Thursday, April 13, 2017

Meyer Branch Waterfalls, Ozarks north of Hector, Arkansas

4/13/2017 - Rock Wall Falls and other Meyer Branch waterfalls
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 a bushwhack hike.

Motorcycle Friendly: No, not that friendly to your big bike unless you park on Highway 27 and hike in on the access road to the parking location.

Hiking Statistics:  We hiked a total of 3.73 miles, with a highest to lowest elevation change of 505 feet. The hike out from the second hollow was steep, coming back to the road a little over a mile from the parking location.  This is a moderate bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.
  Bear Hollow Area Waypoints
  Meyer Branch GPS track 4-13-2017

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.61428   -92.90222, 1326 ft
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.61759   -92.89964, 1243 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.61813   -92.89995, 1162 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #3:  35.61829   -92.90135, 1111 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #4:  35.61838   -92.90159, 1104 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #5:  35.61886   -92.90382, 1024 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #6:  35.61933   -92.90558, 928 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #7:  35.61834   -92.90674, 830 ft.
  Rock Wall Falls:  35.61220   -92.90479, 1084 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #9:  35.61052   -92.90344, 1197 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #10:  35.61037   -92.90289, 1207 ft.

Rock Wall Falls
My hiking companions, Dan Frew and David Dedman, and I started out today to hike a different hollow, a promising one that none of us had yet explored.  Unfortunately, that area turned out to be a bust.  It happens; you never know what you might find in these remote parts of the Ozarks, and you never know if you will find nothing.  After getting back to the vehicles, the "so where do we go now?" question came up.  As it turned out, we were not that far from Meyer Branch, a major tributary of the Middle Fork of the Illinois Bayou.  I had seen Dan's photos and put this area on my list to go see, but had yet to go.  Dan and David had both hiked the loop we hiked today, but both liked it so much they jumped on the chance to take me there.  Today, we hiked a loop of the two southern most drainages on the east side of Meyer Branch.  

Falls #4
To get there, from "The Store" (actually a gas station, not a store, although it does have food) at the corner of Highway 27 and Pine Street in Hector, go 14.4 miles north on Highway 27.  Turn left onto the Jeep road.  Note - if you don't have a vehicle with good ground clearance, you may want to park on the Highway and walk.  Proceed with your best judgment for the vehicle you have.  Follow the Jeep road for less than a mile to a clearing for the parking location at 35.61428, -92.90222.  This is roughly midway between the two drainages we hiked through, and about 250 feet in elevation below Highway 27, which is about where the creeks in these drainages start having significant flow.

Falls #2
Since it is a big loop down one drainage and back up the other, I suppose you could hike either clockwise or counter-clockwise, as viewed on the map at the bottom of this post.  We hiked counterclockwise, which left us with the two largest and nicest waterfalls at the end of the hike.  We hiked north, keeping mostly on the level, and down into our first drainage where it splits into two prongs.  The south prong has a waterfall, Falls #1, just before it flows into the main creek, but this one had very little flow today.  Even with the heavy rain a couple of weeks ago, the creeks in the Ozarks were already starting to dry up.  Going down that feeder creek to the main creek in the drainage, there is a nice two-tiered waterfall, Falls #2, in the main creek right at the junction.

Looking out the tunnel to access Falls #4
From Falls #2, we hiked straight downstream.  A couple hundred yards downstream, we passed Falls #3, a small waterfall spilling off a rock jutting out from the creek bed.  Only a hundred feet or so downstream from that is Falls #4, a smaller waterfall, but unique in a number of ways.  It is only about seven feet tall but cascades down a stairstep type waterfall with thick moss everywhere.  To get to the base of this one, look to the left as you face downstream.  There is a hole in the rocks there, a tunnel that you can climb down through to access the base of the waterfall.  Once done, you have to go back up to the top of Falls #4 through the same tunnel.  The bluffs on each side are too steep and slippery to climb, and downstream, a big pool fills the creek bed from side to side.  Once we scrambled back up through the tunnel, we crossed the top of Falls #4 and continued downstream.

Falls #6
Another 200+ yards downstream is Falls #5, a wide two-tiered waterfall that I'm sure will be very pretty with a good deal more flow, but today there just was not much going over this waterfall.  Judging from the flow downstream and upstream, it appears part of the creek goes underground at this point, to resurface before it flows into Meyer Branch.  Right where this drainage flows into Meyer Branch is where we found Falls #6.  Getting to the base of Falls #6, however, is a little bit of a challenge.  The bluff along the bank of Meyer Branch here is too high to climb down, so you have to hike downstream over a hundred yards to find a place you can climb down to the creek and go back upstream to Falls #6.

Lower Drop of Falls #7
Hiking downstream on Meyer Branch, Falls #7 is about a quarter of the way to the next drainage that we would be hiking on our return loop.  Falls #7 is a pretty waterfall right on Meyer Branch with two small drops, about five yards apart.  Today, we could cross Meyer Branch in a number of places because the creek level was not too high.  There is a huge flat rock downstream that provides an easy crossing with normal creek levels, but during wet times when the creek is high, you will want to stay on the left (east) side.  That is the side the return drainage is in.  Along the way, there is another nice waterfall in a side drainage, but it is definitely a wet weather waterfall, and only had a trickle today.

The Rock Wall
The next large drainage on the east side is the southernmost drainage flowing into Meyer Branch.  We turned up this drainage and hiked upstream.  This is a pretty Ozark stream, so you don't notice that by the time you get to the waterfall Dan named Rock Wall Falls, you have climbed almost half of the climb out to the parking area.  Rock Wall Falls is about a third of a mile upstream on this drainage from the confluence with Meyer Branch.  When Dan first explored this hollow, the first thing he noticed was a large, long, stacked rock wall along the creek.  It appears that this wall was built as a berm wall, with earth backfilled behind it and flat on top to make a building site.  I'm sure at some point, some industrious pioneer family stacked the berm wall and built a cabin here.  I can only imagine waking up to the view of Rock Wall Falls outside the window.  At any rate, any cabin that may have been built here has long ago disintegrated, but Rock Wall Falls seemed like a logical name for this beautiful waterfall.  I estimated it to be around 38 feet tall, falling into a beautiful blue-green pool.

