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The Farthest Source
January 8, 2005

Last winter I bought a book on the Buffalo River and one of the first things I read was that the river begins its life as a small spring high in the Boston Mountains. A picture appeared in my head, and I told myself I'd like to visit that place some day. That book was The Buffalo River in Black and White by Dr. Neil Compton. Then last summer I picked up another great book, The Buffalo River Country, in which Kenneth Smith gives a rather poetic description of the very same spring. Suddenly, finding that spot became something I just had to do.
Both those books state that the spring is located at the base of Buffalo Knob, which happens to be the highest point in all the Ozarks. But a more-recent publication, the Trails Illustrated map of the Buffalo National River, for which Smith designed the map and wrote the text, goes a step further and pinpoints the farthest source on the topographic map. Armed with this information, I set out Saturday morning to see the area for myself.
I got up early enough so that I could be at Buffalo Knob for a possible sunrise photo op, but when I arrived there was heavy fog. The temperature was below freezing and the fog had frozen as heavy hoar frost on everything, but I didn't see anything I wanted a picture of except the tall fire tower.
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I next drove back down off the knob and parked along the sharp turn on Cave Mountain Road about a third of a mile northeast of Roberts Gap. According to the Trails Illustrated map, the farthest source of the Buffalo River was about 500 feet up the hill, with the stream destined to grow into the magnificent river on the downhill side. There was no stream on the uphill side, but sure enough the watercourse below the road was babbling away with a steady stream of clear water, no doubt thanks to the 5 inches of rain that fell earlier in the week.
I started bushwhacking downhill beside the stream. To be honest, it was nothing special; just plain ol' Ozark hardwoods with lots of downed trees and sticker vines to cuss and stumble through. About 300 yards down the hill a similar stream converged from the east and the water volume was doubled, then was doubled again 200 yards later with another stream from the east. The babble had been replaced with a constant rushing.
 At .6 I came to the confluence of the stream that originates just north of the fire tower. At this confluence was an overgrown field, and a jeep road took off up the hill to the northeast.
Downstream from there was some interesting scenery in the surrounding hills, with small icicle-draped bluffs to the east and some mansion-sized boulders to the west. The stream also took on some character, occasionally forming some small pools or cascades or dodging moss-covered boulders. At 1.1 I met the second small stream coming down the mountain from near the fire tower. From there it was only one third mile to my destination, a point according to my USGS topo map where the stream I was following should converge with two other major streams from the west. Just upstream from the confluence was an old 100 yard-long rock fence. I boulder-hopped across the stream to see what was behind the fence, and found a jeep road cutting through an area that obviously had once been cleared but was now overgrown with young trees, shrubs and vines. At the confluence the road turned north to follow the middle stream upwards. I left the road and went downstream a short way to find where the stream from the west joined the middle stream from the north. Only 50 yards away the streams joined at a wide, shallow area. The river split briefly to run on both sides of a natural rock median with mature trees growing on it. I could see where the two halves joined back up a short distance downstream.
At this point it was after 1 o'clock, I'd made it to my intended destination, and the fog was giving way to a sunny blue sky. As I began my trek back I wanted to consider the amount of water flowing in each of the individual streams as they merged with the main stream, similar to what an early explorer would do if he were trying to determine the farthest source of the Buffalo River. At every fork there was no doubt my path was along the main stream, and it was satisfying to follow that stream all the way to its birth as little more than a trickle down a leaf-covered ravine.
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1, 2  600 yards below its farthest source, and again at .8 miles, the Buffalo shows a bit of character.
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3  At 1.0, the stream had widened to 20 feet across.
4  The rock wall at 1.2 miles.
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5  The Buffalo doubles in size again at 1.5 miles, where a stream comes in from the north. For a short span the river is divided by a median. The northern stream has just merged with one from the west.
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6  The old road bed beside the northern stream, and a small waterfall guarded by a giant sandstone boulder
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10  At .6 miles, the stream that originates just north of the Buffalo Fire Tower.
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11  Running water 500 feet below the farthest source.
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