Sunday, March 12, 2017

Middle Cow Creek valley waterfalls, Arkansas Ozarks between Limestone and Fort Douglas

3/9/2017 -  Middle Cow Creek valley

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking #1 (for Middle Cow Falls only): 35.73484  -93.30536, 1365 ft.
  Parking Location #2 (4WD only!):  35.72695   -93.30663, 1255 ft.
  Parking Location #3:  35.71682   -93.30549, 1622 ft.
  Parking Location today:  35.71886   -93.30402, 1607 ft.
  Middle Cow Falls:  35.73534   -93.30909, 1031 ft.
  Bluffline Break:  35.71996   -93.30312, 1423 ft.
  Falls #1:  35.71977   -93.30286, 1431 ft.
  Falls #2:  35.72022   -93.30292, 1392 ft.
  Falls #3:  35.72102   -93.30315, 1352 ft.
  Falls #14:  35.72100   -93.30296, 1356 ft.
  Falls #4:  35.72461   -93.30638, 1184 ft.
  Falls #5:  35.71921   -93.31180, 1148 ft.
  Falls #6:  35.71438   -93.31111, 1248 ft.
  Falls #7:  35.71322   -93.31046, 1259 ft.
  Falls #8:  35.71325   -93.30983, 1278 ft.
  Falls #9:  35.71324   -93.30822, 1387 ft.
  Falls #10:  35.71339   -93.30768, 1406 ft.
  Falls #11:  35.71323   -93.30666, 1479 ft.
  Wraith Falls:  35.71275   -93.30613, 1505 ft.
  Falls #13:  35.71291   -93.30615, 1501 ft.
  Logging road fork:  35.71759   -93.30394, 1654 ft.

Pet Friendly: Dogs off leash should be OK.  If your dog needs to be on a leash, it is doable but difficult because this is all bushwhacking.

Motorcycle Friendly: No, not at all friendly to your big bike.  The two parking locations today are several miles down dirt roads.

Hiking Statistics:  The Middle Cow Creek valley is only about 800 feet from top to bottom.  On today's hike, we covered most of that, with a highest-to-lowest elevation change of 730 feet.  Boomer and I hiked a total of 6.45 miles.  The terrain varied from relatively open, with a low slope along Middle Cow Creek itself, to very rugged and very steep in the prongs.  With the notable exception of Middle Cow Falls, almost all of the waterfalls are in the prongs.  I would rate this a difficult bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Cow Creek Basin Waypoints
  Middle Cow Creek - today's hike track

Middle Cow Falls
After some severe storms blasted through our area again, we again had minimal storm damage at our house.  We did get some much-needed rain, though, so Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I set out to do a little exploring in the Middle Cow Creek valley.  We only got about a half-inch of rain, and we need much more, but hopefully it would at least get the creeks flowing.  Middle Cow Creek is a fairly large drainage for the Ozarks, and as you might expect is the valley between Cow Creek and Little Cow Creek.  Little Cow Creek and Middle Cow Creek both drain into Cow Creek, shortly before Cow Creek flows into Big Piney, just upstream of the low water bridge north of Fort Douglas.  I didn't name these creeks, so I have no idea where the cow theme came from.  None of these valleys are particularly hospitable to bovines, except maybe the few acres at the mouth of Cow Creek where it runs into Big Piney.  That small area is the only privately held land in the Cow Creek basin.  All of Middle Cow Creek valley is public land, managed by the Forest Service.  Hopefully, I can explain this area without confusing anyone with the various "Cow Creeks".  Refer to the expanded map of the whole Cow Creek basin at the bottom of this post as needed.

Hiking along the creek in the east prong
I had been to Middle Cow Creek before, but only as far upstream as Middle Cow Falls, which is only about a half mile from the confluence with Cow Creek.  Through a lot of exploration and trial and error, I had picked an optimal parking location to get to Middle Cow Falls.  Among other lessons to remember from my previous hikes is that the logging roads, shown on the map for Middle Cow Creek, toward the top, are simply not there.  While there are old traces of logging roads that branch off FR-1216, they go only a short distance past berms and nowhere near where the map shows them to be.  The fact that they are shown as straight lines should have been my first clue.  Trust me, straight roads in the Ozarks are mythical.  The parking location #1 coordinates I listed above are the best spot for hiking down to Middle Cow Falls.  I did follow an old trace road all over the face of the spur between the mouths of Middle Cow Creek and Little Cow Creek.  The old forest service maps show a logging road there, but it is way, way, off.

