No Plan for Devil’s Eyebrow

Ben IceholeWe 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.”

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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.

UndercliffI had seen photos of interesting creekbeds and bluffs overhanging the water. To see that, and to help avoid getting lost, I planned to follow a creek.

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.

Bird's Nest

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.

Moss Icely

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.

Bend in the StreamI 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.

Icefall Family

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.

The First Buffalo National River Trip I Planned

Foggy Morning Restaurant View

Last summer I returned to one of my favorite places — the Buffalo National River, and five friends from Texas joined me. At age 44, it would be my first time on the Buffalo with anyone other than my family. When these guys originally asked me to get a trip together back in May, I was pumped. Then they said it had to be in August. Not much of the river usually is floatable in the middle of August without a lot of getting out and dragging the boat.

You might think that it’s difficult to get lost when floating down a waterway that only leads in one direction. I managed it easily, but that comes later.

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17 Things To Do Within Driving Distance of Dallas

We have lived in the Dallas metro area for nearly 10 years total (as of the edit I did in 2017). Here are a few things we were able to enjoy fairly easily, and that I recommend. The day trips require no overnight stay, but some will have you leaving your home in the early morning hours.

Day Trips

Visit the beautiful Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge – It’s only about a three-hour drive away, and it’s like nothing else you’ll see driving twice that distance. A day trip is a bit of a stretch, but my son and I made a whirlwind visit up there on a Saturday — out at 6:30 a.m., home by about 10:30 p.m. We saw lots of buffalo within arm’s reach of our vehicle, longhorn steer, and of course the prairie dog town. The mountains look like huge piles of rocks, and several small lakes and clear streams add to the scenery. While on the trails we rarely saw other people. Later we returned with my wife and camped overnight, which made it a much more complete experience. We saw a bull elk grazing streamside and toured the visitor’s center. While in the area, stop at Mt. Scott, especially if you cannot hike. You will get nice views from just driving to the top.

Click here for photos from our first trip.

Explore the JFK assassination site and memorial – We dropped by spontaneously after seeing a show at Medieval Times. We posed on the grassy knoll alongside visiting friends, while a local snapped our picture, and then strolled up to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. The museum was closed, but I can only imagine it would add to the experience.

Experience a meal and a show at Medieval Times – Twice we have stepped back in time to enjoy the staged jousts, sword fights, and royal intrigue. Only a Renaissance festival can come close. You’ll need to be prepared to eat without utensils, but you can go anachronistic and have a Pepsi.

Laugh at an improv comedy show at Four-Day Weekend — A talented comedy troupe that performs in a creaky, vintage Fort Worth theater, this group provides improvisational comedy that had the crowd in stitches both times we went. There’s a full bar for refreshments, if that’s your thing.

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Park and Ride (Part 3)

(concluded from Part 2)

I took a few moments to check the map online, and immediately saw my mistake. I had kept going straight after emerging from under a bridge, instead of taking a left to loop around on top of it, and finished up on the wrong side of the creek.

The return ride that afternoon was brutal. I had not ridden any considerable distance in decades, and now I was facing a mostly uphill ride into 25 mph winds gusting up to 45. On top of that I again had my computer backpack, and now it bulged with the bulk of my fleece jacket.

My air resistance was high and my quads burned.

I slowly churned my legs through what had seemed a much more peaceful place that morning. Twigs littered the path — evidence of the wind’s relentless attack. The newborn leaves appeared to be applauding wildly, but I couldn’t hear them over the music my iPod pumped into my earbuds. Only the rush of the wind in my ears accompanied my mp3’s.

I was surprised when I arrived at my car that the return trip had taken only eight minutes longer than my trip in. Winded, I took a cool-down lap around the cul-de-sac and then racked my bike.

Back in the comfort of my car seat, I put down the top and enjoyed the relative calm of driving with the top down on a sunny day. I definitely was going to bring my son back to that path for us to ride it together.