Monday, January 27, 2014

Sandstone Castle, Richland Wilderness, Arkansas

1/26/2014 - Hike to Sandstone Castles

GPS Coordinates:
  Parking:  35.84146, -92.98413
  Trail Head on NC5080:  35.84189, -92.98472
  Sandstone Castles:  35.81647, -92.97268
  Rock Wall:  35.82412, -92.98407
  Another Rock Wall:  35.82039, -92.97832

Pet friendly: Yes.  Be aware there are a number of trees down on the trail and other obstacles that might challenge a smaller dog on a leash.

Motorcycle friendly: No.  Getting to the parking area takes about seven miles on rough gravel forest service roads.  I wouldn't take my Harley there.

GPS files:
  GPS track file, trail head to Sandstone Castles (.gpx format)
  Route file (.anr format)

The Sandstone Castles are actually a series of caves cut into the rock of the
Sandstone Castles
bluff at the top of the ridge overlooking Big Devil's Fork and Long Devil's Fork high above where they join at Twin Falls of Richland.  The caves have 'windows' overlooking the valley below.  Legend has it this place was used by criminals and civil war deserters to hide out from the Law.  I'm betting that strategy was highly successful.  This is one of those places that if you know where it is, it is easy to get to and easy to find.  If you don't know how to get there, it can be quite challenging to find.  My wife Bethany and I set out today to spend a fun day in the wilderness and record enough details to make this as easy as possible to find.

'Window' in Sandstone Castle
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 1.1 miles on NC5080 and look for where the power lines cross from the right hand (south) side to the left hand (north) side of the road.  The trail head will be near the last power line pole on the right.  On the north side of the road, there is an extended gravel shoulder to park on.  

Trail Head
The trail head GPS coordinates are listed above.  Someone has taken the time to paint a smiley face on a tree at this point on the south side of the road.  From the trail head, there is an old trace road.  Turn RIGHT onto it from the road.  i.e. - you will be heading south-west, at first almost paralleling the NC5080 road you just drove in on.  The trail will head up the mountain on this trace road.  This first part of the trail will give you the impression it will be a bushwhack the entire way as it has a lot of undergrowth and fallen trees.  That is not the case.  As you climb the trace road it will crest the ridgeline, and just over the ridgeline you will make a sharp turn to the left.  The trail here is more discernible and easier to follow, with very little undergrowth.

Rock Wall on Trail
After cresting the ridgeline and turning left, the trail follows more or less just below the crest line of Big Middle Ridge, the ridge between Big Devil Fork and Long Devil Fork.  The old trace road is visible in most places and the trail will follow that as it can, with zigs and zags around fallen trees.  The trail is usually visible, but there are a couple of places it gets difficult to see.   As you can see from the GPS track I recorded (at bottom of this post), the trail sticks pretty much to the ridgeline of Big Middle Ridge.  The elevation along this route does not vary a whole lot, but there are some gradual ups and downs.  You pass a couple of rock walls and an old well along the way.  The first of these is hard to miss and is about at the half way point.  These are a good check that you are on the right path.  I included GPS coordinates for these so you can track your route.

'Great Room' 
The trail will lead right down the ridgeline to the point where it drops off above Twin Falls.  the  Sandstone Castles are caves in the rock bluff line at this point, and the trail leads to the cliff directly above the caves.  There are a couple of spots you can make your way down to the cave level.  My GPS track for the route out showed 2.4 miles and 1 hour, 25 minutes.  We returned on the same track, but a little better pace at 1 hour 10 minutes.  

Lunch - this must be the 'Dining Room'?
We had considered dropping down to visit Twin Falls and Richland Falls, then returning through Hill Cemetery and walking back up the road from Iceledo Gap to where we had parked.  But we spent a good deal of time climbing around the rocks, exploring the area, and going a good deal down slope for photos.  We decided to take it easy and just backtrack the way we came.  It is an 800+ foot drop from Sandstone Castles down to Twin Falls and we didn't relish climbing back up there or the climb up from Twin Falls to the opposite ridgeline where Hill Cemetery is.  That's right, us old people are lazy.  We still got our exercise for the day, with the 4.8 mile round trip on the trail and a good deal of running around at the Sandstone Castles.  We had a great time on a sunny, warm (for January) day and got to experience some of the amazing features that make Arkansas the Natural State.  This hike is highly recommended.
GPS track for route to Sandstone Castles

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Triple Falls, Arkansas Buffalo NR area

1/25/2014 - Triple Falls Hike

GPS Coordinates: 
  Triple Falls: 36.05470, -93.25830

Pet Friendly: Yes.  Easy for pets on or off leash
Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough and steep

Triple Falls
Triple Falls is easily one of the most accessible large waterfalls in Arkansas.  Once you get to the parking area, that is.  In fact, I hesitate to call it a "hike", as it is more like a leisurely stroll.  Definitely worth seeing, though.  You can always get your exercise hiking to the many other waterfalls in this area.  

