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The day was cloudy, but 81 degrees and the level was at 5’. The area had had good rains the last few days and brought the river up two feet which made for a wonderful float. The scenery all along the section is beautiful with tall cliffs on one or both sides and lots of trees. The trees are all dead or dormant except for the scattered cedar and pine trees, so the area was awash in gray. This would be extremely beautiful later when all the trees and plants are out! We were surprised at all the dead trees along the shores-we guessed caused by past floods.
There are lots of gravel bars to camp on and since this is wilderness on both sides of the river, you don’t have to worry about private land. We stopped for the night after about 7 miles of paddling. We actually didn’t have to paddle much on the whole trip since the water was flowing so fast, just a few to make corrective strokes now and then. Take good stakes for the gravel-ours weren’t very good for that so we piled up rocks on them. The wind was a problem the whole trip, but usually died down after dark. We sat around in shorts and t-shirts until after the sun went down enjoying the warm weather and the scenery. Richard was our wood collector-each day, about an hour before stopping, he’d start filling up his canoe so we had great campfires each night. Our only rain came the first night about 3am-lots of lightening, thunderclaps and a steady drizzle.
Early Monday morning around 6, the animals came out to drink before heading out to eat. We heard birds of all kinds including turkeys and lot of sounds we couldn’t identify. The morning was a little chilly, 74 degrees, but sunny. Since the water was pushing us so fast, we took out time getting on the river, finally heading out at 10:30. The gauge at Dillard’s Ferry bridge showed 5 ½. We saw more wildlife today-lots of eagles of various ages, river otters playing in the water and on the shore, a beaver in a tree, ducks, blue herons and lots of blue and white woodpeckers. The turtles look different than those we are used to seeing and are gray, like their surrounding. We stopped at 3:30 just before the Rush Shoals (rapids) we had been warned about. We covered 12 miles today, which includes a 2 hour lunch and fighting a hard head wind all day! I just love this flowing water! We spent quite a bit of time on the overlook checking out what path to take through the rapids as they looked pretty hairy from where we were. Another bright moon lit up all the rocks and made it look like daylight.
Tuesday dawned clear but cold-water in a bowl had 1/8” of ice in it and our tents were covered in frost. The direct rays of the sun hit later because of the tall cliffs, so it took a while to warm us up. We got a later start today, 11:20, due to drying out our gear and scouting the rapid again. Once in the water, it proved to be easy and a lot of fun. It is a class 2+ and on a curve with a nice wave train that was too big for me in my kayak, so I ran the river along the shore. Not too far past the rapids, we came out of the tall bluffs and into more open area and the wind picked up again. We stopped at 4, covering 13 miles today. We got to experience something none of us had seen before-the moonshine working its way down the mountain behind us and the moon peeking through the trees on the mountain as it came up. What an experience to see everything opening up in the moonlight!
Wednesday dawned clear and warm-the warmest morning we’ve had-even thought the boats were covered in ice. My kayak looked like it has snow on it. We had another first this morning watching the steam rising off the water in the shadows as the sun light crept along the water. The steam would rise up in tendrils of varying diameters, like columns, and reach about 2’ in height before falling down. We launched at 10:40, planning on doing only 9 miles today and camping at Elephant Head rock-we had been told not to camp past there in case they were generating on the White River which would back up the Buffalo. Two Cobra helicopters flew by today, yesterday an F4 flew over just above ground level and we heard more helicopters, and every day there were lots of private planes flying over. Ah, the signs of civilization! Actually, we didn’t see a soul for 2 days and the planes were the only evidence we weren’t back 200 years paddling the river as trappers or explorers. This section has more trees budding out but there is still very little color in the area. The river valley is broadening with the bluffs sometimes not in sight. We met a couple of john boats going upriver-they had launched at Buffalo City and were going fishing. We were told the White river was real low since they weren’t generating, so we went past Elephant Head and found a great spot after 9 miles of floating. As we were setting up camp, two canoes passed by and told us there was a group of 18 just upriver from us. Other than the many campfire rings, that is the only evidence we saw of people traveling this section of the river. The evening was turning cold as the clouds started rolling in and we thought there was going to be rain, but we didn’t get any. A new sound appeared-a kind of bugling call, not sure if it’s an owl or an elk. It was far off and very repetitive so was probably a bird of some kind.
Our last day on the river dawned clear and hot. We left earlier as we had 14 miles to cover and wanted to start back towards home. We hit the White River at 9:20 and found a large, wide river. It’s bigger than anything in Texas and we found out as we crossed it later on the way home, it stays wide. Buffalo City is just upriver from the confluence and would make a good exploration trek. There are houses and ranches along this stretch of the river and as we got closer to Norfork, there were lots of fishing boats. Long, straight stretches of water with a strong wind at our backs made for an easy paddle to the take-out. The water is very clear here and there’s plenty of flow. The take-out is at a park on the confluence of the Norfork River and the White. As you come into Norfork, the number of houses increase and you paddle under a bridge-the take out is about ½ mile past the bridge. We pulled out at 1:00 and loaded up our vehicles for the long ride home. We had covered 53 miles, a day faster than what we had planned due to the water flow.
This is a beautiful river paddle and goes mostly through wilderness until you hit the White River. We already planning a return trip in June to paddle 60 miles of the middle section and see what the country looks like all greened up. There are several outfitters who will provide shuttles and plenty of places to camp along the river. There is no camping once you hit the White as the land is private, except for a gravel island at the confluence that could be used if there was no chance of generating or the river coming up due to rains. The last morning, the river had dropped about 18” along the ground, only a couple of inches in height, but it could come up just as fast with rains 100 miles upriver. There is no river access after Rush Landing until you hit the White River, but there are several campgrounds and access points before Rush Landing that would allow for a shorter trip. All in all, this was a great experience and well worth the long drive.
This is a beautiful trip and if you catch the water at 5', you won't have to paddle hardly at all. There is plenty of spring water to filter or just filter from the river.
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