Why I hike: Three reasons that are off the beaten path

Whether it’s a dramatic scene like this or something more ordinary close to home, the real reasons I hike run deep. As seen on Mount Sneffels, Colo. (Noel Finta photo)

There have likely been tens of thousands of articles, blog posts and other testimonials describing why people hike. I wrote one a few years back. All of them have similar reasons, from gaining peace and quiet, to exercise, to getting close to nature, and so on.

Less frequently reasons include achievement (some hikes are hard, and even risky) and promotion – you know, doin’ it for the ‘Gram.

Being transparent, I’ve gone on hikes to take photos. Any 14er or 13er hike I do comes with the goal of achieving a summit, so sure, accomplishing something difficult is sometimes implied. You could say these, and any number of reasons mentioned above apply to me as well.

But I got to thinking about it recently and I realized that some of the best outcomes for any hike – even those aimed at photography, summits or training for something bigger – come with benefits far more valuable. Often those are what keep me coming back.

One big reason I go: to think. It’s been said that time, slowed down to the pace of nature, gives people a chance to step away from our distractions and let our minds wander. I do some of my best thinking on a hike, particularly when I’m alone. It doesn’t matter if that day calls for double-digit miles or is something far shorter. Unloading my mental bucket on the trail allows me to ponder what needs to be pondered. Rumination does the body good, I believe.

Another reason: to intentionally notice the details. My life, just like many of yours, is a rushed and regimented thing pinned down by routines and schedules forged by family, employment and a sizable miscellany that requires my attention. When I’m on a hike and I’m not crashing down the trail for training purposes, I try my best to look around and see the terrain. Maybe it’s an emerald shade from the birth of spring. Or a splash of floral color bursting from a sea of green. Going over a creek crossing a couple weeks ago, I peered into the shallows and saw movement: tadpoles, darting between rocks, feeding, swimming and hopefully growing into the full-grown frogs they’re designed to become. Looking around has helped me spot lizards in the brush, armadillos rooting around in fallen leaves and a massive owl swooping through the trees toward some target unseen by me.

And it’s not just the sights, but the smells. And the sounds. The woods have a sweetness to them in the spring, and a different but no less pleasant aroma deep into the fall. On the auditory side, the chirps of marmots echoing across a huge, stony Rocky Mountain amphitheater on a crisp fall day remains one of the most indelible memories of what was already a remarkable day in the alpine for me. Had I been enveloped in some digital playlist or the din of conversation, I might have missed that haunting  cry.

One last reason I’ll mention: to heal. And I mean that in a comprehensive way. During the week, I exercise hard. A casual hike helps work out the soreness and hasten recovery. But also, healing comes from the non-physical wounds of life. We’ve all suffered loss – the death of a loved one, the ending of a friendship, a past trauma – that leaves us emotionally battered. A single hike is no cure-all, but as a habit, it can be medicinal. I speak from my own experience, and I know many, many others can do the same.

Looking over this list I notice one more thing. These three reasons, absent of the more popular motivations, are sufficient. If all I gained or experienced were an opportunity to think, to notice the details, and to heal, that would be enough to keep me going back. I’ve learned I don’t need a summit or some super-rad mileage count, or even an epic view. I don’t need a pic to blow up with likes on Instagram, and I don’t need some electronic doodad to congratulate me on the number of steps I took, calories I burned or vert I gained. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But without the deeper experiences of a hike, it would feel more like long walk absent a soul.

Bob Doucette

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All hail the emergence of spring

Green emerging everywhere.

Spring feels a little different for me. Living in the Southern Plains, it’s a reminder that it won’t be long before the death heat of summer arrives. We get big storms down here. High winds. For allergy sufferers, spring looks pretty but feels awful. And it means I have to start cutting the grass again.

Notice that all of these things have nothing to do with what I see when I get out of my neighborhood and hit the trail. When I do that, my whole mindset changes. The forest tells me that spring might be all those things I mentioned above. But it also means new life.

