It is fun to explore the least traveled parts of the park. To be honest I am not sure how far I hiked (at least 5 miles) as the last park marker was a metal post with no plaque. The trail continued and I assumed the section I entered was the “Fordyce Peaks” and after climbing up, up and more up I reached the tails end. The trails end is a relative term as it was marked by red neon nylon tape tied around two trees. It looked more like an arbitrary decision to call it the end and without a map I cannot say for sure. Yes I looked for a map but this is a side trip according to the NPS and judging by the trail is rarely used.
This is one of the best hikes in the park winding up, down and up again as you travel between ridges and peaks. It is a mixed Forest and will be beautiful in all four seasons. As I near the top of the first ridge on Sunset Trail I notice a spectacular display of Pink Oxalis lining the trail edges. Further along birdsong fills the air in the distance tiny Bluets begin to appear among the Oxalis. As in many places in Hot Springs National Park the ghost of a carriage road now sprinkled with Trees parallels the trail. Tiny yet to be identified white wildflowers and Pussy Toes now join the colorful display on the edges of the trail.
I pass a metal NPS post missing a plaque that likely once had valuable trail information, it saddens me that people often steal these important markers. The trail now steadily winds down from this first ridge and into a lovely valley, I love the silence of hiking on a trail of dirt, old pine needles and moss. Slowly the Trail begins to wind upward toward a once distant ridge I often photographed from the North Mountain Overlook. As I climb higher rocks appear and the Forest begins to change as Pines give way to a mix of deciduous Trees. This is a familiar landscape found on ridges throughout Hot Springs National Park and in nearby State Parks. The trail along the top of the Fordyce Peaks winds gently through the rocky Forest floor and now barren Trees waiting for Spring.
At trails end the first thing I notice is the silence, only myself, 20 or so moths and 4 Swallowtail Butterflies (3 yellow 1 black) are at the top. The Moths and Butterflies are engaging in a beautiful mating display flying in and around a glorious pink flowering Tree. For half an hour I stand within a perfect moment of serenity. A cool breeze begins to carry a sweet honey like scent as it circles the Flowers and blooming Trees. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and spread my arms as if to soar with the Vultures overhead. I will return often to see the the beautiful transition of this peaceful place.
On my return journey I spot a a sweet Tufted Titmouse moving and hoping on a branch, in it’s beak a lovely bunch of moss. It is nest building time in the park and I feel blessed to see this sweet bird. Further up the the trail to the next ridge a pair of Black and White Warblers are singing a joyful tune. The fly quickly together from Tree to Tree. Nature always reveals new sights along the trails once traversed earlier in the day.
Upon my arrival back at the Fordyce Ricks Pond Sunset Trail head a wonderful surprise from Nature awaited me. After I pack my cameras into the van I come around the back to the drivers side door. On a Tree next to my van door is a large green Moth. I slowly back up and get my camera. On my return the spectacular Luna Moth is still spread out across the trunk of the Short Leaf Pine. It is holding tight as winds tug at its delicate wings. This is my first chance to photograph one of these green beauties. Yesterday the Moon moved closer to the Earth than it has been in 20 years and I am a Moon Child, this Luna Moth is a wonderful sign… just not sure what it means, yet!
Thank You for traveling through the Forest with me.
PS I never know what I will see in the Urban Jungle heading out to go for a hike…