Friday, January 04, 2008

New Year's Day Hike

Rush, Arkansas

I don't remember exactly when our tradition of partying on New Year's Eve (and beyond) transformed into hiking on New Year's Day, but it happen several years ago. (Could it possibly be related to getting older?) Weather permitting, we pick a trail from a guidebook – usually one we haven't hiked before – and hike with a group of friends. It's a great way to begin a new year, and while I may be a little tired at day's end, hiking hasn't yet produced a hangover.

We've hiked with as many as seven or eight other couples in years past, but our group of co-hikers has dwindled as folks moved out of the area, lost interest and or just got lazy. Only one other couple joined us for this year's hike in the Rush Historic District of the Buffalo National River.

Clabber Creek

The Weather

It was sunny but chilly, with a temperature that never climbed out of the thirties and a 20 mph or so north wind. During the course of our hike, I changed costumes more often than Cher does during a performance. I wasn't actually changing costumes, of course, just taking layers of clothing off and then putting them back on. Hiking uphill out of the wind and in the sunshine required about half as many clothes as walking downhill in the wind on the shady side of the mountain.

A tiny mushroom braves the chilly
winter air.

A Brief History of the Rush Area

Rush is an old zinc mining town. Zinc mining peaked during World War I when there were 12 named mines in the area – and who knows how many smaller excavations -- that produced 3,209 tons of zinc. The population during the peak mining years is estimated at 5,000, which may not seem like a lot of folks to an urbanite, but is over twice as large as any town in Marion County today. Following WWI the market for zinc crashed and never recovered. In 1924 only four tons of zinc were produced.

The population of Rush rapidly fell to only a few hundred people and continued a gradual decline thereafter. The Rush post office was closed in the 1950s and the last resident move away in the early 1960s. In 1972 most of the Rush area was acquired by the National Park Service because of it's proximity to the Buffalo National River.

We were here. (Photo by Jo)

Not much of Rush remains today. Time, salvage and vandals took their toll on wooden structures, though there are still five houses in various states of disrepair along the main road. (These house look to me as if they've been moved to their present side-by-side location, but I'm not sure about that.). Concrete footings mark the past location of mining equipment. Virtually all of the equipment itself was melted as scrap during World War II. Of course, the mines and tailing piles still dot the hillside. A couple of the mines remained semi-active as sources of mineral specimens for many years after the decline of zinc mining.. Specimen collection by individuals continued until the mines became federally protected in 1972, and in fact, continued illegally until the entrances were closed with bat gates in 1996. (One of the specimen mines is on private property and posted against trespassing.) These mines were not safe by today's standard when they were still in full production. Eight decades of crumbling rock, decaying timbers and vertical shafts filling with water haven't made them any safer.

An entire ecosystem growing on top
of an old stump. (Photo by Jo)

Hiking Trails

To tell you the truth, Rush wasn't one of our better choices for a New Year's Day hike. There really wasn't much to see or photograph on the trails. We started out walking above and parallel to Clabber Creek, but the trail mostly just cuts through the woods. Even in winter you get only occasional glimpses of the creek below. After following the trail onto private property – it was marked but not posted – we did find an bluff-top overlook where I was able to photograph the creek below. From the overlook we backtracked to the over-the-mountain trail. This trail is a couple of miles long and some sections are steep enough that it's hard to keep your footing. I'm used to walking up and down hills, but there were muscles in the backs of my thighs that protested from unaccustomed overuse. Finally, we looped back to the parking lot along the mine level trail. After you've seen a half dozen barred adits and tailing piles, they tend to become less interesting.

Lichens or a something in the rock?
I couldn't decide.

It was around three o'clock by the time we returned to the parking lot. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring the old town area of the park, but the temperature was dropping again and we wanted to make it home before dark so we didn't linger. Someday when we are in that area again, we will return to Rush and spend more time in the old town area, but I don't think we make the effort to walk the trails again.

Three of the original prospectors in the Rush area built this silver smelter in 1886. The men made their discovery, filed a claim, began mining, built this smelter, loaded it with charcoal and ore-bearing rock and were fully prepared to become rich when the precious metal flowed out the hole at the bottom of the furnace. Only when no molten silver emerged did they come to realize they'd found zinc and not silver. Their exact words upon making this realization were not recorded, and probably could not be included on this blog had they been, but it was reported that the three prospectors were broke, discouraged and out of grub and soon abandoned their claim.



Q said...

Dear Marvin,
This was an interesting post! Thank you for telling the story of Rush. I love to go hiking but require fairly easy trails and lots of water and time. I too layer and find even in my backyard I am putting on and taking off.
A very nice way to bring in the New Year.
May 2008 bring you and yours prosperity and good health.

Lana Gramlich said...

Very interesting description. Great idea, btw--hiking with friends at a new spot every New Year's. Charles & I hike every Full Moon (weather permitting.) We're considering hiking on New Moons, too, so we see more stars.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to get out but we were hit with a snowstorm! Thanks for sharing your great day with us!

Mary said...


It was interesting to learn about Rush and the zinc mines. While you think your hike didn't give great photo opps, I was intrigued by the lichen/fungus photo - very odd.

After a long hike like that, I'm sure you were glad to be home in the warmth and slept like a babe!

Marvin said...

Sherry: Thank you. Putting clothes on and taking them off can be a hassle, but layering is much better than being stuck with too hot or too cold.


Lana: Your night hikes sound intriguing, though I don't know if a new moon hike would be safe in these parts.


Tom: Even this far south there have been a few New Year's Days that we didn't get to hike. Sometimes the weather just doesn't cooperate.


Mary: Thank you. You are right about sleeping. I ended up staying up until the wee hours of the morning (as usual), BUT I took a two hours nap right after we got back home.

Dave @ Around Alaska said...

Nice post Marvin. Thanks for telling us about Rush. I wonder if those silver miners are related. That sounded like my kind of luck.

Marvin said...

Could be, Dave. The "silver" mine they abandoned went on to become the Morning Star zinc mine, one of the most prosperous in the area.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Marvin, this sounds like a great way to start a New Year. We are birders so we usually start our year by looking for birds around our area to make the start of our "year list".

I loved seeing the lichen and moss. I think it is lichen on the rock. I wish I knew more about these things. There are so many, too many for this mind to wrap around.

Marvin said...

I think you're right about it being lichens on the rock, Lisa. The other day I started trying to do some lichen research for a post I haven't made yet. I thought it would be easy because they are such "simple" organisms. I was very wrong. There are thousands of different lichens, and some of them require a chemical analysis to ID. I think I may end up posting my other lichen photos without providing a specific ID.

lisa said...

Great tour, Marvin! Those "underground Ozark-ians" sure know how to put together a cool adventure, and your idea is a great one, too. So nice to have a healthy New Year's tradition, and to spend it with friends is all the better!