Upper Buffalo Wilderness:
Dixon Ford to Pruitt Hollow
August 15, 2004
The river mileages I'm listing are based on National Geographic's Trails Illustrated map. For example, Dixon Ford is at mile 7.0. A third of a mile below Dixon Ford, I came upon the first landmark-quality location. The stream bed turned to mostly solid bedrock; shale perhaps. An abrupt three-and-a-half-foot drop across the entire width of the stream has the potential for an awesome cascading waterfall during higher water, so I'm nicknaming this spot Dixon Falls. As it was, water only flowed through a narrow area on river right.
At mile 7.5, I came to another drop in the shale bedrock of around 2 feet. This one reminded me of Six Finger Falls on Falling Water Creek. A hundred yards below that was another possible creek-wide cascade in higher water. Not far below this, the stream bed changed back to a multitude of rocks, which were much larger than those up near Dixon Ford.
I came upon the first small bluff at mile 7.7, on river left. The hillside, covered mostly in cedar trees, extended down to the top of the short vertical bluff segment. The stream ran through a tiny channel at the base of the bluffs, while the vast majority of the creek bed was a dry desert of rounded stones and rocks.
Things only got better and better after that. The creek bed turned into a long area of flat sandstone that seemed to go on forever. In reality is was 350 to 400 yards long. At the upper end of this, a small waterfall on river left  poured over a sudden drop that spanned the whole stream. I'm curious what this ledge would look like with more water. I saw three channels worn into the sandstone on river right where higher water has flown in the past. Immediately below this, the water ran down a really nice shallow section on river right for about 50 yards. This section ended in a 30-foot wide potential waterfall area with drops from two-and-a-half to four feet.
The long run of sandstone creek bed finally came to an end, but just downstream at mile 8.1 was the first deep swimming hole of the afternoon. I didn’t know water could get that blue, especially in the summer! Below the blue hole I came to the spot pictured at the top of this page, my favorite of the trip. At the bottom of a steep mountainside on river left, a jumble of huge boulders rested half in, half out of a deep, narrow pool of blue-green water.
After that, the farther downstream I went, the more the valley seemed to close in on the river. And the stream bed changed to mostly wide, shallow pools. I tried to walk on the dry bank as much as possible, because the bottom of the pools were covered in super-slick algae. At mile 8.4, three big boulders sat together at the upstream end of one of these long, shallow pools.
As I neared the mouth of Pruitt Hollow, the stream bed was once again flat sandstone bedrock. On river left were tall shale bluffs. Altogether it took me two hours to reach the mouth of Pruitt Hollow at mile 8.6; I said to myself "Hmmmmm, I wonder what’s up there!" But no way did I have time to find out.
Except for Dixon Ford and the Cardinal Flower, all the pictures were taken on the return trip. I had to really huff it to make it back to the truck in the same amount of time it took me to bushwhack down, and hopefully take some pictures too.
It was getting pretty dark as I rounded the last turn and faced in the general direction of Dixon Ford. Similar to last weekend’s trip, I was treated to a colorful sunset sky.
In the middle of a month when it’s usually way too hot to hike and I’m usually working way too many hours, I had not only the best bushwhack of the summer but one of the best ever.
Temperatures were in the mid 70s, the rest of family was still at the lake, and there was a break in the work schedule, so I headed up to the Upper Buffalo River Wilderness to the highest upstream access point at Dixon Ford.  According to my USGS topo map, this crossing is only 370 yards below the beginning of the river at the confluence of Reeves Fork and the Main Prong of Big Buffalo Creek.
I’ve read numerous mentions of Dixon Ford, but never seen a single picture, so I’ve included the three pictures to the right.
The first one shows how the road fords the “river” at a wide sandstone slab. The second photo is looking upstream, the third downstream. The newborn stream here is a mere seven miles downstream from its very upper sources: springs and runoffs in the surrounding mountains.
I arrived around 3  o’clock and started walking down the middle of the creek, hoping to find the mouth of Pruitt Hollow 1.6 miles downstream with the help of my GPS receiver.
I didn’t see anything to get excited about in the first few hundred yards. The river bed was wide and dry and was comprised of loose rounded stones about the size of my foot on average. The water ran down a narrow channel on one side, and both sides of the creek had ugly vertical banks with dirt and root exposed.
My plan was to keep the camera in my backpack until I reached Pruitt Hollow, then take pictures on the way back.  A dozen times I would see colorful rocks with neat patterns that I wanted to photograph, but I told myself I could get them on the way back if there was time. But then a bright red Cardinal Flower caught my eye, and I unpacked the camera to get a few shots of a couple of Cloudless Sulphur butterflies having a snack.