May 25, 2015

Arkansas Road Trip, part1

The first part of my recent journey to AR, through injuries and damage as well as a variety of cool scenery, set both in nature and urban environment. Fun.

After I moved to the US nearly three years ago, I spent most of my free time exploring the big cities. But recently, I started to feel a need to get out to some wilderness, and as I never been in Arkansas, I opted to spend my next vacation there. Alas, the weekend before the vacation started was super busy, and I finished editing my photos for work at 7 a.m. on Monday. Uff! After a necessary nap till noon, I left Kansas to hit my first stop on my road trip to AR: Tulsa in Oklahoma. Technically, I stopped three times before reaching it, once for gas, second to check out this cool iron bridge just after crossing the state border.


One thing I noticed next to an increased number of trees and oil wells were declining roads condition. The pavement in north-east Oklahoma is much worse than in western and southern parts of the state that I saw. The third and last stop before Tulsa was Bartlesville. I didn’t even have it marked in my plan, but after seeing the business district with this pretty smokestack, I had to take a short walk to see it closer.


Once in Tulsa, I took a walk across the downtown. It offers some interesting architecture, the streets are clean, and there aren’t many closed places.





Walking through new areas and looking for exciting angles is like a therapy for me.

Besides the Tulsa Shock Basketball team shooting a commercial under Mid-Continent Tower, there was literally nobody around.


I know it was Monday evening, but I was still expecting more people. Brady Arts and Peoria districts were slightly better, but not nearly as vibrant as some other Mid-America cities such as Wichita, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, even Amarillo.


Tulsa’s downtown also has many churches. Probably the most interesting is Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

Tulsa’s downtown also has many churches. Probably the most impressive is the United Methodist Church at Boston Ave.

While exploring the downtown area, I got some allergy reaction. I haven’t got anything like this in ages, my eyes were watering, and I was sneezing like hell. I guess long term lack of sleep took its toll. Given that, I didn’t feel a need to get on top of some of those high-rise buildings to see the city’s skyline from above. It felt weird, as that’s something I’ve included in all my trips to larger cities within the past years.

The only skyline of the town I took was from the Centennial Park before I went to bed.

The only skyline picture I took was from Centennial Park, shortly before I went to bed to recover for the upcoming days.

The next morning I visited an industrial park just south-west of the downtown, where many oil refineries are. Unfortunately, they don’t have any tourists’ parking to let us admire the beauty of all those structures. So I just got this quick shot of two tall smokestacks coming from Walter B. Hall energy-from-waste facility.


If you are searching for a spot with the best view on the city, look no further because it’d have to be from those. I wish I could climb them.

My next stop was a bridge on the old route 66.


I was hoping to be able to take a walk on and around it; however, the site is under construction, so the visitors can’t see anything besides large sculpture celebrating the vehicle industry and a couple of individuals living under the newer bridge right next to the old one. That is where I went to take a look and made the following shots.

The last urban destination before going east towards forests and waterfalls was Oral Roberts University, a Christian campus built in the ‘60s futuristic architecture.

In its center is the Prayer Tower with an observation deck.


I’ve got there around 11 a.m., but the official hours for the public starts at noon. I tried the door handle anyway, and it was unlocked. Inside, I met a student who let me go up. Lesson “Never give up before even trying” enforced.

Prior to entering Arkansas, I visited Natural Falls State Park.



As most of my experiences with Oklahoma are from its western tip, this is a different world. Green, wet, and uneven. If somebody would tell me that this is in Oklahoma two years ago, I’d be in doubt. Well, it is. The park is easily accessible, with nice short trails to hike.

Then I crossed the state line, and as the pavement got better again, I drove through the north-west tip of the Ozark National Forest to spend the night in Fayetteville, the home of the University of Arkansas.


First contact with the hills, yey!


Next day rain created some fun stuff on my car.

The next day rain created neat art on my car.

I entered the wilderness by the Pig Trail Scenic Byway. Oh, such a nice change after miles of straight roads so typical for flatter states.

Roads here in AR are curvy, with constant ups and downs. You can actually enjoy driving, instead of just holding the steering wheel straight for a month before hitting any turn.

Roads in AR are curvy, with constant ups and downs. You can actually enjoy driving, instead of just holding the steering wheel straight for a month before hitting any turn, like in the flatter states.

Soon, my GPS indicated that I am approaching the first Arkansas’ falls on my list. However, there was no visible sign for the trail or anything. Finally, I parked at a small parking lot dedicated to some other trail going elsewhere. This pattern will be visible more less all over the state; many spectacular sites have no sign and/or marked trailhead at all.


This was very different compared to Oklahoma’s Natural Falls State Park, where everything was marked almost too much. Over there, a sign saying something like “warning, very steep grade, enter only in good physical condition and with appropriate equipment” marked an 80 ft long passage with stairs and railings through all its length. Here was just one sign with something like “you are on your own, don’t be stupid.” Anyway, the trail I entered was beautiful, with no traffic at all. Soon I reached a vehicle wreck.

There were parts where the trail disappeared completely, or offered diversions such as crossing rivers via fallen trees and so on.


