Petit Jean State Park
Morrilton, Arkansas
November 18 - 25, 2007

Petit Jean State Park - Sunday, November 18, 2007

We're ready to roll, we're heading to Arkansas for a relaxing week of RVing and exploring an area of Arkansas we haven't visited before, Petit Jean State Park. Petit Jean is Arkansas' 1st State Park so it has a rich history. My sister, Dian, and her husband Ron will be joining us on our Thanksgiving week trip. They're going to be staying at the historic Mather Lodge which is located within the park's boundaries. Since we are going to prepare our full-blown Thanksgiving dinner at the trailer, I had to do some very careful menu planning. Terry and I had been doing a lot of shopping all week long preparing for the upcoming trip. We had everything purchased, all we needed to do was load all the items. On Saturday afternoon, we headed over to our storage facility to pick up our trailer to bring it home for final loading. Since we were leaving early Sunday morning from the east side of town, having the trailer at home would save us some driving time early Sunday morning. When we finished loading, the trailer was "packed to the gills". Terry is quite the "packer" and organizer. I'm always amazed how she finds room for everything, but she does.

This will be our first trip to Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas' first state park. As with many of the Texas State Parks, Petit Jean pays homage to and was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in the 1930's. Terry and I love the CCC parks. Whenever we stay at one of the CCC parks, we always take time to stop, look around and think of the back-breaking work the workers performed to give us the beautiful parks we get to stay at and enjoy. I remember a story that Kim Ochs told us. Kim was the former head ranger of Daingerfield State Park, a CCC park in east far Texas. He's now at Lake Somerville State Park. They needed to move one of the picnic table pads that the CCC poured in the late 1930's. To make a long story short, he thought he was going to have to use explosives to take the pad out. They were finally able to take the pad out by using one of the very large jackhammers that was mounted on the back of a backhoe. Put it this way, the pad was very well constructed and over engineered! Those CCC guys knew how to built stuff to last.

This trip will also be our first using our newly purchased Magellan Maestro 4040. Previously we were using a laptop loaded with Microsoft's Streets and Trips with GPS. While this has been a very good solution, it wasn't always practical since we had to keep a laptop out and hooked up. It tended to be somewhat cumbersome to deal with. Anytime we stopped while traveling to eat, we had to pack the laptop up and stow it out of sight. The new Magellan is designed for a quick dismount and stowing out of sight. We were looking forward to the guidance that the GPS unit would provide especially since we were going into an area that we hadn't traveled before.

Terry and I tried to get to bed early but there were still tasks that needed to be taken care of. Terry, being the trouper she is, sent me to bed and she stayed up to finish off the final loading. She wanted me to get a good night's sleep since I would be doing most of the driving on the trip. Our alarm went off right at 5:00 AM. Was it time to get up already? As usual, I didn't sleep very soundly. I never do the night before we were scheduled to leave on a trip. By the time I was out of the shower, I was refreshed and wide awake and ready to head on down the road. Even after Terry's shower, she was still sleepy. We pulled out from home right at 6:00 on the dot heading east on Interstate 30. Our first stop would be the Cracker Barrel in Greenville, Texas. There we would be having breakfast and meeting up with my sister and brother-in-law. From there we'd "caravan" into Arkansas.

At 7:30 we arrived at the Cracker Barrel in Greenville, TX. Anytime we're headed east on Interstate 30 the Cracker Barrel in Greenville is one of our regular stops. It's an "easy on" and "easy off" when we're towing the trailer. Cracker Barrel also has wonderful RV parking. The four of us enjoyed a delicious breakfast and break. We pulled out from the restaurant about an hour later with Dian and Ron following us. The trip down I30 was very uneventful. For lunch we stopped at a Subway in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. We chose the Subway since they had a nice sized parking lot next to them where we could pull in with the trailer.

As we were drawing closer to the park we were getting more excited about our visit to Petit Jean. We had heard so many wonderful things about the park and the area. Dian, Ron and their children had camped at the park decades before but had not been back since then. We arrived at the visitor's center right at 4:00 to get checked in. Our new Magellan GPS unit did an awesome job leading us to the park through the back roads of Arkansas. Wow, Arkansas is such a beautiful state. I totally understand why it is called "The Natural State".

One of the things we like about the Arkansas Park System is that you can reserve a specific site in the park. We already knew we would be in site #16 which faces out to the lake. We checked in at the visitor's center while Dian and Ron headed to Mather Lodge to get checked in. Mather Lodge is named for Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park System. Di and Ron would meet us back at our site after they got settled into their room. Terry and I turned the trailer around and headed to the "A" loop and our site, which was a pull-through. We had heard so many nice comments about the loop. It had just gone through an extensive renovation. Oh my gosh, there wasn't a bad site on the whole loop.

We pulled into site #16 and Terry immediately checked the "side to side" level to see if we were going to have to use our Level-Airs. Guess what, we were perfectly level "side to side". The trailer pads were incredible. They have 30/50 amp service and full hookups. Our site also had a totally unobstructed view of the southern sky, perfect for zeroing in on the DirecTV satellite. I was able to get a satellite signal in record time. Terry and I were able to get our "pre-setup" completed fairly quickly and started a campfire to take the chill off. There was a bit of a breeze coming off the lake but it was still very comfortable. The park also has many nice cabins, tents and tee-pees for rent. My sister Di took some photos of the inside of the tee-pees. They're pretty neat.

