A Golden Afternoon

I spend far too much time working, tweaking, trying to perfect a photo in Photoshop Monday morning, only to give up in disgust and order the other photo that I liked better to begin with and call it a day. I hear the birds calling to each other outside, the little Carolina wren especially singing her heart out in the sunny blue skied world and I make a command decision. I throw wet clothes in the dryer, set it for an hour, stuff water bottles, my camera and the dog’s leash into my backpack and load up Langley, lifting her into the back of my car because she can no longer manage the big jump up, telling her that she made a really good effort and to mind her head as I slam the door shut.

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We hike for what seems like hours, playing in creeks, finding the first wildflowers of the season, exploring new trails and meeting other hikers and explorers and mountain bikers, all of us overjoyed at the beautiful day that has been gifted to us after such a long, dreary and colorless winter.

Langley runs far ahead of me on the trail, so far that I sometimes lose sight of her and just when I grow a tad bit concerned, here she comes flying back to me, bouncing around my feet like a bunny rabbit, a big grin plastered on her face from ear to ear. She loves these trails, always wanting to go further and further, nose to the ground smelling country smells, smells different than the town smells she meets up with on our afternoon walks. Here at Mt. Kessler she can run and be free and be the dog that she knows she’s meant to be. If she was younger and didn’t have such bad arthritis in her hips, then yes, I would hike as long as she wanted because I love the trails, the smells, the flowers, the fresh breezes and the freedom of all responsibilities that Mt. Kessler offers. But I also know that we eventually have to turn around and hike back to the car, and with Langley’s hips and the fact that she has no idea how to pace herself, that might take a little longer. I cup my hand and pour water into it for her to drink, her bright pink tongue slurping up the water and tickling my hand. She looks up at me, grins and runs off, back to the trail ahead and finding more smells, more crevices to investigate, more creeks to splash around in and play.

After calling after her several times and clapping my hands, she comes barreling back to me and I explain to her that we need to head back to the car, that it’s getting close to her supper time and we need to get back home. She looks a little confused, but I tell her that we can come back out another day and she falls behind me, letting me lead the way for the first time that afternoon. The sun is casting her long golden fingers through the bare branches of the trees above us as we reach the parking lot. I wipe down the dog, asking her if she had fun and what a good hiking companion she is. She sneaks a quick lick on my nose and I pick her up and put her in the back of my car once more. We’re both quiet on the way home, all the windows down so Langley can smell the smells and stick her head out the window like dogs do, her black velvety ears flapping in the wind.

She and I both sleep hard that night, both of us worn out from the day’s adventure.

A good kind of worn out.

Big Bluff Trail

Saturday dawned warm and insanely windy, so windy in fact, that when I took my morning run, a pine cone blew off a pine tree that I was running under and hit the side of my face, making me burst into giggles. That was definitely a first for me during my running career. I’ve been chased by sparrow hawks, have had buzzards circling overhead during the height of summer and have swallowed more than my fair share of those little “no see-ums”, but I’ve never had a pine cone hit me upside my head.

Needless to say, my Saturday got off to a riotous start.

After I got home and recovered, David and I loaded up the car and headed east to the Buffalo National River for an afternoon of hiking the Big Bluff Trail. The Buffalo River winds its way through my childhood memories, memories of camping, playing in the water, the smell of campfires and the sounds of crickets in the night air mixed with hushed voices of other campers. As an adult, I’ve floated the river both in canoes and in kayaks. The river is like a family member to the entire state of Arkansas. It’s beautiful, it’s ancient and the bluffs hugging the water tower up nearly 3,000 feet in some places (nps.gov). It was a perfect day to go hiking and exploring.

After driving by the trailhead by accident, we turned around and drove back, parked, grabbed our cameras and water bottles and headed out down the trail. The parking lot was full of cars (guess everyone else had the same idea as we had), but we didn’t see any other hikers for nearly 30 minutes. They were a young couple, both a bit out of breath, asking us how much further to the parking lot that they had to go.

The parking lot always seems a lot farther off than expected when you’re hiking back to it, doesn’t it?

And that was the really the last of the people that we saw until we found the Goat Trail, the connecter trail to the Big Bluff trail.

But what a beautiful hike. The trail took turns going from smooth to rocky to muddy back to smooth and easy. We kept getting glimpses through the bare trees of the river valley and bluffs below us, drawing us onward. We stopped to take pictures, David working on his sun bursts, me playing with my little Lego Storm Trooper, all the while making our way further and further down the mountain.

And then we saw this.

All of a sudden we went from hiking a tame dirt trail to climbing amongst bluffs, peering over the edge to the valley waaaaaaaay down below us, pine branches brushing against our faces. My vertigo tried to play havoc with me, but I kept on my bottom and scooted along the more narrow of the rocky outcroppings and David’s hand was never far away from me, especially when I wanted to shoot straight down into the river below me.

We climbed, we scooted, we sat quietly. We traded “can you believe these views?!” with other hikers (seems they had gotten a head start on us and were making their way back to their cars ), all the while the sun inching closer and closer to the western horizon. We each took one last picture and then turned back to the trail, starting the three mile hike back uphill, the sunset keeping us company.

We took the quicker route home, going through Boxley Valley, hoping to see the elk that live there, and lo and behold, we saw one of the biggest herds I’ve seen since moving to Arkansas. Cars were pulling over to the side of the road, people hanging out their windows with the iPhones or standing along the grassy shoulder with binoculars. I walked down to the pasture fence with my camera, took a few pictures then climbed back in the car next to David, remarking that I’d never seen so many before as we continued our way along Highway 43 before turning onto Highway 21. No sooner than the words were out of my mouth than we spotted a car pulled over on the road leading out of the valley with it’s hazards blinking. By this time, the sun had practically set and it was pretty dark, but I could make out another large herd of elk trotting across the highway just ahead of us, not a care in the world, and more were streaming out of the woods to our right.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. What an amazing sight!

As we drove home in the dark, both of us yawning, I asked David what his favorite part of the hike was, something that I like to do after we have one of our adventures. He thought for a moment, then replied that he loved climbing around the bluffs and seeing the elk, before asking me what my favorite part of the day had been. I told him that I loved seeing the elk, too, but that I also loved the views that we were rewarded with at the end of the trail and how the whole day felt like being on vacation.

We finished the trip home in silence (and more yawning), each of us lost in our thoughts and memories of a wonderful day spent outside.