I gladly accepted, when my friend Taylor Bellott recently invited me to embark upon a road trip with him into the Ozarks. Although the lowest temperatures we had seen in several years were in the forecast, I was more than eager to spend a day kicking around in the wonderful outdoors with a friend.
We struck out about an hour after daylight, and enjoyed views of distant ice-covered mountains as we neared Fayetteville. Choosing routes that would increase in elevation, we eventually found ourselves in the midst of a winter wonderland.
A light blanket of snow had covered a forest canopy where freezing rain had occurred only days prior. It was a scene unsurpassed by anything I had expected. The sun was diffused by heavy cloud cover. The quality of light was absolutely perfect, and It seemed as if photo opportunities awaited around every corner and over every hill.
We spent a good part of the afternoon meandering from location to location, via crooked and scenic routes. It was a time to be savored. However, I was somewhat surprised when he suggested that we head east, in lieu of traveling back in the direction of Hot Springs as the evening hours neared.
He reminisced of a creek located in the north-central section of the state. Taylor recalled his brother catching smallmouths in the stream and assured me that incredible photo ops awaited.
Although the temperatures were hovering near single digits, a winter storm was in the forecast, and the detour would put us back home long after dark, I had no intentions of missing out on a location where fishing was good and photo ops abound. So I agreed, and we were on our way.
Finally arriving in the general vicinity of this hidden treasure, I anticipated what lies in store when Taylor turned onto a dirt road leading across a low-water bridge and entering a huge field.
However, I grew somewhat concerned as the road veered away from the creek and headed up a steep hill toward what appeared to be someone's house.
Coming to a stop behind the white SUV, he appeared somewhat disappointed, turned around and headed back down the steep drive. Veering to the right at an intersection he headed up yet another steep incline. "Maybe I can see the spot I'm looking for from up here," he assured. Nearing yet another house, he suddenly whipped the truck around and headed back down the hill.
I was eager to find the location, as well. But to be honest, I was growing a little concerned. We were obviously on private property, and I was confident the landowners would show up at any second.
I was relieved when we headed back to the highway, but Taylor still didn't seem satisfied. And the event grew even stranger when he received a phone call.
I wasn't sure what the party on the other end of the line was saying, but his responses made little sense. I wasn't trying to listen in, but we were in the same vehicle. And I could hardly ignore what he was saying.
Pulling into the drive of yet another house, Taylor turned the rig around, and here we went again, right back to the same road leading across the low-water bridge.
I really didn't know how to respond. Taylor had always been a level-headed fella. But he appeared to be obsessed with reaching his destination, in spite of the fact that we were obviously trespassing. Crossing the creek, we headed back up the same road leading to the hill where we had previously turned around.
Continuing up the hill, we eventually pulled into the driveway of yet another house. Pulling beside yet another white SUV, he pulled a stunt that convince me that he had totally lost his mind. What on earth would possess him to honk his horn?
I was at a loss. Should I bail out of the truck and run, or should I remain with my ol' buddy and get him home safely?
The anticipation grew even more intense as the entry door of the house slowly began to open. There were no doubts in my mind; trouble was brewing. This craziness was on the verge of going to yet another level.
In spite of the fact that I tried to prepare myself for what might transpire in the seconds to come, I was totally floored when our wives stuck their heads out the door.
I could not believe it. My wonderful wife had construed a flawless plan to surprise me with a weekend in the Ozarks. Not only had she picked a wonderful cabin situated in a beautiful setting, but she had also taken my passion for photographing the night sky into consideration, and chosen a weekend when there would be no moon.
And to our amazement, there was a window of time when the thick blanket of clouds broke, and I was able to photograph beautiful, starlit night sky.
Sandy, Taylor and Brenda had orchestrated the entire day, unbeknown to me. What earlier seem a little iffy and transpired into a wonderful outing.
They gifted me with a memory that I would cherish forever. And the fact that my buddy had to find this location via code-talk, on the phone, will lend to laughter for years to come.