Monday, January 14, 2019

Jack White Falls and Phipps Branch Falls, Western Ozarks near Cass, Arkansas

1/13/2019 - Jack White Falls and Phipps Branch Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.72437   -93.94653,  1926ft.
  Alternate route intersection:  35.71114   -93.94295,  1630 ft.
  Jack White Falls:  35.70711   -93.94729,  1529 ft.
  Bear Crack:  35.70630   -93.94615
  Bluffline Break:  35.90678   -93.94758
  Phipps Branch Falls:  35.70584   -93.88002,  1557 ft

Pet-Friendly: Dogs will be fine, either on-leash or off.  This is a hike with a well-defined trail.  It is in a rugged area, but the route to the waterfall and back is fairly unobstructed.

Hiking Statistics:  We took one route to Jack White Falls and an alternate route on the way back.  The upper route is more overgrown and has more debris in the trail.  The lower route is about 0.4 miles longer but is easier hiking.  We hiked a total of 4.58 miles, with a minimum-to-maximum elevation difference of 501 feet.  Our round trip hiking time was two hours, with 84 minutes of that being actual moving time and 37 minutes taking photos and looking around.  There is a little up-and-down on the trail, but it is mostly on the level.  I would rate this a moderate hike.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Mulberry River Area waypoints
  Jack White Falls and Phipps Branch Falls GPS tracks
Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:
  Sixty Foot Falls

Phipps Branch Falls
We had a little rainfall the last couple of days, mostly just drizzle and light rain, but it adds up.  Today, I felt like I should get out and hike somewhere on my wet-weather goto list, but it was a cold, dreary, gloomy kind of day.  Boomer (our German Shepherd) was eager to get out somewhere and have a little fun, so after discussing it with him we compromised and decided to go on a hike that wasn't so long.  Jack White Falls fits the bill because it is a hike you can keep moving briskly and the cold never really has a chance to seep in.  It is also about 80 miles away, and I tend to back-burner hikes so far away because there is much more similarly wild country to hike through much closer to home.  But today I didn't want to spend all day out in the drippy wet, freezing cold woods, and I do like to see the other sections of the Ozarks and Ouachitas.  Today looked like the perfect day to spend a little more time in the FJ Cruiser and a little less time hiking.  We could hike to Jack White Falls and back in a couple hours easy, so Boomer and I loaded up and headed west.

Jack White Falls
with Boomer
This is an area that is far from major highways, with a maze of dirt roads coming and going from various directions, so there is any number of ways to get there, depending on where you are coming from.  Since I intended to hike to Jack White Falls but stop at Phipps Branch on the way back, that alters the route also.  I took what I thought would be the most scenic route to get there, and took a different route going back.  I'll describe the way I got there today, and then tell you what I consider to be the best route.  I still think the best way is to let the navigation unit in your vehicle or the navigation app you use on your phone have the first crack at it.  Supposedly, they are smarter than we are, but I find you have to keep a pretty close eye on Aggie (the FJ Cruiser).  She has no idea what shape some of the backroads are in and doesn't see hairpin turns with hundred-foot drop-offs and no guardrail as a big deal.  As it turns out, Aggie chose to take us along White Rock Mountain Road, which is one of my favorite backroads, so I let her have her way on the way out.

Parking location
Going by Aggie's 'best time and shortest route', we exited I-40 at exit 35 and headed north on Highway 23 (aka "The Pig Trail").  Go 12.6 miles on highway 23, and almost a mile after crossing the Mulberry River, turn left on White Rock Mountain Road (aka CR-76). This is the second left after crossing the bridge.  Go 14.7 miles on White Rock Mountain Road, then turn right (east) on Hurricane Road (aka CR-79).  Go 0.6 miles on Hurricane Road, then turn left onto Bowles Gap Road (still CR-79, and also a continuation of White Rock Mountain Road).  Go 2.3 miles on Bowles Gap Road, and park in the turn-out on the right.  This is the trailhead for Jack White Falls.  I should point out that Tim Ernst details a driving route from exit 24 off I-40 in his highly recommended guidebook Arkansas Waterfalls.  This will probably be the best and shortest route if you are coming from Fort Smith.  

Grays Spring Picnic Area - White Rock Mountain Road
This route fit the bill pretty good for today since it took us through some very scenic country along the road less traveled.  I do love White Rock Mountain Road, too.  It has great scenery, including the oldest rest stop/picnic area that I know of, built by the CCC back who knows when.  It's old, and looks it, and is a picturesque stopping point to enjoy some great views.  This road takes you along and over three mountains, White Rock Mountain being the last of these.  It has lots of switchbacks and goes over Spirits Creek and Salt Fork Creek, so you can see how those are flowing.  All that being said, I have to say it is in terrible shape, or at least it was today.  They are working on it, but even in areas they put down new gravel and shale, it is still boggy, squishy, slick wet clay.  Most of it is still really rough and bumpy with potholes and rocks everywhere.  No problem with the FJ, but I can't recommend taking a regular sedan on this road.  So, what would I recommend?  I'd recommend he way I drove out, which I'll discuss later.

