Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rock Creek Polyfoss and Car Wash Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/12/2014 -  Rock Creek Area and Car Wash Falls

GPS Coordinates: 
  Car Wash Falls:  35.70529, -93.25474
  Parking at 4-Road junction (Piney Creek bridge):  35.73287, -93.27262
  Parking for Big Buck/Deer Trail Falls:  35.75620, -93.27557
  Leave Road for Big Buck Falls:  35.75664, -93.27583
  Leave ATV trail for Big Buck Falls:  35.75595, -93.27041
  Big Buck Falls:  35.75717, -93.26870
  Big Doe Falls:  35.75660, -93.26585
  Leave Road for Deer Trail Falls:  35.75528, -93.27386
  Deer Trail Falls:  35.75530, -93.27187
  Parking for Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74200, -93.27243
  Leave Road for Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74372, -93.27492
  Leave ATV trail for Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74599, -93.26842
  Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74699, -93.26805

Pet Friendly: Yes, no problems for a dog on or off leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: Hahahahahaha.  Sorry.  Let's just leave it at a big fat no.

Big Buck Falls
Woooo-hoooo!  Bethany, Boomer, and I headed out this morning for a remote (VERY remote) part of the Ozarks, along the upper Big Piney Creek.  Actually, this polyfoss area is adjacent to the Piney Bowl Falls area, directly across the Piney Creek.  As you can see from all the GPS coordinates above, we visited a lot of cool waterfalls and will give directions to them that you can't really go wrong with.  If you have a GPS, that is.  If not it's still doable, but c'mon, dudes and dudettes.  If you are serious enough about your hiking to get back into an area like this, you need a handheld GPS.  

This is an incredibly diverse and beautiful area.  There are waterfalls up the wazoo, caves of all sizes, pretty little creeks as well as Piney Creek, which is bigger than most rivers, fascinating blufflines, even a slot canyon and a couple of natural bridges.  The only downside is that the only road through the area is not much of a road.  In fact, calling it a road is kind of generous.  We did see one other truck after the Rock Creek ford, that had pulled a small travel trailer into the area for some camping next to Piney Creek.  The truck looked like a hefty 4X4, but it must have been nerve racking pulling even a small camp trailer.  That was the only other vehicle in the area, however.  For a warm, sunny Saturday in pristine country such as this, that tells you a little about how difficult it is to get into the area.  Our Ford Explorer managed it just fine, but it was a slow 5 mph drive and we put it in 4-wheel drive for fording across Hurricane Creek and Rock Creek.  

The only entry point into this area that I know of is going north on FR-1002 (aka City Road 311, aka Newton County NC-7470).  You used to be able to drive south on this road from Limestone, but my understanding is that this route is still closed from a landslide in 2011.  There are at least three ways I know of to get to this entry point, however.  The entry point to the area is at an old single lane concrete bridge over Piney Creek where FR-1002 and FR1202 intersect.  This intersection/entry point is near the border of Newton and Johnson counties, so the FR-1002 and FR-1202 change county road numbers as they cross county lines. FR-1002 (aka NC-7470) runs north from this intersection, FR-1002 (aka Johnson County CR-5881) goes south from it, FR-1202 (aka NC-7471) goes west over the bridge, and FR-1202 (aka Parker Ridge Road or NC-7410) goes east from the bridge.  

To get into the Rock Creek area you have three route choices, depending on where you are coming from and what type of vehicle you have:
  1) From the community of Deer on Highway 16, drive south on FR-1202 (Parker Ridge Road/NC-7410) for 11.7 miles.
  2) From Pelsor (Sand Gap) drive west on Highway 123 for 11.1 miles (to just before the bridge over Piney Creek), then turn right on FR-1002 (CR-5881) for another 5.6 miles.
  3) From Pelsor (Sand Gap) drive west for 16.0 miles (3.3 miles past Haw Creek Campground), then turn right on FR-1003 (CR-5741) for 5.7 miles, then turn right on FR-1202 (CR-5680), then go another 5.1 miles to the entry point.  Note that the road name changes to NC-7471 the last 1.3 miles, after you enter Newton County.

