My second day at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas was spent hiking about eight or nine miles on a variety of trails, primarily along beautiful Cedar Creek, which bisects the park.
After a continental breakfast at the Microtel in Conway, I drove back to Petit Jean Mountain, ascended past Stouts Point, and parked at the cabin built by John Walker back in 1845. It serves as the trailhead for the Cedar Creek Trail, which had only a few hikers on this serene and overcast Sunday morning. The trail meandered down the steep side of the canyon to the creek below, crossing it on a wooden bridge that provides a great view of one set of the many small falls along the creek. As the trail headed back south along the west side of the creek, it passed a portion of the creek bed strewn with massive boulders, and passed under one which had tumbled onto the side of the streambed. I posed under the stone, noting how weathering had altered the appearance of its opposing face.
I clambered out into the creek now and then to photograph some of the falls, with the trail sometimes veering up against the bluff. The trail linked to Rock House Cave Trail, which ascended the canyon wall above Cedar Falls. Along the way I posed by some boulders to give a sense of their scale. Soon I found myself looking down upon Cedar Falls, opposite the overlook I visited the day before.
It was a short walk uphill to the Rock House Cave, a huge bluff overhang which Native Americans used over half a millennium ago, leaving a few pictographs. Or at least I was told there were pictographs – I couldn’t make them out against the stained and streaked rock ceiling of the shelter. A couple with two small boys were in the shelter, with one of the lads repeatedly grunting and falling down on the sandy floor. The father explained that his son was fighting monsters, and I speculated that he might be losing.
Moving on westward, I passed over more Turtle Rocks like those adorning the Seven Hollows Trail. A short side trail led to a secluded spot with a great westward view of the canyon, with the cabins near Mather Lodge perched atop the rocky bluff to the south. It was half past noon, so I plopped down and enjoyed a drink and some trail mix, photographing the adjacent bluff and a nearby pine tree. With my camera at full 12x zoom, a car and cabin across the canyon appear in the background of the latter photo as if they were only a few yards away.
I was following the entire north part of the Boy Scout Trail, the entire loop of which wraps 12 miles around the canyon. It crossed Red Bluff Drive twice, which my father and I had driven years before and I would revisit in my car in the late afternoon of this day. Then it slowly descended the northwest edge of the mountain, looking like an old forest road with occasional stone culverts under the old roadbed. I had this entire section of trail all to myself, never encountering nor hearing another soul for a couple of miles.
Finally I reached the canyon floor at the Blue Hole Area, the old swimming hole for the CCC guys who improved the park in the 1930s. Crossing Cedar Creek on a series of boulders, I reached some stone remains and realized I was on the south side of the Scout Trail, having missed the turnoff for the Canyon Trail which my father and I had hiked on our previous visit. I was confused since the map showed the Canyon Trail crossing to the south side of the creek to reach the Blue Hole Area, but there was clearly no Canyon trailhead.
So I backtracked across Cedar Creek, managing to fully immerse one boot in the cold waters of the creek. Soon I found the Canyon trail heading eastward, but contrary to the map, it ran entirely along the north bank of Cedar Creek. Squishing my way onward, I enjoyed the peaceful riparian zone, frequently pausing to photograph one set of small falls after another, and posing on a stone seat beside the creek.
Soon I spied a stone ridge perched atop the canyon across the creek and, spotting a chain link fence along its top, realized it was the Palisades Overlook I had visited the day before. The serenity of the trails ended when I reached the Cedar Falls Trail, the highlight of the park for most visitors. That trail approached Cedar Falls along the creek bed and was swarming with hikers of all ages. When I reached the falls, I noticed it was hard to grasp their scale even when I knew they dropped 95 feet. But then a couple of girls scrambled around the slick walls to pose near the falls, giving one a true sense of their scale.
Backtracking to a bridge across the creek, I made a strenuous ascent up to Mather Lodge. Having recently watched Ken Burns’ National Parks series on PBS, I knew Stephen Mather was one of the great leaders of the Park Service, and he had suggested that Petit Jean be made the first state park in Arkansas. I had tracked up and down the sides of the canyon multiple times this day, but this stretch of trail was by far the most challenging. When I reached the summit at 3 pm I took a quick shot of the view and hurried inside. I was more than ready for a restroom break and planned to enjoy one of the hamburgers the lodge restaurant brags about in its advertising. My bacon cheeseburger and fries were all the more delicious after 4.5 hours of hiking, and I happily topped the late lunch off with a decadent slice of chocolate cake, which was about as much frosting as cake.
I then took a section of the Scout Trail back toward the Walker Cabin. It passed the Cedar Falls overlook, offering a view of the area above the falls. The trail continued along the canyonside upstream of the falls, and repeated signs warned it was unlawful to head off trail and descend to the creek area just above the falls. Soon the trail began a descent to the creek bed some distance upstream of the falls. At a bridge leading back north across the creek, a wet eroded bluff wall had vivid mineral coloration. I had expected to be able to ascend to the Walker Cabin from here, but no such luck. So I retraced the entirety of the Cedar Creek Trail which began the day hike, passing once again by a shallow section of the creek bed where the sandstone bottom jutted out here and there.
Finally reaching the car after 5 pm, I drove over to the Red Bluff Drive, a gravel road that loops atop the northwestern section of the mountain, with two splendid overlooks. The M.A. Richter Memorial Lookout was built by the Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC) in the early 1980s and on this overcast day sun rays were poking through the clouds above the landscape laid out before me. The nearby CCC overlook was built in the 1930s and rebuilt a half-century later by the YACC. One can view vultures regularly flying by these spots, as they roost on the windy bluffs on this side of the mountain.
A trio of camera enthusiasts were snapping shots at the CCC overlook, and I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of one of them perched on the edge of the mountain and another adorned in a Captain Morgan tricorner hat. Then I zipped back east to one of the campgrounds by Lake Bailey, where I viewed a statue commemorating the CCC workers who built so many of the park’s structures we still enjoy today.
The day ended with me showering at the Microtel in Conway and having a tasty Carne Asada at La Hacienda to get me through a few hours of photo editing and blogging. In addition to today’s Flickr slideshow there is a video I made of the many waterfalls and other features along today’s hike. Tomorrow I conclude my first trip of Spring Break with a day of hiking at Mount Nebo south of Russellville followed by a 4.5 hour drive home.
Here’s the video…
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