near Ponca

Roark Bluff from the lookout on the Buffalo River Trail, with Stacy Price of Bentonville ARKANSASWILD.COM | 29


3. White rock mtn.

I have many fond memories of watching the sun set from White Rock Mountain. In my opinion it offers one of the best sunset views in the state. The bluff towers over the surrounding forest, affording unhindered views as the sun slowly fades beyond rolling Ozark Mountains; it’s one of my favorite places to celebrate the end of a day. GPS: 35.6926° N, 93.9571° W Near Winslow

Stacy Price takes in the sunset from White Rock Mountain after driving in from Shores Lake.

4. mt. magazine As the highest mountain in the Natural State, Mount Magazine has several sweeping vantage points atop the sheer bluffs that encircle the mountain and make it a worthy, if obvious, choice. Foremost among them, in my opinion, is the view from the recently restored 1939 Works Progress Administratiwon amphitheater. The site was overgrown and forgotten for decades before being rediscovered by Interpreter Don R. Simons in 2001. The amphitheater is adjacent to the Cameron Bluff Overlook. GPS: 35.1673° N, 93.6449° W Near Dardanelle Mt. Magazine, from the restored amphitheater, with Bob Robinson.

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5. hawksbill crag Promoted as the most photographed place in Arkansas, Hawksbill Crag is sure to be on a lot of peoples’ favorite lookouts list. The jutting rock formation offers unobstructed views 100 feet below into Whitaker Creek drainage, as it courses it way to join the Upper Buffalo River. The trailhead is located on Cave Mountain Road. GPS: 35.8983° N, 93.4580° W Near Kingston

Hawksbill Crag is one of the most photographed spots in Arkansas. Here, Stacy Price peeks over the edge after hiking in from the Cave Mountain Road trailhead near Boxley. 32 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018


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From the lookout on the Compton Trailhead, visitors can get a good look at Hemmed-In Hollow Falls, the tallest waterfall between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains at 209 feet.

6. hemmeD- in hollow Falls At 209 feet, it’s the tallest waterfall between the Appalachian and the Rocky Mountains. The view of Hemmed-In Hollow Falls from the lookout on the hike from the Compton Trailhead offers an entirely different perspective of the falls than can be viewed by visitors from the base. From above, you can actually see the canyon carved into the bluff from centuries of runoff. GPS: 36.0721° N, 93.3074° W Near Compton

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To share your favorite overlooks in the state, tag us on Facebook or Instagram @arkansaswild with #explorearkansasoverlooks. ARKANSASWILD.COM | 33


PHOTOGRAPHY: NOMADS

Lieutenant Ti Augustine gets a deer in his sights during his Buckmasters NWA Hero Hunt.

CLIMBING JAMESTOWN CRAG

Three brothers buy climbing hot spot to share with the public BY JILL ROHRBACH

34 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018


A carabiner hangs from a bolt on a newly created route at Jamestown Crag near Batesville. Facing page: Bill “Fitz” Fitzgerald, an avid climber from Little Rock, scales “Pagan on Sunday.”

J

amestown Crag, just south of Batesville, is one the largest, most exposed areas of Atoka sandstone in the region, making it the best sport climbing rock in Northeast Arkansas. In fact, most of the well-known hot spots for rock climbing are found in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas—places like Horseshoe Canyon Ranch and Sam’s Throne. So the location of this sandstone outcropping near Batesville makes it unique. “It’s the only one that I know of that is on property open to the public that has a lot going on,” says Cole Fennel, author of Rock Climbing Arkansas. He knows of a few places with two or three routes, but most in that area of the state are closed to the public. With more than 100 bolted routes, Jamestown has chicken head holds and styles of climbing that are typical for Arkansas. “It’s really straight forward with cool rock formations on it,” Fennel says. “It has good holds and nice gritty texture.” The tallest route on the rock is 90 feet, and routes range in difficulty from 5.5 to 5.13. “It’s probably some of the best beginner and intermediate climbing in the country,” Fennel says. “The style is fairly comparable to Horseshoe Canyon,” adds Bill Fitzgerald, an avid climber from Little Rock, known as “Fitz” to his friends. “It’s very well featured. There are a lot of pockets and knobs to hold on to. Not a lot of slab.” He loves that the location is only about one and a half hours from Little Rock, yet it’s not as heavily trafficked. “It’s less crowded. That’s one great thing,” Fitz says.