Site #16 - Petit Jean State Park

Terry getting site #16 all cleaned up
Welcome to our site #16
Our first visitors View of Lake Bailey from our site
Looking down the road from our site Ron relaxing at the picnic table

Mather Lodge and Its Spectacular View

A Tribute to Stephen Mather The beautiful stone walkway leading to Mather Lodge
A view of the back of the lodge area A "special" visitor at Mather Lodge
   
Ron enjoying the view from the back of the lodge What a view! The CCC guys knew what they were doing, didn't they!

Dian and Ron arrived back at our site around 5:00 and helped getting the rest of our "outside stuff" all setup. We were also starting to get hungry. Since we knew we'd be tired from the long trip today I had an easy dinner planned for this evening. For Halloween I had smoked a couple of briskets for our company luncheon and had quite a bit of meat left over. I chopped up some of the leftover meat and put it in the freezer for later use. This evening would be a perfect time to use the chopped BBQ. On the menu for our first meal at the park:

After dinner we sat by the campfire for  a while enjoying the park's beautiful scenery. Everything we'd heard about Petit Jean was true. It is an incredible park. All of us were totally "whupped" from the day of traveling. Around 8:30, Dian and Ron decided it was time to head back to the lodge. Terry and I sat by the fire a bit longer until it burned down then headed inside for the evening. There was a definite chill in the air. Before heading to bed, I decided to do a bit of research about the name sake of Petit Jean State Park. The park and the area has a very rich and interesting history. Later on this week we'll definitely have to visit the site of Petit Jean's grave.

The Arkansas State Park System owes it's birth to Dr. T. W. Hardison. Dr. Hardison was a Fort Smith Lumber Company physician and amateur archeologist. A long time resident of the mountains, his love for the mountain's beauty and history led him to try and preserve many areas now within the park. In 1923, his efforts were rewarded when the Arkansas Legislature and the Governor created Petit Jean State Park. The Seven Hollows and the Cedar Falls areas were the original areas set aside. Cedar Falls is one of the most identifiable spots in Arkansas, and is the heart of Petit Jean State Park. It is said the Cedar Falls is one of the most photographed places in the state.

Founders of Petit Jean State Park (Dr. T. W. Hardison is pictured 2nd from the left)

 History and Legend of Petit Jean State Park (The information below is from the Petit Jean Park website.)

Legend of Petit Jean and French Exploration:

The Legend of Petit Jean, and how the mountain received its name, begins in the 1700's with the story of a young French Nobleman, Chavet, who lived during the period of the French exploration of the New World. He requested permission to explore a part of the Louisiana Territory, and for a grant to claim part of the land. The King granted Chavet’s request.

Chavet was engaged to be married to a beautiful young girl from Paris, Adrienne Dumont. When told of his plans, she asked that they be married right away so she could accompany him. Thinking of the hardship and danger on the journey, Chavet refused her request, telling her upon his return if the country was good and safe, they would be married and go to the New World.

Adrienne refused to accept his answer, and disguised herself as a cabin boy and applied to the captain of Chavet's ship for a position as a cabin boy, calling herself Jean. The girl must have been incredibly clever in her disguise, for it is said that not even Chavet recognized her. The sailors called her Petit Jean, which is French for Little John.

The ocean was crossed in early spring; the vessel ascended the Mississippi River to the Arkansas River, to the foot of the mountain. The Indians on the mountain came to the river and greeted Chavet and invited the sailors to spend time on the mountain. Chavet, Petit Jean, and the sailors spent the summer atop Petit Jean Mountain until fall approached and they began preparations for their voyage back to France. The ship was readied and boarded the evening before departure.

That night, Petit Jean became ill with a sickness that was strange to Chavet and his sailors. It was marked with fever, convulsions, delirium, and finally coma. Her condition was so grave at daylight that the departure was delayed. During the illness, Petit Jean's identity was, of course, discovered. The girl confessed her deception to Chavet and begged his forgiveness. She requested that if she died, to be carried back to the mountaintop that she had spent her last days on, and be buried at a spot overlooking the river below. The Indians made a stretcher out of deerskins and bore her up the mountain. At sundown, she died.

Many years later a low mound of earth was found at the point we now call Petit Jean's Grave. Her legend, her death, is said to give the mountain and the overlook an enchanting and delightful quality that draws visitors back again and again.

CCC History

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established The Civilian Conservation Corp in 1933. It was a way to get money into the pockets of Americans during the depression by giving them a government job that would have long lasting benefits to Americans, like building Mather Lodge and some of the cabins.

V-CCC Company 1781 was assigned to Petit Jean State Park.

Being a company of World War I veterans, most of the men were older with experience in construction work. The CCC worked at Petit Jean from 1933 to 1938. The first project was living quarters for the camp. Soon after, construction of Mather Lodge and the cabins began. Work was also started on the dam construction for the formation of Lake Bailey. Once the lake was complete, a water tower was constructed for Mather Lodge and the cabins. During the CCC's tenure at Petit Jean they made great strides in road building, trail building, and impressive structures used by the park even today, including Mather Lodge, the pavilions, and the Davies Bridge over Cedar Creek to Red Bluff Drive.

The work of the CCC here at Petit Jean has been recognized as an outstanding example of CCC work in Arkansas. Petit Jean has 3 National Historic Districts and over 80 buildings, structures, trails, and bridges.

Petit Jean's Gravesite and "The Legend"

Petit Jean's Gravesite Chuck & Terry - Stout's Point above Petit Jean's Gravesite

After reading as long as I could not hold my eyes open we both decided it was time to turn in for the evening. We'd gotten up early and had been on a long drive today so we were both very tired. I was in bed by 10:00. By the time Terry came to bed, around an hour later, she said I was fast asleep and "sawing logs". We both slept very soundly through the night in a nice warm trailer. Tomorrow is my birthday, so I'd better get to sleep so I can enjoy my special day,

Petit Jean State Park - Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy birthday to me! It's my birthday and what a place to wake up at and look out the window. It's a beautiful day outside, a little bit cool, but an incredible day. Terry and I woke up around 6:30 and jumped in the shower so we could be ready for breakfast. Dian and Ron were scheduled to arrive at the trailer so we could all share a birthday breakfast together. I got to chose my breakfast menu. Pancakes are one of my favorite meals when we're camping, so guess what we're having for breakfast.

Right on the button at 8:00 Dian and Ron arrived at our trailer. Before starting breakfast I had a few presents and birthday cards to open. Dian and Ron had a beautiful birthday card for me, Terry gave me a Beanie Baby Bear named "Puddles" and a couple of cards and Bill and Jane, Terry's parents, sent me a neat insulated coffee mug that played "Don't Worry Be Happy!" plus a card. It was one of my best birthday's ever. There's a story about receiving the Beanie Bear named "Puddles". As most little boys do, they like jumping in puddles. Even at my age, I haven't grown up still like jumping in puddles and splashing. I get into so much trouble with Terry. I even got to sit back while everyone else made breakfast.

On the menu this  morning:

Chuck's Birthday Breakfast Celebration

Chuck's birthday "Don't Worry, Be Happy!"
Cooking the delicious "Petit Jean Meats" for breakfast Chuck & Terry enjoying my birthday breakfast

Oh yum, what an incredible breakfast! Everyone had a very happy tummy after we all had finished eating. It just doesn't get much better than this. On the schedule today is a bit of sightseeing around the area. We were going to visit Mount Nebo State Park. We've all heard that the drive up the mountain is very "white-knuckled" and you can't tow a trailer up to the top that is over 24'. I really find that hard to believe but we'll see if all we've heard is true.

Around 9:30 all the breakfast dishes were all cleaned up and we were ready to head out on today's adventure. Our drive to Mount Nebo from Petit Jean was only around 35-40 miles. I had proudly pre-programmed "Maggie", our new Magellan GPS unit, and was confident that she would lead us on the correct route. Well I thought I had "Maggie" programmed correctly. We were getting closer and closer to Mount Nebo, we could see the mountain in the distance, when "Maggie" in her cheerful voice announced that "You've arrived." All of us in the truck broke out in roaring laughter. We weren't anywhere close to being on the top of the mountain. We were driving on a flat road at the foot of the mountain. It was a very funny moment during our adventure.

Also as we were driving around we saw the sign below. Since Terry is a "Cat" person, we had to include a photo of it.

We arrived at the base of Mount Nebo and sure enough there was a big sign stating that no trailers over 24' are allowed. Below is the map of the route to the top of Mount Nebo. Look at the "switch-backs"! The road up was also an 18% grade. Whoever designed the road must have been on something. It's too bad that you can't tow anything long than 24' up to the top of the mountain. Terry and I would love to RV at the park. It's a very pretty park with lots of cabins and hiking trails. We spent about an hour or so exploring the top of Mount Nebo and visiting the park's gift store. While Terry and Dian were out taking in the sights, I purchased Terry a Christmas present. She's starting to get into bird watching. I purchased a "Birdsong Indentflyer" and several additional cards to go with it. The "Indentflyer" plays different bird songs so you can easily identify a particular bird if you hear them. The park's rangers recommended the product and had used it themselves.

Map to the top of Mount Nebo State Park

Sightseeing at Mount Nebo State Park

The entrance to Mt. Nebo State Park
View from the top of the mountain from the back of the visitor's center Additional view with the nuclear power plant in the background
A spectacular view from the top of Mount Nebo One of the paths that Terry and Dian hiked
Another path originating from the visitor's center Terry enjoying the view
Dian taking a photo from the path Chuck, Terry and Ron gazing out at the valley below
Ron and Chuck heading back to the visitor's center Interesting growth on one of the trees
A diorama inside the visitor's center showing some of the wildlife in the park Dardanelle - Home of the "Sand Lizards"
One of the Mount Nebo "Switchbacks", arrows pointing at each other.

After leaving the park, it was getting time to eat lunch and we were hungry. We headed back down the mountain to the town of Dardanelle and started looking for a place to have lunch. We drove around the town a bit and really didn't see anything that caught our fancy. We finally stopped at US (Union Street) Cafe. The place looked very popular with all the locals in town since the parking lot was full. We picked out a good restaurant because all of the food was so good and the prices were so low! Terry had chicken and I had some of the best fried catfish that I've ever eaten. Dian had a delicious taco salad and Ron had a BBQ sandwich. With full tummies, it was time to head back towards Petit Jean.

When we arrived back to the park, we decided to take in several of the scenic drives and overlooks that are located within the park's boundaries. We checked out the Cedar Falls Overlook and drove the Red Bluff Drive and stopped at it's overlook. Wow, what an incredible area. If you're ever staying at the park, be sure to drive to the scenic overlooks and take in the beautiful hiking trails. You won't be sorry. Unfortunately since I have bad knees, I had to stay on the trails that allowed me to use my mobility scooter. Fortunately the Cedar Falls Overlook has been redone recently to allow ADA access. The view was spectacular.

