NC 8610

We’ve been away the past two weekends.  Labor Day weekend we camped at Buffalo Point with the Whittakers and the Joneses, then this weekend, Andrew stayed at the Whittakers (and did two cleanings) while Scott and I went to Creek’s End.  I looked back through their guest book and calculated that this was our seventh time to be there!  Wow!  And we always love it.  Amazingly, the day before we arrived, it had rained enough to fill the spring pool(!!!), and on our way in, we turned off on that road to the right – I can’t remember the number, but it’s the one that crosses the Little Buffalo and then winds its way up to Castle Bluff – and took our crocs and bag chairs and sat in the water in the sun and talked.  That is one of my favorite places.

The area around Creek’s End is just perfect for walking and talking, and we usually do quite a bit of both when we’re there.  That evening, we went for a walk on the main (dirt) road back toward the community building.  Just past it, a road cut off uphill to the right.  Actually, off that main road that comes in from Parthenon, nearly all the roads go uphill, since the main road follows the Little Buffalo through the valley whenever possible.  So, yes, I suppose it’s redundant to say the road went up.  Anyway, it did, and I said, “Hey! Why don’t we walk up there?  We’ve never been on that road and we could see where it goes.”  Scott said it went up (duh) and that it would be a climb and did we really want to do that.  I replied that it might level off, and he gave me that look that means, “What you just said is completely illogical, but I love you anyway.”

So we started up it, but had only gone about 100 feet when it became obvious that he was right.  It was going to just keep climbing and climbing, and neither of us wanted to work that hard.  Scott said if we wanted to explore that road, NC 8610 (“NC” for Newton County, the most scenic county in Arkansas and probably in the entire Midwest), it would be better to drive than to walk.

Our time at Creek’s End proved to be both intensely challenging and intensely good.

As we pulled away on Sunday afternoon, we passed 8610 and I looked longingly up it.  A well-traveled dirt road going to somewhere that I cannot see is an almost irresistible draw.  Scott noted my angst and asked if I wanted to drive up it.

“Oh, yes!  Please!”

So, contrary to everything in his nature, he backed up(!!!), and we turned up 8610.

It was your typical Ozarkian dirt road; rocky, heavily wooded and with occasional gorgeous views.  Had it not been so steep, and therefore huff/puff inducing, I would have loved to walk it with my camera.  Oh, the pictures I could have taken.  But it was so steep.  Very, very steep.  It’s a lot like the road to Castle Bluff.  I was actually thankful we were going up, as up is, both as a driver and as a pedestrian, less slide-y than down, and I was very thankful we were in the Durango.  Well, without a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle, it simply wouldn’t have been possible at all.

Probably a half mile up, we saw a light tan brick house set back in the woods on the left.   A brick house!  Who builds brick houses in Newton County?  The only brick building of any kind that I remember ever seeing in Our Favorite County is the electric company building just off the square in Jasper.  And although we did see two or three power boxes (those light green, three-foot high metal pillar things) in a few places along the road, that was the last dwelling we saw for a very long time.  The population density along 8610 is not especially high.

We kept climbing and I was very glad that Scott was driving.  I think I probably could have done it, but I would have been rather fearful, not knowing where we were headed or if 8610 ever came out anywhere or not.  In fact, when we had gone probably two or three miles – though lumbering along at 5-15 mph it seemed much farther – he asked me to get out a map.  Now this was an interesting request.  I am the only member of the family who is still old school enough to use a paper map.  In fact, I am pretty sure paper maps went out with the dinosaurs.  However, in much of Newton County there is no cell reception, hence no phone internet and no e-map.  In fact, when we were on our way to Creek’s End and I was driving and Scott was working – and his work has been particularly intense lately – and he was on a series of VIP (Very Important Phone) calls, we got to Jasper, and I was driving around the square, prior to turn off 7 onto 74 and 327.  I do that on principle, you know, my theory being that if a town square presents itself, it does so only for the express purpose of being driven around, and sometimes twice.  So, Jasper being the county seat and having a very nice old courthouse in the midst of its square, I was driving S-L-O-W-L-Y around, noting (but, of course, not commentating on because Scott was on a call) the various little shops and eateries on the right, when Scott exclaimed, “No Service!”

AARRGGHH!  No cell signal and a potentially dropped call, but this made no sense.  After all, weren’t out in the boonies yet (we knew we’d lose coverage when got on 327); we were on Highway 7, a major thoroughfare if ever there was one, smack dab in the middle of downtown Jasper!  I made the next turn of the square at the bakery on the corner (I’d really like to go into that bakery sometime), and Scott said, “Got it!”  Well.  Cell coverage was clearly spotty around the square, and while it would be important for me to stop that very second exactly where I was , I knew I couldn’t parallel park the Durango in the available space to my immediate right – at least not without taking out a Subaru or two (we have decided that the local Buddhists drive Subaru wagons), so I pulled forward into an angled space in front of the office of the Newton County Times and sat on a park bench for a while.  After some 15 minutes, I got a bit bored and ventured into the courthouse to scope out the local history and legal activities and look for a bathroom.

The bathroom was on the second floor next to the courtroom, and I liked these paper signs taped to the wall in the at the landing on the broad staircase:

Court SignIt’s very easy for me to imagine someone showing up for court in Jasper in halter top, shorts, and flip-flops.  Most of those folks live back in the woods, prefer to be left alone (and have firearms to enforce that preference), vote Republican, may or may not be in violation of one or more laws, and probably don’t care.  Anyway, my point is that on 8610 there was absolutely no cell service, and I replied to Scott, “I don’t know if we have an Arkansas map in here.”

“No Arkansas map?!?”

“Well, lemme check.  We may have a Missouri map, but. . . nope.  No go on Arkansas.  All I have is Missouri.”

[with a sigh and a frown]  “Oh.  What we really need is a Newton County map.”

Now, this was a joke of major proportions.  See, I really like maps.  Paper maps.  Whenever I am in a new (or even an old) place, I want to see where I am and where I am in relation to whatever’s around me.  Location, location, location.  And on one of our earlier trips to Newton County – and in twenty-eight years, believe me, we have made a LOT of trips to Newton County – I saw a Newton County map hanging somewhere.  It may have been the one on the back porch at Creek’s End, but I think the first one I saw was even before our Creek’s End years.  In any case, I told Scott I’d like to have one of those nifty detailed maps – ooh! ooh! ooh! – and he gave me one for a birthday gift one year.  But the goofy thing is that it’s rolled up with the other maps in the playroom, and kind of like my walking stick, I never think to bring the map when we go there.  = {

This trip I am proud to announce that I did bring (and heavily used) my walking stick, but I didn’t bring the Newton County map.

No surprises there.

But Scott’s request for a map meant one of three things:

1.  Either we were lost,

2.  Or he wasn’t sure which way to go – although there had been only one turn off and we had gone left,

3.  Or he might (GASP!) turn around and go back down.

Well, #3 was admittedly highly unlikely.  It was only 2:00 PM, so we had plenty of daylight, we had more than a quarter tank of gas, and Scott does have both a typical male’s excellent sense of direction AND a really good working knowledge of Newton County topography.

#2 he would never admit.

#1 would never happen.

I certainly didn’t want to be wandering the Ozarkian hills after dark.  I did that once as a teenager with my brother and his friend down near Hot Springs.  We did indeed get lost, the authorities were called out to search for us, we stumbled out of the very dark woods onto (unknown) pavement some four hours after we had been expected to return, and we were picked up by law enforcement as we walked on the shoulder toward we had no idea where.  We later learned that from the point on that unmarked dirt road at which the female in our group finally persuaded the others to turn around and attempt to retrace our steps, if we had we kept on walking, we would not have seen anything other than a lot of trees for another 20 MILES, at which point we would have intersected. . . another unmarked dirt road.  It was a very scary experience.

I also didn’t want to run out of gas, but I REALLY didn’t want to stop until we at least figured out where the heck 8610 went.  Or, that it went nowhere and we’d have to go back down.  I don’t like to back down.  = )

We pressed on.  Ye Olde Durango lumbered valiantly over rocks and gravel and holes and branches.  We crossed deeply buried culverts and circled around stream beds.  At one point we even went up a series of zig-zagging switchbacks, and although we did see a few overgrown, grassy tires paths through the trees that, with a stretch,  might conceivably be called driveways, we didn’t see another house.  At one point, a downward traveling truck met us, but it happened to be at one of the very few places where we could ease off the decidedly one-lane road without falling off the mountain, and we let him pass.  He gave us the standard two-fingered wave which Scott returned, and we kept climbing.

There is a unique thing about the hills in Newton County, and we had already experienced it in full force when we hiked Creek’s End’s white trail on Saturday.  You climb up and up and up until you finally see blue sky and there aren’t any more trees higher than the ones beside you and the ground  levels off and you’re “on top!”  And yes, in any other part of the country, this would mean you had indeed reached the top, but that is not true in Newton County.  It’s all a deception, because at this point, you are really only halfway up.  You pause a while to breathe and then you resume climbing.  You keep climbing until you again reach “the top,” at which point you are maybe two-thirds of the way up.  Etc.

So we kept climbing and climbing and curving and climbing and climbing, but the interesting thing was that as steep and isolated as this road was, it was obviously a heavily used road.  There was NO grass – or anything else – growing in its middle!  I couldn’t figure that out.  No one lived along the road, but an awful lot of people clearly drove it for some reason on a very regular basis.

We climbed a little more (for a change, you know), and then an amazing thing happened.  8610 ran into another dirt road!  We were at a T, and directly in front of us was. . . a cemetery!!!!

Now, I do like cemeteries almost as much as maps.  And here we had found one, TOTALLY out in the boonies.  How very fun!  There was a nice pavilion with church pews lined up under it, and behind that, an outhouse labeled “WOMEN.”  I thought that was funny, because there was only the one outhouse.  I guessed that men attending funerals umm. . . went somewhere else.  We parked at the gate, which was fastened with a rubber strap, opened it and went in.  This cemetery was located on “the top” (literally) of the Ozarkian world.  It was a breezy, grassy location that had recently been mowed, and there were lots of fake flowers (in good shape, not faded) adorning the graves.  The deceased had been buried systematically starting at the far fence row and moving forward.  The most recent head stones were from the 1990s and 2000s with one just this past May, but back along the fence row we found a few from the mid-to-late 1800s!

Turns out this is the Snow cemetery, and it’s technically located in suburban Deer, AR (of Deer, Nail, Swain fame, for those of you familiar with Highway 16 in that area).   Having now googled it, I know it’s really only 3.7 miles – all uphill, in fact, quite possibly uphill both ways – from the mailboxes in downtown Murray.  This photo of downtown Murray was taken on a previous Creek’s End trip.

Downtown Murray, ARWe thoroughly scoped the Snow cemetery, and I did locate the men’s room, which I had not seen on initial inspection because it was located over a slight rise maximally distant from the gate.  After my thoroughly inspecting the ladies’ facility, we left the cemetery, wove our way around on a few more dirt roads, eventually hit pavement, and successfully avoided hitting a small herd of cattle walking down the middle of the road.  Scott said they reminded him of Niger.  At Alum Cove, just off Highway 28, we had a delightful picnic lunch, during which I learned that it’s easier to cut peppers and tomatoes with first aid scissors than with a house key.

Suffice it to say that we will both retain fond memories of our exploration of NC 8610.

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