March 18-20, 2014
The second part of our Spring Break trip in Arkansas was spent at Petit Jean State Park. I’ve hiked all of the trails at the park over multiple visits, but this was the first visit to the park for Wendy as well as for John Henderson. During our stay we would hike above and along Cedar Creek north of Mather Lodge, visit the various overlooks, and make brief hikes to Rock House Cave and the Bear Cave Area.
We had a lunch and two breakfasts at the historic Mather Lodge, which was recently expanded with a new lobby and restaurant which follow the same design as the newer lodge at Mount Magazine. I’m glad that they preserved the adjacent original lobby and dining room of the lodge, with their 80-year-old furnishings.
Trek Along Cedar Creek
Wendy and I posed at the Cedar Creek Overlook at the lodge, with John dramatically looking ahead at our hike northeast from the lodge to the Cedar Falls Overlook, where Wendy would spot some interesting orange lichen. At the overlook, the others wisely stayed behind the barriers while I ventured out onto a cantilevered rock slab.
Besides the dramatic views of the large falls, I saw a tiny lizard and tiny blossoms along the trail, with Betty insisting Wendy and I stop for a photo op on a convenient limb. We later reached the side stream that marked the beginning of the Cedar Creek Trail loop and I had the Hendersons pose on the first bridge crossing the creek before we began forging upstream on the opposite side of the creek.
Near the northeast end of the trail Wendy posed for me beneath a massive tumbled slab, and then we reached the upper bridge leading back across the creek. Here the trail turns back to follow the creek downstream, but a narrow upstream path leads to the cozy and secluded Honeymoon Creek Cabin where Wendy and I stayed during our visit to the park.
We returned to the side creek and then made it back to the lodge, with my fellow hikers saying the rough terrain made it feel like far more than a three mile journey.
Red Bluff Drive & Overlooks
We then visited the overlooks on the western edge of the mountain plateau.
Bear Cave Area
We drove over to the Bear Cave Area, where I made two descents down the steep slope for a look out over Cedar Creek, with Wendy coming down to join me at one of the overlooks. We saw the caves and slots amidst the rock formations, and we had Betty do her Mary Katherine Gallagher tree-hugging pose.
On a later visit, I’d follow the tip from former student Benjamin Rhodes to locate the steps carved into the rock to provide access to the top of the formation. The narrow “needle” slot through the formation from the parking area has a blind lead off to one side where you can find the steps. The others waited below while I climbed the steps to the top for the view of Mather Lodge in the distance, shooting a 360-degree panorama video from the top.
Off to Mount Nebo
After the Hendersons departed Petit Jean for a visit to Van Buren and the drive home, Wendy and I visited the Palisades Overlook on the western edge of the mountain, where we could see Mount Nebo looming in the distance. That would be our beautiful final stop on our Arkansas trip.