Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Washboard Falls, Arkansas Ozarks near Wood's Mountain

12/29/2015 -  Washboard Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.56294,  -93.32862,  866 feet
  Washboard Falls:  35.56458,  -93.32629,  1095 feet
  Curtain Falls:  35.56317,  -93.32809,  909 feet
  Falls #2:  35.56385,  -93.32748,  968 feet
  Falls #3:  35.56438,  -93.32682,  1042 feet
  Falls #4:  35.56457,  -93.32642,  1086 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs off leash should be fine. This little creek has very steep and often slippery sides.  You will need both hands to keep from falling yourself, so dogs on leash would not be recommended.

Motorcycle Friendly:  Kind of.  It is 1.4 miles off a paved highway on a dirt Forest Service road.  That's a short enough distance off the pavement that it probably won't bother you much taking your street bike or cruiser on it.
Hiking Statistics:  It is only a half mile round trip, so distance wise it is a very short hike.  That being said, it is a 200 foot elevation change over that quarter mile, so it is fairly steep.  In addition, the banks of the creek are even steeper and slippery when wet, so be careful.  Because it is a little treacherous, I would put this at a moderate bushwhack despite the very short distance.

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

Washboard Falls
After spending all day tromping around in the Cow Creek area, my hiking companions, Dan and Shelly Frew, and Jim Fitsimones, and I were pretty well worn out.  But not so much so that we couldn't stop for a quick hike up another unknown hollow to look at some waterfalls.  Dan had scouted this small drainage out before and was waiting for a day after a good rain.  Well, this was that day.  Besides, "it was on the way home" - excuse #2.

Washboard Hollow Creek
From the junction of Highways 123 and 164 (the small community of Hagerville), go north on Highway 123 for 4.1 miles and turn left (west), continuing to bear left onto FR-1423 (NOT CR-4540, which bears off to the right).  Go down FR-1423 1.4 miles and park on the right side of the road.  If you get to Dry Creek, you have gone too far.

Falls #3
My old friends Brent Robinson and Roger Chavers have roamed this entire area around Woods Mountain and have documented scores of waterfall in the area.  You can see Brent's website of waterfall finds, including a lot of documentation on driving and hiking directions, here.  I checked all the material Brent put on line and found plenty for the rest of the Dry Creek area, but nothing for this little creek.

Curtain Falls
We started hiking up the creek, and the first waterfall was right there, maybe a hundred yards off the road, a small but still pretty waterfall.  When my wife Bethany saw a photo of it, she said "that should be named Curtain Falls".  Now, there are a couple of Curtain Falls already, but I haven't lived as long as I have without learning a thing or two.  "Curtain Falls it is, dear"! I said, never even considering another response.  Besides, that has a nicer ring than Unnamed Falls #1.

Falls #2
Falls #2 was approximately another hundred yards upstream, and Falls #3 yet another hundred yards above that.  Both beautiful and photo-worthy in their own right, but the highest two waterfalls in the drainage were the best.   Dan had been to this hollow before, and had called the highest one Washboard Falls, for obvious reasons.  Washboard Falls flowed almost directly into Falls #4.  The ground here was very steep, and very treacherous.  It's hard to get a good location to even take a photo, and there is too much growth directly in front of Washboard Falls to get a good frontal shot of it.
Falls #4

This was a great way to wrap up the day.  If you find yourself in the area and want a quick hike that will only take a half hour or so, this is highly recommended.  It is a wet weather creek, so plan on this after a good rainfall.

GPS Track - FR-1423 to Washboard Falls

Bull Falls, Mrs. O'Leary's Falls, Sprinkler Falls, and others, Cow Creek basin, Arkansas Ozarks

12/29/2015 -  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.
  Falls #1:  35.74629,  -93.32326,  1143 ft.
  Falls #2:  35.74403,  -93.32746,  1131 ft.
  Falls #3:  35.74437,  -93.32751,  1155 ft.
  Falls #4:  35.73302,  -93.32828,  1313 ft.
  Falls #5:  35.73244,  -93.32806,  1315 ft.
  Falls #6:  35.73218,  -93.32623,  1360 ft.
  Falls #7:  35.73160,  -93.32483,  1436 ft.
  Falls #8:  35.73155,  -93.32460,  1455 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 breaks.  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".  

Hiking Statistics:  We logged 8.09 miles on the GPS trip meter, with a hiking time of just under 6 hours.  The lowest to highest elevation was a difference of about 600 feet.  Since most of our hiking was along the bluffline base or at creek level, we did not make a whole lot of repetitive climbs.  This is a very rugged area with towering bluffs and very few bluffline breaks. There are no trails or old trace roads to follow.  I would call it a difficult bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format) - maps of these tracks are at the bottom of this post:
  Cow Creek Waypoints

Mrs. O'Leary's Falls (58 ft.)
We have been asking for rain, and this weekend we got what we wished for.  And we kept getting it; be careful what you wish for!  At our home north of Dover, we got over seven inches of rain, almost five inches Sunday night.  Monday (yesterday), we had severe flooding all over this region.  The highway to our house had six feet of water over it at one point, near the junction with Highway 7.  While that amount of water can make the waterfalls roar, it also makes them somewhat ugly with all the brown runoff water.  Fortunately, most of the drainages in the Ozarks clear up very fast, so today looked like an ideal day to get out and explore.

