Parkin Archeological State Park, Oct. 2012 (or Happy Father’s Day 2013!)

I was talking with a friend the other day about how I have several blog posts I’ve been meaning to write, and realized that I’d better do it soon, before best intentions become forgotten ones.  The intent of my blog, after all, is to keep a record of camping and fun experiences with Joe, for Joe.  So for Father’s Day this year, I’m picking up where we left off –father, son, and dog- in Arkansas.

On the drive back from our trip to Village Creek State Park, Joe, Nitro, and I stopped by Parkin Archaeological State Park.  Parkin is located in northeast Arkansas, along the St. Francis River.  While they don’t have camping  there, they do have an informative museum and a short walking trail.

The park is located on what was once Sawdust Hill, a 20th century African-American community of timber and sawmill workers. As early as 1000 AD, it was a bustling Mississippian Native American village named Casqui, according to some archaeologists.  Proximity to the river made this space a valuable piece of land, once upon a time.  Today the Parkin site is on the National Register of Historic Places. [Read more...]

A foraging we will go….

Well, I guess 2012 is just about over and done!   When I started this little adventure log, I wanted to write at least one post a month.  I’ve only missed September, so I’m pleased with that.  I’m looking forward to 2013 – we already have several expeditions in mind, and I can’t wait to see what they hold in store for us.

For December, I thought I would write about our mushroom investigations during our “recent” trip to Village Creek State Park.  While on our trip to Petit Jean, Joe was enamored with all the different varieties of mushrooms we found in the woods.  My dad played the role of instructor, and taught Joe a few key do’s and don’ts to follow when looking at wild mushrooms.

Later, Pops sent Joe a Pocket Naturalist Guide to Mushrooms in the mail, which Joe studied and learned how to identify various mushroom species.  To my surprise, while we were on the trails at Village Creek, he (correctly) identified several different species.  [Read more...]

Village Creek State Park, Oct. 2012

Just the good ole boys....

Just the good ole boys….

Last month, I decided to arrange an impromptu father, son, and dog getaway during Joe’s fall break from school.  I packed the Explorer up on Saturday night and surprised Joe with the news of the trip about 30 minutes before we left on Sunday.  Thankfully, Joe enjoyed our first camping expedition earlier in the year, so he was excited to go on another adventure.  With a few last minute preparations, we were ready to head out.  As we were leaving, Michelle asked “Did you remember the anti-bacterial?”.  Ummmmm, no?!?! 

 For this trip, we travelled about 75 miles to Village Creek State Park near Forrest City, Arkansas.  The park was small, but nice, and had but a few campers, due to our Sunday arrival.  Village Creek has about 25 miles of multi-use trails and a large portion of the park is dedicated to horse riding.  It is a pretty little place to visit, and is situated on a unique Arkansas geologic feature named Crowleys Ridge

When we arrived at the park, we made the obligatory stop at the visitor center to check in and look at all the guides and goodies.  We also watched a program about the animals of Village Creek, given by one of the park interpreters.  After checking in, we started setting up camp site #34.  Our elevated campsite was really nice, the tent pad was set back in the woods from the rest of the camp.   This gave a feeling of being a bit more secluded from the other campsites around us.  After eating dinner and exploring a bit, we built a nice fire and then hit the sleeping bags. [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...]

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...]

Back in the day…part II

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

The rides back and forth from Tennessee to Texas were long, and on many of those trips, our Grandmother would pick us up or drop us off.  She and my grandfather were heavy smokers, and when they drove us on long trips, I spent a lot of time on the floorboard of the back seat trying not to suffocate from second-hand smoke.  Somehow, both Grandma and Grandpa believed that smoking was only enhanced if the windows were rolled UP, when you lit up!  Yep, Grandma and Grandpa were serious smokers.  Grandma smoked Vantage Menthol 100′s and Grandpa smoked L&M Golds, also 100′s.  After all, the only thing better than a cigarette is a long one, right?!?!?

I’d guess that they each smoked  close to two packs a day at their  peak.  That’s one every 24 minutes, folks.  Try it sometime, and you’ll feel like you’ve gone to hell – and smell like it, too!  We begged them to quit for a long time, and eventually Grandma did quit, when my sister told her that she couldn’t smoke around her first born.  Grandpa, who smoked where he pleased, when he pleased, was even relegated to the back-yard when he wanted to smoke after that first great-grandchild came along.

Wonderland of Lights - Marshall, Texas

Image courtesy

On our last trip down memory lane, we were in Jefferson, Texas at the Hamburger store.  Next up in among my favorite memories of yesteryear travels are the ‘Wonderland of Lights’ in Marshall, Texas.   Like Jefferson, Marshall is a small town along US 59.  In the mid-1980′s, Marshall city leaders worked to increase economic activity in the area and eventually came up with a plan to hold a Christmas light festival, now known as the ‘Wonderland of Lights’.  This festival is held annually, beginning around Thanksgiving through Christmas and boasts ALOT of Christmas lights, and brings ALOT of people to this otherwise, fairly small, unassuming east Texas town.

My Grandma was a BIG fan of Christmas decorations and lights.  She had all kinds over the years, white single mini-lights, several colors of icicles, and my personal favorite – the big multi colored ones.  There were several years, she would just leave them up for months after Christmas had come and gone.  I used to love coming home to Liberty in the winter and pulling down her street, only to be greeted by a new variety of Christmas lights.  When Grandma was shuttling us to Texas, she would time it so that we could get to see the ‘Wonderland of Lights’ in Marshall.  While I had spent the first 8 hours of the trip on the floorboard, I would come up for air when we got to Marshall to view the Christmas lights.  The display of lights there makes most others pale in comparison.  When the Marshall Courthouse is lit up, and the windows of the car are rolled down, it was a good time to be a kid. [Read more...]