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Exploring Arkansas December 2009

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Hang Gliding, Sugarloaf Mountain Trail, Devil's Knob Devil's Backbone Natural Area
At the tallest peak in the state - Mt. Magazine  men and women with wings soar like eagles with the extreme sport of hang gliding. Sugarloaf Mountain Island in the middle of Greers Ferry Lake is a popular destination with hiking enthusiasts to enjoy the Sugarloaf Mountain National Nature Trail Devil's Knob Devil's Backbone Natural Area near Melbourne offers a chance to explore an unusual sandstone glade and unique plant species.

TRANSCRIPT

FORMER AIRLINE COMPANY PAN AM ONCE HAD AN AD SLOGANT WINGS OF MAN. HERE IN WEST ARKANSAS, THE HIGHEST POINT IN THE STATE, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN WITH WINGS RUN AND LEAP OFF TO SOAR LIKE EAGLES. AND IT WILL BEGIN THIS WEEK'S SHOW. THEN WE'LL TAKE YOU TO SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN AT GREER'S FERRY LAKE AND CLOSE IT OUT AT THE DEVIL'S KNOB DEVIL'S BACKBONE HALFWAY BETWEEN MELBOURNE AND MOUNTAIN VIEW. LET'S BEGIN WITH THE MEN AND WOMEN WITH WINGS ATOP MOUNT MAGAZINE.

IT WAS SOMETHING I WANTED TO DO AS A KID. I REMEMBER READING ABOUT IT AT 12 YEARS OLD IN THE READER'S DIGEST. IN MY 20S I GOT A CHANCE TO PICK UP A GOOD, USED GLIDER AND STARTED LEARNING. I CAME DOWN HERE AND MET UP WITH THE PILOTS AROUND ME AND MARK STURCH WAS ONE OF THEM AND PROGRESS -- MARK STUMP WAS ONE OF THEM. THAT WAS IN THE MID'80S. HAS THE YEARS GONE BY, IT'S BEEN A GREAT RIDE.

SPEAKING OF YEARS, THE PORT IS A LOT SAFER NOW?

IT IS. A LOT STAIFER, PEOPLE ARE TRAINED -- A LOT SAFER, PEOPLE ARE TRAINED BETTER. THE EQUIPMENT IS BETTER. IN THE EARLY YEARS OF  GLIDING THERE WERE A LOT OF ACCIDENTS AND PEOPLE GOT KILLED. IT EARNED A BAD REPRESENT OCCASION IN THOSE DAYS, BUT WE'VE GOTTEN A LOT  BETTER. I'VE BEEN DOING THIS 25 YEARS AND NEVER BEEN SERIOUSLY INJURED. IT'S A MATTER OF JUDGMENT AND FLYING IN SAFE CONDITIONS. BUT, YEAH, THE SAFETY RECORD IS MUCH BETTER.

AND THAT'S DUE TO BETTER GEAR AND EQUIPMENT, SUCH AS THE HARNESS WHICH SUPPORT IT IS PILOTS IN FLIGHT.

IT'S A POP UP MATERIAL PACKED IN HERE. THIS IS THE PARACHUTE, THE BRIGHT RED HANDLE SO YOU KNOW FOR SURE YOU KNOW WHERE IT IS SHOULD YOU NEED TO THROW IT. IN RARE SITUATIONS WOULD YOU NEED TO BUT IF YOUR GLIDER BROKE IN THE AIR, GIVES YOU A BACKUP.

YOU HAD TO DO IT ONCE?

