When we came to the Ozark region of northern Arkansas, our original goal
was to spend a day (or more) canoeing on the Buffalo River. Unfortunately,
several days of rain had caused the river to rise near flood stage and while
we were standing in the outfitters preparing to go, the National Park Service
'closed' the river. This is the next morning at one put-in along the river.
The river is normally confined to the other side of that vegetation bar in
the middle of the picture. So instead given the heavy rain (which was still
falling) we decided to go off in search of some waterfalls on the feeder creeks
that run into the Buffalo River.
This is falling water falls on Falling Water creek (cleverly named, eh?).
Forest Route 1205 goes right by this one near the town of Ben Hur. It appears
to be a swimming hole normally judging from the rope swings nearby. When we visited
it was a bit angry for casual swimming and the road was washed out just a bit
further downstream from the falls.
Also near the town of Ben Hur and the town of Pelsor is Pedestal Rocks
Scenic Area. There are two hiking loops that leave from the parking area
and travel to the top and bottom of the rocks respectively. This is
Kings Bluff Falls from the top trail.
These are some of the rocks the area is named after. They make some
rather fascinating column shapes and caves. There are warnings posted
everywhere about the dangers of the top trail, and they should be evident
from this picture and the previous one. That gap in the rock (which is just
a few steps off the side of the trail) drops over 100 ft (30m), plus you'd
probably land on someone hiking the bottom trail. Or maybe not, we only saw
one other pair of hikers while we were out here. Maybe it was the periods
of heavy rain though.
We spent some time orienteering to other falls but this was our clear favorite.
This is Hammerschmidt Falls a little west of the town of Jasper. If you're
trying to find it, ask in Jasper, at the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch or just go
buy Tim Ernst's waterfall guide book. There is something like a road that
leads to the river, after that some climbing is required to get to the bottom
(beware the poison ivy!) although it is worth it. As you can see, you can walk clear
around it and it forms a really nice little pool for swimming in.
This is the reverse of the last picture - Melanie is standing in front of the
falls. At high water the horseshoe-shaped falls starts to improvise and other
falls appear around the rim of the canyon. We found the west side of the
canyon easier to descend than the east. If you continue down Indian Creek
towards the Buffalo River, the terrain gets even more rugged but there are
waterfalls galore. Just remember you have to climb back up however far you've
climbed down. If you're comfortable navigating just by a stream bed, this
is a great place to spend a day.
Petit Jean State Park is located south of the Ozarks along the Arkansas River.
It primarily encompasses the Cedar Creek watershed which flows into the Arkansas
from a series of bluffs on the south bank. That would be the Arkansas out in the
distance in this picture, and the bluffs in the foreground.
Petit Jean has some great hiking opportunities of varying difficulties.
The easiest is the Bear Cave trail which winds around some unusual rock
outcroppings. Of more interest are the narrow trails through the rocks
like this one called (creatively enough) 'The Eye of the Needle'.
Somewhat more strenuous is the Seven Hollows Trail which is definately worth
the effort. There are quite a few highlights along this 4.5 mile (7.2 km)
trail which descends into a series of parallel mini-canyons. This is a
natural bridge of course which is one of the many unusual rock formations
the waters have carved out of the sandstone. The trail fords the creeks
numerous times, so at high water (which of course it was) you'll be wading,
log balancing, or rock-jumping. We did a bit of all three.
The highlight of the trail (off of a spur at the midway point) is called
'The Grotto' and features a waterfall pouring over the edge of a small cave.
This is a great spot to hang out for a while, and it has good shelter (the
cave) if it should suddenly start raining. It might also be noted that
in the rain the steep climbs that lead from one hollow to the next become
small waterfalls and can be a difficult hurdle.
If you're not up for the Seven Hollows Trail, the highlight of the park
is Cedar Falls, seen here from an overlook - this is at very high water
so it's quite impressive. One can also hike down to the canyon floor
and view the falls from the bottom. This is described as the park's most
popular hike but it was getting a bit late by the time we got to this part
of the park so we skipped it.
Little Rock is the capitol and largest city in Arkansas, although everyone
seems to live a ways out in the suburbs around the city. The waterfront
area downtown is fairly lively on a Saturday night. We had no problem
finding a wide array of drinking establishments, food is more
difficult however, apparently everyone eats out in the suburbs as well.
An hour's drive south of Little Rock is Hot Springs National Park which has
to be one of the strangest units in the US Park system. The attraction here
is natural hot springs which emerge from the ground with an average temperature
of 143F (62 C). The trick is, they've funneled all the hot water through an
underground tunnel running underneath a series of bath houses which sprang
up from 1880 to 1930. Furthermore, most of the bath houses are closed and not
tourable. As an extension, the surrounding mountains are also part of the
national park which include some campgrounds and hiking trails. The hiking
trails don't hold a whole lot of attraction since most of the peaks and ridges
they encompass are also road-accessible. They've also stuck a rather tacky
looking tower atop one of the mountains.
Despite all that, there are a couple things worth seeing here in our opinion.
The first is the visitor center which is located in the restored Fordyce Bath House and can be toured.
This is the gymnasium up on the top floor. Nearby you can check out the turn-of-the-century
massage implements (yikes!), changing rooms, and specialty showers (yikes again!).
By comparison the equipment in this gym is relatively tame, although that curved
thing in the left corner was used for back-flexibility.
The other thing of interest is the few hot springs which you can visit in
their semi-natural state. For instance the fountains along bathhouse row
are channeled springs - that fuzziness around this one is actually steam
coming up off the water. Behind the bath houses are a few springs that haven't
been completely urbanized where you can basically confirm that there's some
really hot water coming up from underground. As of our visit, just one of the
original bath houses was open to the public and by appointment only.
The enormous building here was originally an Army/Navy hospital and is now
the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center. The Buckstaff in the foreground
of this picture is the only active bath house now, although several nearby hotels
offer spa-related services. The rest of the city of Hot Springs has somehow
failed to benefit from the tourist draw (and there were quite a lot of tourists)
that the park has. There's some commercial/traffic/hot-water themed congestion near
Bathhouse Row, the rest of the town is rather run down, although the well-manicured
Oaklawn Horse Racing track can be found on the southern edge of town.