Friday, May 4, 2012

Celebrating Buffalo National River's 40th Anniversary

Natural Beauty is the Buffalo River Experience
This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Buffalo National River. We are indebted to the many visionaries who battled so this national treasure would be preserved. The Park Service has worked diligently to make our national river what it is today. Many have contributed and we are indebted to them all. 

John Muir would have loved the Buffalo National River. He understood that the point of the "wild" is what it does, as much as what it is.  It transforms you. 
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."  John Muir
To know the Buffalo River is to experience the magic of nature first hand. It is a religious experience. Once you see this place, you will return. Many of us upon first seeing the river felt like "we had come home for the first time". The river is a place of renewal and self-discovery. 

Wild Turkey Crossing the Buffalo River
Near the Buffalo River Trail
Our Buffalo River Chamber is based on the direct experience of the river and the wild lands. Many are lifelong residents. Many of us moved here compelled by a first experience of the river. We all share a love and reverence for nature -- it is the thread that binds us together.  

Unlike many national parks, you can rent a cabin very close to the river, just minutes away.  Cabin renters and campers hear the sounds of nature and experience brilliant night skies unpolluted by street lights. Many experience unpolluted air or hear a bird fly for the first time. 

This blog will discuss news and natural events along the river. It will be your guide to the amazing resources of our website, Our wild river offers national-class kayaking at one end, and world class trout fishing and small mouth bass fishing at the other. Along the way there are countless stories to tell, and amazing natural resources to experience. Most are free or very affordable. 
"Take a course in good water and air, and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own."  John Muir
We know this place, let us be your guide. Experience the renewal of the wilderness. We are the keepers of America's first wild river. Discover paradise. Join us at the river.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elk Rut Underway, Fall Color in a Month

Fall Color Along the Buffalo River Trail
Fall is a great time to visit the Buffalo National River. Summer heat is now giving way to fall-like temperatures.

Two reasons to visit (among many) are fall color and the annual Arkansas elk rut, natural events that draw thousands to the region.

This year fall color could be outstanding. Drought conditions often precede exceptional years for fall color. All of the roads around the Buffalo National River are very scenic during fall color. The Boston Mountains are the highest range in the Ozarks. Visitors are treated to mountain vistas as well as exceptional river scenes, both from the access areas, and along the river hiking and riding trails.

Another marquee event is the annual Arkansas elk rut. Elk mating season begins in mid-September. Thousands of people travel to the upper Buffalo River area to see elk and hear them bugle. Best viewing times for elk are mornings and evenings, with longer viewing during cold weather.

Boxley Valley Bull Elk with His Harem, Fall 2010
By far the best place to view this annual event is in Boxley Valley, just south of Ponca. In the farm fields along the valley, visitors witness the struggle for domination between herd bulls. Bugling is common, especially from mid-September to mid-October.

No visit to see the elk is complete without visiting the Ponca Elk Education Center in Ponca. The center features elk and nature exhibits and information about the elk locations in Boxley Valley. There is also a small store for souvenirs and nature guides. Kids love the center and its many hands-on displays. There are free posters and educational materials. The Center won a national award from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Visit their website, or call them at 870-861-2432.

For additional elk viewing information visit the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce website, and  The Arkansas Wildlife Photography website features up-to-date information on herd locations in Boxley Valley, along with advice on elk viewing and elk photography. 

Fall Events Calendar
There are two major events in the upper Buffalo River region each fall. 

First is the Ozark Mountain Artists Tour, held September 16-19th in Newton County. For more information check out the tour website, The tour features 25 artists at various location in the county. There are demonstrations, studio tours, and art for sale. There is no charge for the event. 

Second is the annual Color Fest, put on by the Ponca Elk Education Center each October. This year's event will be held on October 28th and 29th. For more information call the Elk Education Center at 870-861-2432.

Both of these events fall within the elk rut in Boxley Valley. Plan to come and combine each event with watching the most-watched wildlife in Arkansas. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Arkansas Elk Rut Begins in 3 Weeks

Elk in Boxley Valley near Ponca, and the middle river area of the Buffalo around Bear Creek are now staging to begin the annual Arkansas elk rut three weeks from now.

Rutting Bull & Cow Elk near Lost Valley Hiking Trail
The rut is by far the biggest event of the elk season. Beginning in about mid-September bull elk join the cow elk herds to begin the mating season. Bull fights are common early on, and peak from about the end of September to mid-October, although fights can occur later and often do.

