It’s 56 degrees at 8:00 am and I feel an adventure is in order to celebrate this rare cool summer morning. As I enter the park my destination is clear, the Sunset Trail on the historic Fordyce/Ricks Estate. I think a side trip into DeSoto park would be fun as well. It is a 4 mile trail hike to reach the beginning of the park area I want to explore. I head over to the Dead Chief Trail for the first leg of my journey. After cresting the incline and heading north east I am greeted with the beautiful song of a new day. I look up to see a juvenile male Summer Tanager in transition from green to red. He was hard to find within the leaves waving in the cool breeze.
I am hiking at a good clip and reach the Gulpha Gorge Camp Ground at 9:30 am. At the Gorge I take the Sunset Trail which parallels Highway 7 to Park Road. Part of the Trail reveals the old Gorge road Novaculite walls and bluffs to my left and the old retaining wall to right. The last time I exited the trail I had no clue how to find the head of the next section of the Sunset Trail. There are NO markers, look right on Park Avenue and you will see two stone pillars this is Stonebridge Road. It appears to be a private estate and in fact it was in the past the Fordyce/Ricks Estate.
As you enter hike along the grassy bank to your left and you will see the historic Fordyce Water Wheel and the Stone Bridge. Further up the creek you will see a dam that is in summertime is a perfect crossing (for adults), spring and winter the rushing water will make it too dangerous. It would be most likely fatal to be swept over the side (see Photo shot looking over as I crossed). There is a trail on both sides of Ricks Pond, on the far side it is overgrown and you will want to proceed with caution at it a perfect place for snakes to hide along the pond edges. The clear path along the road side is a better choice especially for those not wearing appropriate footwear or with small children. As you move round the pond you will see a bridge in the distance, it gives you a clear view of the wetlands at the far end of the pond.
Sadly the only beaver I saw was dead on the far side of the pond, it looked as if someone bashed in it’s head. I hope it died of natural causes, not from the violence of man. It was a large gray beauty and my heart was saddened to know I would never see it swimming in this lovely pond. Basking on the logs I spot several turtles, but even the smallest move to get a better view and they slip into the pond. I can see their glistening heads as they surface to breathe. Sadly I do not catch sight of any snakes, I laugh as I type this as in the past a snake would have sent me screaming all the way home. Now I look carefully everywhere I hike in hopes of being able to photograph them. Colorful green and blue Dragonflies are landing and taking off from the marsh grasses near the end of the bridge.
I am looking forward to photographing this area during each of the four seasons. Rushing water, springs rain, snow and ice the changes will be so beautiful. I wonder what spring wildflowers I will see on the banks and on the Sunset Trail. I love the discovery of visiting someplace for the first time. I would love to know why there are no water birds ducks heron etc. within view, what seasons might I find them at the pond. My only wish is that it was not a 4 mile hike to reach this spot, otherwise I would visit a couple of times a week.
To continue my journey on the Sunset Trail I locate the trail head across Stonebridge Road in line with the bridge near the wetlands. The morning is nearly gone as I head up the trail and I still have a 4 mile trek back home so I try to keep track of my time on the trail. I head up, up, up and up the trail into the Forest. As I am trying to get my bearings I see a deer dashing away in the distance. I decide I had best hike only a mile up the trail so I return home in time to rest up for my hike later with my husband Rick. On my way back down the Trail I realize this will be my view as I complete the entire Sunset Trail beginning at the top of West Mountain.
When I exit Stonebridge Road I cross the street to DeSoto Park to see the Memorial. The tank in the park gives little hint to the message on the metal plaque in front of me. This is in fact a Peace Memorial dedicated to all who have served by the Military Order of the Purple Heart of Hot Springs Chapter #436. I stop to say a prayer for those lost in battle and those currently serving.
The Gulpha Creek moves through the park and it is home to a wide variety of creatures. Crayfish, tadpoles, Striped Bass, Sunfish and many others I have yet to identify. Across the bridge I hike along the bank to a pool being fed by water spilling over the dam, This is a lovely place to visit for a rest on a long road trip or a quick Nature break on the way home from work.
Back on the trail I head up the Sunset toward the Gulpha Gorge Trail and then onto the Hot Springs Mountain trail. I decide to avoid several groups with scream children and cut over to the Hot Springs Mountain Road. This turns out to be be a good move as the noise sends a Doe down the hill and I for a moment she pauses to look at me before turning and head back up the embankment. As I fill my water container at the park fountain 2 Red Spotted Butterflies dance in the water along the wall. It has been a glorious day of exploration in the park.