Have you ever gone somewhere close to your home and wondered, “Why have I never noticed this place before?” Well, I am guilty of that! In my 25 years of living in Arkansas, it was only three years ago that I became aware of a jewel called Boxley Valley.
It is located only about a 2 1/2 hour’s drive from where I live, nestled in the Ozarks of North Central Arkansas. I’ve driven through it on my way to other places but never really paid attention and didn’t realize there was anything extraordinary about it. Not until a friend of mine started posting pictures on Facebook. I was enthralled. Who knew? Well, almost everybody did, except me.
So, I started a campaign among my traveling friends to take a day trip down there and check it out. I got no takers. None of them seemed interested at all! Finally, after enough complaining and whining, one of them said, “OK, I’ll go with you.” And that started an appreciation that just continues to grow.
What initially got my attention about Boxley Valley was the fact that there are elk herds roaming freely all over the place. Yes, elk in the Ozarks. They have become a tourist attraction and people come from long distances just in the hope of seeing them. So, my first order of business was to see the elk. I was told not to get my hopes up because they are elusive creatures. But we were blessed on that first trip to see a huge herd right by the highway. They were grazing and didn’t seem at all concerned that we were there. It was amazing and I was hooked. I’ve now been back to Boxley several times, specifically to see the elk.
But there is so much more to the Boxley area besides just those majestic creatures. If you love to hike, there are trails everywhere. Some are easy, some more difficult. Most of them have detours along the way that will make it more enjoyable, or benches to sit and rest, and a lot of them lead to beautiful waterfalls. I took a hike with a friend this visit on the assurance that it was an easy trail, and for the most part, it was. When it got to the part where the sign said, “Use extreme caution from this point onward”, it took us all by surprise. I decided to sit down on the bench and wait for my companions to do their exploring. When they got back a short time later, we ate our lunch in the shade of the trees and enjoyed a very nice time together.
If you are the outdoorsy type, there are other things to do in the Boxley area besides hiking. During this visit, we saw lots of birds and butterflies on their yearly migration.
They had interrupted their journey to feast on the nectar of the various plants that still bloomed in the area. Topping off their energy reserves before they took off to their next destination, they each drank deeply, completely ignoring our camera clicks. The bees were in full force, as well, taking advantage of the last bit of nectar from the flowers before it was all gone.
For people who enjoy water sports, the Buffalo River runs right through the Boxley area and offers wonderful views of camping sites and cliffs and tree-covered banks. Swimming or fishing are two activities people come to the area for but many also enjoy canoeing the Buffalo and its tributaries.
When you go, don’t forget to watch out for all the historical buildings and locations that you might otherwise pass by like I have in the past. Some of them are places that you cannot enter because they are either on private property or because the building has become unsafe for anyone to enter. Even so, there most likely are signs that tell about the site and its history. Or you can ask one of the locals. They are happy to tell you about the area and its history.
At the cemetery, the headstones tell a history as well. One of war, accident, disease, epidemics. Premature deaths and old age. There seem to be some mysteries there too. I read the headstones with a writer’s eye, conjuring up images and fantastic tales. Each stone has a story to tell. Some of the original settlers are resting there. Many of their descendants still live in the area.
Of course, if you go to Boxley Valley, you will need to eat and there are many good places to slack your hunger. One of my favorites, and a place I always go when I am there, is the Ozark Cafe. It has wonderful food, friendly staff, and interesting decor. You can buy a sweatshirt or a T-shirt that commemorates the trip and, if you’re lucky, the day you are in Jasper might be the farmers’ market. Local artisans bring all sorts of treasures to offer for sale and you can probably find something you really do need.
As you go through Ponca, be sure to stop at the Buffalo Outdoor Center. It has all sorts of necessary things like maps, books, clothing, or foodstuffs that you might need during your excursions. And you can rent cabins there as well. We rented one for our visit, and it was amazing. We have camped at Boxley, too. Cabins are by far the best option, as far as I am concerned. I like my conveniences! But if you like camping, there are great facilities available!
The cabin comfortably slept six people. But there was also a couch that someone else could have occupied, if need be. It had a fully stocked kitchen, a dining room, and a living room with a beautiful wood-burning fireplace. Three bedrooms boasted queen-sized beds. The bathroom had a huge walk-in shower. And there was a covered porch around the entire cabin, on which rested a very nice hot tub! The place had outside furniture and a porch swing where we could sit and watch the sunrise, sipping our coffee and listening as the world woke up. Or watch the clouds. Maybe see a deer. In reality, all the wildlife we saw there was an armadillo, but he kept his distance, and all was well. And, just in case you are wondering, there ws really nice internet and television.
We had initially gone to Boxley Valley to observe a dark sky event. Parts of the valley are designated dark sky areas, which means that the amount of artificial light is very limited so it does not interfere with stargazing. It was beautiful, and the stars seemed so close it felt like we could touch them. I’m sure it would have been amazing during a full moon. I’ll probably have to go back and check that out sometime soon. It was a great location for cloudwatching too!
All in all, my stay at Boxley Valley was well worth the drive because I got to share time with wonderful friends, enjoy good food, see lots of elk, participate in a hike, enjoy the sunrises, and just relax and take time for myself. That is something we all need to do occasionally because self-care is a necessary thing. Our bodies and our minds require it. If all you can do is take even one day simply to get away and refresh, you will be better for it. And in my opinion, Boxley Valley and its surrounding area is one of the best places to do just that. I hope you visit it soon.