Ozark Adventurers: Denny Elrod and Friends
About three years ago, I 'borrowed' a photo of an Arkansas outhouse from some website or other that I'd never heard of and just kind of stumbled across by Googling for an image to use with a blog entry on the wasps that used to make their nests in the Arkansas outhouses of my youth.
At the same time, I linked to Ozark photos at yet another website that I'd never heard of but that sounded closer to home: Exploring Izard County (aka EIC). I hail from Fulton County, just north of Izard, and though we used to make fun of Izard County by painting a large "L" on the county-line sign (just to the left of the word "Izard"), I've always felt a deep connection to that county because my maternal grandmother was born there, in Zion, Arkansas.
Well, after I'd posted my blog enty on those damned and damnable wasps -- those hellions from hell -- who should show up on my blog but the blogmeister of EIC himself, Denny Elrod -- but in the guise of "D. Daddio Al-Ozarka." I can decipher that . . . I think. But it ain't necessary. Denny is open enough about his true identity over at his EIC blog. There, you find regularly posted reports on his semi-official explorations of Izard County's natural beauty and cultural heritage.
My first encounter with Denny thus took place nearly three years ago, when his blog was still tiny, and it was yet a minor blog when I visited him in the Ozarks about a year ago, but he may be about to hit the big time, for his blog has gotten a write-up in a statewide newspaper, the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette! Online, anyway, in Susan Varno's article, "Izard County’s hidden places: Adventure-seeker finds plenty off beaten path." And I learned some interesting things about Denny Elrod:
Denny Elrod wasn't supposed to be there, but a couple of fences wasn't going to stop the young adventurer."Forgive us our tresspasses," Denny might well say . . . but I wish that I'd been on that adventure with him. I've been in Britain many times, but I've never visited Stonehenge, and likely never will in the way that Denny paid it a visit. Though 'paid' isn't quite the word for it. Denny not only bought no ticket, he got off scot-free, as he tells me in an email:
"At sunrise, we topped the hill," Elrod remembered. "Below us lay Stonehenge (in Britain). Not a building or a car or a soul in sight. My buddy and I found a hole in the chain link fence and crawled under. There was a fence around the stones. I said, 'I'm going for it,' and hopped the fence. Standing under those stones . . . it was unbelievable."
[W]hen we went back under the hole in the fence . . . , there was a security guard waiting by my car. Fortunately, he was more amused than alarmed at our indiscretion. When we showed him our military IDs, I'm guessing he thought to himself, "Dumbass Americans!" We ended up chatting with him for a half-hour or so before we set back out to make our way home through Marlborough and Oxford.Lucky fellow. Despite his narrowly missed 'criminal' career as a serial trespasser (since he now 'usually' asks for permission), Denny is a great guy because he's a fellow hillbilly . . . though he's been out of state a bit (but so have I):
Elrod's sense of adventure started early in life, when his father was stationed overseas in the Navy.Dowdle is his buddy "Rick Dowdle," whom I also met last year and who told me of having seen a really, really big Ozark panther, with entirely black fur! Well, I've never seen one as huge as the one he described (ten feet from nose to tailtip), but as I remarked at the time, I reckon people see what they see.
"When I was 6 my dad took me camping on the lava-strewn slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan. When we lived in Crete I spent hours walking through the ancient ruins at Aptera."
The family returned to Izard County when Elrod was a teenager. Old enough to drive, he and Dowdle traveled the back roads of the county looking for scenery and places to shoot their guns. Some of their early roadside finds were Clay Cave, the old Lunenburg Schoolhouse and the sand mine at Nasco.
Myself, I'd prefer not to see such a critter in the wild and up close. But you probably won't see one if you go in a group led by Denny, Rick, and another fellow, Jim Campbell (whom I haven't met). What you will see is natural beauty and cultural artifacts up close, especially now that the locals have become aware of Denny's interests and are welcoming him onto their property:
Through his Web site, Elrod received an e-mail from a man describing the natural rock bridge over upper Calico Creek.And that's how I first learned of the EIC, nearly three years ago as I was looking for images of home. I even managed to visit that natural bridge!
"Up to then we'd only explored what we could see from the road," Elrod said. "That e-mail started us asking landowners if we could come across their property . . . . Most are proud of what's on their land. Some even give us keys to their gates."
He described their trip to the natural bridge as a walk into the distant past, like a visit to Jurassic Park.
Web site visitors and local landowners told them about other Izard County hidden wonders like Needles Eye and Moon Eye rock formations on Mill Creek bluff with a 150-foot tunnel down from the top and Hobo's Den cave near the railroad tracks through Calico Rock.
"We've found flint arrowheads, old grindstones, hobo symbols in caves and an Indian pictograph," Elrod said.
On the Web site they document their adventures with photos and information from local people, e-mails and library research.
"One purpose of our Web site is to reach people who have moved away but want to see pictures of home," Elrod said.
Anyway, go read Susan Varno's article on Denny and the EIC, and visit the EIC website for more. If you like gently-rugged scenery and down-home country charm, then both article and website will appeal to you.
I expect great things from Denny's new career as explorer . . . if he can just keep out of reach of the law!