April 2003 Canoe Trip on the Buffalo National River
in the Ozark Mountains




  Steve picked me up in Memphis on Wednesday.  Once spotted, the purchase of $12 Elvis shades with attached sideburns was a must. Actually everyone in Memphis wears these. It's true - businessmen with briefcases, moms shopping with little kids, dogs, cows in pastures, church ministers. On the way out of town, Steve got pulled over by an Elvis lookalike motorcycle cop, and he had to fork over $50 for glasses or go to "the jailhouse". The cop said that starting next year, capes too will become mandatory attire.  I'm not making this up, I swear it's all true.

We stayed at Steve's Mom & Dad's house on the White River outside of Flippin Arkansas. (Unfortunately for the timing, they were on a trip to Scotland.) Anyway the valley was filled with fog like it probably is on lots of nights, and the full moon made a neat picture.

  I really wish I'd taken a picture of the Flippin Church of Christ, but you'll have to be satisfied with this picture of Steve pointing out the new kink in his truck's bumper. As far as we know, this morning there's a deer somewhere waking up feeling really sore.

  The White River, very pretty. Evidently somewhere along the White River was the infamous Bill-n-Hil 'WhiteWater' land development. But that's another story, and I don't really know anything about it.

  Overlook on the way to the Buffalo River; I think this was from Gaither Mtn

  At Ponca.  We're renting a canoe from the Buffalo Outdoor Center (BOC), and they'll shuttle the truck downriver for us to a place called Hasty. It's great weather today, but they say it's going to rain tomorrow. I throw in my Gore-Tex rainsuit.

  At our put-in.  There is NOTHING cooler than being one of 2 guys wearing sandals and socks.
 

"Ya know, it just doesn't get any better than this."

  High limestone bluffs rise above the Buffalo River on this section.

A pretty spot on the river

  and another

  The remains of this ruined house still stand

  After finishing our first day of the trip, we take out at a campground (Kyles Landing) on the right bank. It was a nice enough little campground to stay in, but this big dumb guy who was camped about 50 feet from us snored like a bull moose; though I slept through it, Steve said it kept him awake.

  Now starts the part of the trip that has no pictures.
  The 2nd morning just as soon as we got on the river it opened up. The heavy rain water penetrated my old Gore-Tex rainsuit, and soon I was soaked to the skin. Not cold, just very wet. With lots of lightning. The rain fell so heavily that the surface of the river looked to be vibrating.  We had to stop and dump the rainwater out of our canoe a couple of times, but despite almost swamping it twice we did okay.  We pass a few campgrounds, and water is falling spectacularly off the bluffs, coming in little sidecreeks, and even pouring out the mouths of caves in the limestone.  It was actually neat to get to see a river flood like that.  We never stopped to take pictures because it was raining so hard and we'd packed our cameras away, but afterwards we remarked, "DUHhh...why didn't we buy those waterproof single-use cameras?"
  As we approach the the other fork of the Buffalo river coming in from the right, we look ahead and see that there's TREES and LOGS going by the confluence.  Along with just about anything else that would wash in.  The water is brown and muddy, roiling, and now it's moving really fast. Up to this point we really hadn't seen any huge rise in the water level, but now all the gravel bars are submerged, and the river, now probably 70 yds wide, is running high and fast and partly in trees. We unavoidably join the 'debris flow' coming down and with the river at full flood stage, we had no way really to safely pull out. We floated with the logs in the straight sections and took the inside bends on the curves.  Other creeks flowing in as well, and we start to wonder just how fast we're going to arrive to our trip takeout point.  Well as it turned out, the current shot us down to Hasty by 12:30, and our trip was finished. Yes, we shot two days of river in 5 hours. Floated the last eight miles in about one hour!   At that point, the water was OVER the bridge there, so it was good fortune that we were planning to take out there - we were able to paddle thru the trees to the bank and haul our canoe and all the gear up safely.  I was glad that Steve was the other guy because we've canoed a lot together and we work together pretty well.
  So we're safely on the bank, with all our gear.  But Steve's truck wasn't there.  We realize that we never asked the BOC folks exactly on which bank they'd leave it, so we're thinking that they either 1) parked it on the opposite side obscured by trees,  2) hadn't brought it down yet, or worse yet 3) if it was left low on either bank, it has by now been swept away, for all we knew. And with the river 100 yds wide and running very fast there was no way to paddle straight across to the other side to see without us getting swept over the bridge (umm, that would be a BAD thing).  All we knew was that the sign there said 'Hasty', so it was our best bet.
  Turns out it rained about 3 inches that morning, and with the flooding the Park Service closed the river to canoeing; with the big surge on our fork a few miles behind us, it had already wiped out a whole bunch of canoeists upstream of us and searchers were out looking for them.
  Anyway, as we stood there soaking wet, trying not to think the unthinkable, we wondered how soon the water level might drop so we could walk across on the bridge to see if the truck was over there, and we realized that we may have at least a day of waiting around regardless.  The place is muddy, and we couldn't really yet think about setting up the tent.  A few locals are streaming through to look at the flood.  So we're talking to this one really strange guy who was telling Steve his sad life story of how lonesome he was, and we look down to see some other canoeists come by, (a party we'd passed earlier actually), and one canoe is swamped and the dude is SWIMMING in the river! His companions are grappling with his swamped canoe, while trying to avoid the whole party from getting swept over the bridge!  Of course we're helpless to assist, and they swept by in a panic trying to get everything to the right bank. We hope and think they made it, but the trees blocked our view. If they didn't, well....then they have a better web page story than ours.
  After about an hour and a half, the BOC dudes drove in, and told us that they in fact had NOT yet brought the truck down, it was up at their place and they could drive us back up.

  I got my camera out after everything was loaded and snapped a picture.
 

  On Sunday we found out by reading the newspaper that nobody'd gotten killed. Some lost property, some of the people had to hike out and were located later but aparently everyone was okay.  About 30 people put in that rainy morning in Ponca and they were mainly the ones who got wiped out in the surge.
On Sunday, before departing we stopped in at the Flippin MiniMart to get Big Gulp and a coffee, and while we're looking at the headlines this woman comes in and she's commenting with the clerk about "all the DUMBASSES who tried canoeing the Buffalo River the other day" and who'd got wiped out.

We didn't say anything.

  Driving across the Mississippi into Memphis, the river was probably double its width there. I took this shot looking across from Memphis and you can see the river far beyond a line of trees on the opposite bank.

So this was the most eventful river trip we've done so far.

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