|Story and Photos by Arkansas Democrat Gazette/Buddy Gough|
At the top of a steep canyon overlooking the Buffalo River, the Ozark Bluff Dwellers cabins offer stunning views and indoor luxury.
For many folks living amidst the hustle and bustle of
urban growth in Northwest Arkansas, winter brings the common
contagion of cabin fever symptomatic of the urge to escape to a cozy
haven in the country.
The season of "leaf off," of course, is when the hidden beauties of the Ozarks are not only most visible, but are also often dressed up with fog, ice and snow.
The views are good for whatever ails you, and the places to take the cure abound in numerous cabins throughout the region ó from the tops of the hills to the bottoms of the valleys, along the rivers and streams and around the lakes.
In our corner of the Ozarks, however, it doesnít get any better than Newton County, where the Upper Buffalo River flows through the Boston Mountains. Here, the mountains are higher, the valleys are deeper, the bluffs are bigger, the waterfalls are taller and the river is beautiful beyond compare.
That explains the countyís numerous cabins available for getaways. The visitorís guide published by the Chamber of Commerce in the county seat of Jasper, for example, has more than 30 listings for rental cabins and lodges.
The listings include cabins of varied architecture and in a wide range of settings to suit every preference, and people can be mighty particular, if not proprietary, about choosing "their" cure for cabin fever. Prefer a return to the past? There are authentic log cabins from the 1800s and restored farmhouses from the 1900s with furnishings to match the period.
Prefer far-reaching panoramas? The well-known log cabins of the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca sit atop a ridge at an elevation of more than 2,200 feet to provide 30-mile views across Boxley Valley and the Buffalo River.
Like views of wrap-around bluffs of the widest scale? Look no further than the cabins at Horseshoe Canyon Guest Ranch, where the prominence of encircling bluffs has made the ranch the foremost rock-climbing destination in the Midwest.
Want to be near a waterfall? Azalea Falls Lodge has a high and gushing waterfall front and center.
Other choices include cabins next to creeks and springs and hidden away in secluded canyons. And if a million-dollar view is not enough, thereís even a million-dollar cabin available for the ultimate in luxury.
Thatís just for starters.
NEW KID ON THE BLUFF
One of the newest and, arguably, finest choices in terms of setting, architecture and amenities are the Ozark Bluff Dwellers cabins offered by Edd French of Jasper.
When the first of three new cabins became available in May 2003, the spot gained instant popularity that has only increased since the second and third units were completed in the past year.
The cabins first came to my attention in July when French extended an e-mail invitation for a personal visit. He said that the cabins were spread out along the high rim of a bluff overlooking a deep canyon known as Raney Cove, with each cabin situated to provide spectacular vistas up and down the Buffalo River in the vicinity of Kyleís Landing and Camp Orr off Arkansas 74 between Jasper and Ponca.
French also said that beneath the bluff was a large waterfall and Indian rock shelter, as well as a rugged and scenic three-mile hiking trail leading down to the Buffalo River.
Views, bluffs, waterfall and rock shelter were enough to get my attention.
But furthermore, French added that the cabins were crafted from the logs and lumber of native red cedar right out the Ozarks. As the owner of rural property where I occasionally entertain thoughts of having a cabin of my own, the use of local red cedar for log cabin construction sounded intriguing.
As a follow-up to the e-mail, an eye-popping review of the Ozark Bluff Dwellers Web site showed the setting and scenery to be everything French claimed, while the exterior and interior photos of the cabins looked like something out of Architectural Digest.
By the time my wife, Kathryn, got a gander of the Web site, she said no way was I going without her.
Trouble was, the cabins were booked solid during the summer vacation season and on into fall when the leaves were changing colors and the elk were romping, stomping and bugling along the Buffalo.
THE WORD GETS OUT
A mention of the cabins in Southern Living didnít help, nor did the continuously updated encomiums of guests posted on the Web site. Words like "awesome," "beautiful," "breathtaking," "spectacular" and "wonderful" appeared frequently in the reviews of guests from big cities of Midwestern and southern states. Some comments were shamelessly gushing, invoking lines of poetry and literature to describe reactions of an emotional and spiritual nature.