Sprinkler Falls (94 ft.)
Bright and early today my friends and hiking companions for the day,  Dan and Shelly Frew, and Jim Fitsimones,  came by the house to pick me up.  Dan had previously thrown out several ideas for today's hike, so I wasn't sure exactly where we were going.  Returning to Cow Creek has been on my bucket list since our previous brief hike into the area last spring, and it turned out that's exactly where we were heading today.  You can read about our first trip to the area here.

To get to the parking location, 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.  
Note that Forest Service roads can be a little rough, and FR-1216 is no exception.  It has several good sized mud holes and potholes.  If you get to a point at which you feel uncomfortable taking your vehicle any further, stop and park.  Better to walk the rest of the way than to be stranded.  There probably won't be anyone else on this road, and there is no cell phone service, so you get to hoof it out if you get irretrievably stuck.

Bull Falls (66 ft.)
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.  As it turned out, our return hike today brought us right past parking location #1 anyway, so we could have parked at either location today.

Mrs. O'Leary's Falls (58 ft.)
We hiked down through the same bluffline break we found on our last trip.  Not just because we wanted to check out the three waterfalls we visited then, but because there just isn't any other place to get below the bluff to the creek level for about a mile.  Our last visit was during a drier period; we had been to Piney Bowl Falls earlier that day, and it had disappointingly low water flow.  But in this big valley, right over the mountain from Piney Bowl, the waterfalls had fairly good flow.  Today, they were swollen some from the recent big rainfall, but not a whole lot.  That tells me this drainage keeps a fairly consistent good flow in wet times and not-so-wet times.  Good to know for future planning.

Sprinkler Falls (94 ft.)
Sprinkler Falls is visible as soon as you descend through the bluffline break, just downstream on the same side of Cow Creek.  The bluffline here is very high, in the 90-100 foot range, and overhangs a good 25-30 feet.  It's a little disconcerting with a bluff that tall to see the drip line so far away from you when hiking along the base of the cliff.  Today, Sprinkler Falls was in fine form.  It is hard for a waterfall that tall to not look spectacular, and this one does not disappoint.

From Sprinkler Falls, we looked for a good point to cross Cow Creek.  We had thought we would have to take our boots off and just wade across, but we were able to find a spot that we could rock-hop across with a little help from some extra well placed rocks.  I'm still surprised I managed to keep my socks dry, but today all went well despite the creek being higher than normal.  Cow Creek itself was running fast and furious, but the water had already completely cleared up from the weekend rain.  

Bull Falls (66 ft.)
Mrs. O'Leary's Falls is in the drainage directly across Cow Creek from Sprinkler Falls.  We climbed up to the base of the bluff on the north side and then hiked down the base to the waterfall.  Today it was running well, but again, if you compare photos of the last visit, you can see it seems to keep a decent amount of water flow.  From Mrs. O'Leary's Falls, we continued hiking down the base of the bluff to Bull Falls.  This one was also running well.  After taking some photos and basking a little in our surroundings, we forged ahead on our plan to explore the rest of this massive valley.  

Falls #1
From the Topo maps, it appeared our best bet was to explore upstream.  The valley seemed to be somewhat more rugged and steep, with bigger tributary drainages ("prongs").  So we reversed course and hiked the base of the bluff back to Mrs. O'Leary's Falls and kept going along the base of the bluff upstream on the north side of Cow Creek.  In the next drainage, we found Falls #1.  The three waterfalls we had already visited would be the only waterfalls with names we would visit today.  Bull Falls had been named by John Moore years ago, and Dan and I had found and named Sprinkler Falls and Mrs. O'Leary's Falls on our hike here last April.  

Falls #2
Falls #1 was a pretty little two-tiered waterfall, but it's drainage did not look all that promising topologically.  So we proceeded on upstream and found Falls #2 in the next drainage.  This tributary appeared to have a much larger area and a lot more flow, so we explored upstream on it.  We found Falls #3 just upstream on this tributary, a short water slide in a picturesque setting.  The creek in this prong is great, with little one or two foot waterfalls and cascades everywhere.  Unfortunately, no larger "photo worthy" waterfalls, though.  We hiked up the creek in this prong until we got to a point such that no large bluffs were in sight and the creek had dwindled to a point that there wasn't enough flow for a sizable waterfall.  At this point, we turned back and continued upstream on Cow Creek.

Falls #3
Rounding the big bend in Cow Creek where the creek runs from the south instead of the west, we got to a point where the bluff closed in on the creek and we were forced to cross the creek.  Ozark creeks are funny that way, but it appeared there was actually more flow here than there was far downstream where we had crossed near Sprinkler Falls.  We tried to find a way to rock-hop across, but eventually just resigned ourselves to the fact we needed to go barefoot and wade across.  There were still trees with ice down in this hollow, so it was no surprise that the water was quite cold.  Mental note - put an old towel in the pack so I don't have to keep using my shirt to dry my feet off.

