Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rock Creek Bluffs Waterfalls and Caves

3/30/2015 -  Rock Creek Bluffs Waterfalls and Caves

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking at Piney Creek bridge:  35.73287, -93.27262,  803 ft.
  Parking for Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74200, -93.27243,  851 ft.
  Leave Road for Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74372, -93.27492,  1032 ft.
  Leave ATV trail for Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74599, -93.26842,  979 ft.
  Rock Creek Bluff Falls:  35.74699, -93.26805,  1013 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.74575, -93.26352,  1027 ft. 
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.74579,  -93.26196  1051 ft.
  Ava Jane Falls access:  35.74560,  -93.25053,  1085 ft.
  Ava Jane Falls:  35.745469,  -93.25000,  1032 ft.
  Rock Creek Upper Falls:  35.74703,  -93.24962,  1072 ft.
  Slot Canyon Entrance:  35.74822,  -93.26029,  1347 ft.
  Slot Canyon Falls:  35.74886,  -93.26039,  1412 ft.
  Rock Creek Cave:  35.74829,  -93.26096,  1328 ft,
  Unnamed Falls #3:  35.74873,  -93.26351.  1339 ft.
  Fissure Falls:  35.75072,  -93.26571,  1290 ft.
  Vic's Hidden Falls (aka Cut Off Falls):  35.74761,  -93.26789,  1074 ft.
  Leave ATV trail for Vic's Hidden Falls:  35.74817,  -93,26763,  1106 ft.
  Leave ATV trail for Fissure Falls:  35.74723,  -93.26986,  1198 ft.
  Lower Bluffline north break:  35.75146,  -93.27362,  1006 ft.

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

Motorcycle Friendly: Not hardly.  This road is horrible.  Let's just leave it at a big fat no.

Rock Creek Bluff Falls (47 ft)
My friend Dan Frew was wanting to check out some areas around Rock Creek that he had previously scouted by ATV, and I was wanting to go waterfall chasing pretty much anywhere, so we took off early this morning for the Rock Creek area.  Today, we were not going to visit the 'standard' waterfalls in the area, i.e. those in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook.  If you want directions and GPS coordinates for Big Buck Falls, Big Doe Falls, and Deer Trail Falls, take a look at my blog post from last year for this area.

Slot Canyon
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 a lot of rivers, fascinating blufflines, even a slot canyon, natural bridges, and some really bizarre rocks and rock formations.  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.

You get into this area (what I call the entry point) by 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 this route was closed by a landslide in 2011.  I have been told it is now open and can be done if you have a good enough 4X4, but is still somewhat iffy.  So I'm not recommending this route until I get some firsthand experience.   Therefore, we'll just look at how you can get to the entry point.

There are at least three ways I know of to get here.  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 roads 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.  

Entrance to Slot Canyon
To get to this entry 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.

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.  It's generally about 50 feet of creek you have to ford.  If the water is high and you are not familiar with this ford, don't take any chances and go route #3.  It is only 2.8 miles longer.

Monolith Rock- upper bluffline
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.  This is the route we took both into and out of the area today, so Dan's Jeep got it's annual car wash out of the way early this year.

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).  

Unnamed Falls #1
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.  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. There are waterfalls all along both blufflines, and some in between.  Rock Creek itself also has a couple of waterfalls a couple of miles from where it crosses FR-1002.

Watchtower Rock
on upper bluffline
As we arrived at the Rock Creek area entry point, we drove in and forded Rock Creek, then parked on the right.  Both Dan and I had already hiked along the lower sandstone bluffline to Rock Creek Bluff Falls, so we went up to the ATV trail and started hiking directly toward it.  This ATV trail runs all along the bench below the lower bluff, and another ATV trail runs in the middle of the big bench between the lower and upper sandstone bluffs.  It provides easy hiking, but you will miss all the spectacular sights and water features to be seen along both of these bluffs.   The lower ATV trail comes down to the road about 200 yards north of Rock Creek.  The upper ATV trail between the upper and lower blufflines comes down to the road at (35.75664, -93.27583), about a mile north of the Rock Creek ford.

We hiked the lower ATV trail up to Rock Creek Bluff Falls, a beautiful 47 foot waterfall spilling off the lower bluffline.  If this sounds like a lot more water than it appears to have, that's because it gets a little additional roar from Vic's Hidden Falls, which is directly above it, less than 100 yards away at the end of a narrow, very boxed in canyon.  We will be getting to Vic's later in the hike.

Unnamed Falls #2
From Rock Creek Shelter Falls, we started hiking along the lower bluffline.  There are a number of shelter caves, a small enclosed cave that someone used to camp in at one point, and a couple of nice smaller unnamed waterfalls.  The water from recent rains was starting to ebb away, but there was still enough flow in the waterfalls to make them pretty.  For a real treat, come to this area after a good rain.  There will be healthy, beautiful waterfalls and spouts wherever a drainage flows over the bluffline, and there are quite a few.  

