Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Friendly reminder

As we await Scott’s arrival from a mission trip on a late night United flight from Denver, I thought it would be helpful for each of us to be reminded of some basic rules for success in the travel realm of life.

I really do wish I had a record of when this classic list was first created; I’m thinking it was after the infamous international peanut butter trip, which was probably in about 2013 or 2014. At some subsequent time, Katie sent the following reminder to Scott, which I finally saved (with gratitude) in a Word document dated February 26, 2017.

At this time, let us all take a moment to once again consider with deep appreciation…

Katie’s Rules of Air Travel

“Given your recent experiences, I thought you might be able to use a friendly reminder of these basic rules.

  1. Never fly.
  2. If you must fly between December and February, don’t fly. Driving, biking, hitchhiking, and jetskiing are all better options.
  3. Never check a bag, unless it is completely unavoidable, in which case you should find a way to avoid it.
  4. Never fly United.
  5. Never fly on the last flight of the day.
  6. Peanut butter is a liquid.

You’re welcome.”

It’s now 9:37 PM, and Scott’s flight initially scheduled to arrive at 11:17 PM has now been delayed to 11:37 PM. He is only in violation of Rules #1, #3, #4, and #5.

And so we wait.

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Better than Burrowsville*

I drove to North Little Rock this week to visit my parents for a few days. We had a wonderful time, just relaxing, talking with each other, reminiscing, and eating things like ham and hash brown casserole and of course chocolate chip ice cream; for Mom and Dad there are no other flavors. We enjoyed a meal at Gadwall’s Grill, and David and Dad did much research and analysis and gave me their combined wisdom (that’s a lot of wisdom!) about the details involved in replacing my ailing, chronically lost iPhone with an Android specimen. It was a great trip, and I’m so glad I got to see all of my family of origin.

I do collect town squares, so before I headed south, I checked my [GASP!] paper map to see if I could maybe snag another town square on the way. I had never thought about the fact that Highway 65 goes directly through four county seats: Harrison, Marshall, Clinton, and Conway. I’ve seen Harrison’s town square (very nice), Clinton’s would be a bit off the beaten path, probably west of the highway(?), and by the time I’d get to Conway, I’d just want to get on I-40 and finish up, so I thought about Marshall. How was it that I couldn’t remember ever turning off 65 to explore Marshall? Of course, I ‘d been to the Daisy Queen and Harp’s grocery and that ultra-foul, incredibly nasty gas station restroom (it’s closed for remodeling now) and McDonald’s and Subway, and back in the day when the kids were young we had a tradition of stopping for lunch at Pizza Hut’s pizza buffet, but even though I’ve whizzed through Marshall at 40 mph more than 75 times – what with visiting family and floating the Buffalo and such – I’d never actually gotten off Highway 65.

This time I did.

It was about noon and very hot and humid. My car thermometer said 99, and we later heard that the heat index was 113, so I didn’t do an extensive reconnoiter, but I did drive around the square twice, and I did take a picture of the courthouse. (I place a high priority on documenting my town square visits, at least in writing and preferably with photographic proof.)

 Searcy County Courthouse

I then walked around a little neighborhood, saw a log cabin in the middle of “town,”

and found a weird old building with iron bars on all the windows. It looks like it’s maybe being renovated, but I wonder if it may have at one time been the county jail.

Searcy County jail

Mystery building

Well, hot dog in the fog! Check this out!

And then when I saw that Highway 27 sign on the corner, I thought… well, I bet Katie can guess what I thought. It was along the lines of, “I wonder where Highway 27 goes,” so I decided to find out. It quickly wound out into the country, the road was nice (standard two-lane, slightly curvy, slightly hilly), and the scenery in those parts is so lovely that all you can say is, “Ahhhh.” I could’ve kept going, but it occurred to me that I had no idea where Highway 27 would end up, so I pulled off and looked at my official Arkansas Highway Department map ‘o joy and saw that while I needed to travel basically southeast (the way Highway 65 goes), Highway 27 was going basically southwest with a fairly strong emphasis on the west. It was heading out into the I’m sure gorgeous Buffalo River area, from which there would be no way to get back to Highway 65. So I turned around, went back into town, and picked up Highway 65 south to Dennard, Botkinburg, Clinton, Bee Branch, Damascus, Greenbrier, and Conway.

But I made a mental note (which I should probably put in my phone… hmm…) that some day I do want to thoroughly explore Highway 27 southwest out of Marshall.

