November 15, 2010

Winona Scenic Drive, Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas

On our last full day in the Ouachita Mountains before heading to Little Rock and the lowlands of the Mississippi Valley, we decided to take a drive up north of Hot Springs to check out the Winona Scenic Drive, a 27-mile dirt road along the crest of Crystal Mountain, to check out the panoramic views of the Flatside Wilderness, Forked Mountain, Lake Winona, and the landscape beyond.

Lake Winona View from Crystal Mountain
This is probably the last time we'll see any mountains until we get to West Texas in about a month or so. So, we figured we'd check it out. Winona Scenic Drive is on FR-312 and heads between highways AR-7 and AR-9. While it is a dirt road, it is in excellent condition and can be driven by any passengar car. Besides driving through beautiful autumn-colored forests, there are several excellent panoramic spots as well.

Forked Mountain and the Flatside Wilderness Area
About halfway between Highway 7 and Highway 9, we stopped at the access road for Crystal Mountain Summit. We had read that there were quartz veins embedded in the sandstone where some beautiful crystals could be harvested for free. So, with rock-hammer in hand, we parked at the bottom and began walking up the rough access road on the search for crystals.
Hilina showing off a crystal she found on Crystal Mountain
Well, upon arrival at the summit, we didn't see any crystal-lined quartz veins, but we did see spectacular panoramic views of the Ouachita Mountains.
View to the southeast from Crystal Mountain
 I climbed all over the rocky crags, rock outcrops, and steep rocky cliffs looking for these quartz veins. I didn't find any of those. But, I certainly did enjoy the views on yet another 70+ degree day in November.

Climbing on the cliffs looking for the mythical quartz veins
But, as we started putting our eyes on the ground, we noticed that there were in fact pieces of quartz laying around. As we looked harder, we even saw beautiful little clear crystals. They must have come from somewhere! But, apparently we just couldn't find the motherlode. Oh well, the views were worthwhile enough for us!

Some quartz crystals we found on the ground
By the way, once you finish the scenic dirt road and arrive at Highway 9, you can turn south and follow it to Highway 5 and then back into Hot Springs to make for a nice driving loop.

A vista point along the scenic drive


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