Buffalo River Ranch Resort was our destination of choice this year. Located in Northwest Arkansas at 2,066 feet above sea level, the surrounding trails go through the Ozark Mountains to the sheer bluffs of Buffalo National River.
I’ve been traversing the trails of the Shawnee Forest of southern Illinois for more than two decades. But in the past few years, I decided there were trails I haven’t seen and sights I don’t want to miss. This section of Arkansas more than lived up to my expectations.
I was accompanied on this expedition by my friend, Jeri Hedges, who survived my navigating to Arkansas in fine "Thelma and Louise" fashion. It was the first time I’d driven in mountains. The Buffalo River Ranch Resort was well up the side of Mount Moriah on Highway 7 in the Arkansas Ozarks. I was thankful for a good truck with plenty of power.
My brother and sister-in-law, Russ and Teresa Howard, were also along for entertainment. Tom and Alma Doty joined us from southern Missouri. They made sure there was always a good meal waiting to be eaten. Tom is our odd mule lover, while the rest of us ride Quarter Horses.
Jim Culver runs the fine campground at Buffalo River Ranch Resort, where we stayed for the week. He and his daughter, Jaime, were great hosts, showing us trails and providing local history to color our experience.
The first day, we rode out into the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area. This area was hard hit by ice storms the previous winter, breaking the tops out of many trees and toppling many more. The trails had been cleared through many hours of hard work. Widow-makers still hung in the trees marked off by yellow tape proclaiming "killer tree."
We rode down the mountain to the Buffalo National River, running clear over rounded rocks. Across the river, limestone bluffs framed eye-catching scenery.
Encounters with deer, squirrels, skunks, and armadillos, were uneventful. I’d seen plenty of armadillos, but up until then all had been flattened. Finding live models in the forest was an interesting treat. I was surprised at how quickly the round-bodied specimens moved.
My horse, Major, alerted me to a large rattlesnake beside the trail. We shifted to the far side of the trail to pass him unharmed. Jim Culver had warned us about the wild hogs of Arkansas. We saw plenty of wallowed-out mud holes, but none showed itself.
The second day, we tried following our mule man, Tom. He took off down a switchback trail that had him disappearing quickly down the ledges. The back end of our group suddenly developed a lack of confidence on whether this was a real trail.
We backtracked and made a roundabout route, meeting up with Tom again. We later learned that was a tricky spot and we had come down through some of the worse of it before we turned back.
All-Day River Ride
Another day, we trailered the horses to a trailhead and rode along the river in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area with Jim.
This was an all-day ride, made easier on the horses by staying at the lower river elevation until the last big pull up the mountain to our campsite. We ate lunch at a preserved old homestead with a fenced-in, mowed yard. The horses were let loose with halters and lead ropes to graze their lunch.
For our last ride, we hauled south to the Ponca Wilderness Area trailhead. At one point, we came to a hiking trail. Jim convinced some of our group to take a 20-minute hike down to a limestone cave scoured out on the side of the bluff. The view of the river was breathtaking.
The trip was thoroughly enjoyable. We had unusually nice weather for July. I’d rate the trails moderate to difficult, with river crossings, and steep climbs vand descents.
For information on the Buffalo River Ranch Resort, call (870) 446-2778 or (870) 446-6030, or visit www.buffaloriverranch.com.