Although my Marshall town square visit was brief, probably only some 30 minutes total, I was very pleased with the results. And then on my way home a couple days later, I stopped again and actually went inside the Searcy County public library! Now, we all see that blue and white library sign every time we go north through Marshall, and of course we all wonder what that library is like. The sign is hanging there at that stoplight where there’s a stone wall on the left (around a church yard?) so close to the road that we think we’d scrape it if we tried to turn in there. Well, I turned in there and didn’t scrape, even in my hefty Durango. I went a block and, seeing no library or any other pertinent signage, I asked some good old boys who were working on a sewer/paving project where the library was, and they pointed me to it. I didn’t take any pictures of it, but I found this small picture on Wikipedia.

     Searcy County Library    (Wikipedia)

I’m telling you, it was so very delightful. I do love, love, love a small town library. Just does my heart good. This one is funded with a county tax, but it had all the good old time-tested kids books and not so many of the new politically correct ones. Please note that I said “BOOKS.” We’re talking the printed and bound kind with ink on pages that you hold in your hands and read, and they actually had more of those than videos; way to go, Searcy County! I could’ve stayed for an hour, but since I had to get home, I just told the desk clerk how much I liked his library, and hit the road.

All in all, I definitely know more about Marshall than I did. I wish I’d stopped a few decades ago. I wonder what other interesting places I keep driving by and never seeing…

 

* Before the Civil War, Marshall was called Burrowsville.

Record breaking

Some time ago, on a mission trip to India, two of Scott’s checked bags failed to arrive in New Delhi when he did. He had flown United from Chicago to New Delhi and would be flying Air India to another city. Because those bags contained some important and necessary items, and because he was scheduled to fly immediately on to Visakhapatnam, this was a rather significant problem. Of course, it does happen occasionally when he’s flying home, but that is generally no big deal here. At the Springfield airport, he simply reports the bag missing, they tell him it will be in on the next flight, we go home without it, and they deliver it to our door (53 minutes away) the following morning.

Not so in India.

Scott was exhausted and about to finally get to sleep, so he sent me the tag numbers of his two missing checked bags and asked me to contact United’s baggage service to find out when they would arrive.

I called United, and after a 22-minute hold, talked to a real man whose Indian name I could not understand, pronounce, or remember. He could not look up the tag numbers Scott had given me because they were incomplete, but since Scott had (brilliant man!) taken a photo of the claim tags and sent that to me, I was able to get those essential missing first four digits (0016). Whew! The man looked them up, confirmed that they were for Scott Lindsay Roberts, and said that he was not positive, but he thought they had already been handed off to Air India. This was at my 1:23 PM Sunday.

Patty: These are my husband’s bags and he is currently in New Delhi. Will his bags arrive in New Delhi on United 126 today?

Man: Air India will be responsible to get them to Visakhapatnam.

Patty: So he won’t pick them up in New Delhi?

Man: I believe they have already cleared customs. And Air India will get them to Visakhapatnam. You will need to call Air India with further questions.

Lovely.

He gave me a File Reference Number: DELAI24722 and two different phone numbers for Air India: 800-223-7776 and 212-751-6200. He said I would have to give Air India only the last 6 digits of the tag numbers.

I then called the 800 Air India number, and it said my hold time would be 10 minutes. Hoping the other one would be faster, I called it, and it just rang forever and no one answered. So I called back the 800 number, and it again said my hold time would be 10 minutes. I was hopefuI, but my hope was decidedly premature. I then proceeded to be on hold with Air India, not having yet spoken with a person, for 1 hour and 40 minutes (from 1:55 PM till 3:35 PM) – clearly a new record!!

When a woman finally answered, I told her I had two bag ticket numbers and I needed to know where those bags were. I had a VERY hard time understanding her and had to ask her over and over and over again to repeat herself very slowly, but even with that, much of it I still could not understand. (My friend, Debbie, was here at the time – my phone was on speaker – and Debbie said she couldn’t understand ANY of it!)

I gave the lady the two 6-digit numbers, and she asked if she could put me on hold for a few minutes. Really?!? Debbie laughed, I took a deep breath, decided it was an act of faith, and said yes. The lady came back very quickly and said I should give her a phone number and Air India Baggage would call me back.

Patty: Can you tell me where the bags are? Or when they will arrive?

Lady: Air India Baggage is not available. Please give me a phone number and they will call you back.

Patty: [sighing] It’s a United States number. Is that OK?

Lady: Yes, sure, that is fine.

Patty: Here is my number (I gave it to her).

Lady: Is the code 1?

Patty: I don’t know! I think the country code for the U.S. is 1, but I don’t know for sure!

Lady: Yes, that is fine.

