The Buffalo National River has a lot of well known access points, but it has some that are not so well known. One of these is Crow Hole. In addition to being an access point, a great swimming hole is here along with a normal fault in Welch Bluff across the river and a spring enters just upstream.
GPS: 36° 03.841N, 93° 07.617W
GPS will be very beneficial here as I keep forgetting to get odometer readings. But here are some basic directions. From the green bridge at Pruitt on Hwy 7 keep going SOUTH up the mountain till you reach two roads that come in from the left at the same intersection. These roads “Y” immediately, take the LEFT,or uphill most road. This road goes down past a Ranger’s residence and a Park Service maintenance station, passes a big green chain-link fence, goes on a bit to a small, narrow road that kind of looks like a driveway on the Left. Take this rough road down and it will end in a field. Park on the RIGHT side of this curved, rectangular field.
This field is sometimes used for camping, so parking on the right side of the field may not be an option because there is a fire ring that someone might be using as their campsite. I do not know if camping here is legal or not, so do that at your own risk. If you get ticketed for camping out of bounds, don’t blame me…I warned you.
From the parking area, locate a path leading into the woods. There are at least two paths here leading from the field. The farthest to the right will take you the to Buffalo right in front of Welch Bluff. The other path takes you to another bluff whose rock layers are tilted pretty sharply downstream. If this is the bluff you see just walk the bank downstream around the slight bend in the river and Welch Bluff is right there, it is not more than a couple hundred feet.
Welch Bluff contains in its center a normal fault, a kind of “V” shaped slot in the middle about 3′ wide. The rock layers in this slot are tilted upwards very sharply from the upstream side.
This fault in Welch Bluff forms the southern margin of the Braden Mountain Graben, part of an west to east graben system that continues to the east for over 15.5 miles. Welch Bluff is at the western end of the Braden Mountain Graben. A graben is defined as an elongated block of the earth’s crust lying between two faults and displaced downward relative to the blocks on either side, as a rift in the valley.
Immediately upstream from Welch Bluff a spring enters through a drainage channel that is lined with a low bluff on both sides. If the spring is running, and the river is safe to wade, this spring run makes a pretty cool little hike. It is only a few hundred feet to the emergence of water, but it cascades its way to its meeting with the river below. Be careful as the rocks in this spring run are slick, and there is no path, just a hike up the drainage.
The next bluff upstream is where the swimming hole is. There are a couple rope swings on the bluff side of the river. The rock in this bluff tilts downward to downstream end almost dipping entirely below river level right at the spring entrance. Sitting on the bank looking at it, it looks as though the river flows uphill.
If you made the hike up the spring run, on your way back down it is possible to carefully climb up rock to the right, it would be the left headed up, to a faint path that leads up on the bluff above the swimming hole. The top of the bluff has some old Asche’s Junipers growing here, some are draped in Old Man’s Beard moss. If you venture up on top please be careful. The bluff isn’t all that tall, not more than 35-40 feet, but a fall here could result in a pretty serious injury.
This is a great place to sit and relax and enjoy some views of Welch Bluff and the Buffalo both upstream and down if you sit on the right rock. You may even see some floaters coming by on their way to Hasty after putting in not far upstream at Pruitt.
After enjoying the view make your way back down the little path, it may be beneficial to mark it as it is very faint and disappears towards the top. Carefully climb back down to the spring entrance, back across the Buffalo, and up one of the paths to parking area.
A word on water quality here. A sign has been placed on the path farthest downstream warning of poor water quality. During an ice storm in 2009 a pump for a sewer system for the small community of Marble Falls went out allowing waste to find its way into Mill Creek, a small spring fed creek that enters the Buffalo at the Pruitt access. This was a very huge issue as Marble Falls is very small, occupying the area just uphill from the former theme park Dogpatch. The parks sewer system is what the community uses and funds to fix the issue were non-existent. Sewer lines had to be replaced to fix the pump, and thanks to the highway department they were. The section of Hwy 7 that is lined with concrete walls on both sides if coming from the north, was a project slated for farther in the future. The sewer lines for Marble Falls were going to have to be moved to widen the road because semi trailers were scraping the rocks in the hillside. The highway department stepped up and sped this project up, replacing the lines at its expense. This allowed Marble Falls to replace the pump, rectifying the issue. Due to the karst features, caves and springs etc., it is possible that pockets of waste exist in the drainage area. During periods of rain this waste gets flushed into Mill Creek, the Buffalo, and springs in the area. This could happen for years to come, so heed the warning and carry plenty of water with you. If you must use the Buffalo as a source of water, boiling it or treating it with an appropriate water purifier before consumption. A water filter that has a filter smaller than 1 micron is said to remove viruses and bacteria, but I’m not sure this is the case, so I recommend boiling. This should not discourage you from using this spot, or any spot downstream, as I have not heard of a case of illness related to this issue, it is pretty well known and signed in places down river a ways, just use common sense and don’t drink it.
This is a beautiful spot not far off Hwy 7 with some great sights to see and enjoy, and some probably left to be discovered, so will you’re looking for them remember to take only photos and leave only footprints.