Small cave along lower bluffline
We continued all the way down the lower bluffline past the point where the ATV trail from above, between the two blufflines, came down around the lower bluff.  It is possible to ride an ATV from the top all the way around to the lower ATV trail, but there is a section on the lower trail that is not passable.  So if you come around that way, be prepared to go all the way back around the way you came.  For hikers, there's no problem.  Especially if you are hiking the scenic route as we did, and bushwhack along the blufflines.  

Rock Creek Upper Falls
We left the bluffline and continued on upstream along Rock Creek.  It is easier hiking if you stay a little higher above the creek to avoid rock scrambles and undergrowth.  After two miles of hiking from where we parked, we came to Ava Jane Falls.  There is a bear crack providing access to the base of the lower falls only a hundred feet downstream of the waterfall.  After leaving Ava Jane Falls and proceeding upstream, you will find Rock Creek Upper Falls just another 200 yards upstream.  This one is much more scenic than the lower falls, and you can cross upstream for an even better vantage point.

Ava Jane Falls
I'm usually pretty good at doing my homework before setting out for a hike like this bushwhack.  Unfortunately, I did not do so last night and we missed a really nice waterfall because of it.  About a quarter mile downstream of Ava Jane Falls there is a tributary coming in from the other side of the creek.  If you can cross Rock Creek and go up this drainage, in about a hundred yards you come to Johnny Trails Falls (35.74350,  -93.25310).  But I was lazy and didn't look at the maps beforehand, so this was a nice one we missed on this trip.  Next time I'll visit it for sure.

Howling Wolf Rock - lower bluffline
From Rock Creek Upper Falls, we hiked up toward the base of the upper bluffline.  One good thing about going this far upstream on Rock Creek to start the climb up is that the slope is much gentler at this point.  It is still a climb of about 300 feet, but spread out enough that even old geezers like me won't have to breathe too hard getting up to the upper bluffline.  

Inside entrance to Slot Canyon.
I am 6'3" tall for scaling of how huge this is.
Photo by Dan
Once you get to the upper bluffline - wow.  The bluff face and rock formations along the lower bluffline are cool.  But the upper bluffline is something north of spectacular.  Whatever you fancy, it's probably here.  Massive monoliths, weird hoo-doo rocks, narrow slot canyons, waterfalls, and caves.  I have thrown a few photos of rock formations into this blog post, but we easily could have spent all day photographing rock formations every few yards.  

Slot Canyon Falls at upper end of Slot Canyon
Just a trickle today
We went through a natural bridge, marveled at the rock formations, and soon came to an amazing place, Slot Canyon.  The entrance is on either side of a huge rock wedged into the mouth of a narrow slot canyon coming out of the bluff face.  Be sure to go up into this area instead of passing by.  Inside, the canyon first opens up wider, then narrows down to a narrow slot that reminds me of the Virgin River in Zion National Park.  The only way up is walking up the narrow creek bed bottom.  Today, there was enough flow to cover the bottom of the slot canyon, making just a long water slide out of Slot Canyon Falls up at the head of the canyon.  I must come back and see this after a good rain;  I'll bet it is fantastic.

Rock Creek Cave - entrance
After leaving Slot Canyon and resuming our hike along the base of the upper bluffline, we came to Rock Creek Cave just a couple hundred feet further west.  This is a 'real' cave, not the shelter type cave you see along many of the sandstone bluffs.  There was what appeared to be an animal trail up into the cave, so I was a little wary of what we might find.  But the cave was completely empty, and was actually quite roomy.  No bats, no bears, no cougars.  This time.

Between Rock Creek Cave and the drainage feeding Vic's Hidden Falls, there was another drainage to cross.  Sure enough, we found Unnamed Falls #3 where this drainage spills over the upper bluffline.  Continuing west along the upper bluffline, there are many more cool rock formations, and then you come to the drainage that feeds Rock Creek Bluff Falls and Vic's Hidden Falls.  This drainage supports a number of water features and should be hiked its full length between the major blufflines.

Fissure Falls
If you stick fairly close to the base of the bluff, you will eliminate the constant climbs into and out of every drainage you cross.  Staying on the base of the bluffline, you will find Fissure Falls where this drainage comes over the upper bluffline in a slot carved by the water over the eons.  There is a large tree trunk right in the slot of the waterfall now, apparently washed over from somewhere up above.  I was a little confused as to how it got it's name, but John Moore, who named it, tells me it is because you can see it while standing inside a fissure.

Small waterfalls downstream from Fissure Falls
Downstream of Fissure Falls, the drainage falls away from the upper bluffline very steeply.  There is a section of the creek below Fissure Falls that has a number of smaller falls and cascades, one after another.  This is another of those water features that was pretty nice today, but probably extraordinary after a good rain.  We hiked this drainage all the way down to Vic's Hidden Falls, which is just a couple of hundred feet from the edge of the lower bluff.  You might also see this waterfall called "Cut Off Falls".

