Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Magnolia, Woods Boys, and Stahle Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

2/3/2015 -  Magnolia Falls, Woods Boys Falls, Hadlock Cascade, and Stahle Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.86289,  -93.38516,  2135 ft
  Magnolia Falls:  35.86538,  -93.39840,  1949 ft
  Woods Boys Falls:  35.86560,  -93.39903,  1926 ft
  Hadlock Cascade:  35.86595,  -93.40022,  1856 ft
  Stahle Falls:  35.86542,  -93.40186,  1893 ft
  Branch left off old road toward Magnolia Falls:  35.86591,  -93.38792,  2146 ft
  Leave trail toward Magnolia Falls:  35.86651.  -93.39750,  1991 ft
  Bluff break below Woods Boys Falls:  35.86889,  -93.40049,  1943 ft


Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs off leash should be fine. A little of the terrain is very steep and rugged, and close to the top of tall cliffs.  If your dog can't be trusted off leash I would not recommend taking it.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes.  It is only a short distance off the paved highway.

GPS files (.gpx format) - maps of these tracks are at the bottom of this post:
  GPS track file for Stahle Falls to Woods Boys Falls to parking 

Magnolia Falls (26 ft) - with Boomer
Arkansas is still gripped by a most unusual drought.  When the year started, it started with a bang; on New Year's weekend, we got 4.5 inches of rain.  Since then, however, we have received almost nothing in the way of precipitation.  This past weekend, I had great expectations, but we got less than a half inch of rain.  Arrrrrgh.  Even as cool as it is, that is just not enough over the last month to create those full bodied waterfalls we like to visit.  

So today, since the waterfalls throughout the Ozarks would be a little less than roaring, I thought we would go to Magnolia Falls.  This is a little gem of a waterfall in a wilderness area south of Mossville.  While I didn't expect much from the four major waterfalls in the area, I knew they would still be well worth the trip.  And this is a beautiful area, with the open hiking and lack of undergrowth that I prefer.  Regardless of creek levels, this would be a great hike just for the beauty of the surrounding countryside.  So Boomer and I loaded up the Explorer and headed north.

Turn off Highway 21 here!
To get there, go north on Highway 21 just 1.8 miles from Edwards Junction (the intersection of Highways 16 and 21).  Turn left (west) on NC-9050 and go another 0.4 miles on this gravel road.  There will be an old trace road on the right, and a "Wilderness Access" sign on the left side of the road pointing toward it.  The sign has a lot of trees growing around it and is getting hard to see.  The NC-9050 road is widened on the right and you can just pull off and park there.  Even if there is room, I prefer to park off the road, so I pull into the old trace road and park in an area immediately off the NC-9050.  NOTE that NC-9050 is the new name, and the only road sign on Highway 21.  Most maps and GPS units will still have it as FR-1462 or CR-6, the old county road number.  IF you are coming from the other direction,  NC-9050 is 2.5 miles south of Mossville.

Trail head marker from when this trail was maintained
After parking, zero your GPS is you have one.  A GPS is not needed for this hike, but always helps.  Head down the old trace road.  The hike here is mostly on the level and easy hiking.  There are a few large trees that have fallen over the trail, but the trail either goes around them or they are easy enough to just step over.  You will soon pass the old bulletin board for the trail head;  keep on going straight down the trail.  You will cross a small creek that is actually the headwaters of the creek flowing over Magnolia Falls, Woods Boys Falls, and Hadlock Cascade.   You are now in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area, so please help keep the wilderness wild and beautiful.

Berm wall shortly after first turn
Shortly after crossing the small creek, you will come to a branch where the trace road continues ahead and curves to the left, and the well defined trail branches off to the right.  Bear right on the trail here.  This is a quarter mile from the parking location, and the coordinates for this branch are listed above.  There is a camping location with a fire pit just after this turn on the trail, and as it drops down the hill there is a stone berm along the right side of the trail.  Up on the hillside in the forest to the right is an old stone fence.  Some pioneer family spent a lot of time and back breaking labor making this fence.  It goes on for about a quarter of a mile, eventually blending into some massive rocks and neat hoodoo rock formations.

Stone fence - about a quarter mile long
About three quarters of a mile from the turn off the old trace road, you will come to a small creek.  If you have a GPS, this is at 0.93 miles total from the parking location.  From here, you have a couple of choices.  If you want to go to Magnolia Falls, this is where you leave the trail.  The coordinates for this turn are listed above at the top of this post.  If you want to go to the other three major waterfalls in this area first, stay on the trail and follow it around and down into the canyon below Woods Boys Falls.  My preference is the route I will describe here, which gives you a bit more of the fantastic scenery and cuts a little off the overall trip if you will be visiting all four waterfalls.

