After leaving the campsite by the river the next morning we had about 9 miles left to return to the trailhead we started at two days before. It was overcast and looked like potential rain but at least it kept the heat down. There were going to be a couple of river fords that day as bounced back and forth across the river. The river in this section was already narrowing but was still flowing faster than the creeks we’d passed the days prior. At this crossing we meandered up and down looking for a possible rock-hop to avoid taking our boots off. While most of us were looking upstream my brother found a way across right under our nose. The last jump from the final boulder to the shore was a little sketchy but we all made it across!
After the scare of the group being separated, for the most part along this 9 mile stretch we stayed together (except for my brother and Chris in the last several miles—I think they were antsy to get back to the car—and they had trouble taking it as slow as some of the others in the group). It was peaceful, following the river, occassionally coming up along the bluffs, slow and gradual rises, and then descending back down along the river. It was interesting to see the river shrink the further west we walked, resembling more stream or creek than river.
We reached on final ‘major’ crossing where it appeared that enough boulders would allow for easy rock-hopping but they were always strategically placed or angled in ways that might cause slippage and falling into the water. I’m pretty sure this crossing took at least 30 minutes if not nearly an hour because of everyone crossing the river but also because of the taking shoes on and shoes off and helping each other across.
The area was picturesque and I could imagine some amazing photographs to be taken here if we’d had our good cameras. As you can see, the rocks here were tilted in some strange ways; there were a few moments I thought I was going to be going into the river!
Once back on the trail I found this butterfly which unfortunately was not going to make it. I’m not sure what was wrong, if it was the end of its lifecycle or if it had been injured, but I’m glad I stopped for a moment to enjoy it. This variety was new to me; there was such a plethora of butterflies in the forest that were different from what I was used to seeing.
It wasn’t too long before I started thinking that we should be getting close to the Little Missouri Falls…and of course we were rewarded with that by seeing a day hiker. Success! The falls were busy with folks walking all around the falls, taking pictures and generally being a little too adventurous on slick rocks. Curt and Chris had been there for an hour and they took our arrival as their cue to leave—which I was a bit peeved about. They left and the rest of us stayed and ate lunch, enjoying the falls and scenery.
After lunch we moseyed down the trail, crossed a footbridge back over the river and found a parking area with a composting toilet. I wished I’d known that before finding a tree back where we’d eaten lunch.
Before we left for the hike I’d mentioned to Chris that maybe we’d see some lady’s slippers on the hike. Chris wasn’t too sure about that, but I was happy to see (because he and Curt were ahead of us) an arrow made out of sticks pointing to two different populations of Cypripedium kentuckiense. Score!
Later on the trail meanders away from the river for awhile and we spotted some dung beetles doing what they do—rolling some dung. I thought it was cool—others did too but apparently I was the only one nerdy enough to take a photo of dung beetles in action!
After this we all started feeling the heat and tiredness of the hike. Everyone’s pace started slowing, wanting a break and though we figured we were getting close we weren’t quite sure how far away we were. At a random spot along the trail my dad decided to call time for a break, some of us finding a log to sit on for a few minutes, others just hanging out in the trail, snacking and sipping water from their water bladders. It’s always easy to turn a break into something longer but this time we felt the need to press onward and get to the car.
We kept looking for the tell-tale signs of the part of the river where we had crossed initially, at this time a 20′ wide creek, and waiting to hear the chatter of Chris, Curt and Leonard at the car.
The best part about getting back to the car was finding out that one of the hikers had brought cookies and Gatorade for snacking on back at the car! Nothing like some sugar replenishment at the end of the hike!
And that was it! Time to return home. I tried to stay away for as much of the forest drive out as I could, trying to see what we drove in at night several days prior. But, I didn’t last long and soon I was dozing before we even got to the town of Mena. I kept looking back towards the mountains, missing them already, wondering who was out hiking still.
I would definitely do this hike again, continuing with having the hard part of the up and down of the mountains first. I’m glad we took it slow and enjoyed it instead of being on a thru-hiker type of pace, though sometimes that pace is exhilarating, I do enjoy slowing down.
Thanks for putting up with the very stretched out nature of these posts! I didn’t mean for the last one to be nearly two months after the hike!