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Buffalo Scenic River:
First Confluence to Little Buffalo Falls
March 13, 2005

I’ve decided to explore a new part of the upper Buffalo River twice each season until I’ve seen the entire river upstream from Ponca. That’s over 28 miles, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. With only one week until the official start of Spring,  I had to make my next trip to the Buffalo this weekend to keep my schedule.
I picked up where I left off on January 8, at a spot with no official name that I’m calling The First Confluence. At this spot three separate small streams converge to form the Buffalo. Until recently this stream was known by its name on USGS topographic maps - Big Buffalo Creek, but in 1992 it gained designation as a Scenic River under the Arkansas Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This act protects the stream and the land around it from activities like logging or quarrying that will degrade water quality or keep the forest from maturing to an old growth state.
With the aid of my GPS receiver, I parked at a big deer camp site on Cave Mountain Road less than half a mile north of Highway 16. My topo map showed a logging road starting there and winding east down the mountain then turning south to follow the creek. The logging road was there alright but about a quarter mile before I reached the creek the road just disappeared. No problem; I just made a hard left down the mountain and in five minutes was at one of the three small streams above The First Confluence. A short bushwhack had me back in familiar territory where the three streams converge. Back in January the right-hand fork, which leads to the farthest source of the Buffalo, was carrying more water. The area had just received a whopping five inches of rain that week. Today, with no significant rainfall in over a week, the middle fork was contributing more.
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A hundred yards downstream I came to a major landmark on the newborn Buffalo, a 40-foot-tall shale bluff. The picture at left is looking back upstream. The shale had a light gray coating of some kind, and water was dripping off the bluff and splashing into a small jade pool. This would be the only bluff along the stream I saw on my 2.9-mile journey downstream.
After that the scenery for the next mile was pretty plain - just a small shallow stream running through brown winter woods (much like this scene from January). There was a lot of bright green algae in the water, which in combination with the jade blue color of the deeper pools made for a neat look. In the woods on the west side of the creek was a well-defined pioneer road, sometimes next to the creek and sometimes veering away from it. I was tempted to walk the flat road, but I was there to see the stream. I also spied several old fields above the bank on the west side.
When I stopped for lunch, I didn’t think I was going to make it another 1.9 miles downstream to my designated stopping point. I was already really tired and a bit sore all over, and the lack of interesting scenery wasn’t helping. But a couple of Advil and a breakfast bar washed down with Mountain Dew did absolute wonders, and after a short rest I was back on my feet with a new lease on life.
I hadn’t gone fifty yards when the creek made a sudden right turn and fell over a series of shale drop-offs six feet in height - the first true waterfall. Big Buffalo Falls is an appropriate name. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard it while I was taking my lunch break. Considering how well the falls were running, they must really be nice in the springtime. Just below the falls the water ran down a shale funnel that reminded me of Spirits Creek in Franklin County at the Ozarks Highland Trail crossing. Above the creek on the east side was a short rock fence with what looked like an old home place behind it. I wanted to go up there and explore but I felt I was behind schedule for the day.
Below the funnel the creek spread out over a wide, flat rock bed and ran totally silent. It continued this way for a hundred yards.
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The scenery stayed interesting for the rest of the trip. Beech trees with their stubborn copper leaves became more numerous the farther I went downstream, including the biggest specimen I’ve ever seen. I’ve also never seen so many Witch Hazel bushes, although their blooms were just starting to pop out. On the forest floor I saw many Adam and Eve leaves with their distinctive stripes, plus lots of Toothwort flowers, but I didn’t stop to take their pictures. I finally gave in and started walking the pioneer road, because I was sure I’d never make it to my destination downstream and then back to the truck in time if I went the slower route along the stream bank. But I did venture back over whenever the creek made a little more babbling than usual, or just if it seemed I hadn’t checked in on the stream in a while. It’s a good thing too, or I would have missed the stuff pictured below.
The stream remained narrow the whole way, I guess around 15 yards wide, although much of the way there was a dry area 60 yards wide where the ground was mostly rounded rock - evidence of frequent flooding.
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My destination was another spot with no official name nor even a specific geographic feature. It’s about half a mile downstream from what I’m calling the East Turn, where the creek takes a definite direction change from southerly to easterly. I chose a spot on the topographic map where a feeder stream comes in from the south. A better way of defining this location is to say it’s 1.6 miles upstream from the mouth of Nuckles Creek. (I mark all these spots on the topographic map on my computer, then upload the data to my GPS receiver which tells me where I’m at in the woods.)
I made great time by hiking the the pioneer road. At a point when I thought I might be nearing the stopping point, I turned on the GPS receiver and it said I’d already passed it a hundred yards back. I never even noticed the feeder stream coming downhill from the south.
I could see and hear what might be some nice falls downstream so I decided to investigate before heading back to the truck. Wow. It was a series of four small falls, pictured at the top of this page and below. Of course now these falls, which I’ll call Little Buffalo Falls, are my new landmark for this stretch of the river, much better than “half a mile past the East Turn!”
My next exploration of the upper Buffalo will be from Dixon Ford, located downstream, to these falls. It’s great to know I will get to see these falls again soon, with everything green and probably a lot more water in the stream.
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