Winter Retreats
Story and Photos by Arkansas Democrat Gazette/Buddy Gough

The Ozark Bluff Dwellers Cabins, perched high above the Buffalo River Valley, have become immensely popular with visitors to Newton County.

 

Edd French of Jasper waited and watched for 30 years before building rental cabins on a bluff overlooking the Buffalo River Valley

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.   

 
 
INTERIOR BEAUTY
   

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.
Construction components of the Ozark Bluff Dwellers Cabins in Newton County include native red cedar logs and native Atoka sandstone. A bed constructed from the deadwood of an ancient bristlecone pine is indicative of the upscale furnishings found inside the Ozark Bluff Dwellers Cabins in Newton County

   Upscale also applies to interior decorative touches, which include wildlife and landscape paintings, green plants, hand-crafted pottery and glass, hangings of rugs and more.
   Modern amenities were not overlooked in a full array of appliances, as well as satellite television and computer with Internet access. Meticulous attention to detail abounded, from a full library of Tim Ernst guidebooks and photography editions to a flashlight thoughtfully placed on the bedside night table next to a lamp, phone and alarm clock.
   One highlight of the visit was following French down a rocky trail beside a babbling brook to reach the Raney Cove Waterfall spilling about 40 feet from the rim of a bluff. Beneath the bluff was a large-curving rock shelter where French pointed out a grinding stone as evidence of Indian occupation in the distant past.
   He said if we wanted a vigorous hike the next morning, the trail from the falls continued down the rocky drainage of Raney Cove to reach the Buffalo River about 2.5 miles away.
   With only two hours of daylight remaining, we were anxious to get to the Osage cabin.
   Upon seeing the cabin at first glance and spotting a stone fire pit surrounded by stone benches outside, Kathryn pronounced, "Iím going to stay up all night!"
   French said the Osageís decks had the best views of the Buffalo River Valley, and we took full advantage, sitting in rocking chairs, watching the light of sinking sun play on the bluff and the folds of the ridges until the mountains turned blue and clouds in the sky blazed with a glorious sunset.

Varnished woodwork decorates the walls, stairs, floors and ceilings of the Ozark Bluff Dwellers Cabins in Newton County. Watching a colorful sunset from the deck of the Osage Cabin was a highlight of a recent visit to the Ozark Bluff Dweller Cabins

   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.
   It was no small consolation, however, to cocoon in the cabinís living room in front of the fireplace. Kathryn didnít stay up all night, but she did awaken at 3 a.m. to see the blaze of a billion stars shining in the sky.
   By then, the wind outside was roaring with tremendous gusts, but it was just a soft and soothing lullaby inside the cabin.
   The next morning, when the cold and ferocious wind canceled our planned hike, the cabin remained a comfortable refuge to enjoy the fireplace and the views through the French doors during the final hours of our visit.
   We could have stayed there all day, and maybe the rest of my life.
   

 

NORTHWEST TERRITORY

Cabins in the woods are considerable investments

By Buddy Gough

 

Owning a log cabin retreat in a prime location is a popular idea, but there are many cost factors to consider.

