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Happy New Year! I just came back from an extended holiday break with family and hiked in two new parks to kick off 2023! I am also embarking on my 5th 52 Hike Challenge and was selected to be part of the 52 Hike Challenge Over 50 Outside Cohort. Super stoked to continue representing a community of women who love the outdoors and inspire others along the way!

This post will cover two brief reports of the Texas and Arkansas trails I visited and share a little more about the 52 Hike Challenge, in case you want to embark on a year of hitting the trail once a week – it’s not too late, you can start any time!

First Day Hike!

Each year, I make it a tradition to kick off the new year with a hike! I’ve gone alone a few times, but typically host a group hike with the Women Who Hike MN Crew. Most years are extremely cold, have negative windchills in the double digits and aren’t very long. But ALWAYS worth it. Since I was in Texas with family this year, I didn’t get to hike with my usual crew but wanted to keep the tradition going, and found a lovely park!

Fort Worth Nature Center + Refuge

LENGTH 6.5 miles
DIFFICULTY easy to moderate
DATE VISITED January 1, 2023
MAIN FEATURES The Fort Worth Nature Center + Refuge is an easy 20-30 minute drive from the Fort Worth Metro and is located on Lake Worth and the West Fork of the Trinity River in Texas. The park has a variety of features and activities including an interpretive nature center, kayaking, birding, fishing, naturalist events and over 20 miles of hiking trails varying in distance and difficulty. Entrance fee is $6 for adults and $2 for children (ages 3-12) at the time of writing this.

Featured Hike

At 6.5 miles, the Canyon Ridge trail was the longest and most challenging hike in the park, and was a staff pick. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there since I was visiting family on this trip, but wanted to kick off the New Year on a trail and get a little elevation in since I am training for a Spring Grand Canyon trip.

The trail starts at Lake Worth, and heads up the canyon ridge right away. It was a gentle climb and then progressed to a large set of stairs and to a plateau with a beautiful overlook of the lake. I enjoyed hiking past the oak trees, yucca, cactus and old abandoned CCC buildings. It reminded me of family camping trips to the desert in Southern California as a child and made me excited to hike the Grand Canyon! Despite this being a popular park, I only saw a few hikers while I was on the trail and was thankful for the warm start to the year. I extended my hike to end at the Greer Island trail loop just as the temps were approaching 80 degrees. Whew, that felt warm to this Minnesotan! I was glad to make my way home before the heat and crowds started to roll in and counted it as a pretty sweet way to start the year.

Crater of Diamonds State Park

LENGTH 2.5 miles
DIFFICULTY easy
DATE VISITED January 5, 2023
MAIN FEATURES Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond-producing area in the world open to the public and is located in Mufreesboro, Arkansas along the Little Missouri River. Diamonds were first found in this field in 1906 and it was officially established as a stat park in 1972 . On average, over 400 diamonds are found in the park each year, including the 40.23 “Uncle Sam” diamond, the largest diamond found in the United States in 1924. The park has a variety of features and activities including mining, camping, a small water park and two short hiking trails. Entrance fee is $13 , children under 6 are free at the time of writing this. A haven for rock hounds of all ages, the park mining area consists of a 37 acre field and guests are welcome to bring home any rock, mineral or gemstone they find while digging in it’s regularly plowed field.

Featured Hike/Dig

My sister and nephew had been wanting to visit this place for years, so we made sure to hit the park on our way home from our visit to Texas. I had never heard of it before and let them do all of the planning – so I really didn’t have any expectations before going.

We arrived, checked in, and rented some basic tools for a minimal fee (shovel, screens, bucket) and headed down to the big dirt field. There are two washing stations, where we spent most of our time sifting and inspecting the material we dug up from the field. The field is regularly plowed to help ‘stir up’ the rocks and increase your chances of finding one. I dug and sifted for a couple of hours before deciding to head out and explore the adjacent trail.

The Prospector Trail is a 1.2 mile trail that is flat, easy and a nice little break from diamond digging. There are several signs warning to stay on the trail due to venomous snakes. I didn’t bother to research which venomous snakes are found in Arkansas and didn’t really want to find out. I stopped to look at rocks, the different plants growing on the sides of the trail and enjoyed the quiet of having the trail all to myself. A lovely hike number 2 for the year!

After my hike, I dug and sifted some more, having a great time with family and not really worrying about whether I’d actually find a diamond or not. A man who had and elaborate set up at the washing station shouted “who wants to see a diamond?!”, and we all ran over to look at what he had found. The tiny gem was so bright and glistening, that it was unmistakable. Although we had not found any in our buckets, it was really cool to see one fresh out of the ground! It At the end of the day, we hosed off our muddy boots, returned our rented tools and brought all of our cool rocks into the diamond identification center to see what kinds of treasures we had found. I mostly had jasper caclite and quartz, but some folks before us had found amethyst and citrine. No diamonds for us today…but we DID pass by Wayne Coyne (from the band The Flaming Lips), making it the most wonderfully weird celebrity sighting and giving us plenty to talk about in the car ride home.

52 Hike Challenge

I have been a big proponent of the 52 Hike Challenge since embarking on my first challenge in 2017. It has created a framework and habit of regularly going outside that has opened doors and led me to embark on bigger adventures. This year will be my 5th time embarking on the challenge and I’m thrilled to have been selected to be part of the Over 50 Outside Cohort. I hope to continue to inspire others to get outside however they are able, and enjoy the rich mental, physical and spiritual benefits of being in nature. Have you done it yet? It’s not too late, you can start whenever you want and go at your own pace.

Day Hiking Gear

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gear flash at the end of my post, but since we’re kicking off the year, here are some of my current favorite day hiking gear picks along with must haves for every hike. The list evolves as I learn and conditions change, so here’s the latest!

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned here and in my 2022 Year in Review Post– Im backpacking the Grand Canyon in the Spring, taking another shot at the Kekekabic Trail and hoping to host a few more Art Hikes this year. It’s a great time of year to rest, recalibrate and dream of future adventures.

I’m also planning on doing some more custom painting on my new undyed Granite Gear Crown 3 60 backpack. Granite Gear was kind enough to send me a pack to embellish with my artwork – I’ve had so much fun creating this “Artpack” and sharing which supplies and techniques I have used with other artists that are painting their undyed packs as well. Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will cover this special pack in case you want to customize your own gear!

What are you looking forward to in 2023? Thinking of doing the 52 Hike Challenge or another goal? I’d love to hear about it.

Drop me a note in the comments or say a little hello on the Wandering Pine FB & IG.

Happy Trails!

~WP

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