To get there, look for the road to Kyle's Landing Access on Hwy 74 west of Mt. Sherman.  The road is marked with many signs for Kyle's Landing and Camp Orr, and there is a canoe rental place next to the turnoff.  Take Kyle's Landing Road for one mile where the road forks, and take the right fork.  i.e. - go to Camp Orr, NOT Kyle's Landing.  Follow the road to Camp Orr another 1.8 miles, which will take you to the bottom of the mountain.  At that point the road crosses a creek and immediately to the right will be a parking place for the falls. Note that the sign says "Twin Falls Parking".  The falls have long been known by  the name Twin Falls as well, but there are in fact three waterfalls side by side.  Be aware the road to Triple Falls is steep and rough, but quite drive-able.

The land beyond the parking location is actually on private land, not public.  This is part of Camp Orr, owned by the Boy Scouts of America. After parking, cross back to the other side of the road and the trail to the falls will be straight ahead.  The trail is on the level, running right next to the creek fed by Triple Falls.  You will be able to see and hear the falls almost immediately, they  are that close.  It is less than a quarter mile to the falls.  Along the way there is another trail branching off to the right that goes to the top of the falls, but go straight ahead and you will be at the base of the three falls in no time.

This trip, we were suffering from a little dry spell and there was not much water flowing over the falls.  The leftmost waterfall had only a trickle flowing over it.  We did have some relatively cold weather, however, and the combination of water and ice looked amazing.  This is a must-see waterfall if you are ever in the area, preferably during wetter periods.  This is the most natural beauty for the least effort you will ever experience.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lost Valley, Arkansas Buffalo NR area

1/25/2014 - Lost Valley Hike

GPS Coordinates:
  Parking: 36.01018, -93.37438
  Eden Falls:  36.01752, -93.38730
  Armadillo Falls Creek juncture:  36.01243, -93.38088
  Armadillo Falls:  36.01515, -93.38088

Pet Friendly: No - Pets are prohibited by Park Service
Motorcycle Friendly: Yes - short 1/2 mile gravel road from paved highway to parking area.

Natural Bridge
Lost Valley - even the name conjures up visions of some valley hidden from mankind where all sorts of interesting features await.  That's not far off base, except the "hidden from mankind" part.  On the contrary, this is one of the most frequently hiked trails I have found.  Most of our hikes are in wilderness areas or deep in National Forest land and we almost always have the whole place to ourselves.  On this hike, there were several other folks enjoying the natural beauty of this place.  It was hardly crowded, though.  The trail is a little over two miles round trip, and we saw maybe a half dozen couples or families hiking the trail.  And the kind of people that do this are generally the nicest, friendliest folks you will find anywhere.  Lost Valley has quite a variety of features; Clark Creek, waterfalls, a natural bridge, a rock feature they call "Jigsaw Blocks", a couple of caves, and even a waterfall inside a cave.  My wife Bethany and I took off for Lost Valley today with our German Shepard, Boomer, in tow.  Boomer was real excited until he saw he was going in the Explorer for a road trip, but he perked up once he got on the trail.

Elk in Boxley Valley
To get there, go on Hwy 43 just south of Ponca.  The road to Lost Valley is well marked on the Highway and is one mile south of the intersection of Hwy 43 and Hwy 74.  If coming from Ponca/Jasper, you will be turning right (west) onto this road.  The road takes you along Clark Creek to a large parking area, complete with toilets and picnic pavilion.  Nice.  Today, we drove in from the south, going north on Hwy 21.  Just before turning up Hwy 43 to Lost Valley, we saw a couple of Elk along the highway in Boxley Valley and stopped to take some photos. 

Lost Valley Trail
Even though it's called Lost Valley State Park, it was acquired by the National Park Service in 1975 to become part of the Buffalo National River.  Being run by the National Park Service (NPS) brings with it the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The 'good' is that NPS has applied the resources necessary to restore the park after the flash flood in 2011 pretty much wiped out everything.  The hiking trail is superb.  It isn't paved, but seems like it.  On trail ascents, they have built rock stairs to make climbing easier.  Overall, you have to rate this hike as an easy except maybe inside Eden Cave itself, since it is a wild cave.  The 'bad' of having NPS operate Lost Valley is that they have made it so "nice and easy" that a lot of folks use it.  Nice folks, as I said, and not that many of them even on a sunny Saturday like today.  But if you hike for the solitude, you'll probably have to sacrifice that a little in Lost Valley.   The 'ugly' with the NPS is that it is the NPS, and they like to have rules, such as "no pets", and rangers to enforce rules.  More on that later.  Lost Valley is day use only now as the campground has not been restored yet and NPS has not even determined that they will rebuild the campground. There was no fee for day use, so NPS maybe isn't as ugly as other federal agencies after all.

Clark Creek - dry at trail head
You start out at the trail head at the back of the parking area, and immediately cross over Clark Creek to the trail on the south side.  Before the flood, there was a bridge here.  The bridge has not yet been rebuilt, but there is a low-water bridge of sorts that allows crossing without getting wet in most water conditions.  Today, the creek was completely dry here.  But not to worry; like many creeks in the Ozarks, the water sometimes will disappear underground, only to reappear downstream.  Lack of water in the creek here does not necessarily mean there is no water upstream at the waterfalls, and that was the case today.  It has been unseasonably dry the last couple of weeks, but the waterfalls still had enough water to show their natural beauty.  

Natural Bridge
The trail is on the level for the first 0.7 miles, where it splits.  Take the trail to the right, keeping along Clark Creek.  That will take you past a rock feature called Jigsaw Blocks, and then to the natural bridge.  I'm not sure how it got that moniker because it is not so much a natural bridge as it is a tunnel through the rock bluff,  Over the years, the creek has eaten a fair sized tunnel through the rock and is large enough to walk through.  Be careful here - I slipped on the rock at the bottom of the small waterfall exiting the tunnel and went knee deep in the large pool at the bottom.  Lesson learned here is even if your boots have Vibram soles, wet moss is slippery.  So was the ice inside the tunnel/bridge,  but at least that didn't put me back in the water.  You can continue on the trail up and around the natural bridge, or go through the tunnel as I did. 

Inside Natural Bridge

On the other side, NPS has kindly provide stepping stones back up to the trail.  As I already mentioned, they have made it an easy hike.  Just past the brdige, there is another fork in the trail, allowing you to stay at creek level and go to Cobb Cave and Lower Eden Falls, or climb the bluff to the left and go up to Eden Falls Cave.  We chose to go to the cave first, and the trail is still easy, with stone steps created to make climbing easier.  You do need to be careful on the top of the trail as it gets to the cave, as there is a long drop off over the falls.  The trail is a ledge maybe a couple of feet wide.  Still plenty even for people like me with a fear of heights, but I can see where it would be hazardous in wet weather.

View out of Eden Falls Cave
Eden Falls Cave is a "wild" cave.  That is, one that is just left in it's natural state with nothing added by humans to modify it and no controls or anything for entering and exploring.  There is a fair sized creek running out of this cave.  In fact, as it exits the cave mouth, it immediately goes off a ledge to form the Middle Eden Falls, which then goes around a short bend and drops off Lower Eden Falls.  As the trail enters the cave, there is a drop off into the channel cut by the creek in the bed of the cave, so be careful here.  For those with shorter legs, it may be easier to drop down into that creek channel (about 3 feet drop).  You'll want to go across
Eden Falls Cave Passage
the creek to the right side of the cave.  Although there is a passage on the left side where the creek runs, it is only a couple of feet high and you have to crawl to get into the back room of the cave where the waterfall is.  If you stick to the right side, there is a passage that you can actually walk upright in, more or less.  I'm a little taller than most, so I had to stoop over quite a bit, but at least I could stay on my feet.  Eden Falls Cave opens up to a large room over 30 feet high at the back of the cave, approximately 150 to 200 feet into the cave.  Sticking to the right wall, there will be two places about 30 feet from the waterfall room where you have to drop down, crawl around a rock, then you can pop back up into the slot passage and get into the waterfall room of the cave.  Take two flashlights, as it gets really, really, dark if your flashlight malfunctions.  I used a LED light that straps on your head, and it worked great while leaving both hands free. 

Eden Cave Falls
My wife and I went back into the waterfall room separately, so one of us could stay with Boomer at the cave entrance.  A youngster hiking with his Aunt and Uncle was kind enough to guide Bethany back to the waterfall room in the cave, and she recorded the whole path out with photos each step of the way.  The Eden Falls Cave Falls (??) itself is spectacular, coming out of a hole at the top of the cave room and dropping 30 feet to the cave floor and out through the cave.  Trying to photograph it was, well, challenging.  we each tried with a tripod light on the falls, but mist and drops from the falls made it almost impossible for the camera to focus.  She finally managed to get a couple of pretty good shots, but they still don't show the water in the falls very well.  But at least I think we have it figured out.  Next time we will take a couple of LED flood lights, point them at the wall away from the falls, and let reflective light fill the room.  At least that's the theory.  Stay tuned for our next trip.  

Coming out of the cave, we encountered a friendly NPS park ranger, who informed us Boomer was a criminal.  It seems there was one of those international signs depicting a guy and a dog with a slash through it - no pets allowed.  But she did think Boomer was quite the handsome dog, and since we were merely blind and apologetic, and not jerks, she let us off the hook with just a warning ticket. The nice lady ranger was quite friendly, understanding, and professional.    The fine would have been $50, so no more taking Boomer on this particular hike.

