There is a stretch of mountain country between Russellville, AR, and Hot Springs, AR, that makes that 60-mile stretch of Hwy. 7 so beautiful you just have to stop here and there to absorb it.
In the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps workers, men from all over the country who worked for measly depression wages, made some beautiful campsites, short trails, rock walls and rock bridges, which are a testament to their handiwork and ability.
All through Arkansas’ Ozark National Forest and Ouachita National Forest, and all along the Buffalo National River, there are trails which are traveled by thousands of people who think they are really seeing the wilderness. Traveling those established trails certainly is not close to “getting off the beaten path,” as one writer called it recently.
If you want to see some of those mountains alone, set out where there are no trails. Take a map and compass, determine where the largest blocks of forestlands are found and head out. Travel up a stream for a while, then look for gentler slopes where you can climb to a ridge-top, explore small tributaries to look for out-of-the way caves and waterfalls. The Ouachitas have plenty of both.
Those mountains also have mountain lion and black bear and between May and October you might happen across a big timber rattler or two.
To do this, you should take a pack and you might want to take the gear along for an overnight stay. Travel slowly and carefully and take a camera. This is the best time of year to do it, because of the lack of insects and snakes.
I often see, on television and in magazine articles, groups of hikers and suburban naturalists attempting to advance their survival skills. It is a little bit funny to see them working with flint and steel to build fires, as the early mountain men did.
It is silly, in this day and time, to mess with such things. Even the best of the backwoodsmen in this day and time, carry a couple of cigarette lighters along.
When outdoors for any occasion from hunting, fishing or just exploring, I carry one in my pocket. It weighs about an ounce and with one you can have a roaring fire built before a novice with flint and steel can get a few sparks to fly.
I learned from my grandfather, an old river trapper, hunter and fisherman, to take along a well-sealed vial of carbide in the winter or early spring. Carbide granules create a gas when water is added, and creates a strong flame. If it is raining, carbide just burns hotter and stronger with added moisture. Of course, it is only necessary during the extremely cold months when you need a flame in a hurry.
What is the most important item you can have if you are lost in the deep woods in inclement weather?
The old-timer bush pilots in Canada all give the same answer my grandfather gave…a good axe. With an axe you can survive, figuring no one would be without their belt knife and a lighter anyway.
Do you know how to make a deadfall? Surviving in the summer is easy, but during the winter, you need food and more of it. Deadfalls, which can easily be made with a good axe or sharp knife, can get you food in a hurry if you know how to make them.
The best thing about a deadfall is you can create 20 of them in very little time.
There are lots of secrets to survival, but you’ll never need them unless you do indeed venture into true wilderness, places where your cell phone won’t work.
A key to survival is knowing how to find the shelter of caves or overhanging bluffs, or knowing how to use your axe to make a survivable shelter. The Canadian trappers and bush pilots all know how to use big spruce trees to create a bed by cutting lower limbs to fall beneath the tree and using upper limbs to shelter a person from rain and snow.
In the Ozarks you can make a warm and sheltering cover out of cedars in a cedar thicket. Nothing makes a more survivable situation in our region than a thick cedar stand, where you can use small trees as wind and rain protection beneath larger trees. Cedar boughs, like the spruce boughs, get your body off hard, cold ground and create air spaces beneath you when you have to sleep.
I could write my own book on survival but dozens have been written. Some are very good because they have been written by men who have been there and done that. Others aren’t so good.
The main ingredient in surviving any outdoor situation is the grit of the person involved, determination and toughness. The law of the wild has always been, “the strong survive.”
Men have altered that to a point where, in modern life, survival of the fittest no longer is an absolute truth. But in the wilderness, it still holds true. You can give a weak person all they need and they may not have what it takes to make it. An inner strength, which is hard to measure, can make the difference. Modern life makes it hard for that inner strength to develop. It becomes harder to find someone who has skinned a squirrel or split wood, harder to find men who know how to actually find a cave or a cedar thicket. But there are lots of folks, I notice, learning to start fire with flint and steel.
Our Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet is just a little more than a month away, so you might be gathering your old lures and outdoor gear you want to sell or swap. We’ll have some tables for those who only have a few items.
Last year we had 50 tables filled with antiques, and modern gear as well, everything you can imagine pertaining to outdoor and country living. The tables are free and admission is free.
There’ll be breakfast and dinner served and lots of door prizes. Don’t forget that date. It is March 23 in the Brighton Assembly of God Church auditorium on Hwy. 13, about 16 miles north of Springfield.
Call me if you want to reserve a table – 417-777-5227 – or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my website is larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.