Friday, November 9, 2018

Bailey Falls, Ozarks near Ben Hur, Arkansas

11-09-2018 Bailey Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)

  Parking for Bailey Falls:  35.73473  -92.93368,  1258 ft.
  Bailey Falls:  35.72905,  -92.92902, 1332 ft.
  Bailey UNF #1:  35.72995,  -92.92916,  1332 ft.
Pet-Friendly: Dogs off leash should be OK.  This is a bushwhack all the way and you have to cross Falling Water Creek, which will have a lot of flow when there is enough for Bailey Falls to look good.

Hiking Statistics:  This is a short hike without a lot of elevation change.  That being said, you do have to cross Falling Water Creek and will cross the creek in this drainage several times.  It was only 1.3 miles round trip to Bailey Falls, with a minimum-to-maximum elevation change of only 220 feet.  I would rate this an easy to moderate hike.  

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Falling Water Creek area waypoints
  Bailey Falls track
Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:

Baily Falls
The Falling Water Creek area is one of the most prolific polyfoss areas in the world.  As you can see from the links to blog posts in the area, there are about a bazillion of them that I have hiked and made blog posts for.  Some are featured in Tim Ernst's excellent guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls.  This guidebook is what got me started chasing waterfalls many years ago, and is highly recommended.  Many of the waterfalls in this area are not featured in the guidebook, and it seems like every little drainage has a nice waterfall or two, or sometimes a dozen.  Of course, you drive right by Falling Water Falls on the way to the parking location as well.  There are a couple of hollows north of Falling Water Falls that my friend Dan Frew hiked a few months ago that I have been meaning to hike ever since and finally headed out to today.  Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I got a late start, but finally got going.  We stopped to help a couple of teenagers with a flat tire which delayed us even more but did make me feel better.

Bailey Cole Falls
The first of these hollows is the drainage containing Bailey Cole Creek, a fairly good sized hollow for this area.  The second is an unnamed hollow with an unnamed creek but has a nice waterfall called Bailey Falls.  So, to be clear, Bailey Falls is NOT on Bailey Cole Creek or even in the same drainage.  Both drainages run adjacent to each other, draining into Falling Water Creek.  To make things a little more confusing, there is another Bailey Cole Creek.  The headwaters for the two creeks are less than a mile apart, with one flowing north of Highway 16 into Falling Water Creek and the other flowing south of Highway 16 into the Middle Fork Illinois Bayou.  So, to be clear AGAIN, we are talking only about the Bailey (whoever that was) stuff in the Falling Water Creek area. 

Parking location off Falling Water Road
As it turns out, due to an unfortunate mishap with my camera I only hiked up to Bailey Falls and back.  I'll get back to the rest of these hollows soon.  Getting to the parking location is straightforward.  From Pelsor (Sand Gap), go 9.9 miles east on Highway 16, through the small community of Ben Hur, and turn left (north) on Falling Water Road.  This is the first left after going through Ben Hur, and there is a sign here that says "Garrison Falling Water Horse Camp". Go 4.0 miles on Falling Water Road and park at the campsite on the right, next to Falling Water Creek.  This is midway between Falling Water Falls and the low water bridge downstream.  The drainage containing Bailey Falls flows into the other side of Falling Water Creek just upstream of the campsite.

New Waders!
I crossed Falling Water Creek upstream of the creek junction, and even in the widest spot I could find, it was still fairly fast and too deep to cross without wading.  Today, I was trying out some creek waders that my friend Dan Breedlove had recommended.  They cover the entire leg, have good traction, and are very inexpensive ($14.95 on Amazon).  I had previously used large garbage bags I fondly refer to as "Rick's redneck creek waders", but these are much better and hold up for more than one use.  The creek was knee deep and fast moving, and the new waders worked great.  On the other side, I put them in my pack.  They collapse down and are very compact and light.  

Unnamed Falls #1
Hiking upstream, there is an old trace road that crosses the creek a couple of times but runs mostly on the right side as you face upstream.  I had to cross the creek a handful of times, but overall this bushwhack is pretty easy.  About a mile upstream from the confluence with Falling Water Creek, you come to Falls #1 in a side drainage.  This is where things started going south for me.  I set up and took a shot of Falls #1, then when I moved with the tripod and camera to a different perspective, both boots hit incredibly slick rocks and down I went.  As I fell, the tripod snagged a tree root and the camera came down hard on a rock, right on the ND filter I had on the lens.  The filter was crimped onto the lens threads from being bent on impact, and I couldn't budge it.  Dang.  

Now my Samsung S8 Active was my only camera, but I was determined to finish hiking this hollow.  Boomer and I hiked to Bailey Falls, only about 150 yards further upstream.  It is a nice waterfall, about 12 feet tall, with a somewhat unique geometry on the main creek in this little hollow.  Today, it was still flowing quite well from the heavy rains more than a week ago.  We hung out at Bailey Falls for a while, doing what I could with a phone camera, then started upstream.  I found a bluffline break that I could climb through easily enough, but there was a jump of about four feet that Boomer just couldn't make.  

Bailey Falls
We probably could have found another way above the bluff downstream a bit, but this was the last straw on what had become a day filled with delays.  I still had to get home in time to get cleaned up and take Bethany out for date night, so I decided to call it a day and come back out another day with a working camera.  Hiking back downstream was easy, and getting the creek waders out and cross Falling Water Creek worked really well again.  Boomer had to swim part of the crossing and got swept downstream a little, but he loves that stuff.  We loaded up in the FJ and headed for home, vowing to come back for another shot at this great little area.
GPS track for Bailey Falls hike

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Pam's Grotto, Hwy 123, Car Wash, and Haw Creek Falls, Arkansas Ozarks near Fort Douglas

11-01-2018 Pam's Grotto Falls, Highway 123 Falls, Haw Creek Falls, Car Wash Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)

    Pam's Grotto Falls: 35.68330, -93.25539,  1035 ft.
    Parking for Pam's Grotto: 35.67971, -93.25214,  769 ft.
    Highway 123 Falls: 35.61908, -93.29014, 808 ft.
    Parking for Highway 123 Falls:  35.61949, -93.29160, 721 ft.
    Car Wash Falls:  35.70529, -93.25474
    Libsheebum Falls:  35.65430,  -93.28550

    Haw Creek Falls:  35.67782, -93.25520

Pet-Friendly: Dogs off leash should be OK.  If your dog needs to be on a leash, it will work but will get a little tiresome when you are scrambling over rocks as you approach the grotto.