I hike often in the fall and winter. Even this far south, winter has a quieting effect on the woods. Aside from the breezes in the trees, you don’t hear much of anything.

In the spring, that all changes. Scurrying underfoot. Bird songs in the air. Even the wind in the forest canopy sounds different as it blows by leaves and not barren limbs.

Singletrack ahead, new life all around. Welcome to the green tunnel.

Ample rain has fallen this year, so normally dry seasonal creekbeds are flowing. On a recent hike, I looked down into one of these deeper channels, and in its depths I could see it: dozens of tadpoles, creatures soon to join their elder kin in adding to the song of the woods.

Biology textbooks could probably explain where all these creatures go in the colder months, but my wonder at the process of seasonal life wouldn’t abate. Not one bit.

So green.

So yeah, summer will be here before we know it. Triple-digit temps are probably on the way. I’m sure there will be tornado warnings, pollen warnings and days when the winds are blowing out of the south faster than I can ride my bike. But some time in the woods can alter perspectives.

Spring is a wondrous time. If nothing else, it reminds us of the miracle that our planet is. We move to and fro with our busy lives, our incessant blathering, our overall nonsense that amounts to little. But the Earth’s beat goes on — renewing, enduring, waning, and then coming back to life once again, just like it has for eons, long before we were here to take note of it. Call it respect, or awe, or whatever, but the time I spent in the woods was a pleasant reset, pollen count be damned.

Spring is a miracle.

Bob Doucette

Let’s get on board with the fact that mountain goats are pee-lapping weirdos

Majestic. Wild. Weirdos.

To most people, seeing a mountain goat is to view something majestic, powerful and wild.

I know better. These creatures of the rock are just plain weird. And it was confirmed after news got out that a bunch of mountain goats were being airlifted out of Washington’s Olympic National Park because, for starters, there are too many of them. And also, their growing throng has as unnatural attraction to human urine.

You read that right. Some online headlines are proclaiming these horned lords of the crag are addicted to pee.

You might be thinking, “What in the name of Bear Grylls is going on here? Pee? Really?”

Really. As far as these guys are concerned, all you hikers making a pit stop on the trail for No. 1 may as well be playing the role of Heisenberg, dealing yellow-tinted meth in the A-B-Q.

This requires some explanation.

Like most animals, simple hydration with water is nice, but not enough to sustain proper bodily function. You need electrolytes. Salts, to keep it in layman’s terms. And urine contains, among other things, plenty of salts.

Humans have long known the worth of salt. During the days of antiquity, salt was more valuable than gold. It was mined extensively in North Africa, building the riches of civilizations there for generations. Today, we sprinkle the stuff on our food to add flavor and add electrolytes to our sports drinks to keep us performing on the field and the court.

We even put out salt blocks for our cattle during the winter so they get enough of the stuff to keep them happy.

But I guess what separates us from the animals (except for the aforementioned Grylls, or maybe Aron Ralston) is the fact that we don’t piss on our food or tip back goblets filled with the fruit of our bladders.

Then again, survival in the wild is something almost none of us can contemplate, at least not in the way the creatures of the wilderness do. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and when every waking moment is consumed by where you’ll get your nutrition, well, that sounds pretty desperate to me. The goats have found an answer to their salt problem.

And they aren’t alone. Marmots will gnaw the sweat-stained handles of your trekking poles just to get a nip of that salt your hands deposit on them during an arduous uphill hike. Pikas and mice will steal your gloves for the same reason. And deer have taken a liking to your pee just like the goats.

About nine years ago, I was camping in the Uncompahgre National Forest of Colorado, and while eating some grub with my campmates, I noticed a healthy doe rooting around the dirt not far from my tent. I was wondering what on earth was so interesting to that deer, and then it dawned on me: That’s where I was relieving myself in the middle of the night. Eww, I thought. But when you really need salt, you get it where you can.

You do you, Bambi.

Lounging weirdo.