He also likes that the rock is easily accessible from the parking lot. “You walk into it from the top of the bluff,” he explains. “There’s a slot canyon at the north end that you can walk down using rope handrails. It’s called Dog Walk because it’s the best place to take your dog down. On the other end are rungs to climb down to the bottom of the crag and in-between are a couple of routes with top anchors so you could rap down from there.” Fitz has been climbing for about 20 years and first heard about Jamestown almost a decade ago. “People had been climbing it long before I got there,” he says. “There may have been half the routes then as there are now.” “The route I’m kind of infatuated with right now is called Flaming Piss. It’s a 5.10c. It’s really tall and really interesting,” he says. “I haven’t climbed it clean yet. I want to climb it clean.” He likes it because it offers varying sections, starting with a climb to a ledge. “You could have a picnic up there,” he says. Then there is some slab and bulging overhang with a wide open finish above the trees. “It reminds me a little bit of Pepsi Challenge on Mount Magazine where you climb above the trees,” Fitz explains. His climbing partner, Monika Rued, says she likes “The Crag” because, as a fairly new climber, it offers her plenty of route diversity. “Plus, Jamestown is such a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors. There’s a waterfall and the Arkansas sandstone is not only beautiful but easy on your hands,” she adds. ARKANSASWILD.COM | 35


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Here, Kyle supports Aaron as he drills holes for a route at Jamestown Crag. Nathan, the eldest of the three brothers, works above.

They also like that it’s a nice winter crag. “The leaves drop off and it has that west exposure,” Fitz explains. “About noon the sun warms the rock and it’s fairly sheltered from the wind.” There’s one more element that climbers agree make Jamestown Crag special—its owners. “They are out there almost every weekend and they are really great people,” says Fitz. Three brothers, Nathan, Aaron and Kyle Christopher, own the property under the name Nomads. They purchased The Crag and about 40 acres in 2013 with the goal of preserving the area for future visitors and developing the property for outdoor recreation use. “We’ve utilized probably about 40 percent of the total rock that’s out there,” Kyle Christopher says. “We all have day jobs, but when we can break away from those day jobs we work on building those trails and bolting more routes.” Nomads currently own about 500 acres surrounding Jamestown Crag. They have established about eight miles of multi-use trails and camping sites. All camping is primitive. Campfires are only allowed at the designated sites above the bluff line, but people may camp anywhere on the property, which is gated. Text 870-613-4662 for the current gate code. Additionally, visitors will see signs regarding liability as well as a donation box. Donations go back into the property and recreation, such as buying bolting hardware for new routes, which the brothers install. They also hold a climbing competition, King of the Crag, in October of each year as a fundraiser and community gathering for climbers. “We didn’t buy that property to make money or to keep it to ourselves,” says Christopher. Nomads also wants to set a model that shows individuals can have an outdoor attraction and let people enjoy it without it having to be owned by the state or federal government. “What they’re doing over there is really special,” Fennel says. “So people really need to pick up after themselves and respect the area. Not that people shouldn’t do that everywhere.”


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Darren Brodie explores volcanic fields near Landmannalaugar. 38 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018


THE LAUGAVEGUR TRAIL STORY AND PHOTOS BY DARRELL POTTS

ARKANSASWILD.COM | 39


THE ADVENTURERS:

Darrell Potts – Lewis & Clark Outfitters Dude/Purveyor of Omni-Wool Socks and Base Layer/Unofficial Expedition Photographer/Knee Brace Tester Kevin Maestri – Owner of US68 Cycling Apparel/ Delivery and Logistics Coordinator for Pippin Apple Pies/ Icelandic language interpreter Darren Brodie – Optimistic Optometrist at BoozmanHof Eye Surgery and Laser Center/Lieutenant Colonel (or Lieutenant TO the Colonel) in the U.S. Air Force Reserve/ Uncertified Dietician Matthew Hegi – J.B. Hunt C.P.A./Avid Walker/Former All-Star Junior High City League Flag Football Place Kicker (kickoffs, but not field goals)/Rental Car Coordinator and Head Expedition Driver Every year, my humble crew of adventurers attempts to put together something epic. Every four or so years, we actually get permission from all our wives to embark on such a trip. This time, permission was granted (mostly) and the planning began. Matthew was so excited about the prospect of escaping diaper duty for a week, he offered to make his famous crab bisque soup for our planning meeting. So, there we were, sitting around the Hegi dining table eating a truly exemplary bowl of crab bisque without crackers (but the soup was so good nobody wondered where the crackers were), when somebody said “Let’s go to Iceland.” There was only a pause of about two seconds before all four of us were in. I pulled out my iPad, and after a few minutes Googling things like “hiking in Iceland,” “Iceland adventures,” and “do they serve crackers with crab bisque in Iceland,” we found what sounded like the perfect adventure: The Laugavegur Trail.

