Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sixty Foot Falls, Arkansas Ozarks

6/3/2015 - Sixty Foot Falls and upstream water features

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking location #1: (at Y in jeep road):  35.72793  -93.77981, 1700 ft.
  Parking location #2:  35.72239  -93.77838, 1420 ft.
  Parking location #3:  35.71917  -93.77851, 1181 ft.
  Sixty Foot Falls: 35.72154  -93.78679, 980 ft.
  Upper Sixty Foot Falls: 35.72170  -93.78619, 1083 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #1: (Double cascade): 35.72242  -93.78525,  1154 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.72266  -93.78505,  1195 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #3:  35.72258  -93.78484,  1211 ft.
Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs off leash should be fine.  There were a couple of places where we had to climb on rocks to get where we wanted to be, particularly going to Upper Sixty Foot Falls from Sixty Foot Falls.  Some dogs may have to find another way above the last part of the bluffline.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  No, no, no, no, no.  A dirt bike, sure.  Any other kind of motorcycle should not be anywhere close to these roads.

GPS files (.gpx format) - maps of GPS tracks are at the bottom of this post:
  GPS Track - Parking location #1 to Sixty Foot Falls
  GPS Track - Sixty Foot Falls to all upstream waterfalls, back to parking location #3

Sixty Foot Falls
Photo by Dan Frew
My hiking companions today, Dan Frew and Jim Fitsimones, and I had already finished a bushwhack to Bootlegger Falls, and were off to the next new waterfall (for me, anyway), Sixty Foot Falls.  This waterfall is in Tim Ernst's guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls, but his description of the hike did not seem all that appealing on a muggy day when the undergrowth was particularly burdensome.  The hike Tim describes seems more like something you would do in the dead of Winter, when the bushwhack is easier and the temperature at least low enough that you won't sweat to death.

The traditional way to get to Sixty Foot Falls is to  take I-40 exit 35 to north Highway 23 (Pig Trail), then park next to Highway 23 about 2.6 miles north of the small community of Cass.  Then it is a 1.5 mile bushwhack down to Sixty Foot Falls, including crossing a good sized creek.  The real problem is the 1.5 mile climb back out to Highway 23, which is not only a bushwhack but an elevation difference of 700 feet.  We decided to see if we couldn't go a bit closer to the waterfall, and on the same side of Mountain Creek.  

Sixty Foot Falls
Photo by Dan Frew
Here's the route we took;  Go 19.8 miles on Highway 23 and turn right on CR-81 (Fly Gap Road).  Go 2.8 miles on CR-81 and turn right on FR-1003P.  Be warned; this forest service road is a little rough.  If you don't have a 4WD vehicle, you can probably make it OK, but no guarantees.  Look at the road conditions and use your good judgement. Go 1.0 mile on FR-1003P and park at the 'Y' in the road.  This is parking location #1 for Sixty Foot Falls.  Unfortunately, this is still over 700 feet elevation above our goal, and below this point, you really need a serious 4WD vehicle.  Fortunately, Dan has one and isn't afraid to use it.  We left Jim's 4WD Tacoma here, and all three of us went further down the mountain in Dan's Jeep.  At parking location #2, we thought large rocks in the road would prevent going further, but after scoping it out, Dan felt he could get past them.  We proceeded down to parking spot #3, which has a small area to pull out and park.  There was also a large tree wedged across the trail at grill height, so we weren't going any further anyway.

As it turned out, we parked at an ideal location for today's hike.  It was about as close as we could get to the waterfalls without a helicopter or dirt bike, and was very close to the elevation of the highest waterfall in the drainage.  We hiked down the old 4WD trail, which by our maps should cross directly below Sixty Foot Falls.  Somehow, we missed the split in this trail and found ourselves at the crossing for Mountain Creek, which we knew was not right.  So we backtracked a little and found the branch of the 4WD trail going along the north side of Left Prong Mountain Creek.  Our hike to Sixty Foot Falls along this route was almost two miles, but was fairly easy hiking along the old road.

Sixty Foot Falls - from behind waterfall
Photo by Dan Frew
Sixty Foot Falls could easily be heard from the trail, and as soon as you turn up its stream you can see the waterfall itself.  It is actually only 56 feet tall, but I imagine the folks that named it did about the best estimating they could.  Today, I was impressed with the power of this waterfall.  It seemed to have a great deal of flow, especially considering the fact that this drainage seemed to only cover a small area.  We learned the secret to where this water was coming from when we climbed to the top of the drainage.