Jack White Falls
From the parking location, a gated ATV trail takes off down the hill toward the south.  We started trekking down the ATV trail, which is actually in pretty good shape and is easy hiking.  It is a little rough, and there are some downed trees across it.  If not for the trees and the fact that the gate was closed today, I could have driven the FJ down it all the way to Jack White Falls.  Note that I'm not recommending this.  It would be tight in spots and Aggie would pick up even more 'Arkansas pin-striping', not to mention the downed trees in the way.  I'm just trying to illustrate how good a hiking surface the ATV trail is.  About 1.2 miles down the trail is an intersection with another ATV trail (GPS coordinates listed above).  Today, we kept going straight and hiked until about 2.0 miles down the trail.  Here, we crossed over a couple of streams that combine to form the creek that feeds Jack White Falls.  Just past this, there is a trace road on the left that parallels the creek and takes you down to another ATV trail.  Turn left onto this trace road and you are at the top of the waterfall where it crosses the creek.

To the right of the bluff that Jack White Falls spills over, there is a is a steep but fairly safe way down to the base of the bluff.  Depending on which route you take to the waterfall, there is also a bear crack about 45 yards on the other side of the creek (left side as you face downstream) that offers a safe and easy route to the base of the bluff.  I spent some time taking photos of Jack White Falls, while Boomer did some swimming, frolicking, and general stuff that magnificent mountain dogs do.  We headed back, but not the way we came.  I like to do a loop trail whenever possible, just to get some different scenery along the way.  

Ice buildup on the way to Jack White Falls
Instead of going back the way we came, we stayed on the ATV trail where it crossed the top of the waterfall, and followed it as it wound around the top of the bluff and eventually back uphill to that intersection we passed on the way out.  This route is slightly longer, about 0.4 miles more, but is a more gradual climb than the trace road along the creek.  It also has no debris from large fallen trees across the trail, as the upper ATV trail has, and no undergrowth to get through as the trace road along the creek has.  All in all, it is much easier hiking on this lower route and despite the longer distance, you can make better time by going this way.  There are also some side drainages with nice cascades as they tumble down the bluff.   As I mentioned, I like to vary the scenery when possible, so I prefer going the upper route on the way out and the lower route on the way back.  If all you care about is getting there and back, I would suggest just going the lower route both directions.

Ice buildup after a couple hours of hiking
Getting back a little higher in elevation at the parking location, I could see that things had actually got a little more frosty while we were out hiking.  Along the trail 500 feet lower, we didn't have much ice or frost, but it never did get above freezing while we were hiking.  On the way in, everything in the forest along the road was ice covered as we got higher on White Rock Mountain.  We didn't get started hiking until around noon, and I kind of thought it would be thawed out by the time we got back.  Not so.  There was a pea-soup fog all over the top of the mountain, and apparently freezing fog is a real thing.  The layer of ice was noticeably thicker on everything.  It wasn't really a problem for us;  Boomer has his fur coat, and I walked briskly enough to keep plenty warm.   We loaded up and headed off to the second stop on today's adventure.

Phipps Branch Falls from Fane Creek Road
Whenever you go to Jack White Falls, you might as well plan on going to Phipps Branch Falls as well, either on your way there or your way back.   It's "really close to where we were anyway" - that's excuse #1 that I frequently give to my wife.  If you stop on your way back, it's also "right on the way home" - which is excuse #2 she hears all the time.  It's about 8.4 miles by road, so "close" is relative, I guess.  To get there from the Jack White Falls Parking location, continue north on Bowles Road (aka FR-1505, also White Rock Mountain Road on some maps) for 1.8 miles, and turn right on Bidville Road (aka FR-1007).  Go 2.5 miles on Bidville Road, and turn right onto Potato Knob Road (aka FR-1510, or CR-78).  Go only 0.5 miles on Potato Knob Road and veer left onto West Fly Gap Road (aka FR-1506, but still CR-78).  Go 2.3 miles on West Fly Gap Road and at the 5-way intersection known as the summit, make a right turn and an immediate left turn to get on Fane Creek Road (aka FR-1520, or CR-101).  Go 1.3 miles on Fane Creek Road and you can see Phipps Branch Falls on the right.  Park anywhere off the road.

Phipps Branch Falls
Phipps Branch Falls isn't as popular as Falling Water Falls because it doesn't have the big pool to swim in, but it is similar to it in many ways.  It's a beautiful waterfall you can drive right up to and walk to the top of the waterfall, and with a little extra climbing down the bluff, you can access the base of the waterfall.  I noticed when coming down Fane Road that they have done a lot of work on the road and have improved it immensely.  Unfortunately, in the process of doing that, they bulldozed some big trees right over the bluff next to the road, making it difficult to climb down and access the base of the waterfall, and interfering in taking photos from several perspectives.  I was hoping the road crews would clean that up after they finished rebuilding Fane Road, but I see no sign of that happening.  Boomer and I parked and went downstream to where we could hike down and around the debris, then walked up along the creek to Phipps Branch Falls.  

Trees pushed over bluff at Phipps Branch
Even climbing down and around all the downed trees and back, it is only about a quarter mile round trip, so I didn't count our stop at Phipps Branch Falls as part of today's hike, just a pleasant stop along the way.  Going home, I decided to stay on Fane Creek Road and see if they had improved it all the way out.  They have indeed, including new, higher, low water bridges at the Cove Creek and Fane Creek crossings.  All the way down the mountain, they installed large culverts every 40 to 60 feet to ensure even torrential downpours could be accommodated and the road wouldn't wash out.  Fane Creek Road may well be the best dirt road in Arkansas now.   We took Fane Creek Road another 6.0 miles to Cass, then turned right onto the Pig Trail, Highway 23, and 13.6 miles down Highway 23 got on I-40, heading home.  This is the route I would recommend you use, going to or from Phipps Branch Falls and Jack White Falls.  From Phipps Branch, of course, you can just reverse the directions above to go to Jack White Falls.  If you have a good 4WD and just like the extra adventure and scenery, you can always take White Rock Mountain Road as well.  That will still be my preference.  
GPS tracks for Jack White Falls
Red - Upper Route
Blue - Lower Route
Phipps Branch Falls GPS track

Monday, January 7, 2019

Punchbowl Falls, Stack Rock Homestead Falls, and Orange Rock Falls, Arkansas Ozarks near Snowball

1/7/2019 - Punchbowl Falls (aka Dry Creek Falls), Stack Rock Homestead Falls, and Orange Rock Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.86676    -92.92346, 1907 feet
  Orange Rock Falls:  35.86970   -92.94310,  1342 feet
  ATV trail intersects OHT:  35.86866   -92.94424,  1271 feet
  Leave ATV trail for Punchbowl:  35.87295   -92.94035,  1323 feet
  Punchbowl Falls:  35.87578   -92.94057,  1066 feet
  Stack Rock Homestead Falls:  35.87452   -92.93038,  1527 feet
  Old Pioneer homestead site:  35.87441, -92.93116

Pet Friendly: Yes, for the most part.  If your dog doesn't climb steep slopes and rocks well, you might want to leave it home for this one.  On an earlier trip, I had to help Boomer get out of the Punchbowl Falls bowl.

Hiking Statistics:  Quite a bit of this hike is along the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT), with the hikes down to waterfalls and the half-mile along Dry Creek being bushwhack hikes.  I hiked a total of 7.52 miles, with a minimum-to-maximum elevation difference was 924 feet.  Most of the climb is on the OHT, which helps, but the bushwhack portions are very rugged terrain, which does not.  That climb out raises the difficulty factor on this one.  I took approximately six hours on the hike, but a good deal of that time was photo-taking time.  My actual moving time was only 2.5 hours.  I hiked down to Punchbowl Falls by one route, and what I consider a much easier route on the hike back.  Even using that easier route, I would have to rate this as a difficult hike. 

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post

Punchbowl Falls
I have been to Punchbowl Falls before, and I had written a blog post years ago for the area.  After today's trek, however, I read through the old post and realized that so much had changed, a new blog post for the area was way overdue.  Not only is the route of the OHT different now, but I actually found a new route today that I think is much easier.  I also visited Orange Rock Falls today, so I should share that information.  Plus, the last blog post for Punchbowl Falls was almost five years ago.  The structure of the blog, and hopefully my writing and photography, have progressed some over the years.  Reading that old post, though, I remembered the difficulty Boomer (our German Shepherd) had while climbing up out of the bowl.  That was when he was a two-year-old; in his prime, so to speak.  I didn't want to have to boost his 110-pound furry butt out again, especially since both of us have aged five years.  I also intended to do a little exploring, and I never know if I'll run into a situation that I can climb out of and Boomer can't, so today he stayed at home with Bethany and I set out solo for Punchbowl Falls.

Small waterfall upstream of Stack Rock Homestead Falls
To get there, take Highway 7 north and turn onto Highway 123 north at Lurton.  From the 'T' where you can turn left to Hwy 7 or right to Hwy 123, turn right and go 1.5 miles.  Turn right on NC5070 (aka FR-1200, aka CR-36, aka Herbie Hampton Rd, aka Assembly of God Church Road).  Take NC5070 for 6.8 miles, then turn right on NC5080 (aka FR-1205).  Go 1.6 miles on NC5080 and you are at an odd 4-way juncture; this is Iceledo Gap.  Go 1.9 miles south of Iceledo Gap on FR-1205 (aka NC-5070) to Dickey Junction.  Dickey Junction is
5.0 miles north of the Richland Creek campground, if you are coming from that direction.  From Dickey Junction, turn east onto FR-1201 (aka Richland Road or NC-5085).  Go three miles on FR-1201 and turn left onto a narrow road.  This goes only about a hundred yards to a gate.  Stop here and park; there is plenty of room for parking and turning around.  This is a trailhead for the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT).  

Ozark Highlands Trail Head
Go around the gate and get on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT).  There are a couple of old logging roads here, so make sure you get on the trail, not a road.  If you are unfamiliar with the OHT, look for the white metal tags loosely nailed to trees.  That's how you'll know you are on the OHT.  The tags also tell you the direction the trail will turn when you see them mounted at an angle instead of straight up and down.

Along the OHT
From the parking location to the Stack Rock pioneer homestead is only 0.9 miles.  It used to be right along the OHT but now is just a spur off of it.  Kudos to the architects and constructors of the OHT;  everywhere I have been on the OHT, they seem to have found the ideal route through the area.  I love hiking the OHT, and today's hike only uses two miles of this segment of the OHT that runs for 165 miles.  Due to a landslide that took out a section of the OHT, it is now re-routed to run on the bench ABOVE the old pioneer homestead, effectively bypassing it.  The old trail is there and can be followed to the homestead and Stack Rock Homestead Falls.  But after that, you have to double back and get back on the NEW OHT or try to bushwhack across the landslide area, which I really do not recommend.  It is a mess.  The trail will split about a quarter mile from the old homestead so it will add about a half mile to your trip.  If you notice, the trail from the OHT to the homestead is not maintained and is marked with blue tags instead of white since this is now just a spur trail and not a through trail.  

