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Upper Buffalo Wilderness:
Bowers Hollow to Whitaker Creek
October 26, 2010
Downstream of Bowers Hollow, the Buffalo River formed a long, waist-deep pool. Massive boulders rested on the left side. At the downstream end, thousands of colorful recently-fallen leaves covered the surface of the water, having been carried by the gentle, almost imperceptible current. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in the outdoors. I waded deep into the cold water to get my camera close to the sea of floating leaves. It was 10 in the morning and the temperature was barely above 60.
The clouds unexpectedly cleared out, and for the first time on the journey there were clear blue skies. The sunny conditions were terrible for photography, so I didn't stop nearly as often to document the great scenery that continued to unfold. The pictures I did take weren't very pretty.
Around mile 13.8, in an area on river right where the river ran through a narrow, rocky channel, two unusual sandstone boulders caught my attention. Each was a little less than car-sized, and obviously had been subjected to a lot of sculpting by moving water. Their light brown surfaces were smooth and totally free of moss, and any angles or corners were quite rounded.
As the river made a gradual turn to the northwest, my shadow, which I hadn't seen in days, was cast out in front of me. I haven't mentioned that the river was just full of big tadpoles. It was a constant sight - tadpoles jiggling away from my feet. The thought occurred to me that a guy could survive on tadpoles out here if he ran out of food, but Yuk!
I got some relief from the constant wading where, before mile 14, the river bed was a long section with a narrow channel of water on the right, and a flat field of small and medium rocks on the left that made for easy walking. As if I had to mention this, I passed several boulders.
At mile 14 the water ran between about a dozen boulders on either side of the channel... a very nice scene. Looking upstream, I could see the ridge on the north side of Hubbard Hollow. Fifty to 75 yards down, I waded a pool with another nice assembly of boulders. Then the stream ran down a rock-bottomed channel with frequent boulders. How many boulders have I passed?
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Around mile 14.2 the river made a quick rocky drop before turning right into a deep emerald pool below a large bluff on river left. One boulder in the pool was a big as a semi! There was another magical episode of leaves falling through the air and landing in the pool. I set up the camera to get a photo of the leaves falling, but the wind didn't cooperate, so I had to settle for a photo of the emerald pool with leaves on top. I missed the mouth of Hubbard Hollow, because when I passed it I wasn't looking for it, due to some confusion with a list of landmarks I was carrying.
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For the next quarter mile, I waded through a series of waist-deep pools scattered with small boulders. Between the pools were shallow runs though rounded rocks. The flat woods on the right were full of big Beech trees. The hundred-yard pool above the mouth of Boen Gulf at mile 14.5 had bigger boulders, some car-sized.
I hiked up Boen Gulf a short way and found the stream bed and surrounding terrain to be quite similar to that at Bowers Hollow, a wide, dry stream bed sunk in thick woods. A check of the topo maps reveal both streams flow through flat bottom land before joining the Buffalo.
Walking out of Boen Gulf, I faced a bus-sized boulder at the upper end of a big deep hole. I wrote in my notebook "I don't know how I'll get past this". The answer was to stay up in the woods to the right of the river. The flat, open forest, above an 8-foot bank overlooking the river, was full of big Beech, Sycamore, and Sweet Gum trees.
I dropped back down to the river at a shallow rocky run that lead to a long, deep hole with a view downstream of Beagle Point, which is the name photographer and author Tim Ernst  has attached to the mountain south of Whitaker Creek.
The next hole, around mile 14.8, was even bigger, and I decided to go up into the woods on the left to walk around it. I found myself traveling down an old road or trail; it was no more than a depression in the ground, but I've spent enough time in the woods to know one when I see one. I came to a dry stream bed coming down from the mountain to the west, and followed it to the river. It was right at 1 o'clock. Looking upstream, I had a good view of the ridge that's on the north side of Boen Gulf. It was great having printouts of topo maps and the GPS receiver with, so I could identify such prominent features.
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Just upstream of mile 15, I passed a distinctive landmark line of four car-sized boulders on the left. Unlike all the weathered sandstone boulders I'd seen so far, these were made of gray, crumbly chert. Their flat tops tilted down toward the river; their lower portions were tan in color, from frequent exposure to higher muddy water. I didn't see any moss or lichen on these boulders. Downstream on the same bank was a trailer-sized sandstone boulder covered with lichen and dry green moss.
The next 500 feet, the river made a narrow run through scattered small boulders and big rocks. At the end of this stretch, the stream went between two RV-sized boulders that were just below several more car-sized boulders on river right. Looking way up high to my left I could see Beagle Point.
I enjoyed a nice long stretch where the river ran in narrow channels between boulders, for the next 350 yards; most of the time I walked along the rocky bank, otherwise I waded through water that was only 9 inches deep.
At mile 15.3 I encountered another landmark of distinctive boulders. These four sandstone slabs were sitting in a row in the water on the left, and were leaning toward the bank. Their tops were light gray and were covered in lichen and some dry moss. There was a horizontal band of reddish brown in the middle, which I believe was bare sandstone without any lichen. The lower three feet of each bolder was covered with dried, tan river mud. While I stopped to take their picture, I munched a granola bar and filtered some drinking water.
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The next quarter mile was easy walking too. Most of the way the river channel was split into two halves. The two rocky channels were divided by a higher, rocky mound with sycamore trees. The water ran in the right channel. Above the left bank was a nice flat area of Beech trees.
Four hundred feet above where the mouth Whitaker Creek is shown on the topo map, the river bed changed to flat bedrock, the first I had seen in quite a while. I noticed several oval depressions in the bedrock with cracks in them that could be mistaken for turtle shell fossils. Just past there, I took a photo with a view down toward Cloudland Point. The flat bedrock stream bottom continued to within 200 yards of Whitaker Creek, though the water got deeper and the bottom became covered with pebbles and small stones.
I walked along black shale ledges on the right until the ledges disappeared into the bank and I had to wade in knee-deep water. I got out the camera to photograph a scene looking back upstream. It was about 3:15, and the sun had sunk low enough in the sky to shine some favorable light on the fall foliage on the east bank, which made colorful reflections on the Buffalo River.
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Either my GPS receiver was acting up or Whitaker Creek had changed its course since the USGS topo map was made, because I didn't find a stream bed where I expected to. The terrain to the west of the river was flat and full of sycamore trees of all ages. I followed the river downstream for 500 feet through a shallow, rocky run with lots of Water Willow in the river bed. At the end of this stretch the river bed made a short, rocky drop into a big deep pool, where the river makes a right turn at the base of a hill. I think maybe Whitaker Creek was coming in from the left at this point, but I'm not certain, and I didn't take any pictures that I can review. Oh well, one of these days I hope to explore Whitaker Creek, and maybe I'll figure it out then.
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