Vic's Hidden Falls (aka Cut Off Falls)
Vic's Hidden Falls isn't "hidden" from view; you can see it just fine from above the narrow grotto it flows into, you just can't see it from the base of the waterfall.  We searched along the short, narrow canyon on both sides from the top of the waterfall to where it flows over Rock Creek Bluff Falls, and could not find a way to safely climb down.   As a former sailor, I never thought I would need a Jacob's Ladder ever again.  And yet, we sure could have used it today.

Hiking through a natural bridge
There was a rope, probably left by some rock climbers, tied off to a tree and hanging down into the canyon.  It was about a 20 foot drop at that point, and I'm not real good at climbing a rope, so I was tempted but decided not to try it.  Dan declined as well.  It's great to have a hiking companion to help out, but I don't think either one of us could dead lift the other straight up out of the canyon.  Hmmm.   'Dead lift' actually doesn't sound very encouraging at all.  I have never seen a photo of this waterfall from the base, so if anyone reading this has taken that plunge, please send me a copy of your very rare photo.

Inside entrance of Slot Canyon
Looking toward entrance
After leaving Vic's Hidden Falls, we hiked back upstream a short distance to where the upper ATV trail crossed the creek and headed west.  If you are coming into this area from the other direction, you will want to leave this trail at the top of the ridge before heading down into this drainage.  Going left and hiking up the ridge to Fissure Falls first will save you a lot of uphill hiking.

There are actually more waterfalls and beautiful bluffline further west along the upper bluffline, as well as Big Buck Falls, Big Doe Falls, and Deer Trail Falls toward the west end of this massive bluffline.  However, we were already many miles into a bushwhacking adventure and we still had a few places we wanted to stop and check out on the way home.   So we decided to find the first available bluffline break and head on back to the parking location.  

We left the ATV trail and hiked along the top of the lower bluffline for close to a mile, much further than I thought we would have to.  Along the way, of course, you never know what you will find and we did see a couple of nice waterfalls in small drainages.  We did eventually find a narrow bear crack allowing access down through the lower bluffline.  The coordinates for this access point are listed at the top of this post as "lower bluffline north break".  From this bear crack, we hiked down the fairly gentle slope to the road, and then back south on the road to where we parked.  

Cougar Cave - upper bluffline
Taking this bluffline break put us less than a half mile from Deer Trail Falls, and about the same distance above the bluffline to Big Buck Falls and Big Doe Falls.  You have to know when to quit for the day, but if you have never seen these waterfalls, they are definitely worth a little extra hiking.  If that sounds interesting, see details and directions at this link.  As it was, we ended up hiking right at 7.5 miles round trip.  It doesn't seem like that great a distance, but when bushwhacking almost the entire way and doing a lot of climbing and descending in between, it will start to wear on you.  

We both were still not all that worn out, but we did have some waterfalls and other short hikes along Indian Creek Road ahead of us, so we loaded up in Dan's Jeep and left the way we came in.   This area never disappoints; if you have never been here, you are missing out on one of the best hiking areas in the Arkansas Ozarks.  And that's saying a lot!  
2D GPS Track - Rock Creek Blufflines

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cub Hollow Polyfoss Area, Arkansas Ozarks

3/21/2015 - Cub Hollow Polyfoss - Many, many waterfalls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking: 35.80240, -93.12701
  Fuzzy Cub Falls: 35.80241, -93.13214,  1695 ft
  Pappa Cub Falls: 35.80505, -93.13346,  1664 ft
  Baby Cub Falls: 35.80384, -93.13317,  1668 ft
  Twin Cub Falls: 35.80368, -93.13541,  1702 ft
  Roly-Poly Cub Falls: 35.79823, -93.13654,  1396 ft
  Momma Cub Falls: 35.79363, -93.13011, 1657 ft
  Harper Falls:  35.80359,  -93.13402,  1578 ft
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.80020,  -93.13421,  1476 ft
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.79962,  -93.13456,  1443 ft
  Bluffline break below Boomer's Cub Falls:  35.79869,  -93.13482,  1483 ft
  Boomer's Cub Falls:  35.79955,  -93.13437,  1443 ft
  Unnamed Falls #3:  35.79275,  -93.13495,  1329 ft
  Bluffline break w/ stone step-up:  35.79401,  -93.13045,  1656 ft

Pet friendly: Iffy.  OK for pets off leash, pets on leash would be extremely difficult due to the amount of undergrowth and rough terrain.  Boomer had some difficulty making some of the climbs and drops I did.  I also had to find a new break through the bluffline west of Momma Cub Falls as he could not make it up the step-up.

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

GPS files (.gpx format) - Map with this track is at bottom of this post:
  Cub Hollow GPS Track

Twin Cub Falls - with Boomer, the Mountain Dog
Cub Hollow is a neat little valley tucked away in the Ozark National Forest that is a polyfoss area.  That is, there are a number of waterfalls in a relatively small area.  Some of the waterfalls are fairly high, thanks to the steep and rough terrain. This is an area I had wanted to come back to when water levels were higher, so Boomer and I loaded up and headed north to see it.  