Lower Eden Falls
From Eden Falls Cave, you can come down a trail straight to the base of Lower Eden Falls.  There are actually four "Eden Falls"; This Lower one, the Middle one at the exit from Eden Falls Cave mouth, an Upper Eden Falls above the cave on Clark Creek, and the one in the back of Eden Falls Cave.

Cobb Cave
Where Clark Creek runs out of the pool of Lower Eden Falls, Cobb Cave extends across a broad swath of the cliff on the other side of the creek.  It is a 'shelter' type cave, and quite large.  There are a number of spots you can easily cross Clark Creek to get into Cobb Cave and explore it.

There are a lot of features packed into just a mile of trail through Lost Valley, but there's more.  At 0.4 miles from the trail head, a small creek flows into the other side (north side) of Clark Creek.  You can bushwhack .2 miles up this creek to three more waterfalls - Upper, Middle, and Lower Armadillo Falls.  GPS coordinates for where the creeks merge are listed at the top of this post.  If you don't have a handheld GPS, it is about a hundred feet past the forth bench on the trail after leaving the parking area.  On this particular day, we didn't know how much water would be in this creek further up (it and Clark Creek were dry at the juncture) and we were already pressing our luck with Boomer, so we decided not to do the short bushwhack up the creek today.  That's always difficult with a dog on a leash anyway.

All in all, a great way to spend the day.  My GPS track showed 2.11 miles round trip, and 2 hours 19 minutes trail time.  Most of that time was spent exploring, chatting with our friendly ranger, and letting Boomer's adoring public tell him what a handsome dog is he.  Kids especially gravitate to him, and he loves it, so we had a good deal of Boomer PR time today.  

Since we didn't go to Armadillo Falls and we still had a good deal of afternoon left, we ate lunch at the Lost Valley picnic area and decided to stop at Triple Falls on the way home.  Blog entry for that below when I get it written.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pam's Grotto, Arkansas Ozarks

01-19-2014 Pam's Grotto Falls

GPS Coordinates:
  Pam's Grotto: N35.68330, W93.25539
  Parking: N35.67971, W93.25214

Pet friendly: Iffy.  OK for pets on or off leash.
Motorcycle friendly: Yes.  Parking is right off Highway 123.

This is a nice little waterfall tucked away in a hidden grotto. It is a fairly short 
Pam's Grotto Falls
(about a mile round trip), easy hike and no GPS is needed.  Today my wife Bethany, my normal hiking partner, and I were joined by son Scott as well as my brother Tom and his wife Jeannette.

It was a bright sunny January day and we were looking for a quick hike to a fascinating area before our guests returned home to Oklahoma and Arizona.  Pam's Grotto Falls fits the bill nicely since we only had a couple of hours to kill.

Parking Across Road From Trailhead
To get to the trail head, go to Haw Creek Falls Campground on Hwy 123.  From there, go 0.5 miles east, and there is a pull-off to a parking spot by Haw Creek (photo at right).  Go across the road and to the right will be a small creek that passes through a culvert under the highway and into Haw Creek.  This is actually the creek that Pam's Grotto Falls is on.  Go to the right side of the creek, and there will be a trail going up the mountain.  

Trail Head Location
On my first trip to this waterfall, my directions were to "take the trail next to the creek".  There is indeed a path right next to the creek and I jumped on it.  Unfortunately this is NOT the trail you want.  The trail next to the creek disappears in a short distance.  Once I had lost the trail, I just used my GPS to try to find the falls.  Unfortunately, this took me across the creek and up the mountain on a very steep slope, difficult bushwhack, and generally heart attack inducing slog.  Stupid me - don't do that.  Once I approached the falls from the west, I realized my mistake since my directions said I should have followed the bluff line west to get there.  I reversed that and found the correct path back down the mountain.  This is a much easier path that zig-zags across the face of the slope to make for an easy hike.  At any rate, this was a lesson I remembered and today we took the correct trail up the mountain for a much easier hike.

view From Behind Falls 
The trail zig-zags up the mountain to the base of a cliff-like bluff line.  Once you reach this bluff you are about half way there.  This is different than most Ozark waterfalls in that you get all the uphill hiking in at the start and get to go downhill on the way back.  Once at the bluff, go left and follow the bluff line around to the left for roughly a quarter mile.  There is a short decent to the grotto area, which is a fairly large shelter style cave.  From this side of the grotto, the waterfall is mostly hidden behind a house size boulder.  You have to do a little scrambling over rocks to get to the falls; keep the inside cave wall on your right and you will find a fairly easy way over the rocks along that cave wall.  Once you go between the cave wall and the very large boulder it opens up to a large open area with the waterfall right in the middle, flowing into an emerald pool and down to the creek below.

Although the shelter is fairly large, the creek has eroded the top of the rock down to a "V" that the creek flows out of into and the center of the shelter floor. The water falls ~37 feet into the pool below.

Scott, Rick, and Bethany
Tom and Jeannette
All in all, this was a great hike, great company, and not a bad way to get a little exercise.  We also got to show off some beautiful Arkansas wilderness to our out-of-state visitors.  While you are in the area, remember that Haw Creek Falls is just a half mile down the road.  While not a particularly tall waterfall (6 feet at the highest section), it is always beautiful, even in low water conditions.  You can drive right to the Haw Creek Campground which is literally right next to the falls.
Haw Creek Falls

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fern Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

01/14/2014 Hike to Fern Falls

GPS coordinates:
  Fern Falls: N35.89748, W93.19249
  Parking location: N35.89291, W93.19023
  Turn on trail: N35.89332, W93.19416

Pet friendly: Yes.  Easy open trail, bypasses downed trees and obstacles.

Motorcycle friendly: Yes.  Just pull off Hwy 7 and park.

GPS files:
  GPS track file (.gpx format)
  Route file (.anr format)

If you are looking for a quick and easy hike to see a fantastic waterfall, this may fit the bill nicely.  Fern Falls is easy to get to, easy to find, a short and easy hike, and yet has a beautiful waterfall as a payoff after hiking less than a mile.
Getting there is easy.  This is one of the few waterfall hikes you can actually drive on a paved road to the trail head.  Go north on Hwy 7 from the intersection where Hwy 16 branches off to Deer.  Go 3.4 miles north of this intersection and look for the Highway 7 Scenic Byway sign.  If coming from Jasper, it is 11.4 miles south of Jasper square. Pull off the highway and park near the sign.  

GPS Track of Hiking Route
This is a short 1.5 mile round trip hike, and fairly easy going.  The total elevation drop to the falls is about 200 feet, so the return climb uphill is not bad either.

The hike is fairly easy also, as there is a trail to follow the entire way.  I would not even classify this as a bushwhack.  Go directly back away from Hwy 7 behind the sign you parked by.  There is an old logging road that looks like it is used by ATV's.  Folks have cut fallen trees off the trail to keep it open.  In some areas, the trail diverts from the old trace road around fallen trees, and someone hss marked all those locations with trail ribbon.  The trail is used enough that it is clearly discernible.  Follow the trail about 0.2 miles from the trail head and turn right onto another intersecting old logging road.  The coordinates for this turn are listed above.  This old road has much more fallen timber due to past ice storms, and the trail meanders a little more but is still easy to follow.  It drops down to East Fork Shop Creek and follows it to Fern Falls.  The trail takes you right to the top of the falls.  

To get to the base of the falls, you need to cross over to the west side of the creek.  About 40 feet back from the falls, there are some large rocks that make a dry crossing easy.  Follow the bluff line around the top of the cliff and you will come to a path down next to the cliff.  

Fern Falls

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cabin Falls and Maidenhair Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

1/13/2014 - Hike to Cabin Falls, Maidenhair Falls, and Many Unnamed Falls

GPS Coordinates:
  Parking - 35.56779, -93.06633
  Cabin Falls - 35.56936, -93.06311
  Maidenhair Falls - 35.56613, -93.06165
  Juncture of Creeks - 35.56798, -93.05984

Pet friendly: Iffy.  OK for pets off leash, pets on leash would be extremely difficult due to the amount of undergrowth and rough terrain.
Motorcycle friendly: Motorcycle friendly: Yes.  Just pull off Hwy 7 and park.

Cabin Falls
My wife (my normal hiking partner and trip photographer, as well as the love of my life) and I are always joking about all the waterfalls, crags, caves and other nature offerings of the Ozarks that are practically in our own backyard, and for the first 22 years we lived here we had little or no clue of their existence.  This trip certainly shows that to be true.  These falls are literally only 15 miles from our front door, and right off Hwy 7.  Two months ago, I had never even heard of them.  After seeing them in Tim Ernst's waterfalls book, I could find nothing in internet searches on these falls, so I decided I had to go take a look. 

To get there, go north on Hwy 7 from Dover until you pass Mack's Pines.  Note your odometer and 1.1 miles from Mack's Pines, park on the right under the power lines.  From there, hike north under the power lines until you get to the bottom of the hill.  You will see a culvert deep under Hwy 7 that is actually the top of the Cabin Falls Creek drainage system.  Turn right here and follow the creek downhill.  I don't think this creek has a name, but I'll call it Cabin Falls Creek for obvious reasons.  There is a spring close to the highway that feeds the creek.

Follow the creek downstream on the left (north) bank.  a trace of an old road is barely visible and you can follow that downhill.  Right away you will start to see some smaller waterfalls on the creek.  This area is riddled with layers of limestone that make for numerous points in the creeks where water runs off a rock shelf and forms a waterfall.  As you go down the creek, you from one to the next, to the next.  So many that I lost count.  As far as I know, only Cabin Falls and Maidenhair Falls are named, although many of the others are of significant size and beauty.  

