We call the Ozarks “mountains,” and so they seem. But the area – covering northwest and north central Arkansas and much of southern Missouri — is really a high plateau deeply cut by rivers and creeks. This world of hollows and knobs is traversed on twisting roads and trails edged by sheer drops and breathtaking beauty. In late spring, the deep green of the dense forest colors even the air. Clear streams run out of fern-lined crevices and over bluffs, drawing the hiker with their burbling. It was this place we chose to spend our 10th Anniversary, and a good decision it was.
Part of our rationale was the opportunity to attend a photography workshop with Tim Ernst (www.timernst.com), hiking legend, author, and renowned nature photographer. The workshop would take place on May 2 near the Buffalo National River. I found a cabin close by and booked it for a few extra days so we could make a longer getaway of the trip. Cove Creek Cabin (http://www.buffaloriverchamber.com/cove_creek_cabin.html) is located near Compton in an isolated spot on the edge of the national park.
We stopped at the “Morgan Lodge” near Garfield, Arkansas for a night’s stay on our drive over and enjoyed the wonderful hospitality. I got up early the next morning and shot photos of the columbines on the bluff.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
It was an easy drive east to the Upper Buffalo area. We traveled through Eureka Springs and stopped in Berryville for lunch at the Ozark Café. It is located on the town square and had the appearance of one of those iconic small town restaurants with the best food around. It lived up to its appearance. The dark but cozy interior was filled with locals, the food was good and the service was friendly. The best part was the homemade peanut butter fried pie with ice cream. Peanut butter fried pie? Yes. It was amazing.
We arrived at Cove Creek Cabin (several miles off the highway on a dirt road) mid-day and relaxed for a while. I even took a nap on the breezy back porch running the length of the house and read a little in Tortillas and Totems by Sam Manicom (www.sam-manicom.com). Later in the afternoon we decided to get out for a hike. From Tim Ernst’s Arkansas Hiking Trails guidebook we knew that the trailhead for Hideout Hollow was less than a mile from our cabin, so that seemed like a good choice for a hike late in the day.
The Hideout Hollow trail is a round trip of two miles but we managed to make a little over 2 ½ miles of it. This trail is not well known and we saw no other hikers as we walked along the rocky hillside into the hollow. At .8 miles we came out on top of a tall bluff with great views of the valley.
Eventually we reached the head of the creek and found a lovely waterfall. The flow of water wasn’t heavy, but enough to make it a pretty sight.
Exploring downstream a bit, Bill spied a spot where we could scramble over the ledge and into the depths of the hollow. Descending into this dark space lush with greenery, we felt the true magic of this trail. We were beneath a high bluff with a constant trickle of water coming down and pooling below, the pools reflecting the huge trees rising from the forest floor – perhaps old-growth specimens. We also found some rockworks, the remnant of earlier white settlers.
It was an easy hike, with a little challenge if you want to climb down into the deep part of the hollow. Click here for directions and a map: http://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/upload/HOH_Complete.pdf
After our hike we drove back in to Compton to grab a bite to eat at JB Trading Company (www.jbtradingco.com). We were too late for anything from the grill but they had great sandwiches which they made up fresh for us. As I waited for our sandwiches I browsed the shelves of outdoor gear and came across a couple of recent issues of Overland Journal (www.overlandjournal.com). Lo and behold, there was the one with Bill’s “Beemers and Black Diamonds” story in it. Bill showed it to the girl at the counter and autographed it. You never know where you will find an Overland Journal!
Friday, May 1, 2015
The next day – actually the day of our anniversary, Friday, May 1 — we had a lazy morning then went to hike Hemmed-In Hollow, another trail near our cabin. http://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/upload/HemHol_Complete.pdf
It is a five-mile round trip from the trailhead to the Hemmed-In Hollow falls. Depending on your source, this falls is 177 feet, 210 feet, or 250 feet high, making it the highest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians.
The hike in was a steep downhill, making the hike out a difficult climb. Take lots of water on this trail, especially if you are doing it on a warm day. If you are not in good shape, don’t attempt it, the climb out is too strenuous.