Sightseeing in Petit Jean State Park

By the time we had explored all of the scenic overlooks, it was time to head back to our campsite. I needed to get dinner started. On the menu this evening:

"Melt In Your Mouth Pork Loin" - An "ol'blue" recipe

Poke holes in pork loin and insert garlic slivers. Season pork loin with salt and pepper to taste. Be careful with the salt because of the Lipton Soup mix. Coat meat well with flour. In a heavy cast iron skillet heat oil and brown meat on all sides. Transfer pork loin to roaster pan. Mix onion soup mix, cream of mushroom soup and hot water together until thoroughly mixed. Slowly add soup mixture over pork loin allowing some of the onion pieces to rest on top of pork loin as much as possible. Cover pan and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 1 hour. and 15 minutes or until done. Serve gravy over mashed potatoes if desired. Serves: 6

The recipe's title was a perfect description of our main course. The pork loin definitely melted in you mouth and was so tender and moist. Debbie, "ol' blue", never lets me down with here recipes. "ol' blue" is Debbie's nickname on RV.net's Open Road Forums that I'm active on. After dinner, we went outside and started a campfire. It's just not camping unless you've got a campfire blazing. The fire felt really good since the evening chill was already starting to roll in. So what goes perfectly with a campfire? SMORES! Yep, we roasted marshmallows, put the Hershey's chocolate bar on the graham cracker and enjoyed the roaring campfire. We sat and enjoyed the campfire for a while until Dian and Ron decided it was time to head to the lodge for the evening. We definitely had had a big day. Terry and I tended the fire a bit to make sure it was safe and then headed inside for the evening. It had been a wonderful birthday and one that I would never forget. Terry and I watched TV for a bit until we couldn't hold our eyes open any longer. It was 9:30 so we turned in for the evening. This camping stuff is very hard work. I don't think either of us stirred the whole night long.

Petit Jean State Park - Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I woke around 6:00 after a very restful night's sleep. I woke Terry up at 7:00 so she could get showered and dressed. On taps today is a road trip to Little Rock to take in the sights and tour the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. We're meeting Dian and Ron at the lodge's restaurant for breakfast at 8:00. We had heard wonderful things about the restaurant and were looking forward to dining there. What an incredible breakfast we all had. It was so delicious and very reasonable priced. The lodge was all decked out for the Christmas holidays. The staff had done an incredible job decorating. After we finished breakfast, we headed through the Ouachita National forest towards Little Rock. I love history and historical places so I was really looking forward to spending time at the library.

Breakfast at Mather Lodge

The beautiful Christmas tree at the lodge
Ron enjoying the fire at the lodge

Our Magellan GPS unit lead us right to the library with no problems at all. We spent around 4-5 hours going through all the exhibits at the library. It was so interesting to follow the timelineof President Clinton through his eight years in office. Probably the most magnificent items on display were the hand-blown Dale Chihuly glass "Christmas Tree" sculptures. These sculptures were around 10'-12' tall and absolutely incredible. They were on display at the White House on one of the Christmas's during the Clinton administration. Another interesting exhibit was the stretch presidential limousine that President Clinton used while in office. An interesting fact we learned is the museum keeps it dusted and cleaned on the outside but they do not have keys to open it up. The keys are held at the Little Rock office of the secret service. The limousine is on loan to the museum and still has all the classified communications equipment installed in it.

One of the most interesting exhibits in the library to me was the full sized reproduction of the presidential Oval Office. Also the exhibit of the First Lady's gowns was very interesting as well. Terry and I would love to be able to visit each of the presidential libraries. Who knows, we just may be able to someday. Since it was lunch time, we decided to eat at the restaurant in the museum, "42", so named since President Clinton was the 42nd president. The restaurant features a hot and cold buffet. The salad bar and hot food selections were delicious. The day we were visiting the library, they had catfish as a hot selection. Oh my gosh, the fried catfish was awesome. The chef of "42" knows how to prepare catfish. I love fried catfish. It's one of my favorite ways to eat fish.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum

William J. Clinton International Library
The Great Seal of the United States The ceiling of the Oval Office
Looking down Little Rock's River Market A really cool sculpture and seating area

After we had finished lunch we decided to explore the mix of eclectic shops that have cropped up in the River Market area that surrounds the presidential museum. Most of the shopping is a nice and doable walk from the museum. The first stop we made was at the official presidential gift shop. I really liked it that the gift shop was totally detached from the actual museum. Of course I had to purchase some mementos to remind us of the visit. Leaving the gift shop we headed on down Market Street to explore some more of the shops that were lining the street. One of the most interesting shops was Ten Thousand Villages. From their website:

Ten Thousand Villages is an exceptional source for unique, handmade gifts, jewelry, home decor and personal accessories representing the diverse cultures of artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. One of the world's largest fair trade organizations and a founding member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), the company strives to improve the livelihood of tens of thousands of disadvantaged artisans in 38 countries. Ten Thousand Villages accomplishes this by establishing a sustainable market for handmade products in North America, and building long term buying relationships in places where skilled artisan partners lack opportunities for stable income. Product sales help pay for food, education, healthcare and housing for artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed.

Terry purchased some really neat and unique gifts from the shop. I also bought some organic "free market" coffee that I will be anxious to brew. After spending a couple of hours shopping we all decided it was time to head back to the park and the lodge. We took the Interstate route back to the park from Little Rock. Our route took us through Conway, Arkansas. We had to do a "double-take" on a sign we saw on the Interstate. In Conway, Arkansas there is a park called "Toad Suck Park". Nope, I'm not making this up, it's definitely a real park. Of course I had to do some research when we returned back to our campsite to find the origins of the unusual name.

Exit for Toad Suck Park

The legend of how "Toad Suck Park" got it's name goes as follows:

Well, the answer is quite simple... Long ago, steamboats traveled the Arkansas River when the water was at the right depth. When it wasn't, the captains and their crew tied up to wait where the Toad Suck Lock and Dam now spans the river. While they waited, they refreshed themselves at the local tavern there, to the dismay of the folks living nearby, who said: "They suck on the bottle 'til they swell up like toads." Hence, the name Toad Suck. 

