The wet shoe…

Joe wanted to write a blog post for our website, so without further ado, here it is!

My favorite part about camping with my grandfather was when we went to the Mather lodge and ate breakfast. But mostly I loved when my shoe got wet.


Just about the spot where the shoe got wet.  We didn’t actually go in there.  But we thought about it!


The curious case of the confounding crick…

Earlier this month, my dad met Joe and I for our third-annual spring camping trip to Petit Jean State Park in central Arkansas.  Joe’s mom was nursing a sinus infection and starting a new job (woot!) the following Monday, so she decided to let the boys fly solo this time around.  As it turned out, this was probably for the best.

All’s well that begins well, right?

Joe and I had a leisurely drive over to Petit Jean and after checking in, we went straight to Rock House Cave to make sure everything was as we’d left it since our 2013 trip.  After Rock House, we quickly set up camp, gathered some kindling and had ourselves some canned goods for dinner.  Before bedding down for the night, we managed to build a nice little fire without too much effort.  My dad was running late, so it looked like we would spend our first night sans Pops, which was disappointing, but not a big deal. So far, so good.

But at approximately 2:43(AM!) I was awakened by an anything but good and totally blood-curdling, scream.  Still half asleep, I quickly realized that the scream was emanating less than 18 inches from my head — by my own flesh and blood. [Read more...]

A Hike in the Snow…

It’s 2014, and high time to catch up on some posts.  A conversation today inspired this one, written with just a dash of my world famous sarcism and dedicated to my Dear Ole Dad.  Happy New Year!


While cleaning out some boxes at my grandmother’s house several years ago, I came upon some photographs my father had taken during my childhood. He had them organized into envelopes, each with a title and date.  I went through them until I came to the last one:

A Hike in the Snow, January 1987.  

This was the one I had been looking for. It happened so long ago, it seemed like one of those bad dreams that just.wouldn’t.stay.away.  But finally I had the proof. [Read more...]

Almost Famous…

Forgive me blog, for I have sinned.  It has been 33 days since my last expression.  While the posts here have been quiet lately, I have some hopes for another trip soon.  In the meantime, here is one I’ve wanted to get out there.

Mather Lodge - Petit Jean State Park - image courtesy:

Mather Lodge – Petit Jean State Park

During our “recent” outing to Petit Jean, the historic Mather Lodge was closed for renovations.  Since late 2010, the lodge has undergone a $4 million face-lift.  Originally built in 1930s by the CCC, the lodge is named after a National Park Service Director who helped persuade the powers that be to make Petit Jean Arkansas’ first State Park.

The renovations nearly doubled the size of the lodge, and provided an updated kitchen, new restaurant, and a makeover for the guest rooms.  As our luck would have it, we were scheduled to depart the mountain top the day before the grand reopening of the lodge.  I was sad that we didn’t get to drink all of the Petit Jean Kool-Aid this time around, but C’est la vie.   [Read more...]

Camping with Joe – Day 4…

Family Portrait - Petit Jean

Our last, but best picture of the trip, deserves a spot at the top…

Well, it’s been a few weeks since I posted on the merits of Vienna Sausage and Swiss Army knives, so I suppose it is time to wrap up the log of our first family camping trip.  It has been pretty neat to revisit the trip over the past couple of months, and look at all the memories we made at Petit Jean.

Day four of Camping with Joe began with a surprise when my dad awoke to find that his cooler had been raided by a four legged masked bandit, who robbed him of a few precious leftovers.  Lucky for us, he fancied the steak, and not the Shiner.  While Dad was surveying the damage, we started cooking another fine breakfast, although we did not do any dutch oven cooking this time around.  We had a few coals left in the fire pit from the night before, so Michelle made some tasty campfire toast, to go along with our eggs and sausage.

Like all good things though, our time at the little campsite we’d called home had come to an end, so it was time to break camp.  This was done in relatively short order, but still, we kind of lazed around the site, making sure we’d picked up and packed up sufficiently.   Joe was able to grab a few more minutes of Scooby Doo while we were packing.   My dad didn’t have a particular place to be, so he kept his tent up, went to the visitor center, and reserved himself another night under the stars.

While it was still hot, the weather FINALLY gave us a break.  Temps hovered most of the day in the mid-80s, and while it got close to 90, it was a welcome change from the low to mid-90s.  With the “break” in the weather, we debated for a bit whether or not to do the 4.5 mile Seven Hollows Trail.  Whether hiked alone, or as part of the Boy Scout Trail, Seven Hollows is a truly magnificent trail, and one that should not be missed.  It has dense forest, rock formations, a natural bridge, a grotto, and even a desert like feature.  But, after an already late start from breakfast and packing up, we opted for the lighter and more manageable Cedar Creek Trail.   Seven Hollows would have to wait for the next trip, and lucky for us, we made a good choice (not that there can be a bad one at Petit Jean!). [Read more...]

Morning Camp…

by Ron Blake
August 2, 2012

I love the sights and smells of morning camp
Birds sing, gentle breezes stir the early damp
Routines of home and work are far behind
Simpler things occupy yet relax the mind

Awareness in this new and special place
Creates familiar mindfulness of grace
Scents of coffee and woodsmoke mingle in air
Time collapses – deep connections linger there

Worries and concerns are easily erased
Being in this moment can be fully embraced
Such is rare treasure, value beyond measure
I love the sights and smells of morning camp

Inspired one early morning in May at Petit Jean State Park while Camping with Joe…

Camping with Joe – Day 3…

Yeah, yeah yeah.  How could it take three months to document a four day hike in the woods?  Summer my friends, the dog days of summer.  I’ll wrap up day three in this post, and you won’t have to wait a month for day four – I promise!!!

After another peaceful night of tent camping, day three of our trip began with eggs, sausage, and blueberry scones cooked in the dutch oven.  They were prepackaged, and just needed to be cooked to the right temp.  They were YUMMY.

While I cleaned up after breakfast, Michelle and Joe went to a park program called “Spiders Among Us”, where Interpreter Mystina taught the kid campers all about spider hideouts and also a Cherokee legend about spiders.  This was right up Joe’s alley, as spiders are one of his favorite creatures.  Following the program, we went back to Bear Cave and Rock House Cave, as we had done on day two.  We had a little more time today to explore around and check out more parts of each.  Here is a great shot of Joe and the two massive Bear Cave rocks.

Joe claiming Bear Cave for his own…

After about an hour at Bear Cave, my dad hiked the trail back to Mather Lodge, while we took the car over to one of the four scenic overlooks at Petit Jean, “Palisades Overlook”.  Here we could get a view of of the canyons of Cedar Creek, and I believe this is where my dad, grandmother, sisters, and I used to do a considerable amount of star-gazing, back in the day.  We met up with my dad after having a look around Mather Lodge, which was still closed for renovations.  More on that in a future post.

Later, we went back to Rock House Cave, for a quick look around, and this is where I got to introduce Joe to two must-have items while on any camping trip:  Vienna Sausage and the venerable Swiss Army Knife.  Both of these items have been staples on every camping trip that I can ever remember, whether with my dad, the boy scouts, or on my own.  I’m not a card carrying Swiss Army Knife aficionado, but I recognize their necessity on the trail. Dads have a magical power to make the simplest things into something mystic and when we were through, Joe was thoroughly convinced on the supernatural powers of the Swiss Army Knife. [Read more...]

Camping with Joe – Day 2…

With our first night sleeping on the tent pad at campsite 80 behind us, we started day two of our trip at Petit Jean in great fashion – with a nice breakfast.

After first reading Lonesome Dove 20+ years ago (and a couple dozen times since), I’ve always wanted to make dutch oven biscuits, outside, early in the morning. Since this was our first ‘official’ breakfast in our camping adventures, I got up a little early, started some coals and threw some Pillsbury canned biscuits in the dutch oven.  It wasn’t exactly like Gus’ homemade biscuits, but hey, it’s 2012, not 1875.   Uva Uvam Videndo Varia Fit, as Gus would say.

I must say the buscuits were tasty, and well worth the ‘effort’ that Pillsbury put into packaging them.We made some coffee and had link sausage and scrambled eggs w/Pickappepa to complement the biscuits.    It just doesn’t get much better than a decent meal to get your day on the right track.  Following breakfast, we lazed around the campsite for a little while and Joe played with his new knight and dragon that Pops brought him.

