The Ouachita National Forest extends from west of Little Rock all the way into southeastern Oklahoma near the sleepy town of Talihina. It’s a rare east/west mountain chain that features long rolling ridgelines, miles of dirt access roads, and numerous hiking and recreation opportunities.
Early spring is a great time to be backpacking...especially in Arkansas...and the desire to slip out of town for a few days was, to say the least, burning. Cue up the Eagle Rock Loop. This popular weekend loop runs 26 miles over ridgelines, underneath pine groves, and through numerous river crossings. Most folks do this one in three days, as was the plan for this trip.
Time to fuel the Tacoma and crank it east.
I’ve had the fortune lately to date a fiery young lady who, much akin to myself, prefers to be sans roof as often as possible. Though she has hiked and camped forever like I have, this trip was Erin’s first foray into backpacking.
She nailed it.
We took the scenic Talimena Drive on the way out. If you’ve not driven this highway, you’re missing out on 54 miles of hills, curves, and expansive views. The drive runs from Talihina, OK to Mena, AR. Fall is the popular season...but I’ve driven it at various times of the year and never have been disappointed. Go check it out!
Mid-drive picnic stop. It was chilly and breezy so we backed the truck up towards the overlook and enjoyed a cold beverage and some lunch.
Taking refuge from the wind. All the gear is tucked up tight...ready to deploy!
Time to launch!
Within the first half hour or so we found ourselves navigating several wet crossings. Nothing too difficult this first day...but the continual on and off of shoes and socks slowed our pace some. Not to worry though, we enjoyed every minute and embraced the adventure.
Arkansas features some of the prettiest backdrops in this part of the country. How can you argue with that green water?!?
Hiker by a hiker sign.
Sometimes nature lends a hand.
Seriously...this photo is in Arkansas. The water was so pretty!
So pretty that I needed two pics in the blog just to emphasize the point.
Camp One - we had a nice fire and some well-deserved dinner.
Blackberry Lemonade makes me happy! (So did the booze we added....maybe it was just the booze)
Sunny overlooks on day two.
Another wet crossing...another shoe exchange.
Meadow cruise. This loop really offers a wide variety of terrain.
More sunny views of the ridgeline.
Rounding a bend...ticking off the miles.
Evening sunlight over more gorgeous water.
Camp two. My job was to take photos while Erin made dinner. Maybe I was supposed to help make dinner. (She was nice and shared).
Brekkie on day three - hot banana and blueberry granola, coffee for Erin (gross), hot chocolate for Byron (tasty), Rum Chata in both (appropriate).
Mas agua muy bonita.
Little Missouri Falls - very pretty and flowing well from the recent rains! I have a LOT of pics here.
One final wet crossing for the trip. If you’ve seen my Facebook page, you may remember there’s a hidden item in this pic.
Success! We had a nice stroll on day three...a few wet crossings but nothing to raise an eyebrow at. It was a great loop and comes highly recommended! Erin rolled along like a pro and we really had a great time enjoying nature.
Next of course - celebration beers!
After a quick swim to chisel off the first layer of funk, we changed into real clothes for a riverside hang. However...before any of that...we stashed some room-temp beer in the cold Arkansas water. Nature took care of the rest. A quick reconnaissance mission yielded cold beer in hand.
Cheers to hiking and to lowgiene!
We sat on the bridge soaking the sun, watching the water, snacking some cheese, sipping some brews, and wrestling with the idea of having to drive back to the world of responsibilities. Being able to escape from the daily makes the little things even sweeter.
Sunset on the return drive, Muse, OK. Find that one on the map!
The Eagle Rock Loop was a great hike for anyone looking to get away for a weekend! If you'd like any tips or further info, feel free to contact me via Facebook, Instagram, or email!
Now go outside before the heat rolls in!
How time FLIES when you are....working.
I've gotten a bit behind...maybe more than a bit....I hope to remedy that. We left off last time with a solid thunderstorm rolling into camp.
Post-storm morning chores. It was definitely more bark than bite! The best kind of storm when hiking.
Looking down the valley as the sun peeks over the ridge. Quite the contrast from 12 hours earlier.
Headed up through a gorgeous valley. The air was chilly and felt great!
Cruising into the sunshine.
Split rail running through the trees.
Another shot back through the valley....dirt road meandering through.
Moving into the full sun. I was happy for my long sleeves and had. Nothing feels worse than lathering sunscreen onto an already-grimy body.....so I opted for the sun clothing. It was definitely the right choice for me.
Red flowers. I'm sure they have an official name......probably 'red flowers.'
Camp Four in yet another beautiful valley! It was nice to get out in the open sun though it was pretty hot. Jacob and I hid out in the shade of the scrub bushes until the sun dipped below the ridge.
Sunset on the far side of the valley.
Happy boy at the end of the day! I always enjoy the evening downtime in the tent.....a time to just lay and relax for a bit.
Look at all those bears!
Jacob leading the charge.
One of many gorgeous aspen groves we had the fortune to stroll through. They're such a treat every time.
Kenosha Pass! We needed to resupply so it was hitchhiking time. I've hitched a ton in my time along the Appalachian Trail and I'm pleased to say that the experience in Colorado was great! We secured a ride into town within 15 minutes of thumbing....and got back out of town in under five!
These had pizza, but not for long.
Post-pizza...pre-grocery evaluation of our stock. Three rules of resupply runs....
1. DO NOT go into the store hungry (trail hunger and life hunger are very disproportionate) unless you enjoy a wickedly heavy backpack coming out of town
2. DO plan ahead so you can repackage your resupply in a hiking-conducive manner
3. Buy a piece of fresh fruit! Eat that mofo while you're out in front of the store reloading your pack.
Work smarter...I wished the cart would fit on the trail.
I always recommend asking the store employees if it is okay to bring gear inside. Some places don't like you to (which I desperately don't like....not a fan of being separated from my pack....but I understand and respect it if that's the policy). It is polite and helps build a positive rapport between hikers and businesses. It may come as a surprise.....but some places aren't terribly fond of furiously rank backpacks being toted throughout their shops. Yum.
A town run calls for beer. How convenient that the grocery store had a brewery right next door.
I love you.
I spy with my little eye.
We watched this storm roll into Fairplay and dump buckets of desperately- needed rain onto the Colorado landscape.
Guernsey Creek Campsite - we shared this gorgeous meadow with two dudes from Mexico who had flown up to bikepack the CT. Bikepacking is like backpacking, except you're on a mountain bike. The Colorado Trail is a prime location and draws a number of enthusiasts. It's not something I've tried yet, though I'd like to! I'm a cyclist and mountain biker as well so I think it would be a fun trip. Plus I have much of the lightweight gear already.
Another shot of our camp at Guernsey Creek. We were tucked into the aspens on the edge of the meadow. There were a lot of flies here, but thankfully the mosquitos weren't much of a nuisance.
Yellows near the Guernsey Creek campsite.
Moving along. It was an unusually dry summer in the Rockies so coming across a stream with such a great flow was a real treat.
Great views of Mt. Guyot as we approached Georgia Pass.
Flower pic for my mom.
Jacob and I in the meadow near Georgia Pass. We had been leapfrogging a nice family and we traded photography duty here while they were stopped for a break. It was a gorgeous day to hike in the Rockies!
Mt. Guyot - 13,370 feet. The CT doesn't go up to the summit, but we enjoyed the views of the peak under the bright blue sky for much of the day.
Georgia Pass - 11,598 feet
Endless views as we rounded the bend at Georgia Pass. I finally had to force myself to stop taking pics and just hike.
Sharing a portion of the trail with the Continental Divide Trail. That.....is pretty sweet!
You just walked through it bro.
Drying out the leftover condensation from the tent fly at lunch. Though the humidity is very low, the cool overnight temps create enough moisture to warrant spreading out in the sunshine.
Another mountain stream tumbling over fallen logs. Clean and clear.
This is a thing that happened. Everyone in camp got a solid laugh out of it!
Camp at North Fork Swan Road. There were quite a few folks here tonight but there was plenty of space for everyone to spread out. We had a great time eating dinner together and chatting about the trail, food, and life. All the good vibes.
Crew. We had a fun night camping out with these diverse folks! Can you spot the bear-bag photobomb?
Pretty big tracks here! Maybe elk?
More purple lovelies.
The signage on the CT was so superb.
Descending into Breckenridge
Jacob leading the charge as we approach town.
Looking down over the outskirts of Breckenridge. There were some storm clouds building off towards the west so we stayed conscious of the weather and hoped to dodge the rain before we got into town.
Two dirty dogs! We got to the highway before noon and caught the bus into town to get my pickup.
Home sweet Toyota! I always prefer to hike TO the vehicle rather than from it on a long-distance hike. This adds a great element of flexibility to the hike since you aren't scrambling to meet someone for a ride....which is can be complicated by poor cell service, weather delays, or physical hiccups along the way.
Post-hike rewards! Broken Compass had some tasty brews which we made short work of. There were also lots of dogs in the brewery....bringing joy....and masking the scent of two whipped hikers. Remember I'd mentioned storm clouds? The skies cut loose while we were inside the brewery. Perfect timing if you ask me.
After heading back into the Denver metro and chiseling off the layers of trail funk, it was time to celebrate the hike with more beer! Golden City Brewery is one I've visited a couple times before and been quite pleased. It is very quaint.....based in an old house tucked into a quiet neighborhood near Clear Creek. It is Golden's "second largest brewery." I love that marketing.....because the largest brewery in Golden....is Coors. Ha! (GCB definitely gets the gold medal for beer though!)
Enjoying the sunshine at GCB.
Meeting the Yeti at Great Divide Brewing Company. So many tasty beers here.
Finally we landed at Black Project for some excellent sours to round out the trip.
The first leg of the Colorado Trail was definitely enjoyable! I look forward to picking back up at Breckenridge and cruising through the Rockies again soon!
As always....let me know if you have any questions about anything outdoors....hiking or otherwise! Always down to chat.
I'm usually not one to brag...but Colorado looks good on me.
As you may know, I finished the Appalachian Trail last summer after spending 17 years piecing together sections from Georgia to Maine. Hiking has molded my life in a plethora of ways and serves as a great reset for me from school year to school year.
It was time for a new project.
The Colorado Trail (CT as you may see it referenced) meanders through the Rockies from the southwest side of Denver to Durango. Ranging from 5,500 feet to over 13,000....the approximately 485 mile trail features a variety of terrain, fauna, and no shortage of jaw-dropping views. As my buddy Jacob says...it is "easy on the eyes."
I couldn't agree more.
Waterton Canyon lies on the southwest edge of the Denver metro and is the eastern trailhead for the CT. Kickoff was at 7:30am on Saturday. I was so fortunate to join forces this year with my buddy Jacob! A fellow band director in a neighboring district to mine, Jacob is an experienced backpacker and has actually hiked a portion of our trip several times before. He's also a killer runner and a fellow vegetarian. I had no doubt we would pair up well together although we had not yet had the chance to hike together.
I was absolutely right.
Pace, routine, food/water stops, inappropriate jokes, bark-rattling burps, and shared appreciation for the outdoors abounded. It felt like we had been hiking together for years.
I was happy to get to start fresh together and look forward to picking up more sections of the CT as a team!
Getting ready to crank up! The weather on Saturday (and actually for the entire hike) was choice.
Headed up the canyon. The first 6 miles are along this dirt road. It was actually very pleasant to hike here. We were able to walk side-by-side, converse easily, and look around without having to watch feet. Quite a few folks were out (it was Saturday of course) running and cycling as well. I never felt overcrowded though. We all love the solitude the outdoors provides....but it is important to remember that areas that don't get used....sometimes get forgotten. That doesn't always end well for wilderness gems. So....sharing the outdoors with good stewards doesn't bother me too much...solitude is usually achievable regardless.
Canyon shadows. It was so pleasant to hike in the cool shade.
Exiting the canyon and merging onto single track trail. No sign of bear....although this is definitely a sign....of bear.
CT marker being reclaimed by a tree.
The trek out of the canyon was a gentle incline and eventually brought us up and out into some higher viewpoints.
The first night's camp was at the South Platte River. Being as hot as it was, we made short work of setting up camp, and made a beeline for the water.
I've mentioned the term 'lowgiene' in some of my hiking posts before. Gifted to me by my buddy and way-back climbing partner Gordon.....it is a term of endearment for those of us who enjoy the outdoors. It's just like hygiene...except....less.
The water was fantastic; lots of silt in the river from some previous (and scarce this year) rainfall the day before we started; and frigid!
I loved it.
We found this golden nugget of happiness down by the river! After a swim of its own...the single Hamm's was chilled down and ready to mingle.
Jacob taking the first lap.
I tagged in and took over for a bit. There is something magical about an unexpected cold beer in nature on a hot afternoon. Man was it good!
Speaking of hot afternoon....this is what a bag of chocolate-covered raisins looks like on such a day. As the sun and temps dipped, it conglomerated into a chocolatey raisin brick. Still got the job done.
