April showers bring May flowers, plus great waterfall hikes and float trips.
Flowers, falls and floats were the silver lining to several inches of rain that soaked Northwest Arkansas at the end of April. Every creek and rivulet ran with fast-flowing water. All of our paddling streams were bank full, sometimes too full for a safe float trip.
Our little Tour de Madison County bicycling group left our bikes at home and hit the road for a gorgeous waterfall hike on April 23 and an unforgettable float trip down the Buffalo National River on April 24.
We were giddy with anticipation on a sunny and cool Sunday, traveling (by car) toward Natural Falls State Park near West Siloam Springs, Okla. Barrels of rain fell Friday and Saturday. We knew the 80-foot waterfall and all the smaller cascades would be roaring.
Some of our group had never visited this lovely park. We were eager to get there.
After paying the $5 per car entry fee, we hiked along the short concrete walk that leads to the waterfall area in a rock canyon with sheer bluff walls. Hikers first come to an overlook high above the canyon bottom for great views of the cascade tumbling loud into a misty lagoon at the bottom. You can get the willies perched on this high overlook. After a few pictures, we started our hike to the base of the falls.
It’s less than a mile and the trail passes a small lake and goes along the clear, narrow stream that forms downstream from the waterfall.
The good stuff on this walk is the observation deck at the bottom of falls. We could barely hear each other the cascade was so loud. Another 30-footer poured from a cleft in the rock to the right of the big waterfall. A dozen other little seeps and pours flowed out of the canyon walls. What a springtime sight to behold.
We had lunch in a little picnic area, then headed home. To reach Natural Falls State Park, drive west on U.S 412 through West Siloam Springs, Okla. The park is on the left, one-half mile south of U.S. 412. Signs on the highway help visitors find the park.
More water wonder awaited the next day at the Buffalo River. The water level promised a fabulous float trip. Five inches of air space beneath the Ponca low-water bridge, warm, sunshine and a gentle breeze created a perfect day.
A sizable crowd was on hand at Ponca for a Monday morning. Who wouldn’t want to be on the river on a day like this? The stream is fast at the bridge and current whisked our canoes quickly downstream. The wonders of the Buffalo, our first national river, began to unfold.
Bluffs tall as skyscrapers cradle our beloved Buffalo on the 10.6-mile float from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing. Waterfalls galore poured from high crags and lower cracks in the rock. Wood ducks took flight. Gaggles of turtles sunned themselves on logs and warm rocks.
The highlight for me was paddling with my pal, Gene, for his first trip down the Buffalo. We’d been trying to get on the river together for years and finally got ‘er done. It was Gene’s first-ever canoe trip, and he handled the turns and rapids of the Buffalo like he was born paddling.
A float from Ponca to Kyle’s isn’t complete without a hike to Hemmed-In-Hollow and its 225-foot waterfall. It’s a 1-mile hike from the river to the waterfall on a trail. Getting there is a joy, with falling water and forest to see at every step.
The Hemmed-In-Hollow waterfall spills over a lip of rock high up in a box canyon. As it tumbles to earth, the cascade breaks into a shower of water, a veil of silver droplets that moves left or right at the whim of a breeze. On this warm day, it was refreshing to stand under the waterfall with outstretched arms and feel the pounding, cool shower.
Back on the river, we stopped at another waterfall area another mile downstream that’s easy to miss. This magical spot has a half-dozen cascades that drop one after another, like a giant set of stairs.
From there, it’s not far to Gray Rock Shoals, the finale of the Ponca to Kyle’s run. I didn’t tell Gene we were fixing to run the meanest rapid on the Buffalo. Gray Rock Shoals can look scary even to veteran river runners, but even more so on this high-water trip. Waves in the rapid were running three to four feet high with a feisty current.
Years ago the flow pulled boats straight toward Gray Rock and an imminent tip-over. People used to set up lawn chairs on shore to watch the canoe carnage. Not anymore. The river has changed and the current runs down the middle of the river, missing Gray Rock.
From here it’s an easy half-mile milk run to the take-out at Kyle’s Landing.
On the drive home, we reflected on two fabulous days reaping the benefits of those April showers. Now we’ll enjoy the May flowers they’ll surely bring.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAFlip