Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bull Falls, Sprinkler Falls, and Mrs. O'Leary's Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

4/20/2015 -  Bull Falls, Sprinkler Falls, and Mrs. O'Leary's Falls near Cow Creek

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location #1:  35.74227,  -93.32117,  1460 ft.
  Parking Location #2:  35.73749,  -93.32046,  1631 ft.
  Break in bluffline:  35.74528,  -93.32181,  1173 ft.
  Sprinkler Falls:  35.74577,  -93.32046,  1096 ft.
  Bull Falls:  35.74738,  -93.31633,  1136 ft.
  Mrs. O'Leary's Falls:  35.74706,  -93.31927,  1104 ft.

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs off leash should be fine. A lot of the terrain is very steep and rugged, but most dogs should be able to make it through the bluff break.  Smaller dogs or dogs on leash would not be recommended.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  Parking is down several miles of very bad Forest Service road.  Some of the road barely qualifies as a "Jeep road".  

GPS files (.gpx format) - maps of these tracks are at the bottom of this post:
Bull Falls

After completing our hike into the Piney Bowl Falls polyfoss area, Dan and I still had a lot more of our hiking day left.  The drainages in the Piney Bowl area are right next to Big Piney Creek, nestled between Big Piney and the mountain that separates it from the Cow Creek basin.  Cow Creek drains into Big Piney Creek just south of Piney Bowl and right across the Big Piney from Rock Creek.  This Cow Creek is the one just east of Rosetta, not the one near Rush, Arkansas.  One of the things making life a little confusing for waterfall chasers is that early settlers in the territory apparently did not communicate well.  Several creeks in northwest Arkansas have the same or similar name, so you have to make sure you know which one is your target.  Since we were "in the area anyway" (excuse #2), we decided to check out the elusive Bull Falls along Cow Creek.

Mrs. O'Leary's Falls - with Rick
Photo by Dan Frew
It was John Moore's photo of Bull Falls that brought us to Cow Creek.  His  Panoramio photo shows a spectacular waterfall plunging off a high sandstone cliff.  I could get the GPS coordinates for it from the photo, but nothing for directions on actually getting to it.  I did a little due diligence and scoped out the topo maps and satellite imagery.  I thought the best approach would be either to park along FR-1004 directly above it and hike down, or go all the way around the Cow Creek basin to where FR-1216 crossed the tributary for Middle Cow Falls and hike upstream.  The Cow Creek drainage basin is some pretty rugged terrain, and road access is very limited.  There are Forest Service roads along the top of the ridge of the mountains on both sides, but no roads going down into the basin itself.

Sprinkler Falls
Our first potential parking location was not far from where we had parked at Piney Bowl.  However, from the top looking down, it looked like several hundred feet of steep climb down and back out.  It also had a fair amount of undergrowth, and would have made for miserable hiking conditions.  So we opted out of option #1, and headed around the entire basin back through Rosetta, and back along FR-1003 (Pine Ridge Road) to FR-1216.  We took FR-1216 along the crest of Middle Ridge, all the way to the point of the mountain overlooking Cow Creek.  At this point, FR-1216 is really not much of a road.  Technically, FR-1216 ends here, but there is a junction off to a local Jeep road that will cross the tributary containing Middle Cow Falls, which was our option #2.  

Hiking the north bluffline - Dan
We decided to go for a new option, and plowed ahead to see just how far Dan's Jeep could make it down what had at one time been a logging road.  We made it about half way down the mountain toward the creek and finally decided to just park and hike the rest of the way down.  This is the parking location #1 that I identified under the GPS coordinates listing above.  We possibly could have made it further downhill in the Jeep, but it was getting a little tight on the trail we were following.  Without knowing what was ahead of us and whether we would even be able to turn around, we let common sense take over and parked the Jeep.

I have added a topo map at the bottom of the post showing the track along FR-1216.  This is not well maintained at all, and has some deep mud holes, ruts, and an occasional tree trunk across the "road".  FR-1216 is not that bad when you first turn onto it, but gets progressively worse the last mile or so.  My advice is to know the limits of your vehicle and only go as far down this road as you feel comfortable, then hoof it the rest of the way.  If you break down or get stuck, it is 15 miles back to a paved road, many more miles back to cell phone coverage, and no one else is likely to be going down this road.  You have been warned.

Anyway, to get to this point, the driving directions are not that complicated.    - From the community of Pelsor (Sand Gap), go 16.2 miles south on Highway 123, then turn right onto FR-1003, aka Johnson County CR-5741.  This is 3.3 miles past the Haw Creek Campground.  If you are coming from the other direction on Highway 123, this junction is 10.5 miles north of Hagerville.
  - Go north on CR-5741 for 5.7 miles, then 
  - Turn left on CR-5680 (still FR-1003, just a different Johnson County Road).  Go 1.5 miles on CR-5680, then
 - Turn right onto FR-1216.  Go 2.8 miles down FR-1216 and park for parking location #2.  

Mrs. O'Leary's Falls
We went an additional 0.6 miles down the mountain to parking location #1.  At this point, the trees growing up in the old logging road will give even the most serious 4x4 some issues.  As I said, pick your end point and park where you feel comfortable with your ability to be able to drive back out.  We cut off an additional 231 feet of elevation change by parking closer to the creek, but it's really easy hiking on the old logging road.  It definitely is not worth pressing the limits of your vehicle.  The same can be said for FR-1216 itself.  The last half mile to a mile are in very bad shape, but the hiking would be mostly on the level and an easy hike.  My Explorer has 4x4, but if we had been driving it, I probably would have left it about a mile from where we parked Dan's Jeep.  I'm grateful that Dan has a nice Jeep and isn't afraid to use it, but I wouldn't go that far with the longer wheelbase and lower clearance of my Explorer.

From either parking location, head downhill on the old logging road.  We followed it all the way down to the top of a small tributary creek to Cow Creek, where the trail ended.  Hiking along this creek was fairly easy going, however, without much undergrowth or other impediments.  You will want to stay on the bluff above the creek for easier hiking, and turn downstream (right) when you get to Cow Creek.  Following Cow Creek downstream, we took the first bluff break we could find.  The coordinates for this access below the bluff are listed above.  I looked for other breaks while we were along Cow Creek and could not find any other breaks in the bluffline.

Sprinkler Falls
As we descended through the bluffline to approach creek level at Cow Creek, I glanced to my right and thought I saw water raining down about 50 feet out from the bluff face.  I looked again, and guess what?  There was a nice waterfall about 150 yards downstream.  The major blufflines along both sides of Cow Creek in this area are huge, typically from 70 feet to over 100 feet high, and have very wide overhangs at the top.  For a waterfall chaser, this is fantastic.  All the water in the tributary creeks on both sides will have to plunge over that bluffline at some point.  Unless it has eroded a break in the bluffline, that creek will make a pretty nice waterfall when it spills over.  

That was certainly the case with this one.  To the best of my knowledge, if anyone has seen it before they didn't bother with naming it or documenting it.  Since it fell from such a high distance, and the wind swept the water trail back and forth like a sprinkler head, Dan thought Sprinkler Falls would be an appropriate name.  It is hard to estimate the actual height, but I would peg it somewhere between 80 and 90 feet high.  Due to the great height and wide overhang of the bluff, the water falls a good way out from the base of the bluff.  From the discoloration at the throat of the waterfall above, it looks like it generally has some water flow.  It was flowing pretty well today even though we have not had that much recent rain.

Bull Falls
After leaving Sprinkler Falls, we crossed Cow Creek to continue our hike downstream on the other (north) side.  Cow Creek is a very large drainage system, and the creek did not appear to offer many decent places to cross, so we crossed the creek here, below Sprinkler Falls.  We knew Bull Falls was on that side, and knew we would have to cross at some point anyway.  Continuing downstream, we came to yet another tributary creek we had to cross, one that had a good amount of water flow.  We have chased enough waterfalls that the significance was not lost on us, and we made a note to follow the bluffline back around and check for a waterfall after we had found Bull Falls.

As we hiked downstream, we started climbing toward the bluffline, knowing that Bull Falls was in the next drainage, and that it had to be at the bluffline.  We soon came to it, and were rewarded with a spectacular Ozark waterfall.  Because the sandstone bluff here is high and the drainage was a decent size, this was a good sized waterfall as well, with the water jetting out from the ledge above, falling well out from the bluff.  We had finally made it to Bull Falls, and it was well worth the effort to get there.

Mrs. O'Leary's Falls
From Bull Falls, we hiked back upstream but stuck to the base of the bluffline.  Sure enough, that tributary creek we crossed on the way to Bull Falls had a very nice waterfall where it spilled over the bluff.  Like Bull Falls, it had created a very large shelter type overhang for itself through eons of erosion of the bluff base.   In keeping with the theme of most of the named waterfalls in the Cow Creek basin, I'll name this one Mrs. O'Leary's Falls.  See what I did there?  If you don't, go search on "Mrs. O'Leary's cow".  That's about the most well known cow I know of.

From Mrs. O'Leary's Falls, we headed back to the Jeep.  Mrs. O'Leary's Falls was actually closer to Sprinkler Falls than we had thought, and we actually overshot the point we had crossed Cow Creek on the hike out.  We found another spot to cross just upstream of our bluffline break, and went right up the bluff through our break.  As you can see from the GPS tracks on the topo map below, we went through an area of post-logging new growth to shortcut a little off our bushwhack back to the old logging road.  From there, we just followed the old logging road back up the mountain to the Jeep and left for home.

Bull Falls - with Rick
Photo by Dan Frew
Another great day in the Ozark wilderness and although tired, we thoroughly enjoyed the day's hikes.  Whenever you hike into a new area, especially a remote and rugged one, there is a certain exhilaration from exploring and finding new waterfalls or other features.  If it's new to you, that sense of awe is going to be there regardless of how many others have been there before you.  Both Piney Bowl and Cow Creek are rugged, steep areas and the hikes are mostly bushwhacks on each one.  Both are highly recommended, but if you are not used to this type of hiking, you might want to give a full day to each one.  Also, both are remote and isolated enough that you need to let someone know your plans if hiking alone.  
GPS Tracks
Blue - Parking to Sprinkler Falls to Bull Falls
Red - Bull Falls to Mrs. O'Leary's Falls to Parking
Topo Map of Cow Creek Basin, east of Rosetta
Orange GPS track - FR-1216 to parking #1

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