Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
One of my favorite activities is to walk along the Buffalo National River, in it, and above it on the trails. Walking along the banks and in the river itself I call "riverwhacking" because it is much tougher than it looks. Here are some thoughts on riverwhacking the Buffalo National River.
Before reading on I want you to carefully assess your ability to riverwhack. If you think it will be easy and safer than bushwhacking, you misunderstand. In the river and creek beds about all you have is rock of all sizes. They are not very stable and will move when you walk on them. It is a purgatory for someone with weak joints, because you will twist and turn constantly. If you are prone to ankle sprains I would not riverwhack on the rocks, it is just too dangerous.
Riverwhacking is also dangerous because the rock is can be so slippery. If you walk in the river, not only will you encounter moss and algae covered rocks, you will encounter solid rock plates that can be like ice. It is very easy to fall, and if you do, you will fall on rock. Not too pleasant. I stay off the rock plates if I can, they are like sheets of ice. They are really bad, and they are often coated with "slime" that makes then even slicker.
You need good balance. Use a wading staff. Regardless of how careful you are, you can slip and probably will slip some. This is damn scary if you are carrying thousands of dollars of camera equipment. Make sure you are insured or don't even consider riverwhacking on rocks in the river.
If there is a bank trail get on it and stay on it if you can. Sometimes the river cane is so thick you need to get in the water and rocks.
I mentioned in the safety section that I have a priority order of surfaces for riverwhacking. These are the safety levels from safe to very hazardous. Sorry I am going to beat this safety stuff to death:
Riverwhacking the Buffalo National River
||River banks trails and formal trails (safe and relatively easy)
||River bank bushwhacking (safe, can be very strenuous in cane)
||Dry river rocks (pretty safe, but they shift, smaller is always better)
||Sand and gravel rocks in the water (you can get a grip on these)
||Wet rocks not under water (danger zone, assume they are slick)
||Small rocks under water (can be very slippery)
||Big rocks under water, and rock shelfs (avoid, like walking on ice)
This must seem like overkill, but unless you have wrestled with river wading on rock, you need to carefully think through if you want to take the risks. Maybe a good test would be for you to just go try it out on a small stretch like Steel Creek or at the Ponca Access.
In the river, keep an eye out for snakes. (Paradise, eh?). We are talking wilderness. If this bothers you stick to the safer venues. Riverwhacking is not for the faint of heart, or the fragile.
You can purchase wading boots that are designed for limestone bottomed trout streams. I don't have any loyalty to any particular company, but these are a couple of links to illustrate what I am talking about. Bass Pro Cabellas . I have a pair of felt, studded, wading shoes in my cross hairs, but sadly my feet are extra wide and sizing is something I have to be careful about.
I use my monopod for a wading staff when I am doing riverwhacks. This is probably the safest way to go and it will serve you well. I have a couple of monopods, but my favorite for wading is a Giottos, light and cheap, and enough for what I need. Splashing around in muck and rocks is hard on a monopod -- the cheap part is the most important concept here.
The Buffalo River Trail (BRT), and the Old River Trail (ORT) run very close to the river generally and are very scenic. These trails can be pretty strenuous because of elevation changes from the river to the bluff level, but you can get some amazing photos. I like the stretch of the ORT from Kyles Landing going back west to Hemmed In Hollow and Steel Creek. There are some old cabins, great bluffs, and pools. A few terrific places to camp as well. The BRT from Ponca to Steel Creek is also popular. (More on these trails later.) You can move between these safe trails and the river to manage your risk. When you enter the river or cross wet areas, everything I said above applies. Think ice, move slowly and judiciously.
This is another great choice if the above just seems too hard. Of course, there is the problem of possibly dumping. I lost a camera last year, a point and shoot. When the river is swollen and rough, you don't want to risk expensive equipment. That is why I have (had) a good point and shoot. I am waiting for the
G10, but Canon is not cooperating so far.
I don't think this guy ever saw me. He came down off the Buffalo River Trail. To return to it, he faces a 500 ft ascent.
Better be fit.
This solid rock bottom is like ice. Avoid walking on them or you will fall. There are usually ways to avoid them on the bank or otherwise. VERY DANGEROUS
One of the subjects I really love is capturing the unlikely compositions that arise with shadows. This is from one of my rocks and shadows studies. Prime riverwhacking fare.
This is a cottonmouth, a poisonous snake that is found around the Buffalo National River. I admit to not being afraid of snakes, but I do respect them. Give them room, they prefer to move away. This is the first one I had the opportunity to photograph, I just don't see them that often, but I do see them.