The geology of the area makes for a very waterfall-rich area, but it also makes for very steep slopes as the creeks have eaten their way through the rock forming their valleys.  This means that where there is a good sized waterfall, there is also probably a cliff to the creek bed below.  So if you are like me and like to get to the base of waterfalls, you will have to find a way down to the creek bed below.  In the hollows of this drainage system, that is not always easy.  OK, let's say rarely easy.

Going down Cabin Falls Creek, I passed a nice waterfall upstream from Cabin Falls.  Trying to get to the creek bed below, I soon found out that you really need to be on the right (south) side of the creek to find a way down.   Going back upstream and crossing the creek also gives you the opportunity to see another nice waterfall in a small creek running into Cabin Falls Creek from the south.  

Follow the bluff line south, around from Cabin Falls, and you go by the gap in the bluff cliff in this photo that will give you a way to hike down.  

Once you get down below this bluff line, you can continue on south to the feeder creek and a nice waterfall on it.  Then follow that creek back around to Cabin Falls Creek, and you will come to another bluff to Cabin Falls' grotto, then make your way down with yet another waterfall in yet another grotto where the feeder creek runs into Cabin Falls Creek.  In fact, both the feeder creek and Cabin Falls Creek have waterfalls where they flow into this grotto.  When I said "waterfall rich area", I meant that literally. Cabin Falls itself falls 36 feet into the beautiful grotto below.
Cabin Falls Grotto
Going downstream from Cabin Falls, you come to another falls, and another, and another...

And yet another.  Eventually the creek actually levels out a little from the steep slope it has had thus far.  Get on the right (south) side, and you can follow the old trace road again here until you come to Maidenhair Falls Creek.  I followed this  combined creek just a short distance more and came to a creek feeding in from the north side with a pretty little waterfall, a cave, and yet another waterfall downstream.
This waterfall flows into an emerald pool just before flowing into Cabin Falls Creek.  I don't doubt there are more waterfalls up this tributary, but I did not have time this trip to explore further.  Downstream further a mile or so the creek from Winter Hollow also flows into this creek.  It is said to have several waterfalls, and due to it's remoteness I doubt many have been visited them in modern times.
Heading back, I stayed at creek level and saw what I missed by crossing Maidenhair Falls Creek a little higher on my way downstream.  This double stairstep waterfall is at the juncture of Cabin Falls Creek and Maidenhair Falls Creek.  The GPS coordinates for this juncture are at the top of this post.  I turned left here and started following Maidenhead Falls upstream.

Picking my way upstream on the Maidenhair Falls Creek drainage, I came upon this waterfall.  This was another one of those grottos with no good way upstream unless you backtrack a good ways to get up on the bluff line.  I decided the best way forward was to climb up the falls itself, where there were a lot of rock ledges that could be stepped on to climb up.  Yes, I am that stupid.  Fortunately, I did manage it just fine and got to the top of this falls with no slips and broken bones.

Maidenhair Falls
Continuing upstream, I finally arrived at Maidenhair Falls, the last stop on this hiking loop.  This is a beautiful 30 foot waterfall.  Unfortunately, it was partially obscured today by a large tree that had fallen right across the top of the falls.  

From here, I had to backtrack a little to get to a spot I had scoped out on the way upstream where i could climb the north canyon wall.  The north creek wall here is very steep.  Loose leaves and soft soil make it a little hard to get good footing, and it is a several hundred foot climb back up to the top of the ridge.  You do need to go out on the right side as you are facing upstream (north side).  The parking location on Hwy 7 will be less than a half mile northwest of Maidenhair Falls.  Mostly up, it seemed.  I plan on analyzing my track from this hike and my next visit here I may reverse direction and do a descent to Maidenhair Falls and a not so steep ascent back to Cabin Falls.

The only place that had any significant undergrowth was on the upper part of the mountain above Maidenhair falls.  The rest of the hike was easier bushwhacking, but this was pretty thick.  I ran into another old trace road and followed this back to Hwy 7.  The trace road brought me back to Hwy 7 just 220 feet south of where I had parked.

This was a very enjoyable hike.  It seemed I had been out enjoying the area all afternoon, but it was only a total of two and a half hours from parking to heading back home.  If you live in the River Valley and are looking for great place to explore nearby and enjoy the Natural State's wonders, this will fill the bill nicely.  It will help to have a GPS and a good sense of balance - be careful as there are many, many dropoffs and steep slopes.
GPS Track for Cabin and Maidenhair Falls Loop

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Twin Falls of Richland Wilderness, Arkansas

1/11/2014 - Hike to Twin Falls

GPS Coordinates: 
  Twin Falls: 35.80594, -92.96412
  Richland Falls: 35.80075, -92.96010
  Devon Falls:  35.81724,  -92.96145
  Hill Cemetery trail-head:  35.83848, -92.97277
  Trail branch to top of Long Devil's Falls: 35.80555, -92.96223

Pet Friendly: Yes.  Easy for pets off leash, doable with pets on leash
Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough and steep

Twin Falls of Richland
I was not real sure what to expect today.  We had an ice storm three days ago, and then more "wintry mix" after that, then it rained all day yesterday.  I was hoping to see waterfalls with plenty of water and maybe some unique visuals with ice, water, and rock in the Richland Wilderness.  I was not disappointed.