Oops - Parking location plans thwarted
I had explored all of the area downstream of Middle Cow Falls and found a beautiful creek with some deceptively deep pools, but no more water features.  This is a very scenic area, but if you are chasing waterfalls, they are not there.  I was ready to turn my attention to the rest of this hollow and see if maybe there were some huge waterfalls like Cincinnati Freedom Falls next door on Little Cow Creek.  I had also found a pretty good parking location for exploring the rest of the Middle Cow Creek valley, which I have labeled parking location #2.  It is at the end of an old logging road starting at parking location #1, going all the way upstream to where the upper prongs branch off of the main creeks.  Unfortunately for my plans today, on my way down FS-1202A to this spot, there was a large tree down across the road.  There was a sharp drop-off to the right, and on the left other downed trees prevented me from getting around it.  Bummer.  I had actually thought about bringing a chainsaw in case the storms yesterday caused this situation, and took off this morning without it.  Fortunately, I had a backup plan, so we headed for a new parking location. As it turned out, this was a much better launching point anyway.

To get there, 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 right on CR-5680, also known as Pine Ridge Road.   
Falls #11
- Go 1.0 miles on Pine Ridge Road, and turn left (north) onto FS-1202A
- Go 2.2 miles on FS-1202A, then turn left onto a Jeep road.  As you might guess from the name, when I say Jeep road, I mean it.  You need a decent 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance.  If you don't have one, park here. 
- Go 0.4 miles down the Jeep road and park.  This is Parking Location #1, and if you are ONLY going to Middle Cow Falls, this is the best place to park.  Middle Cow Falls is a quarter mile away, straight toward the creek at the bottom of the valley.

Falls #4
Today, however, we were going to explore the upper part of the Valley.  I parked at my best guess for my backup plan, and it turned out to be pretty good.  During my exploration today, I found what I believe is an even better location.  To get to this location, follow the directions above, but after you turn onto FS-1202A, go only 0.8 miles and turn left onto a Jeep road.  Again, Jeep road means have a good 4WD, or park it there and hike the rest of the way.  After you turn onto the Jeep road, go 0.3 miles and turn left at the fork in the Jeep road.  Go down this old road to a large berm and park there.  This is parking location #3 and is a good spot between the big east prong and the southeast prong.  I still have the middle prong and the southwest prong to explore, but the east prong and southeast prong were the two areas I found most of the waterfalls today.

Falls #1
Not knowing what I know now, I went straight down the Jeep road, as far as the FJ would go.  From there, Boomer and I hiked straight down into the east prong.  This area looks like it has been logged in the not too distant past, and there is a growth of hickory saplings along the top of the bluff.  This thicket only goes on for about 20 yards, but just squeeze through that, and then as you start down the bluff it clears up and the hike is much more pleasant.  As we started down the slope we immediately came to our first waterfall.  I found a break in the bluffline that is very steep, but doable, and we were able to get down it to the base of Unnamed Falls #1.  From the bluffline break, we could see another waterfall downstream less than a hundred feet.  Of course, once we were down at creek level, and headed downstream, I could see an easier slope downstream of Falls #2 that we could have climbed down.  The easier route would be to come down the slope downstream of Falls #2, then go upstream on that side along the base of the upper bluff to the base of Falls #1.  In other words, cut across the top of the bench above Falls #2.  From there, you need to go to the other side of the creek to go downstream and climb down to the base of Falls #2.  Both of these waterfalls are a pretty good size, pouring over tall bluffs at least 20 feet.  I didn't expect to find any water this high in the hollow, but they did have some flow even in our current dry spell.

Falls #2
Continuing downstream in the east prong, we found Falls #3 in a side drainage, and Falls #14 (yeah, I know; I missed it on my initial numbering of waterfalls) upstream of it about 40 yards.  This is a smaller tributary that will take a good deal more rain to get flowing.  From there, Boomer and I hiked downstream along the creek in this prong, in fairly open and non-challenging terrain.  As bushwhacks go, this is easy and pleasant hiking.  We hiked almost to the confluence of the east prong and Middle Cow Creek before finding the next waterfall, also in a side drainage.  Falls #4 is a two-tiered waterfall that is only about 15 feet tall in total, but really nice in its configuration.  Falls #4 is also very close to the parking location #2 that I had previously scoped out.  From here, it is only about 300 yards and a climb of less than a hundred feet to parking location #2.  If your hike is limited to hiking up the east prong and back, or up the east prong, then looping back down the southeast prong, this would be an excellent parking spot.

Small Shelter Cave in a side drainage
Boomer and I kept heading downstream and soon came to where this creek flows into Middle Cow Creek itself.   The hike along Middle Cow Creek is also not a difficult bushwhack hike.  The undergrowth is minimal and the slope is moderate.  Like most places in the Ozarks, it is still not a walk in the park but not difficult at all.  I kind of expected to find a huge waterfall flowing over a tall bluff somewhere around the 1000 foot elevation area, but I found nothing but a fast creek with a constantly increasing flow.  Next door on Little Cow Creek, the spectacular Cincinnati Freedom Falls was at about this elevation, and it makes sense that the big sandstone capstone would extend over into this valley.  That was not the case, but this is still a very nice hike along a beautiful creek that very few human eyes ever get to see.   If you have the time to hike this valley from stem to stern, as we did today, it is a great day in the wilderness.  When you get back up into the upper prongs, the climb will start to wear you out, but it is still well worth the effort.

Middle Cow Falls
From Falls #4, it is a little over a mile to Middle Cow Falls.   I believe this was named by John Moore; an old photo of his on Google Earth is the only evidence I could find that anyone else had ever been in this valley.  That's just another reason the Cow Creek basin is becoming one of my favorite hiking spots.  While there are a bazillion great waterfall areas in the Arkansas Ozarks, there is something special about having a huge chunk of the wilderness all to yourself for a day.  Middle Cow Falls was beautiful today.  This is a fantastic cascading type waterfall with a couple of smaller waterfalls feeding it at the top.  It is on the main creek itself, so always has a decent amount of flow, and today it had just about the perfect amount to make it look its best.

Falls #5 - with Boomer
After spending some time around Middle Cow Falls, we headed back upstream.  I had already hiked the areas downstream and along Cow Creek a couple of times, so we started back to explore a little more of this valley today.  A short distance upstream, there is a major tributary on the west side of the valley that had a substantial amount of flow today.  I didn't want to take the time today, but I will come back and explore this creek.  From the topology, it probably has at least a couple of good waterfalls on it.  Further upstream, we passed the confluence of the east prong and continued up the main creek toward the upper prongs.  Along the way, we passed another decent sized side drainage to come back and explore, with a small shelter cave near its confluence with the main creek.  We also passed Falls #5 and Falls #6, both on the main creek, before Middle Cow Creek splits into the three prongs at the upper end of the valley.  I refer to these collectively as the upper prongs, and individually as the southeast, middle, and southwest prongs.  Falls #6 is actually a small waterfall on the main creek with another small waterfall just above it in a side drainage.

Falls #7
There are just a few yards between where the southeast prong splits off the main creek and where the middle and southwest prong split off upstream.  Between those two prong splits, we found Falls #7, which certainly has one of the most unique geometries I have seen in Ozark waterfalls.  Of the three upper prongs, the southwest appears to have the most flow, and the middle prong definitely has the least.  While it was tempting to go up the creek with the most water flowing, today we were parked on the ridge between the east and the southeast prongs, so we started our climb out by going up the southeast prong.  Just a few yards up this creek is Falls #8, and less than 200 yards upstream from that is Falls #9, a really cool looking waterfall.  It has an initial drop of about three feet, then corkscrews down another ten feet or so.  