But the deer wasn’t weird about it, at least not beyond the innate weirdness of lapping up the piss-soaked dirt a few yards from my tent. But mountain goats? They’re weird about it. Really, really weird about it.

Let me take you back a few years to another pristine slice of alpine heaven in Colorado’s southwestern corner. The place is called Chicago Basin, a remote but popular backpacking and peak-bagging destination tucked deep inside the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains. It’s an impossibly gorgeous basin flanked by jagged peaks and has to be one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been. The snows in the ‘Nuche are typically deep, and the summer monsoons tend to dump heavier and more frequently than elsewhere in the Rockies. The result is a lush mountain landscape that defies the semi-arid reputation of the Rockies.

The downside to this place is three-fold. First, you’re likely to get rained out of any climbs at some point during the summer. Second, the flies. Dear God, the flies. They are everywhere. And last, are the mountain goats. They are drawn to humans and can be quite pesky at camp.

They’ll follow you around, stalking you like fluffy, horned paparazzi. They’ll monitor your every move, and the males can be a little, er, assertive. It’s not that they’re curious. They’re just slavishly thirsty for your little yellow drink.

While at camp, one of my friends decided to do an experiment. Being the funny guy that he is, he thought it would be hilarious to take a leak on a bush just to see what happened. And so he did.

He spent a few seconds watering a lonely sapling bush with his golden bounty, and the goats couldn’t wait. They were practically tripping over themselves to get there, then proceeded to denude that shrub in a matter of a minute. I think all the leaves were gone before he had finished. It was the funniest and most bizarre thing I’ve seen in years, and I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in my days. But to paraphrase Will Smith from his “Men in Black” days, the Great Shrub Massacre of 2014 just about broke the needle on my weird-shit-o-meter.

I suppose the conservationist in me should say something profound or important about the pitfalls of frequent human contact with wild animals, maybe even with a tone of solemn concern. But I just can’t. Mountain goats are majestic, amazing creatures.  But they’re also really damn weird.

Seriously, dude. Get off the pee-pipe, ya weirdo.

Bob Doucette

Video: Take a visual tour of the Wichita Mountains

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written about a recent trip to the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma. It’s a unique landscape of ancient mountains, wide valleys and amazing wildlife.

It’s one thing to see pictures and read words, but another to see it in video. My partner in this adventure, Brian, put together a good compilation of the things we saw and did. It’s about 13 minutes, and it’s definitely worth your time. Have a look:

If you missed it, you can read my two-part series on our Wichita Mountains trip here and here.

Bob Doucette

Hiking Arkansas’ Magazine Mountain Trail

Craig takes in the scene from an overlook on the trail.

Between the briars slicing open my shins and picking off a couple of ticks, there was one thing that I failed to notice, something my hiking partner Craig noted.

“What’s great about this is we haven’t seen another soul.”

He was right. We’d been on the trail for a couple of hours, and the only non-insect beings we saw were a couple of snakes, a few lizards, and some turkey vultures riding the air currents high above a steep, heavily wooded ravine.

Solitude is something I expect in the remote parts of the country, but not in the South. Sparsely populated western states offer plenty of alone time if you want it. That’s tougher to find in states where small towns dot the landscape and paved highways take you to the tops of mountains.

So it was remarkable that this hike, going up the Magazine Mountain Trail in northwest Arkansas, was one in which we were the only humans around.

I’ll take that every time.

Looking out over a rocky outcrop three miles in, I uttered what became the de facto humorous slogan of the trip: “This does not suck.”

ARKANSAS’ HIGH PLACE

A view looking south from near the top of Magazine Mountain.

Magazine Mountain (alternatively, and interchangeably, called Mount Magazine) is the highest mountain in Arkansas, rising to 2,753 feet. It was named by French explorers who, after witnessing a landslide on its flanks, likened the sound to a munitions magazine exploding.

