Tuesday, October 14, 2008


SOTO - Cliffhanger

The afternoon of the hike to Goat Cave a majority of us took a five-minute walk up the trail to one of SOTO’s adventure activities, a cable slingshot that swings you out over a cliff, appropriately called the Cliffhanger. One at a time we donned a web harness and were secured to two cables with locking carabineers. The cables ran to the top of tall telephone poles positioned approximately 30-feet apart and anchored at the edge of a cliff. A third cable was attached to the back of the harness. This third cable was slack and ran to the top of another pole situated about 50-feet behind the first poles. As the slack was removed from the third cable we rose into the air until we were parallel to the ground, maybe 35 to 40-feet off the deck. On command we activated a release mechanism disconnecting us from the third cable. The pendulum action of the contraption swung us out over the cliff. As our energy dissipated the arc of our oscillation decreased until we eventually came to a standstill. The initial drop brought screams of euphoria from us all, then we caught our breath and enjoyed the ride and the view.

Afterwards a couple of us went to the river and took a dip in Big Creek. The water was clear and cold, but the current was mild allowing us to swim with ease.

Once the sun set, we capped the day off with a campfire and smores. No one sang ‘Kumbia’, but I did hear some humming of ‘Home on the Range’ from a few. The bonfire was followed by a late night game of 1,000 Dice before everyone retired pleasantly worn-out.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Shepherd of the Ozarks - Arkansas

My wife and I recently stayed at Shepherd of the Ozarks during a church couples retreat. SOTO is nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains near Harriet, Arkansas. It is 300-acres of paradise – tree carpeted mountains contrast against bleak stone escarpments; water bounces down streams, jumping over rocks worn smooth with time and bleached white by the sun; open glens provide space for horses to run, --- no cell phone reception, no television, no internet access, just solitude. The lodges are beautifully designed log cabins with stone fireplaces and wrap-around porches, spacious rooms with king-size beds, and great-rooms with overstuffed leather couches.

We stayed at Indian Bluff Lodge, a 7,500-sq.ft. open-beamed, three story cabin, with nine bedrooms, three grand living spaces and two floor to ceiling stone fireplaces. Decorated in a western motif, Indian Bluff is a taxidermist dream – stuffed wild life, deer heads, buffalo and bear skin rugs, animal pelts of every species; the theme continues with lariats, chandeliers made from pistols and spurs, native American headdresses, homemade furniture, and Navaho blankets.

Meals are served at a communal lodge called the Buffalo Center. This 20,000 sq. ft. log structure houses the dining hall, a 500-seat auditorium, and several single family rooms. Here the staff and all the SOTO guests dine together breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Following breakfast our first morning, we were guided to Goat Cave by two SOTO staff members. Our little band of middle-aged adventurists gathered at the trailhead a short distance from our cabin. The first mile of the trail to the cave paralleled Big Creek, consisting of mild cross-compartment hiking on a well-marked route. As we angled away from the river the trail changed abruptly, becoming a steep climb over the dry face of what would be a tiered waterfall in the spring months. The steepness of the mossy stone surface required the hikers to keep all four limbs in contact with the ground on this portion of the climb.

After frequent stops the group made it to the base of a sheer cliff. Here a wooden ladder had been secured to the vertical surface of the rock to aid in gaining access to a rock shelf about fifteen-feet up. From the ledge it was a short climb over sandstone boulders into the entrance of Goat Cave.

The cave was about 20-feet wide at the entrance with plenty of headroom. As you proceeded deeper into the cave the walls and ceiling tapered requiring us to stoop to avoid the dropstone. At the rear of the cave was an entrance to an inner-chamber. Here we got to do some amateur spelunking. We crawled through a rough opening and emerged inside of a narrow vertical chamber.

The floor of the chamber was circular in shape and measured about 9-feet in diameter; the shaft was approx thirty-feet in height, tappering to a domed ceiling. Ten of us squeezed into the chamber and all was well until some of the women realized that there were sleeping bats hanging from the top of the dome and it was guano they were standing in.

Leaving the cave, we retraced our route back down the cliff face and down the dry falls, back to the river bottom and then to the trail head. The trip cover approximately four-miles and the staff had lunch prepared and waiting for us when we returned from our 2.5-hour adventure.

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