Ponca to Hasty
Newton County, Arkansas
Friday, March 25 – Sunday, March 27
Our annual Easter weekend float trip this year was to the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We try to get to the Buffalo every spring and due to water levels and weather it is a completely different trip every time. This year was perfect! The water level was high enough to cover all the rocks we usually scrape our boats on and the weather was mild with no rain. If you recall last year’s trip, there was a lot of rain and high water, which made for a bit of a white-knuckle experience.
We left our house Thursday afternoon and arrived in Jasper, AR late that evening. We crashed in one of the tiny motels that night and woke up to a bright and crisp morning. Our friend Jake from Nashville met up with us and we all walked over to the Ozark Cafe for an excellent breakfast before running Jake’s van down to the takeout and purchasing a car shuttle for our vehicle from Buffalo River Canoe. We then drove up to Ponca and unloaded all our gear and reorganized everything into our boats. Jake and I paddled our trusty Liquid Logic and Dagger kayaks, while DW and our dog Ocoee manned our Old Town canoe. We pushed off around 11am for a fantastic day on the water.
The section between Ponca and Steel Creek has some nice, choppy runs that made for splashy fun at this water level. DW and I couldn’t help but think back to last year’s trip when these fun little splashes were huge, rolling waves. We saw a cave opening in a bluff and pulled over to stick our heads in the entrance. It was a peaceful spot with a nice view of the river from the mouth of the cave.
The next section of river between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing is one of the most popular on the Buffalo. There are many tall bluffs and beautiful scenery around every bend. At the Steel Creek access there is a small shelf rapid that can be kind of tricky for inexperienced paddlers. Jake and I made it through fine, and then we watched DW maneuver the canoe through. Of course he made it look easy!
Just after Jim’s Bluff there is a hiking trail that leads to Hemmed In Hollow where there is a 225 ft. waterfall (the tallest between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains). The hike is short and not difficult, so it is well worth the stop. It is best to catch the waterfall within a couple days of rainfall, otherwise it is just a drip. We were lucky enough to be there at the right time and there was a nice flow. Every other time I’ve been it was too dry.
A few hours after our stop at Hemmed In Hollow we started looking for a campsite. We found a nice one with a big gravel bar across from a large bluff. The gravel bars on the Buffalo tend to have larger stones than gravel bars on Missouri Ozark streams. Thus, we set up our tents at the edge of the forest where there is nice soft soil to sleep on. However, being in the woods means there are more nocturnal creatures roaming around at night, sniffing at your tent! DW and I woke up several times that night to the sound of some four footed beasts rustling around. One instance they were very close and DW had to yell at them to “go on, git” and they stomped off. Ocoee did not prove to be much of a guard dog. He was silent the entire time and soon snuggled up with us. I guess he knew they were bigger than him! In the morning we noticed lots of tracks and spots where the ground had been rooted up, so at least some of those noises we heard were razorback hogs. Exciting (eek)!
The second day of our trip was just as sunny and beautiful as the first. We set out at a leisurely pace, our goal being to stop for the night just past Pruitt access. There wasn’t much to report from the second day other than beautiful, clear water and nice scenery. As it neared evening we started looking for a campsite. Most of the good gravel bars were already occupied, as is usually the case. We finally found a rough looking gravel bar that had plenty of firewood and there was room for our tents in the woods. Luckily there were no piggy visitors this time.
After a peaceful night, we woke up to a chilly, but sunny morning. We knew there was a chance of rain that day and the clouds soon began to roll in. However, we were spared getting wet as the rain held off while we were on the river. We had about 5 or 6 miles to our takeout at Hasty access. A couple miles above Hasty the Little Buffalo confluences with the river. The Little Buffalo is a nice sized creek that can be paddled when there is enough water flowing. Just past the creek we saw a razorback hog carcass on a gravel bar. That’s definitely something I haven’t seen before! It must have died recently because it was still mostly intact and the buzzards and other scavengers hadn’t gotten to it yet.
We pulled up to Hasty sometime between noon and one, loaded all our gear back into our vehicles and started the four hour drive toward home. This was probably our best Buffalo River trip yet and I am already looking forward to next year!
Critter Count: Hawks, Ducks, Turtles, Razorback Hogs
Bonus Prize: A Spyderco pocket knife