Petit Jean
November 10-11, 2007
We had so much fun on our camping trip to the Buffalo River  that we were raring to go again the following weekend. The boys and I left town a little after 9 Saturday morning hoping to find peak fall colors at the state park on Petit Jean Mountain. For sentimental reasons we passed up all the lunch opportunities in Russellville and Dardanelle so that we could eat at the restaurant at the park lodge. That turned out to be a mistake, as the park was packed with folks out to have a good time in the outdoors (same as us) and we had to wait over an hour for a table. At least there were a few sights to keep the boys occupied.
I could go off on a rant about Arkansas State Parks here, but instead I’ll just that there were no vacant camp sites at Petit Jean. Before setting out to find somewhere to camp, we drove to the east end of the mountain to the Petit Jean grave site and the surrounding overlook area named Stout’s Point. Though I’ve been to Petit Jean Mountain many times, I never drove far enough east to find this fantastic spot. The boys scrambled around the numerous big sandstone boulders at the overlook until I told them we just had to leave in search for a campsite.
We drove back to Dardanelle then east up Mount Nebo. We didn’t like the camping situation there so we drove back down the mountain, which is always fun. Next we drove east on Highway 22. The boys agreed with me that we would check out the camping area at Shoal Bay park, and if things didn’t work out we would gladly go home. We were all getting tired of driving.
Shoal Bay turned out to be a great campsite. All the other campers there had big RVs which were spread out in the one loop that was open. We found a spot that was relatively isolated, since the area behind us was part of a loop that was closed for the season. We weren’t exactly in the wilderness, but it felt close enough like it. It was quiet, peaceful; we had trees around us and above us.
The next morning after breakfast, I didn’t have to tell the boys we were going hiking. THEY told me they wanted to go! We tore down camp and drove back to Petit Jean.
We hiked the Cedar Falls trail, which starts at the lodge and winds its way down the steep slope of Cedar Creek Canyon. We stopped so I could take pictures of some bright orange and green lichen growing on the side of a rock outcrop, and the boys took advantage of that by finding interesting rocks to climb. By the time I was ready to continue, Cliff had managed to find a way on top of the outcrop I was shooting. Near where the trail reached the canyon floor, the boys had climbed up on a huge fallen tree that the trail went under. They asked me to take their picture.
We crossed a footbridge over the creek and turned right to head upstream beside the creek to the base of Cedar Falls. We stopped again so that I could take pictures underneath a Red Maple tree growing next to one of the many small pools on the creek. The surface of the pool was covered with brightly colored leaves.
The entire hike to the falls is just a mile from the lodge, and we were there fairly quickly. The falls were only dripping steadily so I didn’t even try to snap pictures. Golden leaves from the giant Sweetgum trees in the canyon were continuously floating down, covering many surfaces or filling the gaps between the boulders. Cliff and Grant played around the boulders and canyon walls for almost an hour.
On the hike back the boys made a fascinating little discovery. They noticed one of the small pools was completely covered with floating leaves. What’s a boy to do except throw a large stones into the pool and see what happens? When a rock first hit, colorful waves would radiate out from the center. It was quite a sight! The resulting hole in the was visually interesting, but even more cool was how the leaves started moving slowly yet perceptibly toward the center of the hole, intent on filling in the hole. Shame on me for not getting out the camera and taking some photos. Oh well, I bet there’ll be another time.