Into Arkansas

15 May

The last few days we have been travelling in Arkansas whose motto is ‘the Natural State’. As we entered the State we visited the Welcome Centre in El Dorado  and were given a nice green sticker with the motto written on it, we decided it could not go on our sticker wall until we felt Arkansas had earned it and shown us its natural side, today it is displayed prominently above our door.

Our first night was spent at White Oaks State Park overlooking the lake, regular readers will be aware this is my favorite position for a campsite. A white egret entertained us with his fishing antics, not seeming to catch a lot for all the effort he was putting in to it, we could see plenty jumping out of the water but he was always looking in the opposite direction! The woodland walk along the side of the lake was a little damp after a ovenight down poor but we managed a couple of miles before a large flooded part of the path caused us to turn around. We were impressed with our first look at Arkansas State Parks and hoped they would all match up the same.

Unfortunately this was not to be and the next night we arrived at Lake Catherine where some of the sites were quite nice overlooking the lake, but we managed to get a space next to some not so quiet campers with a great view of the industrial site on the opposite shore…. hey ho!

Day three, we drove into Hot Springs to visit the National Park there. Not in best humour after the previous night we were less than impressed to discover after driving around for half an hour looking for parking that there are only 4 RV parking spaces in the whole of the town, these were next to the visitor centre. The literature clearly states that there is plenty of on street parking, true, and several car parks, true…. but not for RV’s, which it failed to mention…. Luckily we were early enough to fill one of the empty spaces and enable us to visit the town. ( Moan over!!!)

Hot Springs has long been known for its bath houses,  supplied by the numerous hot springs which lie deep    underneath the town. From as early as the 1700’s the waters have been used for bathing and medicinal purposes but it was in the 1920’s that the now famous Bath House Row was built and the area was declared a National Park.

The prescription treatments dispensed at the Bath Houses included some which now seem quite barbaric, like Mercury baths for venereal diseases and an electrode treatment for those suffering with nerves. Our Ranger guide with whom we took a tour caused much laughter with her description of this treatment and we all agreed with her thoughts that it would worsen the condition rather than treat it.

By the 1960’s the Bath Houses and their treatments had fallen out of fashion and slowly they closed their doors and fell into disrepair only the Buckstaff clung on and today is the only property to have been in continual use since the 1920 hey day. Thankfully in the time the buildings lay empty they were not vandalised. When in the 1980’s the National Park began to restore them the Fordyce Bath House which houses the parks visitor centre and museum still had many features intact if needing a little repair. How sad it would have been if the beautiful stained glass in the pictures below had been destroyed.

Today most of the Bath Houses are back in use and the town has made the most of its opportunity for tourism the small stores and hotels all providing for the modern tourist looking for a view into the past.

Overnight we stayed in the National Park Campground, a nicely shaded site with easy access to a trail up the Hot Spring Mountain. While the temperatures are a little lower here than in Louisiana it is still very humid, the uphill climb was pleasantly shaded with the tall deciduous trees so typical here and an occasional breeze helped to cool us too. Had the weather been a little cooler we could have stayed longer and walked further but the exercise begins to feel a little less than pleasurable when you get back feeling like a wet flannel!

From Hot Springs we followed highway 7, a State scenic route, to Petite Jean State Park. We delighted in driving roads which had curves and slopes, were lined by dense woodland and occasionally opened out at small towns or clusters of dwellings. With windows wide open to catch the breeze we were constantly aware of the scent of flowers in the air, either white blossoms of which shrub we are unsure or yellow honeysuckle. The Honeysuckle is considered a pest as it climbs the trees and covers the ground but it is a very beautiful one.  We were hoping to stay over until Sunday, but began by asking for a site for 2 nights. We were given a choice of 3 which we went to view, the first was too sloping, the second too narrow, the third (this begins to sound like Goldilocks) we drove into both ways around, moved left, moved right, backwards and forwards…. we just did not fit. Back at the registration desk we decided to stay one night to enable a site in the AAA campground which was lovely, and….overlooked the lake! Unfortunately someone else had it booked for the week-end. Lesson learned, State Parks are busy at week ends and we have to book!

Determined to make the most of our one night at this lovely park we set off for a walk. We decided to link parts of 3 trails together to give us about the distance we would prefer to cover. The Scout Trail began not far from the campground, after we crossed the bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Core, to whom the US owes such a huge debt for the work they did in the 1930’s.

The trail could perhaps be described as rustic, a little rough in places but enjoyably challenging leading us alongside the river and through woodland but we were a little perturbed when we looked for the bridge crossing we intended to make. We could see the bridge, but the path to it just did not exist, we scrambled down the rocky slope taking a rest in the shade when we reached the bridge.

We continued on the opposite bank and experienced a few other challenging spots on the trail before reaching the waterfall and its associated pools.

Beneath the trees and beside the water it was so beautiful, peaceful and cool. I took of my walking shoes and let the feet cool, very tempted to pop them into the water. We spent some time here enjoying the surroundings and taking photos totally alone. In fact I think we met only two or three others on the entire trail.

The bridge in the background of the above picture was just around the corner but before we could cross it we discovered the path once more disappeared, this time due to a fallen tree ripping it away. By clambering under one part and over another we managed once again to pick our way to the bridge. Looking back from the opposite bank we could see a cave in the rocks which we had totally missed when on the same side.

You would think that would have been enough issues for one trail but the return section of the Cedar Creek trail also brought its challenges….

almost vertical but at least there were steps!

Thankfully this fell a while ago and not on our trip.

We probably only walked about 4 miles, but it took us 3hrs, we usually manage around 2 miles an hour or better. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and the fact that we had finally got in a half decent walk, something we have been missing recently.

We ate tea outside enjoying the cool of the evening  and the lake view, quite a way beyond our site was a honeysuckle clambering up a tree and its scent filled the air. A family of Canada geese had a last swim before noisily closing the day as the dusk fell and we fell into bed.

It was such a shame we could not stay longer however the forecast rain would probably have stopped us walking anyway. If the other trails were in the same condition as the one we walked they would be no place to be in wet weather. Private campgrounds are few and far between in Arkansas but being well endowed with State Parks, Forest campgrounds and Corps of Engineer Campgrounds there is little need…. except if you need to do washing or access the internet as we did.

We decided to make our way to a Corps of Engineers camp near Dardenelle, the forecast thunder storms seemed to have arrived earlier than expected when a deluge came towards us along the road near the Arkansas River, then on arrival at the campground we found there was a fishing competition taking place and 500 campers had filled the campground. The very helpful ranger directed us to a couple of other sites which he rang to ensure there was space for us and we retraced our tyre treads back to Russelville to stay high above the river on the campground there. We really do need to make provisions for the week ends!

PS. Our Friday night entertainment began around 9.30 with a lightning storm which continued with intermittent thunder and torrential rain throughout the night. The forecast was correct for once.

One Response to “Into Arkansas”

  1. Jennie May 16, 2010 at 10:02 am #


    just seeing how this comment thing works…


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