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). What? The road has more names than people living on it?  In any case, Newton County has done a good job putting their road signs up on all county roads and forest service roads. In many cases, they are the only road signs.  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.  Turn right at Iceledo Gap onto Hill Cemetery Road and go ~0.8 miles to Hill Cemetery. This "road" is not maintained. If you aren't sure your vehicle can make it, best to not take chances and leave it parked at Iceledo Gap.

Hill Cemetery Road - Wet and boggy!
Our Explorer has 4x4, and normally I'm quite confident taking it on roads like this.  Today, however, I took one look at the road and decided it was best not to try.  Water was running down both ruts, and I could only imagine what it looked like in low spots.  I was right - see photo at right.  Just down from Iceledo Gap is a trailer house, and I asked the gentleman that lives there if it would be OK to park for the day.  This is private property, so if you don't drive to Hill Cemetery, either park at the side of the road or please - ask permission.  At any rate, since I elected to hike the extra 3/4 mile to Hill Cemetery instead of driving, I was already starting my day with an additional 1.5 miles to an already long hike.  I would end up wishing I had that extra time.

From the front of Hill Cemetery as you approach it, there is an old trace road taking off to the left.  Take this, and follow as best you can.  This was probably a logging road back before Richland was designated a wilderness area.  That was many years ago, and it now only remotely resembles even a logging road.  There is a faint path down what used to be the primitive road, and this makes pretty easy hiking.  Over the years, many trees have fallen over the path, and it skirts those too big to step over so you end up meandering all over the place from what was once a fairly straight road.  You cross over the head of Big Devil's Fork right below Hill Cemetery, and the first couple of miles just goes through the woods, well above and to the left of the creek.

Devon Falls
You cross many small wet weather creeks that feed Big Devil's Fork, and at 1.8 miles the trail crosses a fairly large creek that has a nice little waterfall, Devon Falls, maybe 8-10 feet, just below where the trail crosses. This creek almost always has water flowing, but as far as I know has no name.  So logically, I'll call it Devon Falls creek

If you only want to go to Twin Falls, you can stay on the trail another 1/2 mile, then you can bushwhack down the end of the ridge and to the right to descend to Twin Falls.  Depending on how high the water is, you should be able to hear it as you approach.  This is by far the easiest way to get to Twin Falls, but it bypasses the rest of the creek and the other cool features it has to offer.

Millstone Falls?
I left this morning with the intention of going everywhere along this system, visiting Hamilton, Twin, and Richland Falls and exploring as much of the creek area as I could.  I was delayed from the get-go by a mess on Hwy 7 caused by the ice storm this week.  Just before Pelsor/Sand Gap, there were two large semis flipped on their sides, one on each side of the highway.  Crews were already out cleaning up and attempting to unload them, and the highway was limited to one lane so there was some delay waiting our turn.  That, and the additional time hiking down Hill Cemetery road already had me at 11:00 am by the time I parked and started down Hill Cemetery road. Still, I was determined to get in as much as I could with what daylight I had.

Don Hamilton Falls
So I veered off the trail shortly after Devon Falls and headed toward the creek to the waypoint I had recorded on my GPS for Hamilton Falls.  It is not too bad a bushwhack, as the undergrowth is not bad and there are few briers.  But it is fairly steep, especially as you crest the bluff/cliff overlooking the creek itself.  I came down to the creek a bit upstream of Hamilton Falls, to another smaller falls that I think has no official name but I have heard referred to as Millstone Falls.  At one time there were a couple of large millstones on the ground here, the only thing left of a mill from the mid 1800's.

Going on downstream a little, you come to Don Hamilton Falls.  Don Hamilton was one of the driving forces behind establishing wilderness areas like Richmond in the Ozarks.  They sure picked a pretty little waterfall to name after him.

Don Hamilton Falls
Another view of Hamilton Falls.  You can stand on the brink of the falls, right next to the top.  The clarity of the water is amazing, especially with the amount of rain that fell yesterday.  You would expect runoff to muddy the water at least a little, but it doesn't.  The water in all the creeks and waterfalls in this area always seem crystal clear no matter how fast they are running.

