Discovering the River Valley in Western Arkansas
My first experience with Arkansas was anything but exciting. A few years ago I travelled through Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi before crossing eastern Arkansas from Memphis to Little Rock. I remember there was literally nothing in-between and even Little Rock didn't have much to see besides Bill Clinton's library. Needless to say, I wasn't really eager to go back to the "Natural State". That is until I got to experience western Arkansas this past weekend - now I cannot wait to go back!
As you can tell, this area is anything but flat.
In fact, it truly does have everything a nature lover would want - from river valleys blooming with wild flowers, to lush green forests, calm lakes, canyons and the mountains. It is no wonder that the native Americans have lived in the area for 11,000 years. And we discovered it by pure chance!
The day before, we were in Hot Springs National Park - a town famous for its hot springs and bathhouses (but not much else) and while stopping at the visitor center, I stumbled upon the Arkansas Nature Lover's Guidebook by Tim Ernst. The book documents 101 scenic areas in the "Natural State" and I was just blown away by the pictures so I had my parents get it, figuring that they will have to come back to this area sometime and check it out.
Instead, we made use of the book the very next day as we ran out of stuff to do in Hot Springs. Looking at the map, we decided to drive north before cutting back west to Tulsa and hit up Petit Jean, Mt. Nebo and Mt. Magazine state parks on the way.
Before we even got there, we were treated to some wonderful views driving through Oachita National Forest as it was saturated with clouds - very mystical sight.
And then, as I was starting to doubt whether the drive will be worth it - after all, we were in Arkansas, we got to the entrance to Petit Jean state park.
It finally hit home as we stood there at the top of Cedar Creek canyon, looking towards the Arkansas River valley in the distance with Mt. Nebo in the background. The pictures in the guidebook were of Arkansas - a completely different Arkansas from the one I drove through a few years ago.
Roosevelt lake further into the park turned out to be a perfect spot for some picnicking and would be an even better spot for some kayaking another time.
Leaving the oldest state park in Arkansas, next on the agenda was Mt. Nebo - the second oldest park situated on the other side of the valley. According to the legend, the flat-top mountain was named after biblical Mt. Nebo which Moses ascended to see the promise land. The views from the top could easily support that.
Both Petit Jean and Mt. Nebo are popular recreation spots with lodges and cabins available for rent at surprisingly reasonable prices so in my mind it is not a question of if but rather of when I will be back to fully immerse myself in this scenic landscape of western Arkansas. And it will likely be in late October when the fall colors hit the area or in spring when the many waterfalls around here are at their peak.