 

We needed to stop by the grocery store on the way back to the park so Terry could pick up the fresh fruit ingredients for her ambrosia and sweet potato stuffed oranges. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas we've got to have her family's awesome fruit ambrosia. We also picked up sandwich meat since none of us were very hungry after the big lunch we had at "42". When we arrived back at the trailer, we made sandwiches, relaxed and visited for a while. A while later Dian and Ron decided it was time to head to the lodge. They were both pooped after the long day at the museum and all the walking we all had done. Tomorrow will be a big day of food preparation for our Thanksgiving dinner. Terry and I watch a bit of TV and read for a while before turning in for the evening around 9:30. We were both tired, this camping stuff is tough work. Terry and I had another very restful night's sleep.

Petit Jean State Park - Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I woke up again early, around 5:00 since I had gone to bed so early. One of the nice things we like about our trailer is that we have 3 distinct areas of the trailer. The bedroom, the living area and the bathroom at the rear of the trailer. We also have normal "six panel" residential doors instead of sliding doors. So when one of us gets up early or stays up late, it's easy to close off the bedroom without disturbing the other. So I got up quietly and went out front to read, catch up on computer work and watch a bit of TV to pass time until Terry woke up around 7:00. I put on a pot of coffee for us to enjoy. It was very chilly outside and the wind was picking up a bit. I also had the weather radio turned on to listen to the local forecast. We had heard that there was a possibility of severe weather coming in to the area later today and tomorrow.

Since today was a "stay at the park" day, we had told Dian and Ron not to rush down to the trailer tomorrow for breakfast, just to come on down around 9:00. Around 8:30 Terry put the "Cinnabon" Coffee Cake in the oven to bake. Yum, after around 10 minutes the cinnamon started smelling so good. Along with the coffee smell, it just doesn't get much better than this. Dian and Ron arrived around 9:00 came into the trailer and said "Yum, what's in the oven?" We told them what we were having for breakfast and they were very happy with the decision. On the menu this morning:

After breakfast we decided that we would get some sightseeing in at the park before the bad weather arrived. Dian and Ron wanted to take a hike down to Cedar Falls. Since I couldn't "hike" because of my funky knees, Terry and I decided to drive around a check out some more of the park. We also wanted to go and check out the Cedar Falls overlook. Recently the park had redone the walkway to the overlook making it ADA (Americans for Disabilities Act) accessible. We all decided to meet back at camp around 1:00 for hotdogs cooked over the campfire. Terry and I also drove by the Rockefeller Institute which used to be Winthrop Rockefeller's WinRock Farms. After Winthrop died, the huge complex has been turned into a conference center/corporate retreat. The whole complex is run by the University of Arkansas.

Terry and I explored much of the park and took lots of photos with our Nikon D80 DSLR (digital single lens reflex). We love our new camera. It has awesome performance. As the morning wore on, we noticed the skies were clouding up and the winds were really starting to blow. We got back to camp and started a campfire so we could cook hotdogs for lunch. Dian and Ron arrived soon after and they were "whipped" from the long hike down to the base of Cedar Falls. Cedar Falls is the most famous landmark in the park.

There's nothing better when you're camping than hotdogs cooked over a roaring campfire and today's lunch was no exception. Our menu consisted of:

We almost made it through lunch before wind started whipping our awning up and down. We all hurried to get it pulled in and rolled up properly. We also folded up and put away all of our outside chairs. The wind was coming in off the lake at a very brisk clip. Come to think of it, "brisk" was an understatement about the winds speed. It was blowing real hard. At least the satellite dish was stable and hadn't blown over. Before the wind picked up too much, we took everything off our awning and rolled it back up. The winds were picking up too much to leave it out. After getting everything "batten" down outside, we headed inside the trailer for the rest of the afternoon.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in total comfort working on preparation of the dishes for tomorrow and for dinner tonight. Every once in a while, the trailer would shake under the strain of the wind. As we prepped food ingredients for tomorrow, Ron surfed the Internet and kept himself amused. Dian and I sat at the table chopping away on green peppers, onions and chicken. Dian wanted to be useful and worked on the casserole for tonight's dinner along with preparing the corn salad for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner. Terry baked a pecan pie and cut up fruit for the ambrosia fruit salad. The smells wafting through the trailer were unbelievable. Oh my gosh, we were all drooling from the smells, especially the pecan pie that was just out of the oven.

The wind was still blowing real hard and temperatures had dropped into the lower 40's. We're so glad our trailer is so well insulated. We were all very comfortable just running our electric heater. Of course we had the heat of the oven to help keep us warm and toasty. A little before 5:00 we put tonight's casserole into the over to bake. On the menu this evening:

The casserole recipe came from my good friend Debbie (ol' Blue, her screen name on RV.net's Open Road Forums). The casserole was a perfect match for tonight's chilly weather. It was an awesome "stick to the tummy" recipe for cold weather. I didn't hear any complaints from anyone. Below is the recipe if you like to give it a whirl at home.

Creamy Cheesy Mexican Chicken Casserole

Cut up chicken into small bite sized pieces. In a large skillet melt margarine. Add chicken, garlic, onion and green pepper. Cook over medium heat until chicken is no longer pink. and no liquid is left in the skillet. Stir in soup, Rotel tomatoes and jalapeņo pepper. Add cheese, reduce heat and cook until cheese melts, stirring constantly. Place the cooked spaghetti in a greased 9 x13 casserole dish. Pour the chicken/cheese mixture over the spaghetti. Bake at 350 degrees for for 30 minutes or until the dish is bubbly and heated thoroughly. Serve with salad and soft corn or flour tortillas. Serves: 6

After getting all the dinner dishes cleaned up we decided to play a round of Mexican Train, the consummate RVers game. the round lasted until around 9:30, way past all our bedtime. We decided to call it a night since we had a "big" day ahead of us tomorrow. Dian and Ron headed to their room at the lodge and Terry and I watch the local news and weather. The cold temperatures and strong winds were supposed to be with us tomorrow as well. Terry and I set the heater to a comfortable temperature and snuggled down under the covers of the bed. We were nice and warm in no time and fast asleep.

Petit Jean State Park - Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's Thanksgiving, a national day set aside for all of us to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for. Even with dark clouds hanging over your life, you should still be able to find the "silver lining". I was thankful that I didn't wake up at 5:00 again this morning. I slept in until a little after 6:00, that's almost a record for me! It was 34 degrees outside, cold and windy, burr! The wind was really whipping around. We had already rolled up the awning Wednesday evening. At least the our water hose didn't freeze overnight. Friday morning was going to be a different story. Temperatures at the park Friday morning were supposed to dip into the mid 20's. I'd definitely have to make sure our fresh water tank was full and disconnect and drain our fresh water hose before we turned in for the night. One of the first things I did this morning was start a pot of coffee. With the temperatures outside, it was definitely a coffee morning! The coffee smelled good as it was brewing.

Since this was Thanksgiving day, of course we'd have to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! We always watched the parade as we were preparing our Thanksgiving Day meal.  I changed the TV over from satellite reception to local stations and kept my fingers crossed that I would be able to pull in an NBC station. Success! I was able to tune in a local station so we would be able to watch the parade this morning. Terry was going to be very happy when I gave her the news. Around 7:00 I roused Terry out of bed so she could wake up and get showered. Dian and Ron would be coming down to the trailer around 9:00 to have breakfast.

Dian and Ron showed up right at 9:00. They said it was so cold and the wind was still blowing pretty hard. At least we were all nice and warm in the trailer. I'm sure we were burning through the propane. I hope we don't run out. Today would not be a good day to run out of propane with all the cooking that we had to do. Plus, being Thanksgiving day, I'm sure there won't be any place open to refill the propane tanks. I'll think about the propane issue later. Right now, it was time for breakfast, on the menu this morning:

As cold as it was outside, oatmeal was a perfect choice. Also with the big meal on taps for later today, we didn't want to eat anything too heavy. We all had breakfast and made plans for organizing the day's cooking. With the limited burners and space in the trailer, organization was the key. Fortunately we had two organizational experts in the trailer, Dian and Terry. They planned out what needed to be done and in what order. Ron and I took our orders and did as we were told. The first task at hand was getting the turkey in the Nesco (portable oven) so it could start cooking.  Before the trip we had purchased celery and onions all cut up, so we didn't have to cut the veggies up for the stuffing. Terry made the stuffing and I helped her stuff the turkey and put it in the plastic cooking bag and then into the Nesco for baking. Baking a turkey in the cooking bags is so easy to prepare. Almost always the "birds" come out moist and tender with lots of juice for gravy. To keep the Nesco out of the way, we set up a TV tray in the bedroom and put the Nesco on it in there. That way we wouldn't be tripping all over it in the main living area where we were cramped enough all ready. We put a remote thermometer in the oven so we could monitor the internal temperature of the stuffed turkey.

Terry and Dian took over the final preparation for the holiday meal while Ron and I stayed out of the way and waited for our instructions. With the cramped quarters, this is how is had to be. Miraculously, with the team effort, we were able to pull it all together and got everything ready when the turkey was ready. I have no idea how we pulled it off, but we did. I was given the task of carving the turkey. The last item, Terry's "Sweet Potato Stuffed Oranges" were in the oven and almost ready to come out. The dressing was ready, the "Festive Green Beans" were ready, the corn salad was prepared yesterday, and the potatoes were mashed and ready for some yummy turkey gravy to be ladled over them. For dessert, Terry baked one of her delicious pecan pies on Wednesday. Would you look at this menu, can you believe we did this all in our little RV kitchen!

Ron, not a betting man, figured out that there was no way we'd be able to pull off preparing a full-blown Thanksgiving meal in the trailer. Terry and I had an advantage, we had done this once before at Daingerfield State Park Thanksgiving 2005. Was everything delicious? You're darn right it was! In fact it was one of the best Thanksgiving meals any of us had ever eaten. The turkey came out perfectly moist and tender. Everything was awesome. After cleaning up and putting up the leftovers, it was time to sit and relax a while. I have no idea how in the heck Terry was able to fit all of the leftovers in our little RV refrigerator, but she did. If anyone wanted anything for dinner, they were on their own. We finally had to crack a window since the trailer was getting a bit warm inside. We also didn't run out of propane, yea! Hopefully we're going to be able to make it through the cold night ahead of us.

Thanksgiving Day at Petit Jean State Park

Our festive table all set Terry's "picture perfect" pecan pie
Chuck listening for his next "orders" Ron, staying out of the way, surfing the Internet
Dian setting the table "Festive Green Beans" and gravy getting "happy" on the stove
The turkey cooking in the Nesco Terry's sweet potato oranges ready to go in the oven
Staying "ahead" of the dishes Break time!
So much food, an extra table was needed Our little Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers
Carving the turkey Ron and Dian enjoying Thanksgiving
Terry and Chuck, let's dig in! Look at that plate!
Dian and Chuck relaxing after "the" meal Dian trying her hand at "River Crossing"

After relaxing for a while, it was time for a round of Mexican Train. We played a full round, then stopped and had some pecan pie and milk. I must say, even through I'm very biased, Terry makes one of the best pecan pies in the world! She's got a crust recipe that is perfect and it never fails. In fact it's called "Never Fail Pie Crust". Since it was still early we decided to play a round of Skip Bo, then stopped to make turkey sandwiches. I can't believe we were hungry, but we were. The turkey sandwiches hit the spot and were so good.

