Waterfalls are magical places for Scott and me. There is something about the sound of the rushing water leading to it crashing down below. In the spray, we find rainbows which always bring a smile to our faces. We decided in 2020 we would “collect” twenty water features that fit into the “waterfall” category. We took the year and found eleven waterfalls, one Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) dams, one Work Projects Administration (WPA) dam, six spillways, and one cascade. We did not have any criteria as to what to look for, we just tailored our travel plans to finding water features. It may not sound surprising or magical, but where we found the waterfalls blew us away.
Being a new year and cold in Oklahoma, we headed to Bluestem Falls west of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in Osage County. These falls are a local swimming hole in the summer and, when no water is running, you can see it is the local teen hang out due to graffiti. However, when Lake Bluestem is full, it creates an amazing waterfall.
Technically this location is a spillway for Lake Bluestem, a water source for Pawhuska, which was completed in 1958. Because of “downcutting” the layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone were taken away downstream and the layers can be seen clearly. The outcome has caused a 75 foot (22 meters) drop which has created a rather impressive waterfall into Middle Bird Creek.
The day we visited the falls there was still snow on the ground from the day before and ice was appearing in the shallower places. The spray from the water was cold and thrilling. What blew my mind about this waterfall is that I was able to see the physical act of downcutting in action. It proved to me, once again, that water is definitely one of the most powerful tools on earth.
It is a bit of a hike to get to Twin Falls, but well worth it. Like many of the waterfalls in Arkansas, Twin Falls can be seasonal and is best seen in the Spring. We were lucky to catch it running when we were there in January 2020. The park rangers can tell you if the waterfall is running, but even without the waterfall, this is a beautiful hike.
The geology in this area is amazing to see. Here you will find Boyd shale between Brentwood and Pitkin Limestone. The three types of stone can be seen quite well on the canyon sides. The Brentwood Limestone is darker in color while the Pitkin Limestone is a lighter color of grey and blue with the shale in between. These mountains are just over 1,800 feet high and they are the remnants of the Boston Mountain Plateau. The Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science has a very interesting article from 1955. It is titled “Geology of Devil’s Den State Park” that gives greater detail about the geology of this area.
Devil’s Den State Park was built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The young men from North Dakota were placed here in October 1933 and they built roads, trails, and a dam here, It was one of these trails that led up to the waterfall area. Often we had to cross the stream from the falls, and eventually, we found ourselves along the edge of the canyon wall standing on the bridge admiring the twin falls.
During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to put young men to work on projects for the public good, and so they could care for their families. This was the origin of many State and National Parks, including Devils Den. Here they created a lake, sculpted the spillway into this lovely waterfall, and built many hiking trails.
The dam was built using local limestone found throughout the valley. There is a style used by the CCC when they built roads, dams, bridges, and buildings called “rustic architecture”. “It was based upon a canny combination of pioneer building skills and techniques, principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the premise of harmony with the landscape.” (Forest Service U.S. Department of Agriculture). You can view this style of work all over the United States throughout many national and state parks.
Near the dam, stands a four-foot bronze statue of a young man. The title of this artwork is “The CCC Worker.” I have looked to see who the original artist was, but was not able to locate that information. However, this statue is in many of the parks built by the thousands of young men who left home to work, saving their families. The Devil’s Den statue was dedicated on June 30, 2002 with a plaque saying, “This statue is a tribute to the dedication, attention to detail and ability of the enrollees, leaders and commander of the CCC. October 20, 1933-March 25, 1942. We can take it.”
Just a few miles from Devils Den State Park, in the Ozark National Forest, is the small town of Natural Dam, named for a natural dam near the edge of town. This is perhaps the easiest waterfalls to see in this area of Arkansas. You can drive right up to it or drive across the Mountain Fork Creek it if you like. A natural slab of rock (sandstone of the Atoka formation) acts as a dam and creates a waterfall as the water flows over the dam, causing undercutting. The area behind the dam is used as a local swimming hole, so bring your swimsuit when you come to visit.
William Larrimore set up a grist mill here a short time after he discovered the dam on a hunting trip in 1818. By 1838 there was a post office and settlement. We have heard there was a foundation left from the mill, but we have not actually seen it.
