Though yesterday started out clear and bright on The Mountain, by mid-afternoon gloom began to creep in from the west and south. It didn’t spoil our day by any means, but it was a harbinger of a rough night ahead.

We were under a “tornado watch” until almost dawn. Strong thunderstorms brought two-and-a-half inches of rain in seven hours.

Scout and Dipstick slept on the bed with us. Mercy got washed (sort of) for free.

We had errands to run today.

Our drive from the campground to The Mountain includes a 23-mile stretch of federal highway — US Route 62 and US Route 412 run together across much of north-central Arkansas. Other than a few short passing lanes (one eastbound, two westbound) the road is a well-maintained two-laner with respectably wide shoulders. It’s an entertaining ride, too, twisting and darting, climbing and falling as it cuts through rolling pasture land.

That part of the trip has become pretty routine for us (though not unconscious). Naturally, it seems shorter than it once did, say, four months ago. One reason for that, I think, is that we have familiar landmarks along the route.

The halfway point, for example, is a liquor store in Pyatt on the bank of Crooked Creek. On our eastbound run the most conspicuous beacon is the Butterball Feed Mill a few miles short of Yellville.

Brought online two years ago, the mill’s concrete towers stand almost 200 feet tall. Grain arrives from the Midwest via rail on the adjacent Missouri & Northern Arkansas line, and the finished feed leaves by truck. The plant produces an estimated 12,000 tons of feed each week, serving poultry farms within a 40-mile radius.

The corresponding landmark westbound isn’t a place but rather a view. Near the tiny burg of Harmon the highway climbs toward a high point, site of a large telecommunications tower, before swooping into a pastoral valley. At the eastern crest the road points briefly southwest.

The sight reminds me of so-called “island ranges” we saw last September, mountains cropping up abruptly from the Montana prairie — the Little Belts, the Crazies, the Big Snowies, the Sweet Grass Hills and others. This Ozarks vista is a cluster of similarly sudden peaks in the direction of Jasper and the Upper Buffalo.

Boat Mountain, which looks like an inverted canoe, is the tallest at 2,213 feet. To its north is Pilot Mountain (2,116 feet). On clear days we can pick out 2,180-foot Sulphur Mountain, located west of Boat.

That scene is significant (to me, at least) in another way. Our trips to The Mountain (and back) take us across three bridges over Crooked Creek, the headwaters of which are in those peaks — the East Fork of Crooked Creek rises on the west flank of Boat Mountain at an elevation of 1,700 feet, while the main branch begins near 1,500 feet on the north slope of Sulphur Mountain.

For a little vertical context, consider that a mile from The Mountain the elevation of Crooked Creek is 516 feet.

And why is the creek called “crooked”? As it flows from its source in Newton County to the White River 33 miles away, it meanders a total of 72 miles.

Rolling into Yellville from the west the road drops quickly. As it twists down into town, our destination spreads out before us. Tucked into the soft landscape are places like John Treat Hollow, Rea Valley and Hall Mountain.

Though I’ve often referred to Hall Mountain as a ridge, it’s actually a named mountain with a summit 1,304 feet above sea level. It’s one of the highest points in Marion County and boasts the greatest topographic prominence (395 feet).

The place we call “The Mountain” is unnamed. Its summit is 1,003 feet.

In September I wrote about topographic prominence where we camped and traveled on the west side of Glacier Park. We were surrounded by peaks rising as much as a mile over our heads — impressive, no doubt, and absolutely breathtaking.

The Ozarks may not present the grandeur (for lack of a better word) of the northern Rockies, but this is an accessible landscape. Even the rugged Boston Mountains and the Buffalo River Wilderness are within reach, challenging but not daunting.

Like I said, we stayed close today to run errands. First stop was the local UPS hub to ship the broken phone Deb had replaced under warranty. Next we dropped by a craft store for yarn to help her pass time during an imminent cold snap. Finally we made a grocery run.

Before returning to the bus we had lunch at what’s becoming our favorite eatery in town — the Ranch House Restaurant. Deb had the “Hot Beef Dinner,” described on the menu as “tender roast beef over grilled Texas toast.” I ordered today’s meat loaf special with corn, slaw and smoked brown beans for my three sides.

My lunch special was a ridiculous $8.99. Her meal was just two bucks more. Tasty comfort food, enormous portions, great atmosphere.

Looking around the dining room, Deb remarked that almost all of the men wore hats — mostly feed caps or other ball caps, plus a few Stetsons. A half-dozen patrons sported bib overalls. The parking lot was maybe 80% trucks, including one farm truck carrying a huge roll of hay.

Everywhere we went today validated (again) the overwhelming sense of decency and general goodness we’ve noticed pervading this culture. These folks know how to treat their neighbors. They don’t need a customer-service seminar. They may not have invented polite, but they’ve sure perfected it.

We say grace, and we say “Ma’am.”
If you ain’t into that, we don’t give a damn.

This evening we’re bracing for what we all hope will be winter’s last blast ’round here. When we got up this morning it was 60°F, and by 4pm the temp was 28°F with a wind chill of 16°F. Forecast snow and ice has us under a “winter storm warning” tomorrow and Thursday.

We’ll be just fine.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

#LetsGoBrandon #FJB

(Deb captured today’s header image yesterday at her cousin’s cabin — spring’s first budding daffodil.)

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