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Buffalo Scenic River:
Little Buffalo Falls to Dixon Ford
May 25, 2008
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For nearly four years it's been my intention to explore the uppermost 28 miles of the Buffalo River. I completed my first segment in August of 2004, and made three more visits the following year. After that I got distracted by all the other great scenic destinations in the region, plus the Rainbow Family held their annual gathering at Dixon Ford in July of 2007, and that kept me away for a year. But I've always kept the upper Buffalo explorations high on my wish list.
Finally on Sunday, May 25 I returned for a bushwhack from Dixon Ford to a wonderful little spot upstream I've nicknamed Little Buffalo Falls. I left the house at 5 a.m. and arrived at Dixon Ford a little before 7. It took me 8 hours to explore the 2.8 mile stretch. I shot all the photos during my upstream trek, but I'm presenting them in an upstream to downstream order.
At Little Buffalo Falls the river spills gently over four consecutive short drops in the bedrock. GPS coordinates for this spot are N 35 49.717, W 93 30.170 (Degrees and Decimal Minutes). It's worth noting that the falls lie in a valley directly between the highest peaks in all of the Ozarks. Buffalo Knob, with an elevation of 2,567 feet, is 2.5 miles north, while two unnamed peaks with the same elevation are 1.1 miles and 2 miles to the south. A pioneer road on the south side made travel downstream easy for almost a mile. Immediately downstream of the falls I stopped to snap a few photos with the point-and-shoot camera I brought along. An old Beech tree stood watch beside a shoal at the end of a deep hole. A sycamore beside it had been girdled by beavers.
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Now that I've seen the first 9 miles of the Buffalo (from the farthest source to the mouth of Pruitt Hollow) I can say that the most scenic stretch is the 1.5 miles below Little Buffalo Falls. The stream alternated between deep emerald pools and shallow runs across rock and gravel. At several locations the stream ran alongside small bluffs topped with lush green foliage.
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At one point for 200 yards the stream bottom consisted of flat bedrock, though it's surface was an irregular mixture of dips, knobs and fissures. A thin film of algae and mud made it very slippery to walk across. Near the upstream end of this stretch, a diagonal line of solid stone created a natural dam.
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Downstream from there I'd had quite a bit of excitement at a beautiful little bluff and deep pool that I'll forever call the Cinnamon Bear Hole (N 35 49.725, W 93 29.013). I had been walking upstream along a pioneer road on the southern bank and a bit of movement along the opposite bank about 150 feet upstream caught my eye. A big fat cinnamon-colored black bear sat in the shallow water. It was digging up and eating something from a hole in the earthen bank. I backed up behind some brush and quietly pulled out the camera and changed lenses, then I quietly and slowly walked forward in hopes of getting close enough to take a shot of the bear. As I got nearer I looked down to see where I planted my feet, just to make sure I didn't accidentally crack a stick or knock a small rock. When I next looked up the bear had vanished. I took a grainy handheld shot to document the scene, then set down the camera to explore a small stream from the south that I'd just crossed. This would give the bear time to move off too!
I picked up a couple of rocks and clacked them together several times to let the bear know I was in the area. Then I walked about 100 yards up the side stream. It was tough making myself stop and turn around. I could have just kept going up this beautiful little stream. As it descended from the mountainside the water stepped down countless little shelves made from thin layers of rock. I'd left both cameras back by the Buffalo or surely I would have taken some documentary shots. It's worth noting that a fairly well-defined jeep road followed beside the eastern bank. Hopefully some day I'll return and get to know this little stream.
When I got back to the Buffalo I banged a few more rocks together for good measure, then gathered my camera and backpack and walked over to a gravel bar next to where the bear had sat. I couldn't ignore the notion that the deep emerald pool in the shadow of a small dark bluff was the most perfect swimming hole, and that not going for a swim would be regretful. I took off my hat, glasses, and t-shirt, walked out several feet then dove in. The cold water was quite a shock!  My imagination got the best of me as I turned around toward the bank.... for a split second I thought a blurry shadow back behind my backpack and clothes was the bear returning for dessert!
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Five hundred feet downstream the stream formed a narrow channel at the base of a tall layered bluff on the north side (N 35 49.817, W 93 28.933). I walked across the channel to take a picture from the base of the bluff looking upstream. Water trickled down the face of the bluff, which was covered with slimy brown algae.
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The mouth of Nuckles Creek held a surprising concentration of scenic features. Just upstream the terrain closed in on the Buffalo to form bluffs on both sides. The towering bluff on the south side, opposite of Nuckles Creek, wasn't just vertical... it curved outward from it's base. I'd stopped for lunch there and set up the camera and tripod in a shallow, shaded pool to get a shot of the wonderful reflections of the green canopy on the pool's surface. The bluffs on the north side came to a point where the creek joined, then made a 90 degree turn to parallel the creek. A bluff shelter opened up at the base. I followed the bluffline north a short distance and came to an alcove in the side of the bluff about eight feet up that I was able to climb into. The alcove wall full of amazing sandstone patterns. At this point the bluffline had joined Nuckles Creek, which was directly below the alcove. I dropped down to the creek and followed it back to where it joined the Buffalo and snapped a documentary photo.
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