Eye on The Prize
October 27, 2006

It all started with one photograph. Back in August I was researching cabin rentals in the Buffalo River area for a weekend getaway this fall. I came across a link for an Arkansas nature photographer I’d never heard of, Terry Boyd. His web site had many fantastic pictures, and one of them grabbed my attention and would not let go. It was of a large, wide waterfall pouring into an emerald pool and set against a backdrop of Ozark fall foliage. Suddenly my list of Places That Must Be Seen had a new top listing. I contacted Terry and he was kind enough to give me directions to the waterfall, which is on Long Devils Fork in the Richland Creek Wilderness. A quick check of some maps told me I needed to get into much better shape if I was to make the six-mile round trip journey.
I resumed my early-morning fitness walks, which I’ve done off-and-on for years, and I considered every weekend hike to be training. Finally all the conditions were right - the fall colors were coming on strong, and the area got some good rains - so I took a Friday off from work to find that waterfall.
I left home a little after 6 a.m., and drove the standard route that takes me by Haw Creek Falls. There was a lot more water in the creek than when Stacey and I were there five days earlier.
I parked the truck at the Richland Creek campground around 10 a.m. I dropped down the hill and waded across Falling Water Creek just before it runs into Richland. Then I hiked 1.7 miles along the unofficial trail that follows Richland Creek upstream. There were many times when I wanted so bad to stop and try to take pictures of the scenery. But I'd had my eye on the prize waterfall up Long Devils Fork for the last ten weeks and I wanted to have as much time as possible to find it. Besides, my agenda included a short detour to see Richland Falls.
At the junction of Richland Creek and Devils Fork, Richland takes a sharp turn to the left. I came upon a couple of hikers there, about to cross Richland in a deep area with several large boulders in the middle of the rushing water. I went upstream about a hundred yards and found a spot where the creek was wider and more shallow. I rolled up my pants legs, took off my boots and hung them around my neck, put on my crocs (my Father's Day present) and used my tripod as a hiking stick as I crossed. The water was over my knees, swift and cold. I looked downstream and saw one of the hikers on top of one of the boulders midstream. His body language told me he was nervously searching for a place to continue on across.
After a few minutes hiking I sighted Richland Falls up ahead. It had grown cloudy and windy and started sprinkling a few times. I got chilled and had to put on a jacket and raincoat. I stayed in the area almost an hour waiting for pauses in the breeze to take pictures.
I found a trail leading uphill and away from the creek and towards Devils Fork. The trail passed close enough to Twin Falls that between the trees on the steep bank below I could glimpse the left-hand fall on Long Devils Fork. The trail descended towards the creek then started to fade. I dropped down to the creek at a narrow area and hopped across to the right side. It took me almost an hour to hike a half mile upstream to The Prize. I had to stick to the steep forest bank, because in most places the creek bed was a jumble of boulders in the 3 to 4-foot diameter range, with witch hazel and alder bushes growing from the gaps and blocking any clear passage. The creek was also descending downhill, which meant an uphill trek for me.
I arrived on the right side of my waterfall around 2:30. The water spread out into a half dozen streamlets and dropped straight down 7 feet over a single massive stone over 30 feet across.
As I rested and ate lunch, the sky grew darker and it started sprinkling. Again I got chilled and had to put on the jacket and raincoat. I crossed to the other side and started taking pictures from various locations at the base of a tall sandstone bluff. I stayed over an hour at that magnificent place, until I felt I should begin the long hike back. I stopped at a rare flat spot on the creek to snap some shots of the fall scenery.
At Twin Falls I got greedy and wasted an hour dropping down to a spot below the falls to try and get some pictures. The fall colors there were way past their prime, and the wind was blowing like crazy - making it even harder to get any kind of decent picture.
Considering it was 5:30 when I took the last shot, and the sun would set at 6:30, AND it was cloudy, and I still had to cross Richland Creek and hike 2 miles, I was in trouble!
When I reached Richland, I didn't waste any time looking for a better spot to cross, and I paid dearly. The water came up to my seat a couple of times, and each time I passed by the several large boulders in the rushing stream, the force of the water against my legs intensified and I almost fell.
Eventually I was hiking in total darkness. I had a flashlight or I would've spent the night in the wilderness. The trail was easy to spot as long as it went through the woods up above Richland Creek. But in several spots the trail was up against the creek and either traveled across bedrock or had been washed away. I lost it several times but somehow managed to pick it up again.
When I reached Falling Water Creek just down hill of the campsite, I didn't even bother taking off my boots and just plowed straight across the water. It was a few minutes shy of 8 p.m. when I reached the truck. I had been gone 10 hours, but I captured the prize.