Whitaker Creek
May 4, 2006
Compton’s Double waterfall on Whitaker Creek has long been one of those icons of Arkansas wilderness that I just had to see for myself. More rain was forecast for the Boston Mountains so I went into work Thursday morning prepared to leave shortly after noon if it looked like the rain was going to let up in time, which it did.
The scenic drive through forest and farmland up the Pig Trail was made even better by Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Fairytales. Shortly after I turned off Highway 16 onto Cave Mountain Road, what I first thought was a burly dog jumped onto the road and galloped ahead of the truck. When it turned and bound off into the woods I realized it was a bobcat - only the second one I’ve ever seen in the wild in all these years.
My hike followed the expert directions from Tim Ernst’s Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook. I was determined to see all the smaller waterfalls along the way, starting with Amber Falls on Whitaker Creek itself. I climbed up out of the immediate stream valley to more level ground on the north side of the creek and headed downstream. The area was thick with pink Mountain Azalea blooms. I hadn’t gone very far before I spotted a tall waterfall spilling off a bluff on the south side of the creek. Too bad there wasn’t time to go investigate! Continuing downstream up above Whitaker Creek, I saw hundreds of creamy white Umbrella Magnolia blooms in the tree tops nearer the stream.
The first of two side waterfalls was around 15 feet tall, though you’d never know it from looking at the photo I took. I used a wide-angle lens which exaggerates the effect of making distant objects appear smaller. Ferns and a huge Beech tree in front of the falls compounded the problem.
I was surprised how quickly I made it to the top of Compton’s Double. (Could that be cougar scat?) The first order of business was to get my own picture of the twin falls. I briefly scouted the area on the north side and found only one location to shoot pictures from, and even that spot was very dangerous. It was a short but steep slope above the 40-foot cliff, and I was only able to slowly scoot a little way down and place one of my feet on the base of a small tree to keep from sliding. Still there were tree limbs blocking the view of the falls, so I set the timer on my camera to count down ten seconds and take a series of pictures, then held on to the end of my tripod legs and lowered the camera into position down below my feet. I did this several times and hoped one of the shots would turn out.
As badly as I wanted to find a way to the bottom of the falls, I was running out of time and didn’t want to be out in the woods after dark like my last adventure. Most of the hike back wasn’t too bad, though when I reached Amber Falls I headed straight uphill towards the truck, and THAT was tough, especially since this was my third bushwhack in six days. There was just enough light to find the truck without a flashlight. I was soaked from the hundreds of times I’d brushed up against wet foliage, so I had to change clothes as I scarfed down my dinner of lunchmeat, cheese, and crackers. On the drive out I listened to more Brushfire Fairytales while watching out for bobcats and cougars, and in my mind revisited the scenes along Whitaker Creek.