I DID IN MEXICO. -- IN NEW MEXICO. IT SET ME DOWN NICELY IN A SNOW BANK. THESE ARE THE INSTRUMENTS THAT WE FLY WITH, THIS TELLS YOU HOW HIGH YOU ARE, AND IT ALSO BEEPS IF YOU'RE GOING UP SO IT LETS YOU KNOW WHEN YOU'RE IN LIFT. YOU CAN TURN OR STAY IN THE LIFT TO GET HIGHER. THIS IS A GPS AND JUST LIKE ANY GPS YOU WOULD CARRY AROUND IT LET'S YOU KNOW YOUR LOCATION, PUNCH IN A DESTINATION YOU WANT TO MAKE IT TO AND IT WILL SHOW YOU WHICH DIRECTION TO FLY. WE ALSO FLY WITH RADIOS IN ORDER TO KEEP IN TOUCH WITH  OUR DRIVERS AND PEOPLE WHO PICK US UP AFTER WE LAND.

IS THAT A SPECIAL HELMET?

IT IS. IT'S LIGHT WEIGHT AND NOT AS HEAVY AS A MOTORCYCLE HELMET BECAUSE WE HAVE TO HOLD OUR HEAD UP. SO IT'S LIGHT WEIGHT AND GOOD PROTECTION IN CASE YOU NEED IT.

DONNA, JIM STEELE'S WIFE, TOLD US HOW SHE CAME TO SPOUT'S WINGS.

I WENT TO A STORE CALLED TAKE A HIKE, NOT SURE IT'S THERE, AND THERE WAS A NOTE CARD, YOU KNOW, STUCK ON ONE OF THE BULLETIN BOARDS, HANG GLIDING LESSONS CALL HEAR HAINIE AND GAVE A NUMBER. IT SOUNDED FUN AND I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE AND I THOUGHT IT SOUNDED FUN. I CALLED HIM UP AND THAT WAS THE BEGINNING OF MEETING ALL THESE PEOPLE, AND WE'VE BEEN FLYING TOGETHER FOR 20 YEARS NOW.

WELL, HANG  GLIDING HAS CHANGED IN TO -- 20 YEARS.

IT HAS. I COULD BARELY PICK UP THE FIRST GLIDER I STARTED FLYING WITH THE FRAME WAS SO BIG. IT WAS HARD TO LEARN HOW TO FLY IT. NOW THEY'RE SIZED APPROPRIATELY FOR WEIGHT OF PERSON. I FLY A U 2145 NOW. IT'S A DOUBLE SURFACE GLIDER, MUCH BETTER PERFORMANCE. IT USED TO HAVE LIKE MAYBE 5-1 GLIDE. THESE ARE UP NOW CLOSE TO 13 TO 1. IT'S A LOT BETTER.

THE CONSTRUCTION OF THEM, THE WING IS ACTUALLY LIKE THE OLD STYLE AIRPLANES, ISN'T IT?

THE BATON.

YEAH. WHEN I WAS PUTTING IT TOGETHER YOU COULD SEE IN ORDER FOR THE SAIL, THE SHAPE, YOU PUT THE BATTENS AND HAVE TO CHECK THE SHAPE EVERY NOW AND THEN TO MAKE SURE THAT THE SAIL IS THE CORRECT SHAPE FOR THE MOST LIFT. AND SO, YEAH, IT'S KIND OF NEAT HOW THEY WORK. IT IS TRULY A GIANT KITE.

HOW IS IT BEING ATTACHED TO THE GIANT KITE AND BEING OUT THERE IN FLIGHT?

IT'S AMAZING. WHEN YOU FIRST START LEARNING AND YOUR FEET FIRST COME OFF THE GROUND, IT'S SO MUCH FUN. YOU LEARN ON A TRAINING HILL AND RUN, RUN, RUN AND SUDDENLY THERE'S NOTHING TO RUN ON AND YOU'RE ACTUALLY FLYING. IT'S SUCH A SURPRISING THING WHEN YOU ACTUALLY COME OFF THE GROUND. IN A SECOND YOU'RE JUST HOOKED. AND STILL MY FAVORITE PART OF FLYING EVERY TIME IS THE LAUNCH. YOU KNOW, RUN, RUN, RUN AND THEN NOTHING AND YOU'RE JUST FLOATING, YOU'RE FLYING. IT'S JUST -- IT'S A RUSH EVERY TIME.

