May 31, 2015
The end of the school year meant that Wendy and I should be free to escape for a much-needed vacation, but, once again, I had to wait until our board of education adopted a budget, a critical event before contract bargaining in early June. So Wendy and I did not head out of town until the last Sunday in May. Summer heat has arrived, so we targeted two high mountains in Arkansas, which would be cooler than the fields and forests below. Wendy had enjoyed her first visit to Mount Nebo during Spring Break 2014, so we plotted a return there preceded by a stay on top of the nearby Mount Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas.
In June 2010 I first visited Mount Magazine. I hiked 7 miles on my first day there and 12 miles on the next day. But I had not been back since, except for a brief pull-in at the overlooks in October 2012. I’d never stayed at the nice lodge up top, so this time I booked us a room for three nights, figuring that would give us enough time to work in at least one good hike.
Day 1: Making Our Way to the Mountain
We left Bartlesville Sunday morning, driving south for an hour to have lunch at Oliveto’s in Tulsa. We’d be near the Arkansas River for the remainder of our vacation. We took the Muskogee Turnpike and I-40 to Ft. Smith, Arkansas. I’d hoped we could order refreshments at the antique soda fountain in the Ft. Smith Museum of History, but it is not open on Sundays until June, and we were a week early. So we walked the grounds of the old fort under overcast skies, picking up some biting bugs that presaged the insects we’d battle throughout our stay in “The Natural State“.
We drove east for 90 minutes to Paris, Arkansas, which advertises itself as the gateway to Mount Magazine. I playfully told Wendy we should look for the Eiffel Tower: we’d enjoyed the cowboy hat atop the replica tower in Paris, Texas during our Fall Break of 2013. Sure enough, we then drove by the Arkansas replica tower. Unsurprisingly, it was smaller than the one in Texas, but it had a nice fountain and a wonderful background mural.
We ascended toward the largest of the Magazines, the name French explorers gave to a series of mountainous plateaus in what is now west central Arkansas. The name reflects how the blocky plateaus reminded them of huge storehouses. Both Magazine Mountain and Huckleberry Mountain to the east had low clouds spilling over their peaks.We were giddy with excitement, having escaped the hot plains for the cooler cloudy mountaintops.
We drove up into the state park, passing a typically beautiful custom sign of the type which adorns all Arkansas state parks, and drove to the lodge, situated south of the Signal Hill peak and overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley. Wendy posed by the water feature out in front of the main entry, and the impressive wooden front doors silently and automatically swung open to greet us.
We checked into our top-floor room and enjoyed its balcony, with low clouds obscuring the view to the south of the Petit Jean River valley. The panorama was tremendous, with Blue Mountain Lake to the southwest.
I discovered some bugs I’d picked up in Fort Smith were leaving little red welts, so I showered, and then we relaxed in the room before having dinner at the lodge’s Skycrest Restaurant, where we would have all of our meals during our stay, charging them to our room. The best part of our first dinner was the wonderful Possum Pie, which thankfully has no possum in it but does have three delicious layers, including a thick one of rich chocolate.
I worked off the Possum Pie with some vigorous rocking chair action on the patio. Sparrows ducked and dove around us as we walked along the mountaintop to our room, to rest up for our hike on the following day.