In addition to the GPS apps we use to navigate while woodswalking, back at my computer I explore The Mountain with online mapping tools. The best utility I’ve found is The National Map (TNM), a service of the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
TNM offers flexibility well beyond satellite imagery or the familiar USGS topo maps. I can choose different layers, adjust transparency and produce a three-dimensional view of the landscape — minus tree cover, which makes a huge difference.
My favorite map layers are “hillshade,” which reveals surface details (think 1960s NASA photos of the moon), and “Auto Contours,” which reflects those details. It’s a great way to gauge terrain before we venture forth, and to help answer the inevitable “What the hell was that?” questions after we return.
The other day we stumbled across what we’re calling “The Mystery Pit” just south of the summit. We’re not sure what it is, exactly — at first glance it doesn’t look old enough to be part of what we believe to be an exploratory lead-mining dig we found, so it may be related to homesteading activity undertaken by the people who owned the property before Deb’s cousin acquired it.
Back at my computer later, I pulled up TNM and entered the coordinates I’d recorded for The Mystery Pit. Sure enough, big as life, there it was — hillshade captured the divot perfectly, right down to the berm of debris surrounding it.
What really caught my attention, though, was something else in that map view. Less than a hundred feet southwest of The Mystery Pit was another depression, twice as large and apparently deeper.
Deb and I must’ve walked right past it, maybe within 50 feet, as we made our way upslope.
I grabbed coordinates, plugged them into Gaia GPS and set a waypoint — next trip we can go right to it. We can’t wait to get back there and see “The Big Mystery Pit.”
So there are holes on The Mountain. A few presumably were created by mining, which is common in the region, and some are the result of developing a home site, work that ultimately was abandoned. And yes, over the last several months we’ve dug a few holes of our own.
The place is wild, certainly, but it’s not wilderness. Human presence is part of its history — just like the prohibition-era speakeasy that left its mark on nearby Mystic Caverns, scars make the story of this patch of land more interesting.
We’ve been advised to be on the lookout for Indian artifacts — arrowheads, spear points and such — as we explore The Mountain. Over the years this area was occupied by Osage, Cherokee and Shawnee. What’s now Yellville, in fact, was founded around 1820 by Shawnee who’d emigrated from southeast Ohio, invited to the region by resettled Cherokee. It was known as “Shawneetown.”
Marion County was part of lands granted to the Cherokee in 1817 and 1819, subsequently ceded by treaty in 1828. The Shawnee left shortly thereafter, settling in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
One route of the “Trail of Tears” passed two miles to the north of The Mountain during the winter of 1838, crossing the White River above present-day Cotter and Crooked Creek just west of Yellville.
During the Civil War — or, as a friend of mine calls it, “The War of Northern Aggression” — the area was strategically important to both sides for its saltpeter mines. Beginning in the spring of 1862 it was under control of the Union, technically, but Confederate “bushwhackers” waged a ferocious guerilla resistance. The Union’s claim to northern Arkansas became little more than a formality.
There’s history here. Human history is neither good nor bad — it just is. Like natural history, it makes marks and leaves behind clues.
We’re not bothered by a few holes in the ground.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.