I enjoy a quiet hike in the wilderness.  Even so, the mind is sometimes more willing than the body.  Discovering with your soul mate is not only safer, but can double the fun.  Unfortunately, my husband is disabled, and hiking alone is foolhardy.    My husband and some friends found a relatively safe way to explore nature.  Safety often comes in numbers, so when my husband invited me on an ATV ride in the wild backcountry of White Rock Wildlife Management, Madison County, Arkansas, I agreed to go along.  I had heard of the dangers of those vehicles and the damage they did to the land.  I wasn’t looking forward to hours of roaring engines, but I was looking forward to the camaraderie of the others in the group.  My husband was a responsible man who would never put me in danger.  So it was that I took my first ride and became ATV educated.
We left camp in a quadra-troop, two to each ATV.  As we whisked down a dusty road, I knew my first moment of fear.  It seems so much faster when you’re not inside a closed area. 
Soon we left the road on what was referred to as a trail.  How they found it, I’ll never know – nor did I know how they followed it.  The wide soft tires made little impression on the weeds as we descended into a rocky dry watercourse.
To my surprise, even though there were four ATV’s, I could still hear the birds.
I began to relax and enjoy the view.  Once we stopped at a mud puddle and saw some deer tracks and a bear track.  That probably wouldn’t be something I’d want to hike into.  Later we scared up a few deer.  I was amazed at how close they let us get before they took off.  I’m certain I would not have seen them while I was hiking.  As much noise as I would make in the underbrush, they would be long gone.  It occurred to me that we had covered more country in 15 minutes than I could have covered in an hour.  Our next stop was an old burned out cabin they called, “The Chimney Place”.   All that was left was a foundation and a large chimney.  As we traveled through the country, I marveled at the rock fences and wondered who had lived there so long ago.  Were they an isolated community? 


I know there are people who misuse the land, but I found nothing destructive about our vehicles.  Perhaps it was because they were methods of transportation rather than toys.  In case of an emergency, I was the only person capable of hiking out.  Yet we had safety in numbers.  If one ATV had broken down, the others could have assisted in pulling it out. 
I have heard that ATV’s may be banned from the area.  I can imagine that heavy and continual use could become a problem. I hope that the disabled will be allowed to travel in this method.  They had the opportunity to see something they would never have been able to experience.  Still, I feel privileged to have had the chance to see the country from this perspective. If I never get to go again, I will still have those memories.  I took away from there a new appreciation for the wilderness.

Soon we crossed a rocky creek and stopped at a rock.  The men called the place “The Writing on the Rock.”  A name with a backward S had been chiseled on a large slab of rock.  Beside it was the date – 1875.  Moss and lichen had taken charge of most of the rock over the years.  It was intriguing and somehow haunting at the same time.  Only ten years after the Civil War ended – still 87 years before the Cuban missile crisis.  What was daily life like for these people?  Were they hiding or were they simply reclusive?  How many such communities existed in like this?  To put the time into real perspective, it was a year before Custer’s fight at the Little Big Horn.
The wide creek beside the rock was probably their source of water, and possibly a source of power for a grist or lumber mill, though we saw no evidence.  Before these people came, it was likely a campsite for Indians.  There might be arrowheads or pottery pieces.  But this was government land, so we could take nothing from it but memories and pictures.
With a whirl of engines starting, I was jarred back into the present. We crossed the creek and continued our journey.
In one place beaver had built a dam and created a pond.  Trees bore the scars of their teeth – some nearly ready to fall.
We circled around a high hill to a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains.  There we rested and ate lunch.  Birds sang for us, and mother nature stretched out endlessly before us, yawning in the early summer sun.
Everything was picked up before we left – the pop bottles and sandwich wrappers stored in compartments in the ATV’s.  Looking back at our tracks, I knew the grass and weeds would pop up in a few hours, leaving little evidence of our intrusion..
By the time we reached the road for home, I was sore and tired enough to give it up for the day.  Yet I had seen more wild country than I could have hiked in days – and in far less danger.  Back at our vehicles, we loaded the ATV’s and headed for home – another 2 hours away.  My perspective had completely turned around.  I couldn’t wait to go out again and see more of this mysterious country. 
The Writing on the Rock
A Travalogue
by Linda L. Rigsbee
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