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Published: October 2008

Ozark Trail

A gossamer veil of mountain runoff curtains a pool at Pam’s Grotto

The Intimate Wild

Ozark Highlands Trail

By Mel White
Photograph by Peter Essick

The view from the bluffs atop White Rock Mountain has changed hardly a whit in thousands of years. The nearly unbroken forest of the Arkansas Ozark Plateau disappears at a horizon that may be 40 miles away, beyond ridges and valleys numberless as ocean waves. If you could speed up a video of past millennia, you would see fires and storm blowdowns and logging by the settlers who came and, mostly, went. But when the clock returned to today, you would see what the Osage Indians saw.

White Rock lies at milepost 18 of the Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail, a 165-mile-long hiking route that crosses a considerable part of northwestern Arkansas, mostly through the 1.2-million-acre Ozark National Forest. The vista from the top is among the best in the Ozarks, which makes it de facto one of the best between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Nonetheless, people who know and love the trail generally don't talk about its views, fine as they are, when they describe what they find most appealing about it.

They talk about waterfalls and rocky creeks that surge with every rain and retreat in summer to serene, solitary pools that tempt even the most prudish to skinny-dip. They talk about rock formations like chaotic sculpture gardens and hillsides profligate with trillium and trout lilies. They talk about the way most every mile changes with the seasons, from the white explosions of serviceberry and dogwood in spring to the reds and oranges of black gum and maple in fall to winter leaf-off, when sight lines open to landscapes hidden the rest of the year behind relentless greenery.

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