Upper Buffalo Wilderness:
Dixon Ford to Pruitt Hollow
October 24, 2010
Obtaining the goal I set over 5 years ago to see the entire length of the Buffalo River hit a major obstacle. The river flows through a protected wilderness area with no access points for over 14 miles. The water in this headwaters stretch, which is really just a small stream, is almost always too low to float, and then when the water's high enough, the float takes advance kayaking skills.  I could hike the distance in a day, but then I wouldn't be able to stop and take pictures or slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Two years ago I found a solution: I would make a multi-day backpacking hike down the river. Such a trip would best be made in the fall, when the water was low. I hoped to go last fall, but we got way too much rain. The conditions were perfect this year, and a week before my annual fall vacation I threw together a plan and made all the preparations to finally go on my dream adventure.
At the end of our weekend retreat to the same area, I parked Stacey's Civic in Boxley Valley at the trailhead for the Buffalo River Trail, where my hike would end. Stacey then shuttled me to the river access at Dixon Ford, 14 and a half miles upstream. As we said our goodbyes, Stacey was worried about driving up the steep, narrow, hairpin curves on the gravel road back to Highway 16. "What if I meet somebody coming the other way?" she said. I felt bad because she was right. All I could do was tell her that I'd driven up the road many times and never had any problems. She pulled away, and at last I found myself standing in the middle of the stream bed facing downstream; the Upper Buffalo Wilderness would be my home for the next three and a half days.
Back in August 2004 I explored the first 1.6 miles of the river below Dixon Ford. I wrote a detailed description of that section on my journal page about the trip, so I didn't feel the need to take very many pictures until I reached Pruitt Hollow. A few things caught my eye though, and they had to be photographed.
The river mileages I'm listing are based on National Geographic's Trails Illustrated map. For example, Dixon Ford is at mile 7.0.
At the three-and-a-half-foot drop I've nicknamed Dixon Falls (mile 7.3), the view upstream was nice. The foliage on the bank to my right was colorful, with lots of golds, oranges and reds. This and the blue in the partly-cloudy sky reflected off the rippled surface of the shallow water in the bedrock pool.
At another location, hundreds of tiny water puddles in a slab of flat sandstone made a neat picture.
I didn't have a picture of the first bluff area on river left (mile 7.7), so I stopped to take a snapshot in the midday sun. I was determined to document my trip in a little notebook I was carrying, and I scribbled "Having a great time by the way".
Just past mile 8.0, I stopped to take a picture of a scene on the right side of the stream. Near the water's edge, thousands of brown leaves covered a bank comprised of multiple shale layers. The hillside above was a pretty mixture of brightly colored Beech and Maple leaves.
I reached the mouth of Pruitt Hollow (mile 8.7) around 3:30. This is where I stopped back in August 2004; the river downstream would be unexplored territory. But first, I wanted to get a peak of what was up Pruitt Hollow.
I only walked 75 yards up the small valley, but I found a lot to like. The dry, rocky stream bed was covered with freshly fallen leaves. Water silently tricked from one small leaf-filled pool of crystal clear water to the next. I took the opportunity to filter enough water to fill my drinking bottle. In several places, layered rock jutting out from the steep hillsides formed small bluff-like structures. Six years ago I gazed at the mouth of Pruitt Hollow and wished I had time to go up it a little. Now, seeing the downstream end of the hollow, I wished I had time to follow it up the mountain.