Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Iron Ranger Challenge: Miles 0-9 (Pea Ridge National Military Park - Horse Trail)


On Saturday, February 27, I set out on my first Iron Ranger trek of the year on an unseasonably warm winter morning. For my first hike this year, I chose to go to a new spot I have never visited in the Arkansas National Parks, Pea Ridge National Military Park. Lucky for readers, Johnnie has already visited this spot before and has prepared a write-up for a forthcoming guidebook. I will be including his notes for details about the trail itself.

The short history of Pea Ridge is as follows: "On March 7-8, 1862, 26,000 soldiers fought here to decide the fate of Missouri and the West. The 4,300 acre battlefield honors those who fought for their beliefs. Pea Ridge was one of the most pivotal Civil War battles and is the most intact Civil War battlefield in the United States.[source] The cost of entry will run you $7.00 unless you are a current National Park pass holder or fall into the child or senior categories. It was well worth the price and I was happy to support the NPS. The staff were welcoming and the visitor center was pleasantly set out in front of the expansive battlefield of Pea Ridge.

There are two options for hikers at Pea Ridge National Military Park. The Horse trail or the Hiking Trail. I chose the Horse Trail because it was easier to find the trailhead and I ended up enjoying it because there were no other people on the trail and I enjoyed the solitude the Saturday morning experience brang. I always favor the road less traveled by, it makes all the difference. I was joined by Roxie, a terrier mix, who I was dogsitting, and she proved to be the perfect companion for the hike. We stopped for water only a few times. I was amazed by the vistas and taken aback by the sheer size of the battlefield. The following paragraphs are Johnnie's detailed trail notes.

The Horse Trail is a long loop trail, approximately 9 miles, and visits parts of the park that the hiking trail misses. Hiking this trail is discouraged when horses are present, but you can check at the Visitor Center or look for trailers at the trailhead. Due to the horse traffic, the trail can be mucky and boggy in places, especially in the days following a rain. That said, the trail is generally flatter and less rocky than the hiking trail. The main Horse Trail trailhead is shown on the park brochure map and is west of the Visitor Center. From the parking area, follow the gravel road west. After 0.1 mi. the trail forks, go left on what looks like a grassier dirt road. The trail is flat here and passes through an area with lots of oak trees and then through a cedar grove. In about a quarter-mile, the trail turns to the right and follows a what must be an old road or railroad bed. This half-mile long flat straight section is lined with mature trees and feels like a tree tunnel. Near the end of the straightaway, Pratt's field is visible off to the right and inland seaoats fill the understory. From here, the trail turns left and goes slightly downhill into more of a bottomland area with young sycamore and oaks.

At the 1.0 mile mark, the trail crosses Lee Creek, which has a bedrock bottom that can be slick when wet. Across the creek, moss-covered cedar provide color in the winter months. In another 250 yards, the trail crosses a smaller creek. The woods in this area are fairly open and likely kept that way through the use of controlled burns (some evidence of which was visible when I visited). In a quarter-mile, the trail forks in an open grassy area with lots of sumac. The branch to the left connects to the loop road north of the Leetown Battlefield site. Stay straight and continue on the main trail.

In another quarter-mile, the trail passes through another open area and then into some drier rockier woods as it makes its way around the west side of Round Mountain through Morgan's Woods.

At the 1.9 mile mark, the horse trail hits Ford Road, you can take a right to do the shorter horse trail loop. Turn left and follow Ford Road to the paved loop. A hundred yards after you cross the road, you'll come to nice pond on your right which is at the 2.0 mile mark. The trail here is wide, slightly eroded, and lined with Osage Orange trees and cedars. As you head northwest, some large fields are visible through the woods off to the left. A small, less scenic, pond off to the left marks the 3.2 mile mark.

A couple hundred yards later, a side trail branches off to the left and leaves the park. Stay right to stay on the main trail which follows the park boundary for just under half a mile before turning south and heading back towards the heart of the park. The road continues straight, but the trail, sign, and blazes directing you to the right are easy to spot. The trail heads gradually uphill for the next mile or so. At the 5.1 mile mark, a side trail forks off to the right and connects to the paved road. The trail can be difficult and boggy in this area. A short rock wall parallels the trail off to the right here for about half a mile, then the trail turns right and steeply uphill passing through the rock wall and up on top of Elkhorn Mountain where it levels out.

At 5.8 mi. the trail reaches the edge of the mountain, offering great views in the winter of the surrounding hills, before heading downhill. Shortly after that, the trail crosses a small ephemeral stream, which when flowing, is home to a small scenic waterfall and cascades up the hill to your right. This section of the trail has some interesting large moss-covered boulders and logs. For a short distance a fence lines the left side of the trail, marking the edge of the park. At the 7.25 mile mark, the trail crosses the Hiking Trail and 100 yards later it crosses the paved road into a small wooded area with lots of Osage Oranges, oaks, and hickories. You can see the Elkhorn Tavern off to the left and in another 200 yard the trail reaches the road again and runs alongside it.

At 7.5 mi. the trail intersects Old Ford Road (this is where you'd come out if you took the shortcut mentioned earlier, or feel free to check it out from this side. Continuing along the road, in 250 yards, the hiking trail forks off to the left. This section of the trail offers great views of the large fields in the center of the park where much of the fighting took place. Numerous cannons and vivid descriptions on educational signage aid in imagining how different the now peaceful and beautiful area must have been for those days in 1862.

At the 8.1 mile mark, with the visitor center visible off to your left, the trail slants away from the road following the fence line and into the woods.

At the end of the day, the solitude of hike and the perfect weather helped me reflect on the winter experiences thus far and prepare for the week ahead. I am grateful to Johnnie for providing his trail notes and definitely plan to visit Pea Ridge National Military Park again.

Lastly, if anyone didn't see the exciting Lonely Planet announcement, Northwest Arkansas was ranked #7 on their Top 10 places to Visit in the U.S. This is a big deal, go Natural State!

Until next time, thanks for reading and I wish you a wonderful transition into the spring.


Pictures Below Include: 1. Welcome Sign on Visitor Center 2. Picture of Horse Trail Marker, be on the lookout for these to stay on track 3. Picture of Roxie by pond along the trail 4. Picture of battlefield 5. My Route of the Horse Trail, there is also a map available on the NPS website






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