6th Annual Hassey "Goat Vacation"
We decided that our second day in Arkansas would be our "Big Day". I had read about "Goat Trail" and obviously had to take our packgoats there. It looked like there were several other interesting trails that connected to the same area and I chose about a 10-12 mile route. We woke up to a cloudy day wrapped in fog so we wore warm layers and packed rain gear on the goats. It ended up being the perfect weather for what turned out to be a 15 mile hike. It was comfortably cool and the flies and other biting insects mostly stayed in hiding.  

Other insects, however, were not so dissuaded by the cool temperatures. We found this fellow moseying across the trail. I moved him off it after we took the picture because he blended in too well with his surroundings and I didn't want him to get crunched. 

Our second lesson about Arkansas (the first was about burrs if you remember) is that it is covered in spiders. They're not mean, biting spiders and they're kind of neat to look at, but they are everywhere and they build webs across all the trails so the person walking in front feels like he's in an Indiana Jones movie. Phil, being our fearless leader, spent the whole day wearing and inadvertently eating spider webs. By our last day in Arkansas he had figured out the trick of waving a stick in front as he walked, which eliminated most of the problem. 

Goat Trail to Big Bluff: How can you take packgoats to Ponca, Arkansas and NOT take this little detour. 

Not far down the trail, the terrain took on a drastically different look and began to remind me of Utah but with a lot more trees. 

This may have been our favorite part of the trail so I'm going to post too many pictures of it. The trail passes along a narrow shelf of rock overlooking the Buffalo River.

It's a long drop so we took the precaution of keeping our goats leashed (except for the part where Sputnik got away while I was fiddling with the camera).


I loved this little window. 

"How high up is that?"

The trees on the cliff gave you a false sense of feeling like it wasn't a high bluff, but it's a good 350-foot drop. It's not straight down--you'd bounce a few times before you hit the bottom.   

How did you find this awesome hike? It seems no matter where you go you find great hiking places!
Goatberries Happen!
I found this trail on the internet--where else? Smile 
We discovered the Ponca/Jasper, Arkansas area last year when Phil and I drove through on our way to a family reunion in Virginia. We decided then that we had to come back for a goat packing trip. I Googled trails in the area and came up with this one. 

And the fun didn't stop! 

Goat Trail was only a there-and-back detour from the Centerpoint Trail, which we continued down for a couple more miles to Granny Henderson's homestead, reluctantly abandoned when the Buffalo National River was established. Poor Granny. She was kicked out by the National Park Service even though she and her husband had built this home together in 1912. She was told she could stay but only if she gave up her livestock. She felt the same way about her critters as we feel about ours and decided it wouldn't be home without them. She packed up and left in 1978 but died shortly afterward from the stress of leaving her home and animals. I think she would have loved Finn and Sputnik. 

From there we hiked on to Hemmed-in Hollow, which at 250 feet is the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies--when it's flowing. We caught it during a dry spell, but I can imagine it would be spectacular when it's running. We had a nice lunch break here and unsaddled the goats for a while so they could take a break.  

After lunch we decided to take the "long loop" back on the Old River Trail. I'm not sure if that was a very good idea, but at low altitude we felt like warriors and decided it would be somewhat feeble to retrace our steps. 

I loved the root system of this tree. 

The Old River Trail turned out to have something like eight or ten river crossings (I eventually lost count). 

Since Phil and I did not bring water shoes, we spent a lot of time taking our boots off and then finding some dry place to put them back on again. 

The goats were not particularly cooperative at the first crossing and made me go back over and fetch them. Normally our goats don't have a problem with water, but I think they had to get us back for making them swim the day before. After that we cut to the chase and put leashes on them before each crossing just to make sure there was no funny business. We didn't have time for shenanigans--we had something like eight miles to cover before dark and it was already late afternoon. 

But I did take a moment to snap a photo of this cute little fellow hiding among the river rocks. 
Phil loved this gnarled old tree, but the lighting was so bad I had a hard time photographing it. The hike along the river bottom was interesting. There were many old homesteads and even a school here in the early 1900's, but they slowly faded away in the 1950's and 60's as post offices in these remote areas were closed and school districts were consolidated. Then the Buffalo National River was established and the last few homesteaders were pushed out and their farms turned back into wilderness. It's hard to imagine all this forest as farmland.   

From here we could see Goat Trail from the bottom.  

You can even see the ledge where we walked across the bluff. 

There weren't a lot of flowers, but I thought these were spectacular and they matched Finn and Sputnik's halters. 

The goats were getting pretty tired at this point. There was a lot of sand in the river bottom which made hiking difficult for them, especially since Phil and I were keeping up a pretty quick pace. 

"Are we there yet?"

"Is this the last crossing?"

No, it wasn't the last crossing, but there weren't many more. We eventually made it to Steel Creek, which was a massive and perfectly groomed camping and staging area with real flush toilet restrooms which we happily made use of. I wish I'd gotten some pictures of the area because it was quite beautiful with its well-kempt lawns, and it felt eerie because no one was there except two Forest Service horses snorting suspiciously at our goats. The stabling area was massive with spacious pastures and corrals. I wondered if the campground were ever filled because it looked like it could accommodate hundreds of people and dozens of horses. It reminded me of the magician Coriakin's island in the book Voyage of the Dawn Treader. 

After that we had a steep hike up Chimney Rock Trail. I'm not sure why it was so named except that there were a lot of rocks of the sort you might use to build a chimney. It was nearly dark by the time we arrived at our truck and all of us were very tired. It had been a wonderful hike and although it remained completely cloudy all day, we only got the tiniest bit of drizzle on us as evening approached. Phil, however, was covered in spiderwebs and also, it turned out, with seed ticks. They were all over his ankles. It took us a long time that evening to get them off. I had a couple dozen as well, but Phil bore the brunt of them. When all was said and done, it was very nice to get back to our cabin for a long soak in the hot tub. Finn and Sputnik put themselves to bed immediately and didn't make a peep all night.
Tuesday's long hike had us all tired and footsore. Phil and I slept  late the next morning and so did Finn and Sputnik. When I opened the trailer door at around 10:00 Wednesday morning, both of them were curled up in nests of straw and didn't look as though they had moved all night. They reluctantly got up when I came in and both of them moved  stiffly. They looked like old goats as they slowly limped out of the trailer, but within a few minutes they had stretched and shaken the soreness out and were happy to browse around the cabin. I'm pretty sure it was the sand that made them tired and sore. It was some hard slogging in those river bottoms. 

After our late rise, Phil and I opted to stick close to Ponca and not hike any trails. The day was deliciously sunny and warm, so we put on our swimsuits and headed to the Buffalo River. Sputnik would have been happy to stay in this flower patch all day.  

But instead we went river-tromping and the goats had to come with us so we would have something we could photograph gratuitously. We took something like 250 pictures that day!

I love the water reflection on the stone behind the goats. 

Sputnik and I found a really cool tree to climb. 

Phil spent a lot of time skipping stones. This place reminded us a little bit of Darien Lake State Park out in western New York state where we spent our third anniversary. We spent that whole day wading in a dappled, lazy river skipping flat stones, and later that weekend we found Cuzco at a farm nearby. Anything that reminds us of that wonderful third anniversary is like experiencing a little piece of heaven.  

There were huge slabs of rock in some places that made it feel more like walking in a swimming pool than in a river. Swimming pools, however, do not usually contain water moccasins. We saw one dart out from under a ledge and wriggle its way across the river and under the riverbank right around this spot. It was more terrified of us than we were of it.   
Bear with me while I indulge in posting an unreasonable number of "Finn" photos. He's so photogenic I just can't stop clicking the camera! 

Finn knows he's gorgeous too.

The light and shadows and reflections on the water made us feel like we were in a fantasy tale. 
As if the river didn't feel magical enough, we saw a dry riverbed open to our left. The entrance was covered in blue butterflies, most of whom fluttered away at our approach. But a few lingered behind to be caught in Phil's lens.  

We stepped into a world of enchantment. It felt solemn and mysterious. These were unicorn woods I could tell. We didn't see the unicorn, but I'm quite sure she saw us. 

Finn is not only incredibly photogenic, he's also incredibly huggable. 
We all became drowsy as the shadows lengthened.

Sputnik could almost be a unicorn on this rock. 

As colorful as he is, it's amazing how much Sputnik blends in with his surroundings. 

The last light before eventide. 
Our last day in Arkansas was more exciting than planned. We looked at our map and found "Goat Bluff Trail" near the old ghost settlement of Erbie. It sounded like an easy, scenic loop. So far our National Geographic Trails Illustrated map had not let us down (I'd consulted it constantly on Tuesday's long trek). The map showed an improved dirt road from Compton to Erbie, and at first it looked very nice. But as we continued along, we realized it had not been "improved" in many, many years. That's when I also realized that our map was made in 1992, and although it was updated in 2007 I don't know that anyone bothered to look at this particular road. Soon we were crawling along in 4WD low, thankful for high clearance, and hoping we didn't encounter a huge washout that would require us to retrace our route in reverse, because there weren't a whole lot of places to turn around! The goats had a very rough ride, and it took us a long time to cover four miles. When we finally arrived at our destination, we saw this sign in our rearview mirror... gee, if only they had thought to put one at the other end!   

I believe I mentioned that there are a lot of spiders in Arkansas. One of them liked Sputnik's view and decided to build on the unclaimed real estate between his horns. She started before we left our cabin and was still working away an hour and a half later when we arrived at the trailhead.   

Our destination:

Goat Bluff Trail was pleasant and wooded and ran along an old farmstead fence. If it weren't for his orange packs, Sputnik might have been lost among the speckled rocks and dappled shadows. 

Goat Bluff: Naturally, Finn has to lean over the edge and take a look around. 

Sputnik prefers a more cautious approach. 


If it weren't for the purple halter and orange pack you'd never see him. 

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