November 1, 2018
We drove south for a few hours and snagged a campsite at Tyler Bend in the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. They don’t do reservations but with rain, cold, mid-week and no hookups, we figured it shouldn’t be a problem and we were right. There was one other camper there when we arrived. It’s a very nice campground with fairly level paved sites, picnic tables, fire rings, water spigots around the loop and a nice shower house with hot water. The dump station is up on the entrance road.
The temps dropped around freezing a couple of nights so we got reacquainted with our cold weather systems. We are happy to say our generator, furnace, and DIY Mylar curtain system to block the cold from the cab area worked well. A full day of cold rain also helped us get another batch of blog postings published, which is good. We do want to get caught up… but we’d rather be playing.
If it wasn’t so cold, and the river wasn’t at flood stage, we would have been out there in a boat enjoying the beautiful fall colors and massive stone bluffs. But since we couldn’t play in the river we checked out the visitor center, watched their film and chatted with a helpful Ranger.
The Buffalo River is 151 miles long with 135 miles of that protected by the park. The Buffalo was scheduled to be another Corps of Engineers lake but a massive public outcry kept the river wild and gained protection in the national park system. Hooray for the National Parks!!
We tried hiking the short version of the Collier Homestead trail on the rain day (0.1 mile to homestead plus another 0.4 to main overlook – easy hiking). We made it to the homestead and overlook but got drenched and the wet leaves on rocks made hiking farther along the bluffs dangerous so we returned to camp, dried out and blogged.
The sun was out the next day so we grabbed our trekking poles and headed up the trail. You can access it right from the campground so we just hiked out. It was about 3 miles round trip, moderate hiking though the trail was narrow at a few points so you had to watch your feet to make sure you didn’t tumble down into the ravine. The views from the overlooks were awesome and we enjoyed touring the homestead again without the pounding rain.
One interesting find on the trail was prickly pear cactus. Here we are hiking in a wet woodland and we saw cactus along The trail.
The Collier Homestead was the last one approved in Arkansas under the Homestead Act of 1862. In February 1928 Solomon “Sod” Collier, his wife, and four of his seven children headed out from Kentucky and ended up at Tyler Bend. He began to make the improvements on a 40-acre tract that were required to obtain a homestead patent. He succeeded in gaining that patent in 1938, thus becoming one of the last settlers to acquire land under the act.
We did not know at the time that the trail across the road completed the loop and would have taken us back to the campground so we retraced our steps and headed back to camp.
Saturday was supposed to be warm and sunny so we planned to hit the northern section of the park, about two hours away (steep, twisty roads make slow going). It was actually cool and cloudy – perfect for hiking and fall color photos.
We stopped at the free Elk Education Center in Ponca first. They have good displays and helpful information about viewing elk in Boxley Valley as well as the hiking trails in the area. I picked up an elk antler and it was pretty hefty. I can’t imagine hauling two of those around on my head. Those elk are buff!
We hiked the Lost Valley trail first. It was pretty mild to the base of the falls and we thought there wouldn’t be any water in the falls until we realized it was running underground below the falls. We hiked along a dry streambed. First you reach a small eight foot waterfall pouring out of an opening in the rock. They call this The Natural Bridge.
We continued up some steps to reach a massive dry shelter called Cob Cave where archaeologists found 2,000 year old corn cobs. If you look really closely, you might see a hiker in a red shirt at the back of the cave. That gives you an idea of how big the cave is.
Just past that is beautiful Eden Falls, cascading fifty three feet over the cliffs.
Most people turn back here but we, of course, had to continue the hike to the cave above it that the water flows from. Think steps… lots of steps made of rough, uneven stones and then – cement! Who hauled that up this ravine? If was a tough haul up those steps but an impressive cave awaited us… had we gone in. There were mobs of people and some serious crawling and rock scrambling required so John decided it might not be our smartest move. We had a teeny tiny LED flashlight from our survival kit and it MIGHT have been bright enough but we decided not to risk injury that day. The hike paper says the cave is 200 feet deep with a 25 foot waterfall inside. It sounds really cool and we just might have to go back some day to explore it.
The hike down was rough going on those wet steps but we cruised once we were on more level terrain. We were going hunting for elk! (And maybe roadrunners – the Ranger said she sees them all the time running around in the fields).
We headed up Boxley Valley. John drove and Holly peered into the fields looking for elk. Then we rounded a corner and saw about fifty cars pulled off both sides of the road… then we saw the elk. John joked we didn’t need to look for elk, just for people watching elk. We joined the mobs on the berm.
The elk were AWESOME! There was a big buck with around 30 females and what looked to be yearlings. He spent of his time on alert, watching his harem and checking for threats in every direction. Several times he turned to gaze at the people but they didn’t seem to bother him.
Happy with our elk sighting we headed back. We had planned to hike more trails but another three to six miles of rock scrambling seemed a bit much at that point. We made a quick stop at the Arkansas Grand Canyon overlook then wound our way back to camp for a well-earned rest.
Tomorrow we roll south again trying to stay ahead of winter.