Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brushy Creek

Arkansas is a fairly small state, so I'm amazed that there are still numerous places out there that haven't really been explored or photographed. After all these years, there are still some spectacular places that are well off of the beaten path - literally, since there aren't any trails through there and it's all a matter of bushwhacking through the woods.

The Blue Hole, in the southern reaches of the Ozark National Forest, is one of those places. Sure it has seen a few visitors before, but it isn't listed in any of the guidebooks, and there are no signs telling you how to get there. It's a place that I had been wanting to visit again, and finally had the chance last Friday.

I took the day off from work and met up with Zack Andrews and Matt Kennedy in Conway. I left before dawn, and hoped that the clouds would stick around. But as we left Conway and headed north, the clouds disappeared and were replaced with a brilliant blue sky. That would be fine, except sunny weather is the mortal enemy of waterfall photography.

But we continued on, intent to explore part of Brushy Creek (which flows through the Blue Hole). There are several waterfalls up there - I had heard of one that looked really neat (thanks Terry!), and we set out to find it. Zack also spent some time analyzing the topo maps and found a few drainages that looked promising.

We parked on the side of a dirt road, and set out into the woods. Quickly enough, we started heading downhill and alongside a small creek. The creek turned into a long cascade, which eventually emptied into a small waterfall. I set up the camera to get a few shots. Luckily it was still early enough in the morning that the waterfall was in shadow. But the sun was beginning to creep in - you can see the light hitting the trees in the top of the shot.
Waterfall hunting

Before too long the sun was out, which kinda ruined the good light needed for taking pictures. But we headed on and explored more of Brushy Creek. There was no trail, of course, but it was fairly level by the creek with just a few hills to scramble over. The worst thing about the hike were the briar patches. There were thousands upon thousands of thorns out there, which seemed intent on catching and snaring anything they could find. I spent most of my time on the hike trying to untangle myself from thorny vines, or from dodging thorns that seemed destined to scratch at my face or eyes. By the end of the hike, my arms and legs were covered in scratches (don't know how it got my legs, I was wearing pants after all). I looked like I had barely survived a mauling during a cat fight.

But we explored a few of the drainages that empty into Brushy Creek. The first had a waterfall that looked a lot like the first waterfall we visited. But the second drainage was amazing - it had a long cascade that dropped down into a small pool that was flanked on one side by a tall bluff. But of course, the sun was shining down and the pictures weren't coming out right.

The third drainage we visited had another great waterfall, where a creek went over a nice waterfall before jumping and diving around a few rocks. But the sun was out, so the pictures were crappy.

But amazingly, as I made my way through the army of thorns towards the fourth drainage, a miracle happened. Clouds appeared and blocked the sun. Yes! It actually looked like a thick layer of clouds had appeared, which would help in getting some good pictures of this great place. I stopped and got a picture of the creek that flows out of the fourth drainage...
Partly cloudy

The waterfall at the end of this drainage is beautiful. The creek has carved a gorge through the bluff, where it tumbles into a pool surrounded by a grotto.
Brushy Grotto Falls

A view of the front of the falls, which we have named Brushy Grotto Falls:

And from the opposite side:

This is an amazing spot! And luckily the light was cooperating with us, and stayed cloudy.


From there we hiked back to the creek and tried to decide where to go next. Zack wanted to visit some other drainages, but they were on the opposite side of Brushy Creek. To get there meant having to wade the creek, which would be a crossing through waist-deep water. I wasn't brave enough to do that, at least with my camera, so Zack set off to see if there was another waterfall up there. And indeed, there was. He found two cool waterfalls, including one that is over 80 feet tall.

I wanted to backtrack and pay another visit to the waterfalls that we had been to earlier when the light was bad. So I waded back through the thicket of vines. Here is the drainage where the creek cascades down next to the large bluff:
This waterfall isn't named, as far as I know, so I'm going to call it Hartman Falls.

And a closer view of the cascade:

And the neat waterfall that's located in the second drainage we visited:
This waterfall probably hasn't been named yet, so I'll just call it Shea Falls.


And the waterfall in the first drainage:

We eventually all met back up with each other, and headed back up to Zack's jeep. Now where too next? We actually ended up exploring another creek, which has its share of neat waterfalls on it...