Falls #10
Rock Wall Falls has a high, sheer bluffline on the right as you face upstream, but on the left is a slope that you can take to get above the bluffline and the top of Rock Wall Falls.  Be very careful as you go around the top.  The view is spectacular, but it is steep and was very slippery even today.  It's a long way down, and the pool is only a couple of feet deep.  Upstream of Rock Wall Falls, there is Falls #9, a series of little falls that are very picturesque.  A short distance further upstream is Falls #10, a classic looking Ozark waterfall in the 16-foot range.  This one also has a break to climb above the bluffline on the left (north) side.  As you climb through the access, you come across an old trace road.  We followed this old trace road as it hooks sharply to the left when you are adjacent to the top of Falls #10.  This old road is pretty rough, but still much better hiking up the mountain that a pure bushwhack.  We followed it all the way up the mountain and over to our parking location.  

Rock Wall Falls
This is a hike I plan to do again.  I have put it on my "revisit when there is more water" list.  Rock Wall Falls and Falls #10 alone make it a worthwhile hike and seem to have decent flow all the time.  They would make a good out-and-back hike when conditions are not quite wet enough to make the northern drainage worthwhile.  The entire loop is some pretty nice countryside and makes for a pleasant hike.  It is a little rough in places, and I would rate it as moderate bushwhacking conditions.  The first drainage we hiked on our downstream part of the loop also had some nice waterfalls.  However, as I mentioned, this drainage has less water, so I'll wait for some fairly wet conditions before I return.
Meyer Branch GPS track

Monday, April 10, 2017

Wild River Hollow - two hikes, Richland Creek NWSR, near Ben Hur, Arkansas

4/6/2017 and 4/9/2017 - Wild River Hollow waterfalls

GPS Coordinates: (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking location #1:  35.79640   -92.92923, 1003 ft.
  Parking location #2:  35.79707   -92.92515, 1008 ft.
  Parking location #3:  35.78794   -92.91468, 1794 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.79651   -92.91265, 1392 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.79668   -92.91254
  Bluffline Break to Diehard Falls:  35.79755   -92.91296, 1348 ft.
  Diehard Falls:  35.79717   -92.91272, 1372 ft.
  Bluffline break to Falls #4:  35.79780   -92.91278, 1342 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #4:  35.79748   -92.91294, 1351 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #5:  35.79799   -92.91356,  1344 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #6 and #7:  35.79793   -92.91384, 1380 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #8 and #9:  35.79755   -92.91296, 1303 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #10:  35.79924   -92.91331, 1273 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #11:  35.79974   -92.91381
  Unnamed Falls #12:  35.79985   -92.91390
  Unnamed Falls #13:  35.80081   -92.91434
  Unnamed Falls #14:  35.80142   -92.91470, 1111 ft.
  Old trace road - upper end:  35.80135   -92.91554, 1158 ft.
  Old trace road - lower end:  35.80076   -92.9195, 1114 ft.
  ATV trail - turn off to trace road:  35.80098   -92.92004, 1078 ft.

Pet Friendly: If you come into this hollow from the bottom, a dog off leash will be fine if you just visit the larger lower falls.  To get above Falls #4 and Falls #5 will require some climbing and may be too challenging for some dogs.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough.  There is just too much not-so-good dirt road.

Hiking Statistics (4/6/2017 hike of the upper prongs):  On this hike, I had a highest-to-lowest elevation change of 573 feet.  I hiked a total of 2.9 miles, taking three hours to hike it.  The terrain varied considerably, from very rugged around the major waterfalls and upper reaches of each prong, to fairly open and relatively easy bushwhacking in the middle of the upper prongs.  I would rate this a difficult bushwhack overall.  I would not recommend this route; the route I took on 4/9/2017 from the bottom is highly recommended.

Hiking Statistics (4/9/2017 hike of the lower hollow):  Wild River Hollow is only about 900 feet from top to bottom.  On today's hike, I had a highest-to-lowest elevation change of only 420 feet.  I hiked a total of 3.87 miles, taking 3.5 hours to hike it.  The terrain varied considerably, and the difficulty of the hike will depend on what you want to see and how you get there.  The hike along the ATV trail is very easy hiking.  The hike up the creek to the large waterfalls and through the bluffline breaks on each side is considerably more difficult.  I would rate the hike up the creek to Falls #4 and Falls #5 a moderate bushwhack overall, and anything above those is a difficult bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format):
  Wild River Hollow GPS track
  Falling Water Creek area waypoints

Diehard Falls

I had been intrigued with this hollow off Richland Creek for some time.  Last December, my friend Dan Frew had hiked down into the hollow from Bobtail Trail Road and had seen some significant waterfalls with a significant flow, at a time when everything else was relatively dry.  The geology of the Ozarks is pretty weird, and you just can't tell where water will squirt up or dive underground.  I had put this hollow on my "go out and explore it to see what's there" list, and finally got around to hiking it.  This is actually an unnamed hollow.  My blog readers have given me feedback to the effect that it's bad enough that many of the waterfalls I find are simply left as "unnamed falls #x", and that calling one "unnamed falls #x in an unnamed hollow off some creek" is unacceptable.  So I have attempted to at least give the hollows I hike a name if they don't already have one.  This one happens to flow into Richland Creek at a point that is within an area set aside and designated as a NWSR (Natural Wild and Scenic River) area.  So for the purposes of my writing and the sanity of my readers, I'll call this one Wild River Hollow.