Later in the morning, we hit the first of several stops of the day at Cedar Falls Overlook.  In years past, Cedar Falls was just that, falls.  Due to very little rain, snow, etc. the falls are more like Cedar Trickle, these days.  It didn’t help that we arrived during the middle of drought-ma-geddon.  I won’t depress you with a picture, but this, is what it should look like.  Still, the short trail to the falls has been redone since I was last there, and Joe really liked leading the way down.  This is probably the most kid friendly (and now wheelchair accessible) trail at Petit Jean.  It is a great way to start your trip, and you get a beautiful view of the falls and canyons below you. Here is a shot of Michelle and Joe at the falls overlook.

Joe & Michelle at Cedar Falls [Read more...]

The first day of camping with Joe…

As I mentioned in the last post, our first camping trip has come and gone, and was a big success.  Of course, we went to Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton, Arkansas.  Where else would I choose to introduce my little buddy to the adventures of camping?  We stayed three nights and four days, and really did it up right, which is putting it mildly.

The biggest reason for the success of the trip was all the pre-planning.  After several weeks of scurrying here and there to look at and gather different gear, tools, supplies etc., when it came time to leave, we were sufficiently equipped with enough “stuff” to survive any calamity that the great outdoors could throw our way.  It was quite comical looking back on it, but almost all of the preparations paid off.  Here is a shot of Joe in the Explorer.  As you can tell, we packed almost every square inch of the SUV.   The Nesbit Hillbillies, maybe?

We got out of town on time, and our drive over to Petit Jean was uneventful, thanks to my mechanic, some new tires, and a little good luck.  Driving westward on I-40 to revisit adventures of the past and begin a new set of adventures with my own family was an amazing feeling.  It wasn’t as exciting as getting to see Joe’s face light up at Magic Kingdom, but moments like these are what make it all worthwhile.  It was truly great to make the drive up Petit Jean Mountain. Of course, we couldn’t go all the way up without stopping first at the Arkansas River overlook and Petit Jean’s grave site. [Read more...]

Back in the day…part III

This is the third in a three part series.  Check out “Back in the day…” part I and part II here…

Cedar Falls - Petit Jean State Park (photo courtesy RWB)

Cedar Falls - Petit Jean State Park (photo courtesy RWB)

So, this is a site about camping, right?  My last two posts have not had much to do with camping, but more to do with how I came to enjoy the sights and scenery between Tennessee and Texas.  This will be my final “Back in the day…” series post, but the first on my experiences at beautiful Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton, Arkansas.

Petit Jean is situated near the Arkansas River between the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, about an hour northwest of Little Rock in central Arkansas.  The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  At Petit Jean, the CCC worked to create cabins, facilities, roads, and several amazing hiking trails, which provide visitors an opportunity to view what Native Americans and American Pioneers saw more than three hundred years ago.  The natural features of this park are so numerous and great that I’m going give you the gory details in future posts.  Yes folks, gory details!

This beautiful mountain gets its name from an 18th century French girl, whose fiancé was heading out on an expedition to what was then the Louisiana Territory.  Upon hearing this, Petit Jean cut her hair, disguised herself as a boy, and got a job on her fiancé’s boat as a cabin boy.  While on the expedition, Petit Jean became ill near the mountain that now bears her name.  Before she died, she revealed her true identity to her fiancé.  She was buried on the mountain with the name she had assumed on the ship, “little John” (Petit Jean).  The official Petit Jean website has much greater detail of the legend of Petit Jean, as well as the history of the park’s development.

I got my first exposure to Petit Jean around 1984 or 1985, during summer and winter stays with my dad in Texas.  To the best of my recollection, this was also the place where I got an introduction to camping.  Petit Jean was just far enough away between Houston and Memphis to allow us to stretch our legs for a day (or week) or two.  My sisters and I would hike the trails with our dad, learning about nature, self-reliance, and “roughing it”.  Our camps were never really that rough, but several times I remember wondering if we would EVER make it back to civilization….alive. [Read more...]