Scott and I are collectors. We love to collect things, but because we are trying to live travel-ready, we do not want to collect things. When we decided to move into an RV to start Park Hosting, we thoughtfully decided to start collecting experiences instead of objects. So, now instead of object collecting dust in our home, the back of our SUV collects road dust from all the places we have been. Our collections range from collecting counties to state and national parks to specific special places. One of these are waterfalls in the state of Arkansas. With over 200 waterfalls in Arkansas, this gives us plenty of time to explore and see what amazing places there are in this natural state.
Scott and I downstream from Natural Dam
One of the places we love to visit in Arkansas is the Ouachita National Forest where you will find the Ouachita Mountains. Granted these are not the type of mountains you find in the Rocky Mountain, Great Pyrenees, or the Andies, but they are mountains to us and one of our favorite places. We have often found ourselves thinking about living within the area, but there is still so much more to visit so we must not stop here! On this trip, we decided to specifically find as many waterfalls as we could. We found four of the named waterfalls and plenty of little cascades that are found all throughout the area.
There are so many beautiful places in Arkansas.
Crooked Creek Waterfall is one of the first waterfalls we came across in our travel into the Ouachita National Forest. At first, we were not sure if we would find it flowing strong, but as we drove through a stream just above the falls, we were pleasantly surprised. It seemed to be an area that many people loved to camp and visit. Because I am not always very sturdy on my feet, I stayed up above the falls with Cordie. Because there had been recent rain, the river stone was slippery.
Crooked Creek Falls in Ouachita National Forest.
The colors of the trees were just breathtaking. I was afraid we had missed the fall foliage, but it seems we were just in time. There were not as many reds as I would l have liked, but we still saw red here and there. Scott had wanted to travel into to the Sand Gap area in Arkansas, but we would have had to camp and I was still a bit nervous about the weather. Fortunately, he is rather forgiving and never put it in my face that they were having record colors if that is even a thing. As we drove through the forest from waterfall to waterfall we had all but forgotten Sand Gap. It was well worth it, I would say.
The Little Missouri Falls that is located at a trailhead within the Ouachita National Forest.
The Little Missouri Falls was more of a cascade than a waterfall, however, it was well worth the stop. This is the location of a 7,000-year-old campsite where archeologists found many artifacts. This is also the area where you will find mainly shortleaf pine and plenty of black bears. The CCC build up this area with a viewing area and steps leading down to the rivers edge.
Blaylock Falls sits at the crook of the river and provides wonderful views of history.
Blaylock Falls was, in my opinion, the best fall of them all. Here you were able to see the way the rock was folded under great pressure when the area now known as Texas was pushed up against the area. This forced the mountains all around the Ouachita area to rise. When I first learned about this process, I was stunned and could not imagine what it would look like, but here you can actually see what happened! If you would like to learn more about this process, you can view our video HERE for more information.
Taking early morning photos of Rich Mountain on the Talimena Drive.
The trip to the capture many of the Arkansas waterfalls was fun, but definitely not long enough. We visited one other “waterfall” but it was most definitely more of a cascade. The park was beautiful and it will be one we visite again, but when the days are not quite so cold. I found this river to more like Perdanelas Falls in Texas with the giant smooth river rocks that created the rolling river. This is a spot that kayakers love to ride and it is a place I would love to experience again soon.
This evening Scott and I went to the movies. If any of you know me, you know I hate going to movie theaters because of the loud volume and I feel like I am wasting my time. However, there are those few movies that are the exception for me. **Free Solo** is one of those movies. It is a National Geographic documentary about solo mountain climber Alex Honnold and his ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in June of 2017.
Free Soloing is a style of rock climbing where a climber does not use any type of safety gear while scaling the rock walls. Normally climbers will have harnesses and guide ropes to keep them from plunging to their deaths. However, there are some climbers who find this type of climbing to be well worth the risk. There have been thirteen notable deaths from this sport since 1913 and Ueli Steck being the most recent having fell approximately 1000 meters. Most people believe this sport to be reckless because if you fall, you die.
Scott and I have come across a person or two who were doing soloing on small boulders in Glen Rose, Texas, but these were just boulders; not anything like the huge granite monster in Yosemite Valley. It was interesting to see these people working their way around each boulder and I was very curious how they could figure out where the hand and foot holds were. The movie actually discussed this by showing Alex Honnold participating in a scientific study to figure out just how his brain worked in this type of situation.
Big Rocks Park in Glen Rose, Texas.
One of the things that caught my attention during the movie was when he said, ” Nobody achieves anything great by being happy and cozy.” This struck home for me. I have found when I am sitting at home comfortably, not putting myself in new situations, I am rarely accomplishing anything more than the daily chores I have deemed important. It is when I am going new places and experiencing things where I am out of my comfort zone, outside of my box, that I find I am learning something new, being more creative, and accomplishing so much more.
Ren’s living on the edge!
I may not be climbing without safety gear on the tallest mountainsides, but I am stepping out and trying to experience life the best way I know how. For me, this means driving on those twisty roads high in the mountains, going for a hike where there are wild beasts and snakes, or preparing to travel to places unknown to us. The fact is that I get out there and live.
If you get a chance, go see the movie **Free Solo** and see just how inspired you can be to achieve something great by getting out of your comfort zone.
As I’ve said before, there is something about mountains that call Ren and I. When we get to the mountains, it feels like coming home. I don’t think we have ever visited the mountains without at least discussing the possibility of moving there, and I expect that eventually, we will do so.
One of my favorite trips was in June of 2016 when we headed west to Davis Mountains State Park. As you would expect, this is a State Park located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. There are several attractions in this are that make it worth the trip.
After a long drive, our first stop before heading to the park was the nearby, Balmorhea State Park, just outside of Balmorhea Texas. This unique park is in the foothills of the West Texas mountains, built around the San Solomon Springs, it is an oasis in the desert. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps took this spring and made it into a huge swimming pool. Up to 30 feet deep in places, the cool, crystal clear waters flow up from the bottom of the spring at a rate of 25 million gallons a day and flow out through canals to irrigate the surrounding countryside. We were both surprised to find it home to fish and other underwater creatures. The waters maintain a temperature of 72 to 76 degrees year round. We expected to find this a refreshing stop, and we did, but we did not anticipate how beautiful the setting was.
After our swim, we headed for Davis Mountains State Park (DMSP), just west of Fort Davis Texas. Located in the Davis Mountain range, Davis Mountains State Park, (DMSP), is actually two Parks. DMSP and Indian Lodge State Park. Indian Lodge is a full-service hotel located within the larger park. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC), in the 1930s. It serves as a getaway for those who want to visit this area without giving up their creature comforts.
The Park is between Five and Six thousand feet in elevation, the days were warm, but with the low humidity, not too uncomfortable, and the evenings were downright chilly. We spent the first day exploring the Park. The highest peak in the park is Lookout Mountain. You can drive to the top where there is an observation area with a great view in all directions. From there you can see McDonald Observatory to the west and Fort Davis to the east. You can drive nearly to the top, where there is a small parking lot. Nearby is an old CCC-built shelter giving you cool shade to take time to enjoy the amazing view. One of the hiking trail leads to the top of the mountain, then continues on, out of the park and down to Fort Davis. Neither Ren or I were in shape enough to do much hiking in the heat of the day, but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.
We spent the next few days exploring the many things this area has to offer. We very much liked the town of Fort Davis. It is a small place and mostly survives on tourism, They do a good job of making you feel welcome. The reason they get so much tourism is that within the town of Fort Davis is the Fort Davis National Historic Site.
This is a well-preserved frontier fort from the era of the Indian Wars, active from 1854 to 1892, Fort Davis was built to protect settlers and freight on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The Fort, the town, the mountain range, and the county were named for Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War when the fort was established. Much of the housing and several other buildings survive, and there are many exhibits built to help explain life on the frontier. Visiting here you find yourself trying to imagine what it was like to live in this beautiful but harsh country without the benefits of air conditioning and other modern conveniences.
As the day got warmer we took advantage of the air conditioning in our truck and drove through the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. The Davis Mountains Scenic loop is a 75-mile loop that begins in Fort Davis, heads west into the Davis Mountains on Highway 118, before turning south on Highway 166 which will bring you back to Highway 17 and Fort Davis. The Davis Mountains are an ancient range of volcanoes, with many rugged and beautiful peaks. The Davis Mountains fill a rough square about 31 miles on each side. The Scenic Loop is one of the best ways to appreciate this amazing area of Texas. It takes 2 hours to drive if you do not stop, it took us more like 4 hours as we stopped frequently to take in the views.
Make sure you are well prepared before taking this drive. This is an extremely remote and empty country. Once you leave Fort Davis you will pass the park entrance, and a few miles later, the McDonald Observatory, after that there is nothing but a couple of ranches until you get back to Fort Davis. There is no cell phone service, and we only passed a couple of cars the entire day. The roads are in very good condition, but there are places where you are many miles from help, and you might have a long wait till someone else came along. Make sure you have plenty of gas and plenty of water. That said, this is an experience you do not want to miss. This was my favorite part of the entire trip.
We drove the loop from Fort Davis to Alpine, to Marfa, and back to Fort Davis. While this is not officially a Scenic Byway, it could be. The scenery is beautiful and dramatic, and Alpine and Marfa are both interesting towns, well worth a visit.
We were there during the day, so we did not have a chance to look for the famous Marfa Lights, but we did spend a few hours at an interest resort called El Cosmico. El Cosmico is a resort that is an odd mixture of tents, mobile homes, RVs, tipis, and yurts. It has something of a hippy vibe to it. We relaxed for a while listening to obscure 60s LPs and drinking homemade sangria.
Nearby is the McDonald Observatory. We had not made reservations in advance, so we were not able to get tickets for the evening star parties, but we did attend the daytime tour and solar viewing. If you get in this area I highly recommend it. The tour is very interesting. The telescopes are impressive, and the views from the mountain are amazing. Be sure to reserve a space in advance, they do sell out.
Back at Davis Mountain State Park, they close Lookout Mountain after 10 PM, but for a small fee, you can get permission to stay up there after hours, which we did. This is one of the darkest areas of Texas, and famous for stargazing, but we were only a day or two away from the full moon, so the conditions were not especially good for astrophotography, but I took the camera and setup anyway. Ren brought an air mattress and a blanket and slept in the back of the truck while I, and another photographer we met there, took pictures. I did get some nice photos of all the cars driving back to the park after the star party ended at the observatory. I combined them to make a light trail.
It really was an amazing trip, and I look forward to going back for another visit, preferably when the moon is not full. What is your favorite story about the mountains? Let us know in the comments.