Falls #2
Of the three prongs in the upper part of this hollow, Dan had hiked down the one furthest southeast then hiked back on the ATV trail that Bobtail Trail Road turns into.  On my first hike here three days ago, I thought the best way to explore the rest of this hollow would be to start at the top of the center prong, hike down it, then back up the southwest prong and back to the vehicle.  Bobtail Trail Road (aka Big Point Road on some maps) goes right across the top of all three prongs, so this looked like a great approach.  As often happens, in reality, it doesn't end up being the best approach, but I'll discuss this hike first and then discuss the second hike and what I consider the best route into this great polyfoss area.  

4/6/2017 hike - loop hike of the two main upper prongs of Wild River Hollow

Falls #2 (left) and Falls #1 (right)
I parked at parking location #3, right on Bobtail Trail Road between the center and southwest prongs.  Getting down into the center prong was easy bushwhack hiking, as was and hiking along the creek.  There had been some recent logging on the knob between the prongs, but down in the hollows, it was unspoiled and pleasant, without much undergrowth.  While it is always great to get out in the woods, I like a big waterfall to give me that special buzz that waterfall chasers crave, and it was about a mile of hiking before I found Falls #1 and Falls #2.  They were just a few feet from each other where the center and southeast prongs flowed together.  These are both nice smaller waterfalls in the six-foot range, and certainly "photo worthy" in their own right.  They each have cascades above them that make them even more photogenic.  Just downstream, however, I could hear a much larger waterfall.

Falls #1
Hiking downstream from Falls #1, I soon came to the top of Diehard Falls, and later I will tell you why I called it that.  On this first hike into Wild River Hollow, I looked downstream to the left and saw nothing but towering cliffs, and on the right, I could at least see a little bit of slope.  So I climbed higher on the bluff and went downstream on the right (east) side to get to the base of Diehard Falls.  I soon found that the base of this waterfall was in a box canyon that flowed out over yet another large waterfall, Falls #4.  Search as I might, I could not find a bluffline break above Falls #4 that would allow access to Diehard Falls.  I eventually stopped clamoring about on the steep bluff above Falls #4, and a short distance further downstream found a bluffline break that would let me get down to creek level at the base of Falls #4.  I could see part of Diehard Falls above Falls #4, I just couldn't get to it.

Falls #4 (foreground)
and Diehard Falls (background)
As I climbed down through this bluffline break, I looked across the hollow to where the southwest prong flows over the big bluffline and saw a waterfall that seemed to go on forever.  Looking a little closer, it was evident that there was one large waterfall, Falls #5, where that prong flowed over the bluff, and a series of long and very steep cascades above it.  I continued down the bluffline break and spent some time at Falls #4, which was very nice itself, and tried to at least get a shot of Diehard Falls above it.  For me, there are few things as frustrating as knowing there is a nice waterfall a few yards from you, and not being able to get to it.  I vowed to study this blind canyon and find a way in.  Of course, if I had cell phone coverage, I could have just asked my friend Dan, since that was one of the waterfalls he photographed when he came through last December.  But for now, I couldn't see a safe way to it.  So I had already planned a return trip.

From Falls #4, it was just a short walk around the bluff on the left (west) as

Falls #4
you go downstream and you are at the base of Falls #5.  It is literally right around the corner.  I couldn't believe these three really nice waterfalls were grouped so closely together.  I snapped a photo of myself at the bottom of Falls #5 so I could scale it when I got back home.  The actual waterfall part is about 62.5 feet tall, a pretty spectacular water feature by itself.  But immediately above it are a slot cascade and another cascading water slide, each in the 50 to 60-foot range.  From across the hollow, these three all chained together looked like one huge waterfall tumbling down the mountain. 

Falls #5
I mentioned that my plan for this first hike was to hike down the center prong, then loop back the southwest prong to where I parked the FJ Cruiser.  Well, the FJ was there, so I was committed to this course of action and really had no alternative other than just retracing my steps.  The bluffline on the west side of Wild River Hollow is very high and very sheer from Falls #5 all the way downstream to the mouth of the hollow.  I hiked downstream about a quarter mile along the base of the bluff to scope out the creek below and look for a decent bluffline break to climb back above the bluff.  I did find one place just a few yards downstream from Falls #5 that I could climb up without too much difficulty or danger of falling.  On this first hike, I didn't have Boomer with me, as he was still recovering from tick fever.  At this point, I was glad he wasn't there because I never would have got him up this route to get to the top of Falls #5.

Falls #6 looking downward as it flows over Falls #5
Above Falls #5, there is a steep slot cascade all the way to the top of Falls #5.  I called this Falls #6, and Falls #7 is the water slide/cascade directly above that.  These were pretty cool water features up close, but viewed from across the hollow, collectively they look like one super tall, spectacular waterfall.  Before I headed upstream on the southwest prong, I went up and over the spur to get a better look at the box canyon below Diehard Falls.  There definitely was no safe way down on this (west) side, but I could see a bluffline on the other side and where it curved up to the slope above the lower bluff.  After I got home, I looked at satellite imagery and was pretty sure this would be the way into that box canyon.  It looked like a cedar tree had fallen over the end of that upper bluff, and that is why I couldn't see a way in from that side.  

Falls #7
Going back over to the southwest prong and starting my hike up it, I was surprised at how low the slope was and how open the area was, with lots of larger trees but not much in the way of undergrowth.  I found an old trace road that led from this little valley up the side of the bluff to the knob between the two prongs but chose to stay on the creek and explore it all the way up.  As it turned out, there were a couple of pour-off waterfalls in side drainages and one small waterfall on the main creek in this prong, and that's about it.  Aside from just the very pleasant hike along the creek, there were no water features here to write home about.  I finished the climb out and started planning my return to the area, this time hiking in from the bottom.

