Let us warn you now. This article will not be the norm. Usually, we try to keep it as informative as possible. While you will always get that here, this is more of a personal account/opinion piece…
Like most everyone, we’ve had just about all of our vacation plans changed or completely canceled this year. Baseball and canoes are pretty much life in this household. As baseball has been damn near canceled, we’ve tried to canoe as much as possible. Having a 10 month old and no close family to keep him, then add in the Covid-19 curve ball that the universe thew us this year and well, that makes plans to do anything all but impossible.
Fortunately we had the grandparents come in and keep our son, and we switched gears from St. Louis to the Buffalo River wilderness. We traveled up HWY 65 to Jasper where we got sack lunches from Blue Mountain Cafe. Try the lemon bar. Thank us later. Then we headed over to sign in for our shuttle from the new outfitter in town, Rio Buffalo Outfitters. They’re working out of the office at Gordon Motel in Jasper. (More on the motel later.) The owner, Jeff, and all of the employees we had contact with were super helpful. We only used them for a shuttle but they also offer canoe, kayak, and raft rentals. The rates are very reasonable and the service was top-notch. For more info on these guys check out https://www.riobuffalo.com/.
We normally put in at Ponca, but with it being a Saturday and Memorial Day weekend, rules dictate you use the Steel Creek launch. It’s very nice, completely paved and gravel to the input. But, once we got there the sheer magnitude of boaters was insane. It reminded us of the Spring River on the 4th of July. We managed to sneak into a great parking spot, get our gear unloaded into the canoe, and off we launched. Within 30 seconds, we saw the boat beside us launch and try to take the wrong side of the rapid at Steel Creek. (Insert face palm here) First, and not the last flip we saw. Just past the first curve, we saw more flipped boaters. Mostly it looked like families that had little canoe skills. The poor kids just looked in shock. We’ll say this, if you do not know what you are doing, learn those skills on a class 1 river. They had 8 miles to go. We never saw them again..
The weather forecast looked quite ominous but we lucked out and the sky opened up. The sun came out, the temp hit the mid 80’s, and the beer was cold. Talk about perfection. If you’ve never witnessed the Buffalo in all of it’s glory, let us tell you.. The bluffs and water are like nothing else in Arkansas, at least in that type of combination. We love many of the great floats in Arkansas. But the Buffalo River is the first national river for a reason. One word. Stunning.
We got off the river, loaded our gear out, and made our way up the Kyle’s Landing road and back into Jasper. Next stop was to check into our room at Gordon Motel. When we arrived, the office was closed and we had no key. We had read that the lady at the front will put the key in the door for you. So, off to search! We found our home at room #5 and walked in. Imagine stepping back in time to decades past but it had two beds and a hot shower, and that was enough. Trust me, you’re not going to get amenities like a concierge in this sleepy mountain town, or TV that actually works (seriously). We have read Verizon gets great service there but our AT&T coverage was spotty at best. However, it was nice to unplug.
Still having some good daylight left, we found the road that takes you down to the Little Buffalo River. Easy to get down and the view is amazing. What a great spot to have lunch (or a cold adult beverage). We highly recommend getting your food to go and taking it there. Social distancing, right?
After some fresh clothes, we were hungry and headed out. We walked across the street in search of food and directly into Bubba’s Buffalo River Store where we met the owner, Walter Jr – and he was excellent. We always recommend chatting up locals. That’s where you get the best info and usually a good story or two. They haven’t been open long, but what a great shop! A good place to find some Arkansas local favorites and excellent one of a kind Buffalo River merch. We bought a few things, of course. Being the t-shirt junkies that we are, their prices combined with the unique designs was not something that we could pass on. Matter of fact, Phil is drinking from a kick ass coffee cup we bought as we speak. Stop by and see them! You can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Shopping—Retail/Bubbas-Buffalo-River-Store-102086561410897/.
Jasper has two downtown restaurants. The Blue Mountain Cafe and the Ozark Cafe. Both are excellent choices and delicious. We stopped into Ozark Cafe and were hoping for some live music, which they usually have, but due to Covid-19, many things are simply not available. We asked the waitress about where to go to find such a thing, and maybe a patio. Well, ask and you shall receive. She suggested the Low Gap Cafe in Low Gap, which was about 15 miles away. Some guy named Donkey was playing. So, off we went!
Low Gap has only one thing in it. That cafe. And it was busy when we arrived. We were greeted at the door by the chef, though we didn’t know that at the time. We couldn’t go inside because we didn’t have a mask. But, they managed to get find a table for us on the patio, and we got a front row seat to the Fonkey Donkey show. They were sloppy at best. Mostly blues. Unimpressive and clearly unrehearsed. But hey we’re in the middle of nowhere so you take what you can get. Sloppy Donkey would have fit better. HA! But they were good sports! We ordered the ribeye ($29 for 10oz what??!!) and the chicken carbonara. The steak was good and the carbonara was pretty thick with wine sauce. We found the Low Gap Cafe to be very charming and they let you BYOB so, big bonus there.
The next day we hit up the Blue Mountain Cafe for breakfast. Apparently we were the early birds for once because we had to hang out a bit and wait for them to open. Glad we got there early, because they filled up quickly. We had the staples of breakfast… coffee, bacon, biscuits, gravy, and potatoes. Good stuff. With a cup of coffee to go we headed to Ponca to the Buffalo Outdoor Center.
The BOC is a great outfitter, but we simply came over for the cool merch! We bought a few things and chatted it up with a local headed to a mud hole in an 1989 Toyota Land Cruiser. Jelly.
We took the scenic route back home. Avoided the interstate and we were pleasantly surprised with the mountain views and trip on HWY 64 where Big Piney and Lake Dardanelle meet the Arkansas River. This great state is truly stunning and full of wonder. We wish we would have had time to hit Fallsville and the Glory Hole, but maybe next time!
GET OUT AND EXPLORE!
Y’all have at it!
The Arkansas To Do Team
Phil and Jess