Hemmed-in Hollow Falls (Newton County, Arkansas)

The magnificent canyon (over 200 feet) of Hemmed-in Hollow Falls in Newton County Arkansas at sunrise.

Last week I asked my friend Bill if he wanted to take a weekend trip to Arkansas with me to photograph Whitaker Point (A.K.A. Hawksbill Crag) in Newton County. He said it sounded like a good plan so we departed after he finished work on Friday evening. I didn’t want to drive almost four hours just to visit one feature so I made plans to take a long hike to Hemmed-in Hollow Falls on Saturday, scout out some other falls on Saturday afternoon, and hike out to Hawksbill Crag on Sunday morning. As you can see from the featured photo, there wasn’t much water flowing from the towering falls but Bill and I had one heck of a good time anyway. Here is an account of our trip.

The Drive

We started out from my house around 4:30 P.M. Friday evening and made it to St. Robert in time for a dinner of Chicago dogs and onion rings at Freddies (Exit 161). If you like Chicago dogs, especially the charred version which is my favorite, Freddies is the place to go. Yes, I’ve eaten them in Chicago and they are most excellent in their authentic form but this little franchise restaurant along I-44 comes pretty close and the service is five by five.

It wasn’t long before we were flanking Branson when we saw a huge flash! When I say huge, I mean it became daylight for a second all around us. “What the hell was that?” Bill said, as he craned his neck all around the car. I had no idea what it was myself, especially since we didn’t hear any kind of boom. “UFO,” Bill joked, as I tried to come up with some kind of military explanation. After a while, we forgot about the crazy flash and returned to listening to “Deep Tracks” on Sirius and making plans for the next morning’s hike.

Harrison

We arrived at Harrison late that evening and checked in to the Holiday Inn Express. After we settled in, Bill turned on the local news and guess what they were buzzing about? Yep — the huge flash in the sky! It turns out that it was a meteor that was seen from West Plains to Columbia. Some heard a loud boom as it broke up but Bill and I only saw the flash. Awesome!

That evening we planned our departure for Hemmed-in Hollow Falls, the tallest waterfall (209 feet) between the Rockies and Appalachians. I wanted to walk the 2.5 mile trail down to the falls well before daylight so we set the clock for 4:30 A.M. The motel offered to provide us coffee, bananas, and yogurt the next morning as we would be missing the free breakfast. Nice. Departure went as planned and we arrived at the Compton Trailhead a couple hours before daylight. I marked the parking lot with my Garmin (just in case) and we began our adventure.

The Hike

The 5-mile roundtrip hike to Hemmed-in Hollow Falls is rated 5 out of 5 in difficulty, mostly due to the exertion level it requires. Going down is no problem but coming back up is where it takes you to the woodshed. Although we had never been down trail before, we didn’t have a problem finding our way with headlamps. Each time we descended another set of CCC-built steps, we thought about the prospect of coming back up those same steps later in the morning. On the positive side, we thought about how beautiful the hike back would be when we could actually see something farther out than the beam of our headlamps.

The Falls

We made it to the falls with time to spare and I began setting up for a sunrise image. As the morning light cast a reddish glow in the towering box canyon, Bill and I were overwhelmed at the majesty of the location even though the falls were flowing less than moderately. As you can see from the featured image, the falling water simply dissipates into thin air about a third of the way down from its bluff top origin. Later in the morning, I took timed selfie of both of us in front of the falls to provide some scale to the canyon.

Bill and I pose for scale in Hemmed-in Hollow Canyon.

It would have been nice to spend some extra time scrambling around the canyon but we had passed several other falls along the trail so I wanted to head back to photograph them while the light was still soft. Before I gathered my gear, I had to get a video of Bill swinging out over a steep drop-off from a grapevine, a somewhat grizzled version of Tarzan. Fun times!

It was only a short hike back up the trail to the first set of bonus falls, a nice sheet of water over a wide ledge, reminiscent of the popular falls at Pickle Springs Natural Area in Missouri. I loved the way the waterfall splashed onto a second ledge below before it finished its drop.

A pleasant waterfall along the trail to the main falls. 

Everything was going great until the “glasses incident.” I was photographing the gorgeous little waterfall from the angle shown in the above image when Bill found a different vantage point for me to try. I slipped my glasses over the bill of my cap, pulled my tripod, and headed up to the new spot where I began making a new round of images. I finally reached up to my cap to pull my glasses down so I could review my work on the LCD. To my surprise, my glasses were gone! I said, “No worries,” to Bill because I had just been using them at the previous location. We both began searching the site, fully confident that we would find the glasses. Almost 45 minutes later we were still searching. Finally, I told Bill we would have to just “let it go” and head on down the trail. I happened to have an extra pair of glasses in the car that I had purchased when I lost another set of glasses on a previous trip to Arkansas. Apparently the curse was continuing.

We made it to the next little waterfall, a smooth cascade down a wall surrounded by colorful autumn trees. I was good to go with a pair of reading glasses I always keep in my pack. It was at that waterfall that we saw other visitors coming down the trail for the first time. We had had the entire hollow to ourselves for almost two hours! We gave them some tips about the rest of the trail and asked them to keep an eye out for my glasses.

A soft cascade into a leafy pool. 

I photographed the colorful site of the cascade for about 15 minutes before I stepped on a rock that was as slippery as “oil covered ice” and found myself flat on my back on the wet bedrock, my camera and tripod flung into more bedrock as I reflexively released it on the way down. Bill said he had never seen anybody go down so fast! Most of the impact was absorbed by my ass so nothing seemed to be broken or sprained too bad. My camera also survived the direct slam, the attached L-bracket apparently taking the brunt of the force. Things could have been much worse. After I gathered my equipment, we began our scramble back up the steep creek bank to the trail, my right gluteus maximus complaining with every step.

When we made it to the third bonus waterfall, a delightful cascade, I begged out of climbing down the creek bank again for the shot. Bill understood, although he said the third fall was actually his favorite, and we started the big climb out of the hollow with about 1.7 miles left to the 4Runner.

It wasn’t long before we were feeling the gravity of the upward trudge but we are both in good shape so it wasn’t too bad. My soreness mostly revealed itself as we climbed the nearly vertical rock steps that accounted for much of the 1200′ elevation gain. We forged on at a steady pace, occasionally stopping to enjoy the views we had previously missed in the dark. At one point I photographed a great view from the trail of the source of the falls from atop the bluff. I would love to see that view during high flow!

A long view of Hemmed-in Hollow Falls as it emerges from a bluff, high above the Buffalo River. Look for the gun sight notch in the bluff.

As we continued up the trail we met more and more hikers on their way down. I was so happy to have started early, as always. Hemmed-in Hollow Falls is one of the most iconic natural wonders in Arkansas so one should expect a lot of visitors on a Saturday morning in autumn. It was not unlike a popular national park trail.

If you have been thinking about a hike to Hemmed-in Hollow Falls, I can’t recommend it enough. I recommend “Arkansas Waterfalls” by Tim Ernst, as your guide to finding the trailhead and navigating the trail itself. Ernst describes over 200 significant falls in Arkansas. Sometimes I think Arkansas should have been called “The Waterfall State.”

Back at the 4Runner, Bill and I had a snack and planned an afternoon of scouting some falls for my next trip. We also visited a few more falls along the way. I’ll tell you all about it in the next edition and after that I’ll give you a final report on our ultimate destination:  Hawksbill Crag.

Thanks for looking,

DB

Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery:  https://dannybrown.smugmug.com

America is beautiful. I will vote tomorrow (November 6) to keep it that way!

 

 

 

 

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