Taking in the sights on day 2. I switched over to the long-sleeved shirt to dodge the sun as we knew the exposure would be high that day. I ended up sticking with this plan for the remainder and was beyond happy I did. It worked great, never made me hot, and allowed me the luxury of skipping the sunscreen bath. I'm not a big fan of putting more goop onto my already dirty self. Eww.
In the mid 90s, a massive wildfire moved through this area of the CT, leaving an open and barren area. It's unfortunate, but did allow for some tremendous views. We spent most of today hiking through the burn scar....hence the long sleeves and hat.
More views of the burn scar.
Heading into a little oasis of Aspens in the burn scar. There were many more to come throughout our hike!
Far in the distance you can see the North Fork Fire Station. This is a critical stop as there is very little water in segment 2. They offer a water spigot for hikers to refill and take donations as appropriate to keep the department up and running. We were happy to reach the station on this hot day and tank up.
Fire crews had their work cut out this summer....there were active wildfires throughout Colorado. Though we did see some distant smoke, we were fortunate to not have been affected. Thank you to the firefighters who have worked diligently to control the burns.
Some thundies building in the distance. These came into play later in the evening.....bringing some light hail at our campsite.
Camp at the end of day two. This was at Tramway Creek. It was a good water source! Not large enough for a swim this time, but flowing well, clear, and cold of course.
Just before starting dinner, the rain moved in. It kept up for about an hour and delivered a dose of light hail. Nothing to worry over, just an evening thunderstorm in the Rockies. We both relaxed and dozed in our tents before reemerging for dinner around 8:30pm after the rain stopped. A forced break isn't necessarily a bad thing!
Catching some early morning rays on day three. Jacob and I were on the trail most days before 7:00am. In fact, our latest start time was day one at Waterton Canyon. It's nice to be up early and knock out some mileage before the sun really starts making its presence known...around 10:30am or so.
Flowers for my mom. A large amount of my mom's photography consists of up-close shots of flowers. I don't have the same touch that she does, but I give it my best! Not sure what these were, but they were pretty.
Trail junction near Buffalo Creek. The signage on the CT is superb. I was impressed at the consistency of maintenance throughout our hike. It's interesting to note that there are far fewer blazes on the CT along the trail itself. However, even deep in the woods and far from roads, if there was an intersection to be marked, it had a sign....and the signs were actually legible! Kudos.
The tree in the center is likely a beetle-kill victim. Regardless, I love this shot because it 'feels' like Colorado to me....greens, browns, and blues.
Upon entering the Lost Creek Wilderness Area, hikers approach a kiosk and are asked to register before moving forward. This is pretty standard procedure, doesn't cost anything, helps deliver funding to the areas by being able to track actual usage, and also can serve as a safety line in the event a hiker was to go missing. While Jacob was filling out our info (one card per party)....I rummaged around in the box at the kiosk....and found a Schrute Buck. One photo with Dwight K. Schrute was all I needed to find the motivation to carry on! I graciously left it in the box for the next hiker to enjoy.
Tall Aspens agains a blue sky.
As a treat this year, I packed some kalamata olives! They were a nice salty treat to have at lunch and I upped the ante by eating them with a pocketknife. Safety third.
Hide-and-seek in the wilderness.
Photo model in the Lost Creek Wilderness. I smelled really good here.
Into the great wide open...
....under them skies of blue
Camp three was at the Brookside/McCurdy Trailhead Junction. We had this expansive valley to stare at all evening. "Easy on the eyes...."
A view upstream in the valley. The water was just perfect.
Splish-splash! It was fill-up time. Did some extensive splashing here as well. The water was so refreshing!
The million-dollar view from my tent. Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 UL. This sucker is bomber!! LoveLoveLoveLoveLove
Another out from around the trees. I was happy we made good time and were able to enjoy this area for several hours.
Notice the clouds building....?
I'm a sucker for treetops against blue sky. Gets me every time.
A view of the castles, the valley....and the changing skies.
Did I mention the skies were changing?!?
Lets get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Despite the ferocious thunder, ominous skies, and gnarly wind...this storm actually ended up just skirting us. It rained pretty steadily for about an hour...maybe more, then let off. We talked to some other hikers the next day who got some pretty wicked hail, but overall it was mostly bark rather than bite. Sometimes you dodge one.
Thanks for starting out on the start of the journey! Check back soon for another post to continue the trip.....feel free to share the link, and spread the word.
Most importantly.....go outside.