by Keith Bridgman
...Golden, towering cliffs, the sight of a deer running along the bank, or even a flock of wild turkey's scurrying up the wooded slope, are but a few of the possible sights one can encounter while drifting silently down the meandering Buffalo...
We had been on the river for one full night and day, and now that evening was falling, the warming rays of the fire felt good as they radiated against my face and chest. Several coyote's howled and yapped in the distance, their song echoing against the backdrop of magnificent bluffs. I leaned against the gravel which gave way and conformed to my contours, and looked at the sky which was rapidly filling with stars. I felt a million miles away and let the fatigue of the past few months drift away with the smoke from the blaze in front of us. It felt good to finally rest and enjoy one of the finer things in life.
I awoke early the next morning, the sun not yet cresting the ridge that protected the large expanse of gravel where our troop had pitched camp. I stepped out of my tent and stretched my stiff back expecting to be the first one up. Rocky already had a camp fire started though, and was gathering some extra wood. A chill hung in the air even though it was the first week of June. Our three tents appeared suspended in the light fog that drifted silent across the cool waters of the Buffalo River. The soft rushing made by the water flowing across gravel shoals added music to the morning serenade of birds, and the light splashing of fish jumping made us eager to wet a line. On the south side of the river less than one hundred yards away stood the massive wall of the 'Nar's, and less than a quarter mile down river was Skull Bluff, two unique geological features found on this flowing jewel.
The aroma of coffee brewing on the campfire seemed exceptionally pleasing that morning. At first, the day broke relatively clear, but to the west a rumbling within an ominous dark cloud threatened to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere. We fished a little before breaking camp, then carefully loaded our gear into the three canoes and shoved off just as the first drops of rain started to fall. Even so, it was simply a part of being outdoors.
The Buffalo River in Northwestern Arkansas is a perfect place to canoe camp, offering countless gravel banks, crystal clear water, and relative isolation. Water levels, especially on the upper half of the river, can fluctuate and are generally floatable during the Spring and into the first week of June, while the lower half tends to sustain floatable levels most of the year. Camp areas should be placed near an escape route to high ground should the river rise which it can do very quickly especially in the Spring.
Although a canoe offers more carrying capacity than a backpack, I try to keep my gear to a minimum and take only the things that are absolutely necessary to be reasonably safe and comfortable. I try to stay away from the proverbial stuffed ice chest. They add considerable bulk and weight to a canoe. If I take one at all, it will be a small lunch box that I can carry a few eggs and sausage's in for breakfast on the first day or two. Other than that, the normal camping gear is in order, small tent, sleeping bag, small cook stove in case in rains, rain gear, fishing gear, comfortable cloths for the season, and non-perishable food stuff. Of course you must have the proper canoeing gear like paddles and lifejackets. An overloaded canoe is unstable, so load the gear to keep the center of gravity low.
Canoe camping allows one to get away from the crowds and find some solitude and time alone. The public campground scene is not for me or any of my hunting and fishing partners. There is something wonderfully relaxing spending a few days meandering down a beautiful river like the Buffalo. A canoe camping trip should be kept simple. From the very beginning, the joys of canoe camping only get better. By the third day, all of the rush is gone and the frustrations of life in general are beginning to subside. Fresh fish cooking over a campfire is one of life's greatest treasures, and the evenings explode with thousands of brilliant stars. Golden, towering, cliffs, the sight of a deer running along the bank, or even a flock of wild turkey's scurrying up the wooded slope, are but a few of the possible sights one can encounter while drifting silently down the Buffalo. Along its course are towering bluffs, some reaching five hundred feet above the river, and waterfalls created by springs or runoff add to the pleasures. Breakfast never tasted so good as when it is cooked over a fire with an early morning haze drifting across the camp. These are indeed simple pleasures, but pleasures more often than not, we forget to enjoy. You know...it's been a while since I last floated and camped. I must soon, that route to travel again.
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