Patty: OK, but when can I expect them to call me back?

Lady: They will call you back in 3 to 4 hours.

Patty: So, I guess I will just wait for 3 or 4 hours?

Lady: That is correct. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Patty: No.

Lady: Thank you for calling Air India. Have a good day.

Patty: Thank you.

And we hung up at 3:40 PM Sunday. As of 6:15 PM Sunday, when it had been 2 hours and 35 minutes, they had not yet called back, and in fact, they never did call back.

I can say for a fact that Air India on-hold plays a 15-second “we’re sorry you’re having to wait; we’ll be with you as soon as possible; in the meantime you can visit us online” recording every 40 seconds. I know because I heard that recording 150 times. Literally. I want a medal for breaking the existing on-hold record.

Roberts Reunion 2019 – part 2 (Monday)

Here are some Monday highlights before I forget them.

~ Scott and I talked with Milt and Becky at their house fairly (about life in general and Mom in particular); during our conversation I watched Mom diligently walking her laps on the porch, ramp, and front walk.

~ Mom demonstrated her new wonder bed to Kevin, Elsa, and John. It is quite amazing. Then they all went over to Mom’s house to visit for a while.

~ Susie and I were able to have an encouraging one-on-one conversation at our house. I think our menfolk were both working…? or talking…?

~ A subset of the cousins went to Starbucks [which cousins were involved?].

~ Katie went with Kristy to take Isabel for her volunteer shift at the library.

~ Scott, Andrew, and I had lunch at our house, finishing off the last of our homemade salsa. Just as we were cleaning up and preparing to leave for bowling, Katie and Kristy arrived. They inhaled lunch while Scott, Andrew and I drove a very convoluted series of backroads to Strikers in [name of town, SC], where our large gang with Groupons presented an at least mild level of challenge to the staff.  = )

~ Bowling was lots of fun! Grandma and Susie had balcony seating and cheered everyone on. I think we were divided as follows:

Lane 3: Krit/Bec, Isabel, John, Milt

Lane 4: Andrew, Scott, Jon, Stuart, Hannah???, ???

Lane 5: Rachelle, Amanda, Elsa, Katie, me

We bowled two games (Elsa only one).

I struggled the first game (77)due to the pain of walking in bowling shoes, but the second game I used the “just stand at the foul line and roll it” strategy, which worked MUCH better (110!).

Katie also had a hard time, but definitely improved in the second game. She is such a cheerful trooper!

Grandma ended up wrapping herself in someone’s camo jacket to keep warm.

Jon, who seems to be all arms and legs, had a crazy technique that resulted in either strikes or gutter balls.

Amanda had great power but less precision.

Stuart consistently bowled very well.

Hannah’s goal was to come in third.

I totally enjoyed Andrew and Rachelle’s intense rivalry. They exchanged very narrow (two or three point) victories.

~ After bowling, a larger subset of cousins went to Starbucks.  = )  [Which cousins?]

~ Lesson learned: When you preparing to cook away from home, be sure to bring ALL the required ingredients; baked beans need brown sugar! Scott graciously rescued me by going to Mom’s house to get some from her pantry… more on that later.

~ Our burger cookout at the Jones home was a great success. We ate lots of good food [ask Becky for her salad and potato recipes], the cousins played games including Pandemic, and Stuart is now the rookie cornhole champion of the year, having expertly tossed his VERY LAST beanbag in a clutch so as to both sink it AND knock off another one so as to win the game! And there was much rejoicing.  = )

~ I was really glad to get to talk a bit with Kevin (inside before dinner) and Stuart (outside during dinner – while serving myself to a horde of mosquitoes on the back step). The mid-generation ladies (Becky, Kristy, Susie, and me) later talked around the table with empathy; we can identify with each other as we all have parents in their 80s who are in varying degrees of health and ability. We also shared a lot of laughs.

~ While enjoying the sumptuous repast out back, Scott talked with Mom about the possibility of sub-letting her house and also his plan to get her pantry cleaned out the following morning. She was agreeable to both, and as I type this Tuesday morning, Scott is at her house tackling the pantry.

~ So far during our time in Waxhaw, I have been motivated to:

– work on my strengthening my core and improving my posture

– be more intentional about staying in touch with our kids

– figure out practical ways for us to help Mom

– reply to emails/texts/calls promptly

– get our own will updated (set up a trust?)

~ Elsa is quite the amazing young lady – creative, determined, gorgeous, resourceful, independent – and with hugs all around we saw her off; she would have a 7:00 AM flight Tuesday.