Stack Rock Homestead Falls
From the parking location to Stack Rock Homestead Falls, the trail parallels the creek that flows over the waterfall.  As you get closer to the falls, look back upstream and you can see (in winter/early spring, anyway) where the creek cascades all the way down the hill before it feeds the waterfall.  I should have said the hike on the trail to the TOP of Stack Rock Homestead Falls was easy.  The Falls is just off the trail on the right.  You can't see it from the trail, but you can hear it.  Unfortunately, getting to the base of the falls is not as easy.  It's a scramble down a steep hillside with a lot of brush, undergrowth, and large rocks.  I whine a lot, but it really is a beautiful waterfall and despite not being the easiest to get to, it is worth the effort.

Pioneer Homestead
On the other side of the trail from Stack Rock Homestead Falls is the homestead that I assume the falls were named after.  This is at the lower part of the Stack Rock Scenic Area, and there is an old pioneer homestead here, so I'm thinking that's a reasonable assumption.  The only thing left of the pioneer home is the fireplace.  It's a little surprising the fireplace has stayed mostly intact a century and a half after the rest of the house decayed away to nothing.  If you look closely at the rocks in the fireplace, you can see they were dry stacked - no mortar to hold them together.  I guess back in the early 1800's it was hard enough to get mules into an area like this even without a wagon.  Packing stuff like Portland cement into an isolated area like this was probably out of the question.  When they dry stacked this fireplace and chimney, they did a good job.  I see a lot of dry stacked fireplaces, chimneys, and fences all over the Ozarks.  The old pioneer homestead makes a great flat piece of ground for hikers to camp.  

View from inside the cave next to Punchbowl Falls
You can visit the old homestead and waterfall either on the way to or back from Punchbowl Falls.  Today, I stopped by there at the end of the hike on my way back.   I had actually intended to go there first and bushwhack down the Stack Rock Creek to see what else was there, and then hike up Dry Creek to Punchbowl Falls and return on the OHT to make a big loop.  I kind of spaced out, just hiking along on the OHT, and by the time I checked my GPS, I was almost a half mile down the OHT past the homestead site.  After refreshing my memory on how bad the terrain and brush is at Stack Rock Homestead Falls, I'm kind of glad it worked out the way it did.  I ended up getting back with the sun setting.  There's no telling how long that bushwhack might have extended my day.  

Orange Rock Falls
Down the OHT from the spur to Stack Rock Homestead, it goes mostly on the level along the tall bluff above the bench the old trail ran on.  It starts to zig-zag down into the Dry Creek valley and gets steeper as it cuts through the two major blufflines.  Still, it is the Ozark Highlands Trail, and the trail makes for easy hiking.  I took a side trip over to the hollow to the left (south) to check out Orange Rock Falls.  I believe this was named by John Moore, and a photo of this waterfall taken by him is one of the prettiest I have seen of any waterfall.  Today, even though creeks everywhere in the area had gobs of water, for some reason this one did not.  I don't know if the rain was that localized, or if the creek in this hollow has just gone more underground, which does happen in the Ozarks.  I'll have to come back in the spring to try to catch it running better, and with some greenery.  Leaving Orange Rock Falls and returning to the OHT, I came across the point where an ATV trail intersects the OHT (GPS coordinates listed above).  I made a mental note that with the direction it ran, it must run along the bench high above Dry Creek, and probably along the best route down the valley. 

Punchbowl Falls
I do love the scenery along Dry Creek, however, so for now I decided I would go the tried-and-true way and started downstream.  Dry Creek, ironically, is a pretty good flowing stream.  While many creeks in Arkansas will go dry in late summer, Dry Creek almost always has water in it.  A kayaker told me it is one of the best kayak creeks in Arkansas when the water is way up.  As far as hiking, I would have to call it a difficult bushwhack.  Going downstream involves some serious rock hopping, crossing from side to side, climbing over boulders, and in some cases climbing up the creek canyon walls.  Today, it was high enough that I had to just climb up on the bluff above the creek and bushwhack down from that level.  Dry Creek has a plethora of water features one after another, with waterfalls, cascades, water slides, and deep pools all the way downstream.   Closer to the falls, the left side goes along a high rock bluff that limits access entirely on that side.

Punchbowl Falls
As you get to within 100 yards of Punchbowl Falls, there are some awesome water features.  There is a really nice 'umbrella type' waterfall where the water slides off the rock at a downward angle, with other nice smaller falls around it.  Just before it goes over the falls, the creek goes down a long, very fast water slide.  Unfortunately, the creek canyon closes up around the creek the last couple of hundred feet as well, to make those features.  To get down to them and see them well, you have to climb up the bluff on the right and then go back down to creek level.  At the top of Punchbowl Falls, you have to climb back up the bluff on the right side to get downstream of the waterfall.  Today, I just stayed up on the bluff and looked down at the creek as I hiked the bluffline. 

Small waterfall downstream of Punchbowl Falls
Punchbowl Falls used to be called Dry Creek Falls, but the new name suits it 
much better.  It is a powerful waterfall for the size of Dry Creek.  The more powerful and higher the waterfall, the bigger the pool it carves out for itself at the base of the falls.  In this case, Punchbowl Falls goes into a huge emerald pool with steep cliff-like walls on all sides except where the creek runs out downstream.  It does indeed look like a punch bowl.  The pool and waterfall look spectacular from the top of the cliff around the falls, and most photos I have seen of it is taken from the top of the cliff on one side or another.  Getting down to the base of the falls is pretty tricky.  It's also dangerous, so use your own judgment and don't go where you have any doubts.

