Why is it we never hear anything about Arkansas? That question prompted me to looking into the state. And I may have discovered why no one talks about it much.
I’ve never had so much trouble writing a blog post before. I just wasn’t a fan of Arkansas. There is no southern hospitality. In fact, there isn’t much hospitality at all, southern or otherwise. Arkansas just isn’t set up for tourists. Maybe it’s a leave-me-alone-Ozarks thing, but Arkansas isn’t very friendly.
We ended up driving 12 hours to get to Arkansas because there isn’t really a better way to get there from Michigan. If we flew from Michigan, we’d go to Denver first, then Memphis, and then have to rent a car for a 5 hour drive. So we just drove the whole way.
Ozark – St. Francis National Forest
The Ozarks are famous for being full of people who don’t want to be found. There is a sinister air of mystery in the Ozark National Forest, which we discovered when we decided to take a random road that went past a cemetery (despite us being far from any town), a makeshift outdoor church, and the road kept going and going. Looking at a map later, I discovered countless other dirt roads spreading throughout the Ozark mountains, which simply dead end in the forest.
Getting gas in the Ozarks was an adventure. We pulled up and an older man got up from a bench outside and offered to fill our car up. I went inside where I was told the man is bored and likes to fill up people’s cars. He doesn’t work there. He filled up the car and I went inside to tell the cashier how much we owed because the gas pump was analog with rolling numbers, and she couldn’t know unless she went out and looked. My mom offered the man a tip but he got offended and refused. We waved to him as we left but he turned his head away from us.
Lost Valley Trail
I haven’t been to many national forests and I assumed there would be a visitor’s center or something. I didn’t plan too many things because I thought there would be signs or maps or something when we got there. That was my fault. That was on me.
I did look up the Lost Valley Trail, however. It is on Hwy 43 and marked with a small sign. It started out pretty easy and then got more and more rustic as we went on.
We came to one of the few signs in the Ozarks
We decided to check out the hemmed-in-hollow first, something I had no idea was a thing. But when we got there, there is no other way to describe it. It was a hemmed-in-hollow. It was basically a cave open at both ends and surrounded by high walls. A hollow that was hemmed in.
We went through, trying not to slip on the rocks, and ended up climbing over boulders on the other side of the cave opening. We eventually turned back and climbed the stairs to see the waterfall.
Next we went to the waterfall up some stairs.
The waterfall was cool because you could actually reach it. Most waterfalls in the United States are cordoned off. This waterfall wasn’t roaring by any means, but it was nice to be able to actually feel the water, something I’ve never experienced before.
A group of youths went off the trail and hiked to the top of the waterfall and played some makeshift baseball with a rock and a stick. It was nice to see.
After the Lost Valley Trail, we decided to drive through the Ozarks on Scenic 27. It reminded me a less twisty West Virginia. There were several scenic overlooks that just added to the creepiness. You could hide in there and no one would ever find you.
Ouachita National Forest
Ouachita National Forest is the other, lesser known, national forest in Arkansas. It isn’t as famous as the Ozarks. Maybe because no one knows how to pronounce it.
Lake Ouachita is a large lake in the national forest. We camped there at Joplin campground, which I cannot recommend enough. It was beautiful. There was only one other person there but that’s because we came in the middle of the week.
We found a campsite that jutted out in the lake. We had our own tiny peninsula.
We saw a boat with a skier but that was it. It wasn’t a very crowded lake. Again, it was the middle of the week. We swam a little but that was it.
Wegner Quartz Crystal Mine
Quartz is big in Arkansas. I had no idea how big. There are commercial mines and find-your-own tourist mines. Out of the several touristy mines, Wegner Quartz Crystal Mine had the best reviews.
There are tours at certain times, something I didn’t know about because I literally did no research beyond, where-is-this-place. Luckily, we were just in time for the 11 o’clock tour.
We went to the bathroom because when I asked if there was a bathroom at the mine (we’d be spending two hours there), I was told, “Well, we have trees up there.”
We got on the back of a pick-up truck that had seats built into it, and warned each other as low hanging branches appeared. On the tour was a 80 year old woman who travels the world with her dog. She was awesome.
The mine looked like a plowed field with a pit to one side. The dirt was bright orange and the quartz glinted in the sunlight. Our guide taught us how to hunt for crystals while the previous tour group waited in the back of the pick up truck to be taken back.
Basically, you dig until you find a crystal. Our tour guide said he was a little bit of a snob and only went after crystals that had perfect points to them. He found a couple of tiny ones and showed us.
NOTE TO ADVENTURERS: Call and ask when the last time the field was overturned. It had been awhile since the field was overturned and all we found were the tiny crystals other tour groups had disregarded as being too small.
We found two types of quartz: thick clusters that were opaque and looked like white rocks, and small crystals no bigger than our pinky fingers.
Two hours was a little long to be hunting for crystals in the searing sun. We were a little disappointed in our finds, but we didn’t want to use the emergency cell phone to have him pick us up. It wasn’t an emergency; we were just ready to go. We ended up sitting in the shade for about 20 minutes until the truck came back.
All in all: I wouldn’t recommend it. Maybe if they had just turned over the field, it would have been better. All our crystals are so small, we’re not sure what to do with them. If we had found bigger pieces, we could have put them on the mantle or something. Instead, we have small pieces we are afraid the cats are going to play with.
Arkansas was an odd place. It had no southern hospitality and didn’t seem set up for tourists. There was a creepy air to the place. I had never felt like such an outsider before.
But Arkansas is beautiful. There are diverse flowers and birds. I saw a woodpecker of Woody fame (seriously like a foot tall), an indigo bunting, and a few twin-tailed swallows. Birders would love Arkansas. The wildflowers are spectacular and the forest views can’t be beat. We saw a herd of young elk running through grass up to their necks.
But the most elusive creatures in Arkansas were the people.