4/9/2017 hike - from the bottom of Wild River Hollow to the major waterfalls

Falls #12
On my hike three days ago, I had actually hiked down to within a half mile of where Wild River Hollow flows into Richland Creek.  Since there was little above the bluffline that the three large waterfalls flow over, it looked like hiking in from the bottom would be the way to go.  My hike today proved that to be correct.  It is really not that bad a hike, and in addition to the three major waterfalls here, there are many smaller waterfalls and cascades along the main creek that are simply beautiful.  The stretch of the creek below Falls #4 and #5 is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled, streams I have seen anywhere in the Ozarks, and that's saying a lot.

Parking Location #1
Richland Creek Road is in the background
To get to the parking location, go north on Hwy 7 to Pelsor (Sand Gap) and turn east on Hwy 16.  Go nine miles on Hwy 16 and turn left (north) on Upper Falling Water Road.  This is the first left after you pass through the little community of Ben Hur.  It has no road sign, but there is a big sign for the Falling Water Horse Camp.  Go down Upper Falling Water Road, bearing left where roads merge from the right.  You will pass Falling Water Falls on the right, then at 5.3 miles go over the low water bridge over Falling Water Creek.  Note that at 2.7 miles, the name officially changes from Upper Falling Water Road to Falling Water Road, then at 5.7 miles, the name changes to Richland Creek Road, but it is all the same road.  At 9.2 miles down this road, turn right onto an old Jeep road.  This road is before you get to the bridge over Richland Creek, and is only a few yards further down the road from the Richland Creek campground road, which you will pass on your left just prior to the turn off onto the Jeep road.  As you might suspect, "Jeep roads" are not for just any vehicle.  If you don't have a vehicle with good clearance, park here, just off Richland Creek Road.  This is Parking Location #1.
Jeep Road/ATV trail
after Parking Location #2
Please park off of the Jeep road, as there may be other vehicles coming through that will go further down the road than you do.  Not knowing what kind of road this would be, and knowing it wasn't that far along Richland Creek to Wild River Hollow, I parked in an open area off of the Jeep Road at Parking Location #1, and I hoofed it from there.  As I hiked down the old Jeep road, I kept thinking "the FJ could easily do this".  It is a pretty decent road for about a quarter mile.  I passed a couple of spots where folks had set up campsites, and the second of these campsites is where I marked Parking Location #2 coordinates.  The next time I come to this hollow, this is where I will park the FJ.  After this point, I believe I could actually drive the JF all the way to the mouth of Wild River Hollow, but it just isn't worth it.  It is really just an ATV trail after this, and even with a good 4WD, there are stretches with large boulders that you would have to go so slowly on, you are better off hiking.  So save yourself some time, park at Parking Location #2, and get a little exercise.  It's easy hiking along the ATV trail, anyway.

Falls #13
The hike along the old Jeep road/ATV trail is really nice, as it stays within sight of Richland Creek the entire way.  It is designated as the Richland Creek NWSR (National Wild and Scenic River) area, I think only one of six such rivers in Arkansas.  Richland Creek here certainly lives up to the wild and scenic descriptor.  From Richland Creek Road, I went 0.91 miles on my GPS tripmeter before I left the ATV trail and headed up into Wild River Hollow.  My maps show a small acreage of private land right where this hollow physically flows into Richland Creek.  There were no signs or postings of any kind, but no matter.  You do not need to go onto the private property to go up into Wild River Hollow.

Falls #14
After turning up the main creek in Wild River Hollow, a couple of things struck me.  One, the creek bed was very rough, with huge boulders and a veritable rock jumble all the way.  Usually, mountain streams tend to get a lot more flat and mellow as they get toward the mouth of the hollow or valley.  The other thing that struck me was the creek bed was bone dry.  Not three days ago, I had been a little over a half mile upstream and had seen quite a bit of flow in this creek.  I went upstream a good quarter mile before coming to any flowing water.  It was here that I found Falls #14.  Yes, I know - I had only gotten to Falls #7 on my first hike in this hollow.  But since I started numbering my waterfall finds from the top down, I kept doing that for the remainder of the hollow.  Falls #14 was in the 15-foot range but mostly hidden behind rock jumbles.  You can't really see it until you get right up on it, kind of cascading in the rocks.  Right at the base of Falls #14, all the water in the creek just disappears underground and stays there.  The first quarter mile of creek bed was completely dry.  I'm sure with enough rain, it sees some good surface flow, but there was none today.

Falls #11
Immediately above Falls #14, I found a nice mountain stream with plenty of water and a pretty little waterfall that I did not mark.  Although I have seen the phenomena many times, I'm still amazed when I find streams in the Ozarks disappearing and reappearing, seemingly in a random manner.  The geology of the Ozarks is unique and complex, and that apparently makes the hydrology of the area equally complex.  About a hundred yards upstream, I found a series of small waterfalls that I marked as Falls #13.  If all you want to do is see the large waterfalls, you can hike up to the base of the west bluff and hike along the base right to Falls #5.  But if you do that, you will miss out on one of the most beautiful creeks in the Ozarks.  I highly recommend hiking up along the creek and taking in the scenery of the multitudes of small waterfalls in an endless array of configurations.  

Falls #10
Another hundred yards about Falls #13, I found Falls #12, a cool series of waterfalls with a four-foot drop at the end, and a series of cascading waterfalls above it.  A short distance further upstream was Falls #11, a waterfall with an adjacent fall coming out of the rock next to it.  Less than a hundred yards upstream from that was Falls #10, a set of three waterfalls that are quite unique.  There is a cascade that flows onto a huge flat rock, it spills off that onto another rock, and falls off that into a large pool.  

