Buffalo Weekend Getaway
October 22-24, 2010
Stacey and I returned to the Buffalo River for our yearly anniversary retreat. We stayed at another great rental, Leatherwood House, near the entrance to the Steele Creek recreation area. At the end of the weekend I would be starting a solo 3-night backpacking trip, so we drove separate vehicles in order to leave Stacey's Civic in Boxley for me to drive home.
As I drove down the highway into the Buffalo River valley, the scenery kept getting prettier. The sky was overcast, which made the evenly-lit wilderness easy on the eyes. The foliage turned really colorful, but in an usual way. Instead of large patches of bright color, the view was comprised of hundreds of tiny dots of yellows, golds, and reds. I found myself in an unforgettable moment in which I felt warm all over and blurted out "Wow!" without thinking.
We drove up to Ponca to browse the shops at Lost Valley Canoe and Buffalo Outdoor Center, then we went to Leatherwood House to unload our bags and park the Civic. It was early afternoon and I was starving, so we drove to, where else, the Ozark Cafe in Jasper.
Next we drove down to Steele Creek. The huge Sweet Gum trees below Roark Bluff were turning yellows and oranges. We parked near the canoe launch where the actual Steele Creek flows in to the Buffalo River. I wanted to hike up Steele Creek and do a little exploring. Stacey was wearing sandals, which didn't give her feet much protection and made for slow going. The small pools of crystal clear water in the stream were teeming with small orange crawdads. Colorful freshly fallen leaves covered the stream bed, and formed a solid layer on top of the pools on the downstream end. We stayed until it started getting dark, then drove back to the house. Stacey cooked steaks and baked potatoes and we chose Land of the Lost from the huge video library at the house.
Saturday morning I got up at first light and drove about a quarter mile up the 2-mile private dirt road and parked beside a huge boulder on the forested mountainside. I walked downhill hoping to discover an overlook atop a line of bluffs in Leatherwood Hollow.
Seriously, I am lucky I didn't die that morning. I found the top of the bluff line, but at most places, thick brush and trees left no openings for a view down in to the hollow. I followed the bluff line southeast and eventually found a small clearing. The hillside above the bluff line was steep, so I had to move cautiously. While the clearing I found only had a few tree limbs in the way, a shelf about six feet below appeared to have a completely unobstructed view. I took my camera backpack off, placed it on the ground, then sat down next to it. My plan was to scoot on my rear to the shelf below. I placed my right foot on a huge rock, about 30 inches wide and a foot thick, resting near the top edge of the bluff. In my experience a rock this big simply doesn't move, but all it took was a little bit of my weight to send it sliding from it's resting spot. It fell the six feet to the ledge below, bounced with a large thud then went crashing down through the treetops below. Amazement turned to nausea as I realized that, had I climbed down to that rock shelf, surely I would have grabbed that rock to pull myself back up. And it would have slid off and sent me falling to my death. It still makes me sick to my stomach to imagine how the events of that day would have unfolded for Stacey.
I regained my composure and took a photo of the hollow and a grand line of bluffs on the opposite side. On the way up the hill I found a log covered with some cool fungus that sort of looks like sea shells.
I got back to the house and told my story over a great breakfast that Stacey cooked. We drove to Boxley then up Cave Mountain road to the "Hawksbill Craig" trailhead. It was perhaps the busiest day of the year for the trail, and we had to park down the road from the parking lot. We ran into Rod Kissinger on the hike in and stopped to say hi. It was great to be with Stacey on her first trip to the crag. The sky grew ominously dark during the hike back, but it only sprinkled a few times.
We drove to the Ozark Cafe for a late lunch. We checked the weather and got a Hog update on my iPad. It looked like heavy rain was headed our way. On the drive back, as we were about to turn on to the road to Leatherwood House, we spotted a black bear standing in a clearing beside Highway 74. We frantically tried to locate Stacey's fanny pack then pull her camera out, but Mister Bear galloped off into the woods. We turned down the private road and drove slowly as we looked up the hill and sure enough we saw the bear again. When we stopped the Tahoe, the bear froze, then turned around and ran up the hill out of sight. Back at the house we opened the windows to let in the soothing sound of the rain then took a long nap. We woke up after dark. Stacey made Philly cheesesteak sandwiches for dinner, then we watched Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
Sunday morning I drove back up to Cave Mountain for a look at the Upper Buffalo Wilderness from Hedges Bluff. Way, way down in the bottom of the valley was the stretch of river I would be hiking down on the last day of my upcoming backpacking trip. The sky was gloomy and there wasn't any fog, so it didn't make for much of a picture, but it was still a fantastic scene.
I drove back to the house to get Stacey, then we drove down to Boxley valley looking for elk in the fields. We saw a few but they weren't close enough for pictures. Stacey cooked another delicious meal as I finished packing my backpack for the upcoming hike. I had to compress my down sleeping bag into a stuff sack and gather the limited camera gear I'd be taking. We hated to leave Leatherwood House. Once again our Buffalo weekend getaway was one of my favorite times of the entire year.