May 2, 2016

Eye of the Needle

So, here's an update for the Indian Creek post for you!

Last week was full of storms and rain, plus it was the end of April, so I thought it would be the perfect time to see the Eye of the Needle flowing! I've always heard April is the best time to see it, but since we went in late-May after a good rain last year and there were waterfalls abound, we would definitely have an even better chance this time around.

After bumbling down the rocky road to Kyle's landing, there will be a small "parking lot" to
the far left of the campground--this is where the trail begins.
However, I knew it wouldn't be flowing before we even passed the trail-head. As we parked the jeep I noticed a very, very dry creek bed that should've been wet at the least. I was amazed at how dry everything looked after all the storms we'd just had. The pattern continued as soon as we arrived at the creek...the river rocks weren't even damp at the beginning of the trail. We later discussed the fact there hadn't been any snow this year (typical of Arkansas, but not Northwest Arkansas), which certainly didn't help.

The bright side is (because there's always a bright side) it was SO much easier this time around. The water was up several feet higher last year, which was beautiful--but dangerous in many areas, forcing us to hike up and around, taking much longer. In fact, my least favorite part the first time around was feeling very disoriented on one of the steep forest hills completely away from the creek... I didn't even have to do that this time! Plus the weather was perfect, not nearly as hot as it will be in a month, and I still found the water refreshing (though my friend did not, perhaps I've just acclimated to having cold feet).

Don't get me wrong, there were still a few nerve-racking moments (in order: #1 climbing up to the Cathedral, #2 narrow pass as wide as one shoe, #3 slippery rocks out of the creek instead of just wading through a deeper creek). But this no longer felt like the most strenuous hike I've ever completed. It made me want to go back and do it all over again soon (especially if we get any flash floods to fill the creek).

Do not turn left at Erbie (1st Post). But on the second post you may turn left OR go straight
& turn left at the post for Indian Creek--either route will get you there. 
You won't see anything saying Indian Creek until this 3rd post where the trail finally branches off.
You can ignore the first two posts you'll pass branching off to the left,
 although we ended up coming back by the second one on our return.
This is the last sign or marker you'll have for this trail.
With my heart a little sunken, but looking completely forward to an otherwise beautiful hike, we were off. And then at the first marker I stopped and waited for my friend to go get his Teva sandals (see mine here) instead of his Vibram FiveFingers. A little ways down the trail he switched again--he said the Vibrams didn't allow for as much cushion on the rocks but made him feel more confident in slippery areas. I was once gifted a pair because his sister bought some too small for her by accident, but I eventually gave in and admitted they were really too small for me as well so I can't vouch for them, though I've had several friends who love them. I'm content with my $40 Tevas because I grew up with my mom the garage-sailor. I'm sure Chacos are truly nice though. (The most expensive pair of shoes I've ever splurged on were an $80 pair of Merrell's... I can't find the exact pair but they were similar to these. Kafka may have gnawed on them a little in his puppy days but I actually still wear them on occasion.)

Even with some really dry creek beds or areas where the water flows underground,
there were still plenty of  beautiful falls on this trail.

Pretty natural bathtub.

Not a bad place to stop for lunch.

A couple of new things I learned this second go-around: I was so nervous about getting lost on this trail during the first attempt, seeing as there isn't much of a trail and even when there is it can be difficult to see at times, but you really won't get lost if you stay by/in the creek. In the creek is almost always the easiest way to go except for a few areas where it's too deep--and if you do slip and fall (which I'm not the most graceful and I haven't) it's a lot less scary to stumble in the creek than off a nearby rock out of the creek.

I also thought I would pass by the Eye of the Needle and not see it, I thought perhaps it was hidden off the trail. Once you've passed the two big falls near the end and scramble up the "hill" into the Cathedral, you'll go to the left-hand side (if you're staring at the open face) and crawl through a tunnel back towards the falls and see a path through the high grass. After a couple of minutes of this you'll be climbing over enormous boulders for a few more minutes, and just when you think you've passed it, you'll go a minute further and it will be smack dab in front of you, not hidden off to the sides. In fact, you can't miss it if you're just in the mindset of "I'm going to follow this creek until it ends and I can't go any further"--because unless you brought some serious climbing gear (which I would actually recommend for the climb up to the Cathedral if you have some--there are ropes pre-tied but it would have made me feel much safer to have been hooked to them), that's exactly what happens.

Tunnel Falls, though the cave is closed to protect its bats - we respected this!

To me, this waterfall makes the hike worth it even if you can't climb the wall to the Eye.
It gets its color from all the limestone.

This is the wall to the right of the previous waterfall - the one you climb directly up before
scrambling up the steep hill to the Cathedral, which you can see in the top right corner.

I did my best to capture how steep of a climb this is, ,though I'm still not sure I'm doing it
justice when you take into account the slipping gravel and mud. 

Mostly just mud for us, there is sometimes water flowing down on you as you try to climb up.

A path through the grass leads to the Eye just on the other side (which is back towards that beautiful waterfall).

After climbing boulders for several minutes, this will be smack dab in front of you - can't miss it.

And it's e-NOR-mous! I had no idea how big it was until I was there in fact, I probably would've guessed the bulk of the structure would've been about the size of the actual hole. Even though it wasn't flowing, even though there wasn't even a puddle of water in front of it, seeing that formation is still pretty damn satisfying.

I can't wait to try again next year after crossing my fingers for lots of snow this winter. They say third time's the charm, right?

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