Falls #4
After the creek crossing, we continued upstream on the left (east) side of Cow Creek.  Of course, the next big tributary creek we came to was now on the OTHER side of the creek.  While this looked promising, the creek seemed even broader, higher, and faster here and none of us wanted to take our boots off again, so we passed it up and continued upstream.  After getting home and looking more at this drainage, it does indeed look promising.  It has a large drainage area and fairly steep slope at some points.  I'll have to come back to it someday in the future.  

Falls #5
We had covered a lot of the Cow Creek basin by this time, and were all starting to "feel the burn", if you know what I mean.  Bushwhacking in very rugged terrain like this can take it out of you.   We decided to check out the next big prong, then make our way back to the Jeep.  The next one, thankfully, was on our side of Cow Creek, so we headed up it to check it out.  Upstream, we found two waterfalls where the creek in this prong forked.  Falls #4, in the branch on the left, was a nice little seven foot waterfall with a couple of smaller drops immediately below it.  

Falls #6
In the branch on the right, we found Falls #5, another nice two-tiered waterfall.  We also found a break in the bluffline just to the left of the lower waterfall that let us continue on upstream in this prong.  The sides of the drainage here were not so sheer, so it appeared we could eventually climb all the way up to the ridge at the top of the mountain here.  On the way up, we found Falls #6 and in a big grotto a hundred yards upstream from that, we found Falls #7.  This waterfall was in the 20-25 foot range, somewhat taller than what I would expect this high in the drainage.  As I have said many times, you just don't know what you will find until you look.  

Falls #7
We had to back out of the grotto containing Falls #7 and get on top of that bluff on the left.  Just above the bluff was yet another waterfall, Falls #8.  We were now actually a little higher in elevation than where we left the Jeep, so we started hiking back along the ridge toward where we had parked.  We came across the old road right about where Parking Location #2 was, and followed the old logging road down to where we had left the Jeep.

Falls #8
This was another great day out in some unspoiled Natural State beauty, and although a little tired,  all enjoyed getting out and exploring.  I know a little over eight miles does not seem like a lot, but in rough terrain like this it does take a toll.  This is a massive watershed, and I still have much of the Cow Creek Valley to explore.  What I have seen so far I would highly recommend.  If you are just into hiking in general, you won't find a better place to enjoy nature.  If you just want to visit the larger waterfalls, I would recommend just hiking the loop we made in April.  All in all, another great hike, but we weren't quite done.  See the next blog post for the short hike we made on the way home.

Edit 12/20/2015 - Waterfall heights for Bull Falls, Mrs. O'Leary's Falls, and Sprinkler Falls based on measurements provided by Tim Ernst.

GPS track - Cow Creek (red)

Topo Map of Cow Creek Basin, east of Rosetta
Orange GPS track is FR-1216 to parking #1

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Terwilliger Falls, Pine Hollow, Richland Wilderness Area, Arkansas Ozarks

12/19/2015 - Pine Hollow and Terwilliger Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.79839,  -92.95774,  1040 feet
  Terwilliger Falls:  35.79226,  -92.93923,  1210 feet
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.78324,  -92.93655,  1103 feet
  Unnamed Falls #3:  35.79324,  -92.93655
  Unnamed Falls #4:  35.79319,  -92.93705

Pet Friendly:  Dogs on or off leash should be fine.  You will have to cross Falling Water Creek, however, so depending on the size of the dog and the flow in the creek, it may have some difficulty there.

Motorcycle Friendly:  No.  The dirt road is definitely too rough and too long.  Wouldn't take my cruiser on it.

Hiking Statistics:  Boomer and I logged 2.51 miles on the GPS trip meter, but from the parking location to Terwilliger Falls is only about 0.75 miles.  The lowest elevation (Falling Water Creek) to the highest elevation was only 300 feet, and not a lot of repetitive climbing.  This is a bushwhack, but I would call it a moderately difficult one only because of the need to cross Falling Water Creek.  Outside of that, I would call it a relatively easy bushwhack this time of year.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
   Pine Hollow GPS Track

Terwilliger Falls
Today, I was looking for a relatively short hike that Boomer and I could go do just to see something new and get out of the house.  This time of year we tend to stay very busy with holiday stuff and visiting friends and family, so I didn't have a lot of time, but definitely needed to get out in the woods.  I had seen a photo of Terwilliger Falls posted by Patrick Caple on Google Earth, and knew it should be a fairly quick and easy hike, so Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I loaded up the FJ and took off for the Richland Wilderness area, my favorite waterfall chasing area.

Falling Water Falls today - my drive-by photo
To get there, go to the Richland Campground.  If you are not familiar with it, from Highway 7 turn east on Highway 16.  Go 9.8 miles on Highway 16, then turn left.  This is Upper Falling Water Road, and merges into Falling Water Road.  Go 9.2 miles from Highway 16 and turn left into the campground; there is a blue road sign here that says "Campground Road".  Along Falling Water Road you will pass Falling Water Falls, the low water bridge, and many other nearby waterfalls.  

