From Compton to Rocky Bottom
April 14, 2007
“This is a bad idea” I told myself as I stepped out of the truck at the Buffalo National River trailhead south of Compton. The temperature was below 40 and high winds were blasting a cold, misty air into my face. And my plan for the day was to hike 4 miles from the truck down one of the deepest canyons in the Ozarks and explore along a stream, where one bad slip could leave me soaking wet. Even worse, should I break a leg I’d probably be spending the night in this miserable weather.
I decided to at least hike far enough to try and locate an overlook along the way with a distant view of the tall waterfall in Hemmed-In Hollow. The wind wasn’t so bad once I’d gone down the trail a quarter mile. I remembered to stop and take a picture with the point-and-shoot just to show what the woods looked like that morning. Soon after that the trail passed beside the roots of a recently fallen tree. I normally see several of these on any hike, but there was something odd about this one. Most of the roots were running sideways instead of pointing down. This tree had managed to grow to maturity on top of a big flat rock.
Along one of the few flat areas on the trail, the forest had become filled with the songs of birds moving through, so I got the camera out and slowly eased down the trail, hoping to get a shot of one. That didn’t work out, but it was nice to have the company for a while.
As the trail descended deeper into the hollow, I began to hear the distant roar of the falls to my left. Every time I came to an opening I would stop and try to catch a glimpse of the falls.
Behind a backpackers’ campsite below the trail there appeared to be an opening. I went down to investigate and came upon a scene of the falls that’s been on my wish list for several years now. The entire east side of the thousand-feet deep hollow was spread out before me. The picture at the top of this page is just a small portion of the view. I had been correct in guessing that I would need my big lens this trip. The top picture was taken with the lens set at 105 mm. The closeup of the falls, at left, was taken at 310 mm.
A large group of hikers came along and ran me off the overlook before I had a chance to relax and enjoy the view. I continued along the trail, which soon left the west side of the hollow and headed down toward the Buffalo River. The trail ran through a small glade covered with mosses and lichens - one of those spots where I just had to stop and take a few pictures.
The trail continued to descend until it landed right at the bank of Sneeds Creek, about a hundred yards from where it ran into the Buffalo River. I had completed a descent of 1,300 feet. I’d brought my crocs with me and changed into them to wade across the creek, then followed it downstream just so I could say that I’d seen the mouth of Sneeds Creek. I also can’t imagine being a hundred yards from the Buffalo River and not making the effort to get a glimpse of it, which in this case was well worth it. Next I followed Sneeds Creek back upstream along an unofficial trail on the south side.  I was hoping to continue following the creek, but the trail made a turn uphill to the left away from the hill and the vegetation along the creek was so thick that I was forced to stay on the trail.
The trail meandered through a cedar thicket then came to an open field; the old home of Granny Henderson came into view on my right.  For 25 years I’ve wanted to visit this site. When I was a kid we subscribed to National Geographic, and was excited when they did an article on an Arkansas location: the Buffalo River. A segment of that article, including at least one picture, was about Granny Henderson. When I attended scout camp at Camp Orr in 1977 (Mrs. Henderson still lived in the house at that time), the Buffalo became much more real to me. In subsequent years every time I read an article that mentioned the Henderson home site or noted it on a map I’ve told myself some day I must see the place for myself.
A couple of whitetail deer bounded off from a clearing behind the house as I headed in their direction to set up the camera for a picture. A quick check of the watch told me I really didn’t need to waste any time exploring the interior of the small house. I got back on the trail to head for my next destination, a section of Sneeds Creek named Rocky Bottom that had also been on my “must see” list for many years.
At that point several things went wrong that resulted in my taking a costly detour. The trail heading to Sneeds Creek was hiding on the other side of the house and was not identified by any signs so I never saw it. The trail in the field in front of the house split into two. A signpost gave names to the two trails, but neither of them I recognized. I had forgotten my map back at the truck, so I picked the right-hand trail because it pointed in the direction of Rocky Bottom (said my GPS!).
The trail joined an old roadbed and started going seriously uphill. I saw an old sign on the ground and stopped to get a picture with the point-and-shoot while taking a breather. I checked the GPS several times as I continued up the steep roadbed, each time it told me I was heading the right way, until finally the road took a left turn and the GPS reported that I was heading away from Rocky Bottom. (Later when I could check a map I figured out I’d been on the Center Point trail). It was only a third of a mile away, so I bushwhacked down the hill and reached the correct destination.
I hate to admit it, but I was exhausted; more so than I’d ever been on a hike. I found a flat spot above Rocky Bottom and took a catnap to recover my strength and patience. My original plan was to hike upstream until the creek forked, then take a horse trail back to the truck. When I awoke I made the wise decision that I would instead head back downstream and return on the same trail I’d hiked in on.
There was plenty of time to explore Rocky Bottom, which is a 100 foot wide, 400 foot long expanse of flat sandstone. I wanted to check out the other side of the creek, but the water was too deep to cross without me changing into the crocs, which I just wasn’t up for.
Before leaving I went upstream maybe a hundred yards to get a hint of what Sneeds Creek looked like above Rocky Bottom. I had read that it was full of twisting, narrow chutes and small waterfalls. The creek bed was indeed a solid rock chute, and I imagine there’s some pretty neat stuff farther up stream.
It was a short, flat, easy hike back to Granny Henderson’s cabin. I took the time to glance inside the lower floor, which was just two small rooms. It’s amazing that somebody could live there for 60 years without running water,  electricity, or plumbing.  Yet as I stepped out the front door onto the porch and saw the view I said to myself out loud “What a wonderful place to live”.

The haul out of Hemmed-In Hollow was grueling. Imagine climbing 130 flights of  slick, muddy stairs (the Sears Tower is only 110) with a backpack weighing you down. But I took my time and made several rest stops, including an extended one at the overlook, and made it back to the truck with daylight to spare.