~ Hannah, Jon, Katie, and Andrew reconvened at our house for a Spider Man movie while Scott beat me soundly first at Gin Rummy and then at the stupid game.

~ I’m so thankful for a great bed. It’s more comfortable than ours at home!

Cowell

We’d done Pedestal Rocks, and all that was left of our four-day, three-night getaway was to drive home. On our way, we took a picture that will surely live in infamy.

Back when we lived in Little Rock (23+ years ago), we made MANY trips north to the Buffalo River area and/or to a remote youth camp called Castle Bluff that Scott had helped construct. On the way, we’d always stop in Russellville to eat at our all-time favorite burger place, Feltner’s Whatta-Burger. Their made-to-order burgers were awesome (still are), their orders of fries were huge, and Scott often got either a limeade and/or a banana shake to go. He was always driving, and we’d take Hwy 7 north through Dover an on up. I remember Dover, with its sharp left turn at the grocery and then that bridge over Illinois Bayou where that one guy had a wreck coming home from a Singles Life float trip because he wouldn’t stay in Scott’s caravan…

Anyway, sometime after Dover and before we turned off 7 onto 16 for the Deer/Nail/Swain section, I’d always doze off for a while. (After all, doesn’t a belly full of cheeseburger and fries plus a car ride obviously equal a nap?) And when I’d wake up, Scott would always tell me that we’d gone through Cowell, but that I had missed it AGAIN. For many years I had the privilege of listening to the “You slept through Cowell” refrain every time we went to Castle Bluff, and through the years, my desire to actually see Cowell grew and grew.

Well, our route home from Pedestal Rocks took us west on Hwy 16 to Lurton and then north on Hwy 7/16 toward Jasper. Shortly before Hwy 16 cut off west for Deer/Nail Swain, Scott said, “Hey, we’re about to go through Cowell!”

Oh, boy! What an opportunity! And I was actually wide awake!

“Now don’t blink or you’ll miss it!”

Eagerly, I stared ahead. There was really nothing to see except grassy rolling hills and deep wooded valleys, but then… Sweet Georgia Peaches! We spotted it up ahead: the actual, literal, green-and-white Cowell sign! Oh, the joy! I was, of course, definitely going to get a picture of the sign, but Scott insisted that I needed to be in the picture in order to document for all posterity that I had actually experienced Cowell. He pulled over where Hwy 55 (a less substantial thoroughfare than Coffee Road) cuts off down a hill to the east, and I hopped out, grateful that there would be no good old boys around to see me grinning like an idiot in front of the green Cowell sign.

But while Scott was getting the shot set up, wouldn’t you know it? A couple of local men in their 40s and overalls came driving up “Hwy” 55 pulling a trailer of equipment, and they stopped to ask if we needed help. Well, thank you, but no, we were just going to take a picture of the wife and the sign and be on our way. They were fine with that, smiled, waved, and drove off. I guess they’re used to touristy types posing by that infamous landmark…

And now, here’s proof positive – after 33 years of passing through it – that I have indeed been to Cowell.

Pedestal Rocks

I really want to break my habit of not blogging immediately after or within a short period of time – like a week – after something interesting happens. When I get too far from an event, I simply can’t remember the details, and then I’m sad that I can’t write about it very well. “Discipline, discipline, discipline, Patty!

Our final excursion on our April getaway happened on our way home. Scott had heard from a tennis buddy about a great hike at a place called Pedestal Rocks. Neither of us had ever heard about it, which was odd, particularly because it’s on Highway 16 (of Deer/Nail/Swain fame) only a few miles east of the extremely well-beaten Highway 7 Little Rock-to-Castle Bluff path. And after doing the hike there, Scott was aghast at the fact that we had somehow failed to take our own children there. “This would’ve been an AWESOME place for the kids! I can’t BELIEVE we never brought them here. How is it that we didn’t know about it?!?”

There are two trails there, Kings Bluff and Pedestal Rocks, and we chose the latter and had no regrets. It was basically flat with lots of opportunities for Scott to leave the trail and explore rock formations, waterfalls, and odd crevasses. The scenery was gorgeous and the pedestals; well, they are hard to describe, and there were so darn many of them! The trail weaves along the edge of a bluff where erosion has left these odd “pedestals” just standing out there, begging to be investigated and/or climbed.

We stopped for a picnic lunch on a big flat rock. Our little site overlooked a lovely waterfall, so Scott was compelled to hike down and do some exploring.

    There’s an intermittent waterfall down there. It was running that day.

