Picture Courtesy Ruth Wilson


    I suppose the Indian Rockhouse Trail on the lower Buffalo had to be named after some feature, but there's so much it would be hard for me to decide which to choose. Springs, a waterfall, a cave, an abandoned mine, hillside views, a mountain stream and a sinkhole icebox are a few of the things you'll see on this 3.5 mile loop. And, looking back over the list, I see I didn't even mention the natural bathtub!

    It's a loop trail and you can start either way, but since most people are right-handed and right-handed people are likely to choose right, let's go that way. While this trail is 3.5 miles long, its not too difficult for even casual hikers, but go carefully on loose rocks and gravel. And, be warned the trail is very steep, both going down the first part of the loop and climbing back up the other side. A power snack in your pocket will look extremely good on the return trail! Personally, I think it's also helpful to be able to quote the verse from Isaiah that begins, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…"!

    Be cautious when you get to the sinkhole icebox, the first feature we want to stop and look at. We're coming down into a ravine and off to the left, a large sinkhole opens to a very narrow passage into the rock layers below you. Sometimes fog rises from the hole, caused by the cooler air of the cave meeting the outside air. When there is heavy rain, water pours down this ravine and into the sinkhole. It is what has carved out the sculptures in limestone that are our beautiful, natural decorations for this stop.

    About a fourth of the way along the trail, you'll find a small waterfall. It's just a few hundred feet from the spring that is the source of the water to the spot where it spills over a bluff. A well-traveled road once passed between the spring and the falls but is now closed. Nature is reclaiming the eroded roadway but you may still see mud in the pool below the fall.

    Just a short distance beyond the falls is an abandoned zinc mine from the days of the boom that began in 1880. The zinc mining town of Rush is just eight miles down the river, but this mine is probably left from World War I days when local landowners prospected their own holdings hoping to profit from the war-driven high price.

    If you're beginning to feel warm from walking, we've just got a short distance to go to a small cave. You'll notice the coolness of the air flowing from it immediately. Cave temperature is about 56 degrees. You may hear a phoebe, a bird who calls its name and is a common cave dweller.

    Our trail is going to leave the old roadbed. Let's turn right again and go on to the Rockhouse. The left turn goes uphill and back to where we started. The rockhouses in the Ozarks were inhabited as early as ten thousands years ago. The bluff shelter dwellers lived in small family groups, hunting, fishing, and gathering the edible wild plants. With cool springs in the back of the cave for fresh water, this Rockhouse was a treasure - and check out the natural skylight!

    We're more then halfway now and on the return trip. We'll back-track a short distance to get back to that uphill turn to the trailhead. We crossed Panther Creek to get to the Rockhouse and we're going back now along the other side where the points of interest include the sculptured bedrock, curves and drops carved by centuries of water in the bedrock. It's never complete - water continues to change its appearance and every pebble contributes to the grinding and wearing away that made these fascinating formations.

    A short distance beyond our vantage point to look at the sculptures, is Pebble Springs, a small gravelly area which bellows water sometimes in winter and early spring. Pouring out of the base of a bluff, it can be six to 12 feet deep, depending on the amount of water in the underground river that feeds it. The spring gets its name from the polished-looking rocks that have been bounced and rolled by the water until they seem to have a glass-like finish.

   Oh, yes! I promised you a bathtub. Well, we'll make a little zag here and cross the creek one more time and there it is - a deep, bowl-like depression in the bedrock of the streambed. Naturally, it was once really used for bathing. If you lived in a cabin up here without running water, wouldn't you take advantage of what had been naturally provided? Various things found in this break in the woodland indicate that it was once a homesite.

   Buffalo Point is an old park on the river, owned and operated by the State of Arkansas before the National River was established. As you make the final leg of the trail, you'll see long scours in the rock bluff that almost look like half of the hole of some huge burrowing creature. Actually, they were left in the 1930s by men of the Civilian Conservation Corps who drilled and placed dynamite to blast off hunks of the red limestone for rock for the park building.

   Back at the start, we've seen so many interesting geological features, we've almost forgotten about the songbirds that serenaded our walk, the wildflowers that are prolific in spring and fall and the many kinds of trees and shrubs in the mixed forest. Yet all those things are part of an Ozark hike and leave memories to be savored when you look back to a glorious day outdoors.