Old Trail Head Marker
Southwest of Campground

Go all the way to the back of the campground where it overlooks Falling Water Creek and park.  For this hike, head upstream and away from the confluence with Richland Creek.  From the southwest corner of the campground, there is a trail  that was maintained way back in the days before the Richland Wilderness Area was designated by an act of congress.  This trail will take you right upstream along the top of the bluff overlooking Falling Water Creek.  When you see a fence on the left of the trail, you are approximately where the creek from Pine Hollow flows into Falling Water Creek.

My "el-cheapo" water socks

It is only about a quarter mile to Falling Water Creek, and we actually hiked past the bottom of Pine Hollow to get to a decent place to make our crossing of Falling Water Creek.  Right at the mouth of Pine Hollow, Falling Water Creek has a large, deep pool;  not the place to try to ford it.  Today, the water in this creek was running pretty good, and there just seemed no possible way to rock-hop across at any point.  So I broke out my "el cheapo water socks" - a couple of hefty trash bags I could put my legs into and tie up above my knees.  This actually worked pretty well until I was almost across the creek, then I slipped and fell to my knees in the water.  The bags were certainly not water tight, and I got a good deal of water into them and into my boots.

Flow from Pine Hollow where it flows into
Falling Water Creek - with Boomer
So now I was soaked from the knees down, and it was about 34 degrees this 
morning.  brrr.  I had an extra pair of socks, but they also had gotten half wet when water got inside my sling pack.  At any rate, I was across now, and it wasn't the first time I hiked with soaking wet feet, so I trudged back downstream to the mouth of Pine Hollow and started hiking up it on the left.  The flow in the creek at this point was very low, but experience has taught me not to use that as an indicator of what the flow conditions upstream might be.  In the Ozarks, creeks often go underground for a distance, and spring back up with full flow in unexpected places.

Pine Hollow Creek
On the left, I found an old trace road running on the bluff above the creek and followed it.  It hasn't been used as a road for several decades, from the size of the trees in it, and was barely a trace in most places.  But following along where the road had once been cut was certainly easier than bushwhacking on the rock jumbles along the creek.  I passed a grouping of smaller waterfalls about a quarter mile into the hollow, and decided to hike along the creek itself on the way back down.  

Terwilliger Falls
About another quarter mile above that was Terwilliger Falls.  As you can see in the photos, the flow in the creek at this point is much, much, higher than it was downstream where it flows into Falling Water Creek.  Today, it was enough to make the waterfall look fantastic.  As with most Ozark waterfalls, photos really doesn't do it justice.  The setting of Terwilliger Falls, with the giant bluff and crag above the left side, was beautiful.  By the time I finished taking a few photos, Boomer had swam in the crystal clear water of the pool a couple of times and climbed almost to the top of the waterfall.  

Pine Hollow Falls #1
By this time, my feet were getting pretty cold, but I decided "why not"? and set off up the slope on the left to follow Boomer upstream.  Above Terwilliger Falls,  Pine Hollow is a very deep, steep sided, canyon.  There were a few small waterfalls and cascades, but nothing of significance in the half mile or so we hiked upstream from Terwilliger Falls.  I would have liked to have explored more of this neat series of hollows sandwiched between Falling Water Creek and Richland Creek, but by this time my feet felt like blocks of ice, so we started back.  

Pine Hollow Falls #2
This time we descended down to creek level above the series of waterfalls i had noticed on the way up.  While not nearly as large or powerful as Terwilliger Falls, they were pretty in their own right.  Continuing on downstream, we got back to our crossing of Falling Water Creek.  My el-cheapo water sock trash bags were clearly no good - they had been torn in my earlier fall.  So I just grabbed them and cinched down the sling pack, and started wading across.  After all, it's not like my boots could get any wetter.  This time, I managed to slip in the middle of the creek and got soaked from the waist down.  I did manage to shake the water off my camera and cell phone, and they appear to have survived Okay.

Pine Hollow Falls #3
The hike along the bluff to the campground went quickly, and I was happy to 
get to the FJ and start peeling wet boots and socks off my feet.  I didn't bring a dry set of clothes, so I just kept the wet pants on and Boomer and I headed back home.  At least in the FJ, I could crank up the heat on my now bare feet.