YOU MAKE THE TRANSFORMATION FROM HUMAN BEING, I GUESS, TO EAGLE.

YEAH, YOU KNOW. IT'S A LITTLE BIT WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, WE'RE KIND OF PUSHING THE HUMAN LIMITS A LITTLE BIT. WE'RE BIRD WANT-TO-BEES, REALLY. WE'RE NOT QUITE THERE, BUT WE GET TO HANG OUT WITH THEM FOR A LITTLE WHILE SOMETIMES, AN HOUR OR TWO, YOU KNOW, ON A REALLY GOOD DAY.

YOU DO LITERALLY THEN ACTUALLY SOAR WITH THE EAGLES?

YEAH, ACTUALLY. USUALLY IN ARKANSAS THEY'RE MORE BUZZARDS THAN EAGLES, BUT WE LIKE THEM TOO. IT'S COMPANY.

I'VE SEEN LIKE A TV COMMERCIAL ABOUT WHERE THIS GUY RAN OFF -- RAN OFF AND I THOUGHT THAT LOOKED COOL. BUT YOU GOT DOWN AND LAND AND I THOUGHT THAT WOULD GET OLD PRETTY QUICK. I READ YOU CAN STAY IN THE AIR FOR A WHILE, I GOT EXCITED ABOUT IT. I CONTACTED THE GUY AND HE TOLD ME WHERE TO MEET HIM AND I JUST WATCHED HIM FLY. THEY DID WHAT HE SAID, THEY STEPPED OFF THERE  AND THEY WERE 200 FEET ABOVE THE FIELD. I TRIED TO SELF-TRAIN, WHICH WAS A BIG MISTAKE BUT THERE WASN'T REALLY ANY INSTRUCTION AROUND, SO YOU DO A LOT OF CRASHING AND BURNING IF YOU DON'T GET INSTRUCTIONS. THE SCHOOL OF KNOWLEDGE WASN'T THAT DEEP BACK THEN. THE GLIDERS WERE PRETTY BAD, BUT AFTER I GOT OUT OF SCHOOL, IN '77, I MOVED TO GREEN WOOD ARKANSAS SO I COULD BE CLOSER TO FLYING. THE BEST FLYING -- WE WEREN'T FLYING MUCH HERE. WE WERE FLY, AT HEBRO, OKLAHOMA, AND SOME PEOPLE RENEGADIG AND THAT WAS IN '78 OR SO. THEY WERE COMING OVER FROM '5, FLYING GLIDERS THEY MADE. IT WAS TOO FAR OUT THERE. I JUST GOT EXCITED TO STAY IN THE AIR.

SPEAKING OF STAYING IN THE AIR, YOU SET THE RECORD THUS FAR OFF OF MOUNT MAGAZINE, YOU FLEW OFF HERE AND LANDED SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF MISSOURI, 176 FILES -- MILES.

