Saturday, May 16, 2015

Clear Creek waterfalls and Mt. Hardy Falls, Magazine Mountain, Arkansas

5/15/2015 -  Clear Creek waterfalls and Hardy Falls, Magazine Mountain, Arkansas

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Park - Clear Creek lower waterfalls:  35.14883,  -93.61330,  1351 ft.
  Window Falls:  35.14837,  -93.60847,  1101 ft.
  Falls #2:  35.14826,  -93.60846,   1105 ft.
  Falls#3:  35.14817,  -93.60833,  1097 ft.
  Falls #4:  35.14810,  -93.60821,  1094 ft.
  Falls #5:  35.14803,  -93.60799,  1090 ft.
  Park - Hardy Falls:  35.15123,  -93.56308,  1065 ft.
  Hardy Falls:  35.15178,  -93.56320, 1079 ft. 
  Park - Clear Creek Falls:  35.15719,  -93.61057,  1758 ft.
  Clear Creek Falls:  35.15704,  -93.61005,  1621 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: Not for any of the Clear Creek waterfalls,  but Hardy Falls is right next to Highway 309, a popular motorcycle ride with lots of scenery.  Clear Creek Falls and all of its smaller brethren downstream require going down logging roads a fair distance.

Clear Creek Falls
I had seen a photo of Clear Creek Falls before, but could find no directions or other information about this waterfall on the west side of Mt. Magazine.  So when my friend, Dan Frew, asked if I wanted to tag along for a hike to see this one, and several other promising areas that might contain waterfalls, I jumped at the opportunity.   He wanted an early start, which I'm all for.  But a 5:00 a.m. early start?  I actually have to set an alarm for that one.  I can't hike without a (very) large breakfast, which means I have to get up by 4:00 a.m. to have time to make it.  For some reason Bethany doesn't see the need to get up that early and cook.  We met up with Jim Fitsimones, our other hiking companion for the day, at Havana and headed toward Mount Magazine.

Falls #2
A quick word on the names of creeks in this area.  As previously noted, early settlers could not easily communicate.  They named creeks for the characteristics, features and resources nearby.  They ended up giving creeks all over the state the same names.  So when we talk in this blog post about Clear Creek, Big Piney Creek, Little Piney Creek, etc.,  we are talking about the creeks on Mount Magazine, not the better known creeks in other parts of the Ozarks.  These are on the steep west side of Mount Magazine.  

Getting there is a little difficult to explain, but I'll do my best.  We started from Havana, so I will start from there.  If coming from Paris, you can go through Mt. Magazine State Park on Highway 309 to the first turn west onto Cedar Piney Road, OR go down Highway 109, then left on Highway 10 to Havana, and follow our path from there.


Window Falls
From Havana, go 2.2 miles north on Highway 309 and turn left on Cedar Piney Road (aka CR-532).  Go 1.1 miles and turn right at the tee onto Piney Road.  Go 2.4 miles on Piney Road (aka CR-33), then turn right onto FR-1678.  Go down FR-1678 for about two miles; after crossing Big Piney Creek, there will be an intersection where both roads are labeled FR-1678 on the maps.  Confusing, right?  At any rate, turn left (north) at this intersection and take the road all the way to the coordinates listed above for lower Clear Creek waterfalls parking.  This will be approximately another two miles, and will put you close to the lower Clear Creek waterfalls.  This road, once it starts rising up the mountain, has a number of "water bars" and can be challenging.  I would not recommend taking a normal passenger car, and a good 4x4 is recommended.  More driving direction will be given below to the larger waterfall higher in the Clear Creek drainage.

The parking location is right in the saddle of a feature on the side of Mount
View from FR-1678, west side of Mount Magazine
Magazine known as Snake Knob.  From the parking location, head east down into the Clear Creek canyon.  A GPS is highly advisable for this hike, as it is easy to end up above or below the location on the creek you are heading for.  A little above is not that bad, as you can find the five lower waterfalls a little downstream.  A little below your mark would not work well at all, as the creek canyon gets very steep, very narrow, and seemed to have no breaks to go below the creek bluff for quite a distance.



Window Falls
The straight line distance to the first waterfall is a little over a quarter of a mile.  As anyone that has hiked the Ozarks well knows, you don't get to hike a straight line.  The highest of the waterfalls in the lower section of Clear Creek is almost directly below the parking location, but we angled down and back across the slope to get there as it is fairly steep.  There is an elevation change of about 250 feet between the parking location and the first waterfall.  


Rock Cave/Cabin overlooking Window Falls
Unless I find that this waterfall has been previously named, I have decided to call it Window Falls.  If you look at the photos, you will see why.  On the other side of the creek (east), there is a shelter type cave that someone built up with a wall across the front, leaving openings for a door and window.  This is all 'dry stacked' rock; that is, no mortar was used at all, just rocks the right size and shape stacked up to form the wall.  I think this is very old, but stories of its existence decades ago, I have no idea how old it is or who built it.  They even carved and placed rock to form a set of stairs from the cave/hut to the base of Window Falls.  If you go inside, this waterfall is the view you get through the dwelling's window.  Ergo, I think Window Falls is appropriate.  


Window Falls - through the Window
Window Falls is a beautiful waterfall, flowing over a large rock outcropping into an emerald pool below.  Whoever built the cave/hut structure here for a dwelling, hunting camp, or whatever, they could not have chosen a more picturesque location.  While this maybe would be a fantastic location to wake up every morning, it is a little too isolated for even the hardier pioneers.  It is in the middle of a very steep canyon, nestled between steep, narrow canyon walls with a waterfall at each end.  Nice place to visit, but really difficult place to actually live.  


Falls #3
Going further downstream, the remaining four waterfalls in this group can be found one right after the other.  The ruggedness of the terrain makes it difficult to get below each of the waterfalls, but we found a way down below each of them on the side we hiked in on, the west side of the creek.  The second waterfall, Falls #2, actually looks very similar to Window Falls in size and shape, it just has an extra 'kicker' waterfall at the foot. 
Falls #4

These five waterfalls are right about midway down the west flank of Mount Magazine.  The geology and topology in this area is somewhat different than that of the Ozarks I am more familiar with.  Throughout most of the Arkansas Ozarks, there are large layers of sandstone and limestone that have created just the formations needed for waterfalls.  On Mount Magazine, however, there aren't hard sandstone outcroppings for the creeks to flow over.  Instead, it is more a giant rock jumble with waterfalls created wherever creeks happen to flow over boulders that are large enough.  So waterfalls here are not nearly as predictable from the lay of the land as they are east of here in the Ozarks.  At this location, there just happen to be more large rock than anything else.

Jim - below Falls #5 setting up the shot
Falls #3 is a long, steep cascade zig-zagging at an angle back across the narrow creek canyon.  Falls #4 is a similar cascade, cutting back across the canyon the other direction.  The last waterfall in the chain, Falls #5, is a three tiered waterfall flowing into a deep emerald pool.  This last one was a little more challenging to photograph.  The only place you can really get a good shot of the waterfall is on the far side of the creek, which is a sheer cliff rising above the creek.  Fortunately, there was a fallen cedar tree lodged across the creek canyon at just the right height to use as a handrail to cross the creek.  The creek itself is only a few inches deep there, and we could set up tripods in the creek at the foot of the cliff to get a clear shot of the waterfall.


Falls #5
After leaving Falls #5, we hiked back up the hill to the crest of Snake Knob, and back to the parking location.  This is not a long hike at all, but 250 feet of elevation climb in a real short distance will make you glad to reach the top.  From here, we caught our breath, loaded up and headed up to the higher waterfall in this drainage, Clear Creek Falls.  Although Clear Creek Falls is less than a mile as the crow flies above where we were parked on Snake Knob, it is also a 600 foot elevation change, and a very rugged and steep climb.  If you have ever been at the Mt. Magazine Lodge and looked over this west edge of the mountain, you know what I mean.  So we were taking the more sane route, and driving around to it.


Hardy Falls
First, you have to drive all the way back off the mountain, backtracking all the way back to Highway 309.  Turn left off Highway 309 from Cedar Piney Road and go 2.1 miles to Hardy Falls.  Hey, it may be right off the highway and not much of a hike at all, but it is "right on the way", so we felt the need to stop and check it out.  There is room to park on either side of the road, just below where the creek feeding Hardy Falls flows through the culverts under the highway.  Park here and it is an easy step down to the base of Hardy Falls.  Of course, you actually have to walk back into the stone culverts to get a good view of the waterfall and take the classic photo
Waterfall and cascade downstream of Hardy Falls
of it through the end of the culvert.  


Walking back under the highway through the culvert, the downstream waterfall is just below you and is easily accessible by climbing down the bank.  I think this waterfall is actually prettier than it's upstream little brother, but the one nearer the culverts is the one that actually has a name.  It is named for James Hardy, the guy that designed Highway 309 back in the 1930's, and built these classic culverts near the waterfall.


Clear Creek Falls
Getting back on the road at Hardy Falls, we continued up (north-west) on Highway 309 another 1.5 miles then turned left onto a dirt logging road.  This is one of the major bench roads across the west face of Mount Magazine, and is pretty much on the level, but still a little sloppy and still has a number of water bars providing major road humps.  Again, I would not recommend passenger cars attempt it, and a 4x4 would be recommended even if your vehicle has good ground clearance.  It looks like gravel has been hauled in to make it a little easier on logging trucks, but it was somewhat washed out again and still a little rough.  Take this logging road along the bench for about two miles until it crosses Clear Creek and park.  Clear Creek Falls is directly below the road.

Clear Creek Falls is twice as tall as any of the smaller waterfalls in the drainage
far downstream of it.  This is the only one on the steep west side of Mount Magazine that I have ever even seen mentioned, and only one reference at that.  I'm sure the other drainage systems on this flank of the mountain have more waterfalls and other water features hidden in them, but that's for another day.  I might come back and poke around in the steep canyons for Little Piney Creek and Big Piney Creek (the ones on Mt. Magazine, not the ones that are river sized) some other day, but we had a full day of other prospective sites already picked out. 

The waterfalls along this canyon are highly recommended, but keep in mind they are difficult bushwhacks in rugged terrain.  If you are not up to a difficult hike or don't have a GPS, I would not recommend you hike this canyon. The roads are also challenging for 'normal' cars, so if you don't have a high clearance vehicle tack on an extra two miles of road hiking for each of the higher and lower waterfall locations.

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