View from the downstream access point
There are a couple of access points I have used, both difficult, steep, and a little dangerous.  With the structure of the cliff around the bowl, you still have to go through the bowl to get to the base.  Right next to the cave on the right side of the creek as you face downstream, there is a crease where runoff water has cut a crevice down the side of the cliff.  I have climbed down this before, but I think a better way is to continue along the edge of the bowl (carefully!) and downstream there is a steep but do-able slope down to the creek level.  You can then go upstream to the 'punchbowl', but there are also some nice smaller waterfalls, rapids, and cascades downstream.  Dry Creek is still just as pretty downstream of Punchbowl Falls.  At the pool, you'll see that you can't just walk around to the base of the falls and the cave due to a steep vertical rock on that side of the pool.  You can climb up a bit, grab onto what trees there are, and ease your way over to the cave and base of the waterfall.  If you slip, you are going swimming.  If it's warm enough that you don't care, heck, just jump in and wade/swim over.

Punchbowl Falls
Note the steep rock face into the pool
At the base of the waterfall, you can tell it is an even more special place than it seemed from higher up.  Right next to the base of the waterfall is a good sized cave that you can't really see well from up on the bluff.  The sound of the water crashing into the pool next to it, coupled with the spectacular view of the pool and creek downstream, makes this simply an awesome spot.  As you would expect, you also get a much better view of the waterfall itself from this perspective.  This is almost a magical spot, and I tend to dawdle and take photos for a long time while I'm here.  It's also good to rest up and get recharged for the hike out because it's a bit of a bushwhack and a pretty good elevation change back to the OHT trailhead.  Instead of trying to ease back over to the downstream side of the bowl and climb that steep slope, I chose to climb up the steep slope of the crease by the cave.  It's not nice either way, but at least this way I do have rocks to cling to.

Punchbowl Falls
Going back up Dry Creek is as much a bushwhack ordeal as it was going downstream, only now you are going uphill and probably already a little tired.  Thinking about it, I decided I didn't really need to see the creek again.  If I was going to bushwhack along the top of the bluffline anyway, I might as well bushwhack uphill and try to find that ATV trail.  Once you get above the bowl area, there is some rough terrain to traverse going up higher on the bluff, then it becomes more of a steady slope.  There is less undergrowth and much fewer rocks and other debris to hike through than there is along the bluffline above the cliff, and you aren't constantly going up and down, just up and up some more.  I came upon the ATV trail (GPS coordinates listed above) in less than a quarter mile from Punchbowl Falls with an elevation climb of only about 200 feet.  Turning right on the ATV trail and hiking to the OHT was very easy going, mostly on the level.

Landslide area where the old OHT route was
Heading back up to the trailhead and the parking location is much easier on the
 OHT, but it is still uphill.  As it turns out, it is a lot uphill, with an elevation change of 924 feet and a whole lot of up-and-down climbing, depending on which way you go.  On the way back, I went down the old OHT to the landslide area to check it out, then back to the new OHT route, then back down the old OHT to the Stack Rock Homestead and Falls.  By the time I finished there, the sun was setting and I hurried back to the parking spot before I had to hike in the dark.  I carry a flashlight and headlamp in my pack, but I certainly don't want to have to use them.  

I was really tired when I got back to the FJ but exhilarated at having spent another great day in some fantastic and majestic countryside.  I had one GPS (my inReach) that said the total was 9.1 miles, and Back Country Navigator on my phone said 7.52 miles.  I'll use 7.52 miles for my stats because that's the track I record and use on my topo map system.  Keep in mind, I did a fair amount of exploring and looking around.  Also, keep in mind that this is a dangerous and remote area.   I know one hiker, a very experienced one, that slipped, hit his head and died before the rescue team could get him out.  Be very careful, especially if you hike alone as I often do.
GPS tracks for Punchbowl Falls
Red - Route to Orange Falls and  Punchbowl Falls along Dry Creek
Blue - Route back on ATV trail to landslide area, Stack Rock Homestead Falls, and trailhead

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Jacob's Stairway and Upstream Waterfalls, Ozarks near Jerusalem, Arkansas

1/5/2019 - Jacob's Stairway

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)

  Parking location:  35.52964   -92.77109,  1331 ft.
  Falls #1:  35.53237   -92.77167
  Falls #2:  35.53288   -92.77152,  1199 ft.
  Falls #3:  35.53319   -92.77138
  Jacob's Stairway (base):  35.53397   -92.77086,  1022 ft.
Pet-Friendly: Dogs off leash should be OK.  The biggest impediment in this hollow is brier patches.  Your dog will do better navigating those than you will.  I took Boomer today and he managed just fine.

Hiking Statistics:  This hike is a bushwhack all the way, but we only hiked 1.3 miles round trip.  If you park at the road, it adds about 0.1 miles.  The minimum-to-maximum elevation difference was only 341 feet, but a good deal of that was in rough terrain.  I chose to climb to the top of the bluff to hike out, which was very steep, adding to the difficulty factor.  Boomer and I took 2:34 hrs on the hike, but our actual moving time was only 22 minutes.  The other 2 hours was all photo taking time.  I would say the bushwhacking conditions are difficult, but with the short length and small elevation change, I would rate it as a moderate bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Hector-Smyrna area waypoints
  Jacob's Stairway track
Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:

The lower half of Jacob's Stairway
with Rick and Boomer
Bethany and I had been on a road trip the last three days, and as usual, while we were gone it rained a lot.  This time, however, our timing was great; we got back home the day the rains stopped, so today was a great day for trekking in those places on my "wet weather go-to" list.  When I hike in the dryer months, any place that looks like it would be nice if you just add water goes on the list and eventually I go back and visit them with good flow in the creeks and waterfalls.  The other way that places end up on my wet weather list is if friends visit places I haven't been and show me photos with some 'wow' factor.  One such place was one that friends Dan Frew and Jacob Guiot had been to recently.  They had this beautiful waterfall Jacob's Stairway because the photo I had seen had Jacob on it and it looked like a huge waterfall-filled stairway.  It was in a small hollow next to one I had already hiked, so I was already familiar with the area.  After getting in late last night, I was looking for something that shouldn't be too strenuous, and this looked like the perfect candidate.  So Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I loaded up and headed toward Jerusalem.  

Sign at 'Y' in White Oak
Mountain Road - bear left
To get there, drive north from Hector on Highway 27.  Less than a mile from the Big Piney Ranger station in Hector, you cross over Dare Creek.  Look upstream on your right when you cross and you will see a nice little waterfall.  Immediately after crossing Dare Creek, turn right onto White Oak Mountain Road (aka FR-1301).  This is a gravel road but is a well-traveled and fairly well-maintained road.  Go 12.0 miles on White Oak Mountain Road.  Be careful about seven miles from Hector and bear left where the road branches at the 'Y' in the road.  See the sign at right - you want to stay on White Oak Mountain Road at this point.  After following it for 11.8 miles, turn right onto Wilderness Trail (aka FR-1307).  Go another 5.1 miles and turn left onto an old Jeep trail.  If you don't have a high clearance vehicle, just park here off Wilderness Trail.  If you do have a 4WD vehicle, you can go down the Jeep road about 200 yards to a small clearing where the road ends and goes down to more of an old trace trail, and park there.

Falls #1
When I said harsh sunlight, this is what I meant
After parking, I knew I needed to just go straight into the hollow and hike down it away from the road, toward where it flows into Brushy Creek.  The Jeep road we had taken to the parking location continued on as an overgrown trace road, not one I would drive the FJ on, but one that made for easy hiking.  Boomer and I followed it hoping it would turn down into the hollow.  When it became apparent that was not going to happen, we broke off from it and headed down into the hollow.  There was not a lot of undergrowth today, but what was there was small patches of brier, which I hate.  Still, the briers were not extensive enough that we couldn't easily go around the patches, so it wasn't that big a deal.  Getting down into the hollow, we immediately came to Falls #1, a nice little cascading waterfall.  By this time, the sun had come out in full force, making waterfall photography almost impossible.  The photos you see here are about the best I could do with the harsh light.

Jacob's Stairway - upper section
Continuing downstream, we came to Falls #2 and Falls #3 quickly, only a couple hundred feet separating each one.  The top of Jacob's Stairway is likewise only a couple hundred feet downstream of Falls #3.  I paused at each of the smaller waterfalls long enough to snap some photos.  All three have a unique geometry and are photogenic in their own right, but Jacob's Stairway is truly a pretty waterfall.  It is a little frustrating to photograph, because there is no way you can get the whole thing into one frame, so you have to shoot each section separately.  There is a distinct upper and lower section, with the upper section having a lower slope.  Both upper and lower sections have a vertical drop of about 20 feet each.  The upper section stretches out the run quite a bit more, and also splits and runs up each of the two major forks in this hollow.

Jacob's Stairway
Viewed from where the upper section ends.
Most of my time on this hike I wasn't really hiking, I was trying to figure out how to best shoot Jacob's Stairway.  I did the best I could, but I can definitely tell you that photos and videos don't really do it justice.  If you like what you see in these photos, just consider that being there is an experience with a much greater "WOW factor".   There was less flow today than in the photos Dan and Jacob had taken, especially in the right branch of the upper section (as you face upstream).  Even with the lower flow, it was still spectacular.  It is also quite slick as you walk on the 'stairs' in the waterfall.  I slipped and fell on my butt once in the middle of the upper section, and once while climbing up on the lower section to get myself in a timed photo.   The majority of my time on this hike was spent right here at Jacob's Stairway, trying to photograph every perspective I could think of and trying to make the bright sunlight as inconsequential as possible.   Boomer is a water dog, so he entertained himself by romping and swimming and splashing around on Jacob's Stairway.  

Falls #3
This hollow is fairly small, with only one major fork and no sizable side drainages.  It doesn't flow much more than a half mile from it's headwater to where it flows into Brushy Creek.  I only went downstream from Jacob's Stairway to the point where I could see the slope flatten out before flowing into Brushy Creek.  Since I encountered a lot of small patches of brier hiking down along the creek, I looked at the slope on the bluff above the creek to the west and decided it looked much less brushy.  If you look at the map below, you can see the track Boomer and I took on the climb out.  There was considerably less undergrowth that way, but it is a very steep slope.  I would highly recommend this, as Jacob's Stairway is somewhat unique.  I have seen many long cascades and slides, but I can't think of any quite this extensive and beautiful.  It is a relatively small drainage area, so will be very sensitive to rainfall.  Make sure you go after a really good soaking, preferably on an overcast day.  I plan to come back on a really wet day in the spring to get some greenery in my photos.  

