THE RIGHT PLACE, AT THE RIGHT TIME, AT THE WRONG TIME
Iíve wanted to check out the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas for years.† Christy and I have talked about taking a Spring Break trip there several times, but weíve always ended up going in a different direction.† Iíve been traveling for work for 12 years now, but only once have I been sent to Arkansas.† That trip was in Little Rock, which is still pretty far from the mountains.† A couple of weeks ago I got an assignment in Russellville.† That town is northwest of Little Rock, along the Arkansas River just outside of the Ozarks.† It was the perfect opportunity to check the area out.† I wouldnít have time for a lot of hiking, but I could at least do a short hike or two and see if the area would be suitable for a longer trip in the future.
I messaged my friends Spencer and Stephanie for suggestions, as they were getting ready to depart on a trip that would include the Ozarks.† I didnít have much time to research the area, but I knew they had studied it extensively.† Spencer told me that they would be in the general area while I was there.† He suggested that we might be able to meet up for a hike one evening.† That sounded great to me, as they are great company and a lot of fun to hike with.† I wasnít sure if weíd be able to pull it off, as they didnít have firm plans for the two evenings that Iíd be there.† We decided to play it by ear and try to meet up if we could.† If that didnít work out, I planned to do a short hike to Glory Hole Falls.† That is a unique waterfall, where a creek freefalls through a natural opening into a cave.† The waterfall is visible from above and below.† However, since it was late summer, I was afraid that it might not have any actual water flowing.††
I flew out on a Tuesday morning and got a message from Spencer when I arrived in Little Rock.† They were hoping to make it to Petit Jean State Park that evening.† That park is only 45 minutes from Russellville, which was perfect for me.
The drive from Little Rock was boring, although the shiny red Ford Mustang Avis gave me was fun to drive.† When I reached Russellville I pulled into a truck stop to grab a sandwich from Subway.† I went into the restroom and there was a guy at a urinal with his pants and underwear all the way down around his ankles.† Welcome to Arkansas! †I kid you not, it was literally Butters from South Park:
I left work at 5 and got a message from Stephanie just as I got into the car.† They were running behind schedule, and suggested that I meet them for a short hike to the Tea Table Rocks in the mountains to the north.† Coincidentally, that area is quite close to Glory Hole Falls.† Her timing was perfect, as I was just getting ready to drive in the opposite direction.† I headed that way, up into the mountains.† I passed a couple of overlooks and numerous signs for natural bridges, waterfalls, and other points of interest.† I arrived at the trailhead shortly after they did.† The ďtrailheadĒ was actually a grassy old road that was gated after a short distance.† It was really great seeing them, particularly in such an unexpected place.† They were really upbeat and seemed to be having a great time.
Originally I thought about only messaging Spencer about my plans, and asking him to keep it a secret from Stephanie.† How funny would it have been if I had just popped up in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas during one of their hikes?† Stephanieís reaction wouldíve been hilarious, but I donít think there is any way we could have pulled it off.
We did a little catching up while we were getting our gear together.† They told me about the first few days of their trip, which had been fantastic except for one bad experience with seed ticks.† They were hiking through tall grass towards a campsite when they began itching like crazy.† They stopped, and noticed that their ankles were covered in tiny black bugs.† They ran out of there and spent a good bit of the evening trying to remove them.† Fortunately, they were able to get them off and they found another place to camp.
While Stephanie was telling this story I started to notice that the grass we were standing in was really itchy.† Iím very sensitive to grass, and the vivid details of her story must have gotten to me.† We hurried down the old road, relieved to finally get out of that grass.† The only remaining challenge was the numerous spiderwebs blocking the trail.† My trekking pole and a stick Spencer picked up saved us from eating numerous spiders.
We reached an open, rocky cliff and stopped for a break.† Our ankles were itchy, and Stephanie was the first to notice that she was covered in more of the tiny black bugs.† Gahhh!† We spent the next few minutes scrubbing our legs.† I used a bit of water from my bottle, but I still had a tough time removing them.† They were almost impossible to see, particularly since they were disguised by the dark hair on my legs.† Iíll blame the infernal itching for the stupidity that followed.† I suppose everyone occasionally does something dumb, but this was a doozy.† I took off my t-shirt, soaked it, and scrubbed my ankles vigorously.† Ahh, finally some relief.† Stephanie then let me borrow some bug spray, which I used to coat my ankles.† Hopefully that would keep any other tick larvae from hopping onto us.† I put my t-shirt back on and we resumed the hike.†
Did you just smack yourself in the forehead?† I did.
We followed the line of cliffs out to another point.† Below us was a deep narrow chasm.† Just beyond was a pair of rock towers.† There was no way Spencer or Stephanie could pass them up.† Stephanie backtracked a bit, scrambled down, traversed the edge of the chasm, and made the short climb up one of the towers.† Spencer took a more direct route and climbed the other tower.† I thought about joining them, as the scrambling didnít appear to be outside of my comfort zone.† Ultimately I decided that Iíd rather stay put and get photos of them.
We headed back by the same route.† The map suggested more cliffs and possibly even a waterfall in the opposite direction, but it was getting dark and the waterfall would certainly have been dry.† On the return we spotted a pair of glowing eyes up in a tree.† It turns out that they belonged to a racoon.† Once back at the trailhead we dashed through the tall grass to our vehicles.† Spencer and Stephanie followed me into Russellville, and we headed to Cracker Barrel for dinner.† It was our best option, mainly because it seemed to be the only place open at 9:45.† Afterwards Spencer and Stephanie swung by my hotel to take showers, as they really wanted to make sure that they got all of the ticks off.
The ticks were miserable, but the overall experience was still worth it.† I always enjoy hiking with Spencer and Stephanie, and it was an honor to be a small part of their trip.†
At that time I thought my seed tick related suffering was limited to itchy bites on my ankles.† Boy was I wrong.† Despite thorough scrubbing in the shower that evening, I didnít get rid of them all.† I woke up frequently due to tickling and itching sensations on my legs, arms, back, and neck.† At the time I thought it was just due to the itching from the bites Iíd already sustained, or my imagination.† Now I know that I still had ticks on me.† Iím not sure if they survived the shower, or if they had gotten into my room on my clothes.† Iím sure there were lots of hitchhikers on my socks and t-shirt.† Either way, I had more fresh bites the next morning on my legs, chest, arms, and back.† I noticed some bugs on the bed sheets, too.† They were tiny, like fine grains of pepper.†
That evening I did another after-work hike.† Spencer and Stephanie had hiked at Petit Jean State Park that morning.† After they left, Stephanie messaged me with some suggestions.† That was extremely helpful, as I had 4 or 5 possible hikes in mind, but I only had time for one or two of them.† She recommended Bear Cave Rocks and Cedar Falls, so that is what I did.† Her recommendations were excellent.† The Bear Cave Rocks are sandstone cliffs with narrow, twisting passages between them.† It reminded me of The Channels in southwest Virginia, though this area isnít quite as extensive. †The loop hike through there was short, but I took my time and got a lot of photos.
I barely had time for the 2 mile round trip hike to Cedar Falls.† The descent from the parking lot at the lodge was steep and rocky.† I crossed a bridge over Cedar Creek and followed the trail upstream.† It led to a large pool at the base of the falls.† The waterfall freefalls into a sandstone amphitheater with impressive cliffs.† The flow was thin, but it was better than most waterfalls in the area, which were dry.† Apparently there is a lake upstream that regulates the flow of Cedar Creek.
The damage from my tick bites peaked on Thursday.† My ankles had so many bites you couldnít tell where one stopped and the next one began.† They were swollen, too, probably due to an allergic reaction to the bites.† I had bites up my legs and on my chest, arms, back, and neck, too.† Luckily those bites were more spread out.† It was impossible to count, but I easily had hundreds of tick bites.† Maybe a thousand.† I was pretty miserable on Thursday, and slathering on the Benadryl cream only provided limited relief.† That evening a couple of beers and two Benadryl at the Little Rock airport helped me survive the flight home.† By the weekend the itching started to ease and the swelling in my ankles receded.† I may recover, unless I contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme Disease or Vampirism or some other horror.††
If I donít die Iíll definitely explore more of the Ozarks, but not in late summer!† I think early Spring would be ideal.† There will be a lot more water in the streams, and hopefully fewer ticks!
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