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


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