Falls #9
Upstream, the southeast prong rises very steeply, and the blufflines are sheer and grouped tightly together.  Above Falls #9, we found Falls #10 and Falls #11 in rapid succession, both of them well over 20 feet tall and both classic Ozark shelf-type waterfalls with water spilling over the bluffline to pools below.  Above Falls #11, we found Wraith Falls, not quite as tall as its two sister falls downstream, but still close to 20 feet tall and just beautiful, even with the relatively low flow today.  I can't wait to see this one with more flow.  This was Unnamed Falls #12 only until Boomer and I got back home and unloaded the camera.  As soon as my wife Bethany saw this one, she said, "Is there a Wraith Falls yet?  That looks like it needs to be named Wraith Falls."  And so it is.  When I started exploring this area, we started naming the major waterfalls after famous cows.  It is, after all, the Cow Creek basin.  That being said, I ran out of names of famous cows long ago, and have well over two dozen unnamed waterfalls in this area, so I had no problem with the name.  That, plus the fact that she is my wife and if naming a waterfall makes her happy, I have a lot more unnamed waterfalls where that one came from.  

Wraith Falls
Wraith Falls is almost a twin waterfall of sorts.  Another side drainage comes in right at the edge of the bluff cliff that Wraith Falls flows over, making a small waterfall on the left (east) side.  It was separated enough from Wraith Falls that I made it Unnamed Falls #13.  From here, I decided I was high enough in this prong that there probably was not much more upstream if anything.  We started hiking upstream and then veered over toward where I had left the FJ Cruiser since we were already about at that elevation.  From what we found in the southeast prong, I think I may well have missed a waterfall or two in the east prong.  I thought we had dropped down into it pretty high, but the last couple of large waterfalls in the southeast prong are at a somewhat higher elevation. 

Falls #10
Hiking back around the knob to where we had parked, we almost immediately 
came upon an old trace road.  It was going in the right direction, so we followed it to a small food plot, after which it turned into a fairly nice roadbed.  No tracks or anything, but it looked as if the Forest Service brush hogged it occasionally to keep it clear.  About halfway around the knob, there was a large berm, then it continues on to the old Jeep road we had driven down to our parking place.  In the future, I think it would be best to park at this berm, then go over to the east prong, and back up the southeast prong to make a quick loop of these two drainages that were just loaded with nice waterfalls.

Middle Cow Falls
We completed our hike down the old road to where we parked and headed for home.  Boomer and I had a great day in the wilderness and got to see a lot of new waterfalls.  We still need quite a bit more rain to get back to normal, but I'm hopeful that soon the spring rains will be here and the creeks will get back to levels they should have been all winter.  Boomer ended up injuring two of his legs on this hike, so Momma Bethany has grounded him until they heal up.  That means I'll be out with other hiking companions or on my own the next couple of weeks.  I have a plan for exploring the last two prongs, so I'll be back before too long to take a look at them.  At some point, I will come back and look at a couple of other major side drainages here as well.  All in all, I would call this moderate bushwhacking conditions.  It is definitely a lot easier along Middle Cow Creek than high in the upper prongs but overall not too bad.  I would recommend this to anyone in decent physical condition, but I would leave the kids at home for this one.
Orange - Forest Service Roads
Green - old trace roads ("Jeep roads")
Red - Hiking track
Cow Creek(left and top), Middle Cow Creek (middle, of course) and Little Cow Creek (right)
Orange - Forest Service Roads

Green - old trace roads ("Jeep roads")
Red - Hiking tracks
Blue - track for my initial Little Cow Creek exploration

    Bear Creek Waterfalls, Ozarks south of Fort Douglas, Arkansas

    3/12/2017 - Sidewinder Falls (aka Mama Bear Falls), Swamp Falls, V-Slot Falls (aka Papa Bear Falls), Baby Bear Falls, and Slot Pool Falls

    GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
      Parking location #1(NON-4WD):  35.68462   -93.17372, 1781 ft.
      Parking location #2 and Trail Head:  35.68639   -93.17600, 1768 ft.
      Upper and Lower Halfway Falls:  35.68703   -93.18121, 1443 ft.
      Sidewinder Falls:  35.68935   -93.18483, 1190 ft.
      Baby Bear Falls:  35.69030   -93.18350, 1227 ft.
      V-Slot Falls:  35.68917   -93.18723, 1143 ft.
      Bluff break:  35.68926   -93.18840
      Slot Pool Falls:  35.68927   -93.18794, 1135 ft.
      Unnamed Falls #1:  35.68936   -93.16894, 1124 ft.

    Pet-Friendly: Somewhat.  Free Roaming pets off leash, like Boomer, should be okay if they can do some climbing and scrambling.  I would not take pets that need to stay on leash.

    Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough.  I would never take my Harley on it.

    Hiking Statistics:  Today's hike was 3.2 miles round trip, and that includes quite a bit of moving around the spectacular waterfalls here.  The highest-to-lowest elevation difference is 756 feet.  It doesn't seem like it while you are hiking down but is apparent on the climb back out.  This is technically a bushwhack, but there are good volunteer trails in the area.  The hiking is fairly easy, especially this time of year, but I would still rate this as a difficult hike just because of the steep climb out.

    GPS files (.gpx format) - Map with these routes is at bottom of this post:
      Bear Creek GPS track

    Swamp Falls
    We didn't set out this morning with the intent of going to Bear Creek.  I set out with my hiking companions today, friends Dan Frew and David Dedman, to hike the waterfalls in Wye Hollow.  We had finally got a little rain, even some snow last night, and thought the waterfalls in this remote hollow would be starting to flow well.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature blocked us as we tried to get into Wye Hollow.  As soon as we started dropping down to the parking location, we came to a large tree across the logging road.  We managed to get around the first one but soon ran into many more that we could not.  Wye Hollow is a huge drainage system that requires either driving a good 4WD down to a couple of locations or hiking for a couple of days, and we didn't have that kind of time.  The answer to the "Well, what else is close?" was, of course, Bear Creek.  This is on everyone's list of favorite waterfall areas, for good reason.  Best of all for us, it was only about three miles north from where we were on Meadows Knob Road.
    Getting there is fairly straightforward but does involve a bit of backcountry
     Forest Service roads.  To get there, from Dover, go north on Highway 7 for 28.7 miles to Pelsor/Sand Gap.  Turn left (west) on Highway 123 for 4.7 miles, then turn left (south) onto Meadows Knob Road (aka FR-1802, CR-
    Sidewinder Falls
    5991, or Treat Road).  If you are coming from Hagerville, from the junction of Highways 164 and 123, go north for 22.6 miles, then turn right onto Meadows Knob Road.  
    Go 2.2 miles on Meadows Knob Road, then turn left onto a Jeep road.  If you don't have a good 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance, you should just park here off Meadows Knob Road.  This is Parking Location #1.  This is an old Forest Service logging road, one of the few they have put a road marker on; this is 93179A and has a vertical sign at ground level.  The Jeep road has some long, mudholes that have a solid bottom but can get pretty deep.  If you have a 4WD vehicle with decent ground clearance, you can drive down this Jeep Road to a food plot, and park at the far side of the clearing.  This is Parking Location #2 and is the trailhead for our hike today.  If you parked on Meadows Knob Road, hoof it down the Jeep road to this trailhead.

    Upper Halfway Falls
    Parking Location #2 is at the top of a drainage feeding into Bear Creek.  It is, in fact, the creek that forms Swamp Falls when it spills over the bluff into Bear Creek.  In Tim Ernst's guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls, he mentions an "upland swamp" at the north end of this clearing.  The swamp drains into the drainage that we will follow down to Bear Creek.  There are no maintained trails here, but enough folks have visited to make volunteer trails that are not too hard to pick up, at least this time of year.  A volunteer trail goes into the woods on the far (west) side of the food plot and leads down the drainage.  Make sure you are on the right side of the creek as you start hiking down.  There is a minimal amount of underbrush and briars in this area, so it is a very pleasant hike down to Bear Creek.  It is a little over a half mile from the trailhead to Bear Creek, and along the way, there are a couple of nice waterfalls in the creek you are hiking alongside.  These are Upper and Lower Halfway Falls; when you pass them, you'll know you are about halfway to Bear Creek.

