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story.lead_photo.caption Crevice caves appear frequently along a bluff line at Alum Cove Natural Bridge scenic area. Keyhole caves that go back maybe 10 feet are also plentiful. - Photo by Flip Putthoff

A hike to see the natural bridge at Alum Cove is always a treat. Steady, cold rain made this trek truly special.

Trails close by

More trails await hikers not far from Alum Cove Natural Bridge. Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area is about 30 minutes south. Follow Arkansas 16 east to Arkansas 7. Go south on Arkansas 7 and go east on Arkansas 16 again. The trailhead is six miles on the right. Round Top Mountain trail is about 12 miles north, near Jasper. Follow Arkansas 16 east. Go north on Arkansas 7. Look for signs to the trail about three miles south of Jasper.

Source: Staff report

It’s natural to be gun-shy of hiking in the rain when mist and fog on the drive to the trail turn roadside trees into freakish skeleton shapes. There was no talk of turning back on this Edgar Allen Poe kind of day.

Fog seemed to swallow up the little town of Deer, home of the Deer Antlers school teams, on curvy Arkansas 16 in Newton County. Headlights cut a path a mile east, then three miles north, to Alum Cove Natural Bridge trailhead.

Here in an isolated valley of the Ozark National Forest, a massive stone archway is the centerpiece of Alum Cove Natural Bridge scenic area. It’s a downhill walk of maybe 200 yards to view the natural bridge. Then there’s a wealth of rocky gems to see across the hollow along a 1.1-mile loop trail.

This wooded and rocky mile is no cake walk. A hike at Alum Cove has a downhill start and an uphill finish with plenty of level tread in between.

Gene Williams crept carefully along the muddy path heading down, down, down to the natural bridge. Tree roots wend their way across the trail like veins on the back of a hand. A hiking staff helped him stay upright.

A muddy tread leads to a world of rock, moss and lichen at the natural bridge. The trail guides hikers across the top of the bridge to a trail that leads to the bottom. Views from below are show-stoppers — the kind of wonders that make one profess their love of Arkansas.

Information at the trail-head tells hikers the natural bridge is 130 feet long and 20 feet wide.

“The natural arch is all that remains of what was a quartz, sandstone cave,” says the information panel. “The weathering process of wind, rain and ice formed the opening between the arch and rock overhang.”

The arch was a good place on this wet Friday to get out of the rain and gather a camera-load of photos of Alum Cove Natural Bridge. But the best was yet to come.

Williams slogged downhill, hopped a small creek, then huffed back uphill to a tunnel in the rock, like a cave with an entrance at each end. He chose a clockwise route around the loop that follows the base of a bluff wall.

Keyhole caves that go back maybe 10 feet are everywhere. Crevice caves and fissures await curious eyes.

All the while, rain sounded in the forest.

“It’s like we’ve been hiking by a waterfall the whole way,” Williams said, pitching into another little cave.

The loop curves away from the bluff and crosses the little creek again. From here, hikers get a calorie burn on the uphill hike back to the parking area.

At hike’s end, picnic tables under trees are fine for lunch on sunny afternoons. This day a pavilion was welcome shelter from steady, light rain.

“This whole area is a treasure trove,” Williams said, munching his sub sandwich. “There’s the bridge itself, but the three or four natural bridges on the other side, to me, that’s the treasure trove.”

The hike out of the hollow is a lung and leg burner.

“On the wheezer scale I’d give it a 6.5,” Williams testified. “That last bit of climb from the natural bridge to the parking lot gives it that extra point five.”

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com or Twitter @NWAFlip

Print Headline: Rainy-day makes bridge shine

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