The 23rd International Conference on Subterranean Biology field excursion will highlight karst features and issues in two general areas in northern Arkansas. The field excursion will be a very long day, leaving campus at 7:30 and returning at 22:30. Boxed lunches, snacks, and beverages will be provided. Dinner is also included. Charter buses will leave from the west side of Harmon Avenue Parking Garage at 7:30. Travel time to our first stop is 2.5 hrs. Our first stop is at Tyler Bend Campground, Buffalo National River, where we will meet National Park Service (NPS) staff and learn about karst management and issues with the National River. From there, we will travel to Blanchard Springs Caverns (U.S. Forest Service, Sylamore District) and learn about the cave while participating in the Dripstone Tour. Boxed lunches will be provided while traveling from Tyler Bend to Blanchard Springs Caverns. Travel time from Tyler Bend to Blanchard Springs Caverns is 1.5 hours. After touring the cave, we will drive to Ponca, Arkansas, where we will have dinner at Cedar Crest Lodge with members of the Upper Buffalo River Association. Drive time from Blanchard Springs Caverns to Cedar Crest Lodge is 2.5 hours. Following dinner, we will return to campus arriving around 22:30. Travel time from Cedar Crest Lodge to campus is 1.5 hrs.
Buffalo National River
Our first stop will be Tyler Bend at the Buffalo National River. Buffalo National River was established by Congress in 1972 as the country’s first national river. Although approximately 135 miles of the free-flowing river are included within the boundaries of the national river, only 11% of the overall watershed is under direct NPS management. Originating in the Boston Mountains of the Ozark Plateau, the river generally flows in an easterly direction to its confluence with the White River. Flanking the river are multi-colored bluffs of eroded sandstone, limestone and dolomite that tower in some places to heights over 400 feet. The karst geology of the region is reflected in a landscape marked by numerous caves, cliffs, sinkholes, waterfalls, springs, and rock formations.
A wide variety of plant and animal species are supported by the diversity of habitats found along the river, influenced by varied elevations, soil types, moisture levels and exposure. Hunting and fishing are allowed in the national river under state and NPS regulations. A diverse range of cultural resources and historic sites are protected within the national river, including prehistoric village and shelter sites, historic farmsteads, mining sites, and Civilian Conservation Corps structures.
The park’s 94,293 acres (38,159 hectares) are divided into three management districts. Park headquarters are located in Harrison (Boone County), Arkansas. Park visitation has averaged more than 800,000 visitors a year. In addition to visitor water-based activities with multiple launch points along the river, the park offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails and designated trails for horseback riding. Three designated wilderness areas are included in the park boundaries (the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area, the Ponca Wilderness Area, and the Lower Buffalo Wilderness Area). Because there are few roads which parallel the river and few accessible overlooks, river and trail trips are among the best ways to experience the park.
More than 300 caves are known within the park boundary, and these sites provide habitat for more than 200 species. Four federally listed bats (Myotis grisescens, M. septentrionalis, M. sodalis, and C. townsendii ingens) use caves in the park. Twenty-two troglobionts occur within the park, including several endemic species. The arrhopalitid springtails, Pygmarrhopalites buffaloensis and P. youngsteadtii are known from single sites, respectively.
More information about Tyler Bend Campground can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/tyler-bend-campground.htm
More information about Buffalo National River can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/buff/index.htm
Blanchard Springs Caverns
Located in Stone County, approximately 2 miles off Highway 14 near Mountain View, the Blanchard Springs Caverns is one of the most spectacular and carefully developed caves found anywhere. Visitors enter a “living” cave where glistening formations like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstones are still changing. These crystalline formations are the result of minerals deposited by dripping water. Forest Service interpreters guide all tours. Stroll through large, beautifully lighted rooms with handrails and paved trails for comfortable walking. Climb over rocks, crawl through and slide down red clay mud in an undeveloped section of the Caverns. Tour the “Water Works” exhibit hall and view the movie “The Amazing World Below” which introduces you to the underground world. Blanchard Springs Caverns is a three-level cave system, two of which are open for guided tours.
The Dripstone Tour through two huge rooms filled with an incredible variety and number of crystalline formations – sparkling flowstone, towering columns, and delicate soda straws. This shorter, easier trail takes you almost half a mile one-way through the Caverns. All stairs can be avoided, making trails accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. However, inclines are steep. Strong assistants are needed to maneuver wheelchairs.
More information about Blanchard Springs Caverns can be found here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/osfnf/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5351305
Cedar Crest Lodge, Ponca, AR
Our field excursion dinner will be held at Cedar Crest Lodge in the town of Ponca in the upper watershed of the Buffalo River. Ponca is one of the more popular destinations for access to the Buffalo National River, and is located on a small tributary of the Buffalo River. Our hosts for the night are the proprietors of the Cedar Crest Lodge and members of the Upper Buffalo River Association. Dinner will be catered by Low Gap Café.