    Sidewinder Falls
    Swamp Falls is visible downstream
    The trail winds down the tributary creek (can we just name this Swamp Creek?), and takes you right to Sidewinder Falls on Bear Creek.  When you see it, you'll know why it's named Sidewinder Falls.  There is a little contention on the names of the waterfalls here.  The kayakers that run this creek when it is at flood stage call the first drop in this section Baby Bear Falls, which the waterfall chasers agree with.  However, the next drop at Sidewinder Falls, they refer to as Mama Bear.  The next big drop downstream they call Papa Bear instead of V-Slot.  The kayakers have their own way of doing things and are often the ones that first shoot a wild stream and identify cool water features for the hikers to explore.  You can see their take on the Bear Creek area at this American Whitewater page.  The documentation in Tim's guidebook, as well as my friend Danny Hale's hiking Takahik guidebook, use the nomenclature that makes more sense to waterfall chasers, so I'll use those names for consistency.

    Top of V-Slot Falls
    From Sidewinder Falls, the trail splits and goes across Swamp Creek (see how easy it is to name something that doesn't have a name?) downstream in one direction, and upstream toward Baby Bear Falls.  From here, all the major waterfalls in the area are within a stone's throw of each other.  Well, if you have a really good arm.  Within a stone's throw for Dak Prescott, let's say.  If you look downstream from Sidewinder Falls, you can see Swamp Falls, where Swamp Creek flows over the south bluff into Bear Creek.  The trail goes along the top of the bluff, but today we carefully climbed down the left side of Sidewinder Falls to get some photos from the base of Sidewinder Falls and Swamp Falls.  From there, we just hiked at creek level down to the next downstream waterfall, V-Slot Falls.  

    V-Slot Falls
    V-Slot Falls is less than 300 yards downstream from Swamp Falls.  When you see it, you will immediately know why it was given that name.  When Kayakers shoot this creek, it is high enough that it is just a mass of water passing a big rock.  Most times, however, the creek hits a huge boulder in the middle of the creek and splits into two streams going around it.  Below V-Slot Falls, the water falls into a deep slot canyon that runs a few yards more before spilling out into a large pool at Slot Pool Falls.  You can see the top of Slot Pool Falls, but getting to the base means you have to hike a downstream a little ways.

    Slot Pool Falls
    If you continue downstream on the trail, it will take you well past Slot Pool Falls before there is a bluffline break you can take to get back down to creek level.  It can be a little hard to find, especially when you are at creek level and are trying to get back out of the canyon.  Once down at creek level, you will want to cross the creek and hike up to Slot Pool Falls on the opposite side.  On your way out of this canyon, look a little downstream from the bluffline break.  There is a nice little waterfall tumbling down the edge of the bluff cliff on the opposite (north) side of the creek.  Since it is right off Bear Creek, I'm tempted to call this one Goldilocks Falls.  Let me know what you think of the name.  There are more nice waterfalls in the tributaries to Bear Creek in this area, but they are off Bear Creek itself.

    Baby Bear Falls
    We went back up Bear Creek the way we came, crossing Swamp Creek and then turned upstream along the right (east) side of Bear Creek.  Baby Bear Falls is only a couple hundred yards upstream of Sidewinder Falls.  Once you are down at the Sidewinder Falls area, all of these cool waterfalls are so close that you really should visit all of them while you are there.  Baby Bear Falls is another waterfall that spills into a large pool, like Slot Pool Falls.  One of the things I like about this area, in addition to its all-around awesomeness, is that the major waterfalls are all uniquely beautiful in their own way.  They all have geometries and configurations very different from the others in the area.  If you are a photographer, there is a lot for you here, and no doubt many perspectives that you can shoot these from that others have not.

