Saline Bayou Hiking Trail Has Surprise Ending
By: Mary K. Hamner
It was a perfect day in early November, dry, but with just enough cool air to make being outside very pleasant. An invitation to go hiking, to explore an unfamiliar trail in the northern part of Kisatchie National Forest was welcomed. The Hiking Trail along the Saline Bayou National Scenic River Corridor begins just south of Cloud Crossing Recreation Area and ends at Pearfield Launch Site Area. The estimated trail length, one way, is 3 miles. Three of us, my son, his dog Cal, and I piled into his car and drove the short route to where the Trail begins at the bridge over the Bayou at Cloud Crossing. The water was dark and edged along the sides with gigantic cypress trees with their knees showing everywhere. Cal strained at her leash as we began walking down the well marked trail along the banks of the stream beginning what we expected to be a trail that looped around three miles, then, back to the car.
We began our walk through a beautiful bottomland area timbered with large hardwoods and pines. The size of the ages old pine trees is stupendous. Eyes first travel to their circumference then up to where their lofty green needles seem to meet the sky. As feet walked through their depth, dry leaves crunched. They had dropped from the branches of huge Bay trees extending in various contortions above, forming a carpet. Holes in the side of giant cypress trees drew Cal's attention. She sniffs them all out as we go, hoping to find some animal small enough for her to intimidate. Our steps along the trail were not muffled due to the sound of the dry leaves under our feet. Most animals living in the forest, deer, duck, otter, beaver, nutria, muskrat, squirrel, raccoon, turtle, heron, and gulls, were warned in advance of our presence. One deer jumped out ahead and wood ducks flew up from the bayou before us. A turtle caught Cal's attention and an owl in a tall tree who-hooted a warning to his friends.
It was a leisurely walk sometimes leading over low wooden bridges. In the drought of November the bridges spanned crops of cypress knees growing in low dry areas. In high water periods, the Saline Bayou can cover the hiking trails and we thought it might be interesting to make the walk again in springtime.
As the trail began to loop away from the bayou, we walked through low hills and a long straight mound that looked somewhat like a former railroad tramway. Later as we reached its outer edges and looked back, we wondered if it could be an Indian mound. Other questions surfaced as we continued on, thinking that the three miles were surely about to end up back at Cloud's crossing. Later research says that the trail ends at Pearfield Launch Site Area, but we didn't know that. As we came out on the dirt road in front of us we began still another hike, more challenging because we didn't quite know where it would lead us. Trusting my son's sense of direction I followed along watching the road ahead for some sign of the Cloud's Crossing sign. Cal continued to pull on her leash as if she thought the best was yet to come- as the trail ended- but not the walk.
It was still a fun walk along the dirt road with flora and fauna on either side. However, the focus was on the road ahead, thinking that around the next curve our car would come in sight. As we got on into the four-mile range, I reminded my knee replacement that it made nine miles once hiking the Louisiana Trail. When we finally came out on a blacktop road and turned left, I knew that we still had a "ways to go".
It was easier walking on the blacktop but I noticed that Cal's feet were getting a little sore. Then, just as dusk was settling down around us, we saw a light ahead. It must have been a little unnerving for unknown hikers to knock on your door at that time of day. None the less, someone inside assured us that we were in fact on the right road and our destination was about two miles away.
As we started on, my mind was calculating the total distance walked on what was supposed to be a three-mile trail when the lights of a car appeared behind us. It was stopping. The "Angel" inside was driving the same car that had been parked at the house where we stopped for information. "Get in" she said. "I will drive you to your car. I don't mind the dog, often haul one in my car. It's OK."
It was a long walk but still one that we would recommend to any nature lover. Cal would have had more fun if she had been free of her leash but we don't recommend taking an animal to run free in the deep woods of Kisatchie National Forest. And, if online sources say that a trail is 3 miles, it means one way.