Although my allergies were giving me fits, I was determined to begin Spring Break with several days of great hiking. So I decided to drive to Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas, which my father and I briefly visited years ago. I mostly recalled it was a high plateau jutting above the surrounding countryside with a long deep canyon through it.
I’ve been contemplating cheaper ways to travel, so I considered yet discarded tent camping and then opted to rent a ‘KOA Kabin’ in nearby Morrilton, which was about $30/night with me in a sleeping bag and using a communal bath house. But that plan would curl up its toes and die by the end of the long day.
The day began with a breakfast biscuit at a Bartlesville McDonalds and then an easy drive over to downtown Russellville, Arkansas for a delicious chicken alfredo and salad lunch at its Italian Gardens restaurant. A short drive from there found me ascending Petit Jean Mountain and at the Seven Hollows trailhead by 1 pm.
Petit Jean was a French girl whose lover would not let her come with him to America, so she disguised herself as a cabin boy and came along anyway. Her true identity was only discovered when she fell ill and died at this mountain above the Arkansas River. Of course all of that is hogwash. And although it is a splendid hiking trail, Seven Hollows is also a lie. One actually tramps down, through, and around four hollows, not seven. But no matter, as the 4.5 mile hike is quite beautiful even with the bare trees of a Spring Break that doesn’t actually occur in the spring. (A theme is building here.)
As the trail descended into the first hollow, I was surrounded by craggy sandstone bluffs carved by millions of years of stream erosion. There were frequent shallow ‘caves’ whose interiors showed the orange and yellow streaks of mineral deposits. A natural bridge towered overhead to one side, and as I cut back and forth across a creek I encountered a pair of tiny waterfalls, one of which was stairstepped. I shot a video clip of the two little falls.
Ascending to the top of a hollow, I encountered an area cleared by fire some years back and opened up to the overcast sky which loomed over the tiny cedar trees that were repopulating the area. A frustration with my new camera is that it won’t let me shoot manually, but I pulled off one depth of field shot by backing away from my subject and going to a full 12x zoom on it.
Rock formations along here are said to resemble turtles, and one lump did look like a turtle if I took off my glasses. A side trail led back into a box canyon called the Grotto, with a large pool at the end in a natural cistern. It was so large that it was best captured with a video clip. Then the hike ended with a trek through a wide and fairly flat hollow with impressive side walls, which also got the video treatment.
I drove over to the Palisades Overlook on the side of the road, where I shot another panorama despite the overcast. The next stop was the short Bear Cave Trail, which winds amongst many rock formations that clamor to be climbed. The Seven Hollows Trail was too strenuous for children, but they were scrambling all over the Bear Cave area.
My next stop was an overlook for what is perhaps the most photographed scenery in Arkansas: Cedar Falls. It was beautiful even with the overcast, and the sky followed suit with a few punctures in the cloud cover allowing sunshine to beam down upon the countryside off in the distance. I shot a video clip to capture the surroundings, and I’ll be returning to this area of the park on my second day when I hike the Cedar Creek and Cedar Falls Trails, which share the same National Recreation Trail designation that adorns the Seven Hollows Trail. (Other National Recreation Trails I have hiked recently include the Table Mound and Elk River Trails much closer to home at Elk City Lake near Independence, Kansas.)
By then it was 5 pm and that prompted me to drove on east out of the park towards Morrilton and the KOA. But I took the time to stop at the eastern edge of the mountain for its splendid view of the Arkansas River and photograph Petit Jean’s fake grave site.
I then sped down the mountain’s steep eastern flank and drove to the KOA. But lo and behold the office was shut and the night deposit only let one pick out regular RV slots – the two ‘Kabins’ were locked up tight. I took that as a sign that I was not meant to suffer and drove on east to Conway, where I secured a room at a Microtel. A real bed, a private bath, and a continental breakfast are more my style.
Running low on steam, I drove to the closest restaurant, a Ruby Tuesdays where I had a mediocre steak. But a dipped cone at the Dairy Queen fortified me for a few hours of photo editing and blogging. As I close this post, I haven’t slept in over 48 hours, so it is quite rude of Daylight Savings Time to be starting up and robbing me of an hour of sleep! On the morrow I’ll sleep in a bit and then drive back to Petit Jean for what should be a somewhat sunnier day of hiking.
[ Next Hike: Second Day at Petit Jean: Looping Cedar Creek ]