    Unnamed Falls downstream of Slot Pool Falls
    Goldilocks Falls?
    Leaving Baby Bear Falls, we hiked back past Sidewinder Falls and started the climb out.  I won't kid you, there are a couple of sections of the hike that are steep enough to wear you out.  It isn't as bad as the hike out of Hemmed-in Hollow to the Compton trailhead, but it's not far behind.  If you have a heart condition or are in generally bad shape, either take your time, a loooong time, or don't go.  There are some steep bluffs and cliffs, and the trails are volunteer trails and go places that are a little iffy.  I'm not sure I would take smaller children to this area.  My advice would be to go the first time without them, then make your own judgment knowing your child's capabilities or lack of them.  But for all that can make a somewhat strenuous hike out, I can't recommend this area enough.  It is nature at its most awesome.

    GPS Track - Bear Creek Waterfalls

    Wednesday, March 1, 2017

    QuiVaLa Elise Falls, Smith Creek Nature Preserve, Arkansas Ozarks, south of Boxley, Arkansas

    3/1/2017 -  QuiVaLa Elise Falls, Smith Creek Nature Preserve

    GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
      Parking Location:  35.93451   -93.38564,  1652 ft.
      QuiVaLa Elise Falls:  35.93808   -93.38302,  1321 ft.

    Pet Friendly: Yes, dogs on or off leash should be fine.  I did not see signs indicating that dogs were not allowed or needed to be on a leash.  Note that this is a nature preserve with hiking trails, so if your dog is not well behaved around people or other dogs, please keep it on a leash.  I had Boomer's leash with us today, but he just doesn't need it.  We had the place all to ourselves and he is remarkably well behaved. 

    Motorcycle Friendly:  Yes, the parking location is on a dirt road, but a very short one that is very well maintained.  You will be parking just a short distance from Highway 21.

    Hiking Statistics: There are many very well maintained trails that you may want to explore, but the hike to QuiVaLa Elise Falls is only 1.7 miles roundtrip.  The highest-to-lowest elevation difference is 430 feet.  The entire climb from creek level to the parking location is on a really nice trail, with few steep spots, so it seems like a fairly moderate climb.  Only the last part is a bushwhack, going a few yards down Smith Creek and then up the narrow canyon to the waterfall itself.

    GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
      Hiking trail map of Smith Creek Nature Preserve (.jpg format)
      Smith Creek Nature Preserve brochure

    QuiVaLa Elise Falls
    We had some very severe storms come through northwest Arkansas last night, with tornados, hail, and everything else.  Almost everything, anyway; we did get a little rain, but only about a quarter inch, not nearly enough to make a dent in our drought.  I had previously scoped out QuiVaLa Elise Falls a couple of weeks ago, and it was still on my to-do list.  Before going to a new area, I like to check out the topo maps, Google Earth, and whatever other resources I can find.  This one is in Tim Ernst's excellent guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls.  Brent Toellner also had a nice blog post on this hike worth checking out.  

    Parking location near gate
    To get there, go north on Highway 21 from Mossville for 3.2 miles and turn right onto a dirt road.  Go down the dirt road several yards to the gate and park where you won't block the gate.  There is a turnaround here, and plenty of room for parking on the side of the road near the gate.  If you are coming from the other direction, from the junction of Highway 21 and Highway 43, go 3.7 miles south on Highway 21 and turn left onto the dirt road.  There is a bulletin board here at the gate, with a lot of information and directions.  The Nature Conservancy even provides free maps and brochures in bins on the bulletin board.  They only ask that you don't block the gate and leave the area as you found it.  I don't think that's asking too much.

    Marty and Elise Roenigk are two of the great preservationists that Arkansas has been fortunate to have.  They also owned the 1886 Cresent Hotel and Spa and the 1905 Basin Hotel in Eureka Springs.  Many years ago, they called the aforementioned Tim Ernst, looking for a large tract of land in the Upper Buffalo area.  At the time, the Smith Creek land had been subdivided for development, and Tim suggested they look at it.  The Roenigks ended up buying all the property and a couple of adjacent parcels.   Terry Clark and Glenn Wheeler made improvements to the property, including building the road and the bridge.  Marty and Elise decided the best thing they could do with their almost two square mile chunk of Arkansas Ozarks would be to preserve it for future generations.  God bless them for that.  They transferred ownership in 2004 to the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works to preserve over 300,000 acres of unique and beautiful areas like this in Arkansas.  After the Roenigks transferred the property to the Nature Conservancy, the Smith Creek Nature Preserve opened to the public the very next year.  One of the many things worthy of preserving here is Sheffield Cave, a three-mile system of caves under the Smith Creek Preserve that houses the largest colony of Indiana bats in Arkansas.

