Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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

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