Rock Cairn pointing to Magnolia Falls
Boomer and I left the trail here and followed the creek downstream.  It is only a couple hundred yards from the old trace road trail down the creek to Magnolia Falls.  There is actually a fairly good trail along the right side of the little creek.  The trail will take you across the creek just before getting to Magnolia Falls.  The little feeder creek flows into the main creek right between Magnolia Falls and Woods Boys Falls.  There are paths leading to the top of Magnolia Falls and down into the grotto at its base.  Both are easily accessible.  We headed down into the grotto and set up for some photos.  This is a beautiful waterfall grotto.  Magnolia Falls is a fairly easy hike, and is so picturesque, it has become one of the more photographed waterfalls in the Arkansas Ozarks.  

Magnolia Falls Grotto
Every hike seems to have some little glitch, and this is where we had one today.  Most of my photos are taken with a wide angle 10-30 mm lens because in the Ozarks the lay of the land and the forest dictate that you have to shoot from fairly close quarters.  In this grotto, I had a field of view that was begging for a longer lens, so I swapped to my 30-110 mm lens.  Like a good little shutterbug, I put the caps on both ends of the lens when I took it off, then placed it next to me while I put the long lens on the camera body.  Unfortunately, Boomer feels the frequent need to stick his nose in and "help" me.  Also unfortunately, I had set the lens down next to the creek, and Boomer managed to kick it into the water.  I saved the lens from being washed downstream (and over Woods Boys Falls), but it was in the water for a few seconds.  Sure enough, when I tried it out, it seemed to work but was somewhat foggy from water vapor inside.  This was most definitely an "aw, crap!" moment.  The rest of the day I was restricted to those shots that I could capture with the longer lens (which was very, very few) and shots I took with my phone's camera.

Bluff south of Woods Boys Falls
At any rate, the real joy of hiking in the beautiful natural state is the hiking, not the photo taking.  Boomer and I weren't going to let a little camera lens ruin the rest of our day, so we continued on.  Most Arkansas waterfalls are fairly easy to access the top of the waterfall.  Typically, the base will be below a significant bluff line.  What we call a 'bluff' in Arkansas is what most other places call a sheer cliff.  Unfortunately, this area is very typical Arkansas in that regard.  The top of Woods Boys Falls is just a few yards downstream from where the pool below Magnolia Falls runs back into the main creek.  The water flows over a 33 foot high ledge there, and the bluff on each side actually falls off even further.

The top of Stahle Falls is likewise just a short distance away.  You can get back on the path to the top of Magnolia Falls and cross the creek, then follow the top of the bluff downstream to where a creek flows in from the left and spills over Stahle Falls.  However, the view from the top of a waterfall is not all that impressive.  To get the full impact of these works of nature's beauty, you must find a way to the base of the waterfall.  In this case, that means going quite a bit downstream to a break in the bluffline.

Magnolia Falls Grotto
Remember that earlier we discussed one way of going to the base of the other three waterfalls was simply going straight on the trail instead of leaving the trail at the small creek and following it down to Magnolia Falls.  In Tim Ernst's excellent book, Arkansas Waterfalls, he has you go back up the creek to the trail and continue on.  That's one way, but another is to just follow the top of the bluffline downstream, staying on that north side of the creek.  That is the route Boomer and I took after leaving Magnolia Falls.  Be careful if you go this route, as the path sometimes goes close to the edge of the cliff and in wet times can be slippery.  This bluff in a sheer cliff dropping off 50 to 90 feet, so if you slip over the edge it will  not end well.  If you have smaller children, I would not recommend it.  That being said, I have a deathly fear of heights and I was OK going this route.

Old road at break in bluffline
The route along the top of the bluff has a trail of sorts most of the way, and the scenery is terrific along this path.  You will pass a couple of points (at 35.86837, -93.40124 and 35.86859, -93.40125) that you could possibly climb down if you don't mind drops of three or four feet at a time.  Don't bother.  The break in the bluffline you really want is not much further down the canyon.  Where that trail on the old trace road wraps around and comes back to the bluffline, it cuts straight back down the bluffline with a path the width of the old trace road.  In fact, it looks as if this was a road cut through the face of the bluff, but it is all natural.  The coordinates for this bluffline break are listed at the top of this blog post.

Trace road cutting back across bluff face
After getting to the base of the bluffline, the trace road takes a turn to the right and disappears as it goes downhill and downstream.  You might be thinking "aha! a way down to creek level".  Don't do that.  Remember, the Woods Boys Falls is below this first bluffline.  As we traveled almost a half mile downstream along the top of the bluff, the creek below was going steeply downward, cutting through more blufflines.  If you go down to the creek level here, you will spend the day getting a great cardio workout but not getting anywhere close to the waterfalls you want.  If you look at the 3D map of the area and our GPS track at the bottom of this post, you can see that although we are at the bottom of the cliff that rims this canyon, the creek bed is still far, far, below you.

Cave on route to Woods Boys Falls
Instead, turn left off the trail and stick as close as you can to the base of the bluffline.  The hiking back upstream along the base of the bluff is mostly open and easy hiking.  You have to climb around a rock here and there, but for the most part it is not difficult hiking at all.  Along the way back upstream along the base of the bluff, there is a small cave at 35.86822, -93.40135.  There are a couple of flat stone slabs at the mouth of the cave that make it appear as if it were used as a food stash at one time, with the slabs used to seal the cave off from animals. 

Woods Boys Falls (33 ft)
The hike along the base of the bluff is spectacular, and before you know it, you arrive at the base of Woods Boys Falls.  Today, this waterfall did not have a lot of flow, but was spectacular nonetheless.  The nighttime temperatures here have been dropping into the low teens and despite the sunshine and relatively warm (40s) temperatures today, the grotto was rimmed with huge icicles.  Outside of my well acknowledged fear of heights, there aren't a whole lot of things that worry me.  I did, however, see an episode of Monk many years ago in which the murder weapon was an icicle.  Ever since then, I have looked at these large icicles, some 20 to 30 feet long, and thought "that would really hurt if one of those broke off and fell on me".  As Boomer and I moved under the ledge adjacent to the waterfall, what do you think happened?  Yup, one of those huge icicles broke free and crashed into the rocks not ten feet from us.  As we moved around the canyon on this afternoon, we heard the crack of other icicles breaking free and falling.

From Woods Boys Falls I find it preferable to go to Stahle Falls, and then to visit Hadlock Cascade on the return trip since you will be going out that way anyway.  In Tim's book, he says to simply "...follow the base of the bluff to the right...".  From the other side of the creek, where you approached Woods Boys Falls from, you look across the canyon at the base of that bluff and say "Nope.  Not gonna happen".  It looks like the base of the bluff immediately drops off at an impossibly steep pitch down into the creek and is just impassable.  But as always, Mr. Ernst is correct.  You will need to cross the creek as close as possible to Woods Boys Falls, where it is not so steep.  Then when you get over to the base of the bluff on the other side you will find a narrow shelf and fairly easy hiking right along the base of the cliff.  Once you get around the corner of the bluff, the shelf widens out to more of a bench at the bottom of the bluff cliff and is even easier hiking.

Stahle Falls (63 ft)
Stahle Falls is about 0.2 miles around the bluff from Woods Boys Falls.  Unlike the other three major waterfalls in this area, it is not on the main creek in this hollow.  Stahle Falls is the tallest waterfall of the lot at 63 feet, but the tributary creek it was on did not have enough flow today to really do it justice.  With the steep canyon bluffs here, it was mostly shaded and had a good deal of the large icicles and ice formations everywhere.  Just downstream of Stahle Falls was a very steep and long cascade that looked fantastic with the ice build up on all sides.  Below the cascade was another small waterfall that was frozen entirely today.  We spent a little time exploring this steep and rugged drainage, then headed back the way we came.

The Hadlock Cascade is more of a waterfall than a cascade, especially in high flow times.  That's the name Tim Ernst gave it, so cascade it is.  David Hadlock Cascade is on the same creek as Magnolia Falls and Woods Boys Falls, only about a hundred yards downstream of Woods Boys Falls.  If you stay on the north side of the creek, you can get below it by scrambling down a steep incline.   Of course, you then have to scramble back up that steep slope to get back to the base of the top bluffline, then continue on back downstream along the base of the bluff, retracing your steps to get back out of this canyon.

Cascade below Stahle Falls
After hiking back down the canyon along the base of the bluff, we ascended back up above the bluff on the old trace road.  From Stahle Falls, it is 0.59 miles around the base of the bluff to where the trace road cuts through the break in the bluffline.  This time, however, we stayed on that trail all the way back.  At the point where you turn off the trail to go to Magnolia Falls, it is 0.8 miles back to the base of Stahle Falls.  Once you get back above the bluffline, there is little in the way of elevation changes, so the hike back is a very pleasant hike through some top notch scenery.  On the way back by the long stone wall, Boomer flushed a couple of wild turkeys.  One flew off at a tangent, and the other flew right in front of me along the trail.  Unlike those unfortunate domestic turkeys Dr. Johnny Fever sent to an untimely end, wild turkeys can fly quite well.  It's a spectacular sight, and I only wish I had my camera ready.  Well, OK - I wish I had my camera ready and my short lens wasn't kaput.

Magnolia Falls (26 ft)
Boomer did try to drown one of my expensive camera lenses, but that's not much of a downside at all.  Hopefully we can fix that with a little down time in a bag of silica desiccant.  He was, after all, only trying to help.  He earns a little slack by finding the best trails for me and protecting me from bears, snakes, and other undesirables.  Not to mention squirrels, deer, and turkeys.  I'm sure in his mind, they all pose the same threat to 'his people'.  

This was a great day to be out enjoying some of the best scenery on the face of the globe.  As usual, I was the only human presence within several miles.  The beauty and serenity of areas like this cannot be overstated, nor can they be adequately described in a written forum such as this.  Can't wait for some rain to fill up the creeks and waterfalls, and can't wait to get out into some of God's best work once again.

GPS track - 3D Map of Stahle Falls to Parking Location
(bypassing Magnolia Falls)
GPS 2D track - Parking to Magnolia Falls to Woods Boys Falls

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