It’s the monarch of the Ouachita Mountains, an ancient band of east-west ridges and mesas that once soared to heights equal to that of the Rockies, back before tectonic movement pushed it away from the Appalachians and into the heart of the interior highlands of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

The Ouachitas are separated from the Boston Mountains and the rest of the Ozarks by the Arkansas River. Clothing the entire region are dense hardwood and lodgepole pine forests filled with life.

The mountain itself dominates the skyline south of the river. It’s a long plateau crowned with a rim of rugged cliffs at the top, offering spectacular views of the Ouachitas all the way into Oklahoma to the east and the Boston Mountains to the north.

The mountain is mostly inside national forest land, though the top of the formation is land owned by the state, Mount Magazine State Park. The state park and the National Forest Service have a great partnership here, and part of that is maintaining a route that is one of Arkansas’ classic hikes, the 9.7-mile Magazine Mountain Trail.

Most people hike the peak from campgrounds at the top of the mountain down to Cove Lake, 1,500 feet below. But a downhill hike is not what Craig and I are accustomed to.

In some ways, Craig and I are similar hikers. We’re both flatlanders who have found ourselves at home hiking Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, and have a similar number of summits. But we have key differences, namely that he’s much faster at altitude and is seemingly tireless. Me? Not so much.

Thankfully, the altitudes of Arkansas aren’t nearly the factor that they are in Colorado. Otherwise I would have been eating Craig’s dust most of the way yet again.

A WALK IN THE WOODS

The low part of the trail, maybe a mile from the lower trailhead.

Our plan was to drive one of our cars to the lake, hike to the top, then use the other car to retrieve the first. The only other option would have been to do a round-trip hike that would have approached 20 miles. Both of us had done that before, but we were looking more for fun rather than something more demanding.

The trailhead at the lake is easy to miss, but a small parking area (big enough for two cars) revealed the start of the route. I had to remind myself that spring is the time where every fallen tree branch could be a snake. And that turned out to be true. Less than a mile in, a two-foot black snake sat in the middle of the trail, sunning itself, and not at all concerned with us. We were cool with that.

The trail was mostly an up-and-down affair, and then about three miles in, we climbed up to a cliff side that revealed some sweet views of nearby ridges and woodlands. Someone had set up a fire ring at that outcropping, so I suppose you could consider that place as a potential campsite. I guess that would be fine, but there wasn’t a water source nearby, and I’m all about having somewhere close to filter water so I don’t have to haul it all in. We were just passing through, so we snapped a few pics and Craig caught me saying something goofy on video.

“Say hello for the camera,” he said.

“’Sup, camera,” was about as witty as I could get.

A scenic overlook about three miles in.

I figured that our hike up the ridge was the start of ascending the mountain, but I was wrong. Every bit of elevation we gained there we quickly surrendered as the hike went on. As it turned out, this was just a stop along the way and we’d yet to reach the foot of the mountain. So while the maps showed the elevation gain from Cove Lake to the trail’s end at about 1,500 feet, you can easily tack on at least a couple hundred feet more, given this little feature and the constant up-and-down along the way.

Another thing we noticed: This was a very watery hike. For starters, route descriptions mention creek crossings, and there were several. You could cross some without getting your feet wet, but others, not so much. There was a lot of water coming down the mountain that day, a byproduct of frequent rains that had pounded this part of the state in the preceding week.

Some of the pines here were more than a hundred feet tall.

That also made the trail muddy in numerous spots. And in others, water flowed down the trail as if it were a creek itself. Any illusions of keeping our feet dry were quickly dispelled. Once you’re good with that, it’s not a problem. Otherwise, only high-top boots with waterproofing would have provided a chance at staying dry. And that would have been a big if.

The trail is well-marked. There were mile markers (though a few were missing), and white diamond-shaped blazes were nailed to trees frequently. The only tricky areas were, believe it or not, road crossings. The first one of those had the trail reappear in a grassy area across the road (they were all gravel access roads for National Forest Service work). The second one, however, gave us a little trouble.

About four miles in, we came to a road crossing that had one side of the road going uphill and the other splitting into a Y. One of those splits led to a gate, the other downhill. We looked up and down the road and saw no clear indication where the trail picked back up, and our map wasn’t altogether clear.

