Saturday, May 20, 2017

Middle Cow Creek (Center and Southwest Prongs), Ozarks near Limestone, Arkansas

5/20/2017 -  Center and southwest upper prongs of the Middle Cow Creek valley

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location #4 (today's location):  35.70573   -93.30781, 1755 ft.
  Falls #27:  35.70861   -93.30734, 
  Falls #28:  35.70942   -93.30806
  Falls #29:  35.70998   -93.30863
  Falls #30:  35.71016   -93.30879
  Bluffline Break (Falls #31):  35.71121   -93.30860
  Falls #31:  35.71111   -93.30887
  Bluffline Break (Falls #32):  35.71233  -93.30925
  Falls #32:  35.71179   -93.30919
  Falls #20:  35.71030   -93.31327, 1393 ft.
  Falls #19:  35.70933   -93.31329, 1440 ft.
  Jackson Drew Falls:  35.70888   -93.31323, 1472 ft.
  Bluffline Break (Jackson Drew Falls):  35.70956   -93.31347, 1442 ft.
  Harper's Hidden Cascade:  35.70866   -93.31325, 1491 ft.
  Falls #16:  35.70853   -93.31324, 1522 ft. 
  Falls #15:  35.70749   -93.31440, 1581 ft.
  Falls #33:  35.70639   -93.31501

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.  Boomer had no problems scrambling up and down through the bluffline breaks, although some of them are fairly steep.

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 510 feet.  Boomer and I hiked a total of only 4.64 miles on this loop, in 4:16 hr:min.  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 moderately difficult bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Cow Creek Basin Waypoints
  Middle Cow Creek center and southwest upper prongs - today's hike track
  Jeep road track from Pine Ridge Road to Parking Location #4

Links to blog posts for other sections of Middle Cow Creek:
Jackson Drew Falls (22 ft)
I had just hiked the center and southwest upper prongs of Middle Cow Creek on Tuesday, just 4 days ago.  Why was I back to hike it again so soon?  Because I had found some great waterfalls on Tuesday that unfortunately did not have much flow at all.  In other words, a fantastic instant polyfoss area, just add water.  Well, as it turns out, we got water yesterday and last night.  At our home north of Dover, we got about three inches of rain.  According to the closest networked weather station, I could find, in the Baskerville area near Jasper, they had received about the same amount.  My bet was that it wasn't just localized rainfall and the Cow Creek basin area, roughly in between, had at least got a good soaking even if it didn't get a full three inches.  So Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I loaded up in the FJ and headed north.


Falls #32 - with Boomer (20 feet)
Middle Cow Creek is a large valley, the entirety of which is all public land.  To date, I have found 33 "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 on 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 #29
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 logging 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 trees you have to plow through.
Harper's Hidden Cascade - view from the top
The top of Jackson Drew Falls is at top center-left
  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.  


Falls #31 (28 feet)
Am I ever going to bring a chainsaw with me to take care of this log?  Probably not.  This happens to be pretty close to the top of the center prong anyway, and on future hikes if I do a loop, it will probably start with going down the center prong and probably come back on the southeast prong, which we didn't hike today but may be my favorite of the upper prongs here.  The southeast prong has a couple of really nice waterfalls I have actually taken the time to name.  Except for Middle Cow Falls, a couple of miles downstream, all the waterfalls in the Middle Cow Creek Valley are new finds and so far I have only had time to name a handful, the rest I have just given a number as an 'Unnamed Falls'.  Boomer and I set off down the Jeep road and after a short distance veered off into the center prong and down to the creek there.  My initial impression of this trip?  Wow!  What a lot of water, everywhere.  This is a kind of remote area, and there probably isn't a rain gauge within many miles, but I'm betting the Cow Creek basin area got at least an inch or two, maybe more.  


Falls #28 in background
Swirly water funnel feature in foreground
We quickly got to Falls #27 and #28, and they were much different than they had been four days ago.  Downstream of Falls #28 a short distance was a water feature that didn't exist before, with the much lower flow conditions.  Water swirls around rocks like a funnel, dropping down and fanning out in a big cone.  This wasn't big enough or pretty enough or cool enough to be 'photo worthy' before, so it didn't get a number as an 'unnamed falls'.  But it was pretty cool today.  I have seen hundreds of waterfalls, but this one is unique.  I still won't give it a number and classify it as photo-worthy, because it is only going to happen under specific flow conditions, but look for it if you come here after a good rain.


Falls #29 (left) and
Falls #30 (upper right)
We hiked down to Falls #29 and Falls #30, both in the same grotto.  Falls #30 is a little shorter, and a little less flow, being fed from a separate feeder creek.  Both are pretty good sized waterfalls, in the 26-foot range, and both are just beautiful.  if you go from the top of Falls #29 along the top of the bluff to the right (east), there is a bluffline break in just a few yards that you can descend through down to creek level.  From the top of the bluff, there is a point where you can see both Falls #29 and Falls #30, even with all the spring greenery.  Of course, once you are at creek level, you can easily see both from the confluence of the tributary stream coming from Falls #30.  Each of these waterfalls was impressive today, and the combination of the two was just spectacular.  

