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

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting all of this info. I hope to get out to Rock Creek before the end of this year and this helps a bunch!