Seems like it was only yesterday.
I was a teenager in high school at Mt. Judea (pronounced “Mount Judy”), Arkansas, and I was the one who had to call and get permission from a local good ol’ boy and landowner who owned the summit of Red Rock mountain in Vendor. He never failed to give us the OK, and then we would all load up and head out, a bunch of us teenage boys on a camping trip.
Climbing Highway 374 through Vendor and towards Jasper, we would crest the hill and hang a sharp right on a dirt road that wound around past a few houses to a locked gate, which we would use the hidden key to get past and begin the drive through the cleared fields to the summit of Red Rock.
It would never fail to be beautiful there: golden browns and rich reds on the trees as the dying season set in. It was untouched as it had been years ago, and if not for the fences would appear to have never changed in the last hundred years.
We would pass by Judea Mountain Point Cemetery on the way there. Perhaps it was supposed to be a deep reminder of all our impending mortality, but, if so, to a bunch of invincible kids it went well over our simple heads. We would only respectfully pass by on our way to our true destination: the very point of Red Rock itself.
At the end of the last long field we would park and throw up a campsite with an amazing view on both sides, facing the point. We would often then hike out to the sheer bluff face and begin to point out places we all knew, since we were raised in the beautiful Big Creek Valley far below us.
No amount of words can describe that view. The land that our ancestors settled, improved, and lived and died on. We could all point out homes and home places, landmarks and small towns. It was our home and, growing up on Big Creek, it was bigger than the world and more than all we would ever need.
But life goes on. We grew and graduated and went on in life. Many of us left the beautiful Big Creek valley. Some will never return, and some only to visit. However, many of us are still here, or at least close.
I once again called the owner and asked his permission to go out on the point. Even 20 years later, he was cheerful and tickled to know I wanted to. I had a couple other plans for this trip, though. One was to put up three headstones for unmarked graves in the Judea Mountain Point Cemetery there. The other was a more personal one.
Ron was my boss for many years, a local and an all around good ol’ boy. He was raised over at Bass, where he grew up poor, just as all our people did. His stories of his life always fascinated me and he was always quick to give great advice and share his experiences. He told me years ago he wanted to see the top of Red Rock, after hearing us talk about camping there.
We met at 9 o’clock on my birthday, December 31, 2022, on the dirt road off 374.
We made it to the gate and used the borrowed key to get through (it no longer is hidden there, due to people getting in and causing trouble, sadly). Then my memories began to kick in.
As we crossed the fields I began to recall little events: gigging frogs in a small pond, a pair of two streams running next to each other that my great-grandfather talked about, and so many other short stories from my people’s time on this beautiful mountain.
We made it to the point and Ron and I walked out, with my wife trailing behind. This being her first visit, she was busy taking photos of everything.
Ron was floored, and honestly, so was I. It had been nearly 20 years since I had been out on that point. The view, if anything, was more spectacular than I remembered.
As I looked around, I found the spot where we had once built a fire pit for our camps there. No other evidence was around, and I was glad we always took time to clean up! A spot so pristine and beautiful deserves no less.
I could look quickly to my left and almost see a younger me, descending the goat path down to the ledge that was hidden on the other side of the point. Off to my right I see us gathered around the fire, laughing and talking, boasting and tale telling like old men, sitting there not knowing where life would take us. It was surreal so much time had passed, but one thing I was so glad of was that the spot itself had barely changed.
Hard work by the owner and his family had kept it just as we found it. The same trees and rocks, the gorgeous view and the manicured fields; all of it was perfect. Being a steward of the land is a life long commitment, and it shines in its beauty on Red Rock.
All three of us had a great morning that December 31st, as the old year faded and the new loomed uncertain. But here in the Big Creek Valley, things always seemed a bit more promising. We loved every minute of our visit and stood amazed at the sights from the summit of the mountain so many of my people knew and loved. One I have written of before. The sights and homesteads were, thankfully, largely unchanged. I thank God himself for that. While sitting and taking it in, my wife snapped a picture of me near the point, which I included with this short write up.
As I looked down on the point I rediscovered a carving in the rock itself. Getting down, I traced it with my finger: ‘1916 SEPT. 3 DAVE GIBSON ED DAVIS.’ My people have long been here, and, God willing, will be here long after I’m gone.
On the way back we put up the stones and then stopped to thank and visit the owner himself, which was a great time! We made our way back to Vendor feeling somehow refreshed and relaxed, after such a great time on the mountain itself.
If there’s a point here it’s this: being a steward of the land is important. Not only for you and your family, but for your community and all those you care about. Their hard work has preserved the most beautiful part of Newton County for me and my children. I plan on keeping up my own homesteads in the same manner, so my children and their children, Lord willing, can enjoy them as well.
My return to Red Rock wasn’t a melancholy reflection on lost youth or the quickly passing time (both have merit), but rather, it was a visit to a place that always holds a dear spot in my heart; both for the memories and the history of the place. My wife and Ron both loved the visit, and I hope we get to go again, soon.
Remember your people. Cherish their stories and memories, and, if you can, their land as well. So I’ll sign off now from Red Rock Point. Y’all come see us, as my grandfather would say!