This is one of my favorite spots in Arkansas. It is a pain in the butt to reach.
These falls and their hollow are part of a creek that runs alongside Mulberry Mountain, former home of the old Wakarusa music festival. I never came for the music, but some friends and I hiked to the nearby Mountain Creek a little more than four years ago (I posted about it here). I’ve wanted to go back since. It’s no 100-foot Cedar Falls, but it is a lovely, peaceful little swimming hole in the middle of Ozark National Forest.
The hike there, on the other hand, was not peaceful. The path is unusually steep and difficult, mostly straight down the mountain and therefore deeply eroded and rocky. But worse were the gnats and flies. I don’t know whether one group of them followed me or if I was just the baton in a relay down the mountain, but the dots darting around in front of my eyes and the whining buzz in my ears were literally, maddeningly constant. One big specimen pursued my camera lens no matter how much I swatted at it. Every now and then a metallic blue, sinister-looking wasp would fly in a straight line over the path, ignoring me. If only the rest followed that example.
There would be no relaxing until I got to the valley floor. And that’s too bad, because on both sides was a smorgasbord of fungi like I haven’t seen in years, if ever.
Some toadstools glistened wetly, while others looked soft as velvet. All were just the most visible part of a network of fungal filaments busy decomposing things beneath the surface.
I couldn’t spend much time with many of these beauties because of the gnats, but the bug issue surprisingly died down a bit when I reached the creek, where that sort of thing can be at its worst. I guess the spiders are more effective down there, since there were plenty of those, too. It seemed like I was the first visitor in a good while. The rest of you are missing a genuinely idyllic place, once you get past the rude, buzzing neighbors.
Thanks for looking.
I’ve heard the name Petit Jean, a state park that’s pronounced “petty jeen” in these parts, for years. After a good dousing of rain hit the state, it was high time for the park and I to meet. It sits about two hours southwest of Fayetteville and seems small as natural areas in Arkansas go, stretching about four miles from end to end. But Petit Jean still has plenty to its name, including one of the most impressive waterfalls in the state.
The approach to the park is fairly flat, but the park isn’t, generally following a deep valley carved into a mountain by Cedar Creek. Rocky outcroppings called the palisades mark the entrance from the west.
In my eyes, rocks like this show a place’s personality. Much of the Badlands is jagged and crumbly, for example, while the Black Hills and Yosemite Valley are rounded and strong. The rock at Petit Jean reminded me of home in northwest Arkansas, with smoothed, wrinkled sandstone boulders and bluffs splashed with moss and lichen.
This particular trail took me to the valley floor accompanied by a small stream with stair-step falls, then Cedar Creek itself. All of the recent rain had turned part of the trail into its own little waterway. But yesterday’s weather was beautiful, and I shared the path with dozens of people and tiny mushrooms.
Even with the creek’s gushing at full strength, I could hear Cedar Falls before I could see it. The water tumbles about 100 feet, more than the Twin Falls at Devil’s Den and Eden Falls in Lost Valley. A constant, light rain dripped from the bluffs above.
I didn’t have time to do everything I wanted at Petit Jean — there’s a whole other trail to the south that’s much longer than this one and includes hollows and formations called turtle rocks. But this trail by itself left me sweating and breathing hard, especially on the climb back up. Definitely a worthwhile first meeting.
Thanks for looking!
This month has brought a whole lot of rain: more than 7 inches so far this month, with another 8 (!) possible between now and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Yesterday’s storm swept away a homeless camp in Fayetteville, caused other flash flooding and caught houses on fire with its lightning, and that was with only 3 inches of rain. The ground is almost completely saturated, so be careful of all the runoff this weekend, and especially don’t drive through it.
The pauses in the mayhem, on the other hand, have brought great chances to see local waterfalls at their full power. The one above is a cascade at one end of Lake Wedington, which sits in a nearby patch of the Ozark National Forest. I took an early morning hike on the trail along the lake’s edge Sunday, my first time there.
The waterfall drains the lake around the trail’s halfway point and was absolutely gushing, tumbling 50 or so feet and throwing off curtains of mist. The torrent blocked me from going any further — the trail continues somewhere on the other side of this mist. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Today brought another break in the rain, so I hurried down to Devil’s Den State Park this evening. Some of the waterfalls there are going as strong as I’ve seen.
By this weekend, the falls might look more like this. Stay dry, everyone.
And at the risk of being way too presumptuous or commercial, if you all like any images in this or other posts, you can get prints of some of them (in much higher resolution) here. It might take a few days after a post for the photos to appear, but I keep it pretty up to date. Feel free to tell me which, if any, you’d like to have available.
Thanks for looking,
This is a post about big things and how tiny humans are compared to the world around them. The Lost Valley Trail down by the Buffalo River is full of bigness: big trees, big rocks, big caves. There are also plenty of small things. But it’s the behemoths that define this place.
The trail follows Clark Creek through a forest of tall, narrow trees that are abruptly interrupted by cliffs several hundred feet tall. The bluffs curve toward the pinnacle of the hike, Eden Falls, which are fed by a cave high above the valley floor. I thought our last rain would be recent enough for a healthy waterfall, but the creek was already so low that it seemed to disappear about halfway down the mile-long trail. The valley still has plenty to see.
On the way back I opted for the riverbed instead of the trail. This stream was likely once an underground cave; now the collapsed cave roof and stray pieces of the bluffs have left it choked with chaotic, car-sized boulders that otherwise would have no business being in such a small creek.
Yosemite — along with its even larger cliffs and trees — comes in less than two weeks. But the big places of Arkansas aren’t too bad in the meantime. Thanks for looking!