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Big Foot Hollow
May 3 & 24, 2011
The waterfalls were running, and it was killing me. Big storms moved through the area Sunday night and early morning, adding three more inches of rain to the already-damp Ozarks. I was pretty busy at work, but in the back of my mind I couldn't forget about those waterfalls. By Tuesday afternoon I was making a mental list of waterfalls near roads. Maybe I could go for a quick hike after work.
Big Foot Hollow had been on my "to see" list for several years, mainly because I loved the name. The drive was under an hour, and the hike was only four-tenths of a mile, so it was an easy choice. After work I ran home to put on my hiking clothes and grab my camera gear, then I was out the door. I stopped at the Turner Bend store for some snacks, since I hadn't taken the time to stop for dinner. Just north of there I turned west on "Highway" 215 (it's a dirt road) and drove four miles to where the stream from Big Foot Hollow ran underneath the road, a half mile above the Mulberry River.
I headed north up the mountainside, but somehow wound up veering left away from the stream as I sought the clearest path. I climbed 250 feet in elevation in a distance of four-tenths of a mile before reaching a spectacular bluff line that followed the contour of the mountain. I turned right and walked along the base of the colorful sandstone bluff toward the stream.
It was 7:30 when I rounded a corner to see a waterfall dropping from a shorter 15-foot section of the bluff. A much taller bluff on the east side of the hollow, angled to face southwest, towered over the scene. Chunks of bluff had fallen away as massive moss-covered boulders, and lush ferns dotted the undergrowth.
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I was a bit disappointed that the bluff had broken up around the stream; I was hoping to find one really tall waterfall. I crossed the stream and climbed up to the base of the tall bluff for an obstructed view above the waterfall. High overhead, the water ran down a nearly-vertical 30-foot cascade. Below there the water leapt off a 30-foot bluff in a true waterfall, then cascaded 15 to 20 feet down a steep water slide to the top of the lower 15-foot waterfall. The combined height of all the water features was 80 to 100 feet tall, but due to all the obstructions there was no way for me to get all of it in a photo.
I spent a few minutes searching for a way up above the lowest waterfall, but I didn't see any safe paths. Perhaps I could have gone downstream a bit then gone up higher, but I was running out of daylight. I did find proof of previous visitors in recent times... a piece of coarse screen in a wooded frame lay on the dirt surface beneath a small overhang. Someone had been there hunting for Indian artifacts.
I dropped back down to cross the stream below the waterfall. The setting sun had turned the clouds above a orangish-pink, and that light was bouncing down to give the waterfall a warm glow. I packed up the camera, put on my headlamp, and followed the stream down the mountain in the dark.
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Exactly three weeks later, I returned to the area to explore the upper waterfalls in Big Foot Hollow. The area saw storms three days earlier and again the Monday night before. I turned off of Highway 23 onto the county road going beside John Turner Creek and through the Bee Rock area. At Bunce Gap I turned south down a forest service road that stopped beside a pond northwest of the hollow. I grabbed my camera bag and started hiking southwest toward the top of the waterfall, less than 400 yards away. Soon I came to the top of a line of short, broken bluffs and boulders, which I followed to the stream. I found a way down through the broken bluffs to reach a section of sloped hillside beside the highest cascade. I didn't dare get very close to the stream, which dropped over a bluff at the top of the 30-foot waterfall. I walked west along the slope until I found a steep path going down and back around to the base of the falls. I wouldn't recommend that route to anyone. I stuck close to the base of a small bluff, crawling under low tree limbs. Beside the bottom of the falls, I got out the camera to take a few photos, then put it in my camera backpack and eased down to the base of the bluff to cross behind the shower of water.
Even though I was taking my time and being extra careful, in a flash my feet slid out from under me on the bare, wet rock, which must have been slicker than ice. In an instant I was lying on my stomach and chest, horrified at the thought of sliding down the steep, bedrock cascade below the falls. I reached out to put a hand on the rock, while pushing with my toes, to make sure I didn't slide away from the flat surface behind the waterfall.
As I started to move to a sitting position, I put some weight on my left hand and sharp pain filled my arm and shoulder from my elbow to my neck. I twisted my body to the right and sat upright. I tried to move my left arm again only to have the pain return. Oh no. I'd dislocated my shoulder again.
I just sat there with the cold water drenching me... halfway because I was afraid I'd slide down the steep chute below me, and halfway because my shoulder hurt so much. As if on cue, thunder rumbled from the dark clouds overhead. Great. I eyed my SPOT locator and contemplated pushing the S.O.S. button. I imagined sitting there in the dark while the search and rescue people made their way down the treacherous mountainside.
I gained my composure and decided to take my backpack off and scoot over to the far side, away from the shower of water. Miraculously, my shoulder popped back into place and most of the pain went away. I drug my backpack behind me and got back on my feet. My quick-dry shirt didn't hold much water, and the air was warm, so I wasn't uncomfortable. I got out the camera and took a few photos, then crossed back behind the falls and made my way around the small bluff.
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I had to put on my headlamp as I made my way up the steep hillside, and it took me a while to find a way through the broken bluff below the pond.
The Spring Peepers were making all kinds of racket around the pond. I've lost count of how many times I've tried to find a single frog among a chorus of peeps, yet they always stopped singing when I got close, and their eyes don't reflect the light from a flashlight to disclose their location. But this time I was determined, and one frog on a low sapling refused to stop peeping when I approached and spotlighted it. I managed to set up the camera and shoot a short video.
As I drove away I felt a sense of relief after escaping another close call with injury, and I also felt a sense of satisfaction from being able to claim Bigfoot Falls as one of my waterfall finds.
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