Saturday, March 31, 2012

Petit Jean State Park - Perfect Ending to a Perfect Visit

We ended our time here at Petit Jean with another stellar day!  We decided to check out the Petit Jean gravesite overlook and Cedar Falls Overlook, followed by more playing in the creek, as that was clearly what the kids were lobbying for.  We started out at the Petit Jean gravesite and spent awhile enjoying the view.  This is such a beautiful area, and we are clearly here at the absolute perfect time!  

The "gravesite" of Petit Jean.   They never dug it up to verify the legend.
View from the overlook
It drops off quick! Just below this rock, you can see the top of a large tree.
While driving back from the gravesite, I spotted a sign for a Farmer's Market, and told Steve we should go check it out.  He had low expectations, but he humored me.  Wow...this turned out to be so much fun!  The Farmer's Market is at the Red Barn (see the picture below) on the left hand side of the road.  A chalkboard on the wall lists the names of the people who grow and sell the stuff in the barn, so you know where it comes from.  The people were oh-so-friendly.  They had a trampoline that was buried in the ground (just the legs/frame, of course), and the kids had a blast jumping on it.  A chiropractor from the Hot Springs area came & was giving free consultations/massages.  Steve went to check him out, in spite of his skepticism, and Dr. Ryan Johnston worked on his elbow that's been bothering him for the last couple months!  After that, he worked on my neck and shoulders.  Wow...super nice guy! If you're in the Hot Springs area and looking for a chiropractor, check him out!  His wife and two kids were there, and Genna had a blast playing on the trampoline with his older boy!  

Linda getting a free examination by Dr. Johnston. Jake decided it was a family affair.
We also ate lunch here, a yummy smoked turkey meal, and obtained lots of homemade goodies!  We met a pastor and his wife from Dardanelle that gave Steve lots of good info on the places we're headed to next.  And...we heard they were making homemade ice cream and felt compelled to stick around for it.  Not just any homemade ice cream, by the way!  They were making sheep's milk ice cream!  I will admit to being a bit hesitant.  I've had goat's milk, and even the best of it has a bit of 'twang' to it.  The lady assured me that sheep's milk has no aftertaste at all and is sweeter than cow's milk; I was definitely intrigued!  I have to say, it was fabulous, so good!  In fact, they were making a batch with cow's milk and another batch with sheep's milk.  The cow's milk batch didn't set up, so it was more like a milkshake, and while it was good, it just didn't taste that great after trying the sheep's milk ice cream!  It was a hit with all of us!  We spent plenty of money here, but it was nice to support locals---like the sign on the place says, "Real Food from Real People."  

The Red Barn, open just on Saturdays I believe.  Website doesn't work.
The trampoline was a big hit.   Genna calls them 'jumpolines'

After the Farmer's Market, we drove to check out the Cedar Falls Overlook, but honestly, it was pretty crowded since it was the weekend, and the view wasn't really that great.  If you want to see the Falls, you should definitely just hike the trail!  We just had one thing left to accomplish...finding a spot for playing in the creek.  We scoped out the beginning of the Cedar Creek Trail and settled for a spot. I stripped Jake down as he was eager to go in, and I don't care for exploding diapers   I carefully wrapped it up and set it with our stuff.  We later moved upstream a short ways, so with Jake and Genna in tow, I stuffed the diaper down the front of my suit, so I wouldn't lose it...heh, heh.  I took it out, set it with our stuff, and there was more playing, including throwing all the kids flip-flops in and watching them go over the small falls and float down the creek, and chasing them down.  We decided it was time to go, so we rounded up our stuff, only the diaper was missing!  What in the world???  It completely disappeared.  We all looked, and looked, and looked!  I'm pretty strict about the "Leave No Trace" rule, so I was bothered that we couldn't find it!  Eventually, we had to give idea what could have happened to it...guess we can add it to the Unsolved Mysteries of Petit Jean list, lol!  And if you hike this trail, and you happen to see a diaper, my deepest apologies. ;)          

These are some of the things we bought.   The tomatoes were grown in a hoop house and were awesome, as were the Amish made desserts.
Cedar Falls overlook, the falls are on the right
Love the different shades of green from the mixed forest
We went back down the Cedar creek trail to play in this stream. This is where the diaper  mysteriously disappeared.
We had a campfire that night which put Genna to sleep.  She actually fell out of the chair and promptly went back to sleep!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Petit Jean State Park - Cedar Creek