2004, JULY 4TH WEEKEND, WE HAD BEEN UP TO CAMP FOR A DAY OR SOME. THE SKY HAD BEEN -- WE WERE IN A DROUGHT TOO, THAT'S WHAT -- SUMMER TIME IS THE BEST TIME. THE DRYER IT'S BEEN WHEN YOU HEAR THE STATE'S GOING INTO BURN BANS IN COUNTY, THAT'S WHEN THE LIFT'S GETTING HIGH AND THE -- SORT OF LIKE OUT WEST IN THE DESERT. I TOOK OFF AT 1:00 O'CLOCK AND FLEW TILL 7:00 THAT NIGHT. STEPPED OFF HERE AND GOT TO 6,000 JUST RIGHT OFF THE BAT AND JUST FIVE OR SIX MINUTES. TOOK OFF GOING DUE NORTH AND I LIVE IN FAYETTEVILLE SO MY WIFE AND DAUGHTER WERE CAMPED AND WE HAD BEEN CAMPED FOR ABOUT THREE DAYS. I SAID I'LL GO TO THAT ROUTE AND WHEN I GET SOMEWHERE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF THE HOUSE, I'LL COME BACK. BUT I ENDED UP GETTING A LITTLE BIT LOW, DOWN TO ABOUT 3,000, IT WAS A GOOD CLOUD STREAK GOING STRAIGHT OVER, I GOT BACK UP AND BASE WAS LIKE STAYING CLOSE TO 8,000 FEET. I WENT ON A BIG GLIDE FROM THERE STAYING LIKE HIGH ALL THE WAY ALMOST TO BEAVER LAKE AND EUREKA SPRINGS BIG WOOD. I WAS THINKING I WAS GOING TO LAND THERE, AND ANOTHER CLOUD STREAK WAS SETTING UP OVER EUREKA AND THAT TOOK ME ALL THE WAY INTO MISSOURI AND I THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO START OPENING UP. I FORGOT YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER LAKE TABLE ROCK BUT I WENT OVER THAT AT 8,000, ENDED UP LANDING AT BOLIVAR, MISSOURI, CLOSE TO 7:00 THAT NIGHT.

HOW LONG WAS THE FLIGHT THEN?

ABOUT SIX HOURS.

IT'S A PRETTY HARD THING TO EXPLAIN, BUT I WOULD RELATE IT TO -- IT'S JUST LIKE ONE PERSONAL THRILL RIDE. IT'S LIKE HAVING A ROLLER COASTER THAT'S NOT ATTACHED TO THE GROUND, THOUSANDS OF FEET TALL, AND YOU CAN CONTROL WHERE IT TAKES YOU. IT COULD ALSO BE, I GUESS MANY OF US HAVE HAD DREAMS OF FLYING. THIS IS AS CLOSE AS I'VE EVER SEEN TO FULFILLING THAT DREAM. IT'S MUCH MORE PURE SENSATION THAN FLYING IN AN AIRPLANE. WE'RE JUMPING OFF THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN WITH CURVEED WINGS STRAPPED TO OUR BACK. YOU CAN'T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THAT.

RESEMBLEING THE SOUTH PACIFIC, SUGARLOAF  SUGARLOAF MD THIS AREA HAS ALSO BEEN ONE OF MY FAVORITE SPOTS. YOU'VE GOT TO HIKE THE SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN RECREATIONAL TRAIL. IF YOU HAVE A BOAT, THERE'S A COURTESY DOCK YOU CAN USE ON THE SOUTHEAST SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. OTHERWISE, THE FAIRFLIED BAY MARINA OFFERS A SHUTTLE SERVICE YEAR-ROUND. WE MADE OUR TRIP WITH THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS. CARL GARNER TALKED WITH US ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TRAIL.

WELL, YOU KNOW, WE'VE BEEN IN OPERATION HERE SINCE 1962, WE JUST KEEP SEEING THE MOUNTAIN AND SEE PEOPLE CRUISING UP THE MOUNTAINS. ABOUT 1970 WE DECIDED TO PUT A NATIONAL TRAIL UP THERE UP TO MOUNTAIN. WE GOT WITH THE DISTRICT OFFICE AND WE SPENT THREE OR FOUR DAYS WALKING OUT THE SITE, WE WOULD GO UP AND SEE SOME VINES A ROCK FORMATION, GO BACK START OVER. SO ABOUT TWO DAYS STAKEING THIS THING OUT. WE HAD ACCESS UP THE MOUNTAIN, SO I FOUND OUT -- WE FOUND OUT WHAT KIND OF DRAWINGS AND MAPS AND STEPS WE SHOULD HAVE LAYING OUT EVERYTHING, AND LOOK AT IT IT WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DO IT. SO IT WAS ACTUALLY BUILT AND DESIGNED IN PLACE. IT WASN'T POSSIBLE TO DESIGN IT FULL HAND SO, WE HAD OUR OWN CARVERS, SO WE GOT THE HELICOPTERS HERE AND STARTED BUILDING IT. WE ALSO FOUND OUT LATER WE NEEDED -- WE ASSEMBLED THESE LITTLE BOARS TIED TO WHEELS, SO WE PUT THOSE UP AND TIED A PIECE OF LUMBER TO THEM AND FLY THOSE TO THE TRAIL HALFWAY UP AND BUILT A BRIDGE. WE FELT THAT WOULD SAVE THE WIDTH OF THE BRIDGE, OPENED UP THE TRAIL AND APPLIED FOR THE NATIONAL TRAIL SYSTEM AND WE DECLARED A NATIONAL TRAIL IN 1971.

