Thursday, May 16, 2019

Eagle Rock Loop - Part 3

Despite our very recent misgivings about trusting Google … off we went, heeding her directions without following up on a real map. In fact, at this point we did not have a road map of the state of Arkansas because in planning our trip our atlas had been removed from the vehicle. And not returned.

Not that it would have helped.

By now it was truly dark, we were hungry, and we were getting tired. Had it seemed safe to do so, we might have just pulled off somewhere to make dinner and sleep. Alas, this part of the state is full of hills, woods, (deer, dogs), and tiny towns with nothing but a stop sign and a defunct gas station. Occasionally the odd pallet factory, steaming away in the darkness causing me to wonder if I were hallucinating (no, I was no longer driving at this point).

Eventually we were instructed to turn off on Goat Ranch Road.

Now doesn’t that sound promising?

It was questionable from the start. Other than a gate painted in similar faded purple and yellow hues to others we had seen hanging open in the Ouachita forest. It frequently intersected other narrow tracts through the forest with names that read like barcodes, carved vertically into the trunks of pines.

This is not an exaggeration. The road indicators were carved into the trees.

Like an apparition, a white car passed going in the opposite direction. People! I even imagined the cheeks of the woman in the passenger seat to be flushed with sun from completing a day on the trail. They may have been flushed. But it wasn’t from being on the trail.

The road, if you can call it that, narrowed tunnel-like as the grass grew ever taller and the tree branches reached ever closer to hold one another across the lane. Either we were going in the very wrong direction, or the very right direction! This was, after all, an adventure! I prefer to take the road less traveled and this was undoubtedly one of them!

As Tim grew increasingly skeptical and I hit a maniacal second wind and urged him to keep going … two orange and white reflective sawhorses arose in the darkness. I wish I had taken a picture, but I was done. Goat Ranch Road was washed out, and we were washed up.

I’m not sure what the white car had been up to, but it was probably no good.

We gave up. Called it a night. Decided Waffle House and a regular bed were in order. And a stop at the welcome center for some maps in the morning. Somehow we were headed toward a town called Glenwood which was nowhere near where we wanted to go. By the time we got our radiator pointed back towards Texarkana, we had 83 miles to go.

Doesn't Tim look excited to be eating Waffle House at 1am? It's like old times honey!

The next morning, since the Forest Service did not appear to have directions from Texarkana to where we wanted to go (I see them plain as day now?), we drove to Mena where they DID give directions from and followed them. Even with a state road map, none of the forest service roads we wanted were labeled; if anything they appeared as questionable grey lines. Countless others were not included on any map we had access to.

The vague gray lines and haphazard labels flanked by 8 to the north, 375 to the west, 369 to the east, and 246/84 to the south are where we wanted to be ... 
Even the verbal directions from the Forest Service were questionable. As it turns out, they are the Forest Service and not the Camper/ATVer/recreationer service. They are not the human protection service. They are not the weather warning or trail condition service. They are mostly there to preserve the wildness of the forest, and prevent and respond to forest fires. Their roads are sometimes marked, often not. Their directions are vague and may or may not include all the information or even entirely correct information. And their station is about an hour away from the trail. I'm not sure how often they visit Eagle Rock Loop ... so ...

Nothing boosts your confidence in where you are going like a SIGN, with an arrow even!!!
You’ll get there when you get there. And eventually we did. We did NOT hike the Eagle Rock Loop - this time. But we did part of the hardest portion, and you better believe we will be back. We did do part of the Little Missouri/Athens-Big Fork portion of the trail. We did camp. We did do water crossings. We did need those trekking poles we had borrowed. We even managed to squeeze the Little Missouri Falls in on our way out, and backtracked to find out where we went wrong. It was beautiful, and we will be back.

We had two options at the trailhead ... take the "easier way" towards Little Missouri Falls ... but you can probably guess by now what we did. We headed straight up the first mountain on the Athens-Big Fork trail ...

Spirit Rock Vista - pictures never do places like this justice

This actually used to be the mail route, if you can believe it
I love you Texas ... but you don't get this in Texas ...
Perhaps the most perfect campsite we've ever setup ...
We didn't hike to the falls this time, but we still managed to get there on the way out
Tim, let’s never stop having adventures. We weren’t lost, we were just wandering.

(Though if anyone knows if NF-512 is actually able to be traversed by a Suburban to just west of the Little Missouri trailhead on FS-25 … I am curious to know … )

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