Falls #20
Continuing downstream, one of the things I started noticing is that with the increasing flow in the center prong creek, it became increasingly difficult to hike downstream.  As far as bushwhacking conditions, there still is not much undergrowth, one of the things I really like about the upper prongs of Middle Cow Creek.  But with the much higher water level, there was much less room to hike along the creek without getting a boot full of water.  On my hike here Tuesday, I could just splash down the creek itself, and just aim my feet at places where I could see that the water was only a couple inches deep, not enough to get over the top of my waterproof Vasquez boots.  Today, that was no easy feat for my feet, and by the time I made it down the center prong, my boots and socks were soaked.  I finally just said "heck with it" (or some words to that effect), and hiked on with wet feet.  At least it wasn't freezing temperature-wise.


Falls #31 (28 feet)
Boomer and I soon came to Falls #31, another fairly good-sized waterfall.  On the way down the base of the bluff after descending through the bluffline break, we passed an extended area of the bluff that had water pouring over it like a curtain.  My last visit, I had taken a photo on the camera's timer of myself perpendicular to the waterfall base so I could scale it at home.  Falls #31 is just over 28-feet tall.  We had to go quite a way down the bluff on the right to find a bluffline break, which I marked and recorded coordinates for.  What a difference a creek full of water makes for a large waterfall like this one. 

Falls #32 (20 feet)
Like Falls #31, Falls #32 downstream had the same extended bluffline and we had to hike a good distance along the top of it before finding an access break.  That seems to be a characteristic of most of the larger waterfalls I have found in the Middle Cow Creek upper prongs.  It makes for a lot of doubling back and hiking the same length of creek three times, but those tall, unbroken blufflines are exactly the topology that gives us these nice, tall waterfalls.  When you go below the bluffline, you want to make sure you get entirely below the bluff, but stick to the base of the bluff as well as you can.  If you end up down at the creek level this far downstream, it is a rugged and wet hike up the creek.  


Some of the cascades downstream from Falls #32
After leaving Falls #32, it was less than a couple hundred yards to the junction of the upper prongs.  Remember what I said about it being rough, rugged, and wet?  The creek is basically one cascade and small waterfall after another,  all the way from the Falls #32 grotto to the confluence of the upper prongs.  That makes it a little rough hiking next to the creek, because of the narrowing embankments next to the creek in this area.  You could hike closer up to the bluff and around the spur into the next prong, but you would miss quite a show.  The cascading creek here is spectacular.  This hike took us a lot longer than the exact same route we took on Tuesday, not only because it was a little harder getting around with the higher water, but because there was so much more in the way of water features like this that I wanted to stop and photograph.


Falls #19
Boomer and I turned up the southwest prong, which I had hiked about six weeks ago while we were still in 'leaves off' season, and again four days ago in greener but much dryer conditions.  Hiking down the center prong along the creek had been pleasant, without a lot of briars and other vegetation that can make hiking this time of year very aggravating.  You get the same experience in the southeast prong, where it is also not noticeably worse hiking than a 'leaves off' season hike.  This southwest prong is similar in that respect to the other two prongs, but higher water and a narrower creek channel make it a little more challenging.  My boots were already soaked, so that part didn't bother me so much at this point.  The other nice thing about hiking all three of the upper prongs of Middle Cow Creek is that you don't go very far between waterfalls.  Instead of just a long slog of a bushwhack, there will be a waterfall every hundred yards or so to break up the hike and give you an excuse to stop and shoot some photos.  The longest stretch between waterfalls is the section we were now on, between the confluence of the upper prongs and where the southwest prong forks.  That extra time spent at every waterfall slows the overall pace enough that I'm not really even tired when I get back to where we parked.  I need to learn to pace myself better on every hike.


Falls #7 (center prong creek in upper right)
I see Falls #7 on a lot of my hikes in the Middle Cow Creek valley because it is just below the confluence of the center and southwest prongs, and just upstream of the confluence with the southeast prong.  So I see it on every trip here except when I only go see Middle Cow Falls far downstream.  Today, it had more flow than I have ever seen.  The southwest prong had even more flow than the center prong did.  Even though I didn't care about getting my boots any wetter, it was difficult at times moving upstream.  Not far upstream, the southwest prong splits into two forks, and we took the left fork again.   First, we went over and grabbed some shots of Falls #21.    


