Tuesday, May 21, 2013


 Back on October 26, 2008, I put a photo of the group I kayaked with at Lake Ouachita on my blog, and said I would tell more about the trip in a future blog.  Well, it has been five years since I made that statement, and since I just experienced a "new and updated" version of the famous Lake Ouachita Kayak/Camping event, I am following through with my promise. ( FYI,  for this photo, I did a digital "double exposure" of the sunset we saw, along with the back of the tee shirt I wore both days of the trip.)  To help the non-locals know how to pronounce the word "Ouachita", it would probably help to learn that it was named after the Washita Indian Tribe.  Washita is an Indian word that means "good hunting grounds" and "sparkling silver water". 
 Our group gathered at 8 am on May 19, 2013, at the marina of Lake Ouachita State  Park near Hot Springs, Arkansas ( www.ArkansasStateParks.com/LakeOuachita  ).  There were about twenty folks in our "Kayak Karavan", with a sizable contingent from the metropolitan Dallas, Texas area, and the remainder being Arkansas residents.  There was a variety of ages, from pre-teen to senior citizens. 
 This sturdy-looking pontoon boat would be our "shadow" throughout the trip, to pick up anyone who got too tired to continue kayaking, and to carry the ever-popular "little blue room" for potty breaks.  Our leader told us that "back in the olden days", this pontoon boat had worked as a ferry on the lake to transport RV's to one of the 200 islands scattered throughout the 40,000 acres of water that makes up Lake Ouachita. 
 As the twenty participants lined up their camping gear to load onto the pontoon boat, you might say we were recreating the way the clay dirt was "lined up" to form the earthen dam (called Blakely Mountain Dam) that closed off the Ouachita River to create Lake Ouachita, starting in 1948.  Blakely Mountain Dam was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the purpose of hydroelectric power, recreation, water supply, and wildlife conservation.  It is the largest lake completely in Arkansas. ( Bull Shoals Lake covers more acreage, but encompasses parts of both Missouri and Arkansas )
 Some people brought their own kayaks, as shown in this photo, and thus carried their own kayaks from their vehicles to the lakeshore.
 Other folks, me included, rented their kayak, paddle, and lifejacket from the park, and thus let the park personnel do the toting.
 I was eager to get my kayak into the water while there were still people on shore to give me a "shove", once I settled into the kayak's comfortable seat, with the front of the kayak still resting on the shore.  Getting into the kayak from the water is a skill I have not mastered, even though I have seen demonstrations on how it is done. 
 The first feature our tour guide pointed out was these downed trees just across from the marina.  They were the first of many fallen trees we would see on the trip that were the  result of a tornado that hit the area about two years ago.  They were a reminder to say a prayer of thanks that our group was having good weather on the weekend of our excursion around the lake. ( That tornado two years ago was so bad that the park had to be closed to the public for an entire month, so that the park roads/campgrounds/picnic areas/etc., could be cleared of fallen debris, and electrical service could be restored.  There were so many electrical power lines and power line poles blown over during the storm, that the area was without electricity for an extensive period of time.)
 You have probably seen photos of swimming pools designed with an "Infinity Edge", and that is what this scene reminded me of as our group paddled down the lake into a light fog that enshrouded the area when we first started.  Seeing this group of people enjoying God's great outdoors, made my thankful I have been able to participate in the Arkansas Master Naturalist program ( www.home.arkansasmasternaturalists.org ), which has as one of its mission statements, promoting activities that will give citizens a greater appreciation of the natural world. 
 A unique feature of Lake Ouachita is the Geofloat Trail.  This is a marked trail which can be followed with a brochure which details prominent geological features along the route.  For example, it is said that Lake Ouachita has one of the largest crystal veins in the world, and I was astonished by the numerous quartz crystal rocks that sparkled in the sunlight along the shoreline.  The Geofloat Trail covers 16 miles, with 12 exploration areas.  It was the first water-based interpretive trail included in the National Trails System, and was a project of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Arkansas Geological Commission, and U.S. Geological Survey.  One of the interesting features of the rock formations at Location D was the way the rock folded to make formations that looked liked old-fashioned wooden bobsleds (lower right photo). 
 Although some people took their digital cameras on the kayaks with them, I used an "old-fashioned" 35mm disposable camera while I was in my kayak.  It was easy to "toss" to a fellow kayaker to take this photo of me, so I could demonstrate that I followed our pre-trip instructions of wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, paddling gloves, sunscreen, and life vest.  I especially liked the life vest that the park provided for me, because it had pockets on the front where I could stash a snack!  My name badge holder from participating in a Becoming an Outdoor Woman program ( www.uwsp.edu/cnr/bow/  ) was a handy carrier for my inexpensive, disposable camera.
