Sunday, August 5, 2012

Arkansas' Number One

One of the on-going discoveries, or realizations, is that there is so much about our own country that we do not know.

The most recent site of this discovery process was Arkansas, beginning with its state park system, specifically, Petit Jean State Park.
Several fellow RVers had recommended visiting the state parks; one called Petit Jean "the prettiest park" he had ever seen.

Paging through the Arkansas State Parks Guide at the Russellville (AR) Visitor Information Center and seeing the beauty of this and the other 51 state parks certainly confirmed these earlier assessments.

Also, noted in the booklet was the statement: "Half of Arkansas is covered by mountains, including the Ozarks, Ouachitas, and distinctive mesas in the Arkansas River Valley." One more lesson noted.

On the day of our visit to the park, we left early to beat the heat, but by 9 a.m. it was already 94 degrees.

Our first views (above) of the park were impressive.

But when we found the first trailhead, we were in for some surprises. The first had to do with the trails themselves.

The Cedar Falls Trail was wide with stately stone pillars anchoring iron railings. (Serious hikers might scoff at the ease of moving to a location for viewing Cedar Falls, but for the less agile with creaky joints, the trail produced by the Civilian Conservation Corp (in 1933) was much appreciated.)

This trail, which was better than the majority of trails at the national parks we have visited, may reflect the park's history.

Logging in the area was judged to be too expensive, so in 1921, the Fort Smith Lumber Company offered a large section of land to the government as a national park. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives providing for the acceptance of the area as Petit Jean National Park.

In a meeting with Stephen Mather, Director of the National Park Service, company officials were told that he could not recommend the area be accepted by Congress as a National Park because it was too small to justify the cost of development and administration and, as beautiful as it was, it was probably not unique in the nation.

He did suggest, however, efforts be directed to bringing about its acceptance by the Arkansas Legislature as a state park. And with the donation of land around Cedar Falls and a portion of the canyon by some other landowners, Petit Jean State Park was established--the first state park in Arkansas.

The second surprise had to do with the effects of the drought. In the photos above, we could see trees of brown leaves scattered through the forested area; we could see the Rock House Cave (above), but we could not see or hear the nearby Cedar Falls from the Cedar Falls Overlook.

The picnic area showed the effects of the lack of rain.

We continued our tour. At the Cedar Creek Trailhead is the log cabin of the first permanent white settlers who came to the mountain in the 1840s and established small farms. John Walker and his family arrived about 1845 and built this log cabin. The cabin was originally located north of what is now Lake Bailey, but it was later moved and restored by the CCC in the 1930s.

But I'm not sure what this piece of equipment is in the center of the approximately 20'x20' cabin.

We considered driving down this road to the Rock House Cave, but the washboard surface and the narrowing roadway persuaded us not to continue the downhill road to the floor of the canyon.

We stopped by picturesque Lake Bailey and hoped that paddle boaters, canoeists, and kayakers would soon be populating the park.
Lastly, a note about the origin of the name of the park:

"The Legend of Petit Jean is a romantic Arkansas tale that purports to explain the origin of the name of Petit Jean Mountain. Although there are other explanations that are both more logical and more mundane, when someone refers to 'The Legend of Petit Jean,' the person is most likely alluding to the romantic one.

"According to the story, in the 1700s, a young French girl named Adrienne (or, more specifically, Adrienne Dumont) disguised herself as a cabin boy named Jean in order to follow her beloved to the New World. Because of her small size, the other sailors nicknamed her 'Petit Jean,' French for 'Little John.'

"At some point after arriving in Arkansas, Petit Jean became ill, although the exact nature of her illness remains unclear. One source implies that she contracted swamp fever while nursing her lover back to health from that disease; another lists symptoms—'fever, convulsions, delirium, and finally coma'--but only says that her malady was 'strange to Chavet and his sailors.' Whatever her illness might have been, her identity was revealed.

"Unfortunately, she succumbed to the illness, died, and was subsequently buried atop the mountain now called Petit Jean" (

No comments: