Indian Creek
May 7 & 21, 2011
The scenery along Indian Creek in the Ponca Wilderness wasn't at all what I expected, but the surprise was a really good one. I drove up to Kyle's Landing campground late Friday night and slept in the back of the Tahoe, then began the hike to Copperhead Falls at first light Saturday morning.
I don't know why it took me so long to finally make the hike; it has been near the top of my "must see" list for over seven years. Actually, I know exactly why. The hike was over four miles long, and the description in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook warns of a tough climb at one spot and a narrow, treacherous path in another where "one slip and they will have to call out for a body bag!" But I wore my non-slip felt-soled boots and planned to stay along the creek and away from any dangerous heights.
I won't go into a detailed account of every single scenic location along the hike, though I'll try to describe the highlights. I left the Buffalo River Trail to find the mouth of the creek on the Buffalo River; I didn't want to miss a thing. The stream bed was comprised of an interesting mixture of reddish-brown sandstone and light gray limestone. I just had to stop and take a photo at a pretty spot facing upstream where on my left, the bank was composed of flat sandstone bedrock, while the stream bed and the raised bank on the right was a mixture of brown and gray stones.
The grade was pretty flat the whole way, and I was always either in the creek or on a primitive trail within sight of the creek. In the first hour of the hike I passed two beautiful small waterfalls in side streams within view from the creek. The water below the second one cascaded down layered limestone beside a big boulder covered in thick green moss.
At several places on the creek, water slid down narrow chutes into deep, emerald pools. And I've never seen so many ferns in my life. At the base of several tall bluffs were dense patches of lush ferns 30 feet deep and twice as wide. Ledges next to the creek were covered with ferns, and even cracks in vertical bluff faces had ferns sticking out of them.
The stream passed through small canyons in several spots. Bluffs next to the stream rose to heights of 40 feet, and above there the terrain rose hundreds of feet more. Giant sandstone boulders blocked the stream in several places, and at two of those spots the water ran right across the flat face of the boulders before dropping midair to form small waterfalls that splashed into shallow pools.
The cloudy skies began to clear much earlier than I anticipated. Bright beams of sunlight filled the canyon while Copperhead Falls was still a third of a mile upstream. I went ahead though, hoping maybe a patch of clouds would pass by and block the sun. For most of this section, the stream bed was an amazing stretch of solid, light-colored sandstone bedrock, worn smooth by water over the ages. The scenery was so pretty that it made me happy!
Copperhead Falls was a bit of a disappointment, partly because of the bright sunlight beating down on it, and partly because a huge Sweetgum tree had fallen in the pool right below the falls. I found that I could use a wide-angle lens and get close enough to the falls to get a picture without the fallen tree. I waited for about 20 minutes hoping a lucky cloud might float by. I thought about killing some time by hiking to Tunnel Cave Falls, which I knew was just upstream; Cliff and I had made the exhausting trek down to it from up above back in October 2003. But I decided I wouldn't enjoy the scene in the harsh sunlight. I also contemplated waiting there all afternoon until the sun sank below the lip of the canyon, but I knew I couldn't sit still that long.
I made really good time on the hike back; it was all downhill and I never stopped to take any photos.