A fella in a truck pulled up, so we flagged him down. Looking at our map and compass, we took a guess, went up the hill and guessed wrong. We figured that out after Truck Guy drove back up the hill to tell us he saw where the trail left the road – down the hill, the opposite direction we were going. We were grateful for the assist. Who knows where we would have ended up had we kept trudging up the road. I made a mental note that I need to work on my orienteering skills.

With Truck Guy motoring down the road and us back on track, all signs of people vanished again. Every now and then, deadfall blocked our route. My guess is high winds from recent storms took down sick or dead trees along our path.

Somewhere past Mile 5, we hit another high point where two small clearings overlooked a steep, wooded slope. We could hear a creek rushing below us. The clearings also had a fire ring, and this seemed like a good place for someone to camp. The Magazine Mountain Trail is popular with backpackers, and some people turn the hike into a two-day, overnight excursion. We plopped down for some grub, did a tick check (we performed a few of those) and let the sounds of the rushing creek below wash over us.

We encountered a lot of creek crossings, including this one where our map indicated a bridge.

We were in for one more “major” creek crossing where the map indicated a bridge. I saw footings for a bridge on either bank, but something tells me that structure is long gone. It was just another soggy creek crossing, but we were used to that by then. No biggie, just squishy feet for a few minutes (and the promise of really rank socks back at camp).

Shortly after that, the trail started heading uphill in earnest. Nothing too steep, but we did hit two sections of switchbacks that were reminders of some of the more formidable trails we’d experienced in the Rockies. After the second set of switchbacks, the trail ascended the mountain in a steeper – and at times, soggier – straight line.

We knew we hit the state park boundary once the nature of the trail changed. Instead of the partially overgrown singletrack we’d been on all day, more stone stairs appeared.

The “up” gave way soon after, and before long camp had arrived, and with it, the promise of a good nap, fresh clothes, and the best camp food of all time, bratwursts with mac-and-cheese made by yours truly. Not like I’m biased or anything.

I could tell you that the scenery stole the show, and indeed, this is a great hike. It’s not often you can trek on a longer trail in the South and have nearly absolute solitude in a place that was so lush, so green, and so alive.

Craig takes a break near the end of the hike.

But as is the case with most hikes, it’s often the company you keep that makes the trip. All along the way, Craig and I compared stories from the mountains, our solo ascents, or the more memorable peaks. We talked about how we first got into hiking the Fourteeners, who we met, and what mountains we’d like to climb next. A lot of times, sharing these mountain tales leaves many of those we know a little glassy-eyed. I think they’d rather see a couple of pics and move on.

But within our little fellowship, these stories are the spice of life. They often intersect with big lessons learned, shared experiences with family and friends, and time to process big ideas. It’s made easier when there’s no cellphone service, so any urgent texts, emails or notifications are held at bay, leaving room for good conversation or quiet reflection. We don’t get enough of that, you know.

And all that would indeed come. We’d go back to families, back to jobs, back to the noise of daily life beyond these ancient woods. But for a time we let the forest take us in, block everything else out and send us back in time before people tried to tame these lands. Wild places can be savage, but they can also soothe.

ABOUT THE ROUTE

From Cove Lake, start the hike at a small parking pullout near the dam. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, with very few side trails, most of which are partially overgrown.

About two miles in will be your first road crossing. Tall grasses obscure the trail on the other side of the road, but it will be slightly to your right.

Continue another mile to reach a rocky outcropping. This is a potential camping area, but also a good spot to rest, eat and evaluate the weather, as the bulk of the hike still lies ahead.

Another 1.5 miles up the trail is another road crossing. To your right, the road splits into a Y, with the right-hand fork leading immediately to a gate while the other fork goes downhill. Take the downhill fork. The route includes a small section of the road, but less than 200 yards downhill, the trail will appear to your left and leaves the road for good.

