Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring in the Ozarks: Arrival

The second day of my trip started early. After a shower and a quick breakfast, I checked out of the hotel and headed to the local supermarket to pick up a few perishables for the week ahead. Access to a large grocery store can be difficult once you get into the hills. Soon afterwards I was driving west on I-40 on yet another beautiful day.

As I neared Lake Dardanelle, I kept my eyes open for bald eagles. On my previous trip through the area I spotted one taking off from a tree near the lake and flying over the interstate. On this day, however, I saw only vulturas soaring over the roadway and white pelicans wheeling over the lake.

In the nearly five hundred miles I covered on the prior day, I gained only two hundred feet of elevation. In the sixty miles between Conway and Clarksville, I quickly gained another two hundred. And that was just the beginning. At Clarksville I left the interstate and turned north.

Soon I was entering the Ozark National Forest on Arkansas Highway 21, an Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway. A highway sign read Crooked and Steep Next 20 Miles and it was true. The road starting winding its way up into the hills with numerous ten and fifteen MPH curves along the way.

As the highway climbed, spring took a few steps backwards. Some of the hardwoods were still bare while others showed pale green leaves that were just beginning to open. In the understory, redbud trees were in the final stages of their show just as the pale dogwoods were getting started. Taken together, they made for a lovely medley.

After winding through the forest for an hour or more, the highway descended from the national forest and entered the bounds of Buffalo National River at Boxley.

During my last visit to the area in the fall of 2010, the river was completely dry here. Heavy rains the prior week led to expect a different story this time and I wasn't to be disappointed. The Buffalo was flowing vigorously at the Boxley bridge and that boded well for the entire trip. This time my explorations would have the sound of running water as background music.

The creeks, springs, waterfalls, and the Buffalo River itself would be my playground for the next seven days.

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