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With many record-setting warm days in a row, I’ve had an opportunity to try some of the many new trails in Northwest Arkansas. On cold days I hesitate to go where I might get lost or take a long time to return to where I can rejoin Jan. On warm days I can wander. There are more than forty miles of trails and 700 miles of roads in Bella Vista, not counting the golf course paths, and there are even more miles of trails in the contiguous cities to the south, so there are plenty of places to explore.

A new favorite is the Hidden Springs Trail that navigates a narrow steep-sided valley known as the Slaughter Pen, presumably because it was easy to drive herds of cattle from the broad plain at the top of the valley into an ever-narrowing channel until a herd would be compressed into a fenced neck before the valley broadened again. A fast, full current of water pours down the creek in the center of the valley, and the developed concrete and asphalt trail runs beside the stream for more than two miles. The stream looks and acts like one of the cold cave spring-fed streams along the Current River three hours east of here, where millions of gallons pour out of the ground every day, so it is an invitation to follow the stream until one comes to the “hidden springs” that give the trail its name.

The stream joins a couple of others below this valley where I have run for years, around Bella Vista Lake and along Little Sugar Creek. Amazingly in a couple of spots all of that water disappears below shelves of limestone, and then reappears a few hundred yards farther. Along the Hidden Springs Trail the water flows on the surface all the way and pours down some three and four feet tall falls in a few places, made even more lovely by the woods and shrubbery around them. Along the base of the rocky outcrops that line both sides of the valley, bare dirt bicycle paths run, and in several places the bicycle paths run half-way up the fifty to hundred foot cliffs or even along their top edges, providing a challenge to the experienced rider. It would be challenging enough for me to walk them, when I knew no bicycles were coming down those narrow paths, but I am content to keep walking the center until I find the source of all that water.

As I explored every day I ran a little farther up the developed trail, reaching the point where the busy stream was joined to a lazy, slower stream, and following the active one in my search for the hidden springs. Since the entry to the trail lies a half-mile beyond the parking lot, and the point where the streams converge is already a mile and a half upstream from that trail entrance, my three mile daily goal was easily surpassed in the quest. The early spring flowers, birds, and critters made it interesting, so I kept going. After two more days I could see that I was finally nearing the goal, three miles from where I started, where water poured into the creek bed.

A great blue heron stalked the small turbulent pool that fed the stream, and there was little bubbling or frothing of the water, so it must have been clear of most of the chemicals that saturate the groundwater these days, which was surprising. The source of the stream, instead of being the hidden springs I sought, was a series of large concrete vessels that served the Bentonville Sewage Treatment Plant.