Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Driving Arkansas' "Pig Trail"

Last weekend I had the opportunity to enjoy a drive I hadn't experienced in more than two decades. A narrow, twisting, two-lane asphalt path stretching sixty or so miles through the Ozark Mountains from Fayetteville to Ozark, Arkansas provides drivers with beautiful vistas and serenity never found on the four-lane, divided interstate system.

At eighteen, I was a regular traveler on the route, but not because of the scenery. During my one year attending the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, I returned to North Little Rock several times on weekends. The relatively new I-540 from Alma to the home of Arkansas' flagship university wasn't yet built, leaving two possible paths to reach the college.

Then, most made the trip via US 71, the truck route for points north of Fort Smith. Well known for its switchback turns and steep grades, travelers considered it a treacherous trek the far northwestern reaches of the Natural State. But its hairpin turns didn't hold a candle to "The Pig Trail." And at the thrill-seeking age of 18, I chose to make the more dangerous journey on a regular basis.

Then, it wasn't for the scenery, but the thrill and the challenge of speeding up the twisting mountain road. But that was then...and this is now. Twenty some odd years later, I chose to take the slower route from Fayetteville to I-40 for no other reason than to enjoy the scenic beauty.

We had traveled to Siloam Springs, AR on Friday night to watch the Vilonia Eagles trounce the Panthers 48-28 and stayed the night in nearby Springdale. Early the next morning we headed south on I-540 and took the US-71 Business exit heading south through Fayetteville. On the south end of town, we turned left (east) on Arkansas Highway 16. A short time later, we found ourselves enveloped in the serene setting of the Ozark Mountains.

Though "The Pig Trail" doesn't actually start until one reaches Highway 23 just past the tiny town of Brashears, the beauty of the journey begins not long out of Fayetteville on Highway 16. The road parallels the upper reaches of the White River, offering glimpses of the winding waterway through the thick foliage of the prominent hardwood forest.

Blink and you'll miss the tiny village of Brashears, but just past it you'll find the junction of Highways 16 and 23. Turning south on 23 begins the journey on the well-known "Pig Trail."

Though we'd hoped the season was late enough to enjoy the full effect of the fall colors, the leaves remained mostly green. Still, even without the bright colors we were expecting, the drive rewarded us with spectacular scenery that one normally doesn't spot through the windshield of a car.

Most of the drive carries the motorist through the thick of the hardwood forests, sometimes almost forming a tunnel of overhanging trees that almost blocks out the sun. But a few places along the path provide beautiful overlooks offering expansive views of the Ozark Mountains.

After that drive, the interstate stretch from Ozark to the house promised to be far less enjoyable. But we stopped for a pit stop at the interstate rest area just east of the Highway 23 exit and enjoyed another spectacular look at the mountains to our north.

One of these days, we'll catch the leaves in the full of the fall color change. But even in their late autumn green state, the drive offers travelers plenty of enjoyment. God's artwork is certainly evident crossing the western Arkansas hills.