Monday, March 3, 2008

Tour northeast Arkansas in your automobile!

My plan for spring break was to head to Arkansas and explore the Ozarks. I would start off at Blanchard Springs, a unit of the USFS just east of the Buffalo River National River, then move west along the river. Then I'd head down scenic Highway 7 to Hot Springs (which is in the Ouchitas, not the Ozarks), and then top it all off with an old-fashioned bath at Hot Springs. ("I'm taking the waters.") The reality started off according to plan. I drove out on Saturday, noticing that most of northeast Arkansas is flat and swampy. When I reached the hills, it was a welcome change. I camped at Blanchard Springs at a lovely site by Sylamore Creek. The next day I did a little hiking. First up was a 1/2 mile loop past Blanchard Springs and some bluffs. I also saw three white-tailed deer, which was pretty cool. (Honestly? I never would have seen them if they hadn't caught wind of me.) Next up was a 1-mile loop around Mirror Lake. The loop entailed fording the stream, which looked too wet for me, so I returned the way I came. The hike was short, but featured a lake, a dam, AND an old mill. Then I went on a tour of Blanchard Springs Caverns. It's a pretty cave, and the Forest Service does nice tours (no wacky lighting or ghost stories). Don't worry, I didn't cave alone - this was a ranger-guided tour suitable for all ages, and even handicapped-accessible. So I drove out to the Buffalo River. It was around 2 p.m., and I started to do a 3-mile hike called Indian Rockhouse. But clouds were rolling in, dark ones, and the air felt oppressive. I bailed on the hike and checked at the ranger station, and they were calling for rain. Then snow. Then below freezing weather. In other words, if I stayed up high, I would be stuck. I decided to head down to Little Rock, where at least I could stay dry in a hotel. However, I missed out on the lovely views of the Buffalo. The next morning the forecast was worse. It would stay cold and rainy in the Ozarks - it would rain all over the state - and the southeast part of the state was being menaced by tornadoes. If I went to Hot Springs, I'd be cowering in a hotel. The weather would suck for several days, while I spent money on lodgings and looked for stuff to do. I knew when I was defeated, so I headed home today. Now that I'm back, I see that Mountain View (near Blanchard Springs) has a Lake Wind Advisory, a Flood Watch, and a Winter Storm Warning in effect. Jeepers. Hot Springs only has a Lake Wind Advisory and Flood Watch! At least there is no mention of tornadoes.

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