Go chase waterfalls

Story and photos
by Linda Henderson

It has been a cold, wet, gray winter this year. I have spent a lot more time with Netflix than my camera this season. The weather will be changing shortly; spring’s green renewal will start, and spring rains are just around the corner. Early spring in Arkansas is just about the best that our state has to offer, so it is time to dust off my 501 bucket list and get out and start exploring before the chiggers and snakes come out of their winter slumber.

My spring time bucket list always includes photographing waterfalls. March is the perfect time for waterfall chasing — it is the start of “waterfall season” in Arkansas. Few things are as beautiful as water flowing over a rocky over-cropping. Waterfalls are awe-inspiring.

Many outdoor enthusiasts are fascinated with them and will chase their flowing water. Waterfalls are the hidden gems of the backcountry exploring.

Something to remember about adventuring to a waterfall: the areas around waterfalls are steep and rugged. Caution is always required when visiting a waterfall. Many are located along bluff lines that are wet, moss covered and very slippery. Some of the most scenic waterfalls are located within a short distance of a road or a short hike. Others require venturing into the wilderness, necessitating navigational skills and the ability to hike strenuous long distances.

Most of the waterfalls in the 501 are dependent upon rainfall for there to be good water flowing. The best viewing will be a day or so after a significant rain fall. The day of a rain, the water is generally muddy, but a day or so after, the water flowing will have cleared of mud and be picture ready.

Although Central Arkansas Ozarks are not as famous for waterfalls as the Buffalo River watershed, there are several very impressive waterfalls within the borders of the 501. The Ozark Mountain range has all things needed for waterfalls: elevation, rocks, drainage and water.

One of the lesser known areas for waterfall chasing is found in Van Buren County. There are seven significant waterfalls in the Brock Creek Recreation Area deep within the Ozark National Forest. The recreation area has a trail system consisting of two major loops and many interconnected loops. It is used by dirt-bikers, off-road vehicles, horseback riders, hikers and waterfall hunters.

Some of my very favorite falls are within this area. Waterfalls in Brock Creek require “bushwhack” or hiking without trails, over steep sections and scrambling over rock boulders.

Whiskey Chute Fall is a vertical massive winding stair step fall that drops 83 feet. From the top of the cliff you can see the gushing water and the giant boulders at the bottom. The water tumbles down the hillside in a series of multiple waterfalls. The fall will eventually feed into the rocky Brock Creek. House-size boulders line the banks of the creek.

Ladderbucket Fall is a 36-foot tall waterfall that streams into a unique grotto. The fall was named Ladderbucket because remains of a decaying ladder and the rim of a metal bucket can be found near the fall. Judging from their condition, they have both been there for many years. The hike is four miles, following a logging road then down into a very steep, deep hollow. This waterfall will eventually drain into Brushy Fork Creek. The early spring day we hiked into this hollow it was cold, wet and even started to sleet. That day we encountered morel mushrooms, a fresh bear-scratched log and a very cold, slow-moving water moccasin. Despite the hardship of the hike and harsh weather, we spent lots of time admiring the beauty of the spilling water into the emerald pool.

Another waterfall in this hollow is John Mountain Falls. It is not as scenic because of its sheer drop into a small pool and vegetation that surrounds the cliff, but is impressive because of its 84-foot plummet.

Schoolhouse Fall is likely my very favorite waterfall in the state of Arkansas. It is not as impressive in size as others in the area with only a 30-foot drop, but what it may lack in size it makes up in beauty. The fall is located in the bottom of Schoolhouse Hollow drainage. This fall is slightly easier to get to, but does require bushwhacking and a climb up a fairly tall slope. The drainage pours into a beautiful little fern-lined creek. The water flows over a series of rocky ledges into a bright green plunging pool below. The water bounces against the canyon wall that has eroded away. The wall of the little gorge is covered in emerald green moss. Upstream and downstream from the falls, there are several rock projections with small waterfalls. We have made the hike to this fall several times in all kinds of weather, and it never seems to disappoint me.

I must warn all who become infatuated with waterfall chasing that it is addicting. I wrote this narrative after a long and strenuous hike to a waterfall:

Confession of a waterfall chaser

Over boulders, stones and rocks we trek. Our packs are loaded with cameras, tripods, lenses, food, water, emergency supplies, GPS, maps, compass, ropes and riggings. We descend into the canyons where the water flows. Each step can be treacherous. Our feet are easily entwined in vines and brambles. Sturdy boots are a must.

The rocks are slippery from moss, mud and dampened fallen leaves. The terrain is rugged and dangerous. Many times there is no trail, and bushwhacking is the order of the day. You must be alert for wild critters of all kinds — from those that slither to those that growl.

We venture further into the wilderness, all in hope of finding water flowing. The rewards for our efforts are cascades of white water and the awesome sights and sounds of smooth streams running over jagged rock ledges.

We set up our tripods and remove our cameras from our packs. In silence, we survey the scene, looking for just the right spot to capture our vision for this waterscape. We work our f-stops, ISO and shutter speeds. We change lens and filters, using all our skills and knowledge to produce beautiful images. Slowly and silently we produce our pictures. Afterward, we take time to enjoy the sights, we rest and take time for fluids and nutrition.

Then we return to the trail. Our hike is winding, our way is twisting as we climb higher. The pace can be slow and requires frequent pauses.

As I climb, I keep praying, “Lord, help me to endure, help my steps to be sure and protect us from injury and harm.” When our hike is completed, I thank the Lord for His protection and for allowing me to venture into His rough and wild backcountry. Few will ever experience or see these beautiful landscapes. I’m so thankful to be one of those few.

My Brock Creek bucket list is still not complete. There are still a few more significant waterfalls in this area for me to add to my completed list. So I guess I will watch the weather, check the rainfall and get out the hiking boots and hiking stick because when it comes to waterfalls, the destination is always worth the journey.

Linda Henderson
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