Buffalo Weekend Getaway
October 22-23, 2011
For the third year in a row, Stacey and I celebrated our anniversary with a weekend retreat to the Buffalo River area. We had a great time, though we didn't get outdoors as much, and I didn't come back with very many photos.
We reached Foggy Hollow Cabin, deep in the woods near the Low Gap community, just before dark. We agree it's our new favorite lodging. It was tastefully decorated and so cozy that we both instantly fell in love with it. We unloaded our gear and headed in to Jasper for dinner at the Ozark Cafe, then went to the store for groceries before returning to the cabin. Without cable or satellite, we had to settle for DVDs. But I enjoyed watching The Assassination of Jesse James again.
I got up early Saturday morning and drove to a potential overlook near Ponca with hopes of catching the sun rising over the Buffalo River valley, but the spot didn't have a clear view. I got back in the car and drove to Compton, then headed east on the Erbie road to park and hike down to retrieve my SPOT locator, which had fallen off my backpack the previous weekend.
The 500-yard hike didn't take long, and soon I was back on the highway headed south. Above Ponca, a hot air balloon rose above the misty fall foliage. Had I been there a few minutes earlier I might have stopped for a fantastic photo, but the ballon was too high in the air for a nice shot so I just kept on driving.
I found Stacey sitting on the back deck enjoying the sounds of the forest. She had already seen deer feeding down below. We heard turkey calls, but couldn't decide whether they were real or from a hunter. We got cleaned up and drove in to Jasper for an early lunch. About a mile east of Low Gap we were amazed to see a single-engine airplane sitting beside a cabin beside the highway. Apparently the flat mountaintop field above Henson Creek valley was just long enough for a runway. Farther down the highway we saw the cutest little black-and-white miniature donkey in an adjacent field. We decided to name it Dalmatian Donkey. We also stopped at a garage sale somewhere east of Mount Sherman.
We sat in the coffee shop next to the Ozark Cafe and watched the Razorbacks on TV while enjoying pizza and boneless buffalo wings. When the game was over we drove to Boxley, where the national park service had opened the historic mill for tours. Although I've known about the mill for many years, and knew its general location, I had never actually seen it. The mill sits about 500 feet from the highway and is hidden by trees.
The big Boxley mill pond, which sits right next to the highway, was built to hold water to power the mill. Nearby springs feed the pond. Water ran northeast from the pond for almost 400 feet through a narrow channel, called a race or flume, to the mill. Water exiting the mill ran into Mill Creek, right below the mill. A smaller mill was first built at the location in 1840, and in 1870 it was replaced by the current structure. The race and mill saw several modifications over the next 90 years. The operation was closed in the 1960's due to a lack of business.
Stacey and I returned to the cabin for a nice long nap, then drove back to Boxley before sundown to join the many elk-watchers parked along the highway. We only saw a few elk, so we drove to the southern end of the valley and went for a peaceful walk through Luallen Field. That was the closest thing to a hike we made the entire trip! We drove back to Jasper for yet another meal at Ozark Cafe, then returned to the cabin and built a fire and watched Heartbreak Ridge.
I got up before sunrise and drove down the mountain to Steele Creek recreation area on the river, hoping to spend the morning shooting pictures from below Roark Bluff.  But heavy fog made the sky look completely overcast, so I returned to the cabin and settled for pictures of the fog from above, shot from the back deck.
We drove back to the Ozark Cafe for a big breakfast, then walked to the Blue Mountain Bakery to get a snack for later. We drove all the way back to the cabin before we realized we had lost the key. We drove up the mountain to Low Gap to get cell reception, and called the cafe to thankfully learn they'd found the key. So we drove all the way back to Jasper then all the way back to the cabin to pack for the drive home.