It was time to be moving on if I was ever going to get to the rest of the trip I had planned.  I was not looking forward to picking my way downstream another half mile, and I knew you had to go somewhat above creek level to get to the path leading down to the base of Twin Falls.  So I figured I would go up the bluff from Hamilton Falls and follow the creek canyon bluff line.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

It did get me above the jumble of rocks at the base of the falls downstream.  This pretty little creek runs over the east canyon wall into Big Devil's Fork, with a nice waterfall directly behind where this photo was taken.  BTW, I lost my sunglasses somewhere in this area.  If you find a pair of Ray Bans, please send them to me.

It was very easy to cross this creek here, and I thought this plan was working well.  Not for long, though.  After crossing this creek, I found myself getting into an impassable area.  I was basically on a short bluff between a 40-50 cliff toward the creek, and a 40-50 foot wall on my other side.  Can't go up, can't go down, don't even own any rock climbing gear and wouldn't pack it if I did. Stupidly pressing forward anyway, I soon ran out of ledge. Can't go forward now either. Oh, yeah - the rock face on the east side of the canyon was coated in ice as well.  This photo of the icy east canyon wall is what I was looking at.

Ice on East Canyon Wall
Hmm.  Plan not working so great now.  I turned back, retraced my steps and found a way down that was less than optimal, but at least doable.  There was a way to climb down to where a downed tree was leaning against the rocks that I could shinny down the rest of the way.  So to sum up, I had burned another hour of daylight, made little forward progress, wore myself out, and ended up back at creek level anyway.  Lesson learned for next time.  Either stay down at the creek and pick your way downstream, or go all the back up to the top of the ridge, and hike the primitive road downstream.

The good news is, picking my way downstream seemed like pretty easy going now, and it took me little time to get down to the point where you need to head up the creek bluff to come up over and around Twin Falls.  At the top of the bluff overlooking Big Devil's Falls, there is a steep but discernible path down to the base of the falls.

This was my first glimpse of Twin Falls with relatively high water.  All I can say is what everyone says when they come here - "Wow".  Lots of water, gushing falls,  This is one of the most beautiful spots on the face of the earth.  Somehow, being the only human there makes it all the more special.

 While most "twin" falls occur because something splits the creek or river and causes two streams of water to go over a waterfall.  Twin Falls of Richland is unique in that the falls are actually from two separate creeks, running through two separate valleys and drainage systems, that just happen to each have waterfalls that flow into a common pool at the point they converge.  From this viewpoint at the base, the creek on the left is Long Devil's Fork and the one on the right is Big Devil's Fork.  Together, they are called the "Twin Falls of Richland, but are not on Richland Creek.  The combined creek flows into Richland Creek maybe a quarter mile downstream.

I took a while to soak in the pure magic and beauty of the area, took lots of photos, ate a late lunch, and rested up a bit.  My plan had been to cross the creek, go to Richland Falls, and then retrace my route to head home.  Unfortunately, it was 2:00 pm by the time I got to Twin Falls,
and going on 3:00 pm by the time I was ready to go.  Richland Falls was only another half mile, but it had taken me three hours to get here with the extra hike from Iceledo Gap and my misadventures on the creek canyon wall.  My GPS said sunset was at 5:18 pm, so I knew it would start getting dark by 4:30 pm and I did not want to try navigating this wilderness after dark.  So I let common sense overrule my desire to see Richland Falls and headed back.   Before leaving, I did cross the creek to get some great photos from the other side, including the one at the top of this blog.

To cross the creek, you go behind both waterfalls.  Yes, plenty of room for even a 6'3" guy like myself to go behind the falls and stay relatively dry.  After going downstream a bit and taking photos, I crossed back behind both falls again, packed up, and headed back.  Going back, I figured I would go the direct route, so I headed up the mountain toward the top of the ridge where the primitive trace road runs.  The mountain there is just littered with large rocks, so it wasn't a "direct" climb, but picking my way through the rock scramble in the general direction of the ridge line.  Did I mention it was steep?  Sure, I'm an old geezer, but I like to think I'm in decent shape.  Still, a climb of several hundred feet will take it out of you.  Does me, anyway, and I stopped to catch my breath and drink some water a couple of times during the climb.  Once up on the top of the ridge, though, I did run into the old trace road.  It was very easy hiking after that.  I had put dry socks on at Twin Falls and managed to get across Devon Falls Creek without getting wet, so all was good.  Going from Hill Cemetery down to the falls means it is all uphill on the way back, but I made pretty good time, maybe an hour and a half for the whole return trek even with an extra 3/4 mile to Iceledo Gap.

I'm not a big fan of selfies, but hey - my wife is my normal hiking partner and professional photographer, and she couldn't come with me this trip.  Not another soul around, so this is the only shot of me at  Twin Falls.

All in all a full day of fantastic scenery and fun, and at the end of the day I was still full of energy and couldn't wait to go back. Maybe next trip I will combine a hike to Sandstone Castle with a drop down to Twin Falls.