Around 9:00 Dian and Ron decided it was time to head to the lodge and their rooms. We listened to the weather report on our weather radio and heard that temperatures were going to drop into the middle 20's tonight. I bundled up and went outside to top off our fresh water tank, then disconnected our water hose and drain it. I about froze, it was so cold and windy outside. When I came in, Terry had a cup of hot chocolate ready for me. What a sweetie! We also turned on the "Arctic Pack" (our fresh water tank heater) so the tank wouldn't freeze. Our trailer is not a "4 season" rated trailer so our tanks are not insulated. If we hadn't had changed over to our fresh water tank, we wouldn't have had any water in the morning to shower with. This way, we'd be assured we'd have water available for flushing and showering. After we enjoyed our cups of hot chocolate, we started getting ready for bed. We had had quite a day and were ready for bed. We snuggled down under the covers and quilt and were soon fast asleep sleeping very soundly through the night.

Petit Jean State Park - Friday, November, 23, 2007

I woke up again around 6:00 in the morning and checked our outside thermometer and yes it was cold outside, 26 degrees. I am so glad that precautions had been taken to ensure we would have water available. I showered then woke Terry up. Dian and Ron were coming to the trailer around 7:30 for breakfast. We were leaving on another road-trip today, one to Hot Springs to visit and shop at the town's big holiday craft fair. Dian and Ron were also headed home today. It's been so nice having their company with us while at Petit Jean. As soon as they arrived, it was time to get breakfast started. On the menu this morning:

We got all the dishes cleaned up and got ready to hit the road. Since Dian and Ron would be leaving for home from Hot Springs, they were going to follow us in their car. We headed towards Hot Springs and arrived at the convention center around 10:30. That's where the "20th Annual Winter Wonderland Craft Festival" was being held. While in Hot Springs we were also planning on eating lunch at McClard's BBQ. I have the book "1000 Places To See Before You Die" and the restaurant was mentioned in the book. They said if you're in the Hot Springs area, you've GOT to eat at McClards. We'll see; we Texans take BBQ pretty seriously. But it's always nice to try different regional types of BBQ while visiting different areas.

We got parked and headed on into the convention center not knowing what to expect. It was still very cold out so we walked very briskly into the warmth of the Hot Springs Convention Center. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, there's always an admission price to most of the craft fairs. In Hot Springs, nope, no admission fee. We also couldn't believe the prices and the quality of the merchandise. The prices were really low. Many of the vendors told us that lots of folks from the Dallas/Fort Worth area drive to Hot Springs the weekend after Thanksgiving just to shop at the craft fair. The four of us spent around two hours getting the "lay of the land" and seeing what each of the vendors were selling. It looked like there were 250 or more vendors and all of them had very nice high-quality merchandise.

We decided to take a break for lunch and come back to finish up our shopping. As planned we headed to McClard's BBQ. The place was definitely a typical BBQ joint. They've been in business at the same location for over 75 years. Also the restaurant was one of the favorites of President Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. From the restaurant's website, I learned the restaurant has a very interesting history.

Every great success has a story behind it! Well known for our barbeque sauce, McClard's Bar-B-Q Restaurant in Hot Springs, Arkansas is no exception.

In the twenties, Alex and Gladys McClard owned Westside Tourist Court, just a few blocks west from the current location of McClard's Bar-B-Q Restaurant at 505 Albert Pike, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.

When a down-and-out traveler could not come up the the $10 he owed for his two-month stay, he asked the couple to accept instead a recipe for "the world's greatest bar-b-que sauce". Since something was better than nothing, the couple accepted the recipe. To their great surprise and delight, they tasted the truth in the traveler's claim.

In 1928, the Westside Tourist Court became Westside Bar-B-Q with goat as its star menu attraction! In 1942, McClard's moved into the current location - a white-washed stucco building.

For many years, drive-in service was provided for a horn toot or blinking lights. Carhops hung trays of ribs and sandwiches on automobile doors while the driver dialed in the radio to catch the tunes from the neon jukebox inside. Today goat has disappeared from the menu, and the carhops from the curbside.

In the kitchen, though, is still the McClard family: 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generations of McClards continue the traditions set by Alex and Gladys. Each week they serve 7,000 pounds of mouth-watering hickory-smoked beef, pork, and ribs. Alongside go 250 gallons of spicy bar-b-que beans, 250 gallons of cole slaw, 3,000 hand rolled hot tamales and 3,000 pounds of fresh-cut potatoes french-fried to perfection.

And over the crusty-on-the-outside, fall-away-tender-pink-inside smoky bar-b-que, in handy bottles on the side.... is the sauce. The famous sauce that started it all. The priceless sauce whose $10 recipe now sits locked away in a safe deposit box in downtown Hot Springs.

