2016 Iron Ranger - By John G Chamberlin
At the end of 2015 I became aware that the National Park Service in Arkansas was doing something special to celebrate the 100th year of NPS. If you hiked, paddled or biked 100 miles in the public lands of Arkansas, and submitted monthly email reports on your efforts, you would get an Iron Ranger award. That did not sound too hard. We have a place in Gilbert on the Buffalo National River and get up there most weeks. I could float Tyler to Gilbert 17 times, or hike the Railroad Trail each week. Or maybe do a three day, 30 mile float.
"2016 would be my 70th year and since I did a 50 mile trek at Philmont my 50th year, the Iron Ranger seemed like a great thing to do".
For the first trip to Gilbert in January, I hiked The Old Railroad Trail. The view of the river was great, that special green of flowing water visible from most of the trail because the leaves were off. I hiked past the site of the missing trestle and came back, 3 miles down in under two hours.
Next trip to the Buffalo I thought I would hike some of the Tyler Bend trails. The temperature was in the teens and I did not dress for that. I parked by the Collier Homestead and headed out on the Buffalo River Trail toward the highway. Lots of amazing frost and ice configurations in the dirt and leaves of the trail. Very cold body. I made it a little over a mile that day before freezing out. Lots of days left in the year.
February it mostly rained. The Buffalo River came up over the park toilet at Gilbert and flooded the start of the trail. No time to be paddling or hiking. I did roam around by car and took short walks to see the river almost reach the highway 65 bridge and see the fields at Shine Eye as a lake with a current.
On to March and Spring Break spent at Gilbert with my wife Shannon, our daughter Katharyn and our grandchildren, Lorelai and Griffin. I had gotten a small raft for Christmas and on Wednesday the 23rd we tried it out, floating from Tyler to Gilbert. The water was cold, but clear, and we saw our usual herons and other birds. On Thursday, Lorelai and Griffin hiked with me on the Horse Trail north of the Buffalo. The trail runs along the bluffs across from Tyler Bend and we had new views of the river and campsites from above. We turned around when the trail dipped down toward Mill Creek. Lorelai thought a meadow we crossed would be a great camping place. Two days later, on Saturday the 26th, we got the raft out again and floated Baker’s Ford to Tyler, wonderful water, and some of the early flowering plants made a show.
Somewhere on that trip I mentioned I now had 17 miles of my 100 for the Iron Ranger. Lorelai and Griffin said “How many do we have?”, well, they had 13 down, so 87 to go!
In early April we went to Gilbert with some friends. We got out the kayaks and floated Baker’s to Gilbert, another ten miles.
May was pretty busy with mentoring an Innovation Corps team and the first 20 days of June my daughter Mary and I were in Australia. I hiked some park miles there but they didn’t count! I brought back my niece Sarah from California on the return trip and we took her to Gilbert. Sarah had never floated a river, so we got out the raft and Katharyn, Lorelai, Griffin, Sarah and I did a short float, Tyler Bend to Shine Eye. Now the turtles were out on the logs and people were out on the gravel bars and in canoes. The real adventure was hauling the gear up the sand hill at Shine Eye.
"Halfway through the year and 69 miles to go for me, 79 for Griffin and Lorelai...if they were serious".Summer
Somewhere about that time they decided they were going for the 100 miles. Their mother, Katharyn, helped with that endeavor. They gained a couple miles on me with a river trail walk in July, and we three floated in kayaks from Grinder’s to Gilbert in late July. Somehow August got past us with no new miles.
Editor's Note: Summer is a tough time to hike (too hot, lots of poison ivy, & too many ticks and chiggers) or float (often not much water) across lots of Arkansas. Biking and swimming are great options though!
In September, Lorelai, Griffin and I did a full foliage walk on the Railroad trail at Gilbert, still late flowers – like asters – and berries on the bushes and vines. A week later we tried out the trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park for a couple of miles.
Entering October we still had many miles to go 59 for me and 69 for Lorelai and Griffin. Could we make it? The grandkids gained two miles on me with a visit to the Central High National Historic site on Oct. 1.
Editor's Note: The best high school in the world! Class of '99 in particular was an impressive group
|Little Rock Central High School. Photo by Katharyn Chamberlin Daniel|
We all went to Gilbert and the grandkids and I floated the 6 miles from upper Tyler to Gilbert on the 2nd, a trio in kayaks. For the first time I was the last one to get to Gilbert. The leaves were changing color and the river was gorgeous.
|Starting the Float. Buffalo National River. Photo by Katharyn Chamberlin Daniel|
Katharyn organized some outings and Griffin and Lorelai logged 3 miles on the Trail of Tears in North Little Rock on Oct. 8th and another 3 at Central High NHS the same day. They did two more miles on the 9th on the Heritage Trail around Mount Holly Cemetery.
"Wow, they were catching up to me!"We had a long weekend in mid-October. It rained before we went and the river was up enough we got the raft out and on the 15th Katharyn, Joe, Griffin, Lorelai and I floated the 12 miles from Woolum to Baker’s Ford. We paddled over the Bend Creek bar where I camped on the dry river almost exactly a week before. We had the river mostly to ourselves, had some fast riffles but we had to get out and push the raft over a few low spots. It was a long day and lots of hard boiled eggs were consumed. The next day Griffin, Lorelai and I floated from Grinders Ferry to Gilbert and then hiked two miles on the Railroad trail. The kids now had 69 miles and somehow I was lagging with 66 miles!
