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1/19/2013
  Do you like wilderness areas? Do you like the thought of hiking into a wilderness area and thinking "Man...this is great....no roads...no 4-wheelers...just me and anyone else that will take the time and effort required to get deep into a wilderness area with their own two legs". Now....do you like beautiful creeks and valleys and towering high bluffs above these valleys? If you are like me you'd say "yes!". So...let's say you like these things. Do you also like horses? Do you like horse trails? Do you like horse trails along every creek and horse trails on top of every bluff within the boundary of a wilderness area? Do you like to hike miles into a wilderness and sit on a rock beside a creek and feel the solitude? Well sure you do. I know I do. So picture this solitude being interrupted by strings of horses with loud, lazy-ass people astride these horses sauntering past you on their biological 4-wheelers as if riding a tour bus through the countryside. Now picture this occurrence happening in every part of this wilderness area...seeing as how there are trails deep as ditches created by these horse people everywhere you look within this wilderness. If you like all theses thing...you will love the Leatherwood Wilderness Area west of Blanchard Springs in northern Arkansas. Now...keep in mind that while horses...(the very ones that create these deep, muddy tracks with beer cans and other assorted trash scattered along their edges)....are allowed in wilderness areas...mountain bikes are not. I have seen mountain bike trails and they do not cause near the damage that horses do. What I mean to say here is that the very reason for wilderness areas is totally destroyed by this one group of people. The wilderness is no longer wilderness when access is so easy. Every wilderness area in Arkansas has this problem...but this one is the worst I've ever seen. This is just my opinion...hell...what do I know. This all said...let's take a stroll into Leatherwood Wilderness Horse Park.
  Saturday morning saw me at Cody's Restaurant just a mile or so west of the entrance to to the Blanchard Springs area. It opens at 6:00 and I was there right at that time. After a great breakfast I went west to Push Mountain Road (Hwy 341) and went north to Rand Rd and headed west again. This dirt road forms the southern boundary of Leatherwood Wilderness Area. After driving 4.5 miles in I was in the woods just as the sun rose at 7:16. It was a clear 32 degrees with a bit of wind but quite comfortable. I made my way to a bluff's edge and surveyed the valley below trying to decide where to go. The horse trail I encountered there said I should follow it but I told it to go to hell and proceeded down a slot in the bluff line. After scrambling through much underbrush and around numerous dead trees the valley floor was achieved at the South Prong of Middle Creek. This was a lovely little creek with light colored bedrock and small boulders with the occasional gravel bar. It was nearly identical in character to Leatherwood Creek on the northern end of the wilderness. I had planned to go to the other side of the valley's rim and check out some bluffs but decided not to due to the horse trails. I had seen trails on satellite photos on the tops of bluffs out there but assumed they were game trails...but no! So I followed the creek downstream to its confluence with the North Prong where Middle Creek was formed, thus becoming wider at this point. A mile and a half more brought me to the mouth of Middle Creek at the Buffalo River. This is where I heard the throngs of horse people in the distance.
  From here I moved skyward and southward towards a bluff overlooking the Buffalo. I just barely escaped the dreaded horse people. There was no easy way up the bluff line so I followed it around until a suitable crack was found. It would be difficult to climb this 15 foot crack with my backpack on so I tied a rope to it and dragged it up after me. The view was great in both directions on the Buffalo but no suitable campsite was found in this area...especially due to the horse trail that ran along it. An immature bald eagle was seen at a hundred yards off flying downstream. A few minutes later I looked up to see a mature eagle fly by at eye level just near where I was standing...wow! That was the closest I had ever been to a flying eagle. The decision was made to hike out and not camp at this time (1:00). I found the dirt road and hiked back to the Nissan Xterra wilderness access device and was on my way out by 4:00. This was a good hike but I am disillusioned by the the attack of the horse people. I have hiked the Leatherwood Wilderness Area three times now and am not sure if I will return. The Lower Buffalo Wilderness across the river is equally riddled with horse trails as well. Total hike mileage was about 11.5 miles. High temps in the low 60's. Wildlife observed: 2 eagles, 1 dead turkey.

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