As a major leap in overcoming my extreme case of winter cabin fever, I hopped on a plane and went down to visit my dear friends Michael and Sarah in Arkansas. It would’ve been 13 hours to drive each way, so in the order to maximize my vacation, it was totally worth it to fly.

By the way, ever since I went to Paris with Valerie, I’ve been using her Travel Agent, Canaltown Travel and have had a breeze making travel arrangements. Sites like Kayak and Expedia have boned me during trips via their complicated 800 numbers and automated systems. If a troublesome situation occurs, I know I can call Cathy up anytime and have my problem resolved, and it doesn’t cost any more than internet tickets, so it’s a no-brainer. Seriously, I couldn’t recommend her enough! 🙂

We spent tons of time outside during the trip, starting with our visit to the butchers to pick up their half cow they purchased. My favorite thing about Arkansas is that even simple, mundane drives like this are full of truly scenic views, with nearly endless landscapes of rolling Ozarks and shades of green that I forgot existed during our miserable brown Western PA winter.

Friday, we did some shopping and went out to eat (Mongolian Grill FTW), and did some light Geocaching which wouldn’t be complete without some regressive jungle-gym playtime:

The big event of our trip was a camping excursion than the Skvarlas planned. We drove a few hours east from their home in Fayetteville to the Buffalo National River – one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. I spent the whole drive craving some time alone with my motorcycle on those roads.

Our original intention was to camp at Steele Creek right under the stunning limestone bluffs pictured below, but as it was a sunny weekend in a campground that doesn’t take reservations, every slot was full, and we had to explore elsewhere.

We found a campsite in a different campground near Erbie, AR, a little downstream, which had access to the the Erbie-Pruitt Hiking Trail. After setting up camp, Skivvy, Sarah, and I explored a few miles of the trail at a leisurely pace. Like me, Skivvy is developing a strong interest in photography, so we spent a lot of time ambling slowly around the trail, stopping to kick over logs looking for wildlife to photography. While we didn’t see much in the way of animal life, we found some very photogenic plants.

The Skvarlas were a little more accustomed to some of the species we saw, but I had never seen cacti in a forest, nor Reindeer Moss, and it was exciting to explore a different ecosystem then what I was used to.

I suppose that by now, Sarah is getting used to what its like to explore the outdoors with Michael. Every now and then, you turn around and Mike has simply vanished, off to photograph a certain insect, turn over a rock, comb through some moss, or chase down a snake. These photographs should be a great editorial example of what the Skvarla lifestyle is like:

Hiking in Arkansas is nothing like hiking in Pennsylvania. I had few encounters with mosquitoes unlike PA, but also unlike PA, I had to flick about a half-dozen ticks off my pants, constantly stopping to check myself before they found a bit of skin to latch on to. Arkansas residents seem to be used to it, but I was not so comfortable donating blood to a less-than-charitable cause.

But the scenery is worth it. Along the Buffalo River, these kind of beautiful views are common, and the locals seemed to just smirk while I stared up in awe as I viewed the colors and shapes of these beautiful limestone bluffs:

As the sun moved towards the horizon, we settled back at camp for a manly meal of campfire-roasted rib steaks, corn and Dos Equis. Amazing how the simplest meals tend to be the best ones sometimes.

The pinnacle of the trip was supposed to be a magnificent view of the Lyrids Meteor Shower, and the moonless, crystal clear night allowed for a superb view of a few streaks of light, but after we got to see about 5 streaks in the early hours of the morning, that same crystal clear night had caused the temperature to drop and forced us back in to our sleeping bags. We were a little less than prepared for the vast sweeps in temperatures during the Arkansas spring – nearly 80 F during the day but in the 30’s at night.

By sun-up, we were ready to call it a trip, and we packed up early and retreated to the Skvarla’s home.

It was an amazing getaway I’ll remember forever, and I can’t wait to go back and visit my friends and the beautiful countryside in Arkansas.