Ozark Highlands Hiking Trail Section 3 Cherry Bend to Lick Branch – Day 2
We woke up pretty early for day two. My tent is orange so when the light dawns it always at first seems brighter and later than it really is. We had some coffee around the fire then packed up for the trip. I pulled my first aid kit out and secured a knee brace/wrap for my ailing knee. It was not hurting that bad in the morning but I figured better safe than sorry. Hud managed to catch the sunrise with the camera. We had hoped the cold morning air and rising sunlight would produce a fog over the valley that Spy Rock overlooks for the sake of some good pictures but no such luck.
B y 9am we were on the trail and heading back down the Spy Rock spur toward a resumption of our journey on the OHT. We came to mile marker 47 pretty soon after we hit the OHT. The landscape of the trail changed a bit bringing more rocks and ledges into view. We were not too far from Herrod’s Creek which according to the guidebook was one of the year round water sources. We had used up all our water at camp so it was good to restock. A walk in between two rock ridges opens up to Herod’s Creek. There was a truck parked down there with a man dressed up in hunter’s orange and holding his rifle. Beyond the echo of banjo music ringing in our ears it seemed a strange place to set up his hunt. He was just sitting on the hood waiting for a deer to pass by. In any event we were not leaving too soon as we had to fill up three Camelbaks with a squeeze filter/purifier. I am putting one of the pump filters on my list of things needed. It would definitely be more convenient with a group.
The creek was low enough to walk across. It is divided in two sections and we were able to find walks to walk on across both. We reapplied our orange duct tape for the day after seeing the hunter although he got in his truck and drove off after a while.
If I were doing this section over again I would probably by pass Spy Rock and camp at Herod’s Creek. There is something to be said for having a handy water supply at the camp. There is a large rock cliff that stands over the entrance as the trail descends into the creek bed. Hud did some climbing on it while we filled up our water supply. Spy Rock was nice and it is worth a stop if you have not seen it but the wind up there throughout the night added to the coldness in the morning. Herod’s Creek would have shielded us from some of that wind, kept us watered and on the trail.
The hike out from Herod’s Creek was full of winding trails that hug the contours of the ridges much like the day before had been. One of the major differences was simply better views off in the distance. Tall trees swayed overhead and the leaf off meant we could see the valleys and mountains all around. It was a very serene setting and we hiked in relative silence for the most part.
We set Indian Creek as our lunch stop as it was the halfway point of the day. Hud passed me up again after we left Herod’s but I really hit my mojo at this point of the trail. I stuck my ear buds in and enjoyed the journey. After an initial ascent up to mile marker 50 the trail levels out and then descends once again into the Indian Creek area. That meant easy walking and my mind getting caught up in thought processes and issues needing consideration. It was almost a shame when I Indian Creek could be seen in the distance.
Indian Creek is the largest water supply I have seen on the trail since Lake Fort Smith. It is wide and fairly deep. It is great fly fishing water. You can spot it from high up on a ridge while on the trail and once you arrive at the creek you actually walk along it for a while before coming to the crossing point with the trail. We went down a little further as the crossing point would have had us wading in water up to our thigh most of the way across. We found some rocks and made a trail to the other side. Ty had a minor slip on the rocks and got one of his feet good and soaked.
We moved back up to the OHT crossing at the other side of the creek, removed our packs and settled in for a 40 minute lunch break of apples, cliff bars and summer sausage. Hud had some MREs that had been given to him from one of our friends at church. The first night’s MRE had been a bust but lunch seemed to go better. Ty and I were happy with our apples and cliff bars and summer sausage. I don’t think Rainer would even touch the MREs.
While eating we pulled out the guidebook to see what was ahead on the trail. I am pretty hard core about pack in pack out while on the trail. I even had a cigar taped to my hiking stick with orange duct tape simply because I had no place to dispose of it on the trail. I say all of this only because in the hustle of getting our packs back on after lunch and making sure we had all our paper or debris stored, I somehow missed repacking my guidebook. So, somewhere on the east bank of Indian Creek is a fairly new version of Tim Ernst’s OHT guidebook. You’re welcome! I didn’t realize it was forgotten until we finished the day’s hike.
The hike out from Indian Creek offers an initial ascent for a mile or two and then a little up and down on the trail. After the ascent, this section of the trail just gets more and more beautiful as you move along. We passed several waterfalls that were flowing even with the water pretty low. Some of these we stopped at while others we just kept on moving but enjoyed the scenery. The path got pretty narrow on the side of the ridge we were walking but in the distance we could see valleys, mountains, and even a clearing that held some beautiful farmland.
Around mile marker 53 though the visuals take your breath away. The area is called Marinoni or Marion or something like that. Having lost my guidebook I can’t say for sure what it is called but there is a memorial out there apparently for the people who cared for this section of the trail. It is a BEAUTIFUL area. To the left, the right, north, south, east, and west there is nothing but excellent scenery in this section of the trail. Rock formations, waterfalls, canyons, caverns and caves, strange tree erosion formations, it was incredible all around. Our schedule was a little tight that day but we had to stop for about 30-40 minutes for photos.
There is a two or three great camping sites in this area too that people have taken good care of and a stream cuts through the middle of it all that was running with very clear water. I have already set it in my mind to return here after a good rain and hike in from the back side of the OHT section for some waterfall photos. This would be a great day hike if you started at the Lick Branch trailhead.
Each time we rounded a corner there was a new visual to behold. It was especially hard on Hud who had this unquenchable need to climb every rock wall he saw and yet our schedule eventually required us to move onward.
Mile marker 54 marks the end to the most beautiful sights in this area. From here there is a short ascent and then the trail gives way to yet another change in landscape. Pretty soon we are in the branch trail head section and just a couple miles from our destination at Lick Branch where we had parked my truck. in the trail. There is a 180 degree turn as you are moving along the rock shelf of this area and you have to spot the arrow notched into one of the trees to see where to turn. You actually drop down into the rocks and weave through a small rock canyon (not long or big at all) then you arrive back out into the woods and the leaf covered trail. From here it is mostly a light downhill grade all the way to the trail ahead about a mile and a half away.
And it was here that my knee pain flared back up again. I kept adjusting the knee brace but there was no resolution this time. By the time we found the trail head and made our final descent the knee was killing me. I was very grateful to finally unload my pack into the back of the truck and be done with the trail for the day. We were done with section three and 57 miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail were behind us.
Hud did great. He wore barefoot shoes on this trail and I don’t think he plans on doing that again but that is one of the ways we learn. Ty and Rainer are game for section 4, a thirty miler. As for me, I am putting my knee into some rehab and fully investigating what the problem is and how to fix it before we get into the next big section.