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Dry Creek
May 8, 2008
For the second year in a row I scheduled a week's vacation from work for peak Spring waterfall conditions. I'm realizing the idea isn't as good as it sounds.... just like last year only one really heavy rain storm rolled through during the week. But I was able to spend an unforgettable day in the forest along Dry Creek in western Searcy County.
This was the first outing in "my" white Chevy Tahoe (Stacey's for the last four years). The Silverado suffered major hail damage back on April 9, and the insurance company "totalled" it and took it away. We're getting Stacey something with better gas mileage.
I left the house pretty early, and arrived at the Ozark Highlands Trail crossing at 7:30. The forest service had burned in the area, and there was a sign saying the trail was closed. But since it was so wet I figured they wouldn't be doing any more burning that day. The burned areas looked bad, but the odor was slight.
As I hiked northwest along the trail it wasn't long before the loud rush of water in a small stream downhill to my right became irresistible. I left the trail and followed the stream past numerous cascades running among lush spring vegetation and mossy lichen-covered boulders.
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About a mile into the bushwhack I reached the top of a tall 35-foot waterfall that Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook author Tim Ernst calls Stack Rock Homestead Falls. I found a spot to climb down on the south side, and scrambled over several huge boulders to reach the base of the falls. From there I headed back towards the trail and found it just as it began a big swing to the southwest. The trail ran along the side of the mountain in a constant downhill direction and I met Dry Creek a mile later at around 10:30.
The bushwhack downstream was pretty rough. I tried to stay beside the creek to enjoy the rugged scenery, but often I had to detour as much as 150 foot above the creek to go around steep banks. The water was too high and fast to try to cross.
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Around noon I stopped to have lunch with a view of a 20-foot waterfall cascading down the nearly vertical bank on the opposite side.
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Further downstream I passed two amazing spots where countless big boulders choked the stream. At one of the spots the water tumbled over boulder after boulder down a 45-degree slope for about 50 feet. I noticed that the stream bed, which had been sandstone at the trail crossing, was now solid limestone and chert at the lower elevation.
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My ultimate goal for the day was to experience Punch Bowl Falls, which I reached shortly after 1 o'clock. The hillside above the Punch Bowl was the worst. It was a tedious climb down to the falls, and by then my ankles and feet were weak, and my boots and socks were soaked. I explored a little cave right next to the gorgeous 20-foot waterfall, then walked around the shore of the big circular pool below the falls. I considered crossing the stream and climbing to a higher vantage point on the opposite side, but the stream just below the pool was funneled into a swift chute and I wasn't up for the challenge.
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After the initial slippery climb out of the Punch Bowl, the bushwhack back upstream to the trail wasn't that bad. I was able to stay on fairly level benches high above Dry Creek. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something bright orange on the forest floor and went over to investigate. It turned out to be a Chicken of the Woods mushroom.
With the help of my GPS receiver I found the hiking trail and started up the mountainside. Only 250 yards later I veered off downhill to the right to check out a loud falling water sound I'd heard coming in. I found a wonderful 15-foot waterfall with a curiously orange boulder at the base. Orange Rock Falls sounds like a good name.
I returned to the trail to resume the 2.7-mile return hike.  A mile later I came upon the old homestead and rock chimney the falls were named for.
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I got back to the Tahoe around 6 p.m. Instead of driving straight home I turned east onto Highway 16 and headed for Raspberry Mountain. I wondered if an area called the Azalea Patch, which Kenneth Smith documented back in the 70s, was recognizable. I didn't find it, but it's always nice driving a new stretch of Arkansas road. Back on Highway 7 I pulled off at the Rotary Ann overlook and caught some colorful post-sunset scenery.
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