To the Edge and Back, Whitaker Point

While talking to the Buffalo National River park ranger, she let us know that if we went to hike at Lost Valley (which we did), not too far away was Whitaker Point. Even though this was outside of the Park, it was apparently the “most photographed spot of Arkansas” and worth it to check out. That recommendation was good enough for Jenna and me, so we were headed off down a looping, ascending six miles of dirt road.

We didn’t really know anything about this hike, neither the elevation nor the distance. The sun was due to set in two hours and this seemed like enough time to at least try to attempt the hike. (Also, let me be clear these are all no-nos when going hiking. The main reason we proceeded was because there were a ton of people hiking with us. People in jeans, people who looked like they’d never hiked, people to the front and back of us. My one complaint with Arkansas is how many people there are out on the trails- haha!)

The way to the point was a lot of downhill terrain, so Jenna and I were both preparing for pain coming back up and out. Passing people headed out who were red in the face and stopping for breaks had us both a little weary. But what are we going to not do it? No. We wanted to reach “the most photographed area of Arkansas” even if it meant a serious workout. After enjoying our time in nature, taking a few preliminary pictures along the trail, we reached Whitaker Point.

It was a big cliff edge that opened up to big rolling hills of Arkansas where you could see only trees for forever. It was really impressively beautiful. But also crowded. About forty feet ahead of this point on the trail is a little opening in the treeline where you can get a pretty cool shot of the ledge, so Jenna and I took turns taking each other’s pictures. But also kind of battling back the crowd of people hanging around in the trees.

I want people to go out and hike. I want people to enjoy nature and see what this beautiful world has to offer. But these Arkansasians are out of control. They’re out in hoards. And I’ve learned from my time in the state that I’m not a fan of sharing a trail with more than a few people. If I’m constantly in eyesight of someone (other than a hiking buddy), I’m one unhappy hiker. I don’t know if it was because the sun was out after a cold front, because it was a Saturday, or this was the typical, but I was ready to go back to having the trail all to myself.

On our way back, Jenna and I decided we would try and just plow through it. We’d take breaks if needed, but we didn’t want to drag out our misery. This speed hiking back uphill business has kind of become a strong point. We just focus, grit down, and go. It had taken us about an hour and half to get to the point, and we estimated it would take us just as long to get back out, trading picture time for ascent time. But with our sheer force of will, we made it out in half that time, legs and lungs burning.

We had a nice middle-of-nowhere drive (with gas station snacks) back to civilization. Or as close as Bentonville gets to that moniker. After showers and meeting up with our hosts, my friend Margaret and her husband, Matt, it was time for dinner. We went for Mexican at one of their favorite local spots. Afterward, I was bugging them for ice cream even though the temperature was dropping to the forties, so they took me to Sweet Dream Creamery. This cute little shop was a food truck located in the downtown square area, right across from the newly opened ice skating rink. We enjoyed the lights and then decided it was time for us old ladies (and man) to head home. I can’t wait to head back and focus more attention on Bentonville because it seemed like a neat little town!

Drive through Nowhere to Hidden Organic Haven

After the awesomeness of El Malpais, we were fine that El Morro was a little disappointing. The El Morro National Monument is most known for its sandstone cliffside. Deciding our drive up to its massive edge was good enough, we got our stamp and continued on.

Here, something crazy happened and my scheduling was off by almost two hours. I know! And after I’d gotten so good at road trip timing. Driving almost the whole west border of New Mexico was quite a feat for one day, but in making the itinerary I’d cut the time it would take by a third. So after our day of fun, it was time for some driving off the grid.

Lola, Jenna, and I were very much out in the middle of nowhere, not even able to map our Airbnb on our faltering GPS. We knew the roads and the vague area though, so we went after it. The sun was setting and it was drizzling, so when we passed the first sign of civilization we decided to stop to try and connect to satellites and our Airbnb host’s directions.

Not sure we’d find another chance, we stopped at a little mart to look at snacks and then decided we might as well grab a full sit down dinner at the cafe next door. Everyone was so friendly – it was a nice little reenergizing stop. We got the directions we needed and got going even though it was so dark and we were following hand written directions (like the old days ha!) to get to our beds for the night.

