Saturday, November 9, 2019

Ladderbucket and John Mountain Falls, Ozarks on White Oak Mountain, north of Hector, Arkansas

11/9/2019 -  Ladderbucket Falls and John Mountain Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.54074, -92.79777,  1547 feet
  Turn left onto ATV trail:  35.54159, -92.79934,  1601 feet
  Falls #1:  35.5444, -92.80044
  Keep right onto ATV trail:  35.55351, -92.7603,  1407 feet
  Bluff Break:  35.55073, -92.79351,  1222 feet
  John Mountain Falls:  35.55112, -92.79336,  1223 feet
  Falls #3:  35.55010, -92.79433 
  Ladderbucket Falls:  35.54868, -92.79469,  1227 feet

Pet Friendly: Yes.  No problem for dogs off-leash.  A dog kept on a leash may have some difficulty going up and down the break in the bluffline. 

Hiking Statistics:   The one-way distance to John Mountain Falls and then on to Ladderbucket Falls is 2.23 miles.  The return hike is slightly less distance because you can go directly from Ladderbucket Falls to the bluffline break, bypassing nearby John Mountain Falls.  The highest-to-lowest elevation difference is 554 feet, but there are no extended steep climbs.  Approximately 3/4 of this hike is along an old logging road and a couple of ATV trails so it is easy hiking.  The remaining hike is a bushwhack but is fairly open hiking without a lot of undergrowth or obstacles.  I would rate this a moderately difficult bushwhack.

GPS files:
  Ladderbucket area waypoints
  GPS track file to John Mountain and Ladderbucket Falls (.gpx format)


Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:
  Schoolhouse Falls
  Jacob's Stairway
  Lizard Log Falls
  Brushy Fork waterfalls


Ladderbucket Falls
It has been over five years since Boomer has been to Ladderbucket Falls with me, and I owed him a day out in the woods since he wasn't allowed to go to the Buffalo River with me.  The last time we visited this area, he was bitten by a copperhead and I was curious to see if he would remember the area.  It was five and a half years ago, but it was very traumatic.  He almost died.  I ended up carrying him on my shoulders for a while until he just couldn't take it anymore.  Even after rushing him to Doc (his vet), he got the anti-serum but the paw that was bitten had to be repeatedly hydrolazed and cleaned out where the flesh was abscessed and rotted.  It was a full two months before he was allowed to hike and swim again.  So today, we loaded up in the FJ and headed out this morning for the White Oak Mountain area north of Hector and a do-over for Boomer on this hike.


Sign at 'Y' in White Oak
Mountain Road - bear left
This is one of those places where just plugging the coordinates for the parking location into your GPS navigation unit may not give you the best route.  Your navigation system will probably tell you to take Lindsey Motorway since it will be about five miles shorter.  However, that road is always a wild card.  You never know what the status of the ford across the Illinois Bayou will be like, and Lindsey Motorway itself is normally a pretty bad road around the river.  White Oak Mountain Road is much better and always seems faster for me, so that is what I recommend.

To get there:
  • Drive north from Hector on Highway 27.  Less than a mile from the Big Piney Ranger station in Hector, you cross over Dare Creek.  Look upstream when you cross and you will see a nice little waterfall.
  • Immediately after crossing Dare Creek, turn right onto White Oak Mountain Road (aka FR-1301).  This is a gravel road but is a well-traveled and fairly well-maintained road.
  • Go 11.8 miles on White Oak Mountain Road.  Be careful about seven miles from Hector and bear left where the road branches at the 'Y' in the road.  See the sign in the photo at right - you want to stay on White Oak Mountain Road at
    Parking Location
    this point.
  • After following it for 11.8 miles, turn right onto Wilderness Trail (aka FR-1307).
  • Go another 3.5 miles and turn left onto Jobe's Way, then drive a quarter mile to the parking location coordinates (35.54074, -92.79777).  If you drive up to the gate with the "no trespassing" sign, you have gone too far.  I used to think the private property started at this fence and gate, but it is actually somewhat before that.  Look at the photo of the parking location;  see that bear-proofed utility pole further down the road?  That is where private land begins.  

The shaded area is private land
That is John Mountain to your left as you drive into the parking location, hence the name of the waterfall on the side of this mountain.  If "Jobe's Way" looks more like "Jobe's driveway ruts", that's because it is.  The cleared area beyond the gate and a hundred yards or so around that is private land and is well posted, so please respect the landowner and stay off.  Jobe's Way and the parking location are on public land.  If you draw a line perpendicular to the road, that is the approximate boundary of Harry Jobe's little chunk of land.  From the parking location, hike directly uphill through the woods, then turn to your right after about 200 yards where it levels out.  Then hike on the level for about a hundred yards and you will come across an ATV trail.   That point is marked with GPS coordinates listed above.  This little bushwhack through the woods in pretty easy bushwhacking as it is mostly clear of undergrowth and other impediments.  It's just a short detour through the woods and you are around the private land and onto a trail you can follow most of the way to John Mountain Falls.  See the map at the bottom of this post for more detail.


John Mountain Falls
Turn left onto an old logging road, away from Harry's property, and stay on it as it swings around the end of the hollow.  If you stay on the logging road for almost 1.5 miles, it will swing back to the right and down to a point just north of the top of John Mountain Falls.  Where the logging road has a 'Y', bear to the right, where it is more of an ATV trail. staying on this trail until it ends.  Where the trail ends, you are actually only about 100 yards from the top of John Mountain Falls.  Leave the trail to the right and go down a slight slope to a small creek.  This is the creek that feeds John Mountain Falls.  Cross the creek and follow it downstream a short way further to the bluffline.


The trick to seeing the waterfalls in this hollow is finding the spot where you can actually get down through the bluffline to access the base of the waterfalls.  That spot is right where the hollow's bluffline bends around to the grotto where John Mountain Falls is.  In other words, where the falls bluffline bends around to the bluffline for the main hollow.  In fact, you can see the waterfall from this point around the bluff to your left.  There are two breaks in the bluffline here that you can take to get below the cliff.  When you do, stay at the base of the rock cliff instead of going further down the slope to the creek level.  Follow the base of the bluff around, keeping the bluff to your left,  and it will take you to the base of John Mountain Falls. 

Falls #3
John Mountain Falls is a tall one, falling off the bluff ledge for 84 feet before hitting the rocks below.  Today, it had enough water flow to look great.  But, as with a lot of the tall waterfalls, it is difficult to get a good photo of the entire waterfall due to the foliage and height of the waterfall.  It was also a very bright and sunny day, not the best for photographing waterfalls.  I did the best I could with it.  To get to Ladderbucket Falls, you can go down to where the creek from John Mountain Falls flows into the main creek and go upstream, or you can follow the base of the bluffline back around the way you came.  Today, we did a little of both.  We hiked upstream on the main creek until we saw Falls #3 flowing off the bluff, then hiked up to it and followed the base of the bluff upstream right to Ladderbucket Falls

Ladderbucket Falls
Continuing on around the base of the bluff keeping the bluff on your right, you will come to Ladderbucket Falls.  This is a beautiful 36-foot waterfall, with a steep cascade at the top half, then falling the rest of the way into a large pool.  Ladderbucket Falls is on the main creek running down this hollow.  After relaxing, shooting some photos, and swimming (well, Boomer did, anyway) we headed back.  The easiest way back is the way you came in, along the bluff and back up through the bluffline break.  The return trip is slightly less distance since you won't be going around the bend to John Mountain Falls.

It was back at our break in the bluffline that Boomer got bitten on his left rear paw by a snake.  I think he has probably let time heal those bad memories.  He seemed to have a great day out hiking today.  We made pretty good time hiking the two miles back to the FJ.  This hike is really not that difficult, from a technical aspect,, especially compared to most areas of the Ozarks.  The part that is bushwhacking is not rough, and this route is relatively free of brush and other obstacles.  I would recommend this hike for anyone capable of getting off trail and hiking a few miles.  There is that private property to be cognizant of, but if you stick to the track that I made you'll be OK.  Using a GPS device or app will assist you with that.  You can click on the "Glossary and FAQ" link at the top right of this post for information on what I a using for GPS guidance.
GPS track for today's hike

Thursday, October 31, 2019

James A Villines Homestead, Buffalo National River near Ponca, Arkansas

10/31/2019 -  Jamee A. Villines homestead

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Park:  36.02134, -93.35495
  Villines Homestead:  36.02230, -93.35302
  
Pet-Friendly:  Dogs are not allowed here.  This area is part of the Buffalo National River and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.  Pets are not allowed on trails within the Buffalo National River (BNR), with the exception of the Mill Creek trail, Tyler Bend campground trails and the Buffalo Point campground trails.   You can take them on the river itself, and in campgrounds, on a leash, but not other areas of the BNR.  You can see the NPS policy here

Hiking Statistics:  This is an easy hike of only 1/3 mile for the entire loop trail.  You do go up on the hill above the old log cabin, but the lowest-to-highest elevation difference is still only 120 feet.  I took my time, and it took less than 16 minutes.  I would rate this an easy hike.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Leatherwood Creek Waypoints
  Villines Homestead GPS track

Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:
  Balanced Rock Falls and Leatherwood Creek
  Triple Falls and Rock Creek Bridge Falls
  Whitaker Creek waterfalls - Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, Owl Falls
  
Villines Homestead Log House
After spending a few hours exploring Leatherwood Creek, I came out of the woods at the trailhead near the Ponca low water bridge.  Guess what else is there?  That's right, the trailhead for the historic Villines Homestead.  This is such a cool slice of history and is so easy to get to, it's practically a crime to not go check it out.  The James Villines family were early settlers in the Buffalo River area, and many descendants of the family still live in the immediate area.  They were an influential lot, having built the Boxley Grist Mill near where Mill Creek flows into the Buffalo River, a little upstream from this farmstead.  They built up the dam on the spring-fed mill pond by hand, to power the grist mill when Mill Creek was too low.  Three generations of the Villines family operated the mill for almost a century.  The NPS (National Park Service) gives tours of the old mill on weekends between April and October.  When the locals' dependence on mills to grind corn, wheat and other grains faded, the Villines family built fishing cabins on the site and helped kickstart the tourism industry in Boxley valley by hosting out of town fishermen on their mill pond.  As I said, an influential family in the valley.  This farmstead gives you a little glimpse into how they lived.

Park on this side of the low water bridge.
There is plenty of room!
Getting to the parking location is super easy; just go to the Ponca access on the Buffalo River, where the low water bridge is:  
  • From Jasper, go north on Highway 74 to the junction of Highway 74 and Highway 43.  
  • Just prior to the junction, Highway 74 has a bridge over the Buffalo River.  While on that bridge, if you look to your left, you will see a low water bridge over the buffalo.  That's where you will park.
  • Turn left (west) on Highway 43, then in about 100 yards, turn onto the gravel road on the left. 
  • The gravel road goes only 0.2 miles to the parking area on the Buffalo River.
OR from Boxley, go east toward the junction of these two highways.  The Buffalo River access road will be on the right 100 yards before the junction with Highway 74.  If you find yourself in Ponca or on the Highway 74 bridge over the Buffalo, you went too far.  

NOTE:  It is always good practice to park on the highway side of the low water bridge.  There is room on the other side for a couple of vehicles, but there are some other considerations.  There is a "No Parking" sign on the gate on the left that goes up to the Villines homestead.  More importantly, the Buffalo River can rise several feet in a very short time during rainy periods.  If you park over there and it rises over the low water bridge, your vehicle isn't going anywhere for a while.  Yes, people have been stranded there.  Don't be one of those people.  There is a vault toilet in this large parking area that looks like it may have been built back in the CCC or WPA eras but is kept fairly clean, as most facilities in the BNR are.

Once across the low water bridge, there is a gate with a trail going up the hill.  It is a loop trail, so when you get to a branch to the right, you can go either way around the loop.  I bear to the left, so you go up the hill a bit more and come out on the main structure in the farmstead, the log cabin where James A. "Beaver Jim" Villines lived with his family.  The story has it that he lived his whole life within a mile of where he was born.  I find that hard to believe, but I can easily believe he didn't stray more than walking distance from this farmstead.  He was born and raised in Boxley in 1854, and in 1882 he married Sarah Arbaugh and moved across the Buffalo River to this farmstead.  He got his "Beaver Jim" nickname from his legendary skills as a trapper.  He lived here with his family until his death in 1948, a considerable lifespan for that era.  I think if I had a place at the juncture of the Buffalo River and Leatherwood Creek, I probably wouldn't be wanting to move either.

The National Park Service (NPS) now maintains the historic structures here and has some posting to the effect that you can look all you want, but you can't go inside.  I'm assuming the floors or something else aren't quite that stable and this is a way to preserve it and prevent injuries.  You can go inside some of the other old structures in the Buffalo National River, such as the Parker-Hickman Homestead.  The NPS has put up informational placards to describe the various buildings.  As you wander from one building to another around the short loop trail, it is a fascinating insight to the way folks lived 'back in the day'.  Before you know it, you are back around the loop and at the low water bridge. 


I took my time, taking photos and checking out various locations for possibly doing some Milky Way photos here (I don't think that's going to work), and it still only took me just a little over 15 minutes to walk around the loop.  I never did get the 'big camera' out of my pack, these photos are all cell phone pictures.  This is a short, easy hike with a little history lesson kicked in.  It is highly recommended for all.



GPS track for the Villines Homestead loop trail (black)

Balanced Rock Falls and Leatherwood Creek, Buffalo National River near Ponca, Arkansas

10/31/2019 -  Leatherwood Creek and Balanced Rock Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Area:  36.021338,-93.354948,  1007 ft.
  Trailhead:  36.021370,-93.354290
  Falls #1:  36.019940,-93.352310
  Leatherwood Spring:  36.018108,-93.350642
  Falls #2:  36.016920,-93.350200
  Old homestead:  36.016400,-93.349850
  Falls #3:  36.016250,-93.349480
  Falls #4:  36.016410,-93.348900
  Balanced Rock Falls:  36.016800,-93.348120, 1213 ft.
  Falls #6:  36.016850,-93.347880
  Falls #7:  36.015350,-93.349510
  Falls #7:  36.014540,-93.349210
  Falls #9:  36.014040,-93.348900
  Falls #11:  36.013600,-93.348430
  Falls #12:  36.013480,-93.348480
  Falls #13:  36.013160,-93.348670
  Falls #14:  36.013690,-93.348200
  Falls #15:  36.013800,-93.348010
  Falls #16:  36.014040,-93.347640
  Bluffline Break to Wading Falls:  36.013125,-93.347783
  Wading Falls:  36.013184,-93.347653
  Falls #18:  36.012980,-93.347150
  Falls #19:  36.012490,-93.346610
  Falls #20:  36.011940,-93.345550
  Falls #21:  36.011651,-93.345040
  Falls #22:  36.011000,-93.344440
  Leatherwood Falls:  36.010780,-93.344040,  1210 ft.
  
Pet-Friendly:  Dogs are not allowed here.  This area is part of the Buffalo National River and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.  Pets are not allowed on trails within the Buffalo National River (BNR), with the exception of the Mill Creek trail, Tyler Bend campground trails and the Buffalo Point campground trails.   You can take them on the river itself, and in campgrounds, on a leash, but not other areas of the BNR.  You can see the NPS policy here

Hiking Statistics:  This is an easy hike to Balanced Rock Falls, with a volunteer trail.   The distance to Balanced Rock Falls is approximately 3/4 mile one-way.   The rest of Leatherwood Creek is a bushwhack, but not difficult by Ozark Mountain standards.  I hiked a total of 3.37 miles today, including a little wandering around and exploring.  The highest-to-lowest elevation change was only 233 feet.  That is the approximate climb to both Balanced Rock Falls and to the BNR boundary line at the upper end of the creek from the parking location.  I would rate this a moderate bushwhack.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Leatherwood Creek Waypoints
  Leatherwood Creek track
  Leatherwood Creek return track

Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:
  James A Villines Homestead
  Triple Falls and Rock Creek Bridge Falls
  Whitaker Creek waterfalls - Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, Owl Falls
  
Balanced Rock Falls
First, let me clarify where this is.  Like many creeks, hollows, lakes, etc., there is more than one Leatherwood Creek in the Arkansas Ozarks.  There is a Leatherwood Creek that runs through the heart of the Leatherwood National Wilderness, then into the Lower Buffalo Wilderness Area, and flows into the Buffalo River only seven or eight miles from where the Buffalo flows into the mighty White River.  This is NOT that one, this is the Leatherwood Creek that flows into the upper Buffalo River at the Ponca river access.  Ever since Danny Hale first explored Leatherwood Creek and documented it in the Takahik website, it has been high on my list to explore.  Finally, we got some rain and all the stars aligned in my busy life of retirement and I packed up and headed for Ponca.  Yeah, I know you folks that aren't retired don't understand.  You probably visualize, as I did, retirement as a life of leisure and free time to do whatever you want.  The reality is, we pretty much do whatever we want, but somehow that makes us busier than we ever have been.  I don't know how I ever had time for a job.  But I digress again, please forgive me.  Bethany heard the word "bushwhack" and opted out, and Boomer isn't allowed in most of the Buffalo National River (BNR), so he had to stay home and I was on my own today.  

Park on this side of the low water bridge.
There is plenty of room!
Getting to the parking location is super easy; just go to the Ponca access on the Buffalo River, where the low water bridge is:  
  • From Jasper, go north on Highway 74 to the junction of Highway 74 and Highway 43.  
  • Just prior to the junction, Highway 74 has a bridge over the Buffalo River.  While on that bridge, if you look to your left, you will see a low water bridge over the buffalo.  That's where you will park.
  • Turn left (west) on Highway 43, then in about 100 yards, turn onto the gravel road on the left. 
  • The gravel road goes only 0.2 miles to the parking area on the Buffalo River.
To access Leatherwood Creek,
Look for this unmarked trail over a small berm
OR from Boxley, go east toward the junction of these two highways.  The Buffalo River access road will be on the right 100 yards before the junction with Highway 74.  If you find yourself in Ponca or on the Highway 74 bridge over the Buffalo, you went too far.  NOTE:  It is always good practice to park on the highway side of the low water bridge.  There is room on the other side for a couple of vehicles, but there are some other considerations.  There is a "No Parking" sign on the gate on the left that goes up to the Villines homestead.  More importantly, the Buffalo River can rise several feet in a very short time during rainy periods.  If you park over there and it rises over the low water bridge, your vehicle isn't going anywhere for a while.  Yes, people have been stranded there.  Don't be one of those people.  There is a vault toilet in this large parking area that looks like it may have been built back in the CCC or WPA eras but is kept fairly clean, as most facilities in the BNR are.

Thong Tree
On the other side of the low water bridge, there is a clearly marked trail on the left by the aforementioned gate that goes to the old Villines homestead.  On the far right, there is another clearly marked trailhead for the Buffalo River Trail.  In between the sign and the BRT trail is a volunteer trail that goes up and over a little berm that is NOT marked in any way.  That is the trail for going up Leatherwood Creek.  There is no official maintained trail in this valley.  The volunteer trail only exists because after Danny Hale posted some photos of Balanced Rock Falls, it suddenly became very popular.  It's a relatively easy hike along a remarkably beautiful little creek.  The fact that it has gone unnoticed for decades, for the most part, tells you a little about how common this type of scenery is in the Ozarks, and especially areas like the Buffalo River.  There are literally thousands of waterfalls in the Arkansas Ozarks, but this one is such a unique formation that folks were certainly drawn to it after Danny found it.  If you visit it, please keep it as pristine and beautiful as it is now.  Leave no trace, and take only pictures.

Falls #2
Once over the berm, you find yourself walking along the right side of Leatherwood Creek.  You pass a large thong tree and in only a couple hundred yards, come to the first waterfall, Falls #1.  I'm using Danny's names for waterfalls since he was the first to come here and document it.  He does the same thing that I do in a new area;  just number the waterfalls as you come to them, and if you give one an actual name later just update the documentation for it.  At the lower end of any hollow, generally, the waterfalls are fewer and smaller.  Leatherwood Creek is no different, and in the upper parts of the creek, they are one after another.  It is about a quarter-mile upstream from Falls #1 to Falls #2.  Along the way, I saw a nice spring coming right out of the rock bluff on the left side and flowing into Leatherwood Creek.  I suspect in wetter times, there is actually a small creek in the side drainage here.  I called this Leatherwood Spring and put coordinates for it in the list above.

Balanced Rock Falls
Less than a hundred yards upstream from Falls #2, there are the ruins of an old homestead on the right, just above where high water would come.  Falls #3 is right above Leatherwood Creek in the side drainage on the left.  This is the tributary creek that Balanced Rock Falls is in.  Cross Leatherwood Creek upstream of this side drainage and the volunteer trail winds to the right side of the creek as it follows the tributary upstream.  You'll pass Falls #4 in this tributary, then Balanced Rock Falls is only about a hundred yards upstream from that.  It is only about 150 feet of elevation difference from the creek to Balanced Rock Falls, and that is about the biggest and steepest climb I had for the whole day.  As I said, this is fairly easy hiking by Ozarks bushwhacking standards.

Falls #4
Above Balanced Rock Falls is Falls #6, a two-tiered waterfall with twin falls at the top and a longer cascading waterfall right below them.  I spent a little time climbing up to the bluffs above in this little drainage, doing some exploring, then hiking back down to Leatherwood Creek.  I stayed mostly on the right side of the creek as I made my way upstream.  There are stretches of about a hundred yards of the serene, beautiful, creek between waterfalls, and the fall colors made this a fantastically pretty area today.  When you get up to where Falls #11 is, there are a half dozen waterfalls in the two side drainages on each side of Leatherwood Creek.  

Wading Falls
Just upstream, the next one you come to on Leatherwood Creek itself is Falls #17, which Danny has named Wading Falls.  I immediately saw where the name comes from. There is a large pool that covers bank-to-bank between the bluffs along each side of the creek.  Wading appears to be the only option to get to the base of Wading Falls.  Those of you that are avid blog readers know that I'm not much of a fan of getting in the water and wading, especially in cold water.  For the record, I didn't do that.  I hiked up the bluff on the right and found a bluffline break that I could climb down through right at the base of Wading Falls.  The coordinates for the break are listed above.  Once down at the base of Wading Falls, I chose to scramble up on the rock ledges on the right side and inch my way over to the top of Wading Falls, which puts you in a big, long slot canyon that leads up to Falls #18.  In retrospect, that is probably not the smartest thing to do, and definitely not the safest.  It's probably best if you climb back up through the bluffline break and hike up along the top of the slot canyon.

Falls #22
You can barely see the top of Leatherwood Creek Falls
at the end of the bluff
Continuing upstream, Fall #19, 20, and 21 were roughly spaced out 100 yards apart upstream, similar to most of the creek.  Above that, the topology changes and there is a big bluff with a very wide overhang on the right side of the creek.  Here, Falls #22 flows out over an extended ledge.  Just upstream from that is one that I'll call Falls #23A, since it flows out of the pool below Falls #23.  Danny named Falls #23 Leatherwood Creek Falls, but I didn't see a location for this little one just downstream of it.  A large dead tree has now fallen onto the top of Leatherwood Creek Falls, all but obscuring the top of this waterfall.  I'm sure that with the force of water during heavy rains, this tree won't last more than a couple-three years before being torn apart and carried downstream. 

Leatherwood Creek Falls
I climbed the bluff on the left and continued upstream above Leatherwood Creek Falls to the boundary of the Buffalo National River.  Beyond this boundary line, I could see massive bluffs, rising 200 feet or more straight up above the upper part of Leatherwood Creek.  I could see the bottom part of at least one waterfall that had to fall all the way from the top of this bluff.  This is private land, so I went no further today.  There is no signage, so you have to be cognizant of where the boundary line is and keep an eye on your GPS.  See the "Glossary and FAQ" link at the upper right for what I'm using to navigate and track my hikes.  Please respect the property rights of others; there are vast amounts of public lands to explore here, so there is no need to trespass.  For my next trip here, I'll locate and contact the property owner to see if I can get permission to do a little exploring.

Bluffs rising above Leatherwood Creek
at the Buffalo National River boundary
Turning back, I stayed above the bluff and went downstream along the opposite side that I had traveled upstream on.  Ergo, I was still keeping to my right.  There is not a lot of undergrowth here, and since I had seen the entire creek on the way up I saw no reason to do the kind of rock-hopping and zig-zagging that is required along the creek.  Plus, despite my best efforts my boots and socks were completely saturated with water and my feet getting pretty cold.  When I came to the side drainage containing Balanced Rock Falls, I descended to the creek level and crossed the creek, returning along the creek on that volunteer trail I started today's hike on.  It was a short, pleasant, hike, and I soon found myself back at the low water bridge.  Since the trail to the Villines homestead is right there, it is kind of required that I go check it out.  That will be the next blog post!  
Along Leatherwood Creek
Falls #21
Falls #23A
Falls #23A
Leatherwood Creek
Wading Falls
Falls #18 is visible above it, at the end of a long slot canyon.
Wading Falls