Upper Sixty Foot Falls
Photo by Dan Frew
From Sixty Foot Falls, you can hike up the right side (east) to climb above it's bluffline.  Above it, there are a number of small cascades, and less than 100 yards from Sixty Foot Falls, you will find Upper Sixty Foot Falls.  While Sixty Foot Falls is more of a traditional Ozark waterfall, the Upper Sixty Foot Falls is a beautiful, tumbling, stair-step type waterfall reminiscent of Lichen Falls.  The source of the water is quite cold, and if you stand in front of it when there is even the hint of a breeze, it feels like you are standing in front of an air conditioner.

Double Cascades
This is a steep mountainside and we knew there was a lot more of it above us than below.  Still a little curious as to where all the water flow was coming from, we decided to go above Upper Sixty Foot Falls and explore a little more.  About 150 yards upstream, we came to a beautiful double cascade, where the creek had split into two sections, and cascading down both sides of this 'island' before flowing back together into a single creek.  

Unnamed Falls #2
Photo by Dan Frew
Immediately above the double cascade was yet another waterfall, Unnamed Falls #2.  This waterfall is a short, three-stepped waterfall that forms the perfect cap to the longer extended cascade.  Going upstream just a few more yards, we found Unnamed Falls #3, another stair-step type waterfall with a longer cascade below it.  The water flow here was still quite strong, and we could see a shallow grotto directly above Unnamed Falls #3 with about a 20 foot rock cliff around it, but the waterfall you would expect to come over that rock bluffline was not there.  The creek just seemed to vanish.

Unnamed Falls #3
Photo by Dan Frew
Climbing to the top of Unnamed Falls #3, it was finally clear why the flow in this small drainage was so high, and why there was no creek above it.  There is a spring right at the top of Unnamed Falls #3 that the water just comes surging out of.  Along the bluffline to the right a few yards you can see into a large crack in the rock; inside, there is some kind of cave system with the water flowing through it and out the spring.  

Spring feeding Unnamed Falls #3
Photo by Dan Frew
With the water being forced up and vertically out this hole at the top ofUnnamed Falls #3, I suppose that makes it more of an artesian well than a spring.  I know little about the technicalities of the geological and hydrological forces at work here, I just know a cool water feature when I see it.  I climbed above the spring/artesian well and found the creek bed where runoff water flowed over the bluff into the lower creek.  Above the bluff surrounding the spring, this creek was dry.  I hiked upstream about a hundred yards and found no trace of water above the spring. 

Spring feeding directly into Unnamed Falls #3
I suspect this chain of waterfalls will be like most of the cave waterfalls and have pretty good flow even in the drier seasons.  Since the spring was about the same elevation as our parking location for the jeep, we decided to keep to the high ground and bushwhack back toward the old 4WD road.  In this area, the undergrowth was not all that bad, and in about a half mile we were back where we had parked the Jeep.  The total distance from Sixty Foot Falls, up the creek canyon to the spring, and back to the parking location was only 0.8 miles.

We loaded up and made our way back up the 4WD road.  It was sure a lot easier letting Dan's Jeep take us back up to parking location #1 than making that 500+ foot elevation change ourselves.  My Explorer has 4WD and decent ground clearance, but it would have been horrible (and probably disastrous) to try to take it on this road.  I have to get me a Jeep.

I would highly recommend this hike, even if you have to park much higher up the mountain and make that big climb back out.  Just hydrate and take your time.  That 4WD road does continue on and back up the other side of Sixty Foot Falls, eventually coming out on Highway 23.  Maybe I'll give that a try when Santa brings me that Jeep.  There are also two other waterfalls nearby, Mountain Creek Falls and Spirit Mountain Falls.  We bypassed those this trip, but I plan to be back.
GPS Tracks - Sixty Foot Falls
Red - from parking location #1 to Sixty Foot Falls along 4WD road
Blue - Sixty Foot Falls to all upstream waterfalls, bushwhack to parking location #3
GPS Tracks - Sixty Foot Falls
Zoomed out view of valley

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