We traveled in on Route #2, and returned on Route #3.  The disadvantage of Routes #1 and #3 are that they are longer; about 11 miles of gravel road.  The disadvantage of Route #2 is that you have to ford Hurricane Creek about 1.7 miles after you turn off Highway 123.  When we got to Hurricane Creek this morning it was running a little high, with about 50 feet of creek we had to ford.  We almost turned back at this point, but we could see the rocks on the creek bottom all the way across and it appeared to be only about six inches deep at most.  Beware - appearances are deceiving.  It was a little deeper and swifter than we thought, but we were in a FORD Explorer, so surely we could FORD (haha) across this creek.  

Car Wash Falls
The advantages of going on Route #2 are that it is shorter, it is a very scenic drive along Piney Creek, and you get to see another waterfall along the way that is quite unique.  At 2.8 miles after you turn off Highway 123 you will drive through Car Wash Falls.  Literally, you drive through it.  The waterfall spills over a rock ledge 21 feet above the road, directly onto the road bed.  As I told Bethany, leave it to old fashioned Redneck ingenuity to get a car wash miles from electricity and running water.  Just build the road under the waterfall.  To give a little credit to the architects of this road, they really had no other choice.  This was about the only place to squeeze the road between the sheer rock bluffline and Piney Creek.  There is obviously no hiking involved, but it is worth seeing at least once.  If you can't ford Hurricane Creek, you should consider driving the 2.8 miles south from our Rock Creek area entry point.

Where you ford Rock Creek
Once you get to our entry point for the Rock Creek area, drive north on FR-1002 for 0.6 miles and you will find an area to park and camp right before the road crosses Rock Creek.  Beware - if you have a vehicle that doesn't have decent ground clearance, you might want to just park back at the parking area on the west side of FR-1002 at the bridge (i.e. back at our entry point).  Once you get to Rock Creek, you have a choice to make.  If your vehicle can ford Rock Creek, you can do so and drive another mile to park close to trail heads for both Big Buck Falls and Deer Trail Falls.   If not, stay parked here where it is safe, cross Rock Creek on foot, and hike the extra mile each way.  We had already forded Hurricane Creek successfully so heck, we figured little old Rock Creek would be easy.  It was easy, but again surprised us by being deeper than the six inches it appeared to be.  Rock Creek was only about 15 feet across at the road, so I put it in 4-wheel drive and crossed successfully.

FR-1002 - You Have Been Warned!
Once across Rock Creek, the road did not get any better.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  This is a very rough road, so if you don't like beating up your suspension and driving about 5 mph, you might want to just park back before Rock Creek and walk anyway.  Next time, I'll probably do that.  An extra two miles of hiking won't kill us.  Whoever named NC-7470 "City Road 311" had quite the sense of humor.  There isn't a city within a hundred miles and even Detroit has better city roads than this. 

However you get there, this is a fantastic area to explore.  It is National Forest, not Wilderness Area, so ATV's are allowed.  The FR-1002 road runs right along the wonderfully scenic Piney Creek.  Piney Creek is as misnamed as City Road 311.  This section of the Ozarks is mostly hardwoods, and it is way too large to be called a creek.  It is wider and has more water flow than most rivers I know of.  As FR-1002 runs along Piney Creek, there will be a large bluffline on the right (east side), and above that yet another large bluffline with a wide bench between the two blufflines.  As you might guess, the abundance of feeder creeks into Piney Creek coupled with the blufflines they have to run over means there is an abundance of waterfalls, or a polyfoss area.  