Needing handholds, he grabbed the lower trunks of these very tall, very skinny trees, only to find out the hard way that they were… thorn trees! OUCH! And of course, we had no Band-Aids. Well, there were some a half-mile back in the glove box of the Durango. Decidedly unhelpful, but oh well. It was only a little blood.

I rested on the rock while he explored.

                                   Not my most flattering portrait

The trail was lovely, and with Scott carrying the remains of our lunch along with most of our other “gear,” I was free to focus on stepping carefully and enjoying the scenery.

 

 

We found this scenic arch, and…

 

of course, Scott was compelled to conquer it!

Soon thereafter, we rounded a curve and suddenly there stood a very strange pillar jutting up as if placed by some giant chess player!

Its shape was just weird, almost like a chimney, and it was hard to get a full picture of it through the trees. Evidently this was THE pedestal of “Pedestal Rocks” fame – and there would surely be another one to justify the plural. Little did we know!

We just kept seeing them over and over. The trail was at the same level as the tops of the pedestals. Walking on the level is much easier for me, so I stayed on the trail while Scott frequently climbed down to explore the bases of the pedestals and the interesting cracks, crevices, and little caves below. I guess what happened was that over time the ground was washed away, and these odd towers were of hard enough rock that they remained. Erosion leftovers, so to speak. Very, very interesting topography.

   No, didn’t climb up there to pose; I just walked a few paces off the trail.                         Scott climbed down to explore and take my picture.

We really enjoyed the hike and all the wonderful views. Did I mention that the weather was perfect too?  = )

 

I was pretty worn out by the end of our 2.2 mile hike, but we were both SUPER glad to have fully experienced Pedestal Rocks.

 

Burger Barn

After viewing Haw Creek Falls and then spending an inordinate amount of effort trying to get a decent selfie of the two of us in front of it/them(?), and being quite hungry, we sped off to the Burger Barn in Ozone. By this time, it was probably after 3:00 PM, and we wondered if they’d still be serving lunch. Aren’t smartphones a wonderful thing? While Scott followed Siri’s directions, I called the Burger Barn, but sadly that number had been disconnected or was no longer in service. Although I did not feel I had reached that recording in error, I tried again for good measure and got the same result. Not to worry; if the Burger Barn was closed, we’d just stop at some other restaurant in Ozone.

We were approaching Ozone on Highway 21 from the south, and I will say that there wasn’t really a great deal to see. Some readers may be familiar with the approach to Walnut Shade, and I’d say the two are comparable. There was an official green highway sign that said “Ozone,” but with no population given I had to assume it’s an unincorporated area. We tooled along for about a mile, looking for the Burger Barn and passing fields with cows (I guess those would be considered “pastures”), small houses with chickens about, a couple buildings that looked like they may have housed small businesses at some point, and the Ozone post office sporting its handicapped spot. [Note that this is not my picture; I pulled it off the internet and the only information I could find about it was that it was taken in 2017.]


Continuing slowly along, we passed through what seemed to be Ozone proper and appeared to be heading out of town when, rounding a curve to the left, we saw it at last: the Burger Barn! We had arrived at what turned out to be the only restaurant in Ozone, Arkansas.

This was not exactly what we had expected, but given how hungry we were, considering how good all the reviews in the guest book had been, and being determined to experience as much local culture as possible on our trip, we pulled in. A friendly, somewhat scruffy-looking, bearded and pony-tailed twenty-something greeted us at the window, motioned toward the handwritten menu on the marker board in the window to our right, and asked what we’d like. Cheeseburgers were $7.00, and cheeseburgers with fries were $8.00, so we went all out and each got our own order of fries. Good thing we’d brought cash; a hand-scrawled sign read, “NO Debit or CREDIT CARDS, Local Checks Only.” The man seated at the window said he’d get those cooking, and we wandered around the place while we waited.

Another guy of similar vintage and dress asked the chef something about certain cleaning supplies, and we later learned that he was on a motorcycle journey from Georgia to Colorado and had stopped in Ozone, Arkansas for a while. Interesting. I think he was earning his keep at the Burger Barn compound by doing some clean-up chores…

It was clear that eating at the Burger Barn would be a journal-worthy experience, so I took some pictures while we stood around discussing the environs and trying to figure out the history of the place. As the only customers in the mid-afternoon, we could have our choice of eating inside…

or outside.

We opted for the dining “room,” but future diners should be warned about that far picnic table. I sat down on one end of the bench and the whole thing went flying up, à la seesaw!

Cats featured prominently throughout our getaway; our guest house had at least five outdoor cats, including one who was pregnant and liked to sit behind me on the patio chair when I was reading or writing; they were fun to watch. One got into the Durango as we were loading up, and another one – or maybe the same one – spent some time one morning on top of the Durango. There were also cats hanging around the Oark General Store, a place one should NOT bother visiting even though it does claim to be the oldest continually-operated store in Arkansas (since 1890).

Scott on the porch of the Oark General Store and Café

The staff there were rude, the service was terrible, the price was high, and Scott’s shake was no good. In fact, the only two worthy things about the Oark General Store were the really neat (probably original) wooden floors and this sign.

But back to the Burger Barn and cats. There were several, including this one who played hide and seek with this chicken… after we’d chased the chicken off our table!

The “grounds” of the Burger Barn were interesting: a tiny house, two trailers (one temporary, one semi-permanent?), several portable outbuildings, a fountain that wasn’t running, a defunct basketball goal, what appeared to be a covered hot tub, children’s yard toys, a porta-potty, a satellite dish, and a finer assortment of miscellaneous stuff sitting around, seemingly wherever it had been dropped.

In about 15 minutes, our host called out the window that our food was ready, and when we picked it up, he said that he’d given us some tots because he’d run out of fries. It all smelled wonderful. A wide variety of condiments were available on our covered table, and the food was quite good and filling, although I did briefly wonder if the health department even knew the place existed… In any case, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, Scott and I were outside together, and we got to enjoy a tasty meal in what can only be described as very unique surroundings. (And yes, I realize that’s redundant.)

We were very happy campers, and I can wholeheartedly recommend the Burger Barn in Ozone. Everyone really should eat there once. And have their picture taken in the rocker. = )

Haw Creek Falls

In thumbing through the guest book at Panther Cabin, several things were mentioned repeatedly by numerous guests. Unfortunately, I realized I wouldn’t be able to navigate the two-mile round trip (downhill and back up) hike to the much-acclaimed Glory Hole Falls, but having definitively conquered the fire tower and its accompanying Jiffy Lube precursor, we pressed on to Haw Creek Falls. It was early afternoon, we hadn’t packed a picnic lunch because we were planning lunch out at a special location, and Scott was quite hungry and munching on trail mix as we tooled along.

We did eventually come out – that is, off the dirt road onto pavement – and in less than five miles arrived at our next scenic destination: Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area. This is the one that claimed an “accessible trail to the falls,” which would surely be just the ticket for me.

I will add here that virtually all our goings-on during this trip occurred within the Ozark National Forest, a massive swath of primarily forested hills covering much of northwest Arkansas. Wikipedia informs me that “… the Ozark National Forest was created by proclamation of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 to preserve 917,944 acres (3,714.79 km2) across five Arkansas counties,” including our long-time favorite, Newton County. I’ve decided that I really like the Ozark National Forest. Its recreational areas, sites, and trails are not as heavily used those of state parks; its minimal signage, while making some trail heads difficult or impossible to find, lets me enjoy the natural beauty more; and in each of my multiple visits to several of its vault toilets, I found them all to be clean, not foul-smelling, and well-stocked with T.P. What’s not to like?

Arriving at Haw Creek Falls Recreational Area, we (in the Durango) forded a low water crossing, parked and could see from our parking place that the “accessible trail to the falls” was actually about a thirty foot-long flat gravel path, and the falls themselves actually weren’t very high.

But they were definitely unique, with water flowing over in two criss-crossed directions at the same time.

I took  several pictures of the falls, and Scott worked hard – and we laughed a lot – trying to take selfies of the two of us with the falls in the background. (I plan to update this post with some of those pictures from his phone when I get them.

All in all, it was a delightful stop before hunger drove us on to the Burger Barn.

Finding Jiffy Lube (continued)

I frequently have a hard time letting go of things (thoughts, worries, and ideas, as well as actual, physical stuff) when I can’t achieve a level of closure, and I kept thinking about that abandoned tower and those puzzling foundations. “You know, Scott, what would be great would be if we could somehow find someone who knows the local history and could tell us about the tower and what the heck those foundations were for.” I don’t recall his response because I was busy inhaling the deep beauty of the drive, what with the redbuds in bloom and the dogwoods just on the verge of flowering and sunlight filtering through that special “new spring growth” shade of light green new that so refreshes my soul. Ah!

