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Just got back from a long weekend outing with Scouts to Devil's Den State Park and a hike along the Butterfield Trail in the Park and adjoining Ozark Nat. Forest.
Devil's Den S. P. is known for its interesting collection of caves and karst formations, including the eponymous Devil's Den, a four hundred foot cave accessible, with scrambling, to the reasonably fit. The Park straddles the Lee Creek Valley, including a small lake created by a CCC dam project from the early '30s. (Many of the park structures, and indeed the park itself, date from that era.)
Butterfield Trail is named for the short-lived stage coach route which passes close to the park. The Butterfield Overland Coach ran from 1858-61, its route beginning in NW Arkansas and continuing all the way to San Francisco. The hiking trail is a loop beginning and ending in the state park, but with the majority of its miles in the National Forest to the south of the park. The terrain is hilly, and the going often quite rocky. The total length of the trail is listed at 14.5 miles; short side hikes for campsites or scenic vistas may add the occasional 0.5 to 1.5 miles.
Though camping 100 ft or more off the trail is acceptable on Ozark NF lands, as in most cases within NFs, there are two designated campsites located at approximately mile marker 6 and as a short (approx. 0.5 mi) extension off the main trail at about mile 9. (Mile markers listed as if traversing the trail in a clockwise manner.) The first site, Rock Hole Camp, is in a flat, pleasing area near a creek, and makes for a good overnight stay. The second, Junction Camp, is near the confluence of Lee Creek and another (I don't recall the name at the moment), and has enough scattered sites throughout to reasonably encamp three or even four groups of hikers.
After arrival late Friday and camp set-up in the main camping area in DDSP, our Scouts took to the trail Saturday AM. Because we had among the group two young lads who only a couple months ago joined the troop, we decided to lop off the first three miles or so of the trail, shuttling our team up to where the trail crosses the highway at a turn-out and parking area. This eliminated a relatively hard three miles of climbing for the younger lads, and allowed them to ease into the hike much more easily.
The elevation varied from approximately 1000 feet or so to about 1500 feet. The trail is well marked, and reasonably maintained otherwise. Loose rock and spring "potholes" were common in several areas, but easily passed through, and at no time were any of us unsure of the trail direction, simply by following the trail and blazes. (This mildly disappointed one of our leaders, who kept looking for an excuse to ask, "Where in the blue blazes are we?")
On this weekend, the beginning of spring break for many schools of whatever sort across the region, the trail saw moderate use. During our two days on the trail, we encountered about 8 other parties, about evenly split between day hikers and overnight groups. One other group was a Scout troop from Oklahoma.
Weather was typical for spring in the lower midwest--daytime highs in the low fifties, nocturnal lows in the mid-to-upper thirties. The sky featured mid-level stratus cloud formations through both days, but no rain.
Wildlife was scarce, at least to sight. No large mammals were seen on the hike, and only modest sign of raccoon, etc. There was the occasional squirrel, and bats were to be seen on separate day hikes up to the State Park caves. Birds were moderately active. Numerous turkey vultures, and the occasional red-tailed hawk, one ?harrier, and one lone owl hooting comprised the raptor population we encountered. Lots of juncos still around, as well as over-wintering goldfinches, nuthatches, tufted titmice, chickadees, and the like. Several woodpeckers, mostly red-bellied and downy, were also spotted. Of interest was the impressive calling of the nocturnal chorus of little frogs, of what sounded like two species.
Water levels in the area's creeks and streams was significantly lower than in previous experience for this time of year. Crossing Lee Creek was possible without getting wet feet; at the same crossings a year ago, the water was nearly mid-thigh level.
Our final two nights were spent again in the main SP camping area, with day hikes through the SP to caves, views, and waterfalls. The final night was marred by the late-night and early morning noise and boorish behavior of a group of what appeared to be college students from Oklahoma. (They wore OU Sooner apparel almost without exception, and both vehicles that carried them bore OK license plates.) Even when very peaceably approached with a request to quiet down at 2 AM, they lessened the inebriated din for only as long as it took the requester to get back into his mummy bag. The obnoxiousness finally ceased at about 4 AM. The event was used as an object lesson for the Scouts, demonstrating how one group's fun could easily become something quite different for neighbors, etc.