On our third full day, we hiked the Cedar Creek trail, just one and one-quarter miles long.  This time, we were actually smart and remembered to wear swimsuits, as the weather has been plenty warm and sunny, mid-80s already at the end of March!  Well...everyone except Steve!  This trail was probably the kids' favorite, for sure!  The trail runs along the creek, and there are opportunities for getting wet!  Just before the big wooden bridge, there was an ideal place to let the littles explore safely while letting the big girls go exploring in the water.  The rocks were super slippery, so you had to be careful, but they had so much fun!  The water was pretty cold, but you got used to it.  It was all pretty shallow, and super rocky, but also so picturesque!  Steve was a bit bummed that he didn't have his swimsuit on because such exploring is right up his alley. He was a good sport about it though and hung with Genna & Jake.  We had the whole place to ourselves, minus just a few minutes when a group from Shreveport came through with a Yorkie that Jake just had to kiss!  Man, that boy looooves dogs!

There was a flat rock that these two best buddies spent most of their time playing on.
Both pups aren't shy about open mouth kisses
Genna had clearly used up all of her energy on yesterday's hike, so we took it easy the rest of the day.  We finished the day with a Ranger program about the Unsolved Mysteries of Petit Jean Mountain, mostly how the mountain got its name.   By the way, "Petit" is pronounced "Petty" here.   It is the French pronounciation.

Mom got to have fun with the big kids while dad watched the littles...his fault since he forgot to wear a swimsuit.

Alyssa 'sitting' on the water
They wanted to slide down the rock behind them, but it wasn't slippery enough!
Alyssa swimming in the 'freezing' water
150 year old Pioneer cabin at the trail head. 
Pioneer cabin sign

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Petit Jean State Park - Seven Hollows Trail

On our second full day here, we hiked the Seven Hollows Trail, a four and a half mile loop, five miles if you hike the side trail to the Grotto, which we did.  This was a very nice trail, with plenty of shade and lots of variety.  There were natural stopping points for breaks--the Natural Bridge and the Grotto.  We had the Grotto to ourselves, so we let Genna strip down and go wading...guess she was more interested in the stripping down part than in the wading.  Funny girl!  Crazy hiker girl, too, it turns out!  I could not believe how much she hiked and how good her attitude was!  She probably hiked at least four miles of the five mile total; she totally rocked this hiking trail!  Of course, she was totally charming and chatty the whole way.  She promised me that when she is a mommy, she'll buy me my very own bucket; I won't have to share with anyone, and Daddy is not allowed to break it, lol!  She also talked a lot about Bethany Hamilton, the main character in Soul Surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack.  Ever since we watched the movie about a week ago, she's been super intrigued by her and talks about her all the time.  She informed us that she'd like Bethany Hamilton to teach her to swim and surf and just be her friend!   And, Grandma, she's requested the movie for her birthday, hint, hint!!

By the time we finished our five mile hike, we were all famished (not just the ones going through crazy growth spurts!), so we stumbled over to Bear Cave and ate a hasty lunch before heading back for showers and a little relaxation.  No way we'd manage to get more hiking out of Genna today!

A sign, a sign, we must get our picture taken in front of it!!
One of many caves we saw along the way
Another perfect Arkansas Spring day
That's a big rock!
The Natural Bridge
We spent a while at the natural bridge
I challenged them all to crawl through the rocks.   Al\yssa almost didn't do it.
Along the trail
Wading at the Grotto, trying to avoid stepping on the many crawdads!
The joys of being 3 and uninhibited!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Petit Jean State Park - Cedar Falls

Our arrival here at Petit Jean State Park wasn't exactly uneventful.  Thankfully, we arrived on a Tuesday, and the place was pretty quiet & peaceful.  Our reserved site was technically plenty long enough to accommodate our 40' rig, but despite being a pull-through, it was so curved and there were so many trees hugging it that there was no way to actually safely get in.  Steve pulled in just enough to get off the road, then called to let them know the site wouldn't work; they were flexible, of course.  Backing out of that site proved to be rather sticky...I don't personally like to see trees, or any obstacle for that matter, quite so close to the rig!  Kudos to Steve though because he did indeed extricate the truck & rig from the site without hitting anything!

Off we went in search of another site.  We found a back-in site we liked.  There were also plenty-o-plenty of trees lining the site itself and also lining the road opposite the site.  Considering how long we've been doing this, it's slightly embarrassing to admit how long it took us to get the rig parked....but, once again, we did it, without incurring damage.  Thank goodness the campground was nearly empty because we would surely have been tying up traffic...and I definitely would have burst into tears and begged to give up! really was that stressful, and I wasn't even the one doing the driving!  (For those of you with big rigs that would like an easier parking job, there are full hook-up sites that are also beautiful & a breeze to get into, but they cost more!) I have to say though, that it was a beautiful, idyllic site (except for all the poison ivy, but it was avoidable), and we were all sooo glad that we were staying for more than a night or two after all the effort it took to get in!  Needless to say, we spent our evening after arrival unwinding.  Whew!!
It doesn't look too bad in the photo, but what you can't see are three trees directly across from the front of the rig that I had to avoid with the truck.
Our first full day here we hiked probably the most popular trail here at Petit Jean State Park, Cedar Falls, the "poster waterfall" of Arkansas.  The girls were bummed they didn't have their swimsuits on as they saw others that did when we reached the falls.  They still got to climb on the rocks a bit and dip their feet in the water.  We were all struck by how beautiful it is here; this is my kind of hiking, minus the poison ivy, of course.  I might not be allergic, but Steve & Alyssa are!  

The hike to the falls
Cedar Creek
After hiking to Cedar Falls, we went to Rock House Cave for lunch.  While there, Steve discovered that the memory card on the camera wasn't working; the pictures we'd just taken at Cedar Falls weren't there!!  Fortunately, he'd just uploaded all the pictures just before, so the only pics we lost were those from Cedar Falls, and he had taken a few shots with his phone. annoyance for sure, but what a blessing that we didn't lose tons of pictures!  

After Rock House Cave, we stopped at the playground to reward our littlest hikers---Genna, who has surprised us all with her endurance & tenacity on the trails, and Jake, who has been a real trooper being confined for hiking with little opportunity to get down & burn some energy.  What a great, full day here!

Of course we had to visit the playground!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Little Rock Bike Trails

(By Steve)   On our last full day here in Little Rock, I decided to get my bike in working order and check out the bike trails along the Arkansas River.   It was another picture perfect day!

I first drove to Two Rivers Park which was only two miles away from where we camped at Maumelle.  If I knew it was that close, I would have just ridden my bike.   For some reason I thought that I had to go out to a busy road first.   At Two Rivers Park, there were lots of people exercising and walking and enjoying the day.  It was more than I expected to see on a Monday.   Who says Americans always sit on their butt and watch TV all the time??? (Although too many do, for sure!)
Two Rivers Park

I drove from there across the new bike/pedestrian bridge to the south side of the river.   From there I rode to the "Big Dam Bridge" and crossed to the north side.   I noticed that the trail heading east was closed, so I asked a fellow cyclist, named Perry Scott, if you could get around the closure.  He showed me the way around the trail closures, and we rode together the next 8 miles or so all the way to downtown Little Rock.   I wouldn't have guessed it, but he was 83 years old!   He took up bike riding at 76 and has been hooked since then.   He told me how his wife wanted to buy him a bike for Father's day and he said he was too old for it, but then he thought about it and got himself a bike that same year and has been riding ever since.  He said he has even done rides over 80 miles!

My new friend and riding partner, Perry Scott
When Perry and I got to the downtown area, we crossed the new bike-only bridge and rode around the Clinton Library and other buildings in the area.   From there, we said goodbye, and I headed back on the Little Rock side of the river.   The trail here is not finished, so I had to wind my way along some city streets.   Along the way I rode over to the Arkansas state Capitol and circled it, but did not go inside.   It is quite a bit smaller than the ones in Oklahoma or Texas.   It was fun to ride again; I realized that I hadn't used my bike since December, when we were in Tucson.

It turns out that my riding partner for the day just happens to also be a semi-retired professional photographer! Since our ride, Perry used his specialized photo editing software and made us a 24 minutes slideshow using the photos on this blog!   He is hoping to post it on youtube in the near future; if so, I will post a link to it here.

A bridge that crosses the river built just for cyclists and walkers
You can see why it is called the Big Dam Bridge
This bridge just opened recently. It was a train bridge converted to a bike/pedestrian bridge.
The Clinton Library - We did not visit while here.  I admit, I was never a fan.  The building is quite impressive to see.
The trail passes through this arbor. I bet this is a popular spot in the heat of summer.
I circled the state capitol but did not go in