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 successfully maneuvered the van through 13 miles of unpaved, often one-lane road, not getting stuck once.

John successfully maneuvered the van through 13 miles of unpaved, often one-lane road, not getting stuck once.

 The campground offered warm showers, but John did not find this timed button to be acceptable, so he rigged up a way to depress it through his entire shower. (John takes really long showers.)

The campground offered warm showers, but John did not find this timed button to be acceptable, so he rigged up a way to depress it through his entire shower. (John takes really long showers.)

[  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.

Icicles on the van grill. This was late in the day, after much of the ice had melted away.

Icicles on the van grill. This was late in the day, after much of the ice had melted away.

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.

Shady Lake was another Civilian Conservation Corps project; the CCC built this dam to form the lake.

Shady Lake was another Civilian Conservation Corps project; the CCC built this dam to form the lake.

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.

A registration station stood at the trailhead, but it is apparently no longer in use. Not only did it lack paper slips on which to register, but the deposit box has been claimed as a home.

A registration station stood at the trailhead, but it is apparently no longer in use. Not only did it lack paper slips on which to register, but the deposit box has been claimed as a home.

Area closed to hang gliders; that is not a common notification!

Area closed to hang gliders; that is not a common notification!

 Evidence of the ice storm.

Evidence of the ice storm.

A perfect ice replica of the leaf it formed on. I proceeded to eat the ice, to John’s shock and disgust.

A perfect ice replica of the leaf it formed on. I proceeded to eat the ice, to John’s shock and disgust.

Rounding a curve in the trail to the north side of the mountain, we entered a winter wonderland.

Rounding a curve in the trail to the north side of the mountain, we entered a winter wonderland.

We stood here appreciating the beauty until the cold set in.

We stood here appreciating the beauty until the cold set in.

Tall Peak Fire Tower. Not very towering, but a lovely stone structure. We climbed to the viewing deck very, very carefully - each step and the whole floor were solid sheets of ice!

Tall Peak Fire Tower. Not very towering, but a lovely stone structure. We climbed to the viewing deck very, very carefully – each step and the whole floor were solid sheets of ice!

 John sports the borrowed orange vest atop the fire tower.

John sports the borrowed orange vest atop the fire tower.

View from the top.

View from the top.

We dropped back down the trail to a lookout on the south side of the mountain for lunch; it was too cold and windy to eat in the fire tower.

We dropped back down the trail to a lookout on the south side of the mountain for lunch; it was too cold and windy to eat in the fire tower.

A second shot from our lunchtime lookout.

A second shot from our lunchtime lookout.

Wild oregano!

Wild oregano!

Cool spiky fruit.

Cool spiky fruit.

Ice melting off fall berries.

Ice melting off fall berries.

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).

Barn on a chicken farm under contract with Tyson. All the barns in the area had signs with the Tyson logo and the name of the farm.

Barn on a chicken farm under contract with Tyson. All the barns in the area had signs with the Tyson logo and the name of the farm.

7 Thoughts on “Shady Lake

  1. Patricia Lehne on December 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm said:

    You really have some beautiful photos of the ice covering everything and the mountain views also. By the way, what is a hang glider?

    • Thanks Mom! I’m slowly getting better at taking photos, and Heidi is getting better at writing. 🙂 I’m pretty sure you know what a hang glider is, just slipped your mind. It’s kind of like normal glider, but someone “hangs” from it and steers it. Check this link for a description.

  2. I loved that ice leaf ! It sure was beautiful from that tower. I hope this finds you away from that terrible snow and ice front that’s careening across the country right now. And I hope you are headed toward a warmer area. Where do you expect to be camping for Christmas? Ramon and I were discussing how my fantasy was always to camp out in the desert like one sees in the old western movies. A big campfire surrounded by rocks and cactus. Any of that in your future? Love to you both. ☺️

  3. After only a few days of RVing while visiting John, I can definitely appreciate that vicegrip/shower solution. However long the timer is, it’s not long enough…LOL!

    Some day, i will get around to reading the rest of this post… Glad to see you writing too, John!

  4. Judi Shila on December 10, 2013 at 9:57 am said:

    I’m enjoying reading all your posts! Such beauty. I wanted to know what you ate for lunch on your hike to the fire tower and what you ended up cooking for Thanksgiving – being the foodie that I am. By the way, I had a great visit with Johns brother Jason on a trip to Tallahassee last weekend. It was great to connect with family and share stories. Safe travels.

    • Hi Judi! Thanks so much for reading and enjoying the blog!

      Well, for lunch on our fire tower hike I didn’t have anything special, but Heidi sure did. If I remember correctly I had kipper snacks (canned herring) on multigrain bread. Heidi had…wait for it… An apple butter *and* peanut butter between two slices of apple cinnamon bread with an fresh organic apple on the side! 🙂

      Heidi made a feast for Thanksgiving and I was the sous chef. See our latest post for a description and pictures. http://statusgo.us/2013/12/10/giving-thanks-in-hot-springs/

      I’m so happy you had a chance to visit with Jason. He’s a great guy, and house being so close to the water isn’t a bad thing either. 🙂

  5. Love the ice covered trees, and also love John’s handiness solving the shower problem. I totally think you should train some crows!

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