From here, a general uphill climb begins, with some elevation loss and gain. About 5 miles in, you’ll reach two clearings that have been used as campsites. This is just past the halfway point of the route, so it’s a logical place to stop and camp if you’re backpacking. It’s also a good point to evaluate the weather as well as your progress, as the hardest part of the hike still awaits.

The woods reflected on the still waters of a pond.

Past the campsites, the trail continues another two miles before going uphill in earnest. You’ll go uphill for a time and the route will flatten out and take you between two ponds.

Upon leaving the ponds behind, you’ll arrive at the first set of steeper switchbacks, of which there are four. The route eases for a bit, then hits another set of three switchbacks. Leaving those behind, the route eases momentarily, then steepens again. A series of rock steps will appear as you leave the Ozark National Forest and enter Mount Magazine State Park. Continue a steep hike for another mile before the terrain eases and leads you to the boundary of the Cameron Bluffs campsites.

Route length is 9.7 miles, all Class 1 hiking with minimal exposure.

EXTRA CREDIT

Hike south through the campsite, cross the main road and go a half mile up the Signal Hill Trail to the summit of Magazine Mountain and the state’s high point.

Or, if you’re up for it, make it a bigger day by hiking from Cove Lake to the summit, then back down to the lake. 19-21 miles, depending on if you tack on the Signal Hill Trail hike.

THINGS TO KNOW

There is no motorized travel or biking allowed on the Magazine Mountain Trail. Hiking only.

The mountains of Arkansas are bear country. Talk and make noise to alert bears of your presence, and do not attempt to feed them (or any wildlife, for that matter). Give any bear plenty of room, especially if it is a mother with her cubs. If you’re camping, be sure to hang any food or fragrant possessions (toothpaste, deordorant, soap, etc) in a bear bag away from your campsite. Never store these items in your tent.

Bob Doucette

Seven of the most annoying behaviors on the trail

We love and revere the outdoors. It’s the place where we play, relax, recharge and find some peace. Usually, it’s a combination of all of those things, and a good escape from that which annoys us in our non-outdoors world.

But all too often, those annoyances follow us to our outdoor happy places. Getting outside is becoming more popular, and it would seem the newbies sometimes don’t know the rules, or like to transfer, shall we say, certain behaviors from the ‘burbs to the backcountry.

So let’s take a look at our top outdoor annoyances…

An embarrassing collection of summit signs.

An embarrassing collection of summit signs, thankfully hauled out by this guy (Ben Perry photo/14ers.com Facebook page).

Summit signs being left behind. It’s cool to bag peaks, especially the high ones, the tough ones, or even your first ones. A lot of folks will bring a piece of paper or cardboard with the name of the peak, its elevation and the date it was climbed and use it to pose for a summit victory photo. No problems so far, unless these people decide to leave their signs behind. This is littering, and a serious sin in the backcountry. Even if you’re leaving it for someone else to make their own bragging-rights shot, it’s still wrong. Bring that sign, make that photograph, slap it on Facebook. But don’t you dare leave it there. Pack that thing out.

Whether it's chalk art or something more permanent, this grates on me. Leave the rocks alone.

Whether it’s chalk art or something more permanent, this grates on me. Leave the rocks alone.

Defacing rocks. I really hate this one. I see this too often where I run trails, and I’ve seen plenty of photos of people making their own “art” on ancient rocks, or writing messages on stones. This can even be combined with the summit sign thing, where people will write, with a Sharpie, the name of the peak and its elevation, then pose for a photograph. Whether you’re this douche, or Casey Nocket (the Creepytings “artist”) or just some fool tagging rocks, please stop. No one wants to see your markings, even if it’s in chalk. Plus, defacing rocks is actually a crime.

That bear selfie might get you hundreds of likes in Instagram, but is it worth it?

That bear selfie might get you hundreds of likes on Instagram, but is it worth it?