Up ahead, an older man crossed the road left-to-right in front of us. I think he was carrying a shovel or a rake or something. In the past decade or so, I’ve overcome my embarrassment of looking like a fool when I want to know something, so I asked Scott to slow down from our rip-roaring 15 mph, and I leaned out the window toward the man. It was an absolutely picture perfect, sunny spring day, about 70 degrees with almost no breeze. I said “Hi” and “How are you today?” and he replied that he’d been better but he guessed he was okay. I commented that he must be a rebel [his hat said REBEL], and that we were out on a joy ride and had driven up to that tower back there [pointing], and he nodded knowingly.

“I’m wondering if you know anything about that tower – I assume it’s a fire tower? – [he nodded] and the foundations of some kind of buildings we saw up there. There were some really weird walls and things that my husband said [here I laughed ashamedly] look like an oil change pit!!!”

“It is an oil change pit!”

“You’re kidding me!”

“No, that’s really what it is.”

Now I’ve known some older men—and some not-so-old-men—who have delighted in telling me crazy stories that I’ve been naïve enough to believe. I couldn’t tell if this man was stringing me along or not.

“You’re pulling my leg!”

[shaking his head and grinning slightly] “No. There used to be a house up there, a really big house. And the family that lived there had some kids that I rode the school bus with. The bus came over the mountain and picked up those kids—”

“You mean up by the tower?!? Up that road?!?”

“Oh, yes! The bus went up over the mountain, up that road and got those kids. Then it came down and [motioning the direction we were headed] picked up my wife down in the little red house, then came back around and didn’t go over the mountain, but went back out and picked up one other boy just this side of Salus [“SAY-luss”]. I rode that bus. And yes, we went up and down that road to the tower every day. And you should’ve seen that bus making that trip in the winter in the snow!!!”

“That is UNBELIEVABLE!!!”

“Yes. See, the family that lived there, the man, he was the fire spotter, and he went up in that tower at a certain time every morning and stayed there till a certain time in the evening, to look for fires. That was his job—“

“Kind of like a lighthouse keeper?”

“Yeah, I’ve been up there many times when he was up there. And his kids rode the bus to school. They had a really nice big house, and that was their oil change pit. For real.”

“Wow… the foundation was so big, we thought maybe it was some kind of business or hotel or something.”

“No, it was a house, just one family, and when they closed the tower, then they left.”

“I have better manners than to ask how old you are, but—”

“I’m seventy.”

“… so… it’s been a while since you rode that school bus.”

“Yes, it has.”

“Do you know what happened to the tower? When they closed it?”

“Well, it was about in the 70s. They used to have fire towers everywhere, but then they brought in planes and they started closing the towers. It was in the 50s and 60s that they lived there and I rode the bus up that road. They left this tower after it was closed, but a lot of them they took out. They used helicopters to carry them out. They disconnected them from the ground and then lifted them out with helicopters!”

Wow. His was the most amazing story, and he was glad to share it with us. We thanked him and headed on our way. Since he lives on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, I’m guessing not too many people have asked him about that tower lately, but I was so thrilled to hear that history. There’s nothing quite like a living, breathing primary source, and we were surely blessed with a wonderful one on April 10, 2019 on the side of Johnson County Road 5598.

Who’da thunk? It really was an oil change pit.  = )

Finding Jiffy Lube

Scott and I are enjoying a mini-vacation at a cabin deep in the woods of Johnson County, AR, and yesterday we decided to take a little road trip in search of a hiking trail that a previous guest at Panther Cabin had mentioned in the guest book. “We didn’t get to do as much hiking as I would have liked, but I would definitely recommend Pam’s Grotto. Details are below… Access is off Hwy. 123 about ½ mile from Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area. The trail head is not marked but can be found. The hike is ~1/2 mile one-way and starts moderate but ends with a short stretch that is STRENUOUS. The reward is a waterfall & pool (small) with a large shelf cave. Good luck!”

So our immediate goal was to get from where we were, out on a logging road about three miles northwest of Ozone, to the Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area, which we were able to locate on our trusty Arkansas highway map. As it turns out, it would have been most helpful to have had a Johnson County map that shows all the little dirt back roads, but alas, the only county maps we own (Taney County, MO and Newton County, AR) are currently at home in our map bin in the playroom.

A brochure in our cabin indicated that Haw Creek Falls campground had an “accessible” trail to the falls, so we thought we’d head there first, then maybe locate the trail head that “is not marked but can be found,” and possibly hike to Pam’s Grotto before eating a late lunch at the (highly recommended) Burger Barn in Ozone.

Scott drove, which is always the best option on country roads. He is better at navigating them than I am, and it leaves me free to ooh, ah, point, enjoy, and commentate. According to the Arkansas highway map, we’d need to take Highway 21 north to Salus (a town whose name we didn’t know how to pronounce), then spend some eight to ten miles on a road that was gray and unnumbered. We like exploring those kinds of roads, and with Scott driving and ¾ of a tank of gas, I was merrily unconcerned.

