Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Arkansas Sphinx, between Hagerville and Sand Gap, Arkansas Ozarks

12/13/2016 - Arkansas Sphinx

GPS Coordinates: (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)  
  Parking Location #1:  35.63916   -93.29101
  Parking Location #2:  35.65107   -93.29597
  Small bluffline break:  35.64045   -93.29036
  Arkansas Sphinx:  35.64059   -93.28896,  1715 ft.

Pet Friendly: Dogs on or off leash should be OK. 

Motorcycle Friendly:  Yes. Parking location #2 is right on Highway 123, and there is a nice flat parking space at the junction of CR-5741 to park at, across the highway from the trail you will be taking.  Parking location #1 is a little over a half mile down a not-so-good dirt road, but easily doable on your big bike for the short distance.

Hiking Statistics: There are three segments of today's hike, and most folks will only need one of them so I will detail each separately:
 - Route #1 to the Arkansas Sphinx is only 0.17 miles (945 feet) long, with an elevation gain of 350 feet.
 - Route #2 to the Arkansas Spinx is 1.27 miles, with an elevation gain of 638 feet.  There is one section of trail near the base of the knob that goes downhill slightly, then back uphill.
 - If you take one route in and the other out, as I did today, the road distance between the two parking locations is 1.15 miles, with a highest-to-lowest distance of 191 feet.  It does go downhill from parking location #1 to Highway 123, and slightly uphill on Highway 123 to parking location #2.

GPS files (.gpx format) - maps with GPS tracks are at the bottom of this post
  GPS track for route #1 to Arkansas Sphinx
  GPS track for route #2 to Arkansas Sphinx

The Arkansas Sphinx
Since there is no water in the creeks for the waterfalls, I went another direction today.  There are many nice hikes in the Ozarks to places that don't need water to be an attraction, and today I just wanted to get out in the woods.  I had recently seen a rerun episode of Exploring Arkansas that featured the rock formation known as the Arkansas Sphinx.  Then, last week, I went to a slide show presented by Tim Ernst and noticed that one of his new photo books had the Arkansas Sphinx on the cover.  To top it off, I got a copy of Danny Hale's new hiking guidebook in the mail a couple of days ago, and when I cracked it open it was on the page for the Arkansas Sphinx.  I can take a hint.  Clearly, the Cosmos wanted me to go to the Sphinx, and who am I to argue with fate?  To top it off, my friend and frequent hiking partner, Dan Frew, was the guy that found this hunk of rock many years ago and dubbed it the Arkansas Sphinx.  Not wanting to tempt the wrath of The Cosmos, I packed up and headed out.  Bethany was taking Boomer to the vet to look at an injured leg, so I was on my own today.

Parking Location #2
To get to the parking location, the driving directions are pretty simple.   
  - For Parking Location #2, from the community of Pelsor (Sand Gap), go 16.2 miles south on Highway 123, then turn left onto an old road with a gate opposite the junction with 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.
  - For Parking Location #1, go 0.6 miles south on Highway 123 from Parking Location #2, and turn onto CR-4840.  Go another 0.6 miles on CR-4840, and you are at Parking Location #1.

The Arkansas Sphinx
There are a couple of routes to the Arkansas Sphinx.  If you just want to go see it and cross it off your bucket list, I would recommend what I call route #1.  It is the most direct, and definitely the shortest.  Route #2 is not long, 1.3 miles, but route #1 is much shorter at only 0.17 miles.  Both routes are very steep as you go up near the top of Hess Knob that the Arkansas Sphinx sits on.  Route #2 also climbs almost twice as much, altitude-wise, as route #1, but the first part is spread out over almost a mile of trail.  Today, I wanted to get at least a moderate hike, so I went on route #2 for the hike in.  Because I prefer to see as much different scenery as possible, I hiked back out on route #1, then hiked along the road from parking location #1 to parking location #2.

Spectacular views - through the eye of the Sphinx
From parking location #2, you hike along an old logging road up to a food plot at about 0.7 miles in.  This old road is in decent shape and would be easily drivable with a good 4WD vehicle, but is always blocked off by the forest service.  They go in occasionally and bush-hog the food plot and road, but that's about all the maintenance it gets.  In any case, I have never seen the gate open on it, but it does make for an easy hiking trail.  Going out the other end of the food plot, the old road is more of an ATV trail but still makes for easy hiking.  You can take this ATV trail up all the way to the top of the knob.  When you get toward the base of the top part of the knob, there is a dense thicket growth in front of you, and the ATV trail makes a hard left turn.  Stay on the ATV trail, and it winds around the base a short distance, dipping down and then turning up the mountain, taking you all the way to the top.  I saw no recent signs of ATV traffic, but it was in fairly good shape for hiking.  

Arkansas Sphinx
Just stay on this ATV trail and you will be okay.  The trail takes you to the top of the knob, and from there you can see the Arkansas Sphinx on the slope on the other side of the mountain.  This route takes you higher up on the mountain, called Hess Knob, and from here you can see forever.   Hess Knob juts up to an elevation of almost 2000 feet, and you can see quite a distance in all directions.  The views are quite spectacular, and if you climb up to the Sphinx by route #1, you should climb the additional 200 feet or so to check out the scenery.  The Arkansas Sphinx itself is just a big chunk of sandstone, but it's a pretty awesome looking rock.  I'm no geologist, but I assume this is all that remains of a large sandstone layer, everything else having eroded away over time.  There are a couple of holes through it, one in the "tail", and one running through the north-south mid-section.  To be honest, I think it looks as much like a duck as it does The Sphinx, but "Arkansas Sphinx" has a much more impressive ring than "Arkansas Duck Rock".  So, good choice of names all those years ago, Dan.

Parking Location #1
Note the two trees with an "S" marking the trail.
After spending a good deal of time taking in the views and climbing on the Arkansas Sphinx, I headed back.  This time, I took route #1.  There is a pretty good volunteer trail going straight downhill from the Sphinx, and it is visible enough this time of year to easily follow it.  When the trail goes over a small bluffline below the Arkansas Sphinx, it zigzags down a small break along the bluff.  I think this route is somewhat steeper, but it's also for a much shorter distance.  When the trail starts off from the road, it is not quite as visible as it is higher up, but someone has helped you out by marking some trees.  At parking location #1, there is a big white "S" spray painted on a tree.  The trail goes around this tree on the left, then breaks right and goes to another big tree with an "S", and swings left around this second tree.  After that, it is very visible and easy to follow.  One word of caution; on the lower part of this route, it is thick with 'Devil's Walking Sticks' on both sides of the trail.  If you are not familiar with these small trees/bushes, they are indeed the work of the devil.  They have very sharp thorns on the trunks and branches and will poke right through heavy gloves.  Just be aware they are there and don't grab any small trees for support.

After coming down the trail to parking location #1, I hiked along CR-4840 and then back up Highway 123 to where I had parked the FJ Cruiser at parking location #2.  Even with this additional distance, I only hiked a total of 2.7 miles.  I would rate this as a moderate hike only due to the steepness of the trail, no matter which route you take to get there.  The trails in both routes are in fairly good condition, so hikers of all ages should be able to do this hike if they can make the climb.  
Blue - Route #1 to Arkansas Sphinx
Red - Route #2 to Arkansas Sphinx

Friday, December 9, 2016

Devon Falls, Hamilton Falls, Twin Falls, and Richland Falls, Richland Wilderness area, Ozarks near Lurton, Arkansas

12/7/2016 - Twin Falls, Devon Falls, Richland Falls, Hamilton Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking and Trail Head:  35.80737,  -92.93940,  1516 ft.
  Twin Falls: 35.80594, -92.96412,  1184 ft.
  Richland Falls: 35.80075, -92.96010,  1155 ft.
  Jim Bob (Long Devil's) Falls:  35.80804,  -92.96831,  1316 ft.
  Devon Falls:  35.81724,  -92.96145,  1435 ft.
  Don Hamilton Falls:  35.81199, -92.96375,  1320 ft.
  Big Devil's Bluff Falls:  35.81098,  -92.96294,  1322 ft.
  Mystic Falls:  35.80479,  -92.96518,  1275 ft.
  Mystic Cascades:  35.80519,  -92.96510,  1219 ft.
  Get onto trace road from FR-1205:  35.80864,  -92.94396,  1531 ft.
  Leave trace road to Hamilton Falls:  35.81261,  -92.96180,  1462 ft.
  Leave trace road to Twin Falls:  35.80931,  -92.95933,  1536 ft.
  Trail branch to the top of Long Devil's Falls: 35.80555, -92.96223,  1185 ft.
  Unnamed Falls at drainage near trail head:  35.80871   -92.94082
  Falling Water Falls:  35.72193   -92.93645

Pet Friendly:  Free roaming pets off leash, like Boomer, should be okay if they can do some climbing and scrambling.  I would not take dogs that need to stay on a leash or dogs that aren't up to some rigorous bushwhacking.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough, and there are many miles of it between the pavement and the parking location.  Not to mention the fact that the parking spot itself is not made for a large bike.

