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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Petit Jean Memories by Joyce Faulkner

My husband John holding Rosie

A trip to Arkansas in August could seem like a visit to Hades for those unacclimated to heat and humidity. However, there are places that should be on your bucket list this time of year regardless of the weather - and Petit Jean State Park in central Arkansas is one of them.

For me, it is a mixture of natural beauty, history, and myth. However, it is a picnic basket of memories for my husband, Johnny.

It was a gradual climb at first. Warm rain created a thick
mist that made our morning drive mysterious and beautiful. Then as the mountains rose up before us, the well-maintained road curved to the left and then back around on itself and we found ourselves in a thick forest of old growth trees. Johnny perked up at this point, remembering childhood visits to the woods with his parents and siblings. He talked about climbing on the rocks and about a waterfall and swimming and canoeing. The way he told it, it sounded like a family paradise. Of course, for fair-skinned, red-haired girls like I was, it would have been a recipe for scraped knees, sunburn, and mosquito bites but I kept my concerns under my hat.

A visual treat up on Petit Jean
As we made the next curve, we got our first glimpse of the glorious cliffs of Petit Jean. And Johnny directed me to pull over and park so we could look out on the deep ravines. It was the very definition of breathtaking. I was still taking pictures when he hustled me back to the car to see the next overlook and the next. We had to see Petit Jean's grave and the lake and the display of Winthrop Rockefeller's antique car collection. We had lunch at the historic Mather Lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon.

Aside from the obvious activities of camping and fishing, Petit Jean State Park had other surprises. We learned about Petit Jean, a young French girl who dressed as a boy to follow her explorer lover to America. We weren't up to speed on our Indian lore, but there was at least a day's worth of Native American stories.

Enjoying the valley floor
There are ghosts and bears to brighten up your nights and tales of the waves of pioneers who either passed through or built homes in the region.

If you find yourself on a road crossing through central Arkansas, here's a site that will help you get the most out of your adventure. 

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