Sunday, August 30, 2015

Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas --- Part One

Roger here...  After three sometimes stressful days of driving south from Dayton, Ohio, we arrived in what we both refer to as a slice of heaven.  Months ago we asked friends of ours from Retama Village about their favorite places in Arkansas.  Based on their suggestions, we picked three destinations to spend week-long stays.  It helps to have good friends who have lived in the areas we want to visit.  Thanks Eddie, Mary Catherine, Larry and Sharon.  We owe you!

The picture above shows our view from our full-hookup site at Petit Jean State Park.  The peaceful lake in the background through the pine trees is Lake Bailey.  

The sites here are huge --- concrete patio with a separate space (surrounded by rock pavers) for setting up a tent or screen house.  We had no need to do that since our motor home was situated to provide full afternoon shade.

There was plenty of room to set up the dogs' Coolaroo outdoor beds.  The space between individual sites was incredible.  This was the nicest state park camping site that we have encountered in our seven years of rving, and we got to stay for seven days!

This is a photo of one of the typical pull-through sites.     There were only a few other campers here during most of our stay, until the weekend warriors and their happy kids arrived.  After the weekend they all left :-). 

Hiking is often the attraction for us, especially in state/national parks.  It is even more fun when we can take the dogs with us.  Good for them.  Good for us.  We hiked every day that we were here on trails that rivaled those of many of the national park trails we have enjoyed.  We hiked so much, and took so many pictures that we are dividing this blog into three separate posts.  

Hike/Bike trail, Mather Lodge, Cedar Falls Overlook...

After a good night's sleep we awoke to perfect weather --- low humidity, sunny, highs in the low 80s.  What a gift to enjoy weather like that in August in the south!  We leashed up the dogs and embarked on what would be a five-mile hike. 

A 1 3/4 mile paved bike trail connects the camping area to the Mather Lodge.  There were no bicycles -- or other hikers, for that matter -- during our first walk.  We enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Passing the Visitor Center....

... we walked by a bronze statue that commemorated the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the great depression.  The intricate stonework and beautifully designed buildings in this park would not have been built without the efforts of the young men of the CCC.

This chimney is all that remains of the recreation hall that was used by the CCC workers.  The fireplace was two-way, creating warmth both inside and outside.   Many of the workers had families back home where they sent their $1/day wages.

CCC Water Tower

After another stroll through the woods we came upon this interesting structure.  We discovered that it was the original water tower for the state park.

As the trail opened up and the first of many rock formations appeared we approached the Mather Lodge.

We took turns watching the dogs so that we could see the inside of this classic, rustic structure.  It is a functioning hotel with a swimming pool and a restaurant surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows.  

A walkway to the side of the lodge, past the pool, leads to an amazing vista.

Roger checking out the view

We soon discovered that Petit Jean State Park is a plateau that sits entirely on the summit of Petit Jean Mountain.   If you have ever read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, Lost World, you may be able to picture a place separated from the rest of the world by vertical cliffs.  Petit Jean is very much like that, except, of course, there are no dinosaurs or cannibals.  

View from Lodge Patio

After gawking at the panorama for a bit, we discovered a sign indicating that a view of Cedar Falls was just a half-mile down a side trail.  I consulted my map and discovered that we could easily reconnect with the bike path.  So off we went.  The trail along the side of a deep canyon was great.  Steps like the ones below carved out of solid rock (more handiwork of the CCC) are so much fun.

Much of the hiking surface as we approached the overlook was carpet rock.  Carpet rock occurs when cracks in sandstone are filled with iron-rich sediment, forming geometric patterns.  Very unique.

Cedar Falls, the most photographed waterfall in Arkansas, had to be down there somewhere, but where?

The dogs and I took a break next to the stone walls (that kept us from falling into the abyss) while Dianne activated the zoom lens.

Yes Bandido.  I love you, too.

Are the falls there?  They should be.  Don't see or hear 'em.

There they are!  Not much to look at.  A park ranger walked by and told us that the falls are controlled by the dam at Lake Bryan.  Since this is the dry season, not much water is flowing from the lake.  Instead of a rushing waterfall, we saw a tiny trickle. 

Only visible through a super-zoom lens, or younger eyes.

Tequila led the way (until Bandido forged ahead) back to the hike/bike trail along a lengthy series of elevated catwalks.  I love the infrastructure of this park.  The hike/bike trail led us back to our campsite.

C'mon, guys!

After the hike we drove the Toyota to a nearby deli, just outside the park, to buy a few provisions.  During that drive I noticed that we were almost out of gas.  Yikes!  The nearest gas station was 13 miles away at the bottom of the mountain.  We intended to drive the car around the park.  We could not do that unless I risked a trip to the nearest town --- a nagging worry.

Cedar Falls Trail...

The Cedar Falls Trail, which starts behind the Mather Lodge, is touted to be the most difficult hike in the park.  It is only two miles in length, but much of that distance is vertical.  Dianne was not overly excited about this, and I was not overly excited about controlling a dog on all those steps, so I did it alone.  The last time I did a vertical loner (at Yosemite), I had significant knee trouble.  Despite Dianne's worries of a repeat performance, there were no problems on this day.  I walked on the hike/bike trail to the trailhead at the lodge.  I did not dare use any gasoline.

Steep steps carved out of stone.  What a great start!

Down, down, down.....

Lots of switchbacks.  Uh-oh.  This is an out and back trail.  What goes down, must come up.

I have more trouble going down than up.  Good news.  My knees were still fine.

Hiking through the lichen-covered (not bird poop) boulders --- down, down, down.

Near the bottom

Cool narrow bridge across Cedar Creek.

Good move leaving the dogs behind.  Bandido would have hated the narrow bridge with the holes in the floor.

The trail quickly became much easier to negotiate.  Nice walk along Cedar Creek in the bottom of the canyon.

 A short time later I arrived at the diminished waterfall.  A pretty sight despite the lack of gushing white water.

I was the only person on the trail (on the way down).  I spent some time enjoying the serenity of the waterfall and the pond.  I tried to call Dianne to assure her that she did not need to send in the park rangers to rescue me, but there was no phone service --- not a surprise in the bottom of a narrow canyon.

As I heard a family approaching, I decided that it was time to retrace my steps. 

Up, Up, Up!

It really was not too bad.  There were enough level spots along the way to balance the exertion, and honestly the exertion felt good.

I called Dianne when I reached the top and bought a couple of t-shirts for us in the lodge.  The employee at the lodge desk where I paid for the shirts told me that I should risk the 13-mile drive for gasoline, since most of it was downhill.  I thought about it.

 I went back outside, sat on a bench and ate a bologna sandwich that I brought along while gazing at the scenery below.  After a while, I made my way back to the hike/bike path and headed for home.  Two young deer stopped to watch me before bounding into the forest.

My GPS-activated phone app, "MapMyWalk+", indicated that I had hiked 7+ miles, between the trek to the trailhead, the trail, and the trek home.  Good for me.

During our stay, we always walked the dogs around the campground after dinner.  Our route varied from evening to evening, but we often walked near the lake.

Dianne built fires most nights.  She likes doing this, as her friends can confirm.  This was a perfect place for campfires since our neighbors were not nearby and the weather was perfect.

Check back soon.  Our next post will cover two more awesome hikes at Petit Jean State Park, one of them being one of the prettiest hikes we've ever taken.

The pet picture of the day shows Big Chuck enjoying some outdoor deck time.

1 comment:

Nancy and Bill said...

WOW...what a gem!! We have put this park on our TODOS list!!!