We arrived and met our hosts, D & D, a cute couple who owned the bed and breakfast that we’d found through Airbnb. Immediately there was so much about the place I was in love with. The couple had spent the day picking the vegetables from their backyard to can the next day. The whole house was fragrance free and full of organic and vegetarian-friendly foods in the kitchen.

After a day of hiking and driving, we were delighted to find out there was a hot tub out back under the stars. A hot soak was just what we needed! Then I took a shower with all natural bath products and nerded out living my best clean hippie life. I definitely tried every item because it was all sulfate-free, vegan, and unscented. And maybe I took a sample of locally made coconut moisturizer.

A great night’s sleep and then I was up with the sunrise. Mostly it was hidden by the cloudy sky, but as the sun brightened the surrounding landscape beauty emerged. Ah, New Mexico sure is gorgeous. I munched on one of the homemade morning glory muffins and brewed local coffee in the pot, realizing why bed and breakfasts are so popular.

It was time to head home. After a leisurely packing and hitting the road, we began our drive. Only an hour or so later and we hit the “beginning” of our road to the day’s stop (and our last New Mexico National Park site!) the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This road winded through curving roads and a bunch of trees. While I had a great time driving and enjoying the scenery, there was some motion sickness from my travel buddies because of the continuous twists and turns.

Finally, though we passed back and forth between Gila National Forest and Gila Cliff Dwellings NM, we arrived at our visitor center, a secluded spot in the middle of vast nature. We were excited to get out and stretch our legs. However, well to be honest, the park ranger scared us about time. Looking at our itinerary she said we were misjudging our following drive by two whole hours and we wouldn’t have time to see the cliff dwellings.

We didn’t have GPS to check our route and because of the mishap the day before judging driving times we trusted that if we stayed to hike we wouldn’t have time to get to our next destination before it closed. Bummed, we spent a bit of time checking out the surrounding valley and then headed back through the twists and turns of road. It would turn out the ranger was wrong. We would’ve had time for our hour hike and if you can believe it our next stop (to see the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns) ended up being a total letdown.

Sure, there was still lots of amazing views on our drive home, but missing out on that midday hike made the final leg of our trip feel dreary. So even though I’ve learned to accept surprises when I travel, the lesson here is to appreciate the things you didn’t count on from the original itinerary. Sometimes taking the risk, brings the higher reward. We should’ve stopped to do the hike, risking missing that final stop. As always, I’m learning to take my time on road trips.

Katie Jackson Park trail review

As most of you know by now, I love finding hidden nature trails in the city!

Living in Dallas, it’s not exactly easy finding nature escapes where I can’t actually hear the traffic. To be honest, most hiking trails in my area you can always see at least a building. But we have our big nature centers luckily – and we have some hidden gems in our suburbs!

I found out after the fact that the Katie Jackson Trail is prime for “off road” bicycling but this made for a pretty great hiking trail as well! This trail was great for its zero foot-traffic. I hiked on a Friday morning with my friend Lola and we spotted no one else our entire time on the trail.

This trail is split into North and South sections, but other than that uninformative guidance, I cannot tell you how it’s laid out. Lola and I even got lost for a good twenty minutes! We really could’ve used a bit more maps or even less left-or-right options. But I will say the trails were well-marked and there was no chance of wandering off the path.

Because this trail is mostly a biking trail, there are a lot of great dips and inclines scattered throughout which I enjoyed. It’s easy to find a flat walking surface and so much harder to find a trail with some variety!

We were nestled in the middle of a North Dallas suburb so there was definitely evidence of people. Quite a bit of trash and even in one area a very clear teenage hangout. Someone had built a wooden loft and brought out a couple of lawn chairs to have a little break mid-trail. Lola and I thought this was hilarious – but also probably very cool for the local kids to have their own secret hangout.

Of course, the last upside I’ll leave you with was the beautiful views! This trail meets a creek a couple of times, offering a nice view every now and then. Plus, there’s one section with a big field which offers lost of different wildlife and nature to explore.

I will definitely be checking this trail out again – it’s probably great in Spring!

Trail Review: John F Burke Preserve

I only stumbled upon this trail after passing it a few times while grabbing lunch on my work break. The entrance is tucked under a major highway on the edge of Dallas. So one morning before work, the weather was nice, I had on sporty sandals, and I decided, heck, why not?

It really is a tucked away hidden gem. When I arrived, the parking lot was empty so I knew I had the preserve to myself. It was a weekday morning though, so maybe no one gets quite as adventurous as I do before work – ha!

Right away you pass under the highway and the trail opens up into a large seating area. There’s a few tables for picnicking and whatnot. I passed by this to continue on the trail, realizing it would basically be a pretty good sized loop around a little lake.

Along the trail there are little openings to better view the lake; for the most part the trees cover the view. These openings were really great, with different wooden structures like benches and trellises. Perfect for a quiet viewing of a peaceful lake.

But. Well, I won’t lie. You are very close to that highway. It’s hard to really escape the city when the traffic is heavy. The preserve is really well kept, but if I had to guess, probably mostly empty because of it’s proximity to the noise of city life. Even the lake was suspiciously void of ducks and other birds.

Besides my lack of run-ins with any kind of wildlife, there are cute little wooden posts along the trail that let you play an animal guessing game. On the top it has painted animal tracks that you can try and figure out the animal. Then you flip up the wooden sign and it reveals which animal the footprint belongs to.

Overall, I love it because of how conveniently close it is to my work and I also appreciate the neatness of the trails. It’s an easy walk – perfect for not getting too sweaty before I need to go be a professional!

Pro tip: Go when the traffic up top will be light!

Why I Hike (Anywhere I Can)

This Saturday is National Trails Day! I’ll be busy with a friend’s wedding, so I’m hoping to get in my hiking before the weekend arrives. Hiking has become very important to me, so I wanted to share my most personal hiking thoughts.

1. My body got me here.

As most of us probably have at some point, I’ve struggled a lot with what my body can and can’t do. Regardless of whatever insecurities I may feel, I always have a moment of being so proud of what my body can do. The elevation I can climb, the miles I can push through, and the weather I can survive. All thanks to my body!

2. Does (blank) really matter?

Hiking is extremely meditative for me. It’s where I tend to start working through a lot of the problems I deal with. I’ve never been able to sit and work toward a solution. It’s only when my body takes over that I can get to a place where my mind is free to work on all that deep stuff going on subconsciously.

3. I can work on that connection.

Similarly to personal problems I work on, I also find me thinking a lot about the relationships in my life. Hiking always makes me optimistic so I begin to think of what I can do to better a friendship, a connection, etc. The solitude of nature has a way of making you appreciate the connections I’ve made and all the wonderful people who surround me in life. I’m thankful for the opportunities to work on showing my loved ones what they mean to me.

4. A perfect check mark for my list.

I find myself almost constantly needing to be productive. A lot of times I can stretch myself too thin or take too many stressors on my plate. Hiking is one of the only things in my life that feels completely for me and yet doesn’t give me the guilt of not “getting stuff done.” It’s good for me mentally and physically so it’s almost like having a few check marks rolled into one (especially when the thinking time helps me solve a problem).

5. Life has beauty to it.

The main thing about getting outdoors – anywhere that may be – is there’s always something visually beautiful to offer. Even in the winter, even in a small park, even on populated paved trails, there’s always something interesting to discover. I’ve always been a naturally curious sort, but being in nature reminds me how wonderful life can be. Things completely unrelated to you are growing, are struggling, and existing.

Arbor Hills Nature Preserve

I was very excited about this local hike. I’d seen one of my friends frequent it and it looked a bit woodsy and very spacious. It was a bit further north of Dallas in the city of Plano, so I invited my friend Lola for a morning hike since she was on the way.

After a quick coffee stop (of course) we headed out there. When we first got there it seemed everything was paved and well done – quite a fancy park. We didn’t see too helpful of a map, so we just decided to pick one of the cement paths and see what we could find.

Very quickly, we found an offshoot dirt path. I don’t mind nice parks, but I was very glad to see dirt trails and what seemed like a lot of mileage. Afterward, I discovered there is equally three miles of paved trails and three miles of unpaved trails.

The two of us were a bit chatty this morning, but I was glad to find only a couple of other people were out on the trails because of the cooler weather and the weekday. Lola and I weren’t sure where we were headed because we essentially had no map so we just decided to pick directions randomly. (This is normally so unsafe but I knew it was all one big loop so there’d be no real way to get lost if we stuck to the trail – we just might end up hiking more miles than we’d planned.)

The trails were mostly pretty flat, so very easy, but interspersed with a lot of interesting trail additions like ledges and bridges. The nature aspect was also pretty great. At times there were woods, fields, creeks, and even a lake!