Hiking Statistics:  Highway 123 Falls is about a hundred yards from the highway, so it isn't much of a hike, only about 110 yards, and 87 feet elevation change.  You can drive right up next to Haw Creek Falls, and Car Wash Falls you literally drive right under.  Pam's Grotto is a nice little hike.  By little, I mean only about a half mile each way.  The highest-to-lowest elevation change is only 244 feet.  There is a volunteer trail, and it zig-zags up the bluff so it is not too steep.  Making your way along the base of the bluff is a little more difficult, but still not bad.  I would rate this an easy to moderate hike.  

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
    Dover-Sand Gap area waypoints
    Pam's Grotto Falls GPS track

Pam's Grotto Falls
Yesterday, we got a lot of rain, about three inches, throughout most of the Arkansas Ozarks.  It was certainly welcome and had all the creeks running well.  We were also at close to the peak of our Fall colors, with all the hardwoods in the Ozarks putting on quite a show.  I had committed to doing a couple of hikes tomorrow in the Little Cow Creek and Middle Cow Creek valleys with a couple of friends, so today I wanted to get out and make sure our access points were still okay, and check on water and road conditions in general.  Today, it was still raining off and on all day, so I didn't want to do any extensive hiking, but Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I managed to get in a hike to Pam's Grotto without getting too wet, and I stopped by several roadside creeks and waterfalls.

Pam's Grotto Falls
Pam's Grotto was the last stop of the day for us, but it is the only real hike of any extent, so I'll discuss it first.  Boomer and I just happened to be driving by Pam's Grotto when we got a little break in the rain. We pulled off in the parking spot to take a look at Haw Creek, which runs right along Highway 123 for several miles.  I have been to Pam's Grotto several times, but couldn't even remember the last time.  It turns out it has been over four years since we visited the waterfall here.  The rain had let up and we had been mostly driving all day so Boomer convinced me we really should get out and hike.  We left the FJ parked, grabbed the pack, and set off across the highway to start our hike.

Parking Across Road From Trailhead
To get to the trailhead, go to Haw Creek Falls Campground on Hwy 123.  From there, go 0.5 miles northeast, and there is a pull-off to a parking spot by Haw Creek (photo at right).  Go across the road and to the right will be a small creek that passes through a culvert under the highway and into Haw Creek.  See the map at the bottom of this post.  This is actually the creek that Pam's Grotto Falls is on.  Go to the right side of the creek, and there will be a trail going up the mountain.  

Trail Head Location
On my first trip to this waterfall, my directions were to "take the trail next to the creek".  There is indeed a path right next to the creek and I jumped on it.  Unfortunately, this is NOT the trail you want.  The trail next to the creek disappears in a short distance.  Today, I knew all that.  And yet, my instincts are to go to the creek that the waterfall is on, and hike upstream, so that's what I did.  Boomer, even though it had been four years since we had been there, was giving me that "this isn't the trail you want" look.  It all came back to me, and we backed out, found the real trail, and started our way up the zig-zag route it follows up the bluff on the right side.  On my first trip here, I followed the creek up to Pam's Grotto Falls, and I can tell you that you definitely do not want to do that.  The trail will take you up the bluff on the climbing part of this hike, making it as easy as possible for you.

The ford over Hurricane Creek today
The trail zig-zags up the mountain to the base of a cliff-like bluff line.  Once you reach this bluff you are about halfway there.  This is different than most Ozark waterfalls in that you get the uphill hiking in at the start and get to go downhill on the way back.  Once at the bluff, go left and follow the base of the bluffline with the cliff on your right for roughly a quarter mile.  There is a short descent to the grotto area, which is a fairly large shelter style cave.  From this side of the grotto, the waterfall is mostly hidden behind a house-sized boulder.  You have to do a little scrambling over rocks to get to the falls; keep sticking to the side of the bluff, with the inside cave wall on your right and you will find a fairly easy way over the rocks along that cave wall.  Once you go between the cave wall and the very large boulder it opens up to a large open area with the waterfall right in the middle, flowing into an emerald pool and down to the creek below.

Pam's Grotto Falls
Although the shelter is fairly large, the creek has eroded the top of the rock down to a "V" that the creek flows out of and into the center of the shelter floor. The creek falls about 37 feet into the pool below.  Boomer and I picked a great day to make this hike.  Pam's Grotto Falls had just the right amount of flow to look it's best, and the Fall colors provided a fantastic backdrop.  I took a bunch of photos, we absorbed the amazing ambiance of the place for a while, then we started our trek back.  While following the base of the bluff going back, I heard the distinct gurgling and rushing of water from inside the rock of the bluff cliff.  There was a depression in the cliff face, and a crack no larger than an inch in the back of it.  I climbed up into the depression and definitely heard the sounds of water back in there somewhere.  I have no idea how much flow is in there, or how big the cave for it is, but somewhere back in the rock is an underground stream.  It was raining again, or I might have looked around for an outlet for the stream.  We made our way back down the trail to the FJ.  

Pam's Grotto Falls
As I mentioned, Pam's Grotto was the only hiking of any extent Boomer and I did today, but we checked out plenty of stuff.  Our first stop today was at Highway 123 Falls.  This one is a very short and easy hike;  in "leaves off" season, you can see the waterfall from Highway 123, hence the name.  The parking area on Highway 123 is next to Little Piney Creek and is a big parking pull-off right between the highway and the creek.  It is nine miles north of Hagerville on Highway 123, or 18.9 miles south of Pelsor/Sand Gap on the same highway. 

