I first visited Hazel Valley Ranch to cover the White Rock 50 Mile Mountain Bike Race early last year. I vowed I’d be back. When Roger Raines of Hazel Valley Ranch let me know of the plans for the Saddlebock Mountain Bike Festival I was all in. Sponsored by Saddlebock Brewery and Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, the festival was to feature mountain bike rides, food, music and buffalo…then it snowed.
I arrived at the mountain retreat Friday afternoon with Arkansas Outside contributor, Cliff Li and his young sons. With cold rain and snow forecast for most of the weekend, we were unsure how the festival would go. We had planned and packed for camping in the wet and cold, a bizarre thing for Arkansas in early May.
Roger greeted us as we pulled up the gravel drive telling us to make ourselves at home in the lodge. He said we could camp if we really wanted to but since we were early to the party we could share a large room upstairs. This was just the first example of a weekend filled with Arkansas hospitality.
The lodge is a beautiful stone and wood building with a large rock tower on one end. The main room of the lodge can best be described as the ultimate man-cave. Large western style furniture throughout with plenty to do on an inclement weather day: a nice pool table, shuffleboard table, poker and checkers table, stone fireplace, satellite televisions in every corner and the centerpiece of the room, a large wooden bar with cowhide backed stools. It was a welcome sight after the two hour drive in the rain from Little Rock.
Cliff took advantage of a break in the weather to take the boys out for a quick ride on one of the shorter trails next to the lodge while I got settled in and talked with the staff while we waited for others to arrive. The two day fee for the festival was a nominal $40 and included an event t-shirt, the concert, Saddlebock beer and two dinners. Tom, the resident cook spent most of each day over the outdoor grills cooking a variety of wonderful meats. With a light turnout that first day we decided to just hangout all night and talk about trail rides and trail building. Poker, pool and shuffleboard were played and conversations went late into the evening.
We were greeted on Saturday morning with a huge pot of oatmeal making the pop-tarts I brought for a quick breakfast unnecessary. Thanks to the Ozark Off-Road Cyclist folks for this example of Arkansas hospitality. During the stories being shared the previous night we were told of a waterfall on a small creek called Spongebob Creek, named for a large rock in the creek bed that is a likeness of the famous cartoon character. It was quickly decided that we would take the boys on a bushwhacking hike up to the falls. Of course several of the staff went along to show us the way. This would be the first of many adventures for the weekend and something that was nowhere in the festival description.
The hike up the creek was slow and wet. Cliff’s boys did great and were real troopers despite the scramble over rocks and logs. Once we got to the beautiful 40′ foot waterfall we took some photos and then began the climb out of the valley and headed back to the lodge for lunch and drying off. Of course the mountain bikes wouldn’t be ignored for long… (Read Part 2).