Despite being overly wet and overly cold, this was still a great hike and I'm glad I ventured out today.  I'm old, but not incapable of learning, so next time I know I have to cross a creek that may have substantial volume like this, I'll bring my waders and take the time to do it right.  This is highly recommended, and probably will be best under wetter conditions.  The only other photo I can find of Terwilliger Falls is Patrick's, and it appeared to be early summer with lower flow. 
Pine Hollow GPS TRack

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cowan Hollow Polyfoss waterfalls, Ozarks near Simpson, Arkansas

12/14/2015 - Return to Cowan Hollow Polyfoss

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.60949,  -93.06479,  1862 ft.
  Cowan Hollow Falls:  35.60585  -93.05594,  1258 ft.
  Cowan Hollow Falls bluffline access:  35.60540  -93.05603,  1284 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #11:  35.60675,  -93.05711,  1422 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #12:  35.60585,  -93.05588,  1256 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #13:  35.60675,  -93.05605,  1414 ft.
  EAB Falls:  35.61472,  -93.04109,  1251 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #15:  35.61447,  -93.03317,  1309 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #16:  35.61459,  -93.03334,  1315 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #17:  35.61366,  -93.03269,  1298 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #18:  35.61395,  -93.05213,  1544 ft.

Pet Friendly:  Dogs off leash should be fine.  This is what I would call a difficult bushwhack.  If you think your dog needs to be on leash, it will probably be okay, but you are in for a long day.  There is a lot of undergrowth and opportunity for entanglement.

Motorcycle Friendly:  Yes, for the parking location we used today.  It is right off Highway 7 near the community of Simpson (aka where the Booger Hollow Trading Post is).

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, Cowan Hollow is over 1100 feet of elevation change.  Today, we hiked a total of 9.34 miles with a "highest to lowest" elevation change of about 600 feet.  This is very rugged and steep terrain; I would rate this as a difficult bushwhack under any conditions.  The wet, slippery nature of the leaves on the forest floor made it particularly difficult today.  We were hiking for 6 hours and 22 minutes on today's hike.  The track for today is the blue one on the map at the bottom of this post.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
   Cowan Hollow, Cabin Creek, and Winter Hollow Waypoints
    Cowan Hollow GPS track (from Highway 7)
   Cowan Hollow GPS track (from North Fork Illinois Bayou)

Cowan Hollow Falls - with Rick
(photo by Dan Frew)
When Dan Frew and I visited Cowan Hollow back in June of this year (see the blog post here), we started at the mouth of this huge valley and worked our way up to the upper parts of three of the four major prongs at the high end.  The waterfalls were great, but it was a little dry at the time and when we saw Cowen Hollow Falls, the only one we actually named, I mumbled the standard "I'll bet this one looks great with more water".  There must be dozens of waterfall treks I say the same thing.  At any rate, when my friend Dan asked if I wanted to go back and explore the rest of upper Cowan Hollow, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Cowan Hollow is a large drainage system, with creeks in the four major prongs 
Falls #15 - with Dan
at the upper end feeding the main creek running through the hollow.  As I mentioned, we had hiked up the main creek in June and found little of interest in the way of water features.  When we got into the feeder creeks in the main prongs, however, we found a number of pretty cool waterfalls.  Even with the relatively low flow at the time due to a somewhat dry spell, these tributary creeks had adequate flow to make the waterfalls look good.  Today, we were heading out after getting around two inches of rain over the weekend.

Falls #12
To get to the parking location we used today, from the Dover Supermarket (intersection of Highways 7 and 27), go north on Highway 7 for 18.7 miles.  This is the community of Simpson, perhaps better known as the place that has the Booger Hollow Trading Post (closed for some time, but still a local icon).  The small Oak Grove cemetery is on the right (east) side of the road; pull off Highway 7 into it and park.  All of Cowan Hollow itself is National Forest Land, but much of the land along Highway 7 at this point is privately owned.  National Forest land runs along Highway 7 for about a quarter mile by the cemetery.  Although hardly anyone actually lives here, there is no need to trespass on anyone's land.

Falls #11
We started our hike going off the back side of the cemetery and right down the southernmost of the four prongs.  The creek in this prong appeared almost immediately, and we just followed it downstream.  We found our first waterfall, Falls #11, in a tributary creek on the left (north).  This one was a nice two tiered waterfall, with a big initial drop into a pool, then another smaller, wider, waterfall to spill into the feeder creek.  The unnamed waterfalls in this blog post start at #11 because there were already 10 waterfalls from our previous visit.

Cowan Hollow Falls
We continued downstream to Cowan Hollow Falls, passing numerous smaller waterfalls and cascades along the way.  The bluffline break I would recommend using is downstream of Cowan Hollow Falls on the right (south) side.  Any way you get down to the base of the waterfall will be steep and slippery, so watch your step.  It turns out that I was correct; Cowan Hollow Falls is indeed one of those waterfalls well worth a return visit after a decent rain.  Today, the water was gushing.  

Falls #12
The waterfall to the right of it, on the north canyon rim, was also spectacular today.  This is Falls #12, fed from another tributary to the creek in this prong.  In June, there was just a trickle of water here.   Surprisingly, everywhere we went today the water was very clear, even though we had just had a substantial rain the day before.  In fact, it was still raining some on our drive to the parking spot.  Any rainwater runoff had disappeared almost immediately and we were left with great flowing springs feeding all the creeks in this hollow.

