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This past spring I planned a group camping trip to Mount Magazine State Park in Central Arkansas. Mount Magazine is the highest point in the state, at the southernmost tip of the Ozarks. It overlooks the Petit Jean Valley which separates the Ozarks from the Ouachita.
I sent the invites a month in advance and about 17 friends RSVPed yes. Most were coming from Dallas but a couple from the Fayetteville area. The group chat was full of carpool conversation and whatnot, so I had no doubt that we’d have a good turnout. I booked three campsites for two nights at Cove Lake nearby.
A few days before the camping trip, my boyfriend Ethan and I ended up in Eureka Springs to look at some land. I figured it was pointless to drive all the way back to Dallas just to turn around and head back up. Ethan had to get back to work in person, but I had my laptop so decided I could stay for a few days on my own and work. The only hitch with the plan was that I wouldn’t have a car for those couple of days.
“Thinking of having Ethan drop me off at Mt Magazine early,” I wrote in the group camping chat. “Means I won’t have a car though – Would anyone be able to give me a ride home?” Three different friends responded affirmatively that they had room for me in their cars.
So I went ahead and booked a room at the Mount Magazine Lodge. This place is spectacular. It’s built on the edge of the bluffs, with breathtaking views of the valley and the Ouachitas in the distance. Every room faces southward so no guests miss out. Looking at that view for the first time, my eyes filled with tears and I couldn’t stop smiling.
Aside from the view, the lodge itself is an architectural dream. ArkTimes describes it as “an extravaganza of exposed stone and timber framing, appointed with rustic wood furnishings and huge windows.” Ethan helped me carry my camping gear up to my room and was so blown away by the place that he almost called in sick for work to stay with me. The best part is that all of Mount Magazine’s finest trails start right there; you don’t even have to drive! Perfect for a car-free couple of days.
With extremely unfortunate timing, I injured my foot. While trail running in minimalist shoes, my foot landed on a pointy rock, which resulted in a stress fracture. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to hike either by myself or with my friends once they got there. Determined not to let this time go to waste, I rented a mountain bike from the lodge and got my exercise that way. The bike trail wasn’t that scenic, but it was super fun and a great alternative to hiking.
I thought I’d solved my problems… but then all my friends canceled the day before they were supposed to get there. Yep. 17 people, one by one, backed out under the pretense of flimsy excuses.
“There’s a 10% chance of rain…”
“I finally got a tinder date and I’m so desperate I should probably go…”
“My mom has a tooth ache and it might be Covid…”
Each and every one of them, including my ride(s) home. To this day I am completely flabbergasted by the situation.
I was angry and bewildered but tried to keep calm and maintain a positive outlook. I told myself that Mount Magazine is about the nicest place in the world to be stranded! (Also an expensive place, but I couldn’t let my mind dwell on that). I had a comfortable room with a view and a hot tub to soak my injured foot.
It was Thursday and Ethan wasn’t going to be able to drive back up to get me until Sunday. I weighed my options. I still had those campground reservations. If I wasn’t injured I might be able to walk the 10 miles to the campground… but as it was, I would need a ride. I approached the sole group of people in the lobby and asked if they would be willing to drop me off. Unfortunately they were all on motorcycles.
Plan B: The lodge was expensive but maybe I could stay there a couple more nights. I approached the front desk and explained the situation… but was informed that they were fully booked for the weekend. I begged the staff to call me if there were any cancellations. Then I hobbled back to my room, packed up my things, and dragged my luggage to the conference room where I continued working.
I sent messages to everyone I knew that lived in Arkansas… ex-girlfriends of old friends, third cousins twice removed. I was getting desperate.
Finally, a girl named Shannon called me. I had only met her a couple weeks prior, but for some blessed reason she was willing to drive 5 hours to rescue me. She brought her tent and her dogs, and we made use of one of those campsites I’d reserved. I was so grateful and relieved.
Shannon had similar situations with unreliable friends in the past, so we had some good conversations about it. Luckily my foot had healed enough to make it through some short hikes. It was a foggy day which gave the forest a spooky atmosphere. I absolutely loved it.
The campground was along the beautiful Cove Lake at the bottom of the mountain. I was glad to see that the extra 2 campsites I’d booked had been snatched up by happy families. Despite being a dry county, and perhaps because of it, Logan County is chock-full of breweries and wineries. We taste-tested some local wine and found it hilariously sweet. We roasted marshmallows on the campfire and played with the dogs. In the morning, the lake was shrouded in mist – a hauntingly gorgeous spectacle to accompany my coffee.
On the way back to Dallas we took the scenic route through the jaw-dropping Talimena Byway, which is a destination entirely on its own. We couldn’t help but stop a couple times for scenic views and short hikes. I can’t wait to return to this area in the fall, when it is supposed to have some of the most beautifully colored foliage in the nation.
After the trip I tried not to be bitter toward the friends that abandoned me. But I will admit that my trust had been eroded and I’ve been reluctant to plan group trips since then. Despite its problems, this trip ended up just fine. I came out with a new friend, a lesson learned, and an interesting story… not to mention tons of inspiration for future hikes along the Talimena.