WHICH, AT THE TIME, WAS THE ONLY NATIONAL TRAIL ON AN ISLAND. SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN IS THE RESULT OF A LONG EROSION AND WEATHERING PROCESS. THE ROCKS FORMING THE MOUNTAIN ARE MORE THAN 300 MILLION YEARS OLD. IT'S ESTIMATEED THAT SEVERAL THOUSAND VISITORS A YEAR MAKE THIS HIKE UP TO THE SUMMIT. YOU'LL SEE A VARIETY OF VEGETATION AND SANDSTONE FORMATIONS AND AMONGST THE HARD WOODS YOU FIND A VARIETY OF WILD GRAPES SUCH AS MUSCADINE.

MMMM, THAT IS TASTY.

THE FINAL PORTION OF THE TRAIL IS CONSTRUCTED OF WOODEN STEPS THAT WERE HAND FITTED BETWEEN THE GLOVEED WALLS TO PROVIDE FOR A SAFER ACCESS. WHEN YOU FINALLY REACH THE TOP OF THOSE STEPS, YOU'LL BE REWARDED WITH THIS. THE VIEW FROM THE FIRST OVERLOOK IS JUST ABSOLUTELY STUNNING.

THE FIRST TIME I CAME UP ON CHERRY LOOK MOUNTAIN, I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL. I ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WOULD BE COOL TO COME OUT HERE. IT'S LIKE A MINI ADD VEP CHIEWR TO GET ON THE -- ADVENTURE TO GET ON A BOAT AND CLIMB THE TRAIL. WHEN YOU GET TO THE TOP, THE VIEW IS GREAT. IT'S PRETTY COOL.

YOU COULD STAY RIGHT HERE AT THE POINT WE'RE AT, THE TOP OF THE STEPS, OR JUST CONTINUE ON?

YEAH. THE TRAIL CONTINUES PROBABLY ANOTHER, OH, 200 YARDS ON UP TO THE TOP. AND THERE'S ANOTHER LOOKOUT THAT LOOKS OFF THE NORTHWEST SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.

SO EXPERIENCE ARKANSAS' ISLAND IN THE PACIFIC, SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN, HERE AT GREER'S FERRY LAKE NEAR HEBE  HUBER SPRINGS.

DEVIL'S KNOB/DEVIL'S BACKBONE NATURAL AREA, UNIQUE ENOUGH NAME FOR A UNIQUE AREA. THERE ARE A COUPLE OF PRESIDENT CLINTON SPECIESES HERE -- PLANT SAYS -- SPECIES HERE. SHALL WE?

THE DEVIL'S KNOB/DEVIL'S BACKBONE NATURAL AREA IS LOCATED ABOUT 10 MILES SOUTHWEST OF MUL DO YOU REMEMBER OR 10 MILES NORTH OFF MOUNTAIN NINE. GO 1.3 MILES TO THE NATURAL AREA SIGN ON THE LEFT, A SMALL CLEARING IS AVAILABLE FOR PARKING.

