The original focus of iwritearkansas.com was primarily on the restaurants I traveled to along the interstates and highways from my home in the northwest corner down through the central part of the state into the delta toward Tennessee. Although, besides being a writer, I am a chef by trade, I didn't focus on fine dining experiences or the latest culinary trends. Instead my posts have been about places like Stoby's in Russellville, Johnson's Tasty Freeze in Cabot, and Poncho's in West Memphis. These are restaurants that, besides having food that tastes great, have a place in my heart for their Arkansas charm.
However, as my focus has changed, so has the website. In 2019 I decided to pursue my interests in the outdoors. I wrote a post on Lone Pine Campground which was my very first camping trip. Since then, posts on outdoor experiences have been taking over the website, and will continue to do so. In fact, I will be chronicling my experience going from novice outdoorsman to bushcraft expert whether it is setting up a hammocking rig, learning to tie new knots, or cooking over an open campfire. Arkansas is full of great outdoor experiences and living those experiences has become a passion of mine.
New restaurant experiences will, of course, still pepper my content, but culinarily my plan is to focus on both outdoor (campfire and grill) cooking along with classic Arkansas southern meals. I've always felt Arkansas is a melting pot of the foods of the surrounding states. Barbecue from Missouri and Tennessee, Cajun and creole from Louisiana mix with classic southern cooking for an excellent combination in the natural state.
I hope you continue to join me on this journey through Arkansas.
My wife and I woke up early to get ahead of the heat as the weather forecast called for 90+ degree temps without a cloud in sight. I packed my daypack with a few granola bars and an ice cold hydration pack I'd taken from the freezer the night before. My goal was to not only take in the scenery and hike a trail, but to also check it out for a possible backpacking trip in the fall. I've never done an overnight backpacking trip, but it is something I've always wanted to get into.
In truth, besides being a chef and writer, I have been an avid skateboarder for over thirty years. Skateboarding has, for better or worse, always been the first and foremost activity outside of work and family for me. The downside of being absolutely devoted to skating is that I have let opportunities to do other things pass by me. Those things I always wanted to do but have not include camping, hiking (backpacking), trail running, cycling (mountain biking), and bushcraft. So, in August of 2019 I decided to fix that. I have done all of those things I didn't let myself do, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I haven't, of course, quit skating. Instead, I've focused on freestyle and distance skating. I freestyle for at least an hour a day at least five times each week, and I compete in The International Distance Skateboard Association challenges each month. When all is said and done, I've become a much better skater and I've broadened my scope of life.
Anyway, back to Devil's Den!
We got off the interstate and made the drive down into Devil's Den, which you must admit, sounds really cool to say. It was about twenty minutes into the drive when we saw the sign letting us know we'd arrived. As we continued in we passed cabin sites, some of which already had activity bustling around them as campers headed out for hikes and cooked breakfast. It appeared that new camper cabins were being built as well, and the construction team was already hard at work.
We had to wait a few minutes for some folks to finish up in the visitor's center (only four people at a time during Covid-19), but I was able to get a hiking map and some Devil's Den stickers to commemorate the occasion. I always buy stickers at state parks I visit (although I wish I would have started that tradition from the first time I visited a state park). The visitor's center was very sparsely filled with items. I don't know if that is because of Covid-19 or if they keep it so sparse all the time.
After looking over the map, we decided to hike The Devil's Den Trail, which had a trail-head just behind the visitor's center. The Devil's Den trail is 1 1/2 miles of fun, rocky trail with interesting caves and caverns along the way. It passes by Lee Creek, but it has been so dry lately that there wasn't a lot happening. I will say that the creek was clear enough to see the fish swimming around. According to the Arkansas State Park website, this trail is, " This rocky trail is a perfect example of the rugged Boston Mountain terrain," and I'd say they are perfectly correct in saying that.
After leaving the trail we explored the park a little bit including hiking a little of The lake Trail and checking out one of the bridges. We passed by the pool which looked amazing after hiking in the July heat.
My plan is to backpack (or possibly bikepack) The Butterfield trail in late September or early October when the heat isn't as bad, and I can use my hammock set up
Just off highway 64 about an hour away from the Tennessee border is Village Creek State Park. Village Creek is somewhere around 7,000 acres with a lot to do including golfing, camping, and hiking. Not being a golfer (I just don't get the desire), I chose to camp and mountain bike during my brief visit. However, I must admit, it is very hard for me to write about my experience in a positive way because I never should have gone in the first place.
I lift weights every morning before I start my day during the week, and the Friday morning before visiting Village Creek I decided to increase my weights by a few pounds too much. I pulled a muscle in my lower back which I tried my best to ignore during my trip down from northwest Arkansas through Russellville, Bald Knob, and Wynne. I continued to ignore the pain as I checked in to my site, put up my tent, and took my mountain bike down from the back of the car. I even ignored the pain as I rode my mountain bike on the m.b. trail.
I could not, however, ignore the pain as I got off of the mountain bike. I could barely walk. Getting onto my sleeping bag and pad was a challenge, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to get up off the ground in the morning. In fact, I wondered how I might get an ambulance to help me, the pain was that bad. So, I was laying in my tent by 6 p.m. Friday night and didn't attempt to get up until 5 a.m. the next morning. And that was excruciating. It was equally as excruciating as I loaded my gear, took down my tent, and put my bike back on the car rack. Immediately after leaving, I went to Wynne and purchased pain meds, some instant ice packs, and a back brace. It would be two weeks before I could pick up another weight or go running.
So, with all of that said, how was Village Creek!
Village Creek isn't the place that you're going to get freedom from everyone like Lone Pine outside of Marrianna, and it isn't mountainous like Devil's Den. It is, however, a huge park with very friendly staff, an equestrian campsite, tons of places to hike, a 27 hole golf course, and two lakes. It is also very convenient to Wynne, a small and pleasant town on highway 64.
Just below Windsor Creek Dam and just off Lancashire Boulevard in Bella Vista, is a two mile circular nature trail called Tanyard Creek. Tanyard Creek is not only easy to hike or trail run (no bikes allowed), but it also boasts a beautiful waterfall and has access to the miles and miles of single track mountain biking trails. It might seem odd to have a no bike trail connected to MTB trails, but as a trail runner it is wonderful. You know you won't have any bikes along this part of the path, but you have the option to make your run much longer by skipping over the the MTB trails. In fact, this is my favorite place to run for two reasons:
1. I have great memories of getting turned around with my son and my niece on one of my first visits here.
Several summers ago I brought my son and niece to Tanyard Creek for a little dayhike. We walked the paved trail toward the first bridge then circled to our left to go up to the waterfall. We came back down and made our way around the trails until they were sufficiently worn out and ready to head home. I, however, didn't realize that there were two nearly identical bridges. I kept circling around to the same bridge, the whole time wondering how in the world we could be lost in such a small park (I'd never been on the other side of the trail by the way). Finally, I figured out my mistake and we were able to get back to my vehicle. I think about this memory every single time I step foot on the trail.
2. It is where I learned to trail run.
For the first several months of off-road running, Tanyard Creek was the only place I'd go. I learned the trails backwards and forward and pushed myself time and time again before branching off to start running the mountain bike trails. It is, after all, an easy trail to get yourself acclimated to off-road running. You will have to run on dirt with some very rocky areas. You will have spots where you may have to cross water (depending on rainfall). You have some elevation changes but nothing that will make you feel like you suddenly took up mountain climbing. And when all is said and done, you're right by Bella Vista proper if you want to run by Harp's Grocery for a snack or down to JJ's for a burger and a beer.
David Thornton is a two time national award winning writer, chef, husband, father, and fitness enthusiast.