As many folks know, the one place that ranks really high on my list of places to hang out, hike and take photos, is in the Boxley Valley area near Ponca in Newton County (Arkansas).
I've been going there for 10 years or so and still haven't hiked most of the trails, and the scenery changes almost weekly, and certainly in each major season.
Whether hiking up the side of a mountain, along a the lip of a cliff trail, or along the banks of the Buffalo National River, there's always something new.
A while back I had the opportunity to explore Lost Valley Cave near the campground and along the creek by the same name.
For years the mouth of the cave was as far as I got. But then, I made it a mission.
I met up with four adventurous ladies piling out of their Jeep as I was gathering my gear, we struck up a conversation about the cave and when they learned it was my first trip inside, I was invited to tag along with them. It wasn't their first time.
The short hike up Lost Valley Creek (.9 mile) is rated easy-moderate, there are some steep rocks in a few places and some switchbacks that raise your heart rate and test the knee joints.
In the summer the trail is busy, and the cave is a popular spot to cool off with a breeze blowing off an inside water fall that drops some 30 feet before winding its way to the cave mouth to form yet another waterfall. Two more smaller falls are located along the creek before it dumps into the Buffalo River.
The large rock entrance to the cave is worn smooth by thousands of feet each year, and stays slick with the mist from the water fall.
Once you maneuver past this hazard, the floor becomes somewhat better, but the walls narrow down to just a few feet in width, narrow enough to sometimes challenge even my skinny frame.
In a place or two, jagged rocks stick out from the sides of the walls and require twisting, squirming, and ducking (all at the same time) to get through. If you meet someone in these areas, somebody has to back up! Then will come an area where people can pass side by side.
Before reaching the waterfall chamber, the air cools just a bit more and the sound of water falling echoes along the narrow tunnels.
It's a sound that makes you more eager than ever to see what lies ahead.
To explore the cave you should first have proper footwear. Water sandals with good support straps are great, old tennis shoes, or hiking boots work too. DO NOT wear flip-flops, slip on sandals, or your high heels!
Also be prepared to get dirty, possibly downright wet and nasty, depending on how high the water level is inside the cave. After a heavy rain there are some spots you might have to wade water nearly a foot deep. And remember those areas I mentioned where you have to squat and squeeze to get through? Well, you may end up with a wet booty after a rain.
We saw one lady in nice white tennis shoes, white capris, and a pretty yellow top headed into the cave and wished we had time to hang around and see what she looked like afterwards.
A light is a necessity. What seemed to work well for myself and my escort of ladies, were LED lights that fit on a cap or on a headband. The light can be tilted so that it pretty much shines wherever you look.
What you DON'T NEED is a lot of the stuff I carried along in a large fanny pack with suspenders. I didn't need the large 6-volt lantern, the tripod one of my guides so kindly lugged for me, and the pair of sandals I thought might be needed instead of my mesh hiking shoes. I'm always tryng to think of everything I MIGHT need, and then try to carry it with me. It's a weakness, what can I say?
As is often the case, at the end of the cave is a large room with a pretty level floor of solid stone with the waterfall at the back of the room.
In most cases photography in poorly lit rooms in a house is a real challenge, I was surprised to discover that in a cave a simple camera flash is fairly effective since there is no outside light to interfere with the camera's light sensor.
The LED lights, along with lights the other dozen or so people inside the roodm had, was more than ample for a fw decent photos.
The tripod wasn't necessary, but I did use it because we all wanted our picture taken together, so I just shot with the timer and ran like a mad man to get into the shot. Got it the second try. We could have had someone else take our photo, but nice strangers aren't always good photographers, you never know how it will turn out.
So, If you want to do a pretty easy hike along a beautiful creek with waterfalls, a shelter cave, tumbled boulders the size of a small house, and a cave waterfall, then Lost Valley Cave is your place.
The cave is just a few miles south of Ponca, which is about 30 miles south of Harrison on Highway 43. Just go to Yahoo maps for directions.
And how about lodging? There's primitive camping along the creek leading to the cave, lots of rocky lumps, limited number of campsites and primitive toilets.
Back up the road at Ponca is the Lost Valley Canoe and Lodging camp ground. Lots of shaded, grassy campsites that are always well mowed and there's even a bath house with hot showers, outside kitchen sink, and a clothes dryer.
Across the street at the office is a general store with everything needed for a weekend or a week's stay. Camping gear, groceries, gas, ice, and other supplies.
They are also the premier float outfitters for the upper reaches of the Buffalo River with canoes, kayaks and rafts for rent, and they offer overnight floats too.
If roughing it isn't your style, there are cabins available with full facilities, including an outdoors hot tub on a private deck.
You can reach them at 870-861-5522.
Check out their new website...www.lostvalleycanoe.com
Tell them I sent you, and look around, you might even see my ole Jeep parked on the side of the road or at a trail head somewhere, especially if there's a waterfall nearby.
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