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By Joseph Dempsey fallingwater

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Falling Water, that's the name of the creek and the falls — Falling Water Falls on Falling Water Creek. Talk about short, succinct, and to the point, that's it bubba. The falls are easy to find. Look at an Arkansas map and find the junction of Arkansas Highways 16 and 7 (that's where Pelsor is) and proceed eastbound on 16. Once you go through Ben Hur, start looking for, you guessed it, Falling Water (dirt) Road to your left. Don't feel bad if you drive past Falling Water Road the first time. Most people do. I did it the second time, too.

Drive a few miles down the dirt road, which deteriorates nicely in several places. Plan not to speed. Keep the faith, and all of a sudden on your right, there are the falls. You do not have to leave the comfort of your vehicle to see the falls, but of course, staying in your vehicle is not an option. You will immediately feel a compulsion to park, get out, amble up to the edge, look and listen. For sure, wet your feet just a bit, with this caveat: The rocks are slick as in real slick. I know. I have taken more than one crash and soaking above the falls.

I discovered the falls in 1990. Funny, the things had been there more than all my life — and it took me almost that long to find 'em, reason being, I did not look. My self, a dog, and a girl friend were tooling through the mountains on that fine spring day. I was looking for something to shoot, actually hoping for a waterfall.

A pickup truck, replete with a family crammed into the cab and overflowing into the bed, pulled in front of us. I noticed they were all wearing swimsuits, and most importantly, the swimming togs were dry.

Somehow, my little pea brain deduced that they, the family, under those conditions, were proceeding headlong to a swimming hole. So, hoping that my fondest desires for the day would be realized, I followed at a respectable distance. Sure enough, after traversing Falling Water Road with no small amount of fear and trepidation in a rather low-slung sports model, we came upon the truck parked at the falls. The family, as expected, was taking a dip. Since a more-than-friendly dog was on board, their suspicions of us were quickly vanquished. We had a conversation, the dog immediately jumped in the water, I took a few shots, and swore to return with some serious gear. I have fulfilled that promise to myself on numerous occasions.

The image above was shot in the late nineties — this time with a wife and a Rottweiler along for the visit. The weather was perfect and the falls were about right. It was still fairly early in the spring. The water was a bit chilly for swimmers, so we had the falls to ourselves and did not want to leave. There is something magnetic in a waterfall that pulls me away from my vehicle. It is hypnotic and brain cleansing.

Turns out, this is a serious, legendary, and well-respected swimming hole, complete with some field-expedient equipment installed by indigenous personnel. Because this is a low resolution web picture, you probably won't notice the slats that are nailed to the tree at the top of the falls. You may be able to see the rope dangling above the falls, depending on the resolution of your screen.

Many intrepid swimmers either take a swing on the rope and fall into the pool below the falls or, more adventurously, take a screaming run and jump off the falls, swim to the tree, scramble up makeshift tree ladder, and repeat as necessary.

By the late nineties, in talking to folks in the area, I discovered four more falls in the immediate area and decided to take my oldest granddaughter on a waterfall tour one weekend. When we got to Falling Water, she did me proud. She was about 11 or 12 then. When we arrived at the falls, there was a gaggle of boys about the same age cavorting in the creek above the falls, but none were jumping or swinging on the rope.

My granddaughter, being of an adventurous ilk
(it's genetic), spotted the rope and the ladder and put two and two together. She wisely asked me if it was safe to go off the falls. I assured her it was cool. The boys were looking with great hesitation at the rope and the precipice.

They were obviously trying to work up the intestinal fortitude to make the plunge.

My granddaughter, even though she had forgotten to bring a swimsuit, did not let mere fear stand in her way. Fully clothed, she took a second look at the rope, grabbed that sucker, mustered up a mighty swing, and plunged into the pool to her great delight and mine. She swam to the tree, made her climb, then gave a clear and definitive demonstration to the dumbfounded aggregation of boys on how to make the screaming run and jump. After she made a couple of round trips, the embarrassed boys decided they'd better get their act together to defend their maleness.

Some, but not all of them (with more than a modicum of reluctance in a couple of cases) did the deed. Inside I was guffawing. Outside, I could barely keep a straight face.

Falling Water Creek looks peaceful, calm, and serene in the scene pictured here. It has another side. During a late summer deluge several years ago, I observed the same scene under vastly different circumstances. The water was brown and viciously churning. The level was probably about three or four feet above the falls. At the spot of the falls there was a violent ripple in the water, but if you hadn't known where the falls were, you wouldn't have known the drop off was there. It was fast, nasty, dangerous — and downright scary, as in raising the hair on the back of your neck scary. I have to confess my hypnotic trance was intensified in direct proportion to the rise of the creek.

My many trips to Falling Water conjure up words cranked out by Alexander Pope in 1709 and foisted on me by Mrs. Spears in El Dorado High School several centuries later, to wit,

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Thank you, Mrs. Spears.

N O T E S:  
Venerable Nikon F2 / 28mm f2.8 AI / Fujichrome / Tripod mounted / Scanned with Nikon 5000 Super Coolscan ED / Lightly processed with PhotoShop CS3 Extended. (This shot was the cover image for a Bank of the Ozarks corporate annual report.)

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