Wildlife selfies. Talk about needless risks. I’ve come to grips with the fact that people are addicted to selfies of all sorts, and even carry selfie sticks for the purpose of making those epic self portraits more epic-er. Gag, but I get it. But next-level gag — the wildlife selfie — is dangerous. People who spot bears, buffalo, moose or other creatures of the woods have gone out of their way to get close, turn their back to the animal, then grin for their camera, only to get attacked by the creature. In two cases in California, a couple of guys took selfies with rattlesnakes. Both got bit, and were lucky to live. But they also got tagged with six-figure medical bills. Keep your distance, respect wildlife, and don’t take your eye off a wild creature until you’re a safe distance away.

Funny in a text. Not funny if you step in it on the trail.

Funny in a text. Not funny if you step in it on the trail.

Defecating/urinating on the route. I’m not sure this needs to be said, but since it happens, well, don’t take a crap on the trail. Don’t pee on a climbing route. Don’t leave your waste where other people are hiking or seeking handholds and footholds.

One day, 150 people, and this is what those people collected in trash on a recent trail cleanup day.

One day, 150 people, and this is part what those people collected in trash on a recent trail cleanup day.

Littering in general. You might not think your lone water bottle, soda cup or candy bar wrapper will make much difference. But it does, especially if enough of you knuckleheads feel the same way. It’s not nearly as bad in the deep backcountry, but in places closer to highways or otherwise easily accessible it’s a massive problem. In a few trail cleanup days, I’ve personally carried out a good 100 pounds of trash. And that’s just me. Yet I still see discarded water bottles, cups and other bits of garbage. Oh, and wildlife sometimes try to eat your junk, which can cause illness and even death. If you can hold on to that drink on the way in, you can carry it out.

Not really my thing, but if you're going to have music on the trail, confine it to your earbuds.

Not really my thing, but if you’re going to have music on the trail, confine it to your earbuds.

Music on the trail. It’s OK to jam to your favorite tunes in the trail. Runners and hikers do it all the time. It’s not really my thing — I’d rather hear the sounds of the woods. But I don’t fault people wanting to hear their playlists or podcasts. But here’s the thing — no one else wants to hear it. So keep the music flowing… through your earbuds. When I’m trying to bag a peak or run some miles, I don’t want to hear you Whip and Nae Nae.

Too. Many. Cairns. (downeast.com photo)

Too. Many. Cairns. (downeast.com photo)

Excessive cairn-building. Building cairns has been a practice that dates back centuries, usually to mark territory or places of significance. In more recent times, cairns are used to show people what direction a route is going. But people like stacking rocks. Rock-stacking has become sort of hipster cool, like quadruple IPAs, fancy lattes or vinyl records. That’s fine and all, but it’s getting out of hand in some places (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). A beautiful lakeshore can be riddled with people’s rock “art,” spoiling an otherwise notable view. Worse yet, a random cairn made for your enjoyment might confuse a hiker and send him or her the wrong way. This is a serious issue in the backcountry. So come on, people. Let’s give the optional cairn thing a rest.

Those are a few of mine. How about you? Feel free to share your gripes and groans in the comments.

NOTE: A couple of readers noted that a “bear selfie” image was actually a digitally altered photo. It’s been replaced with an actual “bear selfie” image. Thanks for the heads up!

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Risking wilderness and taxpayer money on a dubious outlet mall plan

Is this the future of what an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain looks like? The track record for such enterprises isn't that good.

Is this the future of what an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain looks like? The track record for such enterprises isn’t that good.

One of the questions that has been raised by some people is what harm could come from building an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain.

Over the past few months, I’ve written about this quite often. The construction of an outlet mall at the proposed location will wipe out many acres of woodlands. It will consume many existing, scenic trails. It will encroach on wildlife habitat. And with the infrastructure expansions that will be necessary to handle the expected traffic at the shopping center, even more trails and woodlands all along 61st Street and Elwood Avenue will be consumed. The mere presence of an outlet mall at the place where Simon Properties wants to build will have a negative impact on all of Turkey Mountain. The destruction of forest, the light pollution, potential drainage issues, the noise and more can only be bad for Turkey Mountain, and thus bad for the city.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, however, there is more. All of that is rooted in the history of outlet malls in Oklahoma.

