April 7, 2022
It was 7:30 in the morning and the warmed brown leaf covered earth of the Ozark Mountains was colliding with the cool moist early air.
Now at the end of April from a distance these mountains will look like heads of broccoli populating the horizon. This fresh spring day with the rising fog they more resembled a plate of steaming meatballs!
We were driving Highway 65 south for a day of hiking in Arkansas, the Natural State. It was a hikers meetup. I had never been with this group before. My hiking buddy Lisa googled the group and suggested we hop in.
I was reluctant at first. I started the year out with a 5 mile hike in the snow so i figured I could survive it, but from the pictures on the meetup page most looked younger than my bones and my murderous pride would rather be eaten by a bear than to ask a group to slow down for a gray head.
When Lisa said there were waterfalls I decided the risk reward ratio balanced, so the adventure was on! Lisa picked us up some hiking sticks at the local Wally World. Had never used sticks before but they became very friendly before the end of the day.
We parlayed on the hi-way south of Branson. Fourteen brave souls, most of us meeting for the first time. We all became instant chums in adventure. Eight women and six men less than Lewis and Clark had to cross the continent but enough for the Buffalo National River Wilderness in Arkansas.
The troupe spanned 30 years on the the age curve in all shapes and sizes. Short and tall, thin and fluffy. I was surprised the girls out numbered those of us still identifying as men. I googled it and found that women are increasingly taking on the great outdoors and they tend to perform equally on the treks.
Our first trail was to Fern Falls. Phillip our fearless leader told us it was an easy mile and half trip there and back and he spoke truth. The woods were still mostly barren with small rug patches of green here and there. We stood on a cliff across from the falling water bunched up above a 40 foot drop. Phillip invited all who dared to follow him to the bottom of the bowl for a better look.
Lisa was going so my testosterone demanded to accompany her estrogen down the slick and rocky descent. We crossed the rushing water at the top of the falls and walked, slid and scooted to the pool below.
There was a cleft under the falls where we could stand protected from the water in front of us. The cool mist at the bottom was refreshing as we meandered under the falls looking out through the spray.
Getting back up the hill was a competition between gravity and friction. There were enough small trees to pull on and our sticks made good leverage so we all succeeded the return climb and hike back to the waiting cars along the side of the road.
Part two of this day was a whole different category. We drove three miles through the forest on a one lane dirt road all down hill to the parking area. The captain told us to prepare to get wet and in less than a half mile we were crossing a twenty foot stream knee deep in cold rushing water. Now I knew why we had hiking sticks. They were quite helpful in staying upright despite the efforts of the stream to bathe us.
This hike spanned through woods, cliffs, muddy trails and rocky climbs to two more waterfalls. We would cross the mountain streams six times before we said good night to the forest so our feet were wet all day.
Most of the trip was through barren woods but we passed through two beautiful green meadows. The flat terrain was sloppy wet but the color contrast gave balance to the day.
The thin trails alternated from dry to muddy to rocky and back. Most of the time we were single file but occasionally the path would broaden to give time to acquaint with our fellows. I only saw one wedding ring and even if they carpooled they seemed to be friends and not lovers.
Part two was to be about three and a half miles but we wandered enough off the path that my iWatch reported 4.34 miles. This was much more challenging especially near the two falls. You barely traveled a hundred yards before stepping over another tiny stream striving to contribute to the larger rushing rivers below.
The ladies and even most of we boys would stop to admire lonely yellow, blue and purple bloomers reaching inches into the sky searching for a better view of the sun. I didn’t actually know the handles worn by these lovely interludes but when one of the damsels asked about a particularly pretty bunch I volunteered they were Yellow Flowers. She chuckled but accepted my report.
We traveled about a mile and a half before the roar of water announced we were near our next waterfall, as it towered in the sky we soon got glimpses of the falls between trees. Our pace quickened in anticipation.
At fifty yards nature had prepared a booby trap of slope and mud hoping to add us to the debris below. A rope was strung between trees to anchor the slippery steps. The party of strangers cared for each other like family and all crossed successfully to feast on the victory of the hunt.
The group sat on both sides of the river bank bank. We ate snacks, visited and relished the atmosphere while watching the falls in a state of mesmerization.
It was rawly gorgeous and intimidating at the same time. Towering sixty feet above us and furiously gushing from a huge hole in the cliff. The rocks above the hole climbed another thirty feet to the top.
This was an awesome sight as the water crashed down relentlessly. The portal looked to be at least twelve feet wide and four feet high and every inch spewed water like a giant faucet in the rock wall. The water dived to a self made pool below and frothed in anger as it dispersed through the rocks to carve a trail to the Buffalo River. My senses were delighted as I watched the water shoot out of the rock in a flow the size of a Volkswagen Beetle that never ended. The roar of the crashing water and the gentle spray kissed my my skin.
Simultaneously we were all in love with life as the Lady of the forest romanced our hearts. If there were any atheists in the group they were converted at this sight as the awesomeness of God’s creation was too perfect for unbelief. The Great Spirt is great!
Our phones became cameras to document our victorious journey. Thank God there was no phone reception to interrupt our spoils. The reward was addictive and I knew there would be no quitting to this sport.