Cub Hollow Parking
To get there, take Highway 7 to the parking location between Lurton and Cowell.  The hollow is directly adjacent to Hwy 7, and there is a good place to park near a bus stop sign 3.8 miles south of Cowell or 7.2 miles north of Pelsor/Sand Gap.  Since you need to make a wide loop to see all the falls in this hollow, you could park anywhere within a quarter mile of this location, but here you have plenty of room off the highway and an old 4-wheeler track that can help you the last quarter mile of the hike.

In Tim Ernst's book, Arkansas Waterfalls, there are some spectacular photos of some of the larger waterfalls in this hollow.  The big ones are all on tributary creeks, not the main creek in Cub Hollow.  Therefore, it is always best to see these in really wet weather conditions, after some significant rain.  We had some of that 'significant' rain a week ago, and the creeks were still running well.  The large waterfalls on the smaller side creeks no doubt looked much better last weekend, but today they were still nice.

Cub Hollow Creek
The main creek in the hollow, which I'll refer to as Cub Hollow Creek, was just about right for the plethora of smaller waterfalls on the main creek.  Regardless of water flow, this is still a raw, beautiful chunk of Arkansas Ozarks, and Cub Hollow Creek is as wild and rough as they come.  A little bit too rough and rugged in some areas, it seems.  Some of the new waterfalls I'll document this trip are extremely difficult to get to.  For point of clarity, it should be noted that Cub Creek actually is in the drainage to the west of Cub Hollow, and junctures with Cub Hollow Creek at (35.79418, -93.13760).  Cub Creek is in the hollow between Cub Hollow and Lonesome Hollow, another of my favorite waterfall areas you can check out here.

Boomer's Cub Falls
After parking, the first fall in the loop is Fuzzy Cub Falls.  It's creek drainage is directly below the parking area.  You can go directly west of the parking area to go down this drainage to the waterfall, but it is extremely steep next to the parking spot, and this will land you in some very thick and brushy undergrowth.  You are better off going further north along Highway 7 for about 60 to 70 yards, then turning west away from the highway.  Stay above the drainage containing Fuzzy Cub Falls, on the right as you are heading downstream.  This will be much easier going than dropping to creek level immediately.  When you are adjacent to Fuzzy Cub Falls, about 0.4 miles from the highway, drop down to creek level at the top of Fuzzy Cub Falls.   

Pappa Cub Falls
You will need to find a way below the bluffline to the base of Fuzzy Cub Falls.  On previous trips, I have climbed down the rock wall to the left of the falls (looking downstream).  This may not work well for those more vertically challenged or unwilling to chance a short fall.  And if you have a dog with you, as I did today, that just isn't going to work.  There are other gaps in the bluffline on the right (north) side.  From the top of Fuzzy Cub Falls, go along the small bench or ledge to the right and in just a few yards you will find a break allowing access to the base of the waterfall.  Today, it had enough flow to be pretty, but probably looked great a week ago. We were just a little too late in the timing of this trip.

Baby Cub Falls
From Fuzzy Cub Falls, follow the base of this bluffline to the north and you will come to the overhang that the 48' high Pappa Cub Falls runs over.  This waterfall is also on a feeder creek and runs into Cub Hollow Creek right at the falls.  If you look upstream from here, you can see Baby Cub Falls.  This is one of the  waterfalls actually on Cub Hollow Creek itself. Ironically, although it is named 'Baby Cub' and is not very tall, it always seems to have significant water flow and in my opinion is one of the prettier waterfalls in this polyfoss.

Twin Cub Falls
From Baby Cub Falls, stay on the west side of the creek and follow the bluffline downstream (with the bluff to your right) to where the next tributary feeds in from the west.  Follow this creek up to almost the top of the bluffline, and that is where you will find Twin Cub Falls, a double falls that runs down the rock face at the top of the bluffline.  This is a steep creek, with cascades running the length from the falls to where it feeds into Cub Hollow Creek.  I also found a small cave about halfway up to Twin Cub Falls.  And no, there was still no hibernating bear.  We saw signs of bear in the area, but no actual bears.

Harper Falls
From Twin Falls, pick your way down the creek to Cub Hollow Creek.  See that huge boulder on the left side of this creek?  Go to the left of it, then down to the juncture of this creek with Cub Hollow Creek.  Make your way back upstream on Cub Hollow Creek about 200 feet and you will find a pretty little waterfall tucked into a grotto made of huge boulders.  This was the first time I had found this beautiful waterfall. I named it Harper Falls after our latest addition to the Henry clan, my nephew and niece's daughter, Harper Renee Henry.  

Unnamed Falls #1
From Harper Falls, Boomer and I followed Cub Hollow Creek downstream.  This is fairly rough terrain, and you just have to pick your way down the rocks as best you can.  Cub Hollow Creek is a beautiful little Ozark creek, and worth the hike in itself.  It is about a half mile from Baby Cub Falls to Roly-Poly Cub Falls. In that stretch of creek, there are numerous small waterfalls in the six to twelve foot range, and a host of cascades and cool water features.  But it is so rough going that the very few hikers that even venture into this area generally stay high above the creek on their way downstream.  There are just too many spots with dead ends and sheer drops, requiring you to go back up very high on the creek bluff to proceed downstream.

Unnamed Falls #2
Today, Boomer and I were intent on exploring the creek from end to end.  In the process, we found a number of really nice smaller waterfalls.  Some of these are more picturesque than the taller ones.  In addition, there are a lot of umbrella magnolias along the creek.  When they are in bloom, this must look a little like paradise.  I have listed GPS coordinates for the best of these waterfalls above, and you can see where they are in the valley on the map at the bottom of this post.  Unnamed Falls #1 is about a quarter mile downstream from Harper Falls.  We were able to pick our way down to most of these cool water features without having to climb all the way back up the creek bluff wall, but got to a dead end at Unnamed Falls #2.  From there, I could see the top of another previously unnamed waterfall that I'm now calling Boomer's Cub Falls, but there was no way down on either side.  To actually get to the Unnamed Falls #2, you need to be on the left side of the creek.  To get below it to Boomer's Cub Falls, you will need to climb up to the top of the bluff on either side to go downstream, then come back upstream at creek level to get to the base of Boomer's Cub Falls.

Below Boomer's Cub Falls
We had to climb all the way above the bluffline from Unnamed Falls #2, and going downstream high on the left side of the creek we came to a side drainage.  I really wanted to go back upstream and check out this new find, so I was probably a bit more careless than I should have been.  We picked our way down this side creek bed to a point where there was about a 12 foot drop at a steep angle on a rock slab.  I ended up sliding down a little roughly (OK, a lot roughly).  Boomer looked down and said "Nope, ain't going to happen".  

Boomer's Cub Falls
Now, Boomer is a German Shepherd.  He is extremely loyal, well trained, and intelligent.  He did what he should do; keep trying to find a way to get back to me.  The intelligent part is what kept him from taking the same route down that I took.  He went all the way back up to the top of the bluff and kept looking.  In the meantime, I went downstream until I could see a slope that didn't have sheer drop offs and wan't all that awful slope-wise all the way up the bluffline.  I finally found a spot (GPS coordinates above) that looked OK from either side of the creek.  After calling Boomer he was able to home in and find the way down.  Whew.  And that's why I'm calling it Boomer's Cub Falls.

We went back upstream to the base of Boomer's Cub Falls, and I'll have to say it was worth all the hassle to get to it.  This is a beautiful waterfall with water sliding off a rock lip and falling about 10 feet to one side of the creek bed, then tumbling on downstream from there.  You can see Unnamed Falls #2 right above it.  After snapping some photos at Boomer's Cub Falls and taking a break, we hydrated before heading downstream.  The water in these creeks is crystal clear and the best tasting water you will find anywhere.

Momma Cub Falls
Continuing on downstream, there are not any more significant falls until you get to Roly-Poly Cub Falls.  The next feeder creek feeding in from the west is where 47' high Roly-Poly Cub Falls is, just above where it feeds into Cub Hollow Creek.  There was more water flow than I have seen on this waterfall before, but again, this was probably in prime form a week ago.  Leaving Roly-Poly Cub Falls, we headed back to the juncture with Cub Hollow Creek and continued downstream.  The creek starts to flatten out a little here and run with a little more shoulder to hike on each side.  

As rugged as this terrain, you sometimes see traces of pioneer life from a century or more ago.  At the juncture with Cub Creek on the the left, look behind the small waterfall where Cub Creek runs into Cub Hollow Creek and you will see the remnants of an old stone wall.  Settlers in the early 1800's used what they had on hand, and what they had here was a lot of rocks.  You see rock walls built as fences back in some of the most remote wilderness in the Ozarks.

Unnamed Falls #3
From Roly-Poly Cub Falls, go another half mile downstream to where the next creek feeds in from the east.  Follow this feeder creek upstream, and you will come to a nice waterfall a short distance upstream, Unnamed Falls #3.  This creek is also fairly steep and rough, a virtual rock scramble all the way up.  It has numerous nice cascades and small waterfalls.  It's a steep enough climb, and mostly rock hopping, so it will wear you out.  But it is a beautiful creek, cascading and tumbling down the mountain.  About 0.4 miles up this feeder creek, you will come to Momma Cub Falls, the last on our big loop.  This 39' high waterfall runs out over a large overhang.  It looked nice today, so it must have been spectacular with the flooding we had a week ago.

