Petit Jean State Park – Morrillton, AR

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It’s actually hard to write this post. Usually because I relish writing about my trip after the fact. But somehow I feel that if I write about it, I will be putting it to rest. I don’t want that trip to end.

Just a short drive from Little Rock lies Petit Jean State Park. Because the pickings are scarce in the AAA guide-book for Arkansas, I decided we better review what’s on the list. Petit Jean was the first state park in Arkansas, founded around 1921 with help from Stephen Mather of the National Park Service.

We started off at the point in the picture above. Overlooking the Arkansas River, we saw the remains of a building and a cemetery. It turns out this land was a former YMCA Camp Mitchell until it burned in the 1940’s. Later that decade, it was purchased by the Episcopalian church which leases the land to Petit Jean today.

We drove through the park until we reached the Cedar Falls. Nestled in a horseshoe shape, the waterfall seemed far away. Little did I know that I would be hiking to the base of those falls a few hours later!

Finding the lodge, I kept noting it looked like a National Park Service lodge. It turns out they wanted it to be a National Park, but Stephen Mather said it was too small. Instead, he helped them build the park up to NPS standards.

The lodge had the big dining room with large windows and then an enclosed breezeway to the older section. The large lobby with huge stone fireplace and then the CCC room (which had been the original dining room). Towards the end you walked past an old lobby desk with a puzzle. It was the original desk. A covered breezeway with a magnificent view of the canyon led us to the wing with the rooms. The hallway felt old and we made a right turn down the L shape passing the Arkansas room which was a lobby like room with a table, puzzles, chairs and a piano. When we opened the door to our room, I saw why there were so many lobbies. The room was tiny and spartan. A wood-paneled room with a window unit, one queen bed in the corner, a small desk and two chairs. Thankfully, there was  a Tv. the bathroom was small but clean. Our room looked out onto the swimming pool. nested in the mountains, it was perfect and I felt I was at a real NPS lodge. Unfortunately, I can’t find any of the photos I took inside the lodge.

I decided to do the 2-mile Cedar Falls trail to the base of the waterfall. It consisted of about four steep switchbacks. In some places, steps had been carved out of the rock formations. I asked a man how much farther. He said it flattens out in about 20 minutes. I kept going. At the bottom, it turned sandy and led me to a bridge.

Once I crossed over, I walked on a rocky path along the creek bed. Instead of looking out over the canyons, I was at the base of them. Unbelievable. In the distance I could hear people splashing around so I knew the falls must be nearby, but I just couldn’t get over the beauty of the rock formations.

This was Arkansas. This was what I had remembered as a kid. This granite-like rock was what I wanted in the Smokies and just didn’t get. We ate dinner in the lodge and went to bed.

The next morning, we took an early morning walk over to Bear Cave. The boulders were enormous and it was fun walking around them.

Bear Cave

Then we set out for Rock Cave. Although neither of these are actual caves, you can see how the boulders provide shelter and could be considered a cave. Both of these hikes were short – under 1/2 mile.

Inside Rock Cave

Outside of the cave, the rocks resembled large turtles.

Although we wanted to spend more time in the park, the next leg of our trip beckoned. We ate a pancake breakfast in the lodge and set out to Eureka Springs via Scenic Hwy 7.

For more information about Petit Jean State Park, click here.


Arkansas, Oklahoma & Texas Itinerary

Overlooking Arkansas Grand Canyon near Jasper

My other daughter said she wanted to go on a road trip with me. This was summer of 2015 so we plotted out a four-day trip packed with scenic driving in Arkansas. Known as “the Natural State,” Arkansas is similar to West Virginia in the sense that the beauty of the state is seen in the rural areas. The largest city,  Little Rock, has a population less than 200,000.

Additionally, we were tying this trip into a July 4th trip to Houston. To do that, we drove through Oklahoma and once again were impressed with the area.

Monday – drive from Atlanta to Petit Jean State Park, Morrilton, AR

Tuesday – drive Scenic Hwy 7 through Jasper to Eureka Springs, AR and down to Fayetteville, AR

Wednesday – Wal-Mart Museum and Crystal Bridges Museum of Art – Bentonville, AR; drive through rural Oklahoma and arrive in Oklahoma City

Thursday – Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, drive to Dallas, TX

Friday – The George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum, drive to Houston

All in all, we drove 1,500 miles in four days! We met up with family in Houston and hung out for a few days. And then made the 800-mile drive back to Atlanta. It remains one of my favorite road trips because I was pleasantly surprised at the surrounding beauty.


Bathhouse Row – Hot Springs

The restored Fordyce on BathhouseRow

The restored Fordyce on BathhouseRow

My husband thought I was nuts – completely nuts. We were visiting my hometown of Shreveport, La. when I said, “Instead of going straight back to Atlanta, we could go up through Arkansas, over to Tennessee, spend the night in Memphis and then get back to Atlanta tomorrow night.” Within a few hours, we found ourselves in Hot Springs where I had vacationed as a child.

Things had changed since those trips in the 1970’s. Well,  not everything had changed, especially not the Arlington Hotel. This historic hotel has looked the same since 1924 and will continue to do so until a natural disaster comes along. I fondly recall walking with my parents across the street from the Arlington into the Hot Springs National Park at dusk. It was the first time I had ever seen fireflies, which we called lightning bugs.

But what had changed – and for the better – was Bathhouse Row. Back in the 1970’s, these large house-like structures seemed abandoned and decrepit. Now, this was a vibrant area and most of the bathhouses had been restored on the outside to their original splendor during the earlier part of the 1900’s.

One bathhouse – the Superior – has been converted into a craft brew pub, two others – the Quapaw and the Buckstaff are fully operational bathhouses. But the most opulent is the Fordyce Bathhouse which was constructed in 1915 at a cost of over $200,000. Renovated and reopened as a museum in 1989, it also serves as the Hot Springs National Park visitor’s center.

Bubbling water from two terra cotta fountains greeted us as we entered the marble lobby.  The original Otis elevator that transported guests throughout the Renaissance Revival building was located around the corner from the attendant’s desk.  We toured both the men’s and women’s (considerably smaller) bathing sections. The women’s bath hall resembled a large locker room filled with stalls each housing a porcelain bathtub and chair. We passed through the pack room and the cooling room. At times, the rooms seemed cold and sterile and even a bit spooky – especially as we saw an old electrotherapy machine that looked like it came from a James Bond movie. Because it is no longer functioning as a bathhouse, we had to envision people travelling from far and wide to find relief for many different ailments including arthritis, liver disease and headaches.

Care for a steam bath?

Care for a steam bath?

No expense was spared when Samuel Fordyce built the 28,000 square foot facility to attract visitors from all over the country. This was most evident in the men’s atrium. This space houses a DeSoto fountain flanked by marble columns and benches while light shines from above through the aquatic themed stained-glass window.

Taking the grand marble staircase, we approached the second floor which had dressing rooms, the men’s massage rooms, exhibits from the bathhouse days and an outdoor courtyard for sunbathing that was segregated between the sexes. A short film detailing the history of the springs, the bathhouses and the creation of the Hot Springs National Park was presented on every half hour.

But the bathhouse wasn’t just a place to bathe. It was a respite from the outside world with a solarium, private state rooms, a music room for the ladies and a billiard room for the men, all of which are on the third floor. Additionally, there was a large wood-paneled gymnasium with athletic rings and pummel horse. At one time, the Fordyce even had a bowling alley in the basement. Today, visitors can see the Fordyce spring and some of the mechanical and pumping equipment in the basement.

All good things must come to an end. Most bathhouses experienced declines after World War II due to the discovery of penicillin and strides in modern medicine. In 1962, the Fordyce closed its doors, followed by the Quapaw in 1968. By 1986, only the Buckstaff was still functioning as a bathhouse.

Fortunately, the National Park Service designated Bathhouse Row as a National Landmark in 1987 for everyone to enjoy. For more infomation visit the website at http://www.nps.gov/hosp/index.htm.

This is the ladies solarium where bathhouse clients would rest and write letters.

This is the ladies solarium where bathhouse clients would rest and write letters.