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, The Richland Wilderness Area is over 1200 feet of elevation change.  Today we hiked 7.4 miles with a "highest to lowest" elevation change of just over 519 feet.  The "lower FR-1205" route is mostly on the level, with only a couple of big climbs of over 200 feet.  I would rate this hike as a difficult bushwhack, just due to the length and the ruggedness of the terrain.  We were hiking for 5 hours and 21 minutes, but quite a bit of that was photography and sightseeing time.  

GPS files (.gpx format) - Map with these routes is at bottom of this post:
  Richland Wilderness Area waypoints
  Falling Water Creek Area waypoints
  GPS track file for Lower FR-1205 route to Twin Falls 
  GPS track file for Upper FR-1205 to Hamilton Falls to Twin Falls
  GPS track file for Twin Falls to Upper FR-1205

Hamilton Falls - with Dan Breedlove
Today I went back to one of my favorite places, the Richland wilderness, with hiking companion Dan Breedlove.  Dan had contacted me last weekend to see if I wanted to get out somewhere, and this area was one of the first to come to mind.  Dan was a native of the Arkansas Ozarks and an avid hiker and outdoorsman.  Yet somehow, like most Arkansans, he had still not been to this little jewel of the wilderness system.  The Richland Creek Wilderness was created by an act of congress in 1984, giving us almost 12,000 acres of beautiful Arkansas Ozarks that the wilderness act protections keep pristine and beautiful.  Bringing someone that appreciates the natural beauty of areas like this here for the first time is pretty cool.

Twin Falls
The "Left Twin" waterfall photographed
from behind the "Right Twin" waterfall
Although we had finally got some rain to break the drought, it had been such a long dry spell that  the creeks and streams were still far below their normal late fall flowrates.  My thinking was that the larger creeks and rivers with much larger drainage areas would be okay, and those with waterfalls right on the larger creeks would be a good bet. As it turned out, this was probably the best location in the Ozarks to catch some really nice waterfalls with some decent flow.  It was also a great day for hiking and waterfall photography.  The temperature stayed in the 30's all day, it was cloudy all day, and the water in the creeks was running clear.  My last trip to this area had similar conditions but was in late spring.  To see the contrast in the area from late spring to late fall, you can see the blog post for that hike here.

Richland Falls
I have documented five routes to Twin Falls on previous posts.  The one we took today was my most recently documented route, and the one I now prefer.  This one runs from FR-1205, north of the Richland Creek campground, across the large bench high above Richland Creek, then down into the Big Devil's Fork drainage.  It eliminates the need to cross Falling Water Creek and Richland Creek and is a shorter, better, route than hiking from Iceledo Gap or Hill Cemetery.  Unless you have a pretty good 4WD, the road to Hill Cemetery from Iceledo Gap is not advisable.  It is always in bad shape now and is a veritable swamp after a good rain.  As bad as the road to Hill Cemetery is, I'm sure the FJ Cruiser is up to it; still, I like the direct routes from FR-1205 better.

If you are curious about the other four routes to this great hiking area, here's a quick review and links to the posts for detailed directions:
  3) Direct hike from FR-1205 (the "Upper FR-1205 Route")
  4) Hike down the spur from Sandstone Castle
  5) Direct hike from FR-1205 (the "Lower FR-1205 Route")
Today, Dan and I used the same route to Devon Falls as my visits here in March 2015 and June 2016

Hamilton Falls
I won't bore you with the details of the hike since we followed the same routes as my last couple of visits.  I have provided plenty of links for those blog posts above for your reading pleasure.  I will say that I did try something different today to see if we could hike more on the level around the top of the first drainage you cross near the parking location.  Yes, I'm old and lazy, and try to avoid going down into hollows just to hike back up the other side.  We ended up expending much more effort trying to find an easier way, so just stick to the route detailed in my previous posts.  It seems that I get an awful lot exercise by trying to avoid exercise.  

Devon Falls
On my last trip here in June, I had a difficult time keeping track of the old trace road along the bench because of the late spring foliage.  Today it was much easier to keep on the trace road, but I still managed to lose track of it a couple of times.  That's a little embarrassing when you are supposed to be the guide, but at this time of year, it isn't that big a deal.  As long as you stay on the bench, it is fairly easy bushwhacking.  You'll want to find the old road again where it wraps around the mountain, as it leads you right to Devon Falls.  Devon Falls was our first stop, and I was surprised at how much flow it had despite being in a side drainage and not on the main creek itself.  This is my wife's favorite waterfall, and one of my sentimental favorites as well for personal reasons, and it never fails to make me smile.  Today, we even saw some frost flowers near Devon Falls.  These were not as ornate as some that I have seen, but these rare oddities of nature always amaze me.  

