A sheer bluff curves around a bend of the Buffalo River at the National Park Service’s Steel Creek Campground near Ponca, Arkansas. A foggy morning in the high 50s turned the river valley into a magical place for photography.
A blast of cool weather from the northwest this week put me in the mind of camping, and I couldn’t think of a better place to go than the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. The Buffalo became our country’s first National River in 1972, and it has been a magnet for floaters and campers ever since. Not unlike Missouri’s Ozark Scenic Riverways, the Buffalo River is best visited during the week, unless you are extremely social. Joyce and I had Steel Creek Campground almost to ourselves last Sunday evening and Monday morning.
We arrived at Steel Creek Campground on Sunday at about 3:30 P.M. and made camp at the best of the 26 tent sites on the area, Site Number 4, which is the most downstream campsite, virtually at the base of one of the river’s iconic bluffs. After setting up our tent I couldn’t wait to check the river out for some late-afternoon photography. The river was only about 20 steps behind us so Joyce took a lawn chair and enjoyed some streamside reading while I investigated the best vantage points for photography.
Joyce enjoyed some riverside reading on the evening of our arrival.
I spent most of the afternoon, until dark, trying to get some nice images but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so all of my images were uninspired. As I packed up for the night, I hoped for better conditions the next morning, assuming the drop in temperature into the 50s would bring some fog into the river valley. I set my iPhone for 5:30 A.M. and when I exited the tent the next morning, I knew I was in luck. The river valley was so foggy, I actually had to wait an hour before I could even see much of the surrounding bluffs.
About an hour after sunrise, I began photographing, and I was pleased to be able to make images facing both upstream and downstream as the sun was at a right angle to the bluff. Each time I saw an interesting scene through my lens, I turned around 180 degrees and found another scene, just as wonderful. What a morning!
A view from one of the riffles below our campsite. The Buffalo was entirely wadeable at our location and I crossed it several times. The only place too deep was at the base of the sheer bluff walls that dropped over a hundred feet straight into the water. I loved all of the smooth, round rocks that provided foreground interest to many of my images.
A look back upstream at the bluff directly across from our tent. The morning fog was just beautiful as it lingered in the trees atop the bluff.
Another look back upstream toward our campsite.
This vulture watched me the entire morning from its perch high above the river. By the way, I never saw another person as I waded the Buffalo at Steel Creek on Monday morning. All bets are off for weekend adventurers.
Joyce and I look forward to more visits to the Buffalo and we are already scoping out the best places to float. The Buffalo River features some of the most majestic bluffs in the United States, a treasure for floaters and campers. Sometimes I wonder if the Buffalo would be more aptly named the “Bluff”alo River. Nah….I think we’ll stick with Buffalo.
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