We wanted to explore a new Natural Area that had been dedicated in 2012. There were no trail maps, no directions explaining where to see the best spots. No GPS coordinates for waterfalls or cascades. Nothing saying, “then turn left here.”
(click any image to enlarge)
It was January, 2015, and the directions I found only got us to the parking area. The rest we were left to discover on our own, in a tract of land about 1800 acres big. It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking.
After all, the place is called Devil’s Eyebrow.
The short dirt road, easily handled by our four-door compact car, led us to a grassy parking area bordered by a rope line. A large pasture about the size of a football field stretched out before us, then gave way to woods. On the east side of the parking area, we found what looked like a trail.
The trail dumped us out onto an old forest road, where we walked past a dry streambed with low cliffs above its banks. Our son, 11, loves exploring such areas, but we promised him he could stop and play there on our way back.
A few old, rusty household items and farming tools lay forgotten in the woods. They made it difficult to feel like we were wandering a wild area.
Shortly, we reached a fence at the edge of a hay field. We re-traced our steps, carefully checking for any sign of a spot to hike down into the woods. I knew a hiking group from Bella Vista had made its way into this area last year, and they were not really the bushwhacking types. There had to be some simple way to get started, at least.
Our first attempt had reached a dead end, so we turned around.
Benjamin and I played for a bit in the dry creekbed on our way back, and then we all made our way across the pasture that lay in front of the parking area. We picked up a gravel road on the other side and followed it into the woods. To our right was an area that recently had been clear-cut, including many cedar trees. On the left was deep woods and a sign indicating that it was public land.
The road quickly became steep. The descent was so sharp at one point that I scouted ahead while the others hung back. I saw that the road soon reached the bottom of a gulley, then crossed a stream and flattened out a bit on the facing hillside. “Come on down. The steep stuff doesn’t last long,” I called to them.
We worked our way along the road, which led us uphill slightly and then turned downhill again. The road’s loose gravel gave way to a long, rocky streambed. Thick ice covered shallow pools of water.
I scouted up a steep ascent, and a bow hunter making his way down let me know that the road led to an open field. I headed back down and suggested to my crew that we should follow the creek downstream at this point.
We were rewarded shortly by a deeper pool, where my wife and son gleefully threw large rocks to crack the thick ice. Only in a few spots and after repeated hits did they break all the way through to water.
The wintry landscape allowed us to make our way along the banks fairly smoothly, with only the occasional brier patch to re-route us. Within about a hundred yards we had to start choosing our side carefully, due to steep banks. We crossed the creek a few times as we continued to find bigger, better scenery. Together, we discovered what each bend in the creek revealed.
We finally turned around because the sun was getting low. After a steep ascent, I reached the edge of a field, my way blocked by an electrified fence. Maybe 50 yards across the corner of the pasture, I saw the same gate that had turned us back shortly after we had started our hike. We could cross that field and enjoy a short, flat walk to our car.
Instead of braving that and using private land, we scoped out the steep ravine between us and the opposite hillside. My crew wasn’t willing to hike that, so we headed back down the road and made the turn we missed the first time. It was the long way around, but it also was the only known quantity.
To help alleviate the steep grade, we made our own switchbacks by zig-zagging our way up the road. Again we passed the forest of cedar stumps, and then the woods opened up into the field, where our car waited patiently.
We had spent our day as a family, exploring a forest without a plan. It felt great.
I mapped the hike using GPS, and manually added a section that I didn’t track. Click here to see it.