Falls #21
From where the southwest prong forks, you can easily see Falls #21, just a few yards upstream on the right (west) fork.  It is a smaller waterfall in the 10-foot range, with a big tree trunk exactly in the wrong place to get a good shot of it.  From there, we came around the bluff back into the left fork and continued our hike upstream.  Falls #20 is a short distance upstream from where this prong forks, and looked fantastic.  Upstream from Falls #20 was a long cascade that I didn't even notice on my previous trips here with a lower flow in the creek.  Further upstream, Falls #19 spills over the large bluff on the left.  


Jackson Drew Falls (22 ft)
From Falls #19, you can see Jackson Drew Falls just ahead, around the bluff on the left.  Hiking along the base of the bluff behind Falls #19 I noted there was an abnormally large number of deer tracks.  Either they like going behind the waterfall for some reason, or there is salt in the rocks here that they come to get.  Hiking along the base of the bluff will take you right to Jackson Drew Falls, at a location where you can see it plunge over the high bluffline and also see Harper's Hidden Cascade above it.  Jackson Drew Falls is the gem of this prong, in my opinion, and Boomer and I spent some time here.  We have a tradition for naming waterfall finds that are previously unnamed after newborn babies in the Henry clan, as a way to welcome them to the family.  This one is named for Jackson Drew Henry, son of Madison and Andrew Henry, and Harper's new baby brother.  The only rough spot hiking-wise is climbing above the bluff after visiting Jackson Drew Falls.  I had marked a bluffline break on our previous hike, and I knew it was a steep one, but today, the steepness and wetness combined to make it even more iffy than normal.  This bluffline break is already a good deal downstream from Jackson Drew Falls, but I may look even further downstream for a better one on my next hike here.


Harper's Hidden Cascade
Getting above the bluffline for Jackson Drew Falls finally, Boomer and I headed up to see Harper's Hidden Cascade in its hidden box canyon above Jackson Drew Falls.  This one reminds me of Vic's Hidden Falls in the Rock Creek area in that it is pretty hard to get down into the canyon.  The best slope going down into it is also the most dangerous, right next to where the bluffline cliff runs 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.  There are some small maple trees on the slope that I used to help me NOT slide right down into the canyon.  Harper's Hidden Cascade was also spectacular today, with such an amazing difference from the small trickle it was earlier this week.  


Falls #16 (left) and Southwest Prong Creek - the pool
 they flow into is at the top of Harper's Hidden Cascade
Climbing back out of the box canyon again, we spent some time at the top of Harper's Hidden Cascade as well.  The creek is itself a long cascade as it goes into a small pool at the top of Harper's Hidden Cascade which looks stunning when viewed from the top as well.  Adding to the beauty of the location, Falls #16 falls from the large bluffline on the left (east), right at the top of Harper's Hidden Cascade.  This is one awesome and very photogenic spot.  If I was more into backpack camping, this is where I would hang my hammock.  I spent some time taking photos while Boomer played in the cascades, then we continued our hike out.


Falls #16
Boomer and I walked right up along the creek bed and out the top of this prong to the old trace road that wraps around the top of the upper prongs.  Falls #15 is about a hundred yards upstream, and Falls #33 is about another hundred yards beyond that.  Directly above Falls #33 is the old trace road leading back to the parking location.  The top of the creek is very overgrown, including where the old road crosses it at the top of Falls #33.  From this little waterfall, it is best to leave the creek to the left and bushwhack back up to the old trace road on that side.  Once you hit the old trace road, it is just a simple hike back along the old road to our parking location.  It has a little up-and-down to it, but is mostly on the level and makes a great hiking trail.  There are a few downed trees, but they can easily be bypassed.  


Falls #15
I finally got the concept of human height across to Boomer.  When I give him the 'lead' command, he knows he is to lead ahead of me a short distance and find the best hiking path.  He has always done a good job at this but tended to forget that he is quite a bit shorter than I am and he would simply go under and through a downed tree that I could neither go under nor through.  After constant feedback and reinforcement, I think he has it now.  I have noticed that he will now find the best path around these trees now instead of simply going through them, which he easily could.  Boomer is an incredibly bright dog.  He can also be a little full of himself, which is why he insists I call him 'TMMD' (The Magnificent Mountain Dog).  He's a great hiking companion, so the least I can do is humor him on that.


More cascades downstream from Falls #32
All in all, it was another great day to be out in the woods.  I can take this one off my 'wet weather go-to' list, but it's a fantastic area with waterfalls that no one else sees.  I'll be back, definitely.  I would rate this a moderate bushwhack and highly recommended for anyone.  I wouldn't take small children, because it is a rugged area with a lot of high drop offs, and if you take older children, keep an eye on them around the high points and especially coming out of the canyons for Harper's Hidden Cascade and Jackson Drew Falls.  The center prong is clearly a wet weather creek, so it is best to visit after a rain.
Upper Prongs of Middle Cow Creek
Green - old trace road
Yellow - today's hike
Blue - 4/1/2017 hike of Southwest Prongs
Red - 3/9/2017 hike of East Prongs and Middle Cow Creek
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/Yellow - Hiking tracks


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