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Monday, December 22, 2014, 4:37 a.m.
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Are We There Yet?

Buffalo River waterway is a joy in any season

By Jack Schnedler

This article was published August 7, 2014 at 1:57 a.m.

Swimming and canoeing are summer pleasures at Buffalo Point, on the lower stretch of Buffalo National River as it nears the White River.

Correction: Warren Mallory Johnston died in Little Rock. An “Are We There Yet?” column in the Aug. 7 Arkansas Weekend section incorrectly stated he drowned in the Buffalo River.

BUFFALO POINT -- By the time Buffalo National River reaches Buffalo Point, the popular waterway is in full flow on its meandering last stretch to the White River. Canoeing and kayaking are generally possible year-round on the lower river here, while the cool waters beneath rugged bluffs are a summer magnet for swimmers.

Along with all that rowing and splashing, Buffalo Point offers a good-value restaurant, nothing fancy but with superlative vistas. It's also the location of the only indoor accommodations within the boundaries of federally administered Buffalo National River. And it's the starting point for a huff-and-puff trail leading to an intriguing prehistoric site.

The Indian Rockhouse trail, heading north from Arkansas 268 a bit west of Buffalo Point Restaurant, passes natural as well as man-made features on its 31/2-mile route. The hike, rated "moderate-strenuous," rises about 400 feet from the trail head to the rockhouse. Estimated walking time is three hours, and taking ample drinking water is a must.

Those who reach the rockhouse are rewarded with views of a typical bluff shelter used by prehistoric American Indians dating to at least 7000 B.C. Excavations carried out in the 1930s under the aegis of the Carnegie Institute turned up stone tools, basketry and remains of food. Visitors are reminded that digging for artifacts here is prohibited.

Along the way to the archaeological site, hikers pass sinkholes that are part of the area's complex maze of a water system, formed over eons by carbonic acid working away at limestone and dolomite layers. Also on the route is the entrance to one of the small mines opened in search of zinc when that mineral's price soared during World War I.

A much easier hike, also starting a little west of the Buffalo Point Restaurant, does the 1.2-mile loop of the Overlook Trail. The focus here is micro-environments, varying from a cedar glade and a hardwood forest to a stand of mature pines. Keen eyes may spot the eastern collared lizard, known as the "mountain boomer."

The most exciting feature of the restaurant is its sweeping views of the river and surrounding woodlands. The menu offers cafe standards at attractive prices: a breakfast stack of three pancakes for $3.50, two eggs with sausage or bacon as well as hash browns or grits and toast or biscuits for $5.25. For lunch, a hot dog is $3, while grilled chicken breast on a bun goes for $4.50.

Near the restaurant stands a sign in memory of Warren Mallory Johnston, a youngster who drowned in the river some years ago. It carries a wistful message:

"There are little corners of this earth put aside by nature to be discovered by and to bring joy to little boys. The lands over which you look here, across this beautiful river, are such a corner, and the quiet pools to be found there, the tiny box canyon with its waterfall and the springs above, are set aside forever for all little boys, in memory of another little boy who did discover freedom and joy here."

Six miles north of Buffalo Point, a quite recent archaeological site can be explored at Rush, which became a boom town during the zinc rush of 1914-18. Deserted since the 1960s, the ghostly remains of Rush will be the topic of the next Are We There Yet?

For more information on Buffalo Point, call the site's ranger station, (870) 449-4311, or visit nps.gov/buff. The station is open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily as National Park Service staffing permits. Buffalo Point restaurant is open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily (2 p.m. closing on Wednesday); call (870) 449-6206.

Weekend on 08/07/2014

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