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Slate Falls
April 7, 2005

I’ve got this long list of waterfalls that “must be seen”, and a mid-week storm appeared to dump a lot of rain on one of them in the Poteau Mountain Wilderness Area. I took a Thursday off from work to check out Slate Falls, getting up earlier than usual that morning and getting all my stuff together so that I could head for the woods as soon as I dropped the boys off at school.
The entire drive down Highway 71 through the Arkansas river valley was filled with views of new spring greenery, but once I turned onto Poteau Mountain Road and drove up the mountain, the scenery reverted back to that of late winter with Pines being the only trees with any green.
I arrived at the foggy parking area at 10 a.m., and snapped a photo with my point-and-shoot camera to document the scene. The logging road that would take me to the falls began at the back of a deer camp south of the falls. At first the hike was mostly downhill, and the roadbed was more of a temporary stream, but after about a quarter mile the road leveled out and stayed relatively flat the rest of the way. It was cold enough that I had to put on a pair of jersey gloves.
I snapped another picture to show the typical view looking down the road, and another shot to show how the surrounding woods were covered with a short variety of blueberry bush. Though they’re not very good pictures, I’m glad I took them because they help me go back to those woods in my mind.
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As I neared the end of my 2-mile hike and could hear the roar of  Slate Falls nearby, I pulled out a xerox copy of the directions to the falls I got from my Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook. I made the big mistake of not paying close attention to the directions, and dropped down the hillside on the wrong (south) side of the falls. I soon found myself at the edge of a high bluff, with no break in the bluff close enough to see. On the plus side, things were a lot prettier on the hillside. There were several plum and dogwood trees in bloom, and the ground was dotted with trout lily leaves and the blooms of several wildflowers.
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I decided to follow the top of the bluff in a downstream direction, hoping to find a place to get down below the bluff. The sloping hillside was a dense obstacle course of fallen trees, sticker vines and slick leaf-covered rocks. But the scenery was worth it. About a hundred yards into my slow quest, I found a break in the bluff, beside a beautiful little waterfall.
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Once below the bluff, it was a short distance downhill to the stream below the falls. I’m still a big pushover for any small stream running over, under, and around boulders - and I’d hit the jackpot. But for probably the first time ever, I showed some restraint and didn’t get out the camera and take a hundred photos. I headed upstream toward the falls, stopping only once to photograph a spot in the stream I couldn’t resist.
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The bushwhack to the falls was slow going. The sides of the hollow were sloped, there were downed trees everywhere, and the sticker vines were thick. I finally found open, level terrain when I climbed up to the base of the bluffline. Then I had to contend with several pouroffs raining down from above.
The 54-foot waterfall was at the western side of the hollow. After checking out the remains of a rock building on the southern side of the hollow, I dropped down to just below the falls and started climbing out of the hollow on the north side. That was the side I should have come down to begin with.
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My last picture of the day (the top photo on this page) was taken there around 3 o’clock, but that’s not the end of my story. I climbed out of the hollow in a northerly direction then made a hard left back toward the stream above the falls. Somehow I thought the logging road would be just above the big falls. Instead, it was several hundred yards upstream.
The stream above the big falls alone would have been worth the hike. There were lots and lots of nice small waterfalls and cascades - five or six in the 6- to 8-foot category. And the surroundings had a glade-like quality to it with lots of open area and many cedars.
Once I finally got back up the logging road, I stopped for a short break. I’d had my GPS receiver out to keep me from getting lost, and I hung it on a tree branch so it wouldn’t lose satellite reception. After a cereal bar and a big swig of Mountain Dew I got on my feet and headed south along the logging road to the truck.
I hiked a mile and a half before I reached in my pocket for the GPSr and realized it was back at the stream. To make a long story short, it was a 3-mile round-trip hike to receive the GPSr, making the total foot travel for the day 8 miles. At some point after finally retrieving the GPSr, I sat down at the base of a tree for a small break. I leaned my head back against the trunk and felt myself instantly dozing off. That scared me in a way, because I’ve never been that tired before. I thought about it on the drive home and realized I’d been on the go for 8 hours non-stop. When you’re bushwhacking through rough wilderness, even when you’re standing still taking pictures you’re exerting a lot of muscle power trying to stay balanced on uneven footing.
I can’t wait to do it again!
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