It felt great, and I enjoyed the path very much, as it offered something I haven’t done in a long time: hiking in a deep mixed forest.

Woods similar to this are common in Europe’s inland; however, this is the first time I was in such a place here in America. All the forests I’ve seen in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California had tons of pines and some aspens, but not this variety, nor this density.


After a bit of walking, I reached Murray Falls,


and Senyard Falls. (I think)


Here is a selfportrait to illustrate their size.

Here is a selfportrait to illustrate their scale.

Once I got back to my car, I headed to Mulberry Mountain, where is another trail leading to more waterfalls. It starts in a private camping resort, and even when you just want to walk through towards the trailhead, they charge $5/person, almost the same as per overnight stay in a tent. The trail was wide enough for a gator, very easy to follow all the way to the bottom of the valley.


Here, I thought how brilliant it would be to have some mountain bike. I recalled the times I rode MTB trails back in Europe.

Given by recent heavy rain, the rivers down the valley were a bit swollen, with no way to cross them without contacting the water. An easy thing would be just to take off the shoes and wade through, but I began to collect every bigger rock around instead, to form a bridge from stones. Just for the fun of it.

It took some time (and some weight lifting), but I successfully finished.

It took some time (and some weight lifting), but I successfully finished.

From this point, it was just a short hike to the Mountain Fork Creek Falls.


The picture doesn’t make them justice; they are properly large, just as the previous ones.

After spending some time there, I went back. On the upper part of the trail was this rock.


Right next to the trail, it screamed “climb on me” already as I walked down the hill. I resisted. However, on my way back, it called again, and the double temptation was something I couldn’t go against.

Here is the point where things went gloomy. As I was about to begin to climb, I raised my arm when suddenly “KLUP!” And my shoulder was in sharp pain. Now, let me interrupt the Arkansas story to tell you something that happened to me about half a year ago, so this will make sense: One night last fall, I was sent to photograph a fire at a gas station. As a dedicated photojournalist, I was trying to get there as soon as possible. I was familiar with the area and knew a shortcut to take: a footpath which supposed to take me there a lot quicker than if I’d drive around. The issue was, running through this dark area with no light, I didn’t see that somebody dumped some metal wires there - and I tripped over them. The speed of the movement plus my height of over six feet resulted in a flight with a rough landing, and I miserably dislocated my shoulder.

Here is a x-ray of that.

Here is an x-ray of that.

I tried to finish the assignment, but with rather big doses of pain, I ended in a hospital instead. Over there, a doctor said that it is quite bad, and that surgery is likely to follow. But then, he was called to a case of a seizure or something, leaving me in a room for hours. Suddenly a nurse came if I want some painkillers. I started talking with her, and suddenly she said something like: “oh, a dislocated shoulder?! We had those while in the military all the time, I know how to fix it. Hold on a sec.” She returned with weights that she strapped on my arm and taught me how to whip my arm in a fashion that the shoulder slips back where it should be. It worked well without any surgical intervention. Well, right.

So yeah, back to Arkansas. The shoulder slipped out again. It was ridiculous; it was without any pressure, no sharp movement, I just rose the arm, and it got suddenly trashed. All those people who told me before that, “Once a shoulder is ****ed, it’s forever,” turned out to be right. Darn! Basically the first day of outdoor adventures, the first vacation in ages, and I end up with this crap.

After some time teaching all the deer, birds, and squirrels around several courses of multilingual swearing, I walked back to the camp. There is a stage there where they organize summer concerts and such.


My hope was to get there, lay on edge, and try the nurse’s way to put it back in. However, the stage access was locked, and there was no way I could climb on it in this state. Instead, I noticed plastic tables nearby, so I put my hope in one of them.


While trying to get on one, my mind was partially angry and partially laughing about the situation’s absurdity. When I got on the top of the table, I imagined how tragicomically it would look from a third-person perspective if it would collapse under my weight. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. So while the cursing was still present, I swung the arm just as back then in the hospital. And heck! It slipped back! No kidding!

The camp had a shower facility with welcomed warm water, so I forgave them for the entry fees. I left deeper to Arkansas at dusk, looking towards upcoming days. Although not thrilled by the unplanned, ugly diversion of this afternoon, since the shoulder was back in, there was no way I’d turn the rest of the trip down.

Anyway, this was the beginning of the road trip. Click here for the next episode, which covers the following days of adventures.

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories


Patsy Fischer
May 26, 2015 at 09:39

Safe travels! Loved reading your blog of your journey… Be safe ! Take care of that shoulder!

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    Jakub Stepanovic
    June 1, 2015 at 20:50

    Thank you Patsy!

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June 2, 2015 at 17:14

Super Fantastic! Sorry about the shoulder, but the thought of teaching the wildlife multicultural curse words is hilarious! You need to take care of that shoulder, now, you hear? (That’s Southern for be careful). And, I do hope when you are hiking you know to watch for snakes … Lots of snakes there, in the rocks and the water – yikes! Still, isn’t it beautiful?

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    Jakub Stepanovic
    June 4, 2015 at 03:07

    I am glad you liked it. Thankfully I haven’t got any trouble with any animals. I saw all kinds of mammals, birds, insects.. but not a snake.

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