    Turn off the main trail where you see this sign

    Starting out at the trailhead behind the gate, I was impressed with the condition of the trails.  At this point, it is a road that any vehicle could use.  This "main trail" goes all the way to Smith Creek, but at just 0.2 miles, look for a white sign that says "Elise Falls" and take the smaller trail it points to on the left.  This is also an excellent trail, as all of them I saw within the preserve are.  About a half mile down this trail from the main trail, it crosses Smith Creek.  The trail continues around to the east side of the preserve, but you will want to leave the trail to the left and hike down Smith Creek a few yards.  From the trail, look to your left;  see the white bluff jutting into the creek bed where it turns to the right?  The smaller drainage containing QuiVaLa Elise Falls is just a short 0.1 miles up that drainage.  The only part of this hike that is a bushwhack is a few yards of walking down Smith Creek and up the narrow canyon that contains QuiVaLa Elise Falls.  Even at that, there is a volunteer trail of sorts going up the canyon to QuiVaLa Elise Falls.

    Smith Creek - note the white bluff downstream -
    the narrow canyon with QuiVaLa Elise Falls
    is behind that outcropping.

    This photo was taken from where 
    the trail crosses Smith Creek.
    Smith Creek at this point was bone dry, which might seem a little concerning if you are chasing waterfalls.  It is my understanding that Smith Creek in this area is dry more often than not because the water disappears underground into the Sheffield Cave system.  Today, there was water flowing in the side drainage containing QuiVaLa Elise Falls, although not nearly as much as I had hoped.  I noticed all the water in this creek flowed into Smith Creek for a couple of yards, into a small pool that never filled.  I can only assume that water is flowing through this sinkhole into Sheffield Cave, and makes it's way out at some exit point downstream on Smith Creek or directly into the Buffalo River, only about a mile away as the crow flies.

    QuiVaLa Elise Falls is named after Elise Roenigk.  'Qui-Va-La' is a French-Indian word for "Who Goes There".  The rough translation of 
    QuiVaLa Elise Falls
    'Qui-Va-La' from French is "who's there".  When Elise found this waterfall while exploring, she thought the rushing water sounded as if it were saying "Qui Va La", and she answered "Elise."  That's the story, anyway.  In any case, it's a pretty name for a pretty waterfall, named after a pretty lady that gave us this great little chunk of Natural State beauty.  QuiVaLa Elise Falls is a 21-foot tall cascading waterfall, and even with today's low flow conditions is well worth the hike to see it.  Today, however, it was not rushing enough to speak French to me, so I'll have to return in wetter times to check that out.  After Boomer and I took in the scenery and took a few photos, we packed up and headed back.  

    The hike back is a climb of over 400 feet, but really doesn't seem bad at all because the trail is a good one.  It is a fairly even climb over the three-quarters of a mile back to the parking location.  I'm not sure how I managed to drive past this area for years without stopping to give it a look.  It is a beautiful area, and the Nature Conservancy is clearly a good caretaker of the Roenigk's generosity.  Looking at the trail map, there are many features worthy of exploring, and the temptation to do that now was strong.  However, I also had planned to check out Marty Falls, which was only about a mile away, at the edge of the Smith Creek Nature Preserve.  It also occurred to me that the other hiking trails in the preserve would be more scenic in the late spring and early summer months, and during that time frame, I would enjoy an area like this all the more, with its great trails and lack of briars and undergrowth.  I'll be back!
    GPS track to QuiVaLa Elise Falls

    Trail Map for Smith Creek Nature Preserve