I heard on the radio that the No. 1 activity that citizens turn to rather than staying locked in their homes is hiking. Truly, as the snow begins to melt off the mountains and the wildflowers unfold their first leaves in the high elevations, they send for a vibration that resonates in our imprisoned hearts and calls us into the sunshine. Here in the USA, we’re more prone than ever to yearn after communing with nature.
Everyone has heard of National Parks but it may be a different matter with National Rivers. The concept was new to me when Jeff announced that we were going to explore the Buffalo National River the summer of 2011.
It was easy to see why the National Parks Services thought they needed a river to be part of the National legacy. In 1972, they designated the Buffalo River in Arkansas as the first fluid national park. It runs 130 miles generally eastward through towering limestone cliffs and dense woodlands. The national river area also includes strips of shoreline laced with trails.
We had a few of our kids and grandkids with us. Though the conditions change, by mid-July, the flow was low enough that we had no concern taking even a toddler among the youngsters. Some of the adults were first-timers, too, so a 7-mile stretch was perfect for our pace.
There are several private companies that rent canoes or kayaks along the river. We rented canoes in St. Joes. The outfitter hauls the boats to and from the river in the places you designate. Arkansas summer temperatures can be uncomfortably hot, even in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. The water temperature was cool enough to draw a shout when I first dove in. Right near our put-in, there was a deep pool with an easily accessed 15-foot cliff just above. Several of my family enjoyed showing off their daring by jumping from it.
Fishermen using flies all along the river angled for small mouth bass, Rainbow trout and brown trout. In all, there are 51 species of fish. The water is so clear that we could watch the schools of fish as we glided our canoes over their heads.
Here and there we floated past primitive campgrounds bearing the marks of campfires, and developed campgrounds with more comfortable facilities. I regretted that we were not outfitted to camp along the river. The utter serenity and wildness of the place enticed me to return.
We pulled onto the bank and spread our picnic beside a deep pool. After we ate, we swam and sunbathed for a while before we returned to the boats. Herons and hawks surveyed our progress.
The woods are full of hickory (wild pecan) walnut, elm, birch, oak and other species that I couldn’t identify. The squirrels that scolded from the overhead branches were glossy and fat. (They were probably saying the same thing about me).
Though the website says that over 800,000 people visit each year, the day we canoed there, we only encountered two other parties. In my observation, visitors do a good job of carrying out their trash and there was very little sign of human impact.
During the civil war, nearby caves full of bat guano were mined for saltpeter to make gun powder. In 1863, Confederates had built a trim little settlement for processing the saltpeter, but the Union found it and burned it down. They took 17 men prisoner and three others who were out cutting wood escaped.
There are several different float stretches, but there are also beautiful hikes along the river. Parts of the National River area include formal campgrounds and picnic facilities.
That area of Arkansas has many meandering streams, dotted with inviting swimming holes, fishing spots and towering cliffs, but none were as spectacular as the Buffalo National River.
While there, we enjoyed some rock-hounding, hikes to cliffs and photographing the landscape. The Ozark Mountains don’t get a lot of attention as a tourist destination, but we felt richly rewarded.
Every citizen in this nation owns a little bit of this beautiful place. The Buffalo National River offers a sampling of the best of the Ozark Mountains.
Only in America, God bless it!