We passed a very nice, big pavilion, found the restrooms, and knew we were close to the car. Around this area, we finally discovered a big map, but having not kept track it was too hard to know where we’d gone exactly.

At this point, me and Lola were pretty cold so we decided since we’d stumbled upon the parking lot, it was time to head out. On our way out on the last little trail, we spotted a few cardinals playing in the trees. It was so great!

I know I will definitely be back because of all the rural trails I’ve yet to explore. I’m especially excited to check it out again now that it’s getting warmer. Warmer weather means more enjoyable hikes – and also more wildlife!

Bad Luck Fixed by a Drive to the Coast

My only “real” knowledge of Portland, Oregon before this trip was the tv series Portlandia, which seems not too far off in retrospect. This trip was mainly for my travel buddy Jenna, who’s birthday was the following Wednesday. Her Oregon wishlist included lots of nature highlights, so that would be our main goal the first day.

However, we had to fly in Thursday night and I got to admit, our trip didn’t get off to a great start. Our flight had been delayed by three hours and so when we finally made it to check into our Airbnb around one in the morning, we discovered we’d been given the wrong code and our host was unreachable. We were tired and cold and on the phone with Airbnb support for quite a while. Not the greatest introduction to Portland.

They ended up giving us an old code that luckily worked, and we were more than ready to shake off our bad luck the next morning. However, the bus we’d planned was nowhere to be found. I took out my perfect schedule, and knew we would have to rearrange some things. When your transportation plan is derailed when traveling, it’s time to be flexible.

Originally, the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (which is actually in Washington) was a “if we have time” item, but now it was within ten minutes of the car we would be renting. We lyfted there, and I was secretly glad to be crossing off a new National Park stamp and be checking off a whole new state. We arrived as soon as it opened and it looked very much like the little town John Smith establishes in Pocahontas. They even had a volunteer blacksmith that we spent some time chatting with!

We enjoyed the tall trees and open field, and I was reminded of the Park ranger, who pretty much said she was glad we were visiting but as a true Oregonite, wanted only visitors. Next we got our car, headed back over the state line, and checked out one of the top Portland tourist destinations: Multnomah Falls.

We walked up as close as we could get, and it was still pretty amazing since I’d never seen such a high waterfall (especially not on the side of a small mountain), but our bad luck would strike again. The Falls were cut off from the main entry because of mudslides, so we were only allowed a far off look. While still impressive, I couldn’t help but be bummed we wouldn’t be able to get closer.

On the way to lunch, we changed up our plan again to stop at The Grotto. We wanted to get rid of the last of our bad juju, so we headed to this Christian alcove which was full of pretty trails and one of the tallest, rickety elevators you’ve never seen on the side of a hill. There were lots of famous saint statues and a beautiful meditation building with a great view of Portland.

It was starting to drizzle when we headed to Bye Bye, a vegan restaurant in the heart of Portland. Optimistic about the nature left to see, I chowed down on a vegan grilled cheese and guacamole. Let me pause to say, I loved all the food in Portland! I could probably write a whole post on just the stuff I ate – and I just might!

We were headed to the coast in our rental car from a new app Turo, and I was really enjoying the drive. Oregon had equal parts farming and woods, so the mini roadtrip was pretty great. I love a good drive, and even though it was a bit rainy, that just added to the enchantment of seeing new things. I entered the winding roads of Ecola Park, and couldn’t imagine that we would soon pop out through the woods and be on the coast. But we did.

There was only thick forest, until suddenly the sky appeared and I parked at the top of a cliff overlooking a magnificent site. It felt like I was in a different country, one where tales of dragons and magic had been based in. It’s hard to describe the beauty. And even though I have amazing pictures, it still doesn’t really do it justice.

From Ecola, we headed south a bit, driving through the adorable coastal village, making our way to Haystack Rock. We enjoyed the beach, the massive rocks, the scenery, the ocean, everything was magic.

I fell into the water right near the end, but was having such a great time, I didn’t even mind. It was cold, but driving back I only felt happy. It had been such a great day by the end.

I know based on previous travels that things are bound to go wrong. When you leave your safe, predictable home, you invite something different into your life. It’s sometimes good and sometimes bad, but overall I’ve found the journey worth it.