Monday, November 30, 2015

Beaver Jim's

Buffalo River above the low water bridge near Ponca

Long time readers will remember that my parents own land adjacent to the Buffalo River National Park in NW Arkansas and I've spent a significant portion of my life down there over the last 35 plus years. We started out boating the magnificent river but soon expanded to mountain biking and my favorite, hiking. The million plus acres of land has hundreds of miles of trails and I can easily lose myself in the beauty.

So when my wife found out that this year she could have Thanksgiving week off, we decided to spend the week hiking in the park with my brother and his family and our parents. Due to obligations, we couldn't leave until Tuesday morning and were leaving knowing that a significant rain storm was approaching the area. So when we arrived late in the afternoon on Tuesday and the sun which was forecasted to disappear the rest of our trip was still shining brightly, we opted to drive straight down to the river for a couple hours to stretch our legs before heading back up the mountain to the cabin.

Buffalo River above the low water bridge near Ponca

As you can probably guess, the river level at the low water bridge was shallow and not easily float-able. The Buffalo is definitely float-able during periods of high water which is mostly limited to spring runoff. I have often set off in a canoe or kayak at the low water bridge and spent the day floating the river beneath huge sheer mountain bluffs.

Beaver Jim Villines barn

Across the river and up on high ground is the old homestead of Beaver Jim Villines. He is one of the first settlers to this area and his relatives, judging from the number of Villines names on mailboxes, still hold much of the surrounding area not in the park. The park itself was formed around the Buffalo River in 1972 and was the first river declared Wild and Scenic in the United States. It is also one of the few deep canyon rivers in the lower 48 without a dam. After the park was formed, current inhabitants were allowed to live there until dying but then their land was reverted to park land. As a result, many old structures of the previous inhabitants are found throughout the park though they are disappearing rapidly to nature and only those preserved by the park have signs of remaining behind for a significant amount of time.

Barn siding

The chinking in the barn logs has long since disappeared and walking around the barn, it was obvious that they used the best logs for the house construction.

House of Beaver Jim Villine
I'm sure this house was occupied in 1972 when the park was formed but it was built much earlier in the century if not the century before. Life in these remote parts of the world were much tougher.

Beaver Jim's kitchen
The forecast before we came down said that the following day would be cloudy with rain moving in on Thanksgiving day and sticking around until after we left to go home on Saturday. With that in mind, we soaked up the sun and let the kids burn off excess energy from the eight hour car ride before driving back up the mountain to the cabin that we would call home the rest of the week.

View back towards the Buffalo River from Beaver Jim's house


Kelly said...

I enjoyed this post, both the regional and the personal history.

Despite the fact I've lived my entire life in Arkansas (with the exception of my college years), that's a part of the state I'm not very familiar with and have not visited in well over 30 years.

It's beautiful!

Ed said...

Kelly - I have always considered it a hidden gem in the Midwest because most people I tell about it too have never even heard it exists. Word is slowly getting out because 35 years ago I always had the place to myself. These days, it isn't uncommon to see other people out and about though it is still a extremely tiny fraction of say a National Park like Rushmore or Yellowstone.

Bob said...

Have been there numerous times. I have carried a canoe when the water was low and been thrown from one when it was low. Although your photos are beautiful, they don't truly do it justice. The river, bluffs and other surrounding scenery are gorgeous. Glad you had a good time.

Vince said...

I had a look on the goo earth. Wowza, but that's an interesting NP.

Ed said...

Bob - One of the few of my "acquaintances" who have not only heard of the place but have been there. It is truly a gem.

Vince - I have never looked at it on Google Earth but I'm sure it is ten times more interesting from ground level. The story of its formation as a National Park is quite lengthy and interesting. It almost never happened many times.

Bob said...

Of course I meant I have been thrown from a canoe when water has been high, not low!