The plans for our first stop in Arkansas (the “Natural State”) were cut short due to two major storms that threatened as we entered the state. We set up camp at Buffalo National River, staying at Buffalo Point on the lower river. It is one of three designated wilderness areas within the park’s boundaries.
Located in the heart of the Ozarks, Buffalo National River became America’s first national river in 1972. It encompasses 135 miles of the 150-mile long river. Although termed a national river, the 94,293-acre park includes lands surrounding it, as well as the river itself.
Because of its natural wilderness and towering limestone bluffs, this is a very popular place not only for the locals, but also for those who love rivers and water-related activities. Steve had designs on floating down the beautiful river while we were here – but it was not to be 😦
The free-flowing Buffalo National River is one of the few remaining unpolluted rivers in Arkansas that has not been dammed, and it is a state treasure. It begins as a trickle in the Boston Mountains, 15 miles above the park boundary. Following what is likely an ancient riverbed, the Buffalo cuts its way through massive limestone bluffs as it travels eastward through the Ozarks and into the White River.
With only one day of sunshine to enjoy before all weather hell broke loose, we immediately embarked on the only hike we would do while here. I took off on a nice long adventure, while Steve followed a shorter path in another direction before doing some needed work on Betsy.
My 7.5-mile trek started from our campsite, as I followed a network of moderately strenuous trails that took me to the Indian Rockhouse. Traversing through pines, hardwood and eastern cedar within the campground, I followed another trail that wound around hillsides and along a beautiful stream to the spectacular Indian Rockhouse. The rockhouse was once used as a shelter for prehistoric bluff-dwelling Native Americans. It was huge inside, and a beautiful clear spring ran through it.
Some critters caught my attention as I trudged along. I would never have detected this guy if he hadn’t moved:
If not for the torrential rains, fog and overcast skies, hiking at the Upper River would have been very desirable – especially at Lost Valley. But at least we were able to drive there to observe the bull elk with their large antlers, as they monitored their harem of cow elk. We learned this is rut season, and when we arrived the bull elk were bugling loudly as they kept an eye on their favorite cows, while trying to attract still more of them. Too bad we didn’t see some bulls fighting while we were there, that would have been exciting!
The ancestors of the elk currently in Arkansas were actually Rocky Mountain elk, which were introduced here in 1980. The Eastern elk that called Buffalo River home became extinct just as Arkansas gained statehood in 1836. So for a very long time Arkansas did not have wild elk. In 1980, 112 Rocky Mountain elk were introduced. The original 112 thrived and have multiplied to where it is estimated that there are now 500 of them roaming around Boxley Valley.
Boxley Valley is not only home to those state-released elk, but also to traditional farming communities. Surrounded by many hills, open valleys and wildlife, it’s an amazing area to drive through. With a good rain and low-lying fog in the valley that morning, it had a mystical and haunting feel. Arkansas has a gem right here!
The fall colors had not yet peaked here, but we were glad that some of the leaves were changing colors. In two weeks the mountains would be in full fall splendor, but for now we were happy to get a look at these early starters.
The forecast called for another severe storm coming our way. With no connectivity to the outside world due to our remote location, we decided to pack up and move further north and closer to civilization. That shortened our stay, but there wasn’t much else to do here anyway, except sit inside and stare out the window at the horrible weather. Steve’s review of the campground is here.
So we followed the twisty road into Eureka Springs and hunkered down at a nice campground in town. But hey, when the storm ended we found out what a cool place this little town is – stay tuned!