Trail to Eden, Glory Hole, and Top of the Buffalo
Mark Twain once said, “The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession”. Truer words have never been spoken. It never ceases to amaze me how I can reconnect with a group of friends or brothers and nearly immediately pick back up where we left off. I was looking through galleries of pictures that I had taken on trips with friends over the past several years and nearly every year around the beginning of spring, I take a trip with close friends from college. We usually go backpacking or camping and this year was no exception. My friend Jesse planned a trip to the Buffalo National River to stay in a cabin near Pettigrew, AR and to day hike and mountain bike on the nearly endless miles of trails that abound in that area. HE NAILED IT!
We made our way East, meeting in Tahlequah, OK, stopping in Fayetteville, AR for food, supplies, and fuel, then we continued East to Pettigrew, AR. We passed through communities that seemed lost in time. Nearly everyone still had a tractor, a wood stove, and livestock. It was refreshing that some individuals still enjoy a simpler life. It was inspiring to me. While driving through one small community along the way, I look to my right and Jesse grabs his nose. It struck me as odd, but we continued on with our conversation. A few seconds later, he looked at his hand to see a blood drop or two. I ask if he is okay and he assures me he is okay. We drive a few more seconds and a look of terror comes over Jesse’s face as blood floods out of his nose and into his hands. I coast the truck into a church parking lot and come to a stop in front of the church doors. The vehicle behind us is likely as confused as the redneck farmers that are driving by. Jesse tries to exit the truck, but can’t undo his seat belt due to his blood covered hands. I release him from captivity and toss him a tampon from the glovebox. It always pays to have a girlfriend with a cool truck. He plugs his nose and the rest of the group gathers round as more locals drive by in confusion.
Our digs for the weekend the Top of the Buffalo River Cabin is located on an organic farm and is completely sustained with solar power. There is a gravity fed water system, a sink, and several places to sleep including a loft. The cabin is heated by a woodstove and was a perfect location for our weekend plans. We unloaded our gear and supplies and got back on the dirt road that would lead us a few miles back to Hawksbill Crag at Whitaker Point.
Whitaker Point is an easily identifiable landmark thanks to its discernable shape and its popularity amongst travelers through Arkansas and the Arkansas Tourism ads that run images of it often. This was my first visit to the crag and I was impressed. The sheer mass of the rock and its height above the valley is colossal. Due to the recent rains in the area, the falls approaching the crag also made for interesting stops.
We spent a ton of time at the crag taking obligatory pictures of each other and returned to the cabin to enjoy a night of quiet and peacefulness. We prepared macaroni and cheese and enjoyed libations on the rear deck of the cabin while a lightning storm approached in the distance. The light show was really fantastic. Conversation ranged from love and loss to friendships and experiences. I pity any man that doesn’t have close friends to spend time with. It is absolutely refreshing.
I awoke the next morning with the sun and hopped on the mountain bike to explore the trails of the Upper Buffalo River Wilderness. The gravel roads were reminiscent of the same gravel I travelled down only one week prior in Stillwater. The difference was the temperature. Where Stilly was 37° and rainy, these Arkansas backroads were 60° and hard packed. I pedaled to a fire tower close by and enjoyed the sun coming up over the river valley. The tower appeared to still be in operation as it had a generator and Constantine wire draped along the top of the security fence. Once the sun was high enough to see the trail, I ventured into the most perfect set of switchback berms that I have ever ridden. I meandered my way across the valley and climbed up to our cabins backdoor. The guys had already made breakfast and appeared to be ready for a day of adventure, hiking, spelunking, and lots of dirt road travel.
We made our way North through the same rugged background that I had biked earlier that morning. Our destination was a trail head outside of Ponca, AR named Lost Valley. This trail was the avenue to which we would be able to see Eden Falls, a combination of a cave falls and waterfalls that litter the NW Arkansas hillside. This trail was absolutely worth the time and energy to put up with the huge crowd that surrounded the trail. There were hundreds of people on or around the trail and waterfalls. To be fair, it was the first really nice weekend of the spring season and conditions were perfect for waterfall chasing.
We wandered around the falls for quite a while taking pictures and enjoying the breaks in the crowds. We then made our way up to the cave that encompasses one of the coolest natural features that I have ever seen: a waterfall pouring out of the roof of the cave. It was easily 25 degrees cooler inside the cave and the journey through the eighteen-inch wide cavern was definitely worth it. I am not one for being in tight spaces for prolonged periods of time, but this is something I would definitely do again. Remember to bring a headlamp, grippy shoes, and a camera that can shoot in the dark (thanks Canon).
We ate lunch at the base of the falls and traversed back down the trail toward the car. On our way down, we came upon a couple in distress. The female, in her mid to early sixties was face down on the side of the trail, her walking stick at her side, and her shoulder wrapped around the base of a young tree. The husband was kneeling next to her, speaking softly. We gave aid in the best way we could with our minimalist packs and limited first aid. We helped the woman back to her feet and into a shoulder sling, and they insisted to be on their way. This event really convicted me about the amount of trauma gear that I carry with me on the trail. My kit needs some work!
Our next stop was Glory Hole Falls, around 30 minutes away. The trailhead is easy to find as it will have a ton of cars pulled off on the side of the highway. Follow the people. Glory Hole is an amazing phenomenon where the water has pooled in the same area on top of an outcropping for thousands of years and has worn down the rock to allow water to flow straight through. It is a sight to see in Arkansas. The hole is roughly 4-6 ft. in diameter and is approximately 20ft. from the floor below. I could have easily sat under that outcropping for hours if the guys would have let me. The group went around on the trail and I chose to scramble up the cliff faces opposite and met them at the creek above.
Once we left Glory Hole, we referenced Tim Ernst’s waterfall book and found the closest set of waterfalls and they were only 7-ish miles away. Little did we know that nearly all 7 miles were dirt roads with pot holes the size of small cars. We made it with little time to spare. The first set of falls on one side of the road were disappointing. There was little water flowing and it seemed that you would have had to be there in a flood to see them actually flowing. The second set was more impressive, but involved nearly an hour of bushwhacking to discover. We stopped to take in the sites and made our way out just in time for the sun to go down. We were out of water, exhausted, and rejuvenated by spending all day in nature. We ventured back to the cabin for a night of good chats, good brews, and a lightning storm like I have never seen.
We loaded up the next morning, turned off the solar system, and made our way back to Oklahoma. Trips to the Buffalo River Valley never cease to amaze me. The landscape is breathtaking every time I return. It also fascinates me that hardly anyone that I interact with in Oklahoma has been to the Buffalo or has even heard of it. It is a great place to visit to escape from the day-to-day and it is under 3 hours away!