ARRIVING IN ICELAND:

Pretty much every Iceland adventure begins and ends in the capital city of Reykjavik. It’s a pretty small city-not much bigger than Springdale--but with an ocean, shipyards, snow-capped peaks and staggering rock formations saluting the jagged shoreline. Something about Reykjavik just feels right. The air is crisp, the atmosphere is picturesque and there’s an unspoken comradery between all of the Patagonia/ Arc Teryx-clad adventurers prepping for tomorrow’s adventures. Everybody downtown looks like they just stepped out of a modeling school for mountaineers.

40 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

PARKING THE RENTAL CAR AT THE TRAILHEAD:

Let the backpacking begin! Just one thing stood between us and perhaps the most revered trail in the world: a puddle in the road. I’m not going to question Matthew Hegi’s masculinity, his adventurous spirit, or even his driving ability. I’m just going to say when Matthew Hegi drove up to that puddle in that Iceland road, he froze. He was trembling, clutching the steering wheel with ghost-white knuckles, unable to make any sort of decision at all. We thought he was kidding, but he never laughed. Brodie was seated up front next to Matthew staring in silent disbelief as his once proud friend started mumbling about rental agreements, the dangers of moving water, and more about rental agreements! He even suggested we park the car and wade through the freezing water to get to the area where dozens of other rental cars had already gone. What happened next was memorable. Darren verbally berated Matthew like a high school linebacker might treat a third-string punter on the other team. He called Matthew names I haven’t heard in decades, he shouted commandments, he stomped the floor of that little Rav4 SUV, he pointed, and he verbally beat Matthew into submission. Just as a Corolla full of college-age girls crossed the puddle in front of us, Darren told Matthew: “Drive! Now!” Halfway across the puddle, Kevin sensed Matthew was dangerously close to slowing to a stop. Not wanting Matthew to slow down, Kevin did what any true friend would do; he started screaming. “Water is coming in the doors, water is coming in!” Kevin shouted. “What did the rental agreement say about water damage?” I yelled. “No! Are you serious?” Matthew screamed. “Drive, you moron, drive!” Darren yelled. We pushed our friend beyond his comfort zone, and in so doing helped him grow. I think he became a better man that morning. And that rental agreement would have nothing to say about his future as a stronger father. Three strong friends lifting up a fourth friend to their level … beautiful.


DAY ONE: LANDMANNALAUGAR HRAFNTINNUSKER DISTANCE: 8 MILES, 4 – 5 HOURS 
 ELEVATION INCREASE: 470 M 
 START COORDINATES GPS: N63°59.600 – W19°03.660 
 FINISH COORDINATES GPS: N63°55.840 – W19°09.700 I don’t know how to describe the trail. You don’t have to wonder if you’d like it. (You would.) You don’t have to wonder if it’s incredible. (It is.) The ground was boiling with volcanic activity. Rams met us in the first mile of the rocky trail to stake their claim on very green grass, while bright red dirt gave way to steam and steaming pools of water. I almost expected a Hobbit to come around the next corner, setting up a picnic for elevensies. Starting from Landmannalaugar, the early hiking was easy. We hiked through the lava field of Laugahraun towards very colorful snow-capped mountains. There was a long, gradual climb through picturesque hills of orange, red, brown and white. After a few hours, we arrived at Storihver geothermal area and hot springs. Right after an impromptu steam bath on the side of a mountain, it started to snow and sleet across our faces. We were thankful for good visibility when we came across a memorial of a hiker who died of hypothermia in that spot a few years ago. He was just about a mile from the campsite and hut at Hrafntinnusker.

Top to bottom: Less than a mile from the start, we encounter wildlife—sheep, in this case. Otherworldly landscapes in every direction as we hike toward Hrafntinnusker. Taking a short break during our first glacier crossing. ARKANSASWILD.COM | 41


A new experience - camping with volcanic rock walls as windshields. They were needed! Facing page: A view of the hills between Landmannalaugar and Hrafntinnusker on day 1.

42 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018


“I ALMOST EXPECTED A HOBBIT TO COME AROUND THE NEXT CORNER, SETTING UP A PICNIC FOR ELEVENSIES.”