Falls #8 with Falls #9 in the background
Just to the left of Falls #10, a side drainage flows into the creek that has some nice waterfalls all the way up the mountain.  I had seen this on my previous hike three days ago when I hiked along the base of the tall west bluff, and from that vantage, across the hollow, you could see waterfall after waterfall as it flowed all the way down the mountain.  There were two waterfalls I marked coordinates for as Falls #8 and Falls #9 in that drainage below the tall lower bluffline.  There were even more above that, but I did not visit those today. Today, I had my sights set on getting into the box canyon that Diehard Falls spilled into.  From the base of Falls #9, I just continued up along the base of the bluff, through a break to get above the big lower bluffline, and up to where I thought I could access the box canyon.  

Sure enough,  the bluffline came right around where I had scoped it out.  A
Bluffline Break to Diehard Falls
cedar tree had fallen over the end of the upper bluffline, and I had to push some tree aside to go along the base of the upper bluff, but there is room to do so.  For a few yards, you go along with the bluff to your left and a very steep drop off to the top of Falls #4, but soon enough it comes down to creek level in the short box canyon.  By the way, on my first hike, this was Unnamed Falls #3.  Since this one took me two trips and a lot of head scratching to get to it, it earned the name Diehard Falls.  Leaving Diehard Falls, I went out the same way I came in.  Carefully, because I am deathly afraid of heights.  It wasn't bad today, but you do expose yourself to a small ledge with a steep slope and a long drop to have your head split open like a ripe watermelon if you do slip.  If the ground is wet and slippery here, you might want to re-think going into this one

Falls #4
I had to climb up on the bluff a bit after leaving the box canyon with Diehard Falls to access the bluffline break taking me down to Falls #4.  This is another good sized waterfall, spilling out of the canyon above into a big pool.  From Falls #4, Falls #5 is just around the corner.  This is the 'big un' in this hollow, easily the largest at 62 feet tall, even without the two long cascades at the top of it.  I did not climb above the bluff to see Falls #6 and Falls #7 since I had just seen them earlier this week.  If I had Boomer (our German Shepherd) with me he wouldn't be able to make the last jump up without a running start, and there was no place here for that.  He weighs in at 105 pounds, so I'm not going to try to lift him up a tight climb like that.  The only other recourse if I bring Boomer is to go back up the break across the hollow, climb the bluff, go upstream of Diehard Falls, climb down the bluff, cross the creek, and cross the knob between the two prongs, then hike back downstream to Falls #6 and Falls #7.  That sounds like too much work.  It tired me out just writing about it.

Diehard Falls
From Falls #5, I hiked down the creek to the point at Falls #8 that I had previously left the creek to climb the bluff on the east side. This upper part of the creek is just as scenic and photogenic as the rest of the creek had been.  Since I had already seen the rest of this pretty little hollow, I decided to stay at my current elevation and start climbing the bluff on my way downstream to wrap around the big bluff on the left (west) side on my way out.  The hiking was somewhat easier away from the rock jumble at the creek, and when I was adjacent to where I had found Falls #14, I picked up a very faint old trace road.  The trace road had a lot of downed timber and was impassable for any vehicle, even an ATV, but old roads generally follow the contour of the land as much as possible, with as few rocks and other obstacles as possible, so I use them whenever I find them.  This old road was going in the right direction, and I followed it right around the spur at the mouth of Wild River Hollow.  I lost it just before getting back to the ATV trail/Jeep road along Richland Creek.  From where I lost it, it was a very short distance down to the ATV trail/Jeep road I had hiked on the way in.  If you look at the map at the bottom of this post, the green tracks represent the Jeep road along Richland Creek and this old trace road.

Towering bluff on the west side
Since the lower quarter mile of the creek was dry, if you can follow the old trace road back, it will make for a little easier hike than following the creek all the way down and then climbing back on the road along Richland Creek.  Hiking back on the Jeep road along Richland Creek is an enjoyable way to wrap up the hike into Wild River Hollow.  Richland Creek is as scenic as it gets, and the hiking is easy on the road.  It gave me a chance to catch my breath and regain some energy while taking in the natural beauty of the area.  This hike was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and is recommended for anyone that can do a little rough bushwhacking.  The hike along the Richland Creek Jeep road is easy, but hiking up the creek I would rate as a moderate to difficult bushwhack.  Climbing into the box canyon with Diehard Falls or the bluffline above that and above Falls #5 is a difficult bushwhack.  

Red/Green - Wild River Hollow GPS track (today's hike)
Blue - Wild River Hollow upper prongs track (4/6/2017 hike)
Green - ATV trail or old trace road
Red/Blue - bushwhacking tracks
Black - East prong track, return by Bobtail Trail Road (track by Dan Frew Dec 2016)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Keefe Hollow Waterfalls, Falling Water Creek Valley, near Ben Hur, Arkansas

4/4/2017 - Keefe Hollow waterfalls

GPS Coordinates: (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking:  35.76666   -92.93337,  1146 feet
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.76223   -92.92474, 1440 feet
  Unnamed Falls #2:  35.76233   -92.92475, 1433 feet
  Splashdown Falls:  35.76245   -92.92499, 1400 feet
  Unnamed Falls #4:  35.76273   -92.92574,  1382 feet
  Unnamed Falls #5:  35.76593   -92.92480, 1428 feet
  Keefe Falls:  35.76548   -92.92607,  1389 feet
  Today's parking location:  35.75741   -92.91299, 1873 feet

Pet Friendly: Taking the horse trail to Keefe Falls will be fine for almost any dog, on or off a leash.  The trek up the south prong to Splashdown Falls is a little rougher.  Most dogs should be okay off leash, but if your dog needs to be on a leash it will be challenging.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough.  Wouldn't take my Harley on it, or any other street bike or cruiser.

Hiking Statistics:  Keefe Hollow is only about 700 feet from top to bottom.  On
today's hike, I had a highest-to-lowest elevation change of 658 feet, so I covered almost all of that.  I hiked a total of 4.34 miles.  The terrain varied considerably, and I would rate this a difficult bushwhack overall.  That being said, I would not recommend the route I took today.  A recommended route up to Keefe Falls and over to Splashdown Falls is much shorter, and I would rate it as a moderate to easy bushwhack.  This recommended route would only be about a 1.7-mile hike.

GPS files (.gpx format):
  Keefe Falls GPS track
  Today's hiking track
  Falling Water Creek area waypoints

Splashdown Falls (35 feet)
Today, I expected some rain in the afternoon so I went out to do what I thought would be a pretty quick hike.  I have a long list of areas I want to explore a little better, and the hollow that contains Keefe Falls has been on that list a long time.  I don't think this hollow even has a name, but since Keefe Falls is one of the more popular Arkansas waterfalls, I'll just refer to it as Keefe Hollow and most people will know exactly the area I'm discussing.  My goal today was not to visit Keefe Falls, although it is always a good one, but to see what else is in this hollow.  It's a relatively small hollow, with just two prongs; the one containing Keefe Falls (north prong) and an even larger one that no one seems to know much about (south prong).  My working theory was that since all of the many
Falling Water Falls
No hiking - this is the view from the road today.
drainages along this side of Falling Water Creek had major waterfalls at about the same elevation, this one should as well.  The huge sandstone cap layer that forms all of the waterfalls extends across the whole area, so this should be no different.  In addition to Keefe Falls in this hollow, adjacent hollows contain Hidden Falls, Lilly Falls, and Landslide Falls.  I was on my own for today's hike.  My wife Bethany has learned not to accompany me on initial bushwhacks into an area, and Boomer, our German Shepherd, has tick fever again and got a Doxycycline booster shot, so he's out of commission for the day.

Falls #4
After hiking the entirety of Keefe Hollow today, I'm not going to recommend that anyone else do that.  I'll describe my hike in this blog post, but I'm going to recommend the best way to see all of the waterfalls in this hollow would be to go the normal route to Keefe Falls, then backtrack a little to the junction of the south prong, and go down it only as far as the major waterfalls.  Then simply reverse and go downstream to where you parked.  The route to Keefe Falls is fairly straightforward, and you can use my previous blog post for Keefe Falls if you need that guidance.  Keefe Falls is one of the many waterfalls in the Falling Water Creek polyfoss area.  There are a bunch of others in this area you can get details on from my earlier blog entry.  This waterfall is also featured in Tim Ernst's excellent guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls.  He even has a small black 'w' at the approximate location of Splashdown Falls.

Falls #2
I'm pretty sure there is some kind of rule in Arkansas that says if you pass Falling Water Falls and no one is there, you are required to stop and get a photo.  Not wanting to be a scofflaw, I did just that on my way to Keefe Hollow.  It was spectacular today.  To get to the Keefe Falls parking location, go north on Hwy 7 to Pelsor (Sand Gap) and turn east on Hwy 16.  Go nine miles on Hwy 16 and turn left (north) on Upper Falling Water Road.  This is the first left after you pass through the little community of Ben Hur.  It has no road sign, but there is a big sign for the Falling Water Horse Camp.  Go down Falling Water Road, bearing left where roads merge from the right.  You will pass Falling Water Falls on the right, then at 5.3 miles go over the low water bridge.  About one mile after the bridge, you pass over a couple of large steel culverts.  That is the creek Keefe Falls feeds.  Keep going around the bend in the road and there is a good parking spot on the left where the road goes down right next to Falling Water Creek.  This is also a good campsite.

Keefe Falls (78 feet)
For today's hike, as I mentioned, my intention was to explore the whole hollow from top to bottom, so I started at the top.  Before you parked on Falling Water Road, you passed a road leading off to the right.  My parking location for today's hike was two miles up that road, then left on Bobtail Trail Road for a few yards to park at the very top of the south prong of Keefe Hollow.  See the map at the bottom of this post for reference.  As you can see, my route today was hiking downstream on the south prong, up the north prong to Keefe Falls, then climbing above Keefe Falls to continue hiking upstream and out the north prong.  As you can also see from the map, most of the stuff worth seeing is toward the bottom of the south prong, not far from its intersection with the north prong.

Falls #1
Hiking along the creek in the south prong of Keefe Hollow, there is not much to see for about the first mile.  That's where I found Falls #1 and Falls #2 in rapid succession.  These were both beautiful, but smaller, waterfalls.  Falls #1 was a more traditional waterfall in the six-foot range, but Falls #2 was a very long cascade, stretching out quite a bit, starting almost at the base of Falls #1.  Then, just a few yards downstream, I found Splashdown Falls, the 'big un' in this prong.  The creek flows over a small three-foot waterfall, then right over a towering bluff for a drop of well over 30 feet.  Those towering blufflines, however, seemed to stretch as far downstream as I could see, making getting down to the base of the waterfall a little challenging.  I ended up climbing the bluff on the right (north) side and found a break through which I could get back down to creek level a short distance downstream.  As it turns out, there are only a couple of bluffline breaks on this side, and none on the other side, so I chose well.

Splashdown Falls (35 feet)
After getting home and scaling a timer photo of myself next to it, Splashdown Falls comes in at about 32 feet tall, or 35 feet tall if you count the small waterfall at it's top.  While only about half as tall as Keefe Falls, it has much more flow.  After seeing both waterfalls today, I would estimate there is about twice as much flow in Splashdown Falls as there is in Keefe Falls.  As you can tell from the topo map, there is a much larger drainage area for this prong of Keefe Hollow, so that makes sense.  Most of the flow jets out and falls down into a beautiful blue-green pool, but some water falls and splashes down onto a protrusion about halfway down, creating an extra cascade behind the falls.  To preserve my dignity, we'll just say that's where the name Splashdown Falls comes from; the water splashing down on the protruding rock.  That's my story.