If you do decide to stop by Natural Dam, Arkansas, along highway 59, remember to stop at the reason for the town’s name. It is worth your time and you will enjoy exploring the location. Just remember that the place is extremely popular in the summer time and you will do well to arrive early.
Located in Osage County near Shidler, Oklahoma, Lake Charlotte Falls is something of a hidden gem. We lived near it for years and never know it was there. The waterfall is the spillway for the lake and only flows when the lake is full. We were fortunate to be there during a particularly wet winter when it was flowing well. Being the off-season we had the place to ourselves. It would have been much busier in the spring and summer.
This is another spillway that has been turned into a thing of beauty by downcutting. The layers of limestone have some of the best fossils we have found in the Osage area. There are many crinoids to be found here, but we actually found a fossil of a large “stalk” or “sea lilly” (see the top right photo below, I have highlighted it in pink). Needless to say, I was extremely excited by this find.
When you visit this gem, be sure to take the stairs up to the top, there is more to see than is apparent from the bottom. Here you will see the upper falls and some rather interesting erosion the water has applied to the rock layers. The stairs, when we were there in 2020, were very secure; however, please use caution and do not do anything you feel unsafe doing.
Butcher Falls at Red Buffalo Ranch was a major surprise for us. Who knew Kansas had waterfalls? This one is on Pool Creek on the Red Buffalo Ranch. The falls are 14 feet high and are surrounded by Plattsmouth Limestone boulders that slope downward. As the water moves downstream, it empties into the Middle Caney Creek and helps to bring water to prairies around Sedan.
The structure you see in the photo is called Butcher Falls Bunk House and can be rented in the spring and summer. Because this was within day-trip range for us, we never took the time to stay. Public access is limited to 100 feet above the falls. For access to the rest of Red Buffalo Ranch call (620) 725-4022, or stop by the Red Buffalo Gift shop 107 E. Main, Sedan, KS 67361 and talk to Mary Kurtis. Open Monday – Saturday 9 AM – 5 PM.
We have visited this site about three times and each time we find something wonderful about this place. Unfortunately, we did not realize there were farmer’s markets there or that Prairiehenge was there!
The Grand Falls near Joplin is the only waterfalls we visited in 2020. It is known as the largest continuously flowing natural waterfall in the state and is a 163-foot wide ledge of solid chert that crosses Shoal Creek. When standing below the falls, you can see the water plunge 25-feet causing there to be a loud roaring sound that caused Native Americans in the area to have called this place “the place of the singing waters.”
The first week of February it was cold and we were hoping the snow would still be around to help make this location magical and we were not disappointed. We were able to locate a small horseshoe-type waterfall off to the right of the falls where cold water cascaded down.
It was a pleasant time for this cold wintery day as Scott took photos with his camera and I was busy searching the river rolled stones for unique stones to add to my collection and fossils. Missouri did not let us down with this beautiful natural waterfall for sure.
Many people have a vacation spot they visit over and over like skiing at Monarch every winter, camping and fishing at Beaver Dam State Park every summer, or fall foliage watching along the Blue Ridge Drive. For us it was stopping in Bella Vista, Arkansas, to visit Tanyard Creek Nature Trails. Here we would wade in the creek in the summer, view the turning of the leaves in the fall, and sit peacefully listening to nature.
Tanyard Creek Nature Trails is a series of nature trails built by volunteers and financed by private donor money so people can enjoy the outdoors. There are many trails that loop around the area with a suspension bridge and many boardwalk-style bridges. You will also find a waterfall near the Winsor Lake Dam. This is yet another spillway with a beautiful example of downcutting.
We have been able to take one of the GrandGeorges to this waterfall and she was thrilled when she and I walked behind the waterfall. I am sure if we were still close by, we would be taking the others to enjoy the same experience.
There are many famous waterfalls in the United States; Yosemite Falls, Niagara Falls, and Horseshoe Falls to name a few. Have you ever heard of Dripping Springs? This waterfall is located near West Silom Springs, Oklahoma, in Delaware County. It is where the mountain lion scene of Where The Redfern Grows was filmed and it is a beautiful location.
Scott loves waterfalls and he wanted to see the tallest waterfall in Oklahoma; he had a choice between Turner Falls and Dripping Springs. This waterfall at Natural Falls State Park, like Turner Falls near Davis, is 77 feet tall. This however is all that the two locations have in common. There is an observation deck overlooking Natural falls with many stairs leading down to a viewing boardwalk. The spray from the water often drops the temperature ten degrees lower than up at the observation deck. The rock throughout the park is chert and limestone from the Mississippian Boone Formation. Here you will find crystal clear water and plenty of beauty to be enjoyed as you hike around the park just as we did.
The spring of 2019 we took some time to enjoy the waterfall and camping the park provided. We were able to head down to the falls toward sundown and get some wonderful photos. The park has yurts available above the falls; they can be reached by walking up the boardwalk that is high above the valley or with special carts provided by the park. This was one of our favorite places to visit.
One of the things we like to do is find parks that are no longer state parks, much like Cowley State Fishing Lake near Arkansas City, Kansas, in Cowley County. We had been looking for waterfalls in Kansas because we had recently found Butcher Falls in Chautauqua County and wondered if there were more; there was and this former Kansas State Park has a Niagara Falls type surprise.
Granted these falls are nothing more than a spillway that has washed away tons of fossil-embossed limestone and red shale giving it a semi-horseshoe appearance. This is where the similarities end. This 25-35 foot tall waterfall is impressive during the rainy seasons. There are only four ways to reach the fall. One is to drive to the end of the lake road and view the waterfall from above. This is a good vantage point and you can actually feel the vibration of the water and hear the roar well. The second way is to go to the end of the lake road and climb down the rocky “trail”. I called this bouldering because that was what it would have been; between my knee issues before surgery (fall of 2017) and the wet, icy conditions of 2020, we decided that would not be a smart move. The third way would be a dirt road that went further than the “official” end of the lake road. This was, however, blocked off. The final way would be to access it by way of the spillway itself. Unfortunately, this would need to be when the falls were not running, but imagine the fossils you would probably find.
The first time we visited the falls, we found a large marker showing that this was once a Kansas State Park. I have not been able to located when it ended it’s run as a state park or why it was no longer. It will forever be a state park for us, former or not.
One of the waterfalls that really surprised us both was Bixhoma Falls just outside of Leonard, Oklahoma. We had heard rumors there was a waterfall, but neither of us realized there was even a lake there. This 110 acre lake is about 50 feet deep and sits on top of Leonard Mountain at 899 feet which is approximately 300 feet above Bixby, Oklahoma. Bixby, about seven miles north, is the city that cares for it and it was the sole reason it was built in 1965. At this time it does not really provide much water to Bixby, but it still helps to provide water for the surrounding areas.
Once again we find ourselves exploring another spillway type waterfall that has been having downcutting creating the beauty. The geology here is quite normal to this area in Oklahoma being mainly shale. Above where the waterfall currently is you will see a yellowish “mud” with various sized pebbles and rocks. Unfortunately, we did not find any fossils at this location.
We did our normal drive around the the park only to find this park used goats as their vegetation management. Neither of us were shocked by this, we have seen other parks using this method; however, it was the donkeys that shocked us. Bixby was having issues with coyotes and wild dogs killing their goats so they had invested in two donkeys to help protect their goats. They were all extremely friendly and it helped to amuse us.
Oklahoma really stepped up when it came to the waterfalls, granted most of them were spillways but nature did its thing and turned them into beautiful pieces of art. We were driving along Highway 10 where it parallels the Illinois River area in the Cherokee County area one day. Scott was looking over the map and noticed the J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve. It would enable us to drive along the east side of the Illinois River and experience the less “popular” side.
As we took the “gravel” roads, we came across an area where an interesting waterfall appeared. This was the Cherokee Bathtub Rocks waterfall. The rock is Burgen Sandstone and the deep impressions in the rock looked almost like bathtubs; hence the name. These geologic tub formations were created by fast rushing water running over the rock for thousands of years.
This area is more known than Scott and I thought. In the summer months, hundreds of people come here to cool down in the extremely clear, refreshing water to escape the summer heat. Because of this, the area has begun to see the impact of litter and graffiti. The Nature Conservancy and J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve are doing what they can to educate the visitors and do weekly clean-ups.
The one Work Projects Administration (WPA) dam on our list is located just outside the county seat of Okmulgee County. It is a hand-cut, local stone dam that resembles a staircase when it is not running. The Okmulgee and Dripping Springs Lake and Recreation Area was once an Oklahoma State Park (1963). In 2015 it was given back to the city of Okmulgee.
Like the Devil’s Den State Park’s CCC dam, this was a project designed to help men out of work feed and care for their families. Originally this was a an earthen dam built in 1927 when Okmulgee needed a water source for the county’s citizens. Unfortunately, the dam was washed out in a flood giving the WPA an opportunity to create this county their lake back.
The stone used in the building of the dam dates back to the Pennsylvanian Period and this area is one of the few places the rare Gymnophyllum wardi fossil can be found. It is also known as the button coral.
Near Mountain View, Arkansas, in Stone County, we found Blanchard Springs Cavern and Recreation Area maintained and managed by the Ozark-St. Francis National Forestry Service. Just below the cavern entrance, there are two springs gushing from the limestone mountain filling the Mirror Lake below. It is one of our favorite areas of Arkansas; we have actually talked about settling down in this area when we are done traveling.
At one time this was all under an ancient sea about 350-500 million years ago, but because of land mass shifts it was uplifted. This created the Ozark Plateau. Because water is amazing, it seeped into the cracks and crevasses in the rock and eventually created caverns in the limestone. The springs here still travel through the cavern causing dissolved limestone and various minerals to color the Mirror Lake water a green turquoise color. Here the water stays at a 58-degree temperature making it a trout haven.
The trail leading to the falls was built by the CCC using the local, hand-cut stone. It went along the rushing water and we really enjoyed shade of the trees. Because it was raining, the springs and water way really put on a show for us.
Just down stream from Blanchard Springs Falls was Mirror Lake. It was created by the CCC in the 1930s when they built the stone and concrete dam. It is not quite the same stair type build as the Okmulgee Dam the WPA built, but it does have a couple of levels, giving it a very nice flow. Occasionally, you would see a fish go with the flow and end up adventuring in the North Sylamore Creek that would eventually end up in the White River.
It was raining the day we decided to adventure in this area, but that never seems to stop us. The trees were in full bloom and the rain just enhanced our walk down the boardwalk above the river. From there we were able to view the Old Mitchell Mill ruins that were used to ground corn and work ginned cotton. The mill was built in the 1880s using oak, walnut, and local stone. The family eventually sold the land to the forest service, giving us all the opportunity to enjoy the area.
The only issue with rain is that the roads and trails get really soggy which makes for mudding trudging. We wanted to go down and view the ruins closer, but we were concerned about the condition of the lower trails and the creek possibly rising quickly. Arkansas creeks have a tendency to surprise you when you least want them to; we decided it would be in our best interest to enjoy the view from the above boardwalk.
On Memorial Day weekend we decided a longer trip than our normal day trips was needed so we packed up our little car and head to Wyoming. There were no thoughts of waterfalls this trip, it was all about the Devil’s Tower and Chimney Rock along the way. As we headed home through South Dakota’s Black Hills, we kept seeing a stream getting stronger and wider. It was at that very moment I told Scott I bet there was a waterfall nearby. I was on! The bet called for one of us to buy the other breakfast.
As we followed the stream, we could hear the sound of crashing water and suddenly we saw a stone-carved sign telling us there was indeed a waterfall nearby. The forestry department had a nice little area with parking, signs, and a boardwalk to take us to Roughlock Falls. It was so pretty with green spring plants growing on the Spearfish Creek’s limestone.
We tend to get excited when we come across waterfalls we have no clue are there. There is something about finding little gems like this that cause us to be giddy with excitement. Of course, the fact that Scott had to buy me breakfast didn’t hurt my excitement either.