ARKANSASWILD.COM | 43


DAY TWO: HRAFNTINNUSKER ALFTAVATN DISTANCE: 7 MILES, 4-5 HOURS 
 ELEVATIONS DECREASE: 490 M 
 START COORDINATES GPS: N63°55.840 – W19°09.700 
 FINISH COORDINATES GPS: N63°51.470 – W19°13.640 Heading out from our very windy campsite at Hrafntinnusker, the terrain was completely different than that of the previous day’s hike. It’s like we came over a hill from the camp and arrived on another planet completely. Colorful rhyolite mountains come to an end and we entered a vast region of dark palagonite mountains and white glaciers. I couldn’t take my finger off my camera’s shutter release button for hours. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve been! Go see for yourself. The second half of this hike is extremely difficult if you have any knee problems (which I do). The trail is extremely steep, the dirt and rocks on the trail are loose and sharp, and Iceland has not yet learned about switchbacks! I fell more than a couple times. Matthew fell once or twice. My trekking poles saved the day again! The last few kilometers to the camp site at Alftavatn are beautiful and flat. My knees recovered pretty well. At the end of this hike, we were rewarded with what has to be one of the most beautiful camping areas in the world.

WE CROSSED, PUT OUR BOOTS BACK ON AND HOPED FEELING WOULD COME BACK TO OUR EXTREMITIES SOON.

44 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

Clockwise: Kevin Maestri gets his footing before scrambling down a rocky descent. Darrell Potts taking one of many breaks before crossing another glacier. Our tents perched against the wind at Hrafntinnusker. Crossing a snow-filled valley on our way to Alftavatn.


ARKANSASWILD.COM | 45


DAY THREE: AFTAVATN - BOTNAR DISTANCE: 9 MILES, 6-7 HOURS 
 ELEVATION DECREASE: 40 M 
 START COORDINATES GPS: N63°51.470 – 
W19°13.640 
 FINISH COORDINATES GPS: N63°45.980 – W19°22.480 We had a pretty slow start on day three. The wind was insane (crushing our little three-season tents). Darren, our most hesitant adventurer during times of harsh weather, had decided this would be a day best spent inside his tent. “We’ve got 20 hours of daylight,” Darren shouted over the wind, “no need to hurry!” We didn’t hurry. We waited, and waited, and waited ... and waited. Unable to wait any longer, we all got up and started packing up camp, disassembling tents, cramming our stuff in our packs, boiling water for coffee, and getting ready to hit the trail. During all the commotion, Darren never budged. We were about half a mile from the campsite, before Darren emerged from his tent to find the site almost deserted. We laughed. When Darren caught up to us, he laughed too. Well, maybe he didn’t quite bellow with laughter, but he didn’t scream and curse at us either. That was progress. Leaving Hvanngil, we crossed a bridge over the Kaldaklofskvisl River. I think the locals have other names for these places and just use those words so they can make fun of everybody trying to pronounce or spell them. In Iceland, they probably call this the “Blue” River. But, I’ll call it Kaldaklofskvisl if that makes them laugh. A mile or so later, we crossed another river. This one is called the Nyrori Emmstrua River (laugh away). The water in these rivers is pretty much running straight out of a melting glacier a few hundred yards away. It’s cold-like cold, cold. We crossed, put our boots back on and hoped feeling would come back to our extremities soon. We think Darren broke some sort of speed record putting on his boots and socks after the river crossing. It took him 26 minutes; we’re thinking of submitting this data to Guinness.

46 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

Top to bottom: The unbelievably blue sky meets the volcano-formed land between Aftavatn and Botnar. While Darren Brodie ties his shoes after crossing a river, a process known to take well in excess of 20 minutes, Kevin and Matthew attempt to get comfortable. Facing page: The crew poses under an Icelandic flag before setting out for Botnar.


ARKANSASWILD.COM | 47


Below: The mighty hills visible in the distance from the trail. Facing page: A view of the hills and a raging river between Emstrur and Porsmork.

DAY FOUR: EMSTRUR (BOTNAR) ЁRSMÖRK DISTANCE: 15 KM, 6 – 7 HOURS
 ELEVATION DECREASE: 300 M
 START COORDINATES GPS: N63°45.980 – W19°22.480 FINISH COORDINATES GPS: N63°41,4 – W19°35,59 Failing to properly plan our transportation, we ran into a little problem. We were going to be finishing up our hike about 40 miles from our car, with no way to get back to point A. What’s more, the only transportation going back to our car would put us five hours away from the nearest town (for a very fast hiker). That bus was also going to pull out at 8:30 a.m. Five hours of hiking (fast) to an 8:30 a.m. bus. Who could even do that? Not our crew. We would be stuck for an extra day. 48 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

Then we figured out that only one of us would have to make the bus. He could get the car and drive the 40 miles south to meet the rest of us near the trail’s end. One lone walker. One brave explorer. Matthew volunteered! Even in his slightly diminished physical condition from prior adventures, he was still the best walker on the crew. Having been humbled by the scree and the loose slopes, and at least one ankletorqueing fall, Matthew needed a win. By allowing Matthew to do the lone hike, we would be helping him regain his walking spirit. We agreed to let him set out before sunrise alone. A five-hour hike for a fast hiker was more like a six-to-seven-hour hike for somebody with sore knees, who also happens to be an optometrist whose shoelaces took tens of minutes to tie after each water crossing. After the last water crossing before reaching Porsmork, Kevin and I opted to hike on without Darren, knowing he would catch up with us quickly.

