Ozark Destinies - Once Awakened
Ozark Destinies - Once Awakened
The trail, if you could call it that, was once a road. Or, more properly, a driveway. Snaking around the base of the mountain, over ridges and washes and slithering away unnoticed into a blind hollow. Old Dan's Place was on the park's map a half century after the homestead had crumbled, but only just, the trail no longer official. At one time, the state park had maintained one of the rocky, old ruts for hikers, letting nature take back the other, until an ice storm a few years back brought down limbs and trees all across the state. It had taken volunteers from neighboring states just to get the main trails open by tourist season. They never got to the Shaddox Hollow trail.
Few people trekked the rolling two and a half miles, and it seemed the park service had chosen to expend its energies and resources elsewhere since. The path was beaten down a little as far as the remaining chimney of the old cabin, but following the trail on to the rock shelter at the base of the cliff took some determined bushwhacking. Which was precisely why they'd chosen this time of year to explore here.
It was an exceptionally warm January weekend. The woods were stripped bare and the undergrowth died down. Most large brush could be skirted instead of tamed by machete. More important, during the dry season there was supposed to be a low, narrow passage at the back of the shelter that undercut the bluff. And caves were Marian's true passion. So, taking advantage of conditions, they'd endured the one hour trip along the rugged, lane and a half wide gravel road to the old trail head.
She really preferred hiking during leaf off anyway, when you could see the ridges and bluffs through the woods, see the underlying hardscape. Hardscape. Well, she hadn't exactly seen it all this time - not where it mattered, just beneath her feet. But it was definitely hard.
She took a deep breath. It was uncomfortable, but didn't exactly hurt, and opened her eyes. That did hurt. She didn't dare to move her head yet to inspect the slope she'd just descended, just lay there and wondered how far she'd slid. It had seemed both very fast and very long, but she was aware of how differently the mind perceives events in a crisis situation. It appeared to be darker. How long had she lain there before opening her eyes? Had she passed out? She was now at the bottom of the ravine. It would naturally be dimmer there than where she'd stood perhaps moments ago. So, that didn't help.
All she could see was the sheer rock wall opposite the slope, now that the near blinding pain that shot through her head when she'd opened her eyes had subsided to a deep throb. She suspected nothing was broken - miraculously - or she'd feel it even holding still. So, she braved stretching her legs out of their fetal position and rolled onto her back, her gaze continuing over to traverse the streak of disturbance in the soil and brush all the way up to the narrow cut in the deceptive overhang at the top edge.
A hundred feet, maybe more. She was lucky nothing was broken. She was lucky she wasn't dead. It briefly crossed her mind that maybe she was, but then her head wouldn't hurt. Right? So how was she going to get out of here?
Gingerly, she made her way over onto her hands and knees, testing the reliability of each limb, and noticed now all the bloody scrapes and scratches down her arms, felt the tender spots on her knees and shins that would become spectacular bruises. Shifting her balance, she ran a hand lightly over her head to brush off leaves, and on down the loose braid restraining her unruly caramel brown hair to the thick tuft brushing the ground below her chin, plucking out an embedded twig on the way. She made a second pass then, more carefully feeling a seriously tender bump rising on the back right side of her