We had already explored downstream of Cowan Hollow Falls.  While we knew there were some beautiful waterfalls just downstream, our goal today was to see the rest of this huge hollow.  So we started our climb back up to the bench that our first waterfall of the day, Falls #11, spilled over.  I had done my due diligence before coming on this hike, and reviewing the Topo maps and google earth it appeared that there was a trace road at about elevation 1500 feet.  This looked like a good way to traverse along the tops of the four prongs.

Falls #13
Leaving Cowan Hollow Falls, we climbed out of the canyon to the right of Falls #12.  This feeder creek had a good deal of flow, so we decided to see if another waterfall might exist on it higher in this prong.  Sure enough, spilling over the bluffline high in the prong we found Falls #13.  This one was almost obscured from below by the huge boulders that had broken off the bluffline eons ago.  Downstream, the creek has a very steep slope, tumbling between and around the big rocks.  You can go around most of the rocks to the left and get a better view of Falls #13 from that side near it's base.

Falls #16
From Falls #13, we found a break in the bluffline to the left and ascended back up to the bench.  We soon found the old trace road running along the bench and started to follow it around to the next prong.  Hiking the old trace road was still a bushwhack;  you really couldn't call this a trail, and there were the typical obstacles of briers, blackberries, and downed trees.  But even at that, it was fairly on the level and much easier hiking than bushwhacking through the trees.  

Falls #15
We followed the trace road all the way around the bench toward the top of the next prong (see the map at the bottom of this post).  We had planned to follow it all the way to the top of this prong, but we came to a point a few hundred feet from that where a landslide had taken most of the road and created a real hiking nightmare.  We decided this was as good a point as any to descend down to the creek and explore the rest of this prong, so we headed down.  The hollow in this prong has very steep walls on both sides, making it difficult to go anywhere.  We made our way down the right (south) side of the creek.  

EAB Falls
There were numerous smaller waterfalls and cascades in this prong, but nothing significant enough to warrant stopping to photograph it.  Just above Falls #8 from our previous visit, we headed back up the other (north) side to climb out of this prong and over to the third prong.  At about elevation 1200 feet, there is another major bench and we found another trace road here, even more faint than the one about 300 feet above on the next bench.  We followed this around to the third bench.  Sure enough, at this level in the third prong we found EAB Falls.  This was a relatively small waterfall, but beautiful in the way the flow split into two streams and spilled into a slot opposite of each other.

Falls #15 (foreground) and
Falls #16 (background)
From EAB Falls, we could see a good way downstream and saw no more major waterfalls.  It looked like Falls #9 (that we had found in June) would be the next significant waterfall downstream, so we climbed back upstream to our old trace road at elevation 1500 and followed it around to the fourth and easternmost prong, one we did not get into at all on our previous visit.  The upper sections of the middle two prongs were rather disappointing, so we were not holding out a lot of hope for this one.  But we followed the creek down into the prong and almost immediately found Falls #15 and Falls #16 close together on two separate creeks at the top of this prong.

Site of old still behind Falls #15
Falls #16 is a spectacular waterfall with about a 35 to 40 foot drop, and a steep cascade above that.  Behind the waterfall, we also found where the firebox on an old still had been.  They chose a good spot; lots of running water and a truly remote location.  Back during prohibition, I can't imagine any ATF agents would have the time or energy to raid a still down in this hollow.  

Falls #17
By this time, we were starting to get a little tired, and we had the climb out and the trek all the way across the hollow ahead of us.   We could see for a distance downstream and saw nothing more of significance, so we decided to call it a day and head back.  On the climb out of this prong, we found Falls #17.  This was a nice little bonus waterfall high on the side of the hollow on a tributary creek.  It just goes to show that you never know where you will find a pretty waterfall out in this part of the Ozarks.  They are literally all over the place.

Falls #18
We climbed back above the bench to our '1500 foot' trace road and followed it all the way around the upper prongs almost to the point where the landslide had been on the south side of the second prong.  Instead of trying to pick our way through that, we headed upstream and found yet another small waterfall, Falls #18.  We continued climbing up, skirting the private property, and followed a Forest Service road back to highway 7.

I would have to call this yet another great day out in the woods.  With 18 significant waterfalls that we have found so far in Cowan Hollow, I think it can be safely classified as a polyfoss area.  What's more, the creeks in the hollow tend to run very clear and clean and seem to have a decent amount of flow even when other creeks do not.  With the rain from yesterday, it was a veritable waterfallapalooza today.  Highly recommended, but be aware that it is all bushwhack and is steep, rugged, and can be treacherous.  Be careful out there.

Having hiked into this hollow twice, I would recommend doing it differently than we did.  All of the waterfalls are concentrated in the upper four prongs of the hollow.  I would park at the Oak Grove Cemetery, come down the big southernmost prong to the confluence with the main creek, then hike back up the fourth (easternmost) prong to the '1500 foot trace road'.  Then follow that trace road back to the third prong, follow it downstream to it's confluence with the other inner prong, and hike it upstream and out of the hollow.  That is a lot of strenuous hiking, so you might want to split the inner and outer prongs up into separate hiking trips.  
Cowan Hollow GPS tracks
Blue - today's hike
Red - previous hike in June 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, Owl Falls, and others, Upper Buffalo Wilderness, Arkansas Ozarks

12/1/2015 - Whitaker Creek waterfalls; Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, Owl Falls, and other waterfalls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.88759,  -93.46965,  2180 ft.
  Amber Falls:  35.88395,  -93.47017,  1942 ft.
  Compton's Double Falls:  35.87930,  -93.46257,  1830 ft.
  Owl Falls:  35.87734,  -93.46185,  1839 ft.
  Falls #1:  35.88386,  -93.46781,  1991 ft.
  Falls #2:  35.88360,  -93.46582,  1974 ft.
  Falls #3:  35.87842,  -93.45906,  1850 ft.
  Falls #4:  35.87817,  -93.45826,  1839 ft.
  Falls #5:  35.87971,  -93.46338,  1920 ft.

Pet Friendly:  Boomer did fine off leash today, but there are some areas they may have difficulty getting into and out of.  This is what I would call a moderate bushwhack.  If you think your dog needs to be on leash, it will probably be okay; there isn't a lot of undergrowth to get tangled up in.

Motorcycle Friendly:  Hahahaha!  Oh, you were serious?  Then no.  Cave Mountain Road is pretty rough.  Not the place for your street bike.

Hiking Statistics:  Boomer and I hiked 4.36 miles today, with an overall elevation difference of 501 feet.  There were only a few climbs of any significance since most of the hiking was done at creek level or on the bench above Whitaker Creek.  We took a pretty leisurely pace today and still were only out for three and a half hours.  There are no trails; this is entirely a bushwhack, but I would call it a very moderate one.  Anyone used to hiking the Ozarks should have no problems here.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.

Compton's Double Falls (39')
with the photo Boomer
There are so many great waterfalls in Arkansas that look their best right after a 
good rain that I had a little internal conflict trying to pick one for today's hike.  I can't count the number of times I have seen a nice waterfall without good flow and said to myself "I have got to come back to this one after a good rain".  I finally settled on Compton's Double Falls along Whitaker Creek.  We had received a good amount of rain over the previous weekend, and there were a couple of other waterfalls along this creek that really look great at full flow.  Unfortunately, Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I got off to a somewhat late start today.  Bethany was doing her annual Christmas photos tomorrow, something she does as a gift for the Dover elementary school kids.  Before setting out, I had committed to helping her set up the photo setting.  That didn't take much of our day, and before long Boomer and I were loaded up in the Cruiser and on our way north.

Amber Falls (18')
There are a couple of ways to get there, and when I travel through the Ozarks I like to maximize the Natural State scenery I get to see.  So I drove to the parking location from Highway 16 and drove home from Highway 21 a totally different route each way.  I'll describe both ways of driving to the parking location coordinates listed above:
   (1) If coming from the south, from the intersection of Highway 21 and 16, turn west onto Highway 16 and go 10 miles.  Then turn right onto MC-3595 (Madison County road).  Go 2.9 miles and turn right onto CR-5, also known as Cave Mountain Road.  Go another 2.8 miles and park on the right.  
   (2)  If coming from the north, from the intersection of highways 43 and 21, go south on Highway 21 for 1.2 miles and turn right onto Cave Mountain Road (CR-5).  Go 7.2 miles on Cave Mountain Road and park on the left.  This is 1.1 miles past the Hawksbill Crag trail head. 

Parking Location
Either of these routes will get you there.  Route (2) is the one Tim Ernst describes in his excellent book, Arkansas Waterfalls (HIGHLY recommended!).  And if coming from Boxley or Ponca, this will be your shorter route.  But Cave Mountain Road is very steep from the juncture of Highway 21, and when wet can be very slippery.  MC-3595, like Cave Mountain Road, is just a one lane plus dirt road.  However, it is a shorter distance on dirt roads, is generally about the same condition, and does not have the long, very steep stretch that Cave Mountain Road does.  It also does not show up on most maps, but I can assure you it is there. If driving from the south, this would be my recommendation.

Owl Falls
There is a lot of private land right along Cave Mountain Road, but for this short straight stretch of the road near the parking location, the wilderness area comes right up to and borders the road.  There is not really a good place to pull completely off the road without a good 4WD, so you have to just pull off as much as you can and make sure you don't block traffic.

Amber Falls (18')
From the parking location, head south straight downhill toward Whitaker Creek.  There will be a small creek to your right, and if you keep it to your right and stay up on the bluff above it, it will take you to Whitaker Creek right about where Amber Falls is.  From the top of Amber Falls, you can go downstream about 30 yards and find a break in the bluff that cuts back in toward the waterfall, allowing access to the base of Amber Falls.  This waterfall was named after the daughter of the aforementioned Tim Ernst.  I have never met her, but if her namesake waterfall takes after her, she must be a very beautiful young lady.  

