Camping Along The River Reaps Periodic Rewards
Maumelle Campground (Corps of Engineers) - Little Rock AR
Wednesday, October 26, 2016 found me taking a leisurely, uneventful drive from Lead Hill Campground, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility on Bull Shoals Lake near Harrison AR, to Maumelle Campground, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation area at Murray Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River near Little Rock AR. A major portion of my agenda included taking a few scenic drives to (hopefully) see some of the Ozarks fall foliage in peak splendor. Unfortunately, I was a little early for the brilliant colors of fall; however, and fortunately, central Arkansas is replete with one of my “A-List” attractions – historic county courthouses – so incorporating those attractions into my quest for fall foliage made my journeys a 2-for-1 endeavor.
Friday found me taking a clockwise journey over the Pinnacle Mountain-Greers Ferry Loop, northwest and north of Little Rock. My first stop found me in Perryville AR at the storied Perry County Courthouse. The first courthouse was erected in 1841 but burned in 1850. Only 24 years later, a second courthouse suffered the same fate. This unadorned 1888 landmark has endured – after all, why pay for fluff if it’s merely going to burn?
The Panorama Over The Arkansas River Valley Is Worth A StopPetit Jean State Park
Petit Jean State Park - Petit Jean Gravesite & Overlook - Morrilton AR
(Arkansas' first state park) is located on, ta-dah, Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton AR and contains more than 80 structures, trails, and bridges in three National Historic Districts. Many of the features were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1930s as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. I had driven through Petit Jean State Park during Chapter 2010 of The Great Adventure
but didn’t take the time to “smell the roses.” Shortly after entering the park, I made a stop at the Petit Jean Gravesite and Overlook. According to legend, Petit Jean was a young girl who stowed away on a French ship so she could follow her true love to America. Disguised as a cabin boy, she followed her love - the nobleman Chavet - on his explorations up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers. So clever was her disguise, that her true identity went unknown until the young girl contracted a serious fever. Despite the best efforts of Chavet and his men, they could not save her. Petit Jean’s final request was that she be carried back to the top of the mountain. What is said to be her grave is now surrounded by an
iron fence. Interpretive panels along an adjacent boardwalk tell the story of Petit Jean and the early French exploration of the Arkansas River Valley. The views augment the worthwhile stop.
My next stop in Petit Jean State Park was Cedar Falls Overlook. The dry conditions, quite expectedly, produced a mere watertrickle, but the short walk, the informative placards and the views made my brief stop worthwhile. My final park stop was the CCC Watertower which is worth a brief stop just to admire the craftsmanship of the 1930s workmen. As historic courthouses go, the Conway County Courthouse in Morrilton is quite nondescript; however, the memorials on the grounds surrounding the landmark make the stop worthwhile for those so inclined.
I made my way to Clinton AR and stopped at Three Rivers Trailhead Sculpture
& Veteran Memorial. The eight-foot-high concrete sculpture appears, at a distance, to be a large grey native rock with water flowing over it; however, closer inspection reveals images etched into the rock-like surface which depict important events in the history of Van Buren County. A nearby kiosk provides a narrative for the images - from Indian maiden to atomic energy, from turkeys to ticks. I made my way
“Eye-Catching” Might Be An Understatement
Cleburne County Courthouse, Veterans Memorial & Field of Heroes - Heber Springs AR
to the Van Buren County Courthouse in downtown Clinton. Like many courthouses, the grounds host several veterans memorials, including a Vietnam Memorial sculpted in the geographic shape of the county.
In Heber Springs AR, the Cleburne County Courthouse was hosting a Field of Heroes – U.S. flags adorning the courthouse lawn from 9/11 through Veterans Day, 11/11. What a unique, interesting and effective tribute! There is a veterans’ memorial which also honors fallen law enforcement officers. After a very nice drive around central Arkansas, I made my way back to the RV park.
Saturday, October 29, 2016 found me on another drive, this time to the east and south of Littler Rock. The agenda on this sunny day was one state park, one museum, five courthouses and one repeat visit to an interesting restaurant. All five of the courthouses; Lonoke County Courthouse in Lonoke AR, Monroe County Courthouse in Clarendon AR, Arkansas County Courthouse — Northern District in Stuttgart AR, Jefferson County Courthouse in Pine Bluff AR and Grant County Courthouse in Sheridan AR; are interesting but, obviously, fall into a subjective continuum. Personally, I thought the Monroe County Courthouse had the most interesting architecture but was the
most difficult to photograph because of the downtown location with its inherent narrow streets and nearby storefronts. All five hosted veteran memorials of varying size and pomp.
I couldn’t help but schedule a stop at Louisiana Purchase State Park
near Holly Grove AR. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson acquired approximately 900,000 square miles of land from France for $15 million – the Louisiana Purchase. That acquisition doubled the size of the United States and helped shape its destiny. Twelve years later, President James Madison ordered an official survey of the purchase area. On October 27, 1815, a survey party headed north from the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers to establish a north-south line to be known as the Fifth Principal Meridian. That same day, another party departed westwardly from the junction of the Saint Francis and Mississippi Rivers to establish an east-west line. known as the Baseline. The intersection of the two lines would be the point from which future surveys would originate. Louisiana Purchase State Park contains that first surveyor mark. From this point emanated the surveys for Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and part of South Dakota.
The initial surveyors, back in 1815, merely marked gum
The Marker Itself Is Quite Unremarkable
Louisiana Purchase State Park - Holly Grove AR
trees; however, in 1926 following the 1921 “rediscovery” of the original “gum tree” markers by two surveyors, the L’Anguille Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in Marianna AR placed a granite monument to mark that initial survey point. The Arkansas General Assembly passed legislation in 1961 designating the area an Arkansas state park. The monument itself is located in a swamp, but placards and wayside exhibits along an elevated boardwalk convey historical morsels relevant to the Louisiana Purchase, describe how the swamps were drained to convert unusable land into a fertile agricultural asset and describe the wild flora and fauna of the swamp. The state park is accessible only during daylight hours, has no visitor center, has no ancillary activities and is a “you gotta wanna” facility. Even for history buffs, it’s a stretch to recommend the attraction for those not already passing nearby for some other reason.
My next stop, however, is an entirely different story. The Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie
in Stuttgart AR has a comprehensive, well-documented collection of some of the most interesting and unique agricultural artifacts I have ever seen under one roof. Some might argue a seed planter is a seed planter is
a seed planter; however, there are cotton seed planters, peanut seed planters and corn seed planters among others. The museum presents the history of plows (and, of course, plowing) from Egyptian times until the early twentieth century and displays numerous plows created for special applications, such as potato digger plows and sod-buster plows. A handful of steam tractors and large farm implements are also on display.
Other sections highlight the domestic side of life on the Arkansas Grand Prairie – there are household appliances such as washing machines, spinning wheels and butter churns, of course, but there are many other unique artifacts such as a cherry stoner. Life away from the agricultural endeavors of those pioneers is not forgotten in a music display area as well as a section of animal mounts demonstrating the fauna of the Grand Prairie. What was most impressive was the quality of the displays and the attention to detail of the documentation. If one wants to learn, one could spend the entire day.
My first visit to Cotham's Mercantile in Scott AR in April 2015 found me ordering the infamous Hubcap Burger. I enjoyed it so much I had to return for another
encounter with the 17-ounce burger, but this time I ordered the onion rings instead of the fries. The rings were good but the portion was very small – stay with the fries.
Workless Sunday found me heading to downtown Little Rock to visit a couple of heretofore unseen attractions and to revisit several others. I had seen the Junction Bridge Pedestrian Walkway
from afar when I visited the Clinton Presidential Center in 2010 but didn’t have time to investigate. Junction Bridge spans the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock and provides views from 40 feet above the river along the 360-foot span. The 17-foot-wide lift-bridge was originally constructed in 1899 and carried trains across the Arkansas River until 1984 when its active railroad use ended. Today, the structure is the fifth component of the Six Bridges Plan which provides miles of recreational use for area residents and visitors. Another component of the Six Bridges Plan is Big Dam Bridge
which also connects Little Rock and North Little Rock. The 4,226-foot structure sits up to 90 feet above the Arkansas River atop Murray Lock and Dam and is the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in North America built specifically for that use.
Mighty Fine Dining In Both Locations!
Cotham's in the City - Little Rock AR
I decided to revisit the Arkansas State Capitol and, as long as there are numerous memorials and/or monuments on or adjacent to the capitol grounds, I took the time to revisit several – the Arkansas State Vietnam War Memorial, the Arkansas Fallen Firefighter Memorial, the Medal of Honor Memorial Monument and the Monument to Confederate Women of Arkansas. My final stop of the day was an eatery I learned of while at Cotham's Mercantile in Scott. Cotham’s in the City
, which opened in October of 1999, is located in downtown Little Rock and offers the same menu, but the atmosphere is TOTALLY different. Although the age of the storefront facility is revealed by the tin ceilings, this ain’t no general store folks! The walls are adorned with vintage political campaign posters. Quite nostalgic for we now-retired political old-timers.
Another eatery I visited was the Flying Fish
in Little Rock. This laid-back eatery (order at the counter and have a seat – your name will be called) serves a wide variety of seafood with a Cajun twist, from Fried Oysters to Salmon Salad or Snow Crab Legs; from Red Snapper Veracruz to Jambalaya or a Fried Grouper Poor Boy. One of the really
neat things about the Flying Fish is many menu selections can be sized to the appetite. For example, the Fried Catfish can be ordered with one, two, three or four fillets and the Fried Oysters come in six, twelve or eighteen piece portions. Interesting and quite tasty.
My week in Little Rock was earmarked for viewing the fall foliage. In that regard, the week was less than stellar; however, I got to see several interesting historical sites, to revisit a couple of attractions I hadn’t seen for a while and to explore more the “Heart of America.” After all, that is the major point of The Great Adventure
and, in that regard, the week was a total success. Oh yes, did I mention the food?
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