Viewing is very weather dependent. Fall weather generally mean longer morning and evening viewing times. On cold fronts viewing can be all day long. In hot weather spells, elk will leave the fields shortly after the sun hits them, and they return at 5 or 6PM until dark.

Bugling is an unforgettable experience. It peaks right along with the rut. Bull elk bugling can take many forms, but most commonly it is about territoriality. Raspy, hoarse bugling often signals a challenge and a potential bull fight.

Visit for up-to-date coverage of the annual elk rut. On this site you will find galleries of past ruts and updates on elk locations and new pictures. In depth coverage begins starting August 29.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Buffalo National River Region Wildflower Season

This has been a weird last month. Very heavy snow storms topped off by the last one -- a real monster for around here. We have at least 15" of snow on the ground, and it may be more. Our county has been declared a disaster area. It will probably be at least 3-4 days before we can go anywhere.

Rest in Peace Old Friend
I am sorry to report that my signature black and dirt jeep with the generic white labels is dead. On Saturday the 5th I lost control of the old girl, did a "360", stuck it in a 4ft ditch, and slammed it into a stone bank. Pretty much trashed it. Estimated repairs are $7000, so it is off to the bone yard.

Miraculously I came out of that crash with only one bruise. Perhaps it is because I rotated the jeep clockwise as recommended by the sign -- I did stay well below the recommended 50 MPH though. By the time I popped up and out of the jeep, there were two trucks volunteering to help. As amazing as this place is, the people are still better. They got the jeep upright, positioned it off the road, and then gave me a ride home. My thanks to the Davidsons of Elk Horn Road for their help.

As hard as it seems to believe wildflower season is now less than a month off. I spent some time looking at the shooting dates of last year's photos. Wildflower season begins in the first week of March if it follows last year's patterns. If you don't live near wildflowers you can rely on the blooming date of daffodils to signal the onset of the 2011 wildflower season in the Buffalo National River region.

I am looking out the window at hundreds of birds at my feeders due to the snow cover. You know the snow cover is heavy when you see red-winged blackbirds in droves at your feeder. I don't think there are more than 15 or 20 pairs of these birds nearby around ponds and runoffs. I have them all now at the feeder, plus other from more distant places.

Harbinger of Spring, Lost Valley
The first wildflower you photograph will likely be Harbinger of Spring (go figure). These tiny flowers are a bit difficult to find, the flower head is about the size of a dime and it blends real well with the cover on the forest floor. You will have to look close to see them. As I did last year, I will post flowers and shooting dates.

A few things to remember:

  • First, the wildflower season is long. To see the most species you need to get out about every week. Some species will bloom only about a week or so, take a week off and you might miss them for the season.
  • Second, the season will be different in different places. For example, Smith Creek Preserve will lag about a week behind Lost Valley. There are even timing differences within one area. Wildflowers teach you a lot about micro-climates and niches.
  • Third, some species are common in one place and rare in another. A good example is Dutchman's Breeches. They are rare in Lost Valley, but pretty common at Smith Creek Preserve.
  • Fourth, there are many places to find wildflowers up and down the river. Just about every hiking trail has spots where the flowers are pretty thick. There are differences between mountain top environments, and along the river and feeder creeks. Pay attention to roadsides as well. You will find wildflower hot spots everywhere.
  • Fifth, you can get great flower pictures with pretty ordinary equipment. Don't place limits on yourself because you lack this lens or that camera. Great photos are about composition, about light. Look for dramatic light, think in terms of shapes and lines. Look beyond the obvious, think carefully and pick your shots and angles. These habits will move your photos to another level. 

Be safe. If you hike a relatively remote place like Smith Creek Preserve, ideally do it with a friend. Always let someone know where you went. If you have the bucks consider getting a rescue beacon. We can all be seduced into believing there is no danger in these beautiful wild places. That can be a fatal mistake.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Plan Your Buffalo National River Visit for Spring 2011

Harbinger of Spring
It is hard to believe that the spring wildflower season is only about two months off now. A pretty reliable sign of the wildflower season is the first blossoming of daffodils. In about this same time frame, visits to local wildflower hotspots like the Lost Valley hiking trail, and Smith Creek preserve, will reveal the first wildflower species of the year.

In early spring, the famous Arkansas elk herd is still visible, and and until about April 1, big bull elk can still be observed in Boxley Valley fields.

Early spring is also generally the beginning of the waterfall season. This is highly dependent on rainfall, and currently the water table is very low after many months of very low precipitation. With only a couple of heavy rains, the situation will change rapidly. Visit for continuous updates on all spring attractions.

