Monday, October 29, 2012

"Wooley" Expedition starts at Woolum!

 With a lifetime of trips down Highway 65 in northern Arkansas, through the little hamlet of St. Joe, I have passed the sign indicating the turnoff to "Woolum" more times than I can count.  Always, I think to myself, someday I am going to make that right hand turn, and see what is down that road.  This past weekend, thanks to a group of hiking buddies in the Arkansas Master Naturalists (  ), I was finally able to do just that.  This view of Skull Bluff on the Buffalo National River   ( )is just one of the numerous new vistas I was able to see for the first time, as a result of taking the "road less traveled", that leads down to Woolum.
 I have seen many photographs of a section of the Buffalo National River called the Nars, and that, too, was on my "wish list" of places to visit.  These photographs of our group taken from atop the Nars are evidence my wish was granted!  I took the photograph on the left, so that the man who furnished the canoe for our expedition could be included in the photo.  (He is the one in the blue shirt).  He took the photo on the right that shows I have tied an orange ribbon to my hiking stick, to make it easier to find when I forget where I sat it.  I have my name and address written on the ribbon, and that actually helped me get "reunited" with the stick on a separate hike along the Buffalo, where I left it at the half-way point of the trail.  A park ranger found it and had it waiting for me the next time I was at the Visitor's Center!
 There are no marked trails that indicate where the best access point is to the top of the Nars.  One of our members had a general idea of where to try to reach the summit, and it was a crevice between two bluffs, varying in height from 60 - 100 feet.  There is a tiny blue dot at the top of the crevice shown on the left side of the collage.  That is the hiker that was just ahead of me on the ascent.  I zoomed my camera in for the photo on the right to show her just reaching the top of the crevice.
 Even for those who do not want to make the climb to the Nars, this is a worthwhile hike, especially in the autumn, when the leaves are putting on their colorful display.
 We took a side trip to look for an old cemetery that was on our map.  With some diligent searching, we found it, and saw that the gravestones indicated the persons buried there lived in the mid-1800's.
 The area we were hiking is bordered by Richland Creek on one side, and the Buffalo National River on the other side.  Although we did not see any elk, there were several instances where we heard their "bugling" noises, indicating they were in the area.  Fortunately for us, elk hunting season did not open until the day AFTER we finished our hike!
 When you get to the Woolum access of the Buffalo National River, you have to cross the river to get into the Richland Valley.  We saw some trucks with big wheels and a high center of gravity drive across.  However, we had the good fortune to have access to a canoe, so that 3 people at a time could be shuttled across the water.  A rope was tied onto the canoe, to pull back the canoe (once the 3 passengers got out), to the other side of the river, and pick up another group of 3.  It was an ingenious system!  I just wish that rope had been in place when we were making the ascent and descent of the Nars!
 Since it was a frosty morning when we began our journey, there was still some evidence of "frost flowers" along the river bank.  These beautiful crystals represent an amazing phenomena, that I have written about on previous blogs (November 11, 2011 and October 28, 2008, in the Archives of this blog).
 Most of our 10 mile, round trip hike was done along a flat surfaced, road bed, as seen in this photograph.  For part of the hike, we were directly adjacent to these limestone bluffs.  This is the area where a hiker would start looking for access to the Nars.
 There are a few of the old farm structures still standing, as reminders of the pioneers that used to make this valley their home.
 Our group inspected the inside of this old, half-rotted barn.  We were wishing "walls could talk" to share some of the stories of days gone by!
 The Richland Valley trail actually connects to the Ozark Highland Trail.  However, none of our group had any plans to walk the 161 miles it would take to reach Ft. Smith,  which sits on the border between Oklahoma and Arkansas.  I felt fortunate to have completed ten miles!
 Our group stopped for lunch after about 4.5 miles.  You will know when you reach this point, because the road ends, when it reaches this section of Richland Creek.
 The shores of Richland Creek proved to be a great spot for having lunch and doing some photography.
 Likewise, this spot was an opportunity to "hit the books" to read up on everything we were seeing that day.
 The clear waters of Richland Creek, with Point Peter Mountain in the background was the perfect location for a group photo!
 There was a big hay pasture adjacent to our lunch spot, and some of us commented that this pasture looked better than our own front yards!
 Whether taken from a hundred feet above the valley, as in this photo, or on the floor of the valley, as in the previous photo, no matter where you point  your camera in this beautiful area, there is a scenic photograph just waiting to be taken!
 This photograph shows the lower section of the Nars.  The Nars is Arkansas dialect for the "Narrows", which is illustrated by the narrow bluff shown in this photo.  It might be described as a limestone ridge or escarpment.  I took this photo from an adjacent section of the Nars, which is about 40 feet higher than the section of limestone ridge shown in the photograph.