While we ate breakfast at the Latchstrong Restaurant in the Spearfish Canyon, we were told about our next surprise waterfall for the Memorial Day trip. Just a few minute hike away from the Restaurant was the Spearfish Waterfall that cut the Spearfish Canyon. The path gently went down into the valley where the Spearfish Creek resided and trees provided plenty of shade. Once again, it was a magical trip to see this 47-foot waterfall.
Scott seemed to like the walk along the trail and was taking many photos of the area. There was something about the limestone canyon and sounds of the waterfall that seemed to have his photography bug itching. It seemed as if we were constantly stopping for him to take a photo of the falls, mountains, and birds. I might seem a bit annoyed when he does this, but really it thrills me to know he is seeing nature as art and is allowing his creative side shine through.
We loved that Spring was starting to show up in this place and to see the green buds upon the trees was encouraging to see. Even though it was just starting to show up here in South Dakota, we knew it would be quickly be summer weather in Oklahoma by the time got back.
When Scott and I travel, we look for things like running water because it usually gives us waterfalls. On our trip to Colorado in July, we visited the Highway of Legends as it circled the Spanish Peaks. This is an official Colorado Scenic Drive that follows Highway 12 from west of Lathrop State Park to east of Trinidad Lake State Park. We ventured into the San Isabel National Forest to find Bear Lake Campground (elevation 10.480), Blue Lake Day Use Area, and a waterfall of sorts.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a cascade as “a steep usually small fall of water”. This may be reaching, but we located water rushing down the mountain and it reminded us of Cossatot Falls in Arkansas, only on a much smaller scale. The photos do not do this location justice really because you cannot see the layers of cascading water.
Yes, this might be a stretch, but the potential is there. I have been told by a young man I work with that if we had taken the trail from the area we stopped for this photo we would have come to a rather impressive “waterfall” for the area. I guess we will need to go back in the spring this year and check that out.
At one point a couple of years ago, we purchased the book Arkansas Waterfalls by Tim Ernst. He has visited over 200 waterfalls in Arkansas and wrote a book about each one and how to get to them. He states that Carwash Falls is one of the most unique falls in the country, so we had to check it out. Who knew we would have such an adventure getting to it.
Driving Arkansas Highway 123, also known as the Arkansas Dragon, we found ourselves going right past the Carwash Falls. To get to the falls, you must turn off the main road and take a gravel road (which we call “going on an adventure”). It is approximately three miles and you must cross Hurricane Creek. Normally this is not a big deal because it is not always running with high water, but this day there was more than enough to concern us a bit. The car we have now is a Chevy Sonic and the body is very low to the ground. To ensure we could cross it safely, I got out and walked one side to the other. It was not over knee-deep and no muddy spots; we would risk it all!
Once we crossed the creek successfully we had a pleasant drive along the Big Piney Creek. As we topped a hill, we saw the wall of limestone bluffs on the right side. It was beautiful, however, we could not see the falls. With sunroof open, we continued to drive forward when suddenly we had water pouring onto the hood of the car. Scott was filming and insanity ensued.
Having closed the sunroof just in time, we were still dry and able to visit another waterfall just down the road. It was a nice little swimming hole called Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area. As the name suggests, there was a waterfall on the Haw Creek and it was a nice one to end up on. It was just a few feet from the state forest camping area.
We spent a couple of hours here exploring the area to find a few fossils in the limestone slabs which made up the falls. The water, yet again, showed off its power of under and down cutting. It was amazing to see just how efficient erosion could be. As we navigated the area keeping our feet dry, we could see deep down into the water because the water was so clear. It, like Mirror Lake, had a green turquoise color from the dissolved limestone and minerals from area springs which made the deeper parts very mystical looking.
The time we spent here was very calming and we wished we could spend more time there, but there is always so much more to see and do. It is because of this blog, videos, and photos that we are able to enjoy these places again when we are visiting other locations. We hope you are able to get some inspiration from our travels and find those places that bring you peacefulness.
Thank you so much for joining us on all of our adventures, we appreciate you so very much.
All images taken by Scott and Ren. ©2021crosscountytravelers