My friend Hannah trekked all the way from her home in one of the most beautiful corners of the world, the Olympic Peninsula, to give our Ozarks a hearty inspection. I’m proud to say it did not disappoint, though I had to work hard. Whereas the stunning Pacific Northwest offers all the drama of sky-high mountains and cascading waterfalls, we’ve got lazy rivers and quiet oaks. They’ve got alpine ravines and brown bears. We have hollows and possums.
But they’ve also got frigid water year-round, and we have creeks you can wade into up to your chest without gasping for breath. They have drizzly rain that drives many to madness, we have long stretches of 80-degree days. We have real summer, and she bore witness to the last days of it.
Early in her trip, I took her just over the border into Bella Vista, a bedroom community for the surging population of the Bentonville/Rogers/Fayetteville region. It’s an interesting little community primarily because there’s not much there–a Walmart, a liquor store, a couple pizza parlors and a damn good Dairy Queen–but they’ve done a great job putting up signage for parks that lots and lots of people like to visit, and one of them is Tanyard Creek Falls.
This little gem is just a few minutes off the freeway. There’s a paved walking/bike path and a couple “hikes” (laughable to people like Hannah due to the lack of elevation gain) that meander under bluffs and along hair-thin creeks. And then there’s the brief trail to Tanyard Creek Falls, which is easily the best part of the trail.
What amazes me about places like this in the Ozarks isn’t that they exist at all–the region is chock full of awesome bluffs and shelf-like waterfalls–but that they are made available to the public. I’ve struggled with the concept of vast swaths of private property ever since I came here. So many of the sights you see of this country when you drive past or fly over would never be accessible unless you’re willing to risk a shotgun in your face, on the Missouri side, at least.
But Northwest Arkansas (NWA) is a little different. A little, well, liberal.
So we can go here and come for free and bring the dog and walk barefoot up the warm creek without any fear of retribution. The place is packed on the weekends, so if you can afford to get away on an off-day, the trip is well-worth the tiny amount of effort required to get to the falls.
There’s even wildlife! If you count birds.
I realize I’ve basically shown the same section of creek over and over again. If you walk up the falls, which is easy because the rock forms shallow steps for about an eighth of a mile, it takes a hard turn to the West and, as a finale, reveals this:
Beautiful. Lovely. Perfect. Ancient.