Figuring the onset of winter might keep more faraway visitors at home, I learned that the entire month of December had only a few nights available among the three cabins, which are named Cherokee, Choctaw and Osage after the Indian tribes that were known to occupy the area.
We gratefully accepted an opening last Thursday in the Osage.
If it hadnít been for the photographs on the Web site, we might have had second thoughts when we turned off Highway 74 onto a bumpy, gravel road leading one mile to the cabins. Along the way, we passed a couple of derelict trailers, a pile of discarded refrigerators and several homes of a humble sort.
Signs of civilization, such as it was, were left behind when we entered Frenchís 200 acres of Ozark terrain where the cabins are spread far apart along a bluff rim so that one couldnít be seen from another.
French, a trim and bearded senior citizen of an affable and expressive nature, met us on the deck of the Cherokee cabin to provide us an overview of the property and the cabins.
He needlessly spread his arm to the panoramic view of the bluff-lined Buffalo River, which had immediately captured our attention.
"The first bluff you see down there is Gar Hole Bluff, and the next one upstream is Bee Bluff," French said.
The view was spectacular enough that it would be a great spot even with only a tent for shelter.
The cabins of similar size and design, however, were oriented to the view with decks wrapping around one side and across the rear. The side deck off the kitchen had a table for outdoor meals. Half of the back deck was outside the master bedroom with double French doors to bring the view inside, while the other half was outside the living room, again with French doors opening to the interior.
French said he became enthralled with Newton Countyís natural beauty upon moving there more than 30 years ago. A geologist by profession, he had an eye for places of special significance and began to acquire select properties, including what is now known as Horseshoe Canyon Guest Ranch.
Frenchís involvement in real estate eventually led him to become a fulltime Realtor in Jasper in the mid-1980s.
The 200 acres where the Ozark Bluff Dwellers cabins are located were bought in 1972, but French watched and waited for 30 years before building the first cabin.
In the exploding development of the Internet in recent years, for example, he recognized a key aid for launching a cabin resort. He also took a close look at the cabin competition in the county.
"I saw that there were a lot of cabins, but a lot of them were pretty rough," he said. "As the Internet developed, I decided the time was finally right for build several upscale cabins."
Frenchís affinity for rock is shown in the use of boulders, rocks, flagstone and gravel to create an attractive and natural-looking landscape around the cabins.
His affinity for wood shows in construction of the cabins. "Red cedar is the best stuff for log cabins because it has a much lower moisture content than you have in the logs shipped in from other states; you wonít see any gaps or cracks in these walls," he said, noting that the cabins had all been constructed by a Mennonite craftsman from Berryville.
The interiors of the cabins are visions of shining woodwork. Cypress and pine are used in floors and ceilings, but the walls, doors, stairs and banisters glow with the varnished natural grain of red cedar.
Each cabin features three bedrooms and two baths on three levels, with a bedroom on the loft, main and lower levels, each with views to the outdoors.
The centerpiece is the living room with a 20-foot cathedral ceiling, The room is dominated by a floor-to-ceiling fireplace and chimney made of native Atoka sandstone.
Frenchís intention to provide upscale cabins shows in the interior furnishings, which are far above the utilitarian furnishings of many rental cabins. A special example in the master bedroom of the Cherokee cabin is a bed constructed from the deadwood of a 4,500-year-old bristlecone pine from California. Rustic wood construction, however, is common to nearly all of the beds and much of the furniture in the cabins.
also applies to interior decorative touches, which include wildlife
and landscape paintings, green plants, hand-crafted pottery and
glass, hangings of rugs and more.
Thanks to thoughtful
provisions of cedar shavings for kindling and a big stack of
firewood, getting a blaze going in the fire pit was easy.
Unfortunately, a strong wind building ahead of a northerner made it
too uncomfortable to sit outdoors.
The yearning for vacation cabins
and second homes in the great outdoors is running hot from sea to
shining sea, and all the mountains, rivers and lakes in between.
This story was published Thursday, December 16, 2004 in the Northwest Arkansas Outdoors of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette