Pristine rolling hills mixed with rock facings decorated by thousands of hardwood trees create a flow of beauty. Below this thick canopy of leaves, different types of flora mixed with wildflowers of purple and pink cover the ground while holding secrets of wildlife’s presence.
A closer look at the rock facings show various types of moss saturated with sprinkles of water from recent rains, resembling the once popular terrariums. The entire mountainous area is occasionally topped by layers of fog, embracing this striking beauty like blankets covering a child.
So, is this heaven? No folks, it’s the Arkansas Ozarks.
Emily Wilson, a guide for 37 North Expeditions, is delighted to share this area with clients wanting a closer look at Arkansas’ beautiful hills and streams. She drives down exceptionally steep hills and takes the sharp curves with ease, showing off her driving skills and more importantly, not frightening her clients. She knows the dangers and respects these sometimes hazardous roads.
“My husband and I were riding our Harley-Davidson motorcycles around some of these hairpin turns,” Wilson said. “We rounded a corner and a tour bus was stopped in the road so the tourists could take pictures. One side of the road was rock facing and the other a hundred-foot drop-off into the Ozark woods.
“My motorcycle and I squeezed between the bus and rock facing. We likely would have been killed in our car, nowhere to go. My husband had a few choice words for the bus driver.”
Thankfully no one was hurt in this rare close call on roads where most drivers rightfully use common sense.
This is the Buffalo National River Area where rough country still exists. A few hardy folks live in these hills, renting canoes or surviving by some other tourist trade. There are not many jobs unless one drives the mountain roads to nearby towns like Harrison, Arkansas, or even Branson, Missouri, both long distances but where the money is. Some stay here to absorb a peaceful existence in forests with hidden treasures of beauty.
Wilson shared one of these treasures after driving her vehicle down a steep dirt road, filled with rocks and washed out ditches. Occasionally a toppled hardwood tree partially blocked the road, but the Jeep SUV maneuvered around it with ease. The 45-degree downward road ran several miles and ended at the bottom in a graveled parking lot with a sign pointing to Twin Falls.
A modest half-mile hike in the woods soon revealed the amazing Twin Falls that had a third fall this day, the result of recent heavy rains. The three falls tumble 48-feet over the ledge into a nice little pool at the bottom. The left two-thirds of the falls are fed by an underground spring. Most waterfalls in the Buffalo River area are seasonal and only flow during high water while two of these falls flow throughout the year.
Triple falls created incredible beauty and cooled the area with natural air conditioning. Just closing our eyes and listening to the sounds of water striking rocks while the mist covered our faces made our visit worthwhile. Those who meditate would enjoy these sounds and smells, especially early in the morning.
A house and cabin close to the parking lot were the only signs of human existence. Wilson explained that the entire area is privately owned except for the Twin Falls section owned by the state. The easiest route for finding these falls is by driving in from Camp Orr, a popular Boy Scout camp along the Buffalo River.
Wilson drove back up the scarred road, dodging ruts and trees without issue. Another route was taken to reach the Buffalo River, showing off more beautiful hills.
We reached the river at Steel Creek Access and were treated to the sights and sounds of a swift-moving river. Recent exceptionally heavy rains had the river roaring. The scenic river is framed by towering rock bluffs and hardwood trees.
I closed my eyes and remembered a trip 30 years before when outdoor recreation specialist and longtime buddy, Andy Gerrard and I took a canoe down through the Buffalo’s whitewater chutes that are common when spring rains swell the river into a raging flood. I tried to control the canoe’s bow, but everything happened too quickly and we occasionally bounced off boulders. The water splashed well above our heads and we covered several hundred yards in a few minutes.
A group of men stood around talking before moving their canoes into the river for a quick ride in the flowing currents. They wisely wore lifejackets in fast waters where even the best swimmer might not survive. I stood on a fair-sized sandbar and envied them for the ride they would soon take.
“I was married on this sandbar,” Wilson proudly stated. “My husband and I both kayak this stretch and it seemed like the perfect place. Since our wedding, we have returned and enjoyed this float many times.”
The Buffalo National River, 153-miles long, was established by an act of Congress on March 1, 1972, ending plans of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to construct one or more dams on the river. The National River designation protects natural rivers from industrial uses, impoundments and other obstructions that may change the natural character of the river or disrupt the natural habitat for the flora and fauna that live in or near the river.
The Buffalo River is noted for scenic floats and good smallmouth bass and perch fishing. Some camp out on the river on overnight floats.
The Ponca region of this river has canoe rental outlets. The best floats are generally in the spring when water levels are higher. Later in summer months you may have to portage from pool to pool. Some fishermen wade and cast small lures like inline spinners and jigs. The fish fight well and taste darned good over a campfire.
For more information about various hikes or a tour of these beautiful areas, contact 37 North Expeditions website at https://www.37northexpeditions.com.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.