Rain makes the river run. Running rivers make great paddling. Great paddling means time for a float trip down the Buffalo National River in north-central Arkansas! The Buffalo National River meanders from west to east through 150 miles of massive limestone bluffs, passing rock beaches and many, many, many gorgeous waterfalls. With Class II rapids and a gently flowing current, the Buffalo is a wonderful river for canoes and kayaks. Stephen and I load our gear and enough food for a four-day, 50 mile float into a rented canoe from Buffalo Outdoor Center and put-in at Ponca. The Ponca put-in is dependent upon air space at the bridge. Appropriate air space is between 15 and 20 inches. With about 15 inches of air space, we are good to go!
Putting-in at Ponca, we encounter our first rapid. Even though it is mild and small, we do not have time to gather our wits and almost immediately capsize! My brave and talented husband manages to keep us upright and dry and we settle into the rhythm of the river. A river rat at heart, Stephen is a fantastic canoe guide: reading the current, adjusting to wind, steering through rapids. My sole responsibility is to paddle; which I do, as hard as I can, especially through the rapids. I will do whatever it takes not to go into the 50 degree water. The rapids on the Buffalo are not difficult, but they can be tricky with blind turns, hidden rocks, sweepers, and overhanging tree branches. But they are so much fun! My favorites are Gray Shoals and Slick Rock Shoals. Shoals are large, flat rocks in the river that make huge, rocking waves. Stephen handles these waves with expertise and finesse. His favorite rapid is Hell’s Half Acre. Hell’s Half Acre is a long rapid that is managed with a lot of weaving between rocks and ultimately avoiding the large gray rock on the left.
The Buffalo National River is a rain-dependent river and this part of Arkansas has seen a lot of water from the heavens this Spring. The rain falls on the tops of the bluffs and finds its way down towards the river creating numerous run-offs and waterfalls. Strong, wide, powerful falls; double, triple falls; long, gentle flowing falls; small, little trickle falls; we hear them before we see them. The waterfalls are beautiful as they dance with nature; flowing over moss and ferns, rocks and boulders. We cannot resist the opportunity to view the highest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians. We beach at Hemmed-In Hollow and hike about half a mile to the gorgeous Hemmed-In Hollow waterfall. Watching the waterfall cascade 210 feet over the rugged Ozark bluff, we are mesmerized as it sways left then gracefully switches direction performing a magical dance with the wind.
On the calm, peaceful stretches of the river, we rest our weary shoulders and watch the birds show-off for us. They are beautiful as they swoop and dive and ride the thermals in the canyons. A crane is determined to stay in front of our canoe as if it is guiding us to a secret destination. It lands and watches and waits for us to catch up and then lifts its wings to glide in front of us once again. The crane continues this sequence for about two miles before tiring of the game and rising above the bluff walls. We spy several pigs crashing through the woods to the right of the river. A beaver is watching as we approach, but it disappears as we get close. Its curiosity gets the better of him and the beaver pops its head up once again and quickly disappears as we pass. Hundreds of turtles rest on logs, bathing in sunshine, all along the bank of the river. Some are timid and splash into the water, but most of the turtles are lazy and quietly watch us watching them.