The sunshine felt good as we headed down the trail on a crisp November afternoon. Leaves drifted down in the light breeze, and soft muted fall colors were all around us. The light of the sun filtered through the tree foliage on each side of the trail. I was finally on the trail to Whitaker Point Trail headed to Hawksbill Crag. Hiking to Hawksbill Crag had been on my bucket list since the first time I had visited the Jasper, Arkansas area. It is easily one of the most photographed and recognizable features in Arkansas.
The Hawksbill Crag, also known as Whitaker Point, is located along the northern edge of the Upper Buffalo Wilderness in the Ozark National Forest. The three-mile round-trip hike has scenic vistas, huge boulders, and culminates at the iconic photo spot where a rock formation that juts out from the bluff’s face resembles a hawk’s beak.
My anticipation was high as I walked along the busy trail. I was surprised by how many people were on the trail. Our “older” group of hikers often stopped to let other hikers pass us. The Whitaker Point Trail allows dogs if they are on a leash, and we met many dogs – and their owners – as we hiked. My wife talked to every one of them. When I saw all the people out enjoying nature on a beautiful fall day, I was impressed by the amount of effort they all had to put into being there. The trailhead is six miles from the highway on a steep, narrow, rough county road. It is many miles from the nearest town. But hundreds and hundreds of people made an effort to see Hawksbill Crag that day.
We took our time as we hiked, occasionally stopping to take in the breathtaking beauty of the area. As we got closer to our destination, the trail followed the bluff, and there were numerous rock outcroppings with amazing views. After hiking for an hour and a half, the Hawksbill Crag came into view. I was thrilled to see it. It was as beautiful as I had imagined. After photographing it from our vantage point, we walked the last few yards to the crag. As I walked out onto the almost flat top of the crag, I felt safe and secure with solid rock under my feet, even though it was hundreds of feet down from the edge. After taking lots of photos and soaking up the moment, we headed out to the trail to make our way back.
With the anticipation of photographing and experiencing Hawksbill Crag no
longer pushing us on, the return trip took us a half-hour longer. The fact that we were getting tired and that on the return we gained 320 feet in elevation might have also been a factor. As we were nearing the end of the trail, we heard a strange rumbling sound.
“Could that be traffic on the road,” we wondered? But as we went around the corner, we saw that it was a man pulling a large carrying case on wheels. I assumed that the case carried camera equipment. I can’t imagine the dedication it takes to carry a large heavy case three miles over rough terrain to get a photograph.
We were tired when we reached the parking area and found the rest of our group, but excited to have accomplished our goal of hiking the Whitaker Point Trail. My wife, who has a fear of heights, enjoyed the hike and had no fear as she stood on Hawksbill Crag. When you are standing on the crag, you have no sensation of height. You feel like you are walking out onto solid rock. Before the hike, we had discussed the fact that it can be a dangerous hike, and that four people have fallen to their deaths in the last decade.
Standing on the solid rock of Hawksbill Crag reminded me of the words of an old hymn, “on Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” The Hymn uses the Biblical imagery of God as a rock. King David wrote in Psalms 61:2 (NIRV), “from a place far away, I call out to you. I call out as my heart gets weaker. Lead me to the safety of a rock that is high above me.” And Deuteronomy 32:3,4 (NCV) uses the imagery of God as a rock. “Praise God because he is great! He is like a rock; what he does is perfect, and he is always fair.”
Jesus described how those who hear His words were like “a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24 (ISV) The wise man did not live a problem-free life. The storms still rolled in, with dark clouds and raging winds. But because the man had chosen wisely and built his house on the solid rock, his house did not fall. Jesus said, “the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not collapse because its foundation was on the rock.”
As solid as the rock is at Hawksbill Crag, it isn’t a safe place if you get too close to the edge. If you slip and fall on the rock, you can pick yourself up and go on. You might skin a knee or get bruised, but you will live. But if you slip and fall too close to the edge, you might tumble hundreds of feet to your death.
Gentle Reader, God has provided a place of peace and safety for us. “Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.”
Psalms 119:165 (NKJV) Sometimes we look at God’s law as a jail. We feel that it creates uncomfortable restrictions. We need to ask God to give us a love for his commandments, to instill in us a desire for the peace and safety of His law, and build on the rock. “Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 (NLT).
***Hawksbill Crag, also known as Whitaker Point Trail, is located near the Buffalo River. From Ponca, Arkansas, take Hwy 43 South to Hwy 21. Turn left. Go about two miles to the Boxley Bridge that crosses the Buffalo River. Turn right onto gravel road #9560 and go about 6 miles. About 1/4-mile from the trailhead, you’ll pass the Cave Mountain Church and Cemetery on the right. Trailhead parking is limited, so if you’re arriving on a Saturday (especially in the spring and fall), expect to have to park along the roadside.