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 ( www.home.arkansasmasternaturalists.org ), I was finally able to do just that. This view of Skull Bluff on the Buffalo National River ( www.nps.gov/buff )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.
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