Since moving to the charming Ouachita Mountains, I have not held back from exploring the region. As an outdoor enthusiast, I feel right at home in Arkansas and have adopted the land and the people as my own. With thirty-seven state parks, I’ll be busy for some time.
This weekend, I went for the first time to Lake Ouachita State Park, located about twelve miles northwest of Hot Springs. The Caddo Bend Trail is four miles long exactly. The visitor’s map says it is approximately four miles, but along the way, markers indicate the length hiked, and it accurately corresponded with my GPS step counter, ending four miles right at my car parked at the trail head. The map guide also says it takes about three hours to hike, which I did in an hour and fifteen minutes, stopping and taking photos along the way. Although the terrain has steep ascents, the more difficult level rests in the the loose rocks, roots, and boulders on the path, making your footing unstable.
As I began, I noted the dry atmosphere, reminding me more of the Arizona desert. Dusty, rocky, treeless nearly, debris everywhere, logs scattered across the forest floor. I had been hiking the area on different trails all summer and had not come across this environment. The trails I hiked were heavily treed, shady, cooler because of it, and the paths looked like the forest fairies came each night and swept the trail clean and clear. I was feeling a little disappointed in Lake Ouachita’s management, knowing this is one of the most popular destinations in Arkansas.
However, my goal was to hike them all and take notes. The trail snaked through the forest of hardwoods, pines, and hickories along the south-facing shoreline of the lake. The vegetation, synonymous with the dry climate, had low bushes to the ground, woodsy, and brown and yellow in color. At the first mile marker, my peanut brain was enlightened. I read, in 2011, a tornado swept across the point stretching into the lake, uprooting the old growth forest to start over. It’s as if I crossed over into another world, for the canopy became richer, the trail cooler, and the forest floor greener.
The Caddo Bend Trail had its own flavor, unlike anything I had ventured on in the area, primarily the rock formations dominating the ground. Quartz, shale, sandstone, and limestone covered in gray and green lichen gave texture and color to the predominate leaf mulch, limb debris, and low, scrubby flora saturating the forest floor. In fact, there were so many boulders piled upon one another, I lost track of the trail, then noticed yellow arrows pointed the way through the resistant to impact, unfixed route.
The Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Ouachita River in 1953 to control flooding, creating Lake Ouachita. The lake covers 40,000 surface acres, is about thirty miles long, and has about 975 miles of shoreline. The lake has freshwater jellyfish, shoreline caves with quartz outcroppings, and pristine, clear, and clean water with good visibility for divers, reaching to depths of two-hundred feet. There are numerous islands in the lake to explore with the possibility to see bald eagles, fox, beaver, bobcat, white tailed deer, coyote, and wild turkey.
As I rounded the point to the north side, just past the first foot bridge, I heard what sounded like a man chopping wood. The sound resonated from the canopy above me, and I spotted the culprit pounding the hard tree like he owned it. The Pileated Woodpecker stabbed the tree, ascending it like a corkscrew. In the distance, a wuk-wuk sounded off and the little feller above me responded in like, then flew away. These birds fascinate me because of their size, and although common, this is only the second one I have seen.
Leaving the untouched forest, I crossed once again into the tornado damaged desert-like environment and felt the sweat on my body evaporate. I guess tornadoes are as much a part of Nature as the beloved trees, streams, and beasts clinging to the land, but I wonder if it is man’s impact on the environment upsetting the climate more than average. The docile contrast of the land to the climate makes up a binary which fits in with man’s own frivolous identities leaving me to question the legitimacy of nature’s destruction. I feel the peace in the woods, unlike the chaos of the city, and no matter what natural phenomenon disrupts the harmony existing in Nature, her core is that she means no harm.