Jacob's Stairway GPS track
Red - today's track
Blue - Jeep road

Monday, December 31, 2018

Upper Bailey Cole Creek waterfalls, Arkansas Ozarks near Witt Springs

12-31-2018 Bailey Cole Creek upper section

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)

  Parking Location:  35.73974   -92.91068, 1642 ft.
  Falls #8:  35.73811   -92.91275, 1510 ft.
  Falls #9:  35.73843   -92.91278
  Falls #10:  35.74061   -92.91388
  Falls #11:  35.74108   -92.91405
  Falls #12:  35.74152   -92.91515, 1404 ft.
  Falls #13:  35.74139   -92.91355
  Falls #14:  35.74150   -92.90923
  Falls #15:  35.74144   -92.90947
  Falls #16:  35.74133   -92.90956
  Falls #17:  35.74071   -92.90840
  Falls #18:  35.73952   -92.90629
  Falls #19:  35.73867   -92.90406
  Falls #20:  35.73902   -92.90416
  Falls #21:  35.73852   -92.90392
  Falls #22:  35.73820   -92.90363
  Falls #23:  35.73766   -92.90297
  Falls #24:  35.73773   -92.90263
  Falls #25:  35.73752   -92.90282
  Falls #26:  35.73724   -92.90247, 1600 ft.

Pet-Friendly: Dogs off leash should be OK.  This is a fairly rugged area, with a lot of large rocks you sometimes have to scramble over and around.  A smaller and/or older dog may have some difficulties in some areas.  There will be several creek crossings, and Bailey Cole Creek can be a little deep and very swift at times.

Hiking Statistics: Today's hike was 3.8 miles round trip, but seemed longer.  There was a minimum-to-maximum elevation change of only 313 feet, although there were several climbs up onto bluffs and back down again due to the terrain.  I would rate this a difficult bushwhack, obviously not because of the distance or elevation change, but because of the ruggedness of the terrain hiking along the creeks.  If the creek is as high as it was today you'll be hiking with wet feet, if that adds any difficulty factor for you.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Bailey Cole Creek and Bailey Hollow waypoints
  Upper Bailey Cole Creek track
Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:

Falls #20
About three weeks ago, I went to Bailey Cole Creek to do a little exploring of that creek and the small hollow just south of it that contained Bailey Falls.  Both areas were fantastic, offering some of the most pristine Natural State goodness in an area that rarely sees any humans that are not on horseback.  It has very little of the horse-borne visitors, but trekkers like me are often deterred by the geology.  When the creeks in these hollows are high, making for the best in the water features they have, it also means Falling Water Creek will be high.  Sometimes, in dryer seasons, the level is low enough you can cross without getting wet.  Most of the year, crossing Falling Water Creek just means your lower legs will get wet, which in itself is enough to keep many from crossing it.  After a good rain, it can flow enough to knock you off your feet.  On my last hike here, it almost did just that.  I got off to a bad start that day, but still hiked the lower half of both hollows and ended up wet but quite happy with my day in the wilderness.

Falls #20
I was impressed enough with both drainages that I vowed to come back and explore the upper half of each valley.  Today, I headed up to hike the upper half of the valley containing Bailey Cole Creek.  Once again, I feel the need to elaborate on terminology and the names of these areas.  There is a Bailey Cole Creek reaching from its headwaters at Highway 16 to where it flows west into Falling Water Creek.  THAT one was my objective today.  It's confusing because there is also a major creek named Bailey Cole Creek with its headwaters directly opposite this one across Highway 16 that flows south down into the Middle Fork of the Illinois Bayou.  The hollow south of my hike today is unnamed, but I call it Bailey Hollow since it contains Bailey Falls.  Still confused?  Look at the topo map at the bottom of this post.  I still plan on exploring the upper half of Bailey Hollow and the Bailey Cole Creek that flows into the Middle Fork, but that will be another day.

Falls #16
So as not to waste a good part of my exploring time bushwhacking up a creek that I had already explored, as well as no doubt soaking myself again in Falling Water Creek, I looked for access from Highway 16.  I found an old Jeep road going right into the middle of the area I wanted to visit today.
(1) To get there from Dover, or points south/east of it, drive to Hector.  From "The Store", drive 3.1 miles north on Hwy 21 and turn left (west) onto OLD Hwy27.  Go 13.9 miles on Hwy 21 and turn right (east) on Hwy 16.  Go 7.4 miles on Hwy 16 and turn left (north) on an old Jeep road.  Go 0.6 miles on the Jeep road and park.
(2) To get there from Pelsor (Sand Gap), or points north/west of it, from the intersection of Hwy 7 and Hwy 16, go east on Hwy 16 for 21.6 miles and turn left (north) onto a Jeep road.  Go 0.6 miles on the Jeep road and park.
By "Jeep road", I mean an old road that is not maintained and is basically just a couple of ruts across the ground wide enough for a vehicle.  This one is in fairly good condition, but if you don't have a 4WD and/or high clearance vehicle, you might want to park just off Highway 16 and walk the extra half mile.  Use your own judgement.

Falls #9
I'll describe the route I took today first, but after I returned to where I parked my FJ Cruiser, I did a little more exploring and I would recommend a slightly different route in the future.  I first headed southwest and down into the major prong of Bailey Cole Creek there.  I immediately found a couple of small waterfalls, Falls #8 (Falls #1 through Falls #7 are in the lower section of Bailey Cole Creek) and Falls #9, in the range of six to ten feet high.  continuing downstream in this prong, I didn't find anything else but one small yet picturesque waterfall until I came to where this prong flowed into Bailey Cole Creek.  There I found Falls #11, a waterfall that flowed over the bluff directly into the main creek.  I had looked a little upstream of Falls #8 and #9 and didn't see any large water features, just more pretty streams and small cascades and waterfalls.  Depending on what you are looking for, you might want to skip this side drainage entirely.  

Falls #12
I found a spot where I could cross Bailey Cole Creek with only getting a little wet, which was a miracle, as much flow as there was today.  The forest service maps show this as a continuously running stream all the way up into the upper reaches of the valley.  With the recent rains, it was more like a river than a creek today.  Weirdly enough, it seemed like there was as much, or maybe even more flow all the way up to the first major fork at the creek's headwaters.  I went downstream to where I had left off on my hike coming up from Falling Water Creek a couple of weeks ago.  Along the way was Falls #12, which flows into a very large pool in the main creek.  Doubling back to hike upstream, I went up on the bluff since there was scant room to hike along the creek with the water being so high and the banks on each side of it being so steep.  Coming off the bluff to where I had found Falls #11, I found the old horse trail and was able to follow it upstream for at least a short distance.

Falls #11
A short distance upstream from Falls #11, I found Falls #13, a nice cascade on Bailey Cole Creek.  Continuing upstream, I came to one of the major side drainages, flowing in from the north.  I hiked up it a distance, but at this elevation, it had a relatively low slope and the high, steep bluffs and narrow channel meant I would need to climb up on the bluff to explore it upstream.  It had a good deal of flow, so it may very well have something worth seeing further upstream.  It extends all the way up to Richland Creek Road (CR-265).  Today, I wanted to make sure I had time to loop all the way up to the top of Bailey Cole Creek, so I left that drainage for another day and continued up the main creek.  Falls #14, and #15 were in a side drainage with Falls #16 directly opposite of them on the south side of the creek.  Falls #16 will be a wet-weather waterfall, I'm sure, but it sure looked nice today, extending all the way up the bluff.

Falls #19
Falls #17 is a two-tiered waterfall in a side drainage, and upstream from it, Falls #18 is a cascade on the main creek that seems to envelop a large rock in the stream bed.  From there, it was about a quarter mile upstream before I came to other water features.  Falls #19 is a beautiful set of cascades flowing over and around large boulders in the creek.  Falls #20 is a fairly large waterfall in the side drainage right next to Falls #19.  Upstream from that, Falls #21 through #26 were all in rapid succession on Bailey Cole Creek itself.  None of these are very tall, but a large amount of flow and the geometry of the waterfalls make all of the 'photo-worthy'.  These waterfalls were spaced out on the main creek scarcely 100 or 150 feet apart, but the ruggedness of the terrain and obstacles along the creek made it challenging enough to get from one to another.  It seems like I barely got my camera and tripod put away when I needed to get them out again for another shot.  

Falls #26
Upstream from Falls #26, the main creek still had a substantial amount of flow.  The Forest Service Maps show this as a continuously flowing creek almost all the way up to the headwaters near Highway 16.  This is unusual for the Ozarks in that there isn't a lot of drainage area above it to provide a lot of flow.  That being said, I have found that in the Ozarks weird things happen underground with streams of water, and I have seen water pouring out of a spring that had to be forced up somehow to the elevation it was at.  The maps do show a small lake or large pond on some private land above this on the other side of the highway, so that may be a source somehow.  The main creek flowed off from a juncture at this point, and it looked like it had some blufflines that may hold up.  However, I was running out of daylight, and the old logging road shown on the maps that I intended to take for my return to the parking area was shown to be just a few yards up on the bluff.

Falls #22
Just as an aside, don't trust the Forest Service maps.  There was nothing resembling an old trace road anywhere near where the maps showed it to run.  According to the map, the Jeep road I drove in on should have extended around the bluff and up the creek to just a few yards above Falls #26.  It did not.  I set off bushwhacking across the bluff toward the Jeep road I had parked on and never saw a sign of this trace road.  Getting back to the FJ and completing my loop, I decided to do a little more exploring and see just where the road did go.  From where I parked, I started hiking down it.  The road immediately goes to more of a trail, something I would not want to take a vehicle on.  Instead of turning right and going upstream as the map showed, it instead hooked left and went down the face of the bluff downstream toward the creek.  

Falls #23
This was at one time a road of sorts, now it is what I call a trace road.  It was probably cut into the face of the bluff as a mule/horse/wagon road at one point, and eventually, as people abandoned the hollows, the forest took over again.  It probably has progressed to being maybe an ATV trail at one point to just a horse trail, which it does look like it has been used for lately.  It crosses a small drainage and is washed out to the point I wouldn't even want to try taking a side-by-side over, but I have crazy friends that I know would give it a try.  This trail extends a quarter mile down to Bailey Cole Creek, right across the creek from the large prong that I had started going up, but turned back.  

Falls #25
From the parking location to the creek, it only drops in elevation about 200 feet, so this is a nice and easy hiking route to get from the parking spot to the main creek itself.  The small plateau where the trail ends up is fairly open amongst the large trees, a perfect camping or picnic spot if you are looking for such a place away from everyone also on earth.  It will also be a good starting point to hike up and down Bailey Cole Creek, or for me to explore that large drainage.  It was almost dark by this time, but I'll be back to take a look in that hollow.  I didn't travel very far today or have a big minimum-to-maximum elevation difference.  However, you make several climbs into and out of tight spots with steep and slippery bluffs.  Due to the ruggedness of the terrain, the numerous creek crossings, and steep bluff climbs, I would rate this a difficult hike.  Well worth it, but difficult.
Bailey Cole Creek (upper section) GPS track
Red - GPS track today along creek
Green - Jeep road
Purple - Trail to creek level
Entire Bailey Cole Creek area
Red - GPS track today along creek (today's hike)
Green - Jeep road
Purple - Trail to creek level
Orange - GPS track along lower section of creek
Blue - horse trail t Bailey Falls
Yellow - GPS track along Bailey Hollow Creek