We drove many, many miles in just a couple weeks. I think it was 1800 miles in 13 days. We kept up the pace to get out of the north before winter fully hit. Arkansas is south enough that while the temperatures were cold at night, it was not too cold to keep the pipes from freezing by running the heater all night. We decided to stay in Arkansas for a while to recover from all the driving. We left Devil’s Den State Park after a few nights, but just for a short hop down to Shady Lake Recreation Area in Ouachita National Forest.
Our route to the campground involved 13 miles on a narrow dirt road. I was full of anxiety that we would encounter an out-going vehicle on a one-lane stretch of the road. As usual, John was driving; a good thing, as I would not have been able to handle the drive. We did pass a few other vehicles, but thankfully only at wide areas of the road, or once when an SUV had just rounded a corner and was able to back into a parking lot to allow us to pass. A pickup truck with a giant cooler in the back passed us traveling in the same direction. We caught back up with it a bit later; the three occupants were standing outside holding rifles. Apparently they had spotted a deer in the woods and tried to shoot it. When we later talked with the campground host about safety from hunters while hiking, he told us that as long as we are far from roads we’d be safe, because Arkansas hunters are lazy and wouldn’t trek too deep in. But just in case, he also leant us an orange vest to wear on our excursions.
[ John here: It’s hard for me to get excited about taking a shower when I know I have to keep pressing a button every 10 seconds. This solution works well and *does not* damage the mechanism. The soft thin rope provides padding for the vicegrips and ensures the fixture doesn’t get scratched. These button showers annoy me, but not as much as kind that require 25 cents every few minutes. I’m still looking for a solution for them. ] [Heidi’s response: John claims the men’s room shower only turns on for 10 seconds, but I don’t know about that…I only had to hit it every 45 seconds.][John here again: Still a pain in the butt.]
Our first night at Shady Lake campground brought an ice storm, so we took it easy the next morning, staying warm and cozy in the van. From the comfort of the van I watched what must have been at least a hundred birds peck away for their breakfast. They came by each morning around the same time; mostly robins, plus a few tag-along crows. As a side note, crows are impressively smart. [ John here: The crow video Heidi linked to is pretty amazing. I can see us training crows to grab change … that we could use for those stupid quarter showers. 😛 ].
After spending the morning in the van reading, I finally decided to step outside. What a painful step it turned out to be! Our side door has an exterior step, where I very carefully applied grip-tape for safe traction months ago. But this morning, the moment my foot hit the step, it did not stick on the grip tape, but slipped right out in front of me. The whole step and much of the lower portion of the van was coated in a thick layer of ice. You’ll be happy to know that I landed (hard) on the softest part of my body, and the only damage done was a large and deep bruise.
We took a short hike in the afternoon on a trail around the campground. The trails in the area are well-blazed with paint marks on the trees, but for some odd reason the trail blazers cut the bark off before painting the colored rectangle. Sap seeps over the blazes like tree is shedding tears down it’s wound. The blazes have not been updated to reflect recent construction. Following an unexpectedly wide stream crossing over wobbly rocks we came to a section of the trail that had collapsed due to road construction above. After an iffy scramble over loose rocks on a steep embankment, we realized the trail had been rerouted to the road surface.
Our final day at Shady Lake, the landscape was still coated in ice, but the sky was a beautiful blue and we took the 6-mile round trip hike up to the Tall Peak Firetower. The trail was clear of ice, but the forest around us looked like a winter wonderland. As the sun warmed the area, the trees rained melted ice down on us.
We had a lovely time in Ouachita National Forest and were sad to go, but we decided to move on the day before Thanksgiving so we could pick up some fall foods for a harvest feast. We took a different route out of the forest, one with a shorter unpaved portion, and came out to a stretch of chicken CAFOs. All you can see from the outside are large barns, but thinking of the conditions of the chickens packed into those barns made it a sad drive. (If you watch the video in that link, I recommend watching the follow-up story afterwards, for a happy ending).