 This photo of the cultivated fields of Richland Valley was taken from atop the Nars, and illustrates that it truly is a "Rich Land".  When I thought about how our group crossed the Buffalo River to get to this place, I was reminded of the story of Joshua, in the Old Testament, leading the Israelites across the Jordan River into the "land flowing with milk and honey".  One of my hiking buddies named Diane, pointed out that those of us fortunate enough to live in these beautiful hills, are indeed blessed to be living in a "land flowing with milk and honey", and I agree!  Thanks to a trip down the Woolum Road,  all of the fourteen members of our "tribe", were blessed with  ten (GORGEOUS)  miles of smiles! Tricia
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012


 The historic Boxley Grist Mill is located in northwest Arkansas, within the boundaries of the Buffalo National River.
 The three-story mill was built in 1869 by Robert Villines.
 The mill continued to operate through three generations of the Villines family, from Newton County, Arkansas.
 This "clothes line timeline" on the barbed wire fence adjacent to the mill tells the story that by the late 1950's, demand for corn meal began to decrease, as store-bought bread became more popular, which naturally decreased the demand for services provided by the mill.
 In addition, a flood of the area during that time period caused the mill to completely shut down.
 The back side of the old mill shows that even though it is not directly adjacent to its water source, the swirling waters of a flash flood could definitely affect the soundness of the foundation.  The mill eventually was turned over the the National Park Service and was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
 Some of the old gears, rusted out by years of disuse, can be seen on the back side of the mill.
 Once you step inside the mill, you will get a glimpse of a pioneer "food factory". 
 Fortunately, for people visiting inside the mill (who do not have a clue as to the principles of a grist mill operation), there is a very helpful placard that explains the process.
 I took this photo of a placard, using the flash on my camera, mostly so that I could read it later.  There is no electricity inside the mill, so if visual acuity is important to you, you may want to take a flashlight with you in order to see or read details inside the structure, which is only lighted via the daylight coming through its windows.
 The restoration of the first floor is complete which enables the visitor to see an old turbine, old pulley system, and the hopper where mill was poured in before it was ground.  Anytime I visit a grain mill, I am reminded of the warning given to us in Luke 17:2-3.  It says "It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves."  Enough said---I get the picture! 
 In addition to the equipment shown above, there are some old flour and cornmeal  bins on display.
 The National Park Service has a notebook available for visitors to peruse, that shows photographs of the restoration process, which was started in 1984 by the National Parks service.  Thanks to a grant from the Gorgas Science Foundation ( ) historic rehabilitation will be ongoing for the next several years.
 With such limited funding, the National Park Service relies heavily on volunteers to facilitate the mill being open for viewing.  When I was a volunteer there last week, it was through the North Central Chapter of the Arkansas Master Naturalists ( ).  Likewise, the Buffalo National River Partners ( ) have had a huge role in providing volunteer assistance as needed, throughout the Buffalo National River park locations. 
 It was gratifying to see that members of the Jasper High School Student Council were also assisting last Friday, as part of their required community service projects.  Transporting these kids to this nearby treasure right in their own "back yard" will give them a better appreciation of the blessing they have of living in the Ozarks!
 This photo of a gate adjacent to the mill is a reminder to say that if you would like to visit the Historic Boxley Grist Mill site, you need to take steps immediately to make your visit!  It is not open year round, and there are only six days left in 2012 when you can go inside.  The mill tours will be available between 10 am and 1 pm, on Friday, Saturday, & Sunday, (October 26,27,28); then again between 10 am and 1 pm, on Friday, Saturday, & Sunday, (November 2,3,4).
 I think we have the lovely couple shown in this photograph to thank for the renewed interest in the Historic Boxley Grist Mill!  Several years ago, two swans mysteriously appeared (to the surprise of local ornithologists!), and seemed to be quite content making their home on the old mill pond.  It was a rarity in these parts when they first came, and people were coming from all across the state to view them!  Their appearance was followed regularly in the local newspaper!
 The nice thing is, they are still there!  Since their original Newton County "debut", they have been tagged with the fashionable green "necklaces", so that their activities can be monitored and studied by appropriate wildlife biologists.
 However, decades before the swans appeared, I attended a fall session of the Ponca Photography Workshop, headquartered in the Boxley Valley.  I remember instructor, Mike Mills ( ) telling the participants that we must meet at an incredibly early hour the next morning, at this certain place along Highway 43, that runs through the valley.  He said with the chilly morning forecast for the next day, there would be a mist rising from the  old mill pond that would provide fantastic photo opportunities.   Guess what!!??  He was right!!  The images are still etched in my mind, even though I could not place my hands on the old 35 mm photographs I took that memorable morning!  His comments were the first to educate me that there was even an old mill back by the pond, even though I grew up in the area.  One reason for that is because there have been so many trees grow up that partially hide the mill from travelers along Highway 43.