Climbing up the hills from the river, the trail wound through a grove of very thick and small trees (the first trees we’d seen in several days). The branches were strong and very low. Kevin and I are both pretty short and ducked under the trees without incident. We wondered how our much taller friend would fare. We got our answer a few seconds later when we heard what sounded like a buffalo slamming into a tree. Darren tried to duck under a branch at full speed. His head made it, but his backpack didn’t. “You f&*#&#^* Hobbits—slow down,” Darren yelled. We laughed. We laughed a lot. A couple more miles and a bus ride later, we were reunited with Hegi. Tired and hungry, we drove back to Reykjavik to celebrate our return to the civilized world. Before our seafood dinner at some amazing restaurant (of which there are dozens downtown), I had a cup of soup. There were no crackers. Go to Iceland! Explore! Trust me; you’ll love it.


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ARKANSASWILD.COM | 49


OUTDOOR ORIGINALS

What drove you to move to Arkansas? I had visited family on Petit Jean Mountain for years, and when they later moved to Little Rock I fell in love with the town’s hills and trees and friendly spirit. I still love it here. I am so grateful to raise kids here, build community here, and explore other places in Arkansas when I can.

MONICA WOODS

THE FORMER BACKCOUNTRY GUIDE SHARES DETAILS ABOUT HER HOBBIES, HOW SHE GOT TO ARKANSAS AND WHY HER WORK AT AN OUTDOOR PRESCHOOL FITS HER BELIEFS ABOUT LIFE. BY LACEY THACKER

Where is your favorite place to rock climb? What do you love about it? I’m not doing much climbing these days, as recovering from injury at 42 is a different thing entirely than [it was] at 22, and, to be honest, finding the time to train at the level I would like leaves little time for just having fun outside. Arkansas does have some beautiful and challenging places to climb, though, and my favorite is Sam’s Throne. I love the catacomb-like tunnels you have to navigate to set up routes. I also love the extraordinary views from the ledges, as well as the legend behind the name “Sam’s Throne.” What other outdoor activities do you enjoy? My absolute favorite thing to do outside is to enjoy it with the people I love. There is nothing better than visiting a swimming hole with my kids or hiking with a friend. We love to play in the swift water at Big Piney, and the views from White Rock Recreation Area blow me away. I recently visited Bridal Veil Falls, and it was a serene winter spot, especially with all the ice. 

THE STUNNING VIEW FROM THE TOP OF PINNACLE MOUNTAIN ON ONE OF MONICA’S RECENT HIKES. 50 | Arkansas Wild ¸ SPRING 2018

What drove you to join the staff at a “forest preschool”? I first heard about forest kindergartens over twenty years ago, and I’ve been fascinated with them ever since, as there is truly no better learning environment than the outdoors. I was thinking of going back into teaching and not sure of my next move, when people alerted me to a job posting at Lake Nixon. I still pinch myself most mornings when I get out of bed, because I get to be outside with kids all day. It is my dream job. What were you like as a kid? Were you outdoorsy? I didn’t spend much time indoors as a kid. I spent lots of time in my Mima’s creek in Dallas, with my two cousins. We would rush out the door as soon as we scarfed some cereal and usually not return until around dusk, after Mima was already calling for us from the back porch. We created entire worlds in that creek, caught frogs and snakes and built dams to swim in. Having guided across Colorado and Wyoming, how do your experiences in Arkansas compare? My experiences in the western U.S. were completely different than my experiences here in Arkansas. I was young and single and pretty fearless. That was a blast, but my time here in Arkansas has been more about getting outside with my kids, figuring out what I’d like to contribute in the world and balancing family and work and athleticism in a healthy way. I am so grateful to have had both lives. Any final thoughts? There is no better life than to get to live your passion. I had to hang for a bit for this to all fall into place. I actually get paid to do what I love. There was so much grace in having to wait, and I am so grateful for all of it.

PHOTOGRAPHY: MONICA WOODS

Occupation: Lead Educator at Lake Nixon Outdoor Preschool and Program Developer for Lake Nixon Summer Day Camp


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Arkansas Wild | Spring | 2018  

Arkansas Wild | Spring | 2018