Picture of buffalo_river 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.
Picture of waterfall1 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.
Picture of waterfall2 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.
Picture of rock_columns 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.
Picture of waterfall3 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.
Picture of waterfall4 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.
Picture of petit_jean 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.
Picture of needle_eye 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'.
Picture of natural_bridge 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.
Picture of grotto 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.
Picture of cedar_falls 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.
Picture of little_rock 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.
Picture of hot_springs 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.
Picture of gymnasium 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.
Picture of bathhouse_row 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.
Picture of bathhouse_row2 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.
Picture of ozarks

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