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3/12/2011
  Temp on arrival 62 and mostly sunny around 10:00 a.m. Until this trip I had never been inside Leatherwood Wilderness Area. I have driven along the south, east and north edges during the summer and fall....but it appeared that the brush during the warmer months was far too thick. Winter came to be the best choice, so onward ho. There were four of us arriving at the old fire tower along Hwy 341 (Push Mountain Rd). Since I had little knowledge of the area we decided to enter via the Barkshed Extension and drop down into a valley somewhere along the way and hope for not too terrible a struggle through the downed trees and scrub. It is interesting to note that this road is still passable by vehicle and leads to a private property island within the wilderness. Of course there are gates at the entrance and also farther into the woods. If anyone knows about this private area I would like to know, since it shows up on maps as a small pastured area with a couple of buildings. What a great place to have a cabin!
  Before hitting the trail we were obliged to climb the fire tower for a quick look. I had been up in it before when it was cold and windy and was not sure how sturdy it was, but it tested out to be quite stable. We loaded up and headed down the gravel road. A couple of miles in we looked for a spring shown on the map but never found it. Here we decided to follow a hollow down into the valley. The brush was hellacious with thorns and stickers and saplings and vines and dead trees!...also quite steep. Slow progress was made to the bottom where I came upon a large tree on the ground with a portion chainsawed away. I thought...hmmmm....and moved in closer to discover a trail obviously made by equestrian travelers (wilderness area four-wheelers). I yelled the news to the others that were bringing up the rear. We were glad to find this trail even though I am not a fan of horses in wilderness areas (seems like cheating to me). Onward and downward we strolled as the trail took us to Spencer Hollow where another trail entered from the east. This was a an old road I had seen on the map and had considered using it as an entry point.
  Spencer Hollow led us to the confluence of Canes Fork and Leatherwood Creek. The trail was decent as we continued downstream along Leatherwood Creek. The many horses that use this trail have kept it easy to follow. It forded the creek many times. We were surprised to find what appeared to be a permanent camp set up near this confluence. There was a small tent with a huge tarp covering it and an ice chest hanging from a tree. Other assorted hard to carry items were seen here and there but no occupant was seen or heard. This could have been some horse base camp or someone was living there for a while. Either way it was not a welcome site in the middle of a wilderness area. This valley was pleasant enough with high bluffs up high and some low bluffs down low. We soon happened upon a flat area on the inside of a bend that had a nice little bluff across the creek and plenty-o-firewood lying about.
  Decidedly, this would be our camp. Tents were erected and the two younger fellows went in immediately for naps while the two older fellows gathered firewood and set up everything else. At one point two horses...with riders...passed by and we threw rocks at them hoping for a dismount....but no luck. The day was lovely and warm....probably the low 70's. The evening fire was welcome as we sat around and pondered old memories and ate some grub. My younger brother and I go way back so there's always something to reminisce about. The night was warm but cooled to 50 degrees by morning. The trail out was the same except we followed Spencer Hollow to the highway instead of going back to Barkshed Extension. This was a fun trip and I look forward to exploring more of this area. Biggest complaint...as with all my Ozark adventures...is the trees that fall down and make a mess.

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