I showed up with a longboard hoping to skate Osage Park and left with a totally new hobby.
The new season of distance skating challenges through the IDSA (International Distance Skateboarding Association) were launching in late spring/early summer and I thought I'd try a new park out for the 2 km sprint challenge. Osage Park had come to my attention as one of the newest options available and I decided to try it out.
I parked my car, grabbed my helmet and board and made my way toward the wetlands featured in the park. I was looking for a reasonably flat, straight patch that I could skate for 1 km before turning around to skate back. As I walked in I noticed a family sitting on a dock, fishing poles in hands, casting and waiting for a fish to bite.
I hadn't fished since a trip to South Park in Holdrege, Nebraska as an elementary school kid. I'd always wanted to try it again, but a) didn't no where to start and b) felt like it would take time away from other activities (I have far too many hobbies).
I took off on my board, careful to avoid walkers using the trail and set off to find my 1 km spot. Unfortunately, I found out quickly that the wetlands trails have lots of bridge-like walkways and they were made of wood. Wooden slats and longboard wheels make for a very loud, crunchy ride. Add in any wetness and you have a slick, loud, crunchy ride. Osage Park was officially off my longboard list.
I couldn't, however, get the idea of fishing the little lake area out of my mind. As much as I'd try to avoid it, I had a new hobby.
I bought a fishing pole (well, two of them) some hooks, bobbers, and bait and headed back to Osage Park. Early mornings have been nice to learn a new craft. There aren't many people around just some walkers, staff working to keep the park looking nice, and folks using the pickle ball courts (pickle ball is very popular around here). There is a small food truck court including one place serving breakfast/coffee as well as a large pavilion and, I've heard, a cherry grove (I haven't seen that).
I understand there is also an archery range, and I really want to check it out, but I need to get better at fishing first (one thing at a time....maybe?!).
I stepped onto the Pigeon Roost Trailhead at 4:45 P.M. on Friday June 25th, 2021. I had no idea the evening I was about to have.
I made it to my campground at about 6:10 in the evening. I was drenched in sweat (it was close to 90 degrees F that afternoon), and ready to rest in the woods for the evening. I set up my tent while listening to an audiobook recording of Tristessa by Jack Kerouac. When my tent was complete I settled in to have a beverage and make myself some dinner. It was a quick backpack meal of mashed potatoes and Spam. I love the single serve portions of Spam for backpack meals. It has a good amount of salt, fat, and protein. When added to a high carb dish like mashed potatoes, you quickly begin to feel like yourself again after eating. The rest of my food (oatmeal and coffee for the morning), I hid out in the woods far from camp so even if a critter finds it they won't associate it with my camp.
After dinner I sat down to write a rough draft of a poem and watch the day turn into night.
Around 9:30 I crawled into my tent to sleep. BUT! But, about ten minutes after getting into the tent I heard a visitor enter my camp. It sounded like a racoon or two, something small looking for food. After about ten minutes the noise went away and I started sinking into a light sleep.
About 11:00 I was awakened by my second group of visitors. From the sound of the footsteps, I am pretty sure this group was deer. They were around for a few minutes, just long enough to wake me up, before they galloped off into the woods.
About midnight I was awakened again. This one scared me. I mean scared me.
The footsteps on gravel were deep. This was a very large animal. A very large animal. And it wasn't keen to leave despite my speaking and noise making. It wasn't afraid of my voice or the noises I made. It looked through my camp for a few minutes and left.
Well, it left for a little bit, but it decided to visit my camp again about an hour later. I heard the same deep, weighted footfalls into my camp. I listened closely to hear where it was at any point, but just when the noise seemed to disappear, the scariest part of all happened. Four distinct sniffs then a pause before another four distinct sniffs just at the rear of my tent. It was sniffing me to see if there was anything (besides me) to eat.
Surprisingly enough, I wasn't petrified by fear. With my wits still about me, I calmly replied to the sniffs that there was nothing to eat in the tent. I then took my two knives and smacked the blades together to make noise. Deciding that nothing in the tent was worth going after, I heard footsteps move away from the tent and, eventually, out of my camp.
I laid back down in my tent. By now it was close to 1:30 a.m. I waited for the loud footsteps to return, but I finally fell asleep and I was able to seep through until about 5:00 a.m. when I woke up and waited for the sky to be light enough to pack up and leave.
When the sun was up, I left my tent to look for my food pack. It was nowhere to be found. Something found it in the night and had a treat.
With no coffee to get me going, I packed up my belongings, strapped them to my back and did the four mile trek to the Trailhead.
If I'm honest (and I'm going to be), Pigeon Roost Trail at Hobb's State Park was a little bit of a disappointment. However, I have to qualify why it was a disappointment. It was only a disappointment because it looks exactly like the forest around my home. Hobb's is the nearest state park to me, and the Pigeon Roost Trail, for all the great nature around me, looked like I was hiking the MTB trails around Bentonville and Bella Vista. I was, after all, still in the neighborhood, and if I have the option to run, bike, or hike a trail that is (or feels) familiar, I'm going with run as the first choice. I love trail running in places I know, and I felt like I knew Hobb's immediately because of the landscape. Much of the trail was a ravine just like Bella Vista's MTB trails.
Still, I had a great morning doing a four mile loop at Hobb's, and unlike Bella Vista, I was able to sit down and rest at an amazing overlook. One of the great things about a solo hike is hitting the point in the journey when you become a philosopher. There is nobody else around. You have run through all your daydreams. You begin to think about what you believe in and why you believe it. Sometimes it shows the flaws in your logic and gives you the opportunity to change.
I will say that this was supposed to be my weekend to overnight backpack, and I decided not to camp mid-week because they were calling for storms. I didn't want my first overnight backpacking trip to be miserable because of some strong thunderstorms. Just last year (13 months ago to be more exact), we had some storms that became torrential downpours with incredibly dangerous straight line winds that knocked down trees all through Northwest Arkansas. Those storms, and the damage I still see in the forests around my house, were on my mind when I canceled the backpack portion of my Saturday trip.
Of course, by Saturday morning the storms were out of the forecast, but I decided to return home Saturday afternoon and relax with a campfire in the backyard with my wife instead of putting up a tent or hammock at the park. I still want to do an overnight backpack this year, but this wasn't the right weekend. I'm considering something in November or even, temperatures permitting, a December trip.
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 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.
I've been thinking of riding the entire 36 mile Razorback Greenway trail from Lake Bella Vista to Fayetteville since I first rode the Lake Bella Vista Trail several years ago. And I'd made a few five mile trips from the lake to Crystal Bridges over the years since then, but I'd never gone beyond that trek.
So, I decided to explore some more of the Razorback Greenway on a longboard.
I started just after dawn. The fog was still moving along the surface of the lake as I kicked and began coasting along the trail. The Razorback Greenway into Bentonville, passing by Crystal Bridges, is a long, winding trail full of hills some of which were far to much for me on a longboard. Just before Crystal Bridges, I was forced to pick up my longboard and walk, the hill too steep to keep any momentum while pushing.
But, once into downtown Bentonville, the land levels out and I was able to push through, even making my way to an underground tunnel.
The south Bentonville portion of the trail, however, was a little on the lackluster side of things. The trail butts up against 14th street leading into I-49 and the border to Rogers about 7 1/2 miles into my journey), where I decided to turn around and head back to Bella Vista. In all honesty, I wasn't even sure if I was still on the trail anymore. It was basically a sidewalk along a very busy 14th street, and the sidewalk was full of pebbles. I wasn't sure how long the trail remained like that, so I decided to head back.
The high points of the trail from Lake Bella Vista to Rogers happen around Crystal Bridges (the amazing art museum of Northwest Arkansas). You'll see statues, greenery, possibly even wildlife along the trail at that point.
My favorite stopping point along this portion of trail is a monument of sorts called, "A Place Where They Cried," which commemorates the hardships of American Indians forced to migrate west across Arkansas. According to the signage next to the monument, the installation is nearly two miles south of one of the Trail of Tears routes.
I'm planning on picking up the trail from Rogers on my next Razorback Greenway ride.
With Bentonville and Fayetteville just down the road, Rogers can get overlooked which is a shame. With places like Parkside Public, Levi's Gastrolounge, and Saiwok as options, Rogers should never be overlooked.
Saiwok is an order at the counter, get a number casual eatery slightly hidden in a shopping center in Rogers best known for affordably priced, delicious food. I love the casual, family friendly yet trendy atmosphere that includes a colorful mural on the wall and tasteful wooden tables.
The service is quick with each dish being brought to the table as it is completed rather than the full order being brought out. As we tend to order a variety of apps to share on our visits, I like this style. We get to start and app and, just before we're done, we have another dish to savor.
For me, the big highlight on the menu is any dish that includes their smoked pork belly. The smoked pork belly cheese fries, topped with a soft cooked egg to sauce the dish are addictive as is the smoked pork belly bao (steamed bun) which has a large slice of pork belly topped with a refreshing slaw. The big additional hit from our visits has been their brussell sprouts which are crisp and perfectly sauced.
To find more information on Saiwok, check out their Facebook Page.
When I pulled my longboard from the trunk of my car, I knew I was going to get some odd looks. While longboards are common on the sidewalks of Fayetteville, the quiet trails of Bella Vista have a different culture with a very different demographic. I walked from my car toward the beginning of the trail, smiled at an elderly couple with their dog, and strapped my helmet on my head. With a dull thud I dropped my longboard wheels down onto the pavement, and pushed off to make my way around the trail.
Northwest Arkansas is absolutely beautiful, and my favorite way to enjoy scenic, natural beauty is to skate right through it as fast as my legs and four urethane wheels will let me. I am a skateboarder. I ride skate parks, parking lots, trails. and anywhere else I can. Each different terrain requires different skills and equipment, and I have made a life out of learning all of them. Riding on trails or highways for hours on end is appropriately (and obviously) called distance skating.
Distance skating has been gaining popularity over the last decade, but has been happening since the early 80’s when Jack Smith decided to skateboard across the country to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis. Participants don’t need to learn any special tricks which makes it easily accessible for people that don’t have the desire to spend hours mastering extra fancy footwork or learn to ride up the side of a ramp but still want to roll around. I’ve ridden full and half marathon distances on my skateboard, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, it is some serious cardio.
Lake Bella Vista Trail runs parallel to highway 71 (at the end of Interstate 49) and hosts a 1.7 mile circular paved trail that also connects to the Razorback Regional Greenway, 36 miles of connected paved trails that run from Bella Vista to Fayetteville. It is surrounded on all sides by either trees, grass, or water, and on a weekday afternoon it was sparsely populated with walkers and bikers so I didn't have to weave in and out of traffic.
As I made my way around the course I nodded to the people that I passed and got some interesting looks when they realized that guy was skateboarding around the lake, but none felt judgmental or damning. It was more just a little surprise, and maybe kind of happy to see I was wearing a helmet as I rode. In fact, the people of Bella Vista have been very kind to me, welcoming me to town with smiles, waves, and handshakes.
Also of note at Lake Bella Vista (which, I’m told, is technically in Bentonville) is a disc golf course, playground, and picnic tables. However, nothing here really compares to the Veterans Wall of Honor. This beautiful monument holds the names of over 4,000 soldiers who served our country. The sheer number of plaques in this circular monument coupled with the serene fountain in the center and lush greenery around it makes the monument a sublime place to visit and ponder. This is worth visiting whether you take on the trails or not.
Anyway, back to my skate. I rode the loop, enjoyed the view, and worked up a nice sweat. And it got me thinking. The short skate around the lake was fun, but I’m really starting to think about that 36 mile trail from Bella Vista to Fayetteville. It would be my longest ride to date, and it sounds super fun.
One of the most interesting things about Northwest Arkansas is that each town retains its own personality. Walking downtown Bentonville feels different from downtown Rogers. Springdale, although so near to Fayetteville, is not a carbon copy of it's southern brother. One of the best ways to see those differences is by visiting the farmer's markets and public celebrations of each town.
One of my favorite Farmer's markets is in Fayetteville. Since the outdoor, fair weather version of the year round market opened in April, this seems a good time to share some photos I've taken at the market in the past.
By only allowing produce and crafts from a 60 mile radius of Fayetteville, you know you're seeing the real Northwest Arkansas goods.
The downtown square version of the farmer's market runs from April to October on Tuesday and Thursday (from 7 a.m. – 1 p.m.) and April to November on Saturdays (7 a.m. – 2 p.m.) on the Historic Fayetteville Square
David Thornton is a two time national award winning writer, chef, husband, father, and fitness enthusiast.