That night a couple from Wisconsin came to our door after dark. They had rented a cabin and had arrived after the store was closed. We helped them track down the guy with their key. They wanted to float but the man was not sure he could handle a kayak or canoe. His wife was an active paddler. So the next morning I got out the raft and floated with them from Grinders to Gilbert. The grandkids stayed at the house and now I was ahead with 71 miles. The remaining 29 and 31 miles seemed possible, especially if the river stayed up! As Griffin said “Miles paddling are faster and easier than hiking.”
I did not stay in the lead in miles long. On Oct. 30 we had Johnnie in town and we did a short but symbolic hike up Flatside Pinnacle. Griffin and Lorelai did an extra mile on the Ouachita Trail. This is where we did our first hike with Katharyn, when she was two, and where we had many outings in the '70s and '80s, including my encounter with the two bear cubs, that figure in the name of our house in Gilbert, “Saw Two Bears Den”. Katharyn, Griffin and Lorelai went to Toltec Mounds State Park and hiked four miles to retake the mileage lead for good. I picked up two miles at Gilbert on Nov. 13th.
|The Team on Flatside Pinnacle|
|Flatside Pinnacle. Photo by Katharyn Chamberlin Daniel|
Some of these miles were hundreds of feet underground by the light of headlamps as part of a new type of tour Blanchard Springs Caverns is offering!Here are some additional details on the cave miles provided by Lorelai and Griffin:
"Because there were no lights in there, we got to see a bunch of animals that lived there. We saw cave crickets, a big spider, and a lot of bats. Some even flew over our heads! I also liked seeing the ghost room. The calcite ghosts looked really cool". - Griffin
"We got to do a special cave tour with headlights. This meant we got to experience a less crowded, more personal tour that showed more of an original cave, without modern spotlights, and steel stairs everywhere. Having headlights instead of spotlights also meant we could go to places where the wildlife was not used to spotlights, and avoided, so we got to see a lot of wildlife. There were two tunnels where there were a lot of bats. One, we stood right at the entrance, and they flew really close to us! We also saw cave salamanders and crickets and other cave insects". - Lorelai
|Salamander. Photo by Katharyn Chamberlin Daniel|
On the 21st we were back at Tyler Bend to hike the Riverview and Spring Hollow trails as a loop. We got great views of the Buffalo going up the Riverview Trail (duh!) and the kids found a big cedar to climb that grew out of the bluff. It was fairly scary to watch them. Coming into the park that day we passed a van labeled “Texas A&M Galveston”, the only other vehicle we saw en route to the trailhead. As we came from the Riverview Trail past the Collier Homestead, we saw people leaving the homestead. They all had pants with muddy seats and we caught up to them as they were reentering that van – bio-speleologists doing inventories in the cave in the park. Lorelai led the way down the BRT to the Spring Hollow junction. The trails were covered with leaves and difficult to follow. We saw interesting moss and lichen on stones and dead limbs on the ground.
On the 22nd we finished up most of the remaining Tyler Bend Trails, repeating a bit on the BRT and then following the Buckridge trail down to the Spring Hollow, where we split and Joe, Lorelai and Griffin headed to the Visitor Center while Katharyn and I climbed the trail back to the car. Again, we were the only people on the trail – holiday weekend, great weather and really nice trails all to ourselves. Twelve miles of hiking over three days and I had 14 left and the grandkids were ahead of me with only 11 left!
T’was the week before Christmas and we hit the trails at Two Rivers Park (county property) and the Arkansas River Trail. On the 21st of December, we crossed the bridge to Two Rivers and the grandkids did 4 miles each and played on trees at either end of the hike to let me do an extra mile. Lorelai picked up a stick and pushed it ahead of her on the paved trail. She managed to collect a mound of pine needles three feet wide and a foot high. After we returned to the car, I had 9 miles left and they had 7 to go. We came back the next day with Katharyn and hiked from Two Rivers Bridge to the Big Dam Bridge, back to the Two Rivers Bridge and across it to the climbing trees. Lorelai and I did extra distance over the Big Dam Bridge and Griffin and I did a loop at Two Rivers so he could get even with Lorelai. He swept a mile of trail clear of pine needles with his pushing stick and made several piles beside the trail. I went home and the kids went back over the bridge again and looped for an extra mile, so we all did six that day. Three more for me and one more for Lorelai and Griffin to get to that 100 miles mark.
Iron Ranger Challenge completed!
|100 miles down! Photo by Katharyn Chamberlin Daniel|
On Dec. 29th we loaded the dogs in the car with Shannon, Griffin, Lorelai and me and headed to Gilbert to finish where we began. Gracie and Shelby accompanied us on the Railroad trail and we were joined by one of the Gilbert dogs, Toots (alias Indiana S’mores for his attitude and coloring). We did two miles out and back and I went on for another mile with Shelby while they went down to the Gilbert gravel bar. Technically we were done but the kids wanted a real finale. So we went back to the river and they laid out a circular path in the gravel and ran around it. Lorelai kept on until she had run a mile in celebration. Griffin took Gracie back to the house a bit earlier.
Final mileage totals: Lorelai 103, Griffin 102 and PopPop 101 on public lands in Arkansas in 2016. So we are all Iron Rangers and should get our patches in January! And now they say there will be another go at Iron Ranger in 2017! Katharyn says we need to get the miles in earlier in the year.