As you go that mile down FR-1002 you cross a number of smaller creeks.  If you look toward the bluffline, you can see some nice waterfalls on these from the road.  A little over a mile from Rock Creek, you will ford a larger creek.  This is the creek downstream of Deer Trail Falls, Big Buck Falls, and Big Doe Falls.  This creek flows into Piney Creek at a big bend.  Continue around this bend in Piney Creek, and there is a pull-off loop on the left where you can park.

Big Buck Falls - with Bethany and Boomer
We decided to go to Big Buck Falls first as it is the steepest and longest of the hikes we were planning on today and wanted to tackle it while we were freshest.  From where we parked, we went north on FR-1002 another couple hundred yards to where an ATV road goes off to the right (east).  The GPS coordinates for where you leave the road are listed above, but it is fairly obvious where the ATV trail is.  Follow this trail up the hill, bending around to the right as it climbs, and it will take you up above the lower bluffline to the bench between the two blufflines.  Keep following this trail past a couple of smaller drainages that may or may not have water flowing.  But remember the amount of water in the creek you forded before the parking location; that's the major drainage you are looking for.  When you cross this major drainage, leave the ATV trail to the left.  The GPS coordinates for where you leave the trail are also listed above, so if you have a GPS you can't go wrong.  When you turn left off the trail, it is only a 0.13 mile bushwhack up to Big Buck Falls and Big Doe Falls, but it is a little steep.  Stay to the right as you go upstream and try to stay as high above the creek as you can on the way up.  When you get up close to the bluffline, the creek splits.  The larger feeder goes off to the left and Big Buck Falls.  The smaller feeder creek to the right goes to Big Doe Falls.  If you stayed above the creek level 30 yards or so, you should be right between them and can see both falls from the same point in between.  

Big Doe Falls
We went to Big Doe Falls first to check it out, as it was actually somewhat of a surprise to us.  This waterfall was not mentioned or even on the map in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls book.  I made a mental note to contact Tim with this information for his next edition.  As far as we knew it was not only unnamed, but we could find no mention of it anywhere.  So in keeping with the naming theme of the other waterfalls in this drainage, we named it Big Doe Falls.  Big Doe Falls is not as big or powerful as Big Buck Falls, but is a pretty little waterfall nonetheless, about 19 feet high.

We then went back to the left along the bluff to Big Buck Falls, a beautiful 62 foot waterfall.  It falls over the bluffline to the pool below, then immediately the creek flows out of the pool and through a cave to the creek below.  I think technically they call features like this a natural bridge.  The creek flows through a tunnel or cave large enough to walk through.  We spent a lot of time enjoying this area, and chose to hike back down as close to the creek as we could.  This is a pretty little creek with a number of smaller waterfalls and cascades.

Back on the ATV trail, we went back to the car the way we had come.  It was time for lunch, so we went down to Piney Creek just below where we had parked to a nice sandy area and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Piney Creek while we ate.  After lunch, it was time to get back on the trail.  We headed back south of the car about half way around the bend to where our waterfall creek flows into Piney Creek and turned left (east) off the road.  The GPS coordinates for this turn off of FR-1002 are also listed above.  

Deer Trail Falls
We followed the creek on the left side, keeping close to the creek.  This is not that steep a climb, and is only about a tenth of a mile upstream to Deer Trail Falls.  This is a 55 foot waterfall that starts with a short cascade at the top, then flows out over a huge overhang.  The overhang extends around the whole grotto the waterfall flows into, making a very large shelter cave.  There is a trail running through this cave behind the waterfall with bazillions of deer tracks.  Now you know why they named this Deer Trail Falls.

After leaving Deer Trail Falls, it was time to load up in the Explorer and head back to Rock Creek.  There is a plethora of interesting things to see here.  Virtually every creek has a nice waterfall where it goes over one of the two major blufflines.  There are caves, picturesque canyons, huge boulders the size of a barn, and just all around beautiful scenery.  The ATV trail we took to get to Big Buck Falls continues on the bench between the two big blufflines for a couple of miles, all the way back above Rock Creek.  Vic's Hidden Falls is a 33 foot waterfall on the same creek as Rock Creek Bluff Falls, and this ATV trail will take you around so you can get to it.  You can easily spend three or four days exploring the area.  But today we had dawdled too much and needed to head back if we were going to have time to visit Rock Creek Bluff Falls.