Momma Cub Falls - with Boomer
From Momma Cub Falls, bushwhack north-northeast back to the parking location.  To do this, you will need to get above the bluffline that forms Momma Cub Falls.  Follow the rock bluffline to the left of the falls, and it will take you up through a fissure.  At the top of the fissure is a rock against the bluff that gives just enough boost to let you climb above the bluffline.  From there it is just a bushwhack of about 0.6 miles back through the woods to the parking location.  Boomer couldn't make it up the stone step, so we looked for another break.  Just a few yards further down the bluffline, we found a pretty good access point that Boomer could climb right up.  This pet-friendly bluffline break is at (35.79423, -93.13012).
Boomer-friendly bluffline break

I would rate this a difficult bushwhack.  The terrain is rough and steep over most of the loop you hike, and where there isn't a rock scramble there is a lot of undergrowth to deal with.  If you explore down along the creek itself as we did today, you frequently have to climb back up on the bluff.  That repeated climbing will eventually take it's toll on even the most experienced hikers. Because of the undergrowth, I would recommend only hiking this in the Winter.  Also, to get the full scenic impact of the taller waterfalls in the side creeks, I would recommend going to Cub Hollow during very wet times.  
GPS Track - Cub Hollow

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Richland Waterfalls - Twin, Hamilton, Devon, Richland, Long Devil's (Jim Bob), Mystic, and Big Devil's Bluff Falls, Richland Wilderness Area, Arkansas Ozarks

3/16/2015 - Twin Falls, Devon Falls, Richland Falls, Hamilton Falls, Big Devil's Bluff Falls, Mystic Falls and Long Devil's Falls (aka Jim Bob Falls)

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking and Trail Head:  35.80737,  -92.93940,  1516 ft.
  Twin Falls: 35.80594, -92.96412,  1184 ft.
  Richland Falls: 35.80075, -92.96010,  1155 ft.
  Jim Bob (Long Devil's) Falls:  35.80804,  -92.96831,  1316 ft.
  Devon Falls:  35.81724,  -92.96145,  1435 ft.
  Don Hamilton Falls:  35.81199, -92.96375,  1320 ft.
  Big Devil's Bluff Falls:  35.81098,  -92.96294,  1322 ft.
  Mystic Falls:  35.80479,  -92.96518,  1275 ft.
  Mystic Cascades:  35.80519,  -92.96510,  1219 ft.
  Get onto trace road from FR-1205:  35.80864,  -92.94396,  1531 ft.
  Leave trace road to Hamilton Falls:  35.81261,  -92.96180,  1462 ft.
  Leave trace road to Twin Falls:  35.80931,  -92.95933,  1536 ft.
  Trail branch to top of Long Devil's Falls: 35.80555, -92.96223,  1185 ft.

Pet Friendly: Somewhat.  Free Roaming pets off leash, like Boomer should be good if they can do some climbing and scrambling.  I would not take pets that need to stay on leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough.  I would never take my Harley on it.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Map with these routes is at bottom of this post:
  GPS track file for Lower FR-1205 route to Twin Falls 
  GPS track file for Upper FR-1205 to Hamilton Falls to Twin Falls
  GPS track file for Twin Falls to Upper FR-1205

Twin Falls - 17 ft (L) and 19 ft (R)
Today, Dan Frew and I set out to see some of the most gorgeous waterfalls the Ozarks has to offer, those in the upper Richland Wilderness Area.   All of the waterfalls along Falling Water Falls are fairly easy to get to and are visited frequently by hikers.  The waterfalls in the Devil's Fork region are neither easy to get to nor visited frequently.  In fact, one of the nice waterfalls we saw today was a new find that I have not heard of nor seen documentation on before.  I have been to this area many times and managed to miss it every time.  It's easy to miss, and we were fortunate today to be forced to a route that took us by it.

Devon Falls (10 ft)
I have documented five routes into Twin Falls on previous posts.  The one we took today was my most recent route to document.  I had only been this way once, over a month ago.  On that trip, I wandered off of my intended route and only had a partial track.  Also, we only went to Twin Falls and not the other waterfalls upstream on Big Devil's Fork.  Today, I wanted to validate the route and get a good GPS track of the entire thing.

If you are curious about the other four routes into this majestic area, here's a quick review and links to the posts for detailed directions:
  3) Direct hike from FR-1205 (the "Upper FR-1205 Route")
  4) Hike down the spur from Sandstone Castle
  5) Direct hike from FR-1205 (the "Lower FR-1205 Route")
I will refer to the new route we took today as the "Lower FR-1205 Route" to differentiate it from (3) above, as both are direct routes from FR-1205.

Turn off Highway 123 here!
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 NC-5070 (aka FR-1200, CR-36, Herbie Hampton Rd, and Assembly of God Church Road). Take NC-5070 for 6.8 miles, then turn right on NC-5080 (aka FR-1205).  Go 6.5 miles on NC-5080 (FR-1205) and turn right into the parking location and trail head.  If you know where Dickey Junction is, this trail head is right at 2.1 miles south of Dickey Junction on FR-1205, or 4.9 miles past Iceledo Gap.  FR-1205 continues on to the Richland Campground (1.8 miles from the parking location) and Falling Water Road, but my experience is that the road from Lurton is usually in much better shape than coming in from the south.  There is a spot to pull in off the road here, and a campfire ring where folks have camped here in the past.

