@story TODD WHETSTINE
@images WILD WOODS PHOTOGRAPHY
White Rock Mountain is a rugged, towering sandstone cliff that gets its name from the lichen that grows along the face of this majestic mountaintop. The lichen gives the mountain its brilliant white appearance. But its beautiful face pales in comparison to what lies on top. There stand three CCC-(Civil Conservation Corps) built cabins and a group lodge, all rustic gems with comfort and style. Four covered shelters provide views of the stunning vistas and vanishing valleys below. These cabins provide a good base for day or overnight exploration adventures on trails that showcase the peace and serenity of the Ozarks. A cozy little campground is tucked beneath the shade of a thick oak canopy.
After the adventurous drive through a moonlit night along the craggy, uneven ridge, I made my way past the White Rock Mountain campground to the parking area. Then, a short hike led me to the main lookout. From there I could see past Shores Lake toward the Mulberry River, an area that has spawned my love for the Ozarks. I could see the Arkansas River and Mount Magazine. The Ozark National Forest makes up 1.2 million acres, and I swear I was looking at it all!
You’ll be stepping back in time when you get to the top. White Rock Mountain cabins have a bit of what I call sophisticated rusticity. All the lumber and stone that support the walls and windows was milled and picked up on top of White Rock. The furniture you’ll find throughout the lodge and cabins was built from logs harvested, milled and made there as well. The beds, desks, dressers, and chairs are works of art, cared for and maintained by curator Paula White.
Paula leases the mountaintop retreat from the Forest Service and does a heck of a job keeping it up. The cabins and lodge are spotless and stocked with firewood to ensure warmth and comfort on cool days.
The mountaintop resort is one of the finest preserved diamonds the CCC ever created. In 1987, a volunteer group known as “The Friends of White Rock” began restoring the old rustic creations. Four years later, after much planning and tough physical labor, the restoration was complete.
Hikers and backpackers will enjoy a trail system that showcases some of the most remote trails in the region. Due to the heavy rain I encountered, I took the short Rim Loop Trail hike.
I stood atop the gorgeous face of White Rock Mountain after heavy rains pounded down throughout the night. I looked out at the oncoming thunderheads the weatherman predicted would wreak havoc all day long and took in the beauty of our Natural State. I love to photograph in bad weather, and I could tell I was going to get all I wanted.
The Rim Loop Trail is approximately two miles of the most breathtaking vistas the Ozarks can offer. Careful footwork is needed to navigate the trail, but it’s fairly flat and can be enjoyed at every age. Keep your pets on a leash, and keep your kids close. At 2,260 feet above sea level, you sure as heck don’t want to fall there. This is the third highest peak in the state. The rim trail has covered shelters on each side of the loop that provide protection from the elements and a great spot to sit and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
The shelters came in handy. Dense fog and steady rain had me ducking for cover to ride out the storm. Towering oak trees reached up through the fog, giving it a mystical look and feel. I love photographing in the fog; the moisture in the air provides color with a deeper saturated tone. Nature photography is all about timing, and I’d waited all week for these conditions.
Another great hiking adventure lies in the Shores Lake Loop Trail. This is a 13.4 mile loop brings you right back to the top, after a rugged, steep climb back up the mountain from Shores Lake. It’s an easy over-nighter, or fairly tough day hike. The shuttle from Shores Lake takes a while, but might be the best option for many. Not having to climb back up the hill from Shores Lake not only cuts the trip in half, it eliminates the tough climb back to the top.
Hikers and backpackers will benefit from all the shade along the way. This trail cuts through a very dense forest of oak and pine. This trail has a few wet crossings, and if heavy rain is occurring, crossing could get tough. There are several places to pitch tents and spend the night under the stars. I love nights under the stars with songs of the whitewater streams singing their lullabies.
Whether you’re here for the weekend or staying for the week, White Rock Mountain provides an excellent hub for natural adventures from geocaching and hiking to photography and backpacking.
Better still, it’s only about an hour away from Fort Smith. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place for a weekend getaway. There have been issues with a landslide in the area. Many old roads have been closed. To ensure you reach the top without getting detoured, call Paula at 479.369.4128 to get detailed driving instructions.
Directions: Take Arkansas 215 north from Mulberry for 15 miles, then follow Forest Service Road 1505 (paved for 0.5 mile, then gravel) for 8 miles, then turn left (west) on Forest Service Road 1003 (gravel) for 2.5 miles.For more information, check out whiterockmountain.com.