Canoe Launch at Ponca Access
Spring floating can also begin about the same time. Kayakers track rainfall closely and they'll show up all spring to float the Buffalo especially the upper reaches of the Buffalo known as the Hailstone. Floating for regular people can begin in the spring, but most outfitters will closely watch water temperature and floating conditions to make sure it's safe.

In early spring, visitors can plan a stay that will include floating, photography, elk watching, and hiking. Conditions can vary a bit depending on weather, but spring is an outstanding time to visit, if the weather cooperates, it can be amazing.

Spring Offers Good Elk Viewing 
If you plan to visit, now is the time to begin making cabin reservations. Spring is a busy time Buffalo national River region and cabins book up fast. take time now the plan your stay. Good planning will save you time and money when you visit.

Visit for more information.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2010 Arkansas Elk Show Update & Celebrity Eagle

The peak of the Arkansas Elk Rut is over now, but there is a lot of great elk viewing that remains for the year. There are still big bulls running herds of cow elk and this will continue until mid-December if past years are any indication. Bull fights are generally over, but sparring will continue until April.

Early mornings and afternoons after 3 or so remain the best times for elk viewing. The most reliable spot is in the middle of the Boxley Valley south of Ponca on highway 43 down by the 43/21 intersection. Lately there have been elk in the first field by the Ponca Access, just outside of Ponca.

In other news, Harley the radio-tagged bald eagle has been frequenting the Buffalo National River Watershed. Getting a picture of him would be a real trophy. He is covering an enormous area. On the website below you can find up-to-date maps of where he roosts every night. This is fun to watch.

Thanks to Randy Mann and Tim Higgins for letting me know about this eagle.  I will definitely be trying to get this picture.

Our bald eagle season is just starting. Locals consider the season to be from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day. Visitors to the Buffalo River Region will see many more birds than the permanent population. There is also the occasional golden eagle in the area. Definitely a trophy picture.

There are plenty of reasons to visit now. There is still some nice fall color here and there but it is highly variable. Hiking is outstanding with cool temperatures and relatively few bugs. Horsemen also love this season. There are hundreds of miles of hiking and riding trails in the Buffalo National River. This is prime time for hikers and riders.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

2010 Fall Color Coming on Strong Now -- Peak in One Week

In the last week, the transition to fall color has accelerated and it appears now that peak color is only a week or so off. Indeed, in the last week it seemed like a gear shifted and you could see the change day to day. 

Fall color fans can bet safely that next weekend will be very close to peak. Mountainsides have changed from green to mixed yellows, and the red species are showing more red each day. In my front yard I have two black gums, the reddest of the red trees, one is red, and the other is deep claret on the way to red. 

Fall Color Reflection at Big Bluff 2009
We are at 2,150 feet. Fall color dynamics vary a lot according to location. At river level it is different than it is at altitude. We change sooner presumably due to cooler temperatures. Wet places change later than dry places. This year's drought is the worst in many years. It will be interesting to see how it will play out. It is likely that we will have "leaf off" sooner, but that is speculation. My guess is that drought-stressed trees will lose their leaves in any heavy wind. 

Without question, roads along the Buffalo River corridor are the best places to see fall color.  Highways 7, 43, 21,16, and 74 can be organized into loops pretty readily. The mountainous areas offer the best vistas with big changes in contour from mountain bluffs to the hollows. Newton and Searcy Counties offer the very best fall color. 

Center Point Trailhead in 2009 Color
Every color tour should include a leg through Boxley Valley. Currently the famous Arkansas Elk Herd is at peak rut. Huge bulls with harems roam the valley at the ends of the day. For the best chances, the couple of hours after daybreak, and couple of hours before sundown are the best times to see the elk and hear the bulls bugle. 

Boxley Valley Bull Elk October 15, 2010
For the adventurous, hiking the river bed in the Upper Buffalo River area is easy now with very low river levels. This is a great way to experience the river, and pools of reflected fall color. Primitive campers will want to consider camping on a gravel bar. Nothing compares to the brilliant canopy of stars on an Ozark night. 

Fall Color 2009 on the Buffalo River
If you visit next weekend, on the 22nd and 23rd, the Ponca Elk Education Center will be putting on its annual Color Fest. This is local art show that includes demonstrations. There is a free elk photography workshop by elk photographer, Michael Dougherty. No trip to Ponca is complete without visiting the Center. In addition to its outstanding exhibits and gift shop, it is the hub for local information not only on elk, but other wildlife and the surrounding attractions.