Highway 123 Falls
From the parking area, face the highway and you will see a large, rectangular, concrete culvert going under the highway on the right.  This culvert is for the creek feeding Highway 123 Falls.  Go across the highway, and head up the little creek canyon.  There is a path of sorts, and it is pretty easy hiking.  The waterfall is less than a tenth of a mile up the creek canyon, and you can see it soon after you start hiking from the highway.  More often than not, the creek bed is dry close to the highway.  Never fear, though; this creek, like many in the Ozarks, disappears into the rock and goes underground.  It was far from dry near the highway today, but I have seen it actually dry where it flows under the highway and still have decent flow over the waterfall.

Low water bridge over Big Piney Creek
From Highway 123 Falls, we headed up to the Little Cow Creek and Middle Cow Creek areas to check out the parking locations for the hikes we had planned for tomorrow.  The old trace road I used for the upper part of Middle Cow Creek was really sloppy, but the FJ made it just fine.  For Little Cow Creek, I park a short distance off Pine Ridge Road, so that was not an issue.  We kept on going down Pine Ridge Road to the low water bridge over Big Piney Creek.  The bridge was still above water, but it was close.  I made a mental note that the bridge might very well be underwater tomorrow, and we crossed the bridge and continued on down to Car Wash Falls.  To get to this point, from Pelsor (Sand Gap) drive west for 16.0 miles (3.3 miles past Haw Creek Campground), then turn right on FR-1003 (CR-5741) for 5.7 miles, then turn right on FR-1202 (CR-5680), then go another 5.1 miles to the low water bridge.  

Car Wash Falls
You follow CR-5881 with Big Piney Creek on your right and you will pass right under Car Wash Falls.  We stopped and tried to get a little of the mud off the FJ Cruiser at nature's car wash.  It was a lot cleaner for the moment, but that didn't last.  Driving on down CR-5881, we got to the ford across Hurricane Creek.  From here, it is only about a mile and a half across the ford and down CR-5881 to Highway 123.  Today, I was pretty sure the FJ could make it across the ford just fine, but Hurricane Creek was pretty high, and I couldn't see the bottom.  I had all day, so I opted to go out and back the way I came.  I didn't want to get into a situation where I might have to use the winch if I didn't have to.

Libsheebum Falls
Getting back to Highway 123, I turned left and headed north.  We pulled off to scope out Libsheebum Falls, a relatively short but pretty little waterfall just a few yards off the highway.  I didn't name it and don't have any idea what the name means, but I suspect it means nothing.  I got the name from a photo Patrick Caple had posted on Panoramio.  Today, it didn't disappoint.  There may have actually been too much flow.  I think it looks it's best with a little less that the flood level we had today.  We snapped some photos, got back in the FJ and continued down the road to Haw Creek Falls.

Haw Creek Falls
Getting to Haw Creek is easy.  From Hagerville, it is 15 miles north on Highway 123, or 12.9 miles south of Pelsor/Sand Gap on Highway 123.  You can't miss it; there is a large sign on the highway.  After turning into the campground road, you immediately cross Haw Creek.  The road is concrete where the creek flows over it so there is no problem with traction, but it is subject to flash flooding during heavy rains.   Today, it had about four inches of fast-moving water over it, not a problem for us.  The campground is about a third of a mile down this road, which is well maintained by the forest service.  Haw Creek Falls is literally next to the campground.  We had the place all to ourselves today, and Haw Creek Falls was flowing as well as I had ever seen it.

From Haw Creek campground, we turned north up Highway 123 to Pam's Grotto, which we have already discussed.  After hiking up to Pam's Grotto Falls, Boomer and I headed for home.  We didn't get all that much exercise, but we saw some beautiful countryside and had a fun day.  Time to get ready for those big hikes tomorrow.
GPS track for Pam's Grotto Falls

Monday, July 16, 2018

Mirror Lake Night Photography, Blanchard Springs Recreation Area, near Fifty-Six, Arkansas

7/16/2018 -  Mirror Lake Night Photography

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Park for Blanchard Springs:  35.95889,  -92.17539,  439 ft.
  Blanchard Springs:  35.95860,  -92.17740,  483 ft.
  Mirror Lake:  35.96349,  -92.17094,  416 ft.
  Gunner Pool:  35.99507   -92.21349,  461 ft.
Pet Friendly: Yes; dogs on or off leash will be fine, just not in the cave.  This is a National Forest Service recreation area, and other people will probably be around.  If your dog isn't well behaved around other folks, I recommend keeping it on a leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes; there are well-paved roads right to the visitor center, as well as parking locations for Mirror Lake, Blanchard Springs, and along Sylamore Creek toward the campground area.

Hiking Statistics:  We did a number of short hikes today, all of them easy, on some of the best trails you will find.  Hikes to either Blanchard Springs or the base of Mirror Lake are only about a quarter mile each.  We ended up hiking around 10 miles total between all the spots we scouted during the day and the actual hikes at night.  For the duration of our night adventure, we parked at the spillway on Mirror Lake and made the trip down the boardwalk and back upstream to the base of Mirror Lake Falls, then up to the top, three times.  It's about a mile round trip each time.  We also went out on the trail along Mirror Lake's shore for a few shots.

Related Blog posts:

Mirror Lake Falls with
Milky Way in the background
(light painting by Bethany)
Night photography?  Is this a hiking blog, or what?  Well, yes.  Yes, it is.  As we found out, if you go out shooting the milky way at night you are likely to get in a good deal of hiking.  The thing is, I'm more of a hiker than a photographer.  But I like to hike because (A) it's pretty good exercise, and (2) I love the outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty of this fabulous area we are lucky to live in.  So naturally, you want something to look at and remind you of just how majestic and beautiful the waterfalls, caves, and vistas can be.  My theory is that every avid hiker either is an avid photographer or they will certainly become one if they keep hiking.  Since they do go hand in hand, I decided to write up a special edition of the blog to cover this trip, and my lessons learned in nighttime hiking and photography.

Mirror Lake Falls,
beautiful by day or night
I am literally a newbie at night photography.  My wife, Bethany, gave me a gift certificate for one of Tim Ernst's workshops, and it was only last week that I finally used that on one of his night photography workshops.  This workshop is highly recommended, by the way.  I came back with some great photos and learned a lot of stuff, much of which I would never have figured out on my own.  Having one of the best nature photographers in the world at your beck and call from sunset to sunrise to answer all your silly questions is a huge plus as well.  Now I was completely fired up about going out and shooting some waterfalls with a backdrop of the Milky Way, the holy grail of night photography.  

Ruins of the old mill
Mirror Lake Falls visible through window
Unfortunately, as I found out, it isn't as simple as taking the same photo of a waterfall after the sun sets.  The Milky Way is only visible in the southern sky, and the core of the galactic center is only at it's best for us in the northern hemisphere for a couple of months in the summer because of the earth's tilt.  Add to that the fact that the light cast by the moon can completely obliterate the light from distant stars, so you don't want to be shooting when there is any moonlight during the night.  So these were my selection criteria:
  1) Pretty waterfall, with a north face.
  2) View of the night sky, visible behind the waterfall, and not blocked by bluffs or foliage.
  3) Waterfall with good flow in July.
  4) Within a few days of a new moon.
  5) Far enough from towns that light pollution was not a big factor.
Of course, you also need a cloudless sky, but that is just something you hope for after you select a suitable location.  

PhotoPills Planner for
Mirror Lake
There are only a handful of waterfalls, out of the hundreds I have seen in the Ozarks, that fit the location criteria.  Of those, I figured Mirror Lake would be the only one with good flow.  The huge caverns here have a river in the lower cave system that is fed from a vast aquifer.  The river flows out of the ground at Blanchard Springs Falls and the short creek started there flows into Mirror Lake.  Wherever the water comes from, it seems to have plenty to last through any dry spell and provide good flow year round over the waterfall.  Bethany and I had already planned a couple of days away at some good friend's cabin, which happened to be only 9 miles from Blanchard Springs Recreation Area.  We had planned to go up there on July 16, which was only four days after a new moon so the moon would be set for almost the entire night.  It happened kind of by accident, but my plan was coming together.  So this morning Bethany and I headed towards Blanchard Springs.  

One of the things I had determined a couple of nights earlier was that you really have to go check out locations in the daytime before attempting to shoot at night.  I had the great idea of using the old trestle bridge across Big Piney near Fort Douglas as my subject, with the Milky Way rising behind it.  Stumbling around in the dark with just a headlamp on, I nearly fell off a bluff into a pool on the creek.  I also took out many, many cobwebs with my face, not a pleasant experience.  So today, we got to the cabin and dropped off our bags.  We then went to Blanchard Springs to scout suitable areas for night photography.  I use an app call PhotoPills on my phone to help with planning, and it has a "Night Augmented Reality" feature to overlay the image on the camera with what will be showing in the night sky at a specific time.  It is really indispensable for planning Milky Way shots.

Blanchard Springs Falls today
This location was completely obscured from the night
sky by terrain and foliage.
After a few hours slogging around at various locations, we found very few spots that had a good view of the night sky where the Milky Way would come into view.  Blanchard Springs Falls and the bridges along the creek downstream of it were completely blocked by terrain and foliage.  We did find a spot near the shelter cave picnic area along Sylamore Creek that would have worked if we light-painted a small bluff.  Fortunately, Mirror Lake was a prime location, both at the base of the waterfall and on the north and west sides.  As an added bonus, the mountain to the east of Mirror Lake blocked out any light pollution from Mountain View, which was the only nearby town of any size.  Looking down toward the end of Mirror Lake from the spillway, you are looking in a direction with a dark sky and no light pollution for about 80 miles (Russellville).

Mirror Lake Falls
Still significant cloud cover and no Milky Way
After spending the day scouting for good night shot locations and enjoying the awesome scenery in the area, we went back for a good dinner at Angler's and a couple hours rest at the cabin before heading out for our night photography adventure.  It had been completely overcast and drizzly rain for most of the day, so I was a little apprehensive about our chances for a clear night sky.  Sure enough, when we got to Mirror Lake it had stopped raining but was still very overcast.  We had identified specific times the Milky Way would be visible from various spots on Mirror Lake and went to the spillway for our first setup.  We decided that instead of driving from the spillway to the bottom of the boardwalk, we would just park at the spillway and hike down the boardwalk and then up the trail to the base of the falls.

Fog over Mirror Lake
Initially, it appeared that the night and the weather were not going to cooperate with us at all.  There was not only significant cloud cover, but a heavy fog rolled down the creek and blanketed the area above the dam.  This was the first time I had attempted light painting, a technique by which you shine a light on ground objects you want to be illuminated during the long exposure you take to get a good shot of the stars.  The fog simply reflected the light right back at the camera, making for shots that were just one big blowout.  We played with the camera setup and experimented to develop our light painting skills, and eventually got a couple of cool photos.  We hiked down to the base of the falls to see if we might get some usable shots from that angle.  We ended up going back and forth three times, so we did get a little exercise in.  Using LED headlamps, we lit up enough of the trail ahead of us that we could hike safely.

Mirror Lake and upper part of waterfall today

From below the spillway, we avoided most of the fog and the cloud cover was starting to break up, allowing us to get some photos of the night sky above the waterfall.  We really didn't know what to expect for light painting needs, so we had taken a variety of lights with us, from a big LED floodlight to a small penlight.  Bethany did all the light painting and ended up using one of the smaller penlights for a three-second to a four-second sweep of the area we wanted to be lit up during the exposure.  Most of the exposures I took were 20 seconds, which I determined by trial and error to be about the most I could push it without getting any elongation of the stars, "star trails" caused by the earth rotating during the exposure.  We took almost 300 shots over the night.
Mirror Lake and upper waterfall
with Milky Way.  The large bright
object above the horizon on the left
is Mars
 required of the same shot, adjusting our light painting or exposure.  We would take the shot with light painting, then adjust for an area that was too brightly lit, or one that was too dark.  Bethany was a real trooper, and adapted to my lighting needs very quickly.  

By the time the cloud cover lifted and we had mostly clear skies, the fog also was lifting.  We hiked back up to the top of the spillway and got a few shots, and finally got rid of the clouds and fog when the Milky Way was really showing.  I didn't get the early shots of the Milky Way rising in the east that I had planned, but we did end up with some really good ones.  We had to go back and forth from the top to the base of the waterfall to catch the Milky Way in the right space over the subject, but it's a short enough hike and didn't take that much time.  We ended up spending all night at Mirror Lake and never had time to go to the other location we scouted by the picnic area.  Bethany got pretty good at hanging over the rail and light painting the waterfall while we were at the top of the spillway, so I was able to get some good shots of the upper section of the waterfall and the surface of the lake, with the Milky Way standing up at the end of the lake.

Milky Way over Mirror Lake
and Mars on the left
After hiking the area to scout locations in the drizzly rain, we hiked around and photographed the Mirror Lake area at night from about 10:00pm until 3:30am.  We should have been bone tired, but I was so excited I couldn't sleep when we eventually got done and headed back to the cabin.  I know I'm new at this and have a lot to learn, both in the night photography arena and in post-processing the photos.  This little adventure was not only a heck of a lot of fun, I learned an enormous amount from experimentation.  Looking back at it, and looking at the photos, there are many things I now know to do and am already planning a return visit.  I don't really have the patience of some of my photographer friends to take multiple shots that I can stitch and stack to remove noise and enhance visibility, but I now know that there is a whole lot I can do with "one-shot" photos to look really spectacular.  
Mirror Lake Falls and Milky Way

All in all, this was one of the more fun hiking adventures I've had.  We didn't take Boomer, because keeping track of a solid black German Shepherd at night would have just consumed too much of our time.  I did get to spend all day and all night out in a spectacular area with the love of my life, learning and marveling at the beautiful vistas we had all to ourselves.  Well, after dark we had the whole place to ourselves, anyway.  I'll be going back, and I now have a lot more tools in my bag of tricks to try.  On future hikes, I plan on using PhotoPills to scout for suitable night photography shots.  I'll save those plans for my use, and if my readers find value in them, I'll share them on the blog posts.  Looking forward to the next one!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Sandstone Castle, Richland Wilderness Area, Ozarks near Lurton, Arkansas

3/23/2018 - Sandstone Castle, Exploring Arkansas edition

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking:  35.84146   -92.98413
  Trail Head on NC5080:  35.84189   -92.98472
  Sandstone Castles:  35.81647   -92.97268
  Rock Wall #1:  35.82520   -92.98599
  Rock Wall #2:  35.82412   -92.98407
  Old Homesite #1:  35.82303   -92.98264
  Rock Wall #3:  35.82039   -92.97832
  Rock Wall #4:  35.81955   -92.97672
  Old Homesite #2:  35.819701   -92.97643

Pet-friendly: Yes!  Be aware there are a number of trees down on the trail and other obstacles that might challenge a smaller dog on a leash.  Also, unlike most of my hikes, there is no water available.  Make sure you pack water for your dog as well.

Motorcycle friendly: No.  Getting to the parking area takes you about seven miles on rough, gravel, forest service roads.  It's doable, but you'll be sorry if you take a cruiser or street bike on these roads.

Hiking Statistics:  From top to bottom, The Richland Wilderness Area is over 1200 feet of elevation change.  Today we hiked approximately five miles, with a "highest to lowest" elevation change of only 262 feet.  There are a few ups and downs, but the hiking is mostly on the level.  While technically a bushwhack because no trail maintenance is allowed in wilderness areas, there is a fairly distinct volunteer trail that follows an old trace road.  This makes for easier hiking so I would rate this a moderately easy hike.  Note that in "leaves on" season, the trail will be mostly overgrown. 

GPS files (maps at bottom of this post):
  Richland Wilderness Area Waypoints
  GPS track file, trailhead to Sandstone Castles (.gpx format)

Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:
  Devon Falls, Hamilton Falls, Twin Falls, and Richland Falls
  The same, plus Long Devil's (Jim Bob), Mystic, and Big Devil's Bluff Falls
  Dogwood Falls
  Wind River Hollow

Richland Wilderness
I have been out to Sandstone Castle a few times over the years and had visited it just three months ago.  It is a nice wintertime (leaves off) hike, and since we were in the midst of a prolonged drought it made a good hike that didn't need water to make the natural features look their best.  Today, I had a different reason to return to Sandstone Castle.  Today my hiking partners were Chuck Dovish and Jeff James.  Chuck and Jeff produce an excellent series on the AETN television network, Exploring Arkansas, which is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a show where Chuck goes to fascinating places in Arkansas and Jeff films him visiting the places and talking about it.  I'm a big fan and have our DVR set up to record new episodes automatically.  Bethany and I use the show for ideas on places to visit all the time.  When Chuck contacted me to see if I would guide them out to Sandstone Castles, I jumped at the opportunity to head back out there again.  After updating my system post-hike, I noticed that I hadn't made a blog post for the area for almost three years, so this blog post is long overdue.

The Sandstone Castles are actually a series of caves cut into the rock of the
bluff at the top of the ridge overlooking Big Devil's Fork and Long Devil's Fork, high above where they flow into the Twin Falls of Richland.  The caves have 'windows' overlooking the valley below.  Legend has it this place was used by criminals and civil war deserters to hide out from the Law.  I'm betting that strategy was highly successful.  This is one of those places that if you know where it is, it is easy to get to and easy to find.  If you have never been there, it can be quite challenging to find.  This trip, I noticed the trail out to Sandstone Castle is getting enough traffic to be clearly visible almost the entire route.

To get there, take Highway 7 north and turn onto Highway 123 north at Lurton.  From the 'T' where you can turn left to Hwy 7 or right to Hwy 123, turn right and go 1.5 miles.  Turn right on NC5070 (aka FR-1200, aka CR-36, aka Herbie Hampton Rd, aka Assembly of God Church Road).  Take NC5070 for 6.8 miles, then turn right on NC5080 (aka FR-1205).  Note that after approximately a mile on Assembly of God Church Road, the pavement ends and the road turns into a gravel road.  Go 1.1 miles on NC5080 and look for where the power lines cross from the right hand (south) side to the left hand (north) side of the road.  The trailhead will be near the last power line pole on the right.  On the north side of the road, there is an extended gravel shoulder to park on.  