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.
   The magnitude of the trend was most evident when a camping and hiking trip to the Colorado Rockies in August included a day visit to trendy Telluride. The setting of the historic mountain town and popular ski resort was undeniably beautiful, and the big business was definitely real estate. Along the main street, there seemed to be a real estate agency on every corner, and in the middle of the blocks, too.
   The prices were nothing less than astounding ó one-acre "view lots" selling for up to $500,000, log cabins large and small, new and old going for $1,000 to $1,500 per square foot. Mountain estates ranging from $10 million to $20 million and more were plentiful.
   As one local put it, "The billionaires are running the millionaires out of Telluride."
   But cabin-building was booming everywhere in the vicinities of Creed, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Silverton and Ouray in southwestern Colorado.
   The trend has been slower in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas, but the lookers and buyers are steadily increasing, according to Edd French of Jasper, a Newton County Realtor and owner of the Ozark Bluff Dwellers resort cabins overlooking the Buffalo River.
   Located in a spectacular setting and beautifully built from native cedar logs and local limestone, the cabins fit the dream of many of Frenchís guests from metropolitan areas of Arkansas and nearby states.
   "One of the most frequent questions Iím asked is if any of the cabins are for sale," French said last week.
   He also noted that many of the people asking the question lacked a full concept of the costs, logistics and other factors involved in owning a "little log cabin" in the mountains.
   As an honest broker, French was unusually frank about the of building his cabins.
   "Log construction is expensive construction," he said. "What you see here in my cabins cost right at $112 a square foot."
   That figure essentially covered labor and materials for the foundation, exterior walls, windows, decks and metal roof, along with interior costs for flooring, ceiling, stairs, doors, fireplace, light fixtures, finished-out kitchen and bathrooms, and all the necessary plumbing, wiring and such.
   "One thing that helped [our cost] was being able to squeeze a third bedroom and bathroom under the main floor," French noted.
   OK, so each cabin of a relatively modest 1,250 square feet had a basic cost of $140,000.
   Of course, the cost didnít include appliances and the upscale furnishings and amenities.
   Nor did it include landscaping costs associated with rock walls, flagstone walkways, flower beds, a rock fire pit and stone benches.
   More substantially, the basic cost didnít include infrastructure necessary to provide the cabins with electricity, well water and road access. French estimated those costs at $20,000 per cabin.
   Significantly, neither did he mention the cost of the land where the cabins are located. He bought the property years ago when prime land in Newton County was selling for as little as $100 an acre.
   Nowadays, the three cardinal rules of real estate ó location, location, location ó are in full in the county. If a piece of property has a killer view, a big bluff or waterfall, a creek or easy access to the river, it commands a premium price of thousands of dollars per acre.
   Even then, finding a premier location is not easy in a county where more than 60 percent of the land is preserved along the river and in the national park. (For which, we can all be thankful.)
   Suffice it to say, the setting of Frenchís cabins with panoramic views, sweeping bluffs, a creek and large waterfall would be pricey.
   All things considered, a little log cabin in a beautiful spot can run $200,000 or more. The "more" would include the price of the property. In Newton County a piece of property with an exceptional view, or an exceptional natural feature like a waterfall with access and suitable for utilities would cost from $40,000 to $80,000, depending on the size of the small acreage, according to French.
   Along with ownership, however, comes the labor and costs to maintain the place and its infrastructure. Log homes, for example, are high maintenance because they have to be painted with sealant every three years or so to preserve the color of the wood and prevent the logs from splitting, cracking and rotting.
   And letís not even get into what it takes to care for wooded acreage surrounding the cabin.
   When French tells his guests that his cabins are not for sale, heís probably doing them a favor.
   If getaways to the country are limited to a couple of weeks of vacation and a few weekends a year, it is much more economical in the long run to rent than own. That way, you get all the enjoyment and none of the headaches.
   Taking Frenchís upscale cabins with their priceless views as an example, a couple could rent one once a month for $250 a weekend, or about $3,000 a year. Itís a better bargain than owning a travel trailer.
   Some of the guests have got it.
   "We have some people who have adopted a cabin as their own and insist on staying in it whenever they visit," French said.
   Yet, the yearning to own places in the great outdoors grows, and residents of Northwest Arkansas cities are not exempt.
   At my mountain property in Madison County, friends and acquaintances who come to visit indulge frequently in the exercise of deciding where they would put a cabin.
   Iíve done the same, but lately, a fire pit, outhouse and picnic shelter is looking about right.

For more information, check the Internet for ozarkbluffdwellers.com and other Web sites for cabins in Newton County.

This story was published Thursday, December 16, 2004 in the Northwest Arkansas Outdoors of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette