Spring Break Road Trip 2022 | Day 2 | Pineville, MO to Ozone, AR | Visiting Pea Ridge National Military Park | Hiking to Hawksbill Crag | February 2022
Our second morning of vacation started off cold, so we hurried to pack up our things and get into our warm car. We started our day with driving to Arkansas, where our first stop was Pea Ridge National Military Park. The visitor’s center was closed, and there was lots of construction on the access road, but they were kind enough to set out copies of the cancellation stamps so we didn’t miss out on anything. We picked up a map and our stamps, then began our drive around the large park learning about the history that took place here.
Curtis: Despite the fervent ‘slave state’ status that the Bloody Kansas period would have people believed, Missouri found itself with a large share of abolitionist minded people at the beginning of the Civil War, with some figures claiming that Missouri was 3:1 in favor of the union. This didn’t prevent the Missouri Governor from taking a firm pro-Confederacy stance and conducting some shady dealings to maneuver Missouri to secede. But by the end of Summer 1861, a small Federal force out of Saint Louis had forcibly removed Confederate politicians from Jefferson City to Neosho, MO and called for a re-election of those vacant seats – effectively creating two state governments. The Missouri populace found themselves similarly divided, with two state militias being formed: The pro-Union Missouri Home Guard, and the pro-Confederacy Missouri State Guard, and small pitched battles like that at Athens, Missouri were common.
By the end of 1861, the two sides had coalesced into larger fielded armies, with the Federal Army supplanting the Home Guard. Through actions at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, this Federal Army was successful in pushing the Confederate Missouri Government and its State Guard, under General Price, out of the state altogether and into the Bentonville/Boston Mountains region of Northwest Arkansas. Due to lengthening supply lines, the Federal commander, General Curtis, was unable to push further into Arkansas and instead fortified their position. The confederates, now unified under the Confederate General Van Dorn, and reorganized as an Army of the Confederacy, sought to reclaim some part of Missouri, and conducted a forced march into the Federal rear (North). Tipped off, the Federals were able to turn their lines about and engaged with the enemy in the open fields beneath Pea Ridge on March 7, 1862. By the end of the day, both armies were in much the same position as before having engaged on two fronts, though the Confederacy had managed to seize a critical cross-roads near Elkhorn Tavern. The next day however, the Federal Army formed a line of some 10,000 men – a feat that would have been visible (and some believe it to have been the only time an entire Army would have been visible in such a way during the entire war) from a prominent rock outcrop near the Confederate line – and began a lethal cannonade that destroyed the Confederate line, leading to a general retreat and a decisive Union victory.
With the Confederate Army in general retreat, General Van Dorn was unable to rally his troops and many of the State Guard troops deserted and returned north to their homes. This left no fielded Confederate forces in Arkansas for the foreseeable future allowing the Federal Army to move deeper into Arkansas towards Little Rock, and removed any substantial threat to Missouri for the remainder of the war, though guerrilla operations from those same State Guard troops would plague the Missourian countryside well after the war was over.
After driving the scenic loop road and enjoying a few short walks, we left the park and drove East on US-62, then South on AR-21. Our second stop for the day was at an access point for the Buffalo River, a National Scenic River. Curtis was hoping that we could kayak a short section of the river, because Charlotte wasn’t allowed on trails here and it would be the best way to enjoy the tall bluffs overlooking the water. However, as soon as we arrived I vetoed the plan when I saw the rapids we would immediately start with. We don’t have any experience with moving rivers and rapids, and while I myself didn’t feel comfortable with it, I knew Charlotte would be even less thrilled with the idea. So instead we just waded around the river bank here and at the next access point, admiring what we could see of the bluffs, then continued on to a hike for the day.
Our chosen hike was Hawksbill Crag, a fairly popular 3 mile hike to a rocky outcropping overlooking a the Upper Buffalo River Valley. The drive on forest roads to the trailhead was very muddy, with snow and ice on North-facing slopes, but Curtis did a great job driving and the Subaru handled it all perfectly (I personally would’ve given up the moment I saw the first part of the road going straight uphill with snow, but that’s just me — and I wasn’t about to veto more plans for the day). We arrived at the trailhead and were excited to find that we were the only ones here. We prepared ourselves for the hike, then began down the trail.
The hike was 3 miles round-trip, with nearly 400 feet of elevation gain, which mostly happens on the return trip. The trail was thankfully mostly clear of snow and ice, and while the creeks were full we were still able to easily cross them and stay dry (except for Charlotte, who usually ignores the stepping stones and walks right through). At about a mile in, there was a small waterfall which we stopped to enjoy for a few minutes, and Charlotte sniffed and waded through the water some more. We had some nice views of the opposite side of the valley, and the sound of water from snow melt falling was constant.
We made it to the end of the trail, and sat on the rocky outcropping for a while enjoying the sunshine. The return trip went by quickly, the whole hike taking up about an hour and a half. If you’re interested, check out our AllTrails trail recording here.
We know that there are plenty of trails that we could have done in the Ozarks — we could have easily stayed a whole week hiking and kayaking here if we wanted to really get to know the area — but the fact of the matter is that we were visiting during likely the least scenic time of year. With all the trees still bare, most of the views we were seeing were of a sea of brown sticks. Fall would obviously be the best time to see it all, but I’m sure spring and summer would also be considered more scenic. At least we had the temperate weather and lack of crowds on our side!
After the hike, we finished driving the forest road, took AR-16 to AR-21 and drove South a little further to Ozone Recreation & Campground. Camping fees were only $3 a night and we had the entire campground to ourselves! We made some mac & cheese for dinner, then enjoyed a peaceful and slightly warmer night reading and playing card games in the tent.