The trailhead GPS coordinates are listed above.  Years ago, there was a blue smiley face painted on a tree at this point on the south side of the road.  Now, I can't find that smiley face anywhere and think that tree was cut down.  At any rate, If you climb the embankment across the road from the parking area, you will see there is an old trace road that goes uphill.  Turn RIGHT onto it from the road.  i.e. - you will be heading south-west, at first almost paralleling the NC5080 road you just drove in on.  As mentioned before, this trail is now clearly visible.  The trail will head up the mountain on this trace road.  There are a fair amount of fallen trees on this first part of the trail, but don't let that discourage you.  As you climb the trace road it will crest the ridgeline, and just over the ridgeline, you will make a sharp turn to the left.  The trail here is more discernible and easier to follow, with fewer detours around fallen trees.  Someone has put a sign here to direct you from the ridgeline back to the road on your way back.

After cresting the ridgeline and turning left, the trail follows more or lessjust along the crest of Big Middle Ridge, the ridge between Big Devil Fork and Long Devil Fork.  See the maps at the bottom of this post for reference.  The old trace road is visible in most places and the trail will follow that as it can, with zigs and zags around fallen trees.  The trail is usually visible, but there are a couple of places it gets difficult to see.   As you can see from the GPS track I recorded (at bottom of this post), the trail sticks pretty much to the ridgeline of Big Middle Ridge.  If you stick close to the top of the ridge and don't go down either side of the mountain, you should be okay. The elevation along this route does not vary a whole lot, but there are some gradual ups and downs.  

You pass some rock walls, a couple of homesites, and an old well along the way.  The first of these is about at the halfway point and is actually off the trail to the right a few yards.  These are a good check that you are on the right path.  I included GPS coordinates for these waypoints so you can track your route.  This is where hiking with Jeff and Chuck was somewhat different than my normal hikes, in that we had to wait for Jeff to get set up to take some video footage for the show, record the footage, then move on.  They have clearly done this a bazillion times, so it goes smoothly and quickly and doesn't really hold us up at all.  

Old Homesite #2
The last of the rock walls is barely visible on the trail, and if you don't know what to look for it is easy to miss.  There was a field of blooming forsythia just past this, and in the sea of yellow blossoms, I noticed something else I had walked past many times and not noticed.  There was an old stacked rock fireplace here, the only remains of what was a homesite at one time.  The only other homesite I have located from our pioneering predecessors was what looks to be a stack of rocks that was at one time another fireplace and chimney.  At one time, people lived all over these remote hollows.  People much more rugged and self-reliant than the folks we have become today.

The trail will lead right down the ridgeline to the point where it drops off above Twin Falls.  The  Sandstone Castles are caves in the rock bluff line at this point, and the trail leads to the cliff directly above the caves.  There are a couple of spots you can make your way down to the cave level.   To your left, as you look over the cliff is the easiest way down, going between the two largest caves.  From above the caves, out on this point of the ridgeline, you can look out over most of the almost 12,000 acres that make up the Richland Wilderness Area.  This was designated as a wilderness area as part of a bill that Senator Dale Bumpers pushed through Congress in 1984, establishing nine new wilderness areas in Arkansas.  For 34 years now, the area has seen no logging or any other activity, by law now a "hands off" area for nature to do whatever comes naturally.

Jeff, Chuck, and Rick (L-R)
After filming an interview and taking a lot of video for the Exploring Arkansas show, Jeff and Chuck spent a while taking additional still shots and B-roll video of the area while I just enjoyed the scenery.  It's always a great day to be out in the wilderness, and these were a couple of great guys to enjoy it with.  For me, it was fascinating to see how a television show like this is produced.  After wrapping up all the material they needed for editing into a segment of the show, we headed back the way we had come out.  This is a hike I would recommend for everyone, with one caveat.  Please remember that this is a wilderness area.  No one is going to clean up after you, and there are strict rules on what you can and cannot bring into the area.  No mechanized equipment is allowed of any kind, not even mountain bikes.  You are allowed to build a campfire and camp out but leave no trace that you were there.  Someone had camped in the big cave and had left an empty can.  Since that is all I found, I'm assuming they just missed it.  I packed it out with me, but please make sure you look around and leave the area as you found it. 
Sandstone Castle GPS Track
Richland Wilderness Area

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Northwest Prong of Trace Creek, Ozarks east of Hagerville, Arkansas

3/2/2018 -  Northwest Prong of Trace Creek

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)

  Parking Location #1:  35.58673   -93.22045,  1794 ft.
  Parking Location #2:  35.60608   -93.22053,  834 ft.
  Falls #1:  35.59942   -93.22710,  909 ft.
  Falls #2:  35.59061   -93.23420,  1017 ft.
  Falls #3:  35.59151   -93.23994,  1156 ft.
  Falls #4:  35.59129   -93.23983,  1141 ft.
  Falls #5:  35.59025   -93.23987,  1182 ft.
  Falls #6:  35.58715   -93.23013,  1011 ft.
  Falls #7:  35.58526   -93.22964,  1035 ft.
  Falls #8:  35.60079   -93.22779,  810 ft.
  Falls #9:  35.60232   -93.22816,  801 ft.
  Falls #10:  35.60174   -93.22878,  820 ft.
  Falls #11:  35.60408   -93.21788,  820 ft.
  Falls #12:  35.60383   -93.21791,  826 ft.
  Falls #13:  35.60309   -93.22878
  Falls #14:  35.60215   -93.23203
  Falls #15:  35.60344   -93.23365
  Falls #16:  35.60447   -93.23489
  Falls #17:  35.60412   -93.23682
  Falls #18:  35.60367   -93.23780
  Falls #19:  35.60180   -93.23990
  Falls #20:  35.60166   -93.23997
  Falls #21:  35.60139   -93.24144
  Falls #22:  35.60110   -93.24173
  Falls #23:  35.60105   -93.24166
  Falls #24:  35.60283   -93.23631
  Falls #25:  35.60297   -93.23610

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 mostly all bushwhacking.  

Motorcycle Friendly: No!  This is not at all friendly to your big bike.  The parking locations are several miles down rough dirt roads.

Hiking Statistics:  The Trace Creek valley is over 1300 feet from top to bottom and covers several square miles.  Today I hiked 4.2 miles, with a highest-to-lowest elevation change of 545 feet.  This is all bushwhacking, with no trails of any kind once you get down into the Trace Creek basin.  The terrain is very rugged, with some undergrowth.  Overall, I would rate this a difficult bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
    Dover-Sand Gap area waypoints
    Trace Creek GPS track

Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:

    Hole Creek 
    Graves Creek (upper section)
    Graves Creek (lower section)
    Arkansas Sphinx

Falls #10
My friend Dan Frew and I had hiked Trace Creek just a month ago and had covered a lot of the huge Trace Creek basin.  We had found a lot of waterfalls, even though we only hiked up into the lower parts of each prong and Short Hollow, which is also part of the Trace Creek drainage.  Today, I was hiking alone, and because I intended to go into unknown areas that Boomer (our German Shepherd) might not be able to access, I left him at home as well.  On our last visit to the area, we bushwhacked over 10 miles in the drainage, going up each fork of each prong to the first photo-worthy waterfalls, then hiking back down to go up the next fork.  Today, I decided that I would concentrate on just one of the major prongs to see if I could thoroughly explore it.  We had finally gotten some major rainfall a week ago, so I was looking forward to seeing some of this area with good water flow.

Falls #22
To get there, from the Dover town square (junction of Hwy 7 and Hwy 27), go north on Highway 7 for 5.5 miles and turn left on Highway 164.  Go 7.6 miles on Highway 164 and turn right on FR-1800 (Pilot Rock Mountain Road or CR-3891).  This is just past the twin bridges over Big Piney Creek.  Stay on Pilot Rock Mtn Road for 5.5 miles as it changes to CR-3890, to CR-3861, to CR-4840.  Bear Right onto FR-1802 (aka CR-4891, or Meadows Knob Road).  Go 0.9 miles on FR-1802, then turn left onto a Jeep road.  Parking location #1 is 0.1 miles down this jeep road at a food plot.  Park as far off Meadows Knob Road as you feel comfortable in your vehicle, but be aware that going further will require a 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance.

Falls #20
Today, I was in my FJ Cruiser, so I felt pretty confident about continuing down the ATV trail that runs along the spur between Short Hollow and the rest of Trace Creek.  I had scouted out a location almost down to the level of the main creek itself that I was pretty confident the FJ could make it down to.  As I drove down the ATV trail, I had to stop occasionally and move logs and big rocks out of the way, and in two places go a bypass route around fallen trees, but I eventually made it all the way down to parking location #2.  At the time, I was thinking "woo-hoo!" because I had cut off most of the huge climb out of this area.  Before you decide to go that far down the mountain, though, you might want to read on for the rest of the story, and what it took to get back out.

I started out hiking down the old ATV trail, and in a very short time, I was at the bottom of the mountain.  It is less than 100 yards from my parking location to Short Hollow's creek, near where it flows into Trace Creek.  The first thing I noticed today was how much higher the flow in the creek was.  A month ago, it was no problem rock-hopping across Trace Creek, even down in this area where it has water drainage from the entire basin.  Today, even though our big rain was a week ago, it was still knee deep.  I figured I would eventually end up with both boots soaked, but wanted to prolong the amount of time I got to hike with dry socks as long as possible.  Since I had failed to restock trash bags in my pack after my last hike, I went barefoot, crossed the creek, dried my feet, and got rebooted.  

Falls #24
My recollection from my previous hike was that it was definitely easier to hike on the north side of Trace Creek up to the point the northwest prong branched off.  I also wanted to be on that side because I remembered Falls #9 spilling over the bluff on that side directly into the creek and wanted to check out the drainage above that.  Hiking up into that drainage, I did find Falls #13 about a hundred yards up that side drainage.  While nice, I wasn't all that impressed with it or the amount of flow in this small drainage, so I decided to cut off exploration and went back down to the main creek in the northwest prong.  This is an area where the blufflines stay intact and are deeply undercut as the creek has wound from side to side in this canyon.  Looking down, I saw enough rock that I thought hiking along the creek would be doable today, but it probably was flooded from side to side last week.  

Falls #14
I hiked along the top of the bluff past Falls #10, noting a good place to descend through the bluffline.  I didn't stop to go down to the base of the waterfall because I intended to go down along the creek in this area on my way back.  Comparing the flow over Falls #10 to my memory of it last month when we were still in the thick of a prolonged drought, the difference was amazing.  This gave me a lot of hope for conditions upstream, so I pressed on up the creek, hiking along the creek itself, and rock-hopping from side to side as needed.  I found Falls #14 about a quarter mile upstream, a very pretty but smaller waterfall right on the main creek.

Falls #18
Continuing upstream, I soon came to the first major side drainage on the right.   This side drainage seemed to have almost as much water as the main creek, and until I looked at my GPS map, I thought it might be a fork in the creek. Since I wanted to explore as much as I could in this prong, I followed it upstream to Falls #15.  I don't normally pursue side drainages that far uphill because the flow drops off significantly as you gain elevation.  Today, looking above Falls #15, I couldn't see where the side drainage went, but I could see a large, solid rock bluff rising up above in the background.  I decided to check out at least one more big bluffline upstream, to see if the amount of flow would hold up. 

Falls #16
Climbing above Falls #15, I hiked upstream to that large bluffline and found Falls #16 spilling out over it.  This is certainly a nice one, and it made me wish I had made this hike a few days earlier, to catch it with all the water flow from the rains we had received.  As it was, it still had plenty of water to look great.  I chose not to look further upstream, however, as it seemed unlikely there would be enough water flowing higher up to produce good waterfalls.  Instead, I decided to hike around the base of this large bluffline, catching the waterfalls produced wherever side drainages spilled over it.  I found Falls #17, and Falls #18 in this fashion, all about the same elevation.  I saw Falls #19, a large waterfall with a lot of flow today, on the main creek at this same elevation.  I bypassed Falls #19, for now, to continue upstream just a bit more.  Falls #20 is a smaller waterfall just upstream, also on the main creek.

Falls #22 (right) and Falls #23 (left)
By the time I got to Falls #21, I had come all the way around to the top of the main creek in the northwest prong.  Falls #21 was in a side drainage just a few yards from the main creek.  Just upstream from it the main creek split into two forks and had a really nice waterfall in each fork, Falls #22 and #23, on that same bluffline.  These two waterfalls really made my day, they were beautiful; my photos really do not do them justice.  The sun had been very bright and harsh all day.  I did my best to compensate for the glare, but I'm afraid the photos are still sub-par.  As usual, photos really don't compare with actually being there.  I think there are probably at least a couple more nice waterfalls upstream in each of these forks, but it was getting late, and I still had to hike all the way back down and do some photography in the lower canyon area of this prong.

Falls #19
I headed back downstream along the creek and stopped to get some photos of Falls #20 and Falls #19, using a break just downstream of Falls #19 on the north side to access the bottom of the waterfall.  Continuing downstream about a quarter mile, I found Falls #24 in a side drainage on the north side.  All of the side drainages with substantial flow were on the north side, taking in a drainage area that goes all the way up to the pinnacle of Pilot Rock Mountain.  Falls #24 is a tall waterfall, flowing almost vertically down the rock face of the bluff into a small pool before draining via a steep cascade into the main creek.  Falls #25 is a three-tiered waterfall less than a hundred feet further downstream, flowing down the same bluffline as Falls #24.  You can easily see both Falls #24 and Falls #25 together from the main creek.  They are in the same drainage as Falls #17, on the bluffline much higher up.

Continuing downstream, I soon came to the part of the main creek that I had left when following the side drainage up to Falls #15 and Falls #16.  I retraced my route from there back to Falls #10, where I climbed down through a break on the left (north) side.  This waterfall was one Dan and I had found on the first hike here, and the difference today with a more normal amount of water was amazing.  Falls #10 is really nice, and the creek in this prong from Falls #10 to where Falls #9 spills over the north bluff is a very cool little creek.  The creek has eroded its bed down through solid sandstone, and as it has flowed from side to side within that channel, it has eroded big overhangs in the sides.  This is a really nice feature that reminds me of parts of Graves Creek.  We did not see another creek canyon like this in the rest of the Trace Creek valley.

Falls #10
After pausing to snap some photos of Falls #10 and Falls #9 and a lot of the creek in between,  I headed on back.  This is where I made another error that I won't repeat.  I theorized that since I was at the juncture of the northwest prong and the main Trace Creek, I should cross Trace Creek upstream of the confluence of these two creeks.  That way I would have smaller creek crossings and I would be on the side of Trace Creek I needed to be on to go back up the ATV trail to where I had parked.  It's just another theory that did not work out in practice.  Hiking on the south side of Trace Creek was much harder because of the steepness of the slope on that side and a lot more briers and underbrush.  The contour of the slope on the south side (right side as you hike downstream) eventually forced me to cross back over Trace Creek anyway, this time where it was wider and deeper, and then to cross back at the bottom of the ATV trail.

Falls #9
From the juncture of Trace Creek and Short Hollow, it was a really short hike and minimal climb back to where I had parked the FJ at parking location #2.  I was patting myself on the back for eliminating most of the huge climb up out of the Trace Creek valley and started driving back up the ATV trail the way I had come down.  Unfortunately, that was another plan that had a few issues.  Going downhill is always pretty easy, but going uphill I came to a spot that I had to nose the front wheels up and onto rock across the trail.  Normally, that's easy.  But now I had all four wheels on wet clay, going up a steep grade, and they just didn't want to get enough traction to get the front wheels up where they could grab.  Even in 4WD low and the rear axle locked, I was going nowhere.  

There was no way to go a different route through the woods, and I didn't have a chainsaw.  Even if I did, there was a big bluff on one side and dropoff on the other side.  So I spooled out the winch, connected the disconnects and control pendant, and winched my way uphill past the deep wet clay.  Thank God I put that winch in.  There were two more places that I got stuck in deep wet clay, but I had just left the winch connected.  I figured the food plot would be a good place to disconnect everything, and as it turned out I needed that winch a couple more times.  Making matters worse was the fact that Friday is date night, and I should have been home getting a shower and getting ready to take my wife out for dinner.  One of my preset messages on my InReach (see FAQ and Glossary) is "I'm delayed, but everything is OK".  This was the first time I was delayed enough to use it.  Bethany can always ping the InReach to see where I am, but it's nice to send a message so she knows not to worry.  It took me over an hour to drive the two miles up to the food plot at the top of the ATV trail.

Falls #23
Trace Creek clearly is a nice area, with a lot of stuff to see.  My conundrum for this hollow is that for the waterfalls to look really nice, you need some wet conditions.  Wet conditions mean the ATV trail will also be wet, making the drive back out probably not worth the time and energy you save by parking at the bottom of the trail.  While hiking the ATV trail along the spur is not as steep as the side of the hollow, it is still really steep.  It is a 1.5-mile mile hike up this spur along the ATV trail and an elevation change of 1067 feet.  If you are familiar with the hike from Hemmed-In Hollow Falls up to the Compton trailhead, this is about like that, except on that hike you can take a breather by going out to Wild Vic's Cabin.  On this hike out, you just have to take it slow and take a break when needed.   I will need at least two more trips to the Trace Creek Valley, one to fully explore Short Hollow, and another full day to explore the south prong of Trace Creek.  So I'll be back!
Trace Creek northwest prong GPS track (today's hike)
Trace Creek drainage basin
Red - 2/6/2018 hike
Blue - today's hike