Falls #18
Falls #19
Old Homesite ruins





GPS Tracks for Today's Hikes
Red - Leatherwood Creek Outbound
Blue - Return Route to the Trailhead
Black - Villines Homestead Loop Trail


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Fairy Falls and Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

9/25/2019 Fairy Falls and Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)

  Park - Fairy Falls:  44.515336,-110.832617,  7202 ft.
  Grand Prismatic Overlook:  44.523491,-110.840027,  7341 ft.
  Fairy Falls:  44.524818,-110.870113,  7310 ft.
  
Pet-Friendly:  No, Yellowstone is NOT a "pet-friendly" place.  Dogs are technically allowed within the park, but they have many restrictions.  They are allowed in some cabins throughout the park, but none of the lodges or hotels.  They must be leashed at all times, stay within 100 feet of park roads, and are not allowed on any trails or boardwalks.  In other words, if you take your dog, you will be severely limited on what you can do and where you can go within the park.  We left Boomer at home with our fabulous dogsitter/housesitter.

Hiking Statistics:  This is a fairly easy hike with a good trail the entire distance.  The trail to Fairy Falls is 2.93 miles each way (by my GPS), so you are looking at almost 6 miles round trip.  The highest-to-lowest elevation gain is only 108 feet, so it is fairly flat the entire distance.  The loop that goes up to Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook is 0.3 miles long, but it is just an alternate route off the Fairy Falls trail, and the overlook is less than 200 feet to the west of the Fairy Falls trail.  So if you take the loop up to the overlook, it will add very little distance to the hike but will add an elevation gain of almost 200 feet.  It is moderately steep on the trail up to the overlook.  I would rate this a moderate hike, just due to the total distance and the elevation gain to the overlook.  We took our time and spent just over an hour hiking each way.

GPS files (.gpx format) - See maps at the bottom of this blog post
  Yellowstone and Teton waypoints
  Fairy Falls hike track
  Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook track
  
Links to blog posts for other nearby areas:

Fairy Falls
Bethany and I have been to Fairy Falls in Yellowstone National Park a couple of times, and it is one of our favorite waterfalls in the park.  At 200 feet tall, it is one of the tallest in Yellowstone, and it is just a beautiful waterfall that is far enough off the Grand Loop Road that it has never been crowded on our visits.  There are two ways to hike out to Fairy Falls, although we have only hiked the trail that starts out south of the Midway Geyser Basin.  The other route starts at a trailhead where Fountain Flat Drive terminates for vehicle traffic, shortly after crossing the Firehole River.  On this route, it is 3.0 miles just to the turn from the old roadbed to Fairy Falls, then an additional 1.7 miles to the waterfall itself.  This old roadbed that you start out on is a bike trail as well.  if you have mountain bikes you might choose to take this route, which goes around Goose Lake.  The National Park Service (NPS) has even placed a bike rack at the turnoff to Fairy Falls.

Fairy Falls - with Bethany and Rick
The route most folks take starts at the Fairy Falls trailhead, about a mile south of the Midway Geyser Basin parking.  There is a lot of parking here, and it tends to fill up fairly early in the morning.  That may throw you off a bit, but the vast majority of those folks won't be going to Fairy Falls, so don't expect the same crowd at the waterfall.  This parking area is also the closest parking to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook.  Grand Prismatic Spring is in the Midway Geyser Basin, and after walking the boardwalk around it, many tourists find that you can't really see it that well up close.  Clearly, from what you can see of it, it is huge.  They want to get a birds-eye view of it, so they make the hike up to the Overlook.  Most, as I mentioned, don't continue on to Fairy Falls.  

From the parking area, you immediately cross the Firehole River on an old single-lane bridge and start hiking on a very wide, nicely leveled trail.  You would think this looks like an old road, and your thinking would be absolutely correct.  This was the initial route for the road between Fountain Flats and the Old Faithful area, and the power line for the Old Faithful facilities still runs along this route.  It is now closed to all but foot and bike traffic for park visitors.  If you have a mountain bike, you can bike to the junction with the bike rack I mentioned above.  Along the way, the trail borders the west side of the Midway Geyser Basin.  There are some small hot springs right along the trail.  No, you can NOT venture off the trail here.  All thermal areas are fragile from an ecological standpoint, and they are dangerous from a personal safety point of view.  Walking off the trail into thermal areas is a big no-no anywhere in Yellowstone and can get you ejected from the park.

