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Observing History: Robert Winn


April 18, 2010 by wcobserver

Observing History

We put a new title on “The History Project “column.  The word “project” sounds too much like work. “Observing” brings to mind sitting back and watching it all roll by, which is more in keeping with our attraction to history; watching now become then.  The intent is the same, however.  We invite readers to send recollections, memoirs and comments about things past in “Observer Land.”   As promised, we are reprinting an excerpt from one of the late Robert Winn’s columns in the original Observer.

Recollections, Thursday May 28, 1981

Doubtless all local readers of the Observer are familiar with Highway 170 between West Fork and the Devil’s Den State Park some 20 miles to the southwest.  There is a possibility that some readers at a distance have never been over the road, and may in fact, know both places merely by name without being aware of their relative proximity. 

Those who take this drive and observe the passing panorama will be richly rewarded at any season.  Springtime provides a show of early redbud, dogwood, service trees in bloom and a ground surface splotched with bright wild flowers.  Summer provides vistas of green hills reaching to distant horizons.  Some of the mountaintops farthest west are in neighboring Oklahoma.  Those ridges closer form the rim of the Illinois River on the north part of the drive closer to West Fork.  Nearer the Den they are more likely to be the mountains above Fly and/or near Cove Creek—and on the immediate east just out of West Fork the view is toward Sugar Mountain and to the north the hills around Fayetteville will reward the traveler who turns back to see them.  Not a great distance out of West Fork the first and only main road branching to the east winds down into a steep ravine and crosses the head of Lee Creek.  From now until we dip down into the valley of Lee Creek and the Park itself, we will roughly parallel and surrounding valley on the mountain ridge to the west of it. 

When Jack Frost blows his chilly breath over the mountains in late autumn he changes the emerald green of summer to the golds and maroons and browns to create a colorful display that brings tourists from distant lands and residents nearby to shutter-snap their way along this ridge top highway, taking pictures for future viewing and to remind them of this most beautiful season in the Ozarks.  This is usually about mid-October.

To some mountain lovers winter is the most spectacular of all the seasons.  At this time the naked trees of the forest reveal the high bluffs, rock formations concealed in summer by the verdant foliage.  Now we can see farm houses and rock formations clearly outlined—and can hardly believe that they were there so completely concealed all summer.  The blue-gray of the tree trunks and branches veiled in that misty blue haze of twilight on a clear winter’s evening cast a magic spell of unparalleled beauty: and when the entire region blanketed under a white snow with the green of cedars and pines accentuating the purity of the snow under an azure sky, the spiraling smoke from isolated cottages is like prayers of gratitude ascending to a benevolent God.

This highway has not always been here. Until the CCC boys developed the Park during the Depression days of the 1930’s the park per se did not exist. The “Devil’s Den” was there and has been so called for as long as anybody consulted can remember. We have not been able to find anybody who can remember a time before time before the fissures in the side of the mountains above Lee Creek were not known as the Devil’s Den, but none can remember when nor who started the name.  Indeed, the rough and ominous looking crevices and surrounding rocky cliffs can create, with the help of a little imagination, the impression that Lucifer himself might at any moment emerge with his pitchfork and lashing his long tail, take a jab at some unwary trespasser.  The frigid drafts that issue from the even temperature within these fissures does not feel like the legendary fiery breath of Satan, but they are icy enough to chill one’s bones and add to the descriptive idea that there is some eerie satanic force hidden beneath this jagged earth. 

But as usual, the type writer is getting away with me. ……



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