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

No comments:

Post a Comment