Sunday, October 21, 2007


Military Road Trail & Austell Trail at Village Creek SP, Wynne, Ark

On the pancake flat Arkansas delta sits Crawley’s Ridge, a narrow strip of hills running north to south that divides the lowlands of the state. Situated about an hour west of Memphis, Crawley’s Ridge rises from sea level to an elevation as high as 450 feet; Arkansas’ Village Creek State Park is situated on Crawley’s Ridge near the town of Wynne.

Arriving about 10 a.m., I parked at the Visitor’s Center and began my hike. My goal was to hike the Military Trail, which is a segment of the Trail of Tears, one of the routes taken by the Creek, Chickasaw, and Cherokee Indians in their removal to Oklahoma. The first portion of the hike was over the Austell Trail, which ran from the Visitor’s Center to Austell Lake. This path takes you winding through gullies and washes, and over hills and ridges to the lake. The trail is well marked with yellow blazes, and has wooden bridges to help you traverse the streams, and inlaid steps to aid in climbing some of the steeper terrain.

After skirting the eastern shore of Austell Lake you hit the trailhead for the Military Road Loop Trail. The lower loop has similar terrain as the Austell Trail; the upper loop is relatively flat. I elected to take the lower loop and after about 20-minutes the path dead-ends into the Old Military Road. Here the soft ground has given way to time, erosion, wagon wheels, horse and ox hoofs, and years of travel upon this major route between Memphis in Little Rock in the 1830’s. The road sinks over 10-feet below the surface, forming a ‘U’ shaped gorge, at this portion of the road.

The trees growing on the rim of the gorge form a canopy that blocks most of the sunlight from the road. The shadows cast by the canopy and the exposed tree roots on the dirt sides of the gorge, give the location an feeling of eerie reverence. I tried to imagine the Indians moving slowing along this road over 150-years ago.

I walked southeast down the old road toward the ford over Village Creek. Just prior to reaching the ford, the road emerged from the gorge and the terrain leveled off. Where travelers once forded the creek now stands a swinging bridge. The bridge is about 50-feet long and spans the creek and creek bottom. I had to stop and play on the bridge for a while, as any kid would.

The Military Loop Trail ends at the bridge, but I continued to follow the dirt road east until it made a sharp northerly turn, merging into the Lake Dunn Trail. Re-crossing the swinging bridge (and yes, I had to play some more), I took the upper trail loop back to the northwest. At the junction of the Old Military Road and the Military Loop Trail there was a large plaque describing the plight of the Indians and the Trail of Tears. Here the trail heads north before descending onto the causeway at Lake Austell. 25-minutes later I was back at the Visitor’s Center having backtracked around the lake and Austell Trail.

The leisurely hike took a little over 2-hours and covered approximately 5-miles.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Cascade Canyon Trail - Grand Teton Nat'l Park

By the first weekend in October Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have just about closed all of their commercial interest for the season. Most of the ranger stations are boarded up, as are the restaurants and goodie shops. I visited Jackson Hole with a buddy to enjoy the solitude of fall.

It was our second day in the area when we decided to hike Cascade Canyon. The ferry across Jenny Lake had stopped service on September 30th, so we had to add 4.5-miles to the planned 9-mile hike. The forecast was for snow showers, but the sun was out and the Ranger said you could never tell what the weather would do. After parking at the trailhead at South Jenny Lake, we started our adventure. Within 1.5-miles of the trailhead, on the west side of Jenny Lake it started to snow heavily. By the time we reached Hidden Falls we were covered in snow.

The climb from the falls to Inspiration Point was the most memorable segment of the trip. Cut into the side of a granite mountain, this section of the trail entailed a significant change in elevation, with Inspiration Point being at 7,200 ft. There was mountain on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other, reminding me of a mountain goat trail. The view from Inspiration Point was a panorama of Jenny Lake, the Jackson Hole Plain and the mountains to the east. The falling snow obscured some of the vividness of the vista, but it was still breath taking.
From Inspiration Point the trail descends slightly into Cascade Canyon. At his point we had traveled 2.5-miles, the last hour in a snowstorm. As we entered the canyon the snow stopped and we were treated with sunshine for a brief time. A stream, Cascade Creek, runs the length of the canyon. The mountains to the south were tree covered and included the Grand Teton, Teewinot, and Mt. Owen. The mountains to the north of the canyon consisted of sheer craggy cliffs, with Symmetry Spire and the Jaw being the most significant peaks. The canyon trail was relatively level, gaining just 1,000 ft. of elevation over 4.5-miles, with a large share of that gain coming just prior to the fork.

On and off throughout the day, we encountered snow at differing levels of intensity. We were stopping so often to take pictures that we couldn’t make any time so decided to dead-end it to the fork. The weather was really socking us in and we were concerned the snow and potential fog would trap us in the canyon, but we were determined to make our turnaround point. It took three hours and fifteen minutes to cover the seven-miles to the fork, where the trail splits into north and south loops going into other canyons. We rested at the foot of a bridge that spans Cascade Creek, about five-minutes from the fork. Here we changed into dry clothes, checked our feet for blisters, and ate what we had brought, getting ready for the return trip down the canyon to Jenny Lake. This break at the bridge lasted more than 30-minutes and the snow intensified as we rested.

We dead-ended back to Inspiration Point were we took more photos. Once we hit the lake trail it was academic that we would make it back to the car before nightfall. With a mile to go, I ‘hit the wall’, slowing my pace measurably, and sauntering back to the trailhead. Ice was blowing in off the lake as we took the final west-to-east leg of the lake trail, and it was almost dusk before we got back to our vehicle.

On the way out of GTNP we saw a large herd of elk just as the sun was setting. Several cars were pulled over enjoying the spectacle. Giving them a brief glance, we headed for the motel.

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