Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Piney Bowl Falls (5), Arkansas Ozarks

4/9/2014 -  Piney Bowl Falls and four other waterfalls

GPS Coordinates: 
  Parking Location:  35.74915, -93.28691
  Piney Bowl Falls:  35.75190, -93.27895
  South Piney Falls:  35.74896, -93.27912
  Lower Piney Falls:  35.75208, -93.28068
  Middle Piney Falls:  35.75240, -93.28144
  Upper Piney Falls:  35.75243, -93.28190

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.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  No, no, no.  This road is not suitable for street bikes.

Piney Bowl Falls
Since we took the easy way out yesterday and went to North Fork, which was a relatively easy drive and not much hiking at all, we thought we would challenge ourselves today and go to Piney Bowl Falls.  This is not an easy hike, just due to the steepness of the terrain and the fact that it is all bushwhack and no trail.  This is also not an easy drive.  It is about 15 miles of gravel road that was not in very good condition.  It is drive-able in a normal car, but it took me about an hour and a half to go those 15 miles due to water filled potholes and such.   It is a difficult hike due to the steepness of the terrain, but it's also not too bad as far as undergrowth goes.

What's the best way to get there?  I would have to say by canoe or kayak.  Piney Creek is very close to these waterfalls, and if you float the upper reaches and have a GPS to tell you when you are close, it is only about 200 yards from Piney Creek to Piney Bowl Falls.  Unfortunately, that sounds fun but isn't going to be an option for most of us.  And as I said before, it isn't an easy drive.  One note on waterfall names for this blog entry - the only waterfall we visited today that actually has a name is Piney Bowl Falls, the largest of the five we will discuss.   But I hate to keep calling beautiful waterfalls "Unnamed Falls #x", so when I discuss them today I will call the large one in the drainage south of the Piney Bowl drainage South Piney Falls.  There are three nice waterfalls above Piney Bowl Falls that I will call Lower, Middle, and Upper Piney Falls.  A printout of the GPS track showing our route to visit all five waterfalls is at the bottom of this post.

From the community of Pelsor (Sand Gap), go 16.2 miles south on Highway 123 then turn right onto FR-1003, aka Johnson County CR-5741.  This is 3.3 miles past the Haw Creek Campground.  If you are coming from the other direction on Highway 123, this junction is 10.5 miles north of Hagerville.  Zero your odometer trip meter when you turn north on FR-1003 and here are your subsequent landmarks:
  5.6 miles - Turn left on CR-5680 (still FR-1003, just a different Johnson County Road)
  7.7 miles - Turn right onto FR-1004 (CR-5661)
  9.3 miles - The road name changes to NC-7460 as you enter Newton County (still FR-1004)
  13.4 miles - Turn right onto FR-1004D/NC-7490
  15.1 miles - Stop at the gate.  This is the parking location.

Parking Location
The entire hike today was a bushwhack, except for a short piece of old logging road.  From the parking location, go down the old logging road on the other side of the gate for about a hundred yards.  Then turn left and bushwhack straight down the hill.  You cross another old logging road in about 50 yards.  You are going to cross over this and keep going downhill, but you might want to mark where you crossed this lower logging road as you will be able to come back on it when you return.  Continue to bushwhack straight downhill east, toward Piney Creek.  Staying on top of the ridgeline as well as possible, you can go down through an upper bluffline fairly easily.  As you continue to go downhill, you come to another, more sheer, bluffline.  This is the bluffline that both Piney Bowl Falls, to your left, and South Piney Falls, to your right, fall over.  Just a few yards downhill from where the drainage to your right sends South Falls over the bluffline, there is a break in the bluffline that lets you cut down toward the base of South Piney Falls.  Boomer, our German Shepard, has become very adept at finding paths where we want to go.  I'm not sure how, since his eyes are only a couple of feet above the ground, but it comes in handy.

South Piney Falls
So with Boomer leading the way, we made our way down to South Piney Falls.  This is a really nice 37 foot high waterfall in a rugged, picturesque setting.  I always find it hard to believe little gems like this don't even have a name.  In this case, I suppose it is partly because this is such a remote area.  You can always tell those areas people just don't visit.  There are no cigarette butts, no human tracks or traces, no flagging that other hikers and campers left to mark the way.  Nothing but scenic, raw, Arkansas Ozarks at their finest.

