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The Great Icicle Hunt
January 9, 2010
I've long been fascinated by the huge icicles that appear naturally in the Arkansas wilderness, and every winter I watch for the right weather conditions for them to form. Generally it takes a rainfall followed by low, low temperatures. All the recent snow we'd received supplied the ground water necessary, and when the weather forecast called for the lowest temperatures the region had seen in 20 years, I knew the chances were great for seeing big icicles.
The boys and I left home on a Saturday morning two hours before sunrise and headed down I-40 toward Russellville. I suspected Hammerschmidt Falls near Mount Sherman would be a good location. We were taking the long route because I didn't want to come in on the curvy road between Ponca and Steel Creek to the west.
We were on the stretch of Highway 7 with the views of the Arkansas Grand Canyon when the sun rose above the distant ridges to the east. I pulled over at the first overlook and Cliff and I got out for a better view of a strange weather phenomenon. Hanging in the open air below us was a shaft of light leading back to the sun. Even though I considered getting the camera out to take a picture, for some idiotic reason I decided not to. A few miles down the road we passed another intriguing sight; the tree branches were covered in ice from a freezing rain, and the early morning light gave them a spectacular golden sparkle. Once again I didn't bother to stop and take pictures. Idiot!
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We made it to the Hammerschmidt Falls parking lot without any problems. The outside temperature readout on the Tahoe mirror said 1 degree!  We all bundled up and got outside and walked the short distance to a spot where we could slide down the snow-covered ravine downstream of the falls, then we headed upstream. Wow. Huge icicles hung all along the rim of the little horseshoe box canyon.
While Cliff headed to the north side, Grant and I climbed up to south side and crawled behind huge curtains of ice. The icicles were so thick they had an eerie blue shade in some places.
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We all walked up to the waterfall at the top of the canyon. Amazingly, the water was still running over the top of the falls, yet the air was so cold that spray from the falls was freezing on Cliff's coat as soon as it hit. A huge mound of ice at the base of the falls was over 10 feet high, and had that same eerie blue cast. A 6-foot tall ice stalagmite had formed where the water was hitting.
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We returned to the Tahoe and drove back to Jasper, then headed north on Highway 7 and turned west onto the road to Erbie. The road was covered with a thin layer of snow, but the surface was rough due to the rocks underneath. Liles Falls is located a short distance north of the road, but it was a steep descent  to the bottom. Just as I suspected, this was the perfect place for a frozen waterfall. I knew from a previous visit that the waterfall doesn't have much flow, and the water cascades down numerous small drops. Cliff climbed up about a third of the 41-foot height so that I could include him in a picture for scale.
By the time we drove back to Jasper we were all ready for lunch, and lucky for us the Ozark Cafe was open for business. After that we drove south to Highway 16 then went west to Falling Water Falls. The creek and main waterfall was flowing to fast to be stopped by the cold air, but for the entire width of the creek, a line of icicles hung from the top of the ledge and extended to the blue-green water below. I found it interesting that the ice stopped before touching the water. Obviously the water was just warm enough to melt the icicles just above it. As usual, the boys found plenty to keep them busy while I took pictures from both sides of the creek.
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Next we drove to Six Finger Falls. The cascades there weren't frozen, but the shallow expanse upstream was one solid sheet of ice covered by a thin dusting of snow. Water flowed from underneath the sheet of ice, so we know it wasn't frozen solid. The boys started throwing rocks at the ice sheet, trying to break it. The rocks would simply bounce off and skid away. Yet every time the rocks hit, the ice would echo with a sound that reminded me of a gigantic sheet of metal flexing when struck by a hard object.
By the time we left Six Finger Falls, the sun had dipped below the to of the ridge to the southwest. We drove Highway 123 toward home, but we had one more waterfall to visit.
We made it to Haw Creek Falls before sunset. Water was running across the main channel, and ice and snow covered everything else. Similar to Falling Water Falls, icicles hung from the ledges but stopped just above the water.
In the fading light after sunset, we saw a lot more deer than usual out in the fields between Fort Douglas and Clarksville. I'm pretty sure they were trying to stay warm in the record low temperatures.
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