Ouachitas Road Trip
March 27, 2005

I didn't have to wait long after the beginning of Spring for a good waterfall-producing rain. Charles and I figured things would be greener down south so we left town around 10 a.m. for the Ouachitas past Mena. We discovered a route so scenic that I'm bound to drive it many times in the years to come.
We took my preferred route of I-540 to Pocola, Highway 112 to Poteau, then Highway 59 into the Ouachita National Forest. I enjoyed the scenery during this part of the trip through the river valley. There were numerous views of the Poteau River, Black Fork Creek, and countless small streams - all swollen from the overnight rains. The trees were starting to leaf out and were all kinds of colors, and it seemed like we spotted a purple Redbud tree up every stream.
The scenery changed to a more classic Ouachitas look as Highway 59 turned to the east and became Highway 270 heading back into Arkansas. The highway runs through a narrow valley between Rich Mountain to the south and Black Fork Mountain to the north. These mountains were covered with pine trees and we saw numerous rock glaciers. I lost count of the number of small temporary waterfalls I saw rolling down Rich Mountain.
My self-described Ouachitas Scenic Loop started where we turned south off of Highway 8 outside of Mena onto Highway 375. So far on our trip, the roads had been relatively straight and flat as they traveled between mountains, but now the highway twisted and turned as it climbed up the side of Dallas Mountain. The views were breathtaking, but I found myself wondering how many people had driven off this narrow, curvy highway over the years. The highway changed to dirt road at the small community of Shady, where we drove alongside Mine Creek for about five miles, seeing some nice cascades. We made a right turn onto Forest Road 38, which is now one of my favorite roads in the state because of all the great stuff we saw. Unfortunately this was one of those trips where I wasn't able to get any photos of most of the nice stuff we saw - it was windy and foggy so I didn't even try to take pictures. The road seemed to alternate between two different types of settings - one being the side of a steep, rugged mountain with awesome views of the surrounding terrain - the other being alongside a small stream lined with colorful, weathered rocks much different than the standard sandstone I'm used to in the Ozarks.
Bird's-foot Violets were thick alongside the road in the steep areas, and the white flowers on the Serviceberry trees were in full bloom. A couple hundred yards past the Buckeye Trailhead, in a breathtaking spot where the road hugged the side of Blaylock Mountain and we could see Buckeye Mountain just across the valley, Charles spotted a nice waterfall down below us. There was too much vegetation for us to get a good view of it, but we could tell it was pretty big, so I marked it in my GPS receiver.
Somewhere past the Caney Creek Trailhead but before the turnoff to Bard Springs, I quickly brought the truck to a halt when we saw a tall waterfall pouring down the mountainside and into Blaylock Creek. The flat ground between the truck and the creek was thick with Trout Lily leaves and blooming Ozark Wake Robins.
Just past there, Forest Road 106 took off to the east toward Bard Springs and Albert Pike campgrounds. We took note of this, because we would eventually be driving down that road, but not before first continuing farther south on Forest Road 38. The road had begun to follow the Saline River, which would soon flow into a small Forest Service Lake, Shady Lake. We wanted to see the waterfall there after reading about it in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls book.
The waterfall was on the downstream side of the dam, on the opposite side of the creek from us. Even though there was lots of water going over the spillway, the waterfall wasn't running all that much. But we paid plenty of attention to a series of short, roaring falls spanning the width of the river just downstream.
Next we turned around and drove back up Forest Road 38 then took a right onto Forest Road 106 heading East. There's a small rock dam forming a swimming hole on the creek at the Bard Springs campsite. The waterfall going over the dam would have made a great picture, but for some reason we didn't stop. The road followed alongside Blaylock Creek, which had lots of nice drops and cascades; and in the surrounding hills we saw many small cascades that reminded me of the one at Collier Springs.
Forest Road 106 took us to Albert Pike campground on the Little Missouri River. From there we headed north on Forest Roads 73 and 43, which connected with Highway 8. To complete our scenic loop we took Highway 8 west back to Mena. Forest Road 43 is another one of my new favorites. Crooked Creek, which runs beside it, has got a bunch of impressive waterfalls and cascades. This was my second time to see the creek, the first being almost two years ago. Although it was starting to get dark, I stopped at one area south of Mosquito Gap so I could snap some photos, partly because I felt like I'd done nothing but drive around all day. That turned out to be a mistake, because when we got to Mosquito Gap I found that the waterfalls in the creek there were ten times nicer than the area I'd just shot. But by then there wasn’t enough light left to do much shooting, so we just drove on by.