Indian Creek
October 11, 2009
Curiosity got the best of me. Instead of going to another one of the scenic areas on my "must see" list, I went hunting for waterfalls that I suspected might be located in the headwaters of Indian Creek in the Ponca Wilderness. I spend a lot of time studying topographic maps, trying to get a feel for where the hills and valleys are located within the woods and around the streams I explore. The map indicated two streams on either side of Hammerschmidt Falls. I reasoned that if the streams shared the same geology, they might contain waterfalls at the same elevation. I was wrong, but spending a day out in the wilderness was a nice consolation.
I used the directions in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook to get me to the parking area for Hammerschmidt Falls. I hiked east along the road past a cable gate for about a quarter mile to the first stream on my list. I encountered two small cascades right off that were pretty enough to take their pictures. Nearby, the radial leaf arrangement of a colorful Smoke Tree sapling caught my eye.
As I followed the stream down the hill to the north, I had my first run-in with severe ice storm debris. I'm figuring out that in the areas that have ice storm damage, the steep hillsides are a lot worse than the level benches and hilltops. It seems the trees don't have as much of a grip on the soil on the steep slopes and are more prone to fall over from the weight of the ice.
Negotiating all the fallen treetops and sticker vines was quite an ordeal. There were times when it took me 10 minutes to travel 100 yards. No way would Stacey or the boys enjoy that! Even worse, most of the small waterfalls and cascades that I found were literally covered with debris.
My plan was to follow the eastern fork about three-tenths of a mile to where it joined the central stream of Indian Creek. As I descended deeper into the canyon, I was amazed how steep the opposite mountainside was. In a fourth of a mile, the elevation changed over 500 feet! It took me over two hours to reach the main creek, where I turned left and headed south upstream. I soon came to a tall waterfall cascading down a mossy bluff on the east side of the stream. A lot of hikers travel along a trail that runs parallel to the creek, and I was able to use their trail at particularly steep sections. Otherwise I was determined to stay right in the middle of the stream so as not to miss any special scenic features. It was great to recognize a pile of big boulders at a very pretty spot Cliff and I had found back in 2003. A waterfall ran right over the top of two of the boulders, though of course the top of a fallen tree lay across them too.
Ughhhh! The ice storm debris made the going so slow! After traveling up the main stream for three-tenths of a mile, I planned to turn right and go up a fork to the west. But I was having second thoughts. I was so sick of detouring around or fighting my way through all the ice storm debris that I was ready to abandon my plans and just find the hiker trail to use for an easier exit. I stopped to turn on my GPS receiver to find out how far I was from both the west fork and the Tahoe. As I waited for the receiver to acquire satellite signals, I heard movement to my left. A line of riders on horseback approached; I didn't realize it, but I was standing right on top of a horse trail. One of the huge animals stopped right in front of me to drink from Indian Creek.
Talk about luck! The horses went up a trail to my right that I hadn't even noticed. It was amazing watching the horses climb up the steep, slick terrain, though I did notice their hooves slip a little. By that time my GPS receiver was displaying my position, which was just downstream of that west fork. I was willing to gamble that the horse trail followed the west fork, so I took it.
The route was all steeply uphill, but at least I didn't have to contend with the ice storm damage. I was able to take an inventory of the stream in the west fork. Every single little waterfall and cascade was covered with fallen trees. That's a shame because otherwise it would have been a really nice stream. I left the trail to get a closer look at an especially noisy waterfall. It took forever to work my way down about 50 feet and get a picture.
Near the top of the mountain the terrain flattened out. I continued to follow the beginnings of the stream in the west. At the edge of the wilderness area I came upon what could be a fantastic little waterfall. It was about 8 feet tall and the water ran over a big flat shelf. But it too was so covered in fallen trees that I didn't even get the camera out. I guess I'll return in 4 or 5 years after the trees have had a chance to rot away.