Grand Prismatic Spring
About 0.8 miles down the trail, you come to the side trail on the left leading up to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook.  The trail winds up the mountain at a somewhat steep grade, so take your time.  It is only a climb of fewer than 200 feet, so it isn't that bad if you don't rush it.  Once at the overlook platform, you can look down at Grand Prismatic and immediately see why they built an overlook.  This is huge, the largest hot spring in the world.  The Midway Geyser Basin boardwalk goes all around it, but from that perspective, it just looks like a lake with a lot of steam.  Viewing it from above, you can see the dazzling colors throughout, as well as get a feel for the size of the spring.  The people around it on the boardwalk look tiny.  When you get done viewing Grand Prismatic, you can continue on the trail in the same direction you were going instead of doubling back.  It goes back down the mountain to rejoin the Fairy Falls trail about a quarter-mile from where you branched off on the side trail.  You could do this little detour either hiking to or returning from Fairy Falls, but you will be fresher for that climb if you do it on the way out.  

Back on the Fairy Falls trail, you go about an additional quarter mile from where you rejoined it off the side trail to the overlook.  Take the trail branch to the left that follows the base of the bluffline the rest of the way to Fairy Falls (see the
Fairy Falls
map below).   This is where that aforementioned bike rack is.  From here, the trail gets narrower and rougher but is still an easy hike.  It winds through the lodgepole pine forest but still stays mostly on the flat without much in the way of ups and downs.  As you get close to Fairy Falls, it gets somewhat rougher but is still what I would call easy hiking.  This area is now a dense forest of younger lodgepole pines.  

The older growth pines were almost all destroyed in the fires of 1993, and what you see now is the regrowth that is now a quarter-century old.  At this altitude, the pines grow very slowly.  The old tree trunks are still laying all around;  those of us from the southern climes would expect this to all have rotted and disappeared by now, but there is very little rot at this altitude as well, and no termites or other organisms to help with decomposition.  None of this is on the trail, of course; the NPS has done a good job of keeping the trail clear and groomed.  There is also a primitive campsite along this section of trail for backpack campers.  No campfires are permitted, however.

We didn't pass anyone along the hike out to Fairy Falls, and when we first got there we had the place all to ourselves.  While we were there, a couple of hikers that were backpack camping came and left, and another couple showed up as we were about to leave.  Bethany is probably the world's friendliest woman, so within a few seconds, she was BFFs with anyone we encountered during our two week trip to Yellowstone and Teton.  That's quite a few folks, and all of them were the nicest people you can imagine.  I think a magical place like Yellowstone has that effect on anyone.  Fairy Falls itself is just spectacular and is in a spectacular setting.  Check out the video at the bottom of this post.  Even this late in the year, when the previous winter's snowfall was completely melted, it had a good deal of flow.  One thing I love about the rivers and streams in Yellowstone is that they do dry up slightly by the end of summer/fall, but not much at all.  We took the requisite photos of our new friends, then started our hike back.  

All in all, this is a great hike, highly recommended for all.  I noticed on the last section of trail there were orange trail markers high on the trees along the trail.  Generally, that is done for the benefit of winter visitors that can cross-country ski from the Snow Lodge at the Old Faithful area.  I'm a novice cross-country skier, but I may try to get out to Fairy Falls on our next winter visit.  Any time you go, dress for the weather.  In summer, we have been here when people were swimming in the pool at the base of the falls.  Today, it was near freezing, so that wasn't on anyone's mind.  Bears are also a consideration.  We have a canister of bear spray that we never use at home in Arkansas.  However, in Arkansas, we have only black bears.  Here in Yellowstone, there are grizzly bears (aka brown bears).  We generally take our bear spray on any backcountry hike in Yellowstone.  For the Fairy Falls trail, I think there is enough traffic that bears will give it a wide berth, but it is best to be prepared.
GPS Track for Fairy Falls Trail (red)
Fairy Falls - 4 second video