Hamilton Falls (12 ft)
From the parking location, go toward the creek about 10 yards from the parking spot and a faint volunteer trail goes off to the right (north), down a slope not quite as steep.  This trail comes down to the main creek in the drainage where another feeder creek comes in from your right.  There is a little four foot waterfall on this feeder creek just before the juncture with the drainage's main creek.  Cross the main creek here, and after crossing the creek, the volunteer trail goes up the other side of the drainage with a slope that is the least slope you will find up the side of the drainage here.

Once back above the creek, as the slope starts to level out, you will find an old trace road.  Believe it or not, this is the same road that wraps all the way around the mountain in this valley to the old road that eventually goes up to Hill Cemetery.  My last trip here, I left this trail too early and ended up in a bad rock scramble above Twin Falls.  I was intent on not doing that this time.  Also, our goal toady was to see all of the major waterfalls in this system.  That's a full day's work, and we did get an early start.

Unnamed Falls upstream of Devon Falls
We followed the old trace road all the way around the mountain, past where we would normally drop down to Twin Falls, past the point to drop down to Hamilton Falls.  The old trace road crosses a creek that normally has water flow; today it had a good deal of flow from all the recent rains.  This is the small creek that feeds Big Devil's Bluff Falls.  We continued on the trace road until we came to the larger creek feeding Devon Falls.   Devon Falls is only a few yards below where the old trace road crosses the creek.

Rock Ledge - hidden step
provides access to Devon Falls
Devon Falls is on the main creek in the drainage on the north side of the mountain that the old trace road wraps around.  It was named for a young boy with a very rare neurological condition known as Dravet's Syndrome.  He lived to be 13 years old, much longer than children with this condition normally do.    Although he could neither speak nor understand language, it was clear he loved being outdoors in nature.  This beautiful, lively, waterfall epitomizes his spirit.

Even though it is not that tall at about 12 feet, Devon Falls is a tricky one to access the base.  On the north side of the creek, the bluff goes almost back to Big Devil's Canyon.  On the south side of the creek, there is a spot about 15 yards downstream of the waterfall that has a rock ledge jutting out.  You can step (carefully) down onto this ledge, then you will be able to see a step cut into the rock next to the bluff face.  You can step (carefully) down on this and then down to the bottom of the bluff.  

Hamilton Falls
We left Devon Falls and headed back down the old trace road the way we had come in.  Approximately 0.4 miles back down the trace road, we turned right (west) off the trail and went straight downhill into Big Devil's Fork canyon to Hamilton Falls.  This one is named for Don Hamilton, an early advocate for the establishment of wilderness areas in Arkansas.  It is a beautiful 12 foot waterfall, spanning Big Devil's Fork.  There is a ledge on this side (the east side) jutting out in front of the waterfall that makes a great photographer's vantage point.  Just a few yards downstream from this vantage point, you can descend down to creek level and go right to the base of the waterfall.

Unnamed Falls upstream of Big Devil's Bluff Falls
From Hamilton Falls, I normally go right down the creek to Twin Falls.  But that generally involves crossing the creek a few times to find a passable route downstream.  Today, the water was too high for us to cross, so we climbed back above the bluffline to continue on downstream.  Remember that drainage we crossed on the way to Devon Falls?  Today it was flowing well, and it has a number of picturesque cascades and smaller waterfalls.  Where that creek spills out over the edge of the bluff over Big Devil's Fork, it forms a very nice, very tall, waterfall.  

Big Devil's Bluff Falls
I have seen this before, once from the bench below the bluff, and a couple of times from the top of the bluff.  It's about time it had a name, so in lieu of anyone else stepping up and naming it, I'll start calling it Big Devil's Bluff Falls.  Dan found a vantage point hanging over the bluff where most of it would be visible, but this required hanging onto a small tree to prevent falling 40 or 50 feet off the bluff.  My hyper fear of heights kicked in, but I did get a few good shots of it.

Devon Falls
After leaving Big Devil's Bluff Falls, we wandered a little too high on the bluff and ended up in the rock scramble I was really trying to avoid.  I'm not sure what kind of magnetic attraction I have for this rock scramble above Twin Falls, but even though I know where it is and try to avoid it, it seems I always end up there.  At any rate, that just makes for a little more rugged hiking, but we made it to Twin Falls in pretty good time.  

Twin Falls
Twin Falls today was spectacular.  It is usually spectacular, but this was probably prime water flow for both of the waterfalls.  By this time all of the runoff from the rains two or three days ago was gone, but there was still a massive amount of ground water to provide lots of crystal clear water flow over the waterfalls.  The combined Devil's Fork below Twin Falls was also too high to cross, but you can easily cross behind the falls without getting too wet.