Unnamed Falls #1
We set off downstream, and I decided to take the high route on the way downstream.  So we kept to the north side of Whitaker Creek and stopped at the first two tributaries feeding the main creek.  Each has a nice little waterfall a short distance from where it flows into Whitaker Creek.  I like to explore every little side creek and water feature when I hike in an area like this, but I did want to get on down to the main attraction, so I decided to hike along Whitaker Creek itself on the way back.  After visiting Unnamed Falls #1 and #2, we hiked back up on the bench above the creek and continued on downstream, well past where Compton's Double Falls was.  

Compton's Double Falls
The top of Compton's is pretty easy to get to, like many Ozark waterfalls.  But there are sheer canyon walls about 40 feet high for almost 200 yards downstream.  If you go downstream from the waterfalls, you will see the box canyon containing Owl Falls entering Whitaker Creek across from you.  There is a break here where you can get below the rock bluffline, then follow along the base of that bluffline as it slopes back upstream toward Compton's Double Falls.  Once at creek level, is is easy to pick your way through the rocks to get to the base of Compton's Double Falls.  Today, there was enough flow for these falls to be absolutely breathtaking.  As soon as I saw it, I was glad I selected this one for our hike today.  Even Boomer seemed to be in awe.

Compton's Double Falls
Compton's Double Falls is a unique "double" waterfall, one that has a single steam feeding two waterfalls.  Most double falls have a big rock or something at the top of the ledge the waterfalls spill off of, causing the flow to split into two stream.  At Compton's, the creek has actually eroded two separate slots in the capstone rock.  This creates two streams that just jet out into space, a beautiful sight.  We spent a good deal of time here.  Boomer had to swim out in the pool and play in the waterfalls, and I had to just soak up the natural beauty of the surroundings.  

Owl Falls
Leaving Compton's, we went downstream to visit Owl Falls, in the tributary on the south side of Whitaker Creek where our bluffline break was.  This is a stair-step type waterfall that also needs a good amount of flow to look good, and this creek is one of the major tributaries to Whitaker Creek.  Leaving Owl Falls, we headed downstream.  My goal had been to go all the way down to Wild Burro Falls and Point Beagle Falls, but I was now unsure about our ability to get there and back before dark.  And if there's one thing worse than a bushwhack, it's a bushwhack in the dark in rugged terrain.  

Unnamed Falls #3
Continuing downstream, we came to Unnamed Falls #3, a pretty little waterfall about six feet tall, right on Whitaker Creek.  Just downstream from that, we found Unnamed Falls #4, a waterfall about 15 feet high on a small tributary coming in from the south side.  Whitaker Creek is full of short waterfalls and cascades, and today the water was crystal clear and flowing well.

Unnamed Falls #4
Whitaker Creek canyon upstream of this point is fairly open and broad, making it easy to hike along the creek itself in most places.  Downstream, it gets more narrow and steep, so hiking with higher water is more difficult.  We picked a good spot and headed up the slope on the left (north) side so we could check out the waterfalls in the next tributary on that side.  It was here that we got caught between two narrowing benches.  I could have climbed out of it, but Boomer could not.  Normally he is better equipped than I am for our hikes. But sometimes, having two opposable thumbs is better than having four legs.  

Compton's Double Falls
At any rate, we had to backtrack a fair distance to get to a better slope upward on the bench.  Taking stock of the time and the fact that I wanted to go to the top of Compton's and hike the creek upstream of it, I decided to call it a day and head back.  We climbed to a point about the same elevation as the top of Compton's Double Falls and hiked back upstream.  For most waterfalls, the view is really not that good from the top.  Due to the way the water jets out above the pool, Compton's Double Falls looks spectacular just about anywhere you can view it.

Unnamed Falls #5 - with Boomer
Upstream of Compton's, Whitaker Creek itself is a nice hiking experience with many smaller cascades and short waterfalls.  Unnamed Falls #5 is another of those small waterfalls, but this one is pretty enough in it's surroundings to definitely be "photo worthy".  Boomer was taking yet another swim, so I figured I might as well snap some photos.  

Hungry tree?  Things you see in the wilderness
 that make you go "huh"!
We hiked upstream until we got into the area we had already seen, then hiked uphill and set a course back to the Cruiser.  It's probably a good thing we turned back when we did.  By the time we climbed out of the Whitaker Creek valley, I was getting a little winded.  I have been hiking only a couple of times the last three months, and I must be a little out of shape (okay, maybe a lot).  Now that we are getting into "waterfall season", hopefully I will correct that quickly.

Compton's Double Falls
This is a great area to hike, and is highly recommended.  The whole area hiked  is in the northwest part of the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area.  Being a wilderness area, that means no logging activity, no roads, and lots of other rules to ensure the area goes back to it's natural state.  So you'll see a lot of huge hardwoods that keep the undergrowth down, making much easier hiking conditions.  It is still somewhat rugged, but no more so than most areas of the Ozarks.  The three major waterfalls, Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, and Owl Falls, are only a little over a mile total from the parking spot.  I know many folks avoid any kind of bushwhack, but I'm surprised this one is not visited more often.

Whitaker Creek - GPS Track to Amber Falls,
Compton's Double Falls, Owl Falls, and others