It was a fairly rugged dirt road (think rocks, ruts, and 15 mph), and maybe two miles in, I spied, very high up in front of us, a TOWER! It looked like a fire tower; you know, one of those with lots of flights of steps zig-zagging to a little covered deck at the top? Oh, how exciting! While dozens of steps don’t do anything in particular for me, I have known Scott to be compelled to explore such structures, sometimes even climbing past warning signs… Anyway, I saw the tower, and the road was definitely climbing, but somehow I lost sight of it, and when we seemed to be up on a relative flat that was surely near the top of everything, the tower had completely disappeared from view. Bummer! How could something to prominent suddenly be so gone? The road curved, and then just at the point where it appeared we would start heading down, we passed another dirt road that cut off to the left.

“Scott! I bet that’s the road up to the tower! Let’s go check it out.”

He hesitated. Genetically, Robertses are disinclined to turn around and go back—in any area of life, and especially on road trips. [NOTE: I do clearly recall that he did turn around and go back (I think for the first time in his life) when we were on a road trip to meet his parents before we got married. We were headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway and had just passed the last bathroom for many miles when I announced that I had to go. He looked at me in a certain tone of voice, asked if I could hold it for fifty miles (I could not), and somewhat grudgingly turned around. I think one of my subconscious goals for the past 32 years has been to avoid asking Scott to turn around, J and I will say that nurture has triumphed over nature; he has mellowed greatly on this point through the years.]

This time he said, “You really want to?”

“Oh, yes! We’re so close, we’ve just got to check it out!”

And he backed up (no problem as there was absolutely no traffic) and nosed the Durango up a very deeply rutted, very steep dirt road, strewn with large tree limbs and big rocks, and several places where it seemed we might bottom out. It was like walking the Durango up a ladder, one tire at a time. I was praying for God to have mercy on me (for making this crazy request) and protect us from damaging the car and/or getting stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. Well, Scott is an excellent driver who loves a challenge, and he inched that baby over, up, and through every obstacle without so much as a scrape, and as we finally got up on the flat and turned to the right, there in front of us was the base of that glorious tower. How terribly exciting!

Durango left

3041 left

Like virtually all fire towers these days, its lowest flight of steps had been removed, probably to keep vandals, teenage boys, and people like My Hero from climbing up and possibly getting hurt. We walked around it and took pictures, but with all the trees grown up around it, it was hard to even see the whole thing. Originally, I think it must have had something like seven flights of wooden steps. We scoped the bluffs behind it. Although much smaller, it reminded me of Petit Jean or Mt. Nebo: similar height, flat on the top, with gorgeous views in several directions of faraway valleys and ranges that stretched away to the horizon.

IMG_3045

It was definitely a worthy fire tower, and while we were up there, Scott strolled over to the other “side” of the mountaintop and called back, “There’s a house here. More than one.” Of course, this I had to see. The actual house(s) were gone, and joining him, I stood looking at a series of curious rock foundations. Curious because, for one thing, they were built on the side of the mountaintop that faced away from the gorgeous views (why would anyone do that?), and for another thing, there were several squares or rectangles of them all in a row. Had this been more than one house? Or some apartments? Or, a la Mt. Nebo, some kind of hotel for guests?

IMG_3046.JPG

And even more curious was a long set of two-tiered concrete “beams” jutting out from the rest of the foundation(s) on the downhill side and supported by extensive rock work. Scott examined them and said, “Looks like an oil change pit!” Yeah, right!

IMG_0322.JPG

Finding historical gems like these always delights and intrigues me. Being naturally curious, I’m highly motivated to figure out what they are and who created them – and when and why. We wandered around the ruined foundations and took a few pictures—just in case we ended up in Clarksville and went to the Johnson County courthouse and found some elderly history buff-ish person whom we might ask about the fire tower and the interesting foundations near it; we could show the person the pictures so he or she would know what we were talking about. Walking back to the Durango, we also noted a long line of equally spaced, upended boulders on the opposite side of the circular dirt turn-around that seemed to indicate a parking area. It seemed like this whole development must’ve been some kind of a commercial enterprise, but up on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere?!? We laughed about Scott’s crazy statement about those concrete “tracks” being an oil change pit, then piled back into the Durango, inched our way back down that treacherous road to the main dirt road, and turned left heading (hopefully) toward the elusive Pam’s Grotto trailhead near Haw Creek Falls.

To be continued…


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