The views were spectacular as we descended into the hollow, with several good camping spots at scenic vistas. We reached the falls after a fairly brisk walk down the hillside and then climbed up on the sandstone walls of the hollow and crossed behind the falls to the other side.
This place looks more like Utah than Arkansas! While we were there, numerous visitors walked up from the river. After we explored the falls area we walked to the river and ate a sandwich, watching the canoers and kayakers go by, many of them stopping for the hike up to the falls.
After the hike, which ended up being nearly seven miles with the river trail extension, we headed over the twisty roads to Ponca and the nearby Steel Creek Campground to scope out the location for the next morning’s photo workshop. We went on from there to Jasper and drove south on scenic Highway 7 to the Cliff House (www.cliffhouseinnar.com). We had a lovely anniversary dinner with a beautiful view of the Buffalo River Valley aka “Arkansas Grand Canyon.”
The next morning we were to meet at 6 a.m. for the workshop and it was about a 30-minute drive, so we made an early night of it.
Saturday, May 2, 2015
Bill and I arrived a little before 6 a.m. to the designated meeting spot (http://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/upload/Steel-Creek-Campground.pdf) and there was Tim Ernst, a tall, lanky bearded fellow in a hat, talking with two other men. I consider Tim a legend – author of THE guidebooks for the Ouachita Trail and the Ozark Highlands Trail and founder of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association. He has had a huge influence on the outdoor community, and his photography is exceptional. The opportunity to meet him and learn from him was a thrill for me.
Tim was easygoing and helpful. As we got to know the other students, we realized we had connections with two of them. Ron Harris is the brother-in-law of friends of ours from Norman – Bruce and Marilyn Naylor – and Amanda Winn went to high school with my son Mark and his wife Jessica. There were six students in all, so for such a small group that’s a lot of connections. Once we were all there and our cameras set up properly, Tim led us to the creek and we waded in and started shooting. He coached each of us through the shoot and after several hours when we all felt that we had something worth printing, we loaded back in our cars and caravanned to Tim’s Cloudland Gallery on Cave Mountain, south of Boxley. After some orientation, we walked over to Tim’s mountaintop cabin where his gracious wife Pam served us a barbeque lunch. We ate on the porch, visited, and admired the view out over the Buffalo River Valley.
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon reviewing, selecting, and watching Tim edit our photos. Each of us was able to take home a print of one of the photos we shot. Here’s mine:
Bill and I got Pam to take a photo of us with Tim and then we were on our way. The nearest restaurant was the Low Gap Café and we stopped there for a meal. It’s an unusual place, to say the least. Not what you expect to find in that part of Arkansas but considering it’s near a major put-in for canoers and kayakers on the Buffalo, its resort community vibe makes sense. Great food! Here’s an article on it that provides more information: http://www.aecc.com/sites/aecc.com/files/ALJuly2012_letseat.pdf
Sunday, May 3, 2015
We were in no hurry to get home, but today we would have to leave. One more hike, and that would be at Lost Valley. http://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/upload/Lost-Valley_Complete.pdf
The trailhead is near Boxley and there were a few cars there when we arrived. By the time we left, the parking lot was nearly full. This is an easy and obviously very popular trail of about 2.3 miles round trip. The highlight is Eden Falls and the cave above it.
Our fellow photography student Amanda Winn and her family were there and we enjoyed meeting her husband and sons. We visited the cave (I had brought my headlamp), squeezing all the way back – 50 yards, perhaps – to a 35-foot waterfall at the cavern’s end.
Winding our way home on back roads, we stopped for a late lunch at the Catalpa Café – literally the end of the road east of Oark, on Highway 215. (https://www.facebook.com/CatalpaCafe?fref=ts) Turns out the new owner of the café’ is a Californian with Arkansas roots who bought the business two years ago. The food was far different from what we expected (in a good way) and is worth a side trip.
Eventually we ran out of dirt roads and launched onto I-40 for the long, straight trip home.