Bluffline above Falls #4
Splashdown Falls is well worth the extra effort to see, anytime you are hiking up to Keefe Falls.  With the extra drainage area, it should stay flowing well after Keefe Falls starts to dry up.  Going downstream from Splashdown Falls, I had to climb up and over a good sized hump on the north side of the creek.  Coming from the Keefe Falls trail, this would be on your left as you go upstream.  Continuing downstream, I found Falls #4 just on the other side of this rise in the creek bed.  Falls #4 is another really beautiful one, also falling into a nice pool.  The creek only flows for a short distance out of the pool for Falls #4, going completely underground at that point.  The creek bed was dry for quite a while, reemerging at a large spring at the base of a huge boulder.  If you make the hike up to Splashdown Falls, do not be deceived by the dry creek bed.  Just trust that the creek will have flow in it higher up.  

Falls #4
From Falls #4, I went downstream to the junction of the two prongs in this hollow, then headed upstream to check out Keefe Falls.  This is a popular waterfall in the area, frequented by riders coming from the Falling Water Horse Camp.  Today, no one else was anywhere around, and I had this tall waterfall all to myself.  On the way downstream, I noted an area on the north side just prior to the junction of the two creeks where there was enough of a slope to allow hiking to the top of that huge bluffline.  This was the only place that I could find that was even halfway safe to climb to the top of the bluffline.  Since my intention today was to fully explore this hollow, I needed to get above the bluffline and continue hiking above Keefe Falls.  

Falls #5
Immediately above Keefe Falls is a small cascade, then about 150 yards upstream is a very picturesque grouping of waterfalls where a side drainage comes into the main creek in this prong.  While none of these waterfalls are more than three feet tall, collectively they are kind of cool.  But really, upstream from Keefe Falls, that's about all there is.  I continued hiking all the way up the main creek in this prong and found nothing else but small cascades.  Hiking up and out the top of this drainage, I got back onto Bobtail Trail Road (aka Big Point Road on some maps) and hiked along it back to where I had parked the FJ Cruiser.  

Falls #2
When hiking some of these hollows that no one has taken the time to document, we always say "you just don't know what you find until you look."  Keefe Hollow certainly has some other nice waterfalls in addition to Keefe Falls.  This hike is pretty rough in the upper part of the south prong, and climbing or descending the huge bluffline is challenging.  I would rate that area a difficult bushwhack.  In the north prong, hiking above Keefe Falls is much easier, once you get there, but there isn't a whole lot to see.  I would rate the area upstream of Keefe Falls as a moderate bushwhack, but I doubt I'll ever go to the trouble of going there again.  My recommendation for this hollow would be to branch off from the normal route to Keefe Falls and go up the south prong far enough to see the big spring, Falls #4, and Splashdown Falls.  Falls #1 and Falls #2 are pretty, but I question whether they are worth the much greater effort of climbing up through a very difficult bluffline break, then climbing back down it to go back.  Splashdown Falls is only about a quarter mile from the junction of the two prongs in Keefe Hollow and is well worth that detour.  I would recommend this for everyone, but smaller children may have some difficulty getting over the hump to the box canyon for Splashdown Falls.
Red - Keefe Falls hike
Blue - Today's hike of entire Keefe Hollow

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Middle Cow Creek (Southwest prongs), Ozarks between Fort Douglas and Limestone, Arkansas

4/1/2017 -  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 #4 (today's location):  35.70573   -93.30781, 1755 ft.
  Falls #15:  35.70749   -93.31440, 1581 ft.
  Falls #16:  35.70823   -93.31368, 1522 ft. 
  Harper's Hidden Cascades:  35.70866   -93.31325, 1491 ft.
  Bluffline Break:  35.70956   -93.31347, 1442 ft.
  Jackson Drew Falls:  35.70888   -93.31323, 1472 ft.
  Falls #19:  35.70933   -93.31329, 1440 ft.
  Falls #20:  35.71030   -93.31327, 1393 ft.
  Falls #21:  35.71060   -93.31355, 1401 ft.
  Falls #7:  35.71322   -93.31046, 1259 ft.
  Falls #22:  35.71511   -93.31244, 1263 ft.
  Falls #23:  35.71085   -93.31538, 1542 ft.
  Falls #24:  35.71078   -93.31556, 1552 ft.
  Falls #25:  35.71040   -93.31627, 1593 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 parking locations 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 had a highest-to-lowest elevation change of 665 feet.  Boomer and I hiked a total of 6.2 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.  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

Links to blog posts for other sections of Middle Cow Creek:
Jackson Drew Falls (22 ft.)
With Boomer, the Magnificent Mountain Dog
We finally got some much-needed rain last week, and all my waterfall chasing friends went out and had a great time, with the creeks finally starting to run again.  Unfortunately, I was in the Texas Hill Country and missed out on that initial round of fun.  I have just returned home and needed to get out somewhere.  While high creek flows from the deluge of rain, around 4.5 inches over the previous week, had somewhat subsided, there was still a lot of water running.  I wasn't able to take Boomer with me to the Hill Country, and he was itching to get out and get a little back-country adventure as well, so he and I loaded up in the FJ Cruiser first thing this morning and headed north.

Falls #15
I had visited Middle Cow Creek less than a month ago and had been pleasantly surprised at the number of larger waterfalls in the two upper prongs I had hiked through.  Knowing there were still a couple of large prongs left in the south end of this valley, I decided to go back and see what else I could find.  I have visited this valley three times now and have not covered all of the drainages in it, but most of the major ones have now been explored and I think I can cross it off my 'go see what's there' list.  There are still major sections of the valleys containing Cow Creek and Little Cow Creek that I have yet to explore, but I'll hit those before long as well.  Refer to the maps at the bottom of this blog post for Middle Cow Creek, where Boomer and I hiked today, and the larger Cow Creek Basin.

