Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Upper prongs of Middle Cow Creek, Ozarks between Limestone and Fort Douglas, Arkansas

5/16/2017 -  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:  35.70823   -93.31368, 1522 ft. 
  Falls #15:  35.70749   -93.31440, 1581 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.  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 500 feet.  Boomer and I hiked a total of only 3.65 miles on this loop.  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
Just three days ago I had hiked in Still Hollow after it had received a substantial amount of localized rain the day before.  There was so much water, Still Hollow Creek was basically in flood mode, and every waterfall was full and impressive.  Yet, at our home about 16 miles due south, we didn't see a drop of rain.  Curious to see just how localized that rain was, and just how lucky I might be, I decided to hike a part of Middle Cow Creek that I had not explored yet, and maybe get some spring time photos of the southwest upper prong.  Boomer  (our German Shepherd) and I had been hiking in the nearby prongs of Middle Cow Creek in April, and there were a couple of waterfalls I hoped to catch with the full flow and with all the spring greenery.  My earlier trips to the upper prongs of Middle Cow Creek had all resulted in new waterfall finds that were impressive, so I had high hopes for the center of the three upper prongs, the only one I had not explored.

Falls #32
Middle Cow Creek is a large valley, the entirety of which is all public land.  To date, I have found 32 "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.

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 such you have to plow through.
  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 #29
I had encountered this log on a previous visit and considered bringing a chainsaw with me this time, but my recollection was that there were so many other logs down on this road that I would spend more time clearing the road than I would have hiking.  Besides, I was going down the center prong this time, so I didn't have far to hike on the old road anyway.  Boomer and I set off down the old logging road and almost immediately turned off the road to the right to go down into the center prong.  The first thing I noticed was the lack of water.  The heavy rain that hit Still Hollow four days ago clearly had missed this area.  We found Falls #27 and Falls #28, two smaller waterfalls, on our way downstream, then we came to the top of Falls #29 a little over a quarter mile into our hike.  I didn't get a photo that I could scale, but I would estimate this waterfall to be in the 26-foot range.  Around the bluff on the left is another large waterfall, Falls #30.  Both of these waterfalls had disappointingly low flow, but now that I found them I'll definitely be back to see them with more water.  

Falls #31
Continuing downstream, Boomer and I soon came to Falls #31, another fairly good-sized waterfall.  This time I did remember to take a photo on the camera's timer of myself perpendicular to the waterfall base so I could scale it at home.  This one was 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.  Likewise, 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.  

Falls #7 on 5/5/2017 - 11 days ago
After leaving Falls #32, it was less than a couple hundred yards to the junction of the upper prongs.  Falls #7 is at the confluence of the center and southwest prongs, and I stopped to take a quick photo of it for comparison with the flow I had seen less than two weeks ago while hiking the southeast and far eastern prongs.  The difference was amazing.  In just 11 days, the flow in these creeks had dropped dramatically.  Having seen what the southeast prong looked like with wet conditions, I was now determined to come back and see these nice waterfalls in all their glory.  There are some really nice waterfalls here; just add
Falls #7 today - 5/16/2017
water.  I turned up the southwest prong, which I had hiked about six weeks ago while we were still in 'leaves off' season.  Hiking down the center prong by the creek had been pleasant, without a lot of briars and other vegetation that can make hiking this time of year very aggravating.  I had the same experience in the southeast prong, and the southwest prong was the same today, not noticeably worse hiking than my 'leaves off' season hike here.  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 a little ooh-and-aah factor.

Jackson Drew Falls
The southwest prong was also disappointing with the lack of flow.  Comparing photos of some of the waterfalls today with the flow during my trip in early April, the difference was astounding.  I'm definitely coming back to hike this same loop again, but I'm not doing it until this area gets a lot more rain.  That being said, Jackson Drew Falls is the gem of this prong, and Harper's Hidden Cascade above it at the end of a short hidden canyon was awesome looking in April, but today was looking more than a little dry.  All that being said, the hike up along the creek was really kind of nice.  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 the steep factor seems a lot worse when I climbed up it instead of coming down through it, as I did in April.

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.  From there, it was just a simple hike back along the old road to our parking location.  All in all, it was another great day to be out in the woods.  I only had time today for a short hike, and this one was only two and a half hours.  Wetter conditions would have been nice, but it was still a nice getaway in an area with great scenery and no people.  This one goes on my 'wet weather go-to' list.  I'll be back!

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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