Ozarks

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was the only cave system open for touring this fall in Arkansas or southern Missouri because of White Nose Disease, bacterial infection endangering the bat populations. The disease forces bats out of hibernation prematurely causing them to die on outside conditions too cold to survive.

The best part of tour was the entertaining nature of our ranger-tour guide, who talked with a true Ozarks accent, mindful of “Larry the Cable Guy.”

Folk center experience

Mountain View is also home to the Ozark Folk Center, an Arkansas state park designated to keep the folklore and culture of the Ozarks alive.

The park is dotted with opportunities to learn about the various crafts and trades of the Ozarks, including candle-making, blacksmithing, herb gardening, cooperage and a whole lot more.

A major auditorium is available for concerts and shows, while a more modest outdoor stage offers for daily performances by folk artists. In another section of the park, a story teller shared how hymns of faith had a history in the Ozarks.

My favorite part of the park was the old-time print shop, a restored operational print shop that used all the “non-technology” of hand set type and platten presses to produce printed pieces.

For me, it was a step back into the days of my youth, when the old Tri-County Record building had such a shop in which I learned the printing trade. The only thing missing was the permeating smell of solvents that has evolved with environmentally sensitive inks and cleaning agents.

Looking for a hike

Had the season been earlier, we might have even taken on one of the kayak or canoe rentals offered in the Buffalo River region, a preserved riverway.

Late fall brings dried up river beds, however, so we opted for a few mini-hikes instead.

Online research guided us to a place near Ponca, Arkansas, declared the most scenic spot in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Known as Whitaker Point, the most prominent outcropping on the mountain face is shaped like the bill of a hawk, thus spawning the name “Hawk’s Bill Crag.”

Getting to Hawks Bill isn’t a tremendously difficult hike—only about 3.5 miles round trip.

It’s getting to the trailhead that can be a challenge. We traversed many miles of Arkansas backcountry in our SUV to arrive near Ponca.

Along the way we endured the “snake trails” that are called highways.

Travel is pacey, and even slows down when you find yourself behind an 18-wheeler that has to grind its way slowly down the meandering hills.

We saw one trucker nearly burn out his brakes on one of those long, slow winding downhill grades.

Finally, we arrived at Ponca, looking for directions to the point, only to find that Ponca was little more than a convenience store stop, Pop. 65.

Our sojourn would have to depart from the major highway to arrive at the trailhead, which was 5.8 miles down a windy and hilly dirt road.

The attendant at the gas station/visitor center warned us to stay short of 6 miles, where an angry old woman didn’t like it if people had to turn around in her driveway for venturing too far.

I had images of a grumpy granny with a shotgun coming out to greet us, so I kept the odometer close to the mark.

The trail head was marked by a stone commemorating a former congressman for opening up the Buffalo wilderness, but said nothing about Whitaker Point. We had to surmise for ourselves that the dozen or so cars in the rudimentary lot signified we were in the right place.

Soon onto the rocky trail we were greeted by a band of other 50-plussers coming up the trail carrying their musical instruments. They were members of a bluegrass band who decided to carry their cases out for a jam on the point. Sorry we missed their show.

A moderate hike of about a half hour got us to the point, which did everything to live up to its billing as one of the most beautiful spots in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Prior to the trip, an acquaintance had joked that in the old days, a comedian kidded about Arkansas, offering a two-week trip to the “winner” of a contest, but a three week trip to the loser.

We would object.

Arkansas and the Ozarks might be back country America, but the sincerity of the people, the simplicity of the living, and the beauty of the landscape make it worth the trip—all of about 13 hours of driving.

We took several interesting hikes at

spots in both Arkansas and Missouri, but none were prettier than the jaunt to Whitaker Point.

Upscale Eureka

We topped off our Arkansas experience by venturing to Eureka Springs. There was no need to wander over to Fayetteville to watch former Wisconsin football coach Brett Bielema’s struggles, though it would only have been an Arkansas half hour away.

Eureka Springs is a unique community which has preserved the heritage of its structures, much like Galena, Illinois.

A quaint older town, it offers several haunted tours of old hotels—which isn’t quite my cup of tea. Just south of town lies the Turpentine Creek Big Cat (and one bear) rescue complex.

Visitors can literally see lions, tigers and bears at the facility, but also cats native to Arkansas, like cougars, bobcats and even a panther. Most of the animals rehabilitating at the park are rescues from other animal attractions that have fallen down in their ability to care for the animals, or foolish individuals who thought it would be a great idea to raise a predatory cat as a house pet.

Funded by donations, the Turpentine Creek allows these animals a place to live out their lives in a dignified setting.

Eureka Springs offers some other

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