We crossed behind the waterfalls, then went downstream about a tenth of a mile to the trail branch that leads up the bluff.  This goes to a volunteer trail that leads back to the top of the Long Devil's side (the left one) of Twin Falls.  The trail has been used by both horses and kayakers, so it is clearly defined.  We did not see any today, but when the water level is running high, folks will sometimes bring kayaks down the Big Devil's Fork drainage, then drag them to the top of the left waterfall to shoot it again.  

Jim Bob/Long Devil's Falls
Jim Bob Falls is also known by the name Long Devil's Falls.  Patrick Caple and John Moore, two of the long time outdoors-men that have crisscrossed the Ozarks documenting waterfalls, have named it different names in their travels.  I have a great deal of respect for both these guys, and don't really care what folks call it. I have heard both names used, but I have also heard the individual waterfalls for Twin Falls called Long Devil's Falls and Big Devil's Falls, for the creeks that feed each of them.  So there can be some deal of confusion.  For that matter, there are at least four "Twin Falls" in Arkansas.  This one is my favorite waterfall in all of the hundreds in Arkansas, so you'll know which one I'm referring to when I mention Twin Falls.

Normally, the half mile hike up to Jim Bob/Long Devil's Falls is a bit of a rough bushwhack, but if you can cross the creek at each bend, you can generally find easier going on the inside of the bend.  Unfortunately, today that did not appear to be an option.  The water was up enough that we were confined to the west bank of Long Devil's Fork.  This made the hike at least twice as difficult as it otherwise would have been, but it did have a nice consequence.  

Mystic Cascades
On the way to Jim Bob/Long Devil's Falls, we crossed a pretty little creek with a series of cascades and small waterfalls tumbling down a very steep slope.  We told ourselves we would check that out on the way back.  And after visiting Jim Bob/Long Devil's Falls, we did indeed go up that creek.  Tucked in around the edge of the bluff was a beautiful waterfall, approximately 20 to 24 feet tall.  This was a new find that I have not seen anyone report or document in any way.  As I was starting on this blog post the next day, I asked around for a name for this picturesque little waterfall.  My wife Bethany suggested Mystic Falls.  I could find no other reference to a Mystic Falls in the 400+ names for waterfalls in Arkansas, and she is, after all, my wife.  So Mystic Falls it is.  

Mystic Falls
As you go upstream on Long Devil's Fork from Twin Falls, the first small creek on the left (west) side is the one flowing from Mystic Falls.  From Long Devil's Fork, you can see Mystic Cascades tumbling down the hill.  After a short hike up that creek, you can see Mystic Falls tucked behind a bend in the bluff to the right.  I suspect this creek will dry up completely in late summer.  I'll have to make a point of coming back and seeing if Mystic Falls still has water flow.

Richland Falls (8ft)
From Mystic Falls, we made our way back to the top of Twin Falls.  The trail we took along the bench above Devil's Fork also goes to Richland Falls.  Instead of retracing your steps and going back to the creek level, you can stay on this trail and it will take you up over the ridge to the north side of Richland Creek and right to Richland Falls.  Today, Richland Creek was still very high and Richland Falls was impressive.  It has been a while since I saw this waterfall stretching all the way across Richland Creek.

After setting up and taking some photos at Richland Falls, we started our long hike back to where we parked.  We took the low trail back along Richland Creek, then up the left side of Devil's Fork to Twin Falls, passed back behind the falls again, and started our trek up the mountain.  Once you climb up the bluff overlooking Twin Falls, you still have a whole lot of climbing to do.  By this time, Dan and I were both starting to fell the aggregate effect of several miles of bushwhacking and rock hopping.

I'll say this about this latest route I found to Twin Falls;  it is a bear of a climb up the mountain, but it could be worse.  Going this "low route" or the "high route" from FR-1205 eliminates the need for crossing Richland Creek and Falling Water Creek, and eliminates the extra distance from Hill Cemetery.  But this new route cuts about half of the total elevation change out of the equation.  We climb up the mountain about halfway, to an elevation of about 1547 feet, before we get back on the old trace road.  

The trace road does have it's ups and downs, and you do have that last climb down into the drainage adjacent to the parking location and back up to where you parked, but you don't have to climb 800 feet all at once.  That makes a huge difference.  Back at the parking location, both Dan and I were really feeling the effects of about 8.5 miles of bushwhacking through some very rugged, very steep wilderness.  However, we did see several of the premier waterfalls in Arkansas.  Of course, now that I'm rested up a little, I'm ready to go again.  All in all, a great day in the wilderness.
GPS Tracks to Twin Falls
Red - Hill Cemetery to Twin Falls
Yellow - Upper FR-1205 route to Hamilton and Twin Falls
Blue - Upper FR-1205 route to Twin Falls
Black - Lower FR-1205 to Twin Falls