Back in the 1990s, a company by the name of Tanger built an outlet mall in Stroud, just off the Turner Turnpike. It was touted for its ideal location between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and the high traffic that highway carried.

It was opened with much ceremony, but before long it was already headed for trouble. Tanger Outlet Mall’s future was cut short when it was destroyed by the May 3, 1999, tornado, but the truth is that it was headed for closure anyway. Insurance funds could have rebuilt the place had it been worth Tanger’s time. But what’s left there now? A huge empty lot.

Fast-forward to just three years ago. A redevelopment project in Oklahoma City ended with the opening of the Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City, just off Interstate 40 in one of the fastest-growing areas of that city’s metro area.

The ideal location, high traffic and favorable publicity wasn’t able to stop that mall’s loss of a major tenant this past fall. Saks Off Fifth, which is operated by Saks Fifth Avenue, is already pulling up stakes. So a large anchor tenant in a highly visible shopping center in Oklahoma’s largest and most prosperous community is already withering on the vine.

Is this a harbinger of things to come for that development? If more shops there close, what will become of that mall? Could it become a huge, barren lot lined by empty stores? Time will tell, but if nothing else, it speaks to the risk involved in such projects, even with marquis brands from established companies being part of the plan.

Simon's plan for an outlet  mall. To the left, just one entry/exit.

Simon’s plan for an outlet mall. To the left, just one entry/exit.

Now look at what Simon Properties wants to do at Turkey Mountain. The company wants to build an outlet mall off a highway with less traffic than I-40, on a hilly road not designed for high traffic, with only one entry and exit point. And they want to do it in an area already flooded with retail businesses just to the south.

I’d argue that the proposed Premium Shoppes at Turkey Mountain is a plan destined for failure. And what will that leave us with, should that come to pass? A barren parking lot with empty buildings sitting atop what used to be wild, old-growth forest that people and wildlife once enjoyed. A city asset will become a liability, and there won’t be any chance of recovering what it used to be.

The chunk of woodlands for the proposed outlet mall, showing the rest of Turkey Mountain and the nearby roads. The overall impact of the project would likely be much bigger than the site itself.

The chunk of woodlands for the proposed outlet mall, showing the rest of Turkey Mountain and the nearby roads. The overall impact of the project would likely be much bigger than the site itself.

There are places where you can build outlet malls and give them a decent shot at success. Most of those places are going to be in areas that have already been developed. But the bad thing about ripping down a forest is that when it’s gone, it’s just gone. When you look at the location Simon is proposing, and the dubious model it has chosen, you have to wonder if allowing this project to go forward is in the city’s best interest. I’d say no.

But I’m not the one who needs convincing. Tulsa’s city councilors are the ones who need to hear from you. There are other options for an outlet mall, and there are better uses for the land in question at Turkey Mountain.

Simon Properties will very likely be asking for taxpayer support to build its mall in the form of a tax increment finance district, which basically would give Simon a seven-figure subsidy to embark on this risky project. Any TIF district would need to be approved by the city council.

A couple of things: A TIF district can be good, and the money is eventually repaid if all goes well. Shopping centers can be good. Economic growth is not necessarily the enemy of wild places.

If the outlet mall at Turkey Mountain gets built, you can kiss this view and that trail goodbye.

If the outlet mall at Turkey Mountain gets built, you can kiss this view and that trail goodbye.

But limited traffic, poor access and a dubious business model don’t seem to be worth risking wilderness land and taxpayer money, and that’s exactly what’s being proposed. Even the guarantees in a TIF district agreement do nothing to restore a site if it goes belly up. So contact your city councilors. Ask them to do right by Turkey Mountain and to come up with a comprehensive plan for how land at Turkey Mountain is to be used. Ask them to be good stewards of our money. Tell them, via phone call or email, that an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain is a bad idea.

Bob Doucette