Tyler’s Bend Campground

DSCN5956Tyler’s Bend Campground located next to the Tyler’s Bend Visitor Center on the Buffalo National River is a beautifully maintained campground with several very much appreciated amenities.  Even though there are many sites available with views of the river, Stephen and I choose a site directly across from the bathrooms and set-up camp.  We have had views of the river for the last two nights and decide it will be luxurious to follow a quick, lighted, paved walkway to showers and a western-style toilet that I can actually sit upon.  After setting up camp, I head to the bathhouse to wash my hands before making Salmon Patties for dinner.  As I approach the building, I notice…could it be?…YES!  A dishwashing sink!  With hot water!  I run back to camp and announce my discovery to my husband.  After four days of backcountry cooking following Leave No Trace principles, the sink is a very special luxury.  We do not have to heat our water and we can wash our dishes using a little more suds.

The campsite at Tyler’s Bend Campground is large, flat, and clean.  The tent pad is very large and the stakes slip into the ground easily.  A large picnic table is another luxury.  Not only do we have a table to prepare, cook, and eat dinner and breakfast, but we have a nice platform to roll the tent and sort the paddling gear.  It is a good feeling to have that done and not so much to do when we get home.  Staying at Tyler’s Bend the last night has been a great ending to a fantastic, mostly perfect paddling experience.

Warm Days and Cold Nights

DSCN5944Warm, sunny, and a clear sky, Tuesday, April 15 is a perfect spring day to begin a four-day, three-night canoe paddle of the Buffalo National River.  Putting in at Ponca and taking out at DSCN5939Woolum, Stephen and I have planned a fifty-mile float.  With Class I and II rapids and a moderate current, we plan on averaging two miles an hour, a typical average for the Buffalo.  Loading the canoe at Ponca, I eyeball the rapids feeling a mixture of trepidation and excitement.  This is my first experience with canoes on whitewater, but I have faith in my husband’s river skills.  The first day we gain our river bearings and increase our confidence as we easily conquer rapids with names such as Roark Bluff, Big Bluff, and Gray Rock.  We discover a picnic spot with three rock “chairs” and two rock “tables”.  A perfect place to prepare lunch: olive pate with crackers.  I am experimenting with dehydrating my own meals and am building a backcountry pantry at home.  Lunch is a delicious success!  The olive pate rehydrated well and was delicious served on Ritz crackers.

DSCN5888Either we paddle a lot or the river is moving fast. Or we paddle a lot AND the river is moving fast.  We arrive at our first night’s destination, Kyles Landing, way earlier than expected.  Kyles Landing is a developed national park campground with flush toilets and water.  After discussing the time, Stephen and I decide to paddle a little further down river and camp for free somewhere along the bank.  The park service allows camping anywhere along the river, no permit necessary.  Stephen and I practice Leave No Trace principles and focus on low-impact camping so we are prepared for a primitive camp.  Plus, unsure of the rain situation in the upcoming days, we don’t want to waste beautiful daylight!  We paddle until 5:30 and find a great campsite alongside the river.  We make camp and cook dinner.  I should have rehydrated dinner at lunch.  The Chana Masala is a little crunchy.  Oh well, I’m learning.

After a beautiful warm day in the low 70s, as soon as the sun dips below the bluff, the air begins to chill.  Time to go to bed.  Dressed in a long-sleeved SmartWool shirt, long underwear, SmartWool socks, and snuggled down deep in the sleeping bag, I freeze.  My toes are like ten ice cubes attached to two feet.  I doze and wait for morning and the warmth of the sun’s rays.  Of course Stephen sleeps well, as usual.  I wake him every so often to let him know that I am very, very cold.  He snuggles close and promises tomorrow will be another beautiful sunny day.

DSCN5912And he was right!  Wednesday is sunny and warm.  However, it is also windy.  The rapids present a different kind of challenge in the wind.  I continue to paddle hard and Stephen does an excellent job keeping the nose of the canoe into the wind.  Today we have to paddle a lot because even in the calm sections the wind is stronger than the current and pushes us towards shore.  As a result of all the paddling, we make excellent time, paddling 20 miles before evening.  We choose a campsite on a rocky beach with a soft sandy section for our tent.  We prepare dinner (an excellent vegetarian curry stew) and enjoy every drop of sunshine left in the day.  Tonight is cold, but after a hard day of paddling I am exhausted enough to sleep a little better.  Again, Stephen sleeps really well and I don’t wake him as often.  After fighting those winds all day, he deserves a peaceful night.DSCN5927

Thursday is gorgeous!  Today I don’t even need to wear a jacket on the river.  And no more wind.  Just a peaceful current and lots of fun, rolling rapids that give a gentle push to the canoe.  We decide to paddle to our final destination, Woolum, and camp there tonight, giving us a full day to travel to Hot Springs tomorrow.  The Nars, or the Narrows, is definitely an unexpected highlight to our trip.  The Nars is a very narrow limestone bluff with the Buffalo National River on one side and Richland Creek on the other.  The currents running on both sides of the bluff has created a ridge that gets smaller as Richland Creek approaches the Buffalo River.  Immediately following the Nars is Skull Bluff.  Skull Bluff has the appearance of (you guessed it) a skull.  If the water is low, you can paddle through the “eye”.

DSCN5946Shortly after Skull Bluff, we spy the Woolum sign on the right side of the river.  This is confusing because the map indicates the take out is on the left.  We beach at the sign and are delighted with a special surprise!  Two days earlier, we met a wonderful couple from South Carolina also paddling a multi-day trip.  This couple took the time to write a message for us in the sand.  We soon realize the campground take out is on the other side, ACROSS the rapids. DSCN5953 We take a deep breath, concentrate on the task, Stephen yells GO!, and we paddle hard!  Very, very hard!  We make it to the other side, just slightly off the mark.  The timing could not have been more perfect.  Just as we unload the last off our items from the canoe to a campsite up a slight hill, our car arrives.  We had hired a shuttle driver to move our car from the put in to the take out.  At lunch today, Stephen had enough signal to call the outfitter and let them know we are a day ahead of schedule.  We decide to camp tonight in an established campground with water, toilets, and showers.  We load our gear into the car and make the short drive to Tyler’s Bend campground.




Waterfalls and Rapids

DSCN5956Rain 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!DSCN5843

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.

DSCN5862The 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.DSCN5870

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.DSCN5883