Monday, February 17, 2014

ROUND TOP MOUNTAIN EXPEDITION!

A small group of dedicated hikers met on the morning of February 14, at Minnie Harris park in Harrison, Arkansas, for the purpose of carpooling to Jasper, Arkansas, to hike to the summit of Round Top Mountain.  I had hiked the Round Top Trail in the past, but it was several years ago, when the leaves were still on all the deciduous trees, so views of the landscape were somewhat limited.  I was looking forward to seeing the landscape outlined in white, from the "remnants" of a recent thick blanket of snow, that covered the Ozarks. 

There were major improvements at the trail head since the last time I had visited there.  Thanks to the Newton County Resource Council, government grants, and local donations, two permanent structures have been built: one houses the rest rooms (simple pit toilets) and the other houses a Visitor Center that is open seasonally.  There were trail map brochures on the outside of the Visitor Center, that told about Round Top Mountain history, archaeology, and geology. The parking lot has also been improved to provide better access, as well as providing for an increase in the number of cars that can park at one time.  There is also a large wooden sign, with  a trail map carved into it.  In addition, a stone memorial bench is placed in front of the wooden trail map, to allow one to sit down and review the directions, before proceeding up the mountain.

The trail starts through the woods, just above the Visitor Center.  This photo shows one of the 30 wooden benches that are strategically placed along the trail for rest or contemplation.

A short distance up the trail, a memorial plaque has been placed to mark the location of the crash of a military airplane in the same month as when we were visiting---February---but before I was born.

Wreckage from the crash surrounds the plaque, as it lists the names of the five souls on board that perished that cold, foggy, icy night.  Reports say that the fuel leaking from the wreckage went down into the crevices between the rocks, and continued to cause explosions several hours after the plane went down.  I have a much more vivid memory of a different disaster that occurred in this area, because I was working at the hospital where the casualties were taken.  This disaster is listed at www.epicdisasters.com as #5 of the ten worst bus disasters in United States history.  It is also mentioned on the www.wikipedia.org list of U.S. disasters by death toll.  I remember it, because after bedtime, on the evening of June 5, 1980, my boss phoned me to tell me to report to the Boone County Hospital immediately, because our Disaster Plan was in effect.  Since we had biannual Disaster Drills, he was quick to tell me this WAS NOT a drill.  I worked at the hospital as a Registered Dietitian, and head of the Dietary Department.  When I arrived at my department, I saw that the hospital dining room had been designated as a secondary triage site.  Furthermore, since I was in charge of the Dietary Department, I was in charge of this secondary triage area.  I was told to assist with treating the minor injuries.  Can I just say that if you ever have a dietitian treating cuts and scrapes, it can only mean that every other resource must be unavailable---and that was exactly the case.  Twenty two people died in that tragic accident.  The time period was when CNN television news was in its infancy as a 24-hour news television station.  Since this awful accident was about the only thing that happened that night, it was a HUGE news story, and was quickly picked up by all the major networks.

As our group continued along the trail, we started to get pelted by a gentle drizzle.  Fortunately, the temperatures were above freezing, so it did not cause additional icing of the trail.  It is a good reminder that rain gear is a handy thing to carry with you when hiking!

As one continues out of the woods, and up to the next layer of limestone ridges, there are some stone steps that have been placed, to make it easier to know where the best access point is located.

The trail runs alongside the limestone walls of the mountain ridge, for quite some distance.

The trail also goes UNDER some of the bluffs.  Bluff shelters such as these were said to be inhabited by the Ozark Bluff Dwellers.  This shelter was probably not inhabited year round, because it is small and there is no constant water source nearby. 

The crevices between the bluffs had not received much sun, and hence there was not much melting of the snow.  One had to be very careful navigating the icy steps at this point!

Once you make it to the summit of Round Top, you find yourself on an open plateau, with scattered pine trees and deciduous trees.  Most of the snow at the top had melted.

When we made it to the top, the hike organizer---Leslie---brought out her heart-shaped box of chocolate/peanut butter treats to reward the brave hikers who endured!  This was a very thoughtful gesture, especially considering it was Valentine's Day!

I made this collage in honor of Valentine's Day, and the red part is a colorized "neon" image of one of the pools of water I noticed at the summit of Round Top.  Can you see the shape of a heart?  ("heart" is laying sideways).  The married couple pictured out on the rock escarpment in the insert, told me that they have decided they are going to start a tradition of always going on a hike together on Valentine's Day, because they had such an enjoyable time!

This photo shows the husband trekking out to find the end of the summit escarpment, followed cautiously by his wife.  The recent snow had made the moss on top of the limestone such a bright green, one almost needed sunglasses!

A split rail fence, and wooden benches mark the scenic overlook at the summit, and make it a prime location for taking photos, resting, and having a snack!

At various locations along the trail, the forest opens up to expansive views of the Ozark Mountains. 

The river shown in this photo is the Little Buffalo River, and runs through the town of Jasper, Arkansas, at the base of the mountain. 

The low spots between the mountains that one can see in the distance, are called "Gaps" by us locals (as well as some map makers!).

When I saw the carefully arranged stack of stones along the trail, I was reminded of the story of Joshua in the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:7b) where he said, "These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever  (that the flow of the Jordan River was cut off, before the Ark of the Lord, so that God's people could cross the river)"

I mentioned the geographical term "gap" earlier, and one of the well-known locations is called "LOW GAP".  It has become even more well known since a well-known chef left the big city, and started running the Low Gap Cafe  ( 870-861-5848 ).  Our group went there for lunch, and had a nice time visiting with one another, after our hike.  The place was packed, which is pretty amazing for a cafe, whom some might say was "located in the middle of nowhere!"  If you are interested in enjoying one of these outdoor adventures in the Ozarks, you can email organizer Leslie Jones Cleary at leslie.j.cleary@gmail.com   for more information.  You will find getting outdoors will give you "Miles of Smiles"!  Tricia