Hamilton Falls
From Devon Falls, we headed back the way we came and bushwhacked down into the Big Devil's Fork hollow to Don Hamilton Falls.  Hamilton Falls was just beautiful today.  Water flows over an almost perfectly flat rock to form this waterfall, so even with very little flow the water will spread over the face of the falls and look nice.  Today, we had much better flow than that and Hamilton Falls did not disappoint.  It was at this point that I realized we had picked maybe the only location in Arkansas that had enough water in the creeks for a waterfallapalooza kind of a day.  The water level in Big Devil's Fork was plenty low enough to allow us to hike down the creek instead of having to retreat above the bluffline, so that is the way we went downstream.  Sometimes, this creek is just too high to allow this, but this is the route I prefer, just for the additional scenery if nothing else.

Twin Falls - with Rick
Photo by Dan Breedlove
We passed Big Devil's Bluff Falls on the way downstream.  I noticed when we had crossed it's drainage earlier that it had very little water.  There was some flow going over this waterfall today, but not enough for me to deem it "photo worthy".  Continuing downstream, I noticed at one point the creek bed was almost completely dry.  The water resurfaced prior to going over Twin Falls, but that gives you an idea of groundwater conditions in this part of the Ozarks.  When we crossed the little spit of land between the two waterfalls at Twin Falls, I noticed the campsite there appeared as it had for the past few visits, and I don't believe it has been used for at least a few years.  My perception is that over time, I see fewer indications that folks have been into this area.  One part of me likes that, as I like my wilderness completely unspoiled by mankind and don't at all mind having it all to myself.  Another part of me finds it a little sad that people tend to take the easier hikes and never get to experience a truly spectacular place like this.

Richland Falls
Since we were already at the top of the Twin Falls bluff, we decided to go ahead and hike over the hill to Richland Falls.  There are two volunteer trails from Twin Falls to Richland Falls, one over the spur between them and the other along Richland Creek and Devil's Fork.  I usually hike over to Richland Falls by one route, and back to Twin Falls by the other, just for a little variance in the scenery.  The water in Richland Falls was amazing.  It had just enough flow to get the waterfall covering the entire width of Richland Creek, but not so high that it obscured the waterfall itself.  The water was also crystal clear.  Richland Creek is closer to a river than a creek, and when it gets really high and rolling, Richland Falls can look like little more than a speed bump.  If you look at the photo of Richland Falls from my hike in March 2015, you can see some of that.

Twin Falls
From Richland Falls, we hiked back along the creeks to Twin Falls.  I have seen Twin Falls with a lot more flow, and a lot more impressive, but every time I have seen it I am awestruck.  While I have a penchant for waterfalls in general, there are a few that just seem to permeate through me in a way that I find difficult to describe.  Bower's Falls, Fuzzybutt Falls, Thunder Canyon Falls, and Compton's Double Falls are that way, and Twin Falls perhaps more that way than any other.  I have made no secret of the fact that out of the hundreds of waterfalls I have visited in Arkansas, this is my favorite.  Today was no different; even with less than normal flow in the creeks, Twin Falls is still awesome.

Falling Water Falls
From Twin Falls, we made our way back to where we parked.   Climbing the mountain to get from Twin Falls back up to the old trace road is the most unpleasant part of the hike.  I wish I could find an easier way through the rock jumble as you head back up the mountain, but so far that has eluded me.  At least today it was cool enough, which helps.  All in all, this was another great day to be out in the wilderness, in one of my favorite 'happy places'.  I'm generally tired when I finish this hike, but always happy.  I have been here a bazillion times, but I'll be back again.  This is one of those places like the Upper Buffalo Wilderness that you just can't get enough of.  

Falling Water Falls
On the way home, we stopped by Falling Water Falls.  If you drive by it, it's kind of a required stop.  Today, no one else was around and we had the area all to ourselves.  This is literally a drive up waterfall, as Falling Water Road goes by within just a few feet of the waterfall.  Falling water creek also has a very large watershed, so this one was also in fine form today.  As I mentioned earlier, we picked the one area in Arkansas with good water in the waterfalls.
GPS Tracks for land routes to Twin Falls
Red - Hill Cemetery to Twin Falls
Yellow - Upper FR-1205 route to Hamilton and Twin Falls
Blue - Upper FR-1205 route to Twin Falls
Black - Lower FR-1205 to Twin Falls

GPS Tracks for my routes into the Richland Creek Wilderness