From South Piney Falls, we made our way around the bluffline north, to the right if you are facing South Piney Falls.  This bluffline is 70 to 100 feet high and quite a view just in itself.  Following the base of the bluffline around will lead you right into Piney Bowl Falls.  Boomer and I did explore around a little here, and found a sizable cave formed by two huge rock slabs that were forced together by some event in the past.

Piney Bowl Falls
Piney Bowl Falls is awesome.  This is just one of the most serene, relaxing locations on the face of the earth.  One of the things I have noted in my hiking is that God seems to put the most beautiful pieces of nature where it is hardest for folks to get to them.  I suppose the effort it takes to get there makes it that much more special.  The falls are 64 feet high, and fall into a bowl formed by very large boulders surrounding the base of the waterfall.  As with almost all waterfalls, the beauty cannot be adequately captured in mere photos.  You really have to be there to get the full effect, and that goes double for this particular waterfall.  

We spent a good deal of time at Piney Bowl Falls, and could have spent all day there just soaking in the scenery.  After eating lunch and resting up, we headed back on the return leg of the hike.  

Lower Piney Falls
We wanted to visit the waterfalls above Piney Bowl, so we had to somehow get above that imposing bluffline.  If you continue on around the bluffline to the right as you are facing the falls, right after you round the corner coming out of Piney Bowl, you will notice a large crack in the bluffline ahead.  This is your path up and over to the top of the bluffline.  With Boomer leading the way again, we ascended through this crack.  It actually is filled with rocks you can sort of stair step up.  It is steep, but is the only way to get back above the bluffline that I could find.  As it turned out, Boomer went right up with no problem and I found it wasn't all that bad as well. 

Once back atop the bluffline, we cut back over to the creek that feeds Piney Bowl Falls.  That's right where you will find Lower Piney Falls, a nice little double waterfall.  Continuing upstream, I found it easiest to just go rock hopping directly up the creek.  The creek canyon walls were somewhat steep, so going up the creek was just easier to maintain footing.  The creek itself is very scenic and picturesque, with several small waterfalls and cascades.  
Upstream we found the Middle Piney Falls, a rock shelf type waterfall.  Going even further upstream, we found what I'm calling Upper Piney Falls.  This one is actually a continuous series of waterfalls, with a large cascade coming over the upper bluffline, falling down the rock wall face, going into about a ten foot waterfall, then dropping through a number of smaller falls.  This is very pretty and somewhat unique, and again I have to wonder how water features like this remain unnamed.  

Upper Piney Falls
We climbed up the series of falls for Upper Piney Falls, eventually finding a way up to the base of the ten foot fall.  From there, we had to find a way above this upper bluffline, so I did what I normally do; tell Boomer to find a way, then follow him.  Going along the bluffline to the right, we came to a break in the bluffline we could make our way up.  From there, we went back over to the creek again above where it flows down the rock face.  Upstream just a little, we found a short cascade Boomer used as a water slide.  I think he slipped and slid down it but he claims it was all on purpose, just a dog having a little fun.

At any rate, from here it is still a little climb up out of the creek canyon to the shelf below where we parked.  Upstream a little more, the creek splits into two tributaries, and we went up the spur right between these two.  It is a steep climb up no matter which way you go, but the ridgeline of this spur seemed the most gradual slope we could take.  Above the creek canyon, we ran into that second logging road that we crossed over on the way down to South Piney Bowl.  Turn left onto this logging road and you can take it back over to where you initially crossed it, then cut back uphill retracing the route you came down from the parking location to get back to your vehicle.  The lower logging road is mostly on the level so it was nice to have a little easy hiking after the steep, rugged terrain we had been hiking through.

All in all, this was a fantastic day in the wilderness.  We got a little exercise and got to see some of the most wonderful scenery the Ozarks has to offer.  My GPS track totalled almost three miles and right at two hours.  As you can tell from my track (below), that included a lot of exploring and roaming around.  This one is definitely on my list to visit again.

GPS Track

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