CHUCK'S, HERE'S ONE OF OUR TRACK TRACK PLANTS. IT'S A GLADE ONION. WE TRACK SEVEN PLANTS HERE AS WELL AS TWO COMMUNITY TYPES. THE COMMUNITY TYPES WE ACTUALLY PURCHASE THIS NATURAL AREA FOR ARE THE SANDSTONE GLADE COMPLEX, AND THE ASH'S JUNIPER. THAT'S WHY WE PURCHASED THIS AREA. IT'S A PRETTY LARGE NATURAL AREA AND ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ONES WE HAVE, I THINK.

I GUESS YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THESE PLACES BY WORD OF MOUTH.

WORD OF MOUTH. WE WORK WITH PARTNERS AND THEY'LL PURCHASE LANDS AND WE PURCHASE THEM FROM THE CONSERVANCY. THEY GET OUT MORE IN THE FIELD AND KNOW MORE ABOUT THESE NATURAL COMMUNITIES AND SOMETIMES WE ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO BUY A PLACE LIKE THIS.

AFTER HIKING A DISTANCE OF ABOUT A QUARTER OF A  MILE, YOU'LL COME TO A QUARTER LIMESTONE SANDSTONE GLAD AND THEN YOU'LL FINALLY REACH THE SO-CALLED BACKBONE ITSELF.

THIS IS THE BACKBONE BETWEEN THE TWO KNOBS. IN FRONT OF US HERE WE HAVE THE ACTUAL DEVIL'S KNOB. THE KNOB BEHIND US IS NOT NAMED BUT SIMILAR IN HEIGHT. THEY'RE BOTH CLOSE TO 1100 FEET.

THERE'S HY -- LYKEN.

AND MOSS. THIS IS THE LEAST DISTURBED OF THE NATURAL AREA.

OUR HERE, YOU CAN SEE -- OUR HIKE HERE YOU CAN SEE WHY IT'S PROTECTED AREA.

IT DESERVES TO BE. THERE ARE SEVERAL LAYERS SPREAD OUT ALONG THE CLIFF EDGES AND THIS IS THE LARGEST ONE. WE HAVE SEVEN RARE PLANTS THAT OCCUR ON THE NATURAL AREA. MOST OF THEM OCCUR IN THE DPLAID COMPLEX THAT IS YOU -- THE GLADE COMPLEXES THAT YOU SEE HERE.

WE HAVE THE UNUSUAL CYPRESS TREES?

OH, YEAH. ASH'S JUNIPER THEY'RE ALL OVER AND FAIRLY RARE. THE BIGGEST OCCUR ON THE KNOB THEMSELVES AND OCCUR ALONG THE CLIFF'S EDGES ALSO.

LET'S HEAD TO THE KNOB.

GO TO THE KNOB. ONE OF THE ASPECTS OF THIS AREA IS THE COMPLEX IS ALL SAND STONE WE'RE WALKING ON BUT THE KNOBS ARE ROCK LAUNCHED DOWN IN DULAMYTE, SO THEY'RE CAPS OF THAT TYPE OF ROCK FORMATION. MOST OF THE ASH'S JUNIPER OCCUR ON THE CALCARIOUS ROCK AND DON'T OCCUR ON THE SANDSTONE.

DEVIL'S KNOB/DEVIL'S BACKBONE NATURAL AREA, TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION THE UNUSUAL TREES AND PLANT LIFE, NOT TO MENTION THE SPECTACULAR SCENERY, THIS IS ONE SPECIAL PLACE YOU'LL WANT TO KEEP COMING BACK TO.

SO EXPLORE THE DEVIL'S KNOB/DEVIL'S BACKBONE AREA HALFWAY BETWEEN MELBOURNE. FOR MORE ON THIS DESTINATION PLUS MANY OTHERS AND READ MY BLOG OR ORDER A COPY OF AN EPISODE, VISIT OR WEBSITE AETN.ORG/EXPLORE ARKANSAS. SEE YOU NEXT TIME FOR ANOTHER EXCITING ADVENTURE ON EXPLORING ARKANSAS.

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