Harper's Hidden Cascades
Middle Cow Creek is a large valley, the entirety of which is all public land.  To date, I have found 25 "photo worthy" waterfalls there, many smaller water features, and some of the nicest country for hiking you will find anywhere.  That being said, the key word is "large".  If you want to try to hike everything in one day, good luck.  If you are into backpack camping, this would be a great place to spend two or three days.  If you are like me, however, and prefer day trips, where you park will have everything to do with what areas in this valley you want to see.  See my post from March 9 for a description of how to get to the first three parking locations and details of the hikes for those areas.  To avoid redundancy, I'll limit this blog post to just the hike Boomer and I did today.

Falls #20
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.   

- Go only about a quarter mile on Pine Ridge Road, and turn left (north) onto an old logging road, what I refer to as a Jeep road.  If you don't have a good 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance, park here off Pine Ridge Road and hike the rest of the way.  This Jeep road has not been used as a road for many, many, years, and even if you don't get stuck you will pick up what we refer to locally as "Arkansas pin-striping" from the brush and such you have to plow through.
Looks like plenty of room to go around, but there is not.
So it was a good place to turn around and park.
 This is the kind of old track that I got the FJ Cruiser for, and the winch and tires I have on it give me a little more confidence on this kind of trail.  There were a couple of logs and holes we were able to roll over, but still only got about a quarter mile down the Jeep road before coming to a log across the old road that I didn't want to take on.   We turned around and parked here, and this is the location I have marked above as parking location #4.  I really do need to start bringing a chainsaw on these expeditions.

Falls #22
I had intended to take the FJ around to the top of the southwest prong and just start my hike down from there.  As it turned out, even without being able to drive it,  the old logging road made for relatively nice hiking.  In no time at all, Boomer and I had started down into the hollow.  Almost immediately, we found our first waterfall, Unnamed Falls #15.  As you can see from the map below, there are waterfalls one after another, just as there was in the southeast prong.  I will say that there didn't seem to be as many large waterfalls as I found in the southeast prong, but there were some nice ones.  Why did I start with #15?  Waterfalls #1 through #14 were found on my previous trips to the Middle Cow Creek valley.  

Jackson Drew Falls
Falls #16 was in a side drainage, and right below it was Harper's Hidden Cascades, a beautiful cascading type waterfall named for Harper Henry.  The geology of this one and the larger Jackson Drew Falls just downstream reminded me of Vic's Hidden Falls, which is right across Big Piney Creek.  Harper's Hidden Cascades flows into a box canyon with steep sides, emptying out right at the top of Jackson Drew Falls.  This is very much like the scenario with Vic's Hidden Falls, which has a short hidden canyon that exits where it flows out over Rock Creek Bluff Falls.  We have a tradition for naming previously unnamed waterfalls that I find after newborn babies in the Henry clan, and this one is named for Jackson Drew Henry, Harper's baby brother.  Boomer and I found a steep and somewhat treacherous way down into the hidden box canyon right at its mouth over the top of Jackson Drew Falls and were able to climb down to the base of Harper's Hidden Cascades.  We found a bluffline break downstream that let us climb down to creek level below Jackson Drew Falls and hike back up to the base of that waterfall.  This bluffline break is also very steep, cutting back along the face of the bluff and requiring a climb down the last three or four feet.  I ended up slipping and falling that last little climb, but no harm done.  Boomer was much more graceful than I was but still had to make a pretty good jump the last few feet.

Falls #7
On my last visit, I noted that this southwest prong had the most flow of any of the upper prongs.  It forks about halfway down, and both the drainage I had been following as well as the other fork had a pretty good amount of flow.  Falls #21 was in the other fork just upstream of where these two creeks flow together to form the southwest prong.  I considered following the other fork upstream at this time, but that seemed like it would make for a short loop hike, and I wanted to see what else I could find.  As it turned out, there wasn't much in the way of water features all the way from that point down to where the upper prongs run together.  

Falls #21
I decided to hike downstream to check out some of the side drainages that looked promising on my earlier trip.  We hiked downstream almost another mile to had seemed like it would be a major tributary.  Unfortunately, even with the rains a week ago the creek in this tributary appeared to have even less flow than the last visit.  That was both puzzling and disappointing.  I only went upstream on it a short distance and didn't note any significant blufflines that would have the potential for larger waterfalls.  I'm sure that upstream there probably are a few, but today there just wasn't enough flow in the creek to make it worthwhile.  

Falls #24
I turned back upstream and made another short trip up another side drainage, but it also just didn't have much in the way of flow today.  It was starting to look like both the water and the waterfalls were all in the upper prongs on this creek.  Boomer and I ended up going all the way back up the southwest prong to where it splits and took the right-hand fork that I had considered taking a couple hours earlier.  We did end up finding another handful of waterfalls in this drainage, some of them very pretty.  

Falls #25
By the time we climbed to the top of this fork in the southwest prong, it was mid-afternoon and I was getting more than a little hungry.  We picked our way through some thick brush as we hiked around the spur between the two forks in this prong and eventually found the old logging road again, right where the Forest Service maps indicated it should be.  More often than not, these trace roads are kind of hand drawn on the old Forest Service maps and often say "location approximate".  Usually, "approximate" is not all that close, but today it seemed to run right where the old maps indicated.  These old roads are generally pretty good hiking paths when you can find them.  They are now overgrown with trees and other vegetation, but still, they provide a relatively flat surface with few rocks and holes that will make bushwhacking a little easier.  They are now often so faded it is often hard to tell where they run, but whenever I can find them I try to utilize them.

Orange - Forest Service Roads
Green - old trace roads ("Jeep roads")
Red/Blue - Hiking tracks

The Greater Cow Creek Basin
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/Blue - Hiking tracks