Rock Creek Bluff Falls
We drove back to Rock Creek, going painfully slow by necessity but enjoying the scenery along Piney Creek.  After fording Rock Creek again and parking at the camp area along the south side of the creek, we headed back over the creek.  I even managed to keep my socks dry by a significant display of balance while rock hopping!  It occurred to me AFTER we had forded the creek again that maybe we should have parked on the north side of the creek until after hiking to Rock Creek Bluff Falls. At any rate, I didn't want to tempt fate by fording it two more times.

Going back north on the FR-1002 road, look for an ATV road going uphill to the right, about 200 yards from the creek.  Take this ATV trail up, and it goes to the right on the bench below the first bluffline and above Rock Creek.  It swings back to the left above Rock Creek directly across from where we parked.  Take the ATV trail until it turns to the right and goes downhill to Rock Creek.  Where it turns right, you turn left and go directly back toward the bluffline, just a couple hundred feet.   You can see the waterfall to the right, and there is a trail along the base of the bluff to take you down to the base of the Rock Creek Bluff Falls.  This is another really pretty waterfall, 47 feet high, that flows out over a very large overhang into the pool below.

Shelter Cave in Rock Creek Bluffline
The hike to Rock Creek Bluff Falls is only a half mile from the FR-1002 road, and I would have to call it an easy hike.  There is only a very short bushwhack from the ATV trail, and it is a pretty easy one.  On the return hike, we took a little more difficult route along the base of the bluffline.  There is a trail of sorts here, and it is moderately easy hiking most of the way.  This is a huge, scenic bluff and has a couple of large shelter type caves along the way.  After the second cave, there is a section of forest below with primarily large pines and no undergrowth to speak of.  You can bushwhack back to the ATV trail anytime before the bluffline bends back to the north, but that is as good a place as any.  Once back on the ATV trail, we continued back to the road and back to where we parked by Rock Creek.  

House Sized Boulders along Rock Creek
This part of Rock Creek is a nice area to explore as well.  The ATV trail we were on to get to Rock Creek Bluff Falls continues on for over a mile and will take you to even more feeder creeks and waterfalls.  Just upstream of the flat area where you can camp, Rock Creek seems to just disappear for a hundred feet or so.  It goes back into some kind of cave system and comes out in a large pool right next to the camping spot. 

Highway 123 Falls
All in all, another great day out in the wilderness with my beautiful wife and our faithful canine hiking buddy.  You can't really ask for anything more in a very enjoyable day.  But we did a little more anyway.  We headed back home west over the bridge on Route #3 so we wouldn't have to ford Hurricane Creek.  This takes us back to Highway 123 only three miles from Highway 123 Falls, so we stopped by there as well since "we were right in the area and it's just off the highway".   That's one of my favorite excuses for stopping at waterfalls, along with "it's right on our way home and you can drive right up to it".  After visiting Highway 123 Falls, that was my excuse for stopping at Haw Creek Falls as well.  Those two were quick stops and always enjoyable, but it was getting late and we were getting hungry.  We left Haw Creek for home and dinner.  

1 comment:

  1. This is a great area. We went last spring after a LOT of rain so we had to come in from Deer and had to wade across Rock Creek (I wish now we would have driven, as it would have been fine in our Jeep Wrangler). We hiked the road -- it was a nice hike. Without the GPS we weren't able to find Big Buck Falls (I think we didn't go quite far enough on the ATV trail, and we did it last and it was in May so it was pretty muggy and we were pretty tired). WE'll have to head this way again -- thanks for the overview!