After watching the psychological thriller, A Quiet Place, I have a newly formed respect and appreciation for waterfalls. If you’ve not made a trip to the theater yet, don’t worry, I won’t be lacing in any spoilers. In this post-apocalyptic version of Earth, humankind must remain completely quiet in order to survive a species that hunts them based on sound. In a pivotal scene, the father takes his preteen son out to teach him how to harvest fish from handmade traps in the creek (the quietest way to provide fresh meat for their family). Along the way, the pair find respite in a towering waterfall, and the father leads the son behind the rushing water where, without warning, the father lets out a thunderous roar. It’s a sound that’s apparently been held in for some time. The son’s face twists in horror, afraid for their life. But because of the massive wall of water they’re nestled behind they’re completely soundproof and free to release any built up emotion.
When cold and warm fronts tussle in the months of April and May, and rain is plentiful, my outdoor attentions turn to waterfalling. These striking forces of nature live between sharp topographical dips in the landscape of quiet and peaceful places. Trace your fingers along many key areas in the Ozarks and you’ll find loads of these. Years before I laced up my own boots to trudge around in the woods, hikers used these dips to locate many favorite waterfalls enjoyed by nature enthusiasts today.
Nowadays, there’s no need to bushwhack as quite a few of the Ozarks’ most beautiful waterfalls can be viewed and explored via easy-to-moderate established trails. Local favorites include Pam’s Grotto, Cedar Falls, Glory Hole, Falling Water Falls, and Longpool Falls. Each of these are less than a 1.5 mile hike in and friendly for family and greenhorns looking for an outdoor experience. The not-so-local-but-grandest of what Arkansas has to offer, Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls, is a mere half-mile hike on flat ground right off the Buffalo River. It’s grandest because this waterfall is the tallest between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountain ranges.
On a recent trip to Pam’s Grotto, which is just a short hike from Haw Creek Falls Campground, I gained a new appreciation for these natural phenomenon. Pam’s Grotto, which is named for its discoverer’s (Tim Ernst) wife, is a thin yet tall fall formed from two house-size rocks falling into precarious positions. The designation as a “grotto” is appropriate — the creek and area it falls into is at least 5-10 degrees cooler than the half-mile trail snaking through through the woods to it. It’s a perfect respite for the suffocating humid days of June that tend to follow the damp months. The creeks that form between those topographical dips feeding this tall jettison of earth are truly magical sights.
While following the Ozark Highlands Trail, my hiking partner and I took a bushwhacking route I was sure would lead us to a unique view of the falls. And the backside of Pam’s Grotto was truly one of the most enchanting areas of the Ozarks I’ve ever experienced. We traced brilliant chartreuse lines of moss with our every footstep for yards and yards while dodging robin-egg blue waters feeding the falls. Brilliant pools of teal formed in the silk smooth sandstone at random and housed various invertebrate requiring periods of inspection and appreciation. Experiencing this unknown place didn’t come without risks, however, and I’d not recommend anyone bushwhack to the area without proper communication, GPS and an adequate plan.
Like waterfalls, I believe an appreciation for things in nature come from an understanding of cycles. For every season there is a lifecycle: summer the growth and jubilant, fall the harvest and thankfulness, winter is the rejuvenation and reflection and spring the rebirth and refreshment. Within this upcoming season of jubilance, when the rare set of thunderheads form between the signature dog days of summer, find your own quiet place and appreciate some of Arkansas’ best escapes.