A Quick Trip to Ponca

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At the half way point of an especially busy work week, Charley (my 8-month-old Chocolate Lab) and I took off toward Ponca, Arkansas to check out the area.  Having grown up in Branson, Missouri and spent the past 20+ years living in Northwest Arkansas, I'm still not exactly sure how I've gone all this time without seeing it. 

With the leaves beginning to change, I thought that the 60 miles we'd travel south and east would be beautiful and that the waters of the Buffalo River would be low and slow. And since it was a Wednesday, I also believed that we'd have the place nearly to ourselves. I turned out to be right on all three counts.

When we arrived in Ponca, our first stop was at the famous Buffalo Outdoor Center.  I'd met the owner, Mike Mills, several years ago, and I remember being impressed then by his passion for his business. 

In case you haven't been before, Buffalo Outdoor Center is a one stop outfitting service for float trips on the Buffalo River. But they also rent cabins and lodges and operate an RV Park, a zipline, and more. It's quite the operation, and I cannot imagine a more fun way to work my tail off making a living.

After a friendly conversation at the counter, I had a map in hand and a plan for the next couple of hours.  We were on our way.

I decided that we'd take highway 74 east of Ponca, in order to check out the campground and to get our feet (or in Charley's case, her whole body) wet.

The roads are winding, and if you let your eyes get distracted by all the natural beauty for even a couple of seconds, you could be in real trouble. My cell phone, on the other hand, created no distractions, as there was no signal whatsoever, which turned out to be a blessing.

We arrived at Steel Creek Campground, where I immediately spotted Roark Bluff, which (for obvious reasons) is very popular among photographers.

After a quick dip in the Buffalo, we were off again – this time, in search of lunch.

Based on a recommendation from the staff at Buffalo Outdoor Center, we drove a few more miles east on 74 to try out the Low Gap Cafe. They call themselves "the friendliest place in town," and that was certainly my experience. The prime rib sandwich wasn't bad, but the scratch made blackberry cobbler (à la Mode, of course) was enough in and of itself to justify the trip.

After a friendly exchange with the waitress (and the entire kitchen staff), we were back on the road and heading home.  Charley, worn out from our little adventure, was able to enjoy a long nap as the river water she'd splashed in began to evaporate, and I, with my cell phone signal finally restored, began to contemplate the pile of work that waited for me back at my office.

I can honestly say that I'm anxious to get back to the Buffalo River again when I've got a little more time to stay and get to know it. There's at least a dozen other spots there I've learned of since returning home that I'm dying to check out. Based on all I've heard and read, I don't think there would ever be a bad time to visit. But I am especially interested in taking a day long float trip on the Buffalo River during the spring or early summer, when the water is high enough to pass.

Maybe I will. And maybe Charley and I will see you there.

Check out some of the photos on Facebook.

  • Matt Fifer