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.

No comments:

Post a Comment