 Another reason for getting to the Boxley Valley early in the morning, is to get to see the elk that are known to graze in the field beside Highway 43.  I took this photo of a very content-looking male elk last Friday, as he gazed over the herd of female elk grazing nearby.  To start planning your trip to enjoy the beautiful scenery available in this area, log onto or phone 870-741-2884.  Even if you cannot get there when the mill is open, it is definitely worth your gas money to visit this beautiful place!  The elk are there year-round, and the Elk Education Center in Ponca ( ) has wonderful facilities, including picnic tables and clean restrooms!  Driving, hiking, bicycling, or ziplining the Boxley Valley will give you MILES OF SMILES so check it out!  Tricia
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Monday, October 22, 2012


 I called this "Over the Rainbow" Expedition, because if it had not been for the word "rainbow" and an Internet search engine, I likely would never known about this charming village in the Pacific Northwest, that I will describe visiting, in this blog post.  In January, 2010, I wrote a blog about the Rainbow Arch Bridge in Cotter, Arkansas.  Around that time, a person interested in promoting tourism to see the Rainbow Bridge pictured in this photo, typed "Rainbow Bridge" into her search engine, to see how many times her town's bridge would be mentioned.  That Internet search resulted in my blog about the Cotter Rainbow Bridge coming up on her computer.  She contacted me, and said I REALLY needed to come to La Conner, Washington, to see THEIR version of a rainbow bridge!
 When I started looking into the location of La Conner, Washington, I discovered there are many ways to arrive in that area of the Puget Sound.  One of these is by sea plane, as shown in this photograph.  I passed on that option, since luggage is severely limited on such a small plane!
 Likewise, some people may come by boat.  In fact, the Puget Sound area has one of the highest ratio of "boats per person" of anywhere in the USA!  This photo shows the public launch ramp below the Rainbow Bridge.  There was a picnic table there, so my friend and I had great lunch-time entertainment, as we watched two men pull their boat out of the water.  I told my friend, that such boat/people watching at launch ramps in the Ozarks,  is about the best entertainment you can get (without an admission ticket), and this location proved to be no exception.  As the guys were pulling the boat out of the water, it mysteriously popped off the trailer hitch, and was precariously perched on the steep launch ramp, with just a small chain tying it to the rear bumper of the truck.  Seeing the locals solve this dilemma was fascinating!
 Another way to get to La Conner, Washington, is by bicycle, as shown in this photograph.  In fact, there is a big promotion going on this week for the Boneshaker Bicycle Festival, scheduled for October 26 - 27 ( ).
 And of course, with my history of motorcycle riding across the United States, I was not surprised to see that motorcycle enthusiasts  have also discovered this picturesque village.  Many of these riders drive across the border from Canada, since it is so close. 
 La Conner is not a "newcomer" to the Pacific Northwest culture.  The fishing port dates back to the founding of a trading post in 1868.  This cabin, dated just a year later in 1869, is reminder of their past from over a century ago.
 In the more recent past, La Conner has become known as one of the Northwest's favorite artists communities.  It is home to a museum that has examples of the style of  visual art they are famous for.   For 28 years, this small community of less than 1,000 population, has sponsored the Arts Alive! festival   (  ).  This year's event is scheduled for November 2, 3, 4. 
 Besides having a history as a fishing village, as with most old communities in the Northwest, the timber industry was a major player.  My friend, Jan, stands in front of a "slice of timber history" that is on display in a small park along the La Conner main street.  It was actually Jan who made my "dream" of visiting La Conner a reality.  She told me that years earlier, she had worked in La Conner, and was interested in accompanying me on a trip there,  so she could visit it again.  We made our trip last month, and true to small-town reputations, Jan bumped into a friend she had worked with decades earlier!  In fact, that unexpected and fortuitous reunion, could be the subject of another blog, I have titled in my mind  as "Finding Grace in La Conner"!
 When Jan and I visited, the annual Quilt Walk was taking place.  For this event, creative quilters had their designs on display at various retail establishments throughout the town. 
 There are many dining options available in La Conner.  With a day as beautiful as it was when we visited, there is nothing like an outside deck, overlooking the water and the mountains, to bring out the true "flavor" of a local cuisine. 
 The Calico Cupboard is a local favorite, and their popularity has allowed them to also open locations outside La Conner.
 The main street was aglow with brightly colored flowers, storefronts, and shoppers, on the weekend I was there.  This scene will change in a few days, when the annual October 31  Halloween parade is held on this street.  For that event, participants and merchants dress up in costumes, and treats are handed out to the little ones.
 Not surprisingly, there are numerous art studios and galleries available for visitors.  Often, the artist who did the work, is present in the shop, to  comment on  their creations.
 Just across the channel from La Conner is the Swinomish Indian Reservation, established in 1855.  These placards describe how life was in the past for the Native Americans that populate the area.
 These pavilions, built in the style of many Northwest Native American tribal structures, provide shelter for community events and visitors strolling.
 The pavilions have wonderful wooden roofs that are a work of art , in and of themselves!   Plus, a trip across Rainbow Bridge to visit them, gives you a good view of the marina area on the opposite side of the channel.
 The festivals that this area is MOST famous for is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, held each spring.  One of the businesses we visited had a collection of the official colorful posters from past events  framed, and hung throughout their facility.   I am thankful that an Internet search engine looking for the word "rainbow" planted the seed for me to get to visit La Conner, Washington.  Likewise, I am thankful for the concordance in my Bible that tells me Genesis 9:13  has God's promise as follows:  "I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth."  If you would like to start planning your "Over the Rainbow" expedition to this beautiful area, just log on to , for a journey that will give you miles of smiles!  Tricia
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