 This photo shows a "man-made" geological formation that our guide told us about.  The peace symbol, visible in the center of the photo, is made of dozens of quartz rocks.  The story goes that even if the peace symbol outline gets disturbed by hikers or boaters, the next morning, it has been miraculously reformed into the familiar peace symbol.  I guess this is the Ouachita version of the mysterious crop circles tales!
 The supply boat not only carried items for a mid-morning snack, but this photo shows that it also had all the components necessary for a delicious buffet lunch of assorted cold cuts, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, breads, pickles, peanut butter/jelly,  chips, cookies, condiments, and beverages.  A picnic on the water makes everything taste especially delicious!
 Our leader for this event was Lake Ouachita State Park Interpreter, Susan Adkins.  She was assisted by her husband, shown next to her.  She said the date for the next one will be the weekend of October 5, and interested persons can contact her to find out the details of that trip, by emailing Susan.Adkins@Arkansas.gov    or phoning  501-767-9366.
 There were about as many different tent types as there were people, as this collage shows.  One of the kayakers spoke of the poetry of Ancient mathematician Omar Khayyam, while we were chatting, so when I got home, I looked up some of his work, and one of the lines of a poem he wrote says "The shears of Fate have cut the ten ropes of his life....", which seems to be a fitting description of the tent shown in the lower right corner of this collage!
 I like this photo taken late in the evening, because of the way the colorful kayaks are reflected in the ripples of the water.  The shores of Lake Ouachita all lie within the boundaries of the Ouachita National Forest ( www.fs.us ), and hence one does not see residences built along the shoreline.  The fact that it is national forest also means that there is ample space to find a secluded cove at numerous locations, along the 690 miles of shoreline, and set up your campsite "away from the maddening crowd", if you so desire .
 Our group was treated to a sunset cruise on the big boat, and we were not disappointed, as it was a beautiful sky, making a watercolor masterpiece in its reflection on the lake.   The first year I took this trip at Lake Ouachita, Chuck Dovish, of AETN (www.aetn.org ) accompanied our group and created a segment for his "Exploring Arkansas" program, that continues to air on public television.  The film includes an interview with me, asking why I was participating.  Although I am unrecognizable with my gigantic sunglasses, and wide-brimmed blue hat, a few people have asked me about it after seeing it, because  they recognized my voice, with its   distinct "Southern drawl".
 Our group was treated to a delicious barbecue meal of pulled pork , brisket, baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, rolls, tea, and banana pudding.  The food was  piping hot, as it was delivered by the park superintendent at 6 pm, using insulated carriers to keep the food at the proper temperature.
 Anyone that wanted to, could go on a night-time kayak paddle , if they so desired.  This kayaker is wearing her head lamp at the beginning, but she said she turned it off after she got out on the water because it was drawing too many bugs!  Susan also passed out the green "glow sticks" for the paddlers to attach to their life vests.  Some of the night kayakers put their flashlights down inside their boats, which made them give off an eerie glow as they glided across the water in the nearby cove.  It reminded me of seeing the phosphorescent algae that covers some parts of the ocean bays around Puerto Rico!
 An enjoyable aspect of camping out, is sitting around the campfire after dark and engaging in stimulating conversation.  During the "kayak klatter"  earlier in the day, I learned that one of the couples from the Dallas area, a physician and his wife, shared my interest in promoting "heart healthy" living.  Maybe it was this heart-shaped prickly pear at our campsite that got us to talking about a plant-based, heart-healthy diet, as extolled in the popular documentary "Forks over Knives" ( www.ForksOverKnives.com ).  They indicated they were seeing good results in their patients that were using this program.  Like the program that I participate in, called First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ), there is an emphasis on achieving and maintaining an ideal body weight through a combination of diet and exercise.  We were pleased that Susan had planned our meals and snacks for the weekend, with an awareness that everyone benefits when there are HEART-healthy food choices available.  There is immense wisdom in the Proverbs 4:23 verse that says "Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life."  The Lake Ouachita State Park Kayaking/Camping weekend is an experience I highly recommend because it will get you outside, doing enjoyable activities, in a beautiful setting, with fascinating people!  It will bring you HEART-healthy " MILES OF SMILES!!!  Tricia
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