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Tea Kettle Falls
October 9, 2009
It was an especially exciting fall for Arkansas nature lovers, due to an unusual amount of rainfall. My first big adventure of the season was an afternoon hike to Tea Kettle Falls in northeast Madison County. I'd had my eye on the amazing location for a long, long time, but as I learned from my first visit in Spring 2006, you've got to get there right after a big rain if you want to catch the waterfall running.
I took off work at noon, ran home to change clothes, then headed up I-540. At Fayetteville I drove east to Huntsville, then took Highway 23 north. I followed the directions in Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook to get me the rest of the way. The drive was a little under 2 hours. My route included fording Warm Fork Creek in the Tahoe to get to the parking area uphill from the falls. The creek crossing was a little scary but I made it OK.
The road I hiked south to Kettle Hollow was in great shape; I could have driven all the way down to a short distance above the falls...of course I had to hike a mile to find that out. I followed the stream leading to the falls for a few hundred yards through the woods. I had to go around a lot of trees downed by last winter's ice storm. The top of the Tea Kettle is an amazing place. Water rushes down a channel worn into the solid rock, then plunges down a hole in the top of the bluff and exits a short distance later through the bottom of the hole, which is in the side of the bluff. When I arrived, quite a bit of the water was going either around the hole or shooting over the top to spill over the edge of the bluff.
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I hopped over the channel and walked along the edge of the bluff south of the falls. I found a single spot where I could climb down through a hole in a pile of boulders to reach the bottom of the bluff.
I walked around searching for the best locations for photos, then walked south along the bottom of the bluffline, away from the falls, with the hopes of finding the next hollow to the west, Reynolds Hollow. The guidebook said there was a waterfall there too. As the bluff line turned southwest, it ran right into Warm Fork Creek, and the only way for me to continue would be to wade the creek, which I just wasn't up for. Besides, it seemed like it was starting to get dark outside. I was surprised that Warm Fork Creek didn't have more water in it, considering how much rain had fallen in the area earlier that day.
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I really enjoyed the hike back. The woods were dark and moist, and the road passed through several small fields with a definite feel of fall in the air. It was pretty dark by the time I got back to the Tahoe.
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The climb back up through the hole in the boulder pile had me nervous. At one spot I had to grab hold of some tree roots to pull myself up to a ledge my feet couldn't reach. If the roots wouldn't support my weight, I would have only fallen back a few feet, but still it seemed like I'd die if it happened!
When I crossed back over the top of Tea Kettle Falls, I was amazed to see that the flow had already subsided to the point that hardly any water was going over the edge of the bluff. At that rate I bet the falls would be pretty disappointing to any visitors that showed up the next morning.