Lunch at McCard's BBQ in Hot Springs

The famous McCard's BBQ in Hot Springs
Ribs and Fries Chuck & Terry ready to eat some BBQ

Okay, I guess I'm spoiled with the Texas BBQ. The BBQ at McClards was very good but not what I was expecting. Everyone agreed with me. Personally I like a sweeter and thicker BBQ sauce. But, as tastes vary around the country, so does all of the different varieties of BBQ available around the country. After lunch we headed back to the Hot Springs Convention Center to do some more shopping and make our final purchases. Dian and Terry already had a "plan" of which vendors they were going to revisit and make purchases at. We finished up at the craft festival around 4:00, gave Dian and Ron hugs and wished them a safe trip home. It's been so nice being able to share our Thanksgiving holiday week with them.

Terry and I headed back to Petit Jean State Park and our campsite. We arrived back at our trailer at 6:30 tired and little hungry after the long day of driving and shopping. We decided to heat up some of the leftover "Creamy Cheesy Mexican Chicken Casserole". As cold as it was outside the comfort food tasted great. Terry and I settled in for the evening and played 5 rounds of Skip-Bo. We watched the local news and weather and learned the bitter cold was on its way and it would be dropping into the mid 20's overnight. Before going to bed I hooked up the water hose and topped off our fresh water tank once again. I also drained the hose and brought it inside to stay warm. Terry and I turned in for the evening around 10:30 to what we thought was going to be a sound night's sleep.

Petit Jean State Park - Saturday, November 24, 2007

We both woke up around 4:00 in the morning shivering from the cold. Guess what happened? We ran out of propane. You would not believe how cold it was in the trailer! As cold as its been and as much cooking as we've done inside the trailer we sucked both propane tanks dry. We did have a small electric heater with us but it wasn't big enough to really do much good. We hooked it up, closing off the bedroom and the bathroom, and huddled together in the living room. It was 29 degrees outside and 55 degrees inside the trailer. Both of us put our sweats on to help stay warm and waited for day-break so we could run into town and get the propane tanks filled. Terry snuggled down on the couch under a quilt.

Since we couldn't cook breakfast inside the trailer, and we didn't was to brave the cold outside to cook on the propane grill, we decided to run into town and stop at McDonalds for breakfast before heading over to Wal-Mart to buy a larger ceramic heater. On the way into town we saw a propane dealer that wasn't open yet but would be by the time we headed back to the park. After breakfast we headed over to Wal-Mart to buy a heater and stock up on the wonderful, delicious Petit Jean Meats bacon, ham and sausages. I promised my best friend, Steve, that I would bring him home a stock of meats. After leaving Morrilton, we stopped by the propane dealer and refilled our two 30# tanks. The guy refilling them stated that the tanks were totally empty, we said "Yep, we know!" He gave us a big smile and said, "Yep, it was pretty cold last night." We arrived back at the park at 11:00 and stopped by the visitor's center to make reservations for a return trip to the park next May, the week of our anniversary. For our May trip, we'll be in site #13, a beautiful site that looks out towards Lake Bailey. We got back to the trailer, hooked up the propane and warmed up the inside of the trailer. The heat really felt good. It was very overcast and there was a chance of rain later on in the day.

Site #13 - Our Site for May 2008

This weekend was also the weekend for the "10th Annual Mountainman Rendezvous". The "re-enactors" started setting up Thanksgiving evening. We really felt for them since they were staying in tents and it had been so cold. Also today it had been misting most of the day so it was damp as well as cold. After warming up, Terry and I made a couple of turkey sandwiches for lunch before heading over to the "Mountainman Rendezvous" grounds to see what's going on. The re-enactors were really hardy folks. At least they had campfires blazing to keep everyone warm as visitors walked from tent. We got to see a neat demonstration of how to make gun powder and watched the re-enactors shoot black powder rifles as well as a canon. Several of the tents had some really neat items for sale. They were selling period clothes and implements, much of it hand crafted. A cold light rain had started to fall. After a couple of hours, Terry and I were "chilled to the bone" and decided to head back to our trailer to warm up before we headed up to the lodge for our farewell dinner at the park.

10th Annual Mountainman Rendezvous

Lighting the homemade gun powder Almost ready to ignite
Homemade gun powder burning, so cool! Lots of coffee for a cold rainy day
Firing the canon Making something hot to eat

Terry and I headed up to the lodge's restaurant at 6:00 to have dinner. The lodge was all decorated for the Christmas holidays and looked so beautiful. Typical with a lodge it had a huge fireplace and there was a blazing fire going. Terry liked that a lot and immediately went over to the fire to warm up. There was a table right next to the fire that had a jigsaw puzzle on it that guests could sit down and work on. After lingering for a while we headed to the restaurant to have dinner. Dinner was very good. Terry had a grilled chicken sandwich and I had a fried chicken dinner. After we finished dinner we paid a visit to the gift shop and looked around. The park has two gift shops, one at the lodge and one at the visitor's center. Also the visitor's center has a very nice interpretative center. Both gift shops sell wood at a very reasonable price as well as ice and other necessary grocery items. Terry and I arrived back to a warm trailer  relaxed for a bit and played a few more hands of Skip-Bo. Terry and I straightened up the inside so we wouldn't have too much to take care of tomorrow before we left for our trip home. 10:30 rolled around, it was time for bed. Tonight we did get to sleep in a nice warm and comfortable trailer knowing both our propane tanks were full.

Petit Jean State Park - Sunday, November 25, 2007

A final view of site #16, an awesome site!

The two of us both woke up around 7:30 very rested after our night's sleep. Terry and I shared a breakfast of hot cereal and juice before I headed outside to dump and flush our holding tanks. While I was outside Terry worked on cleaning up the inside of the trailer. Around 9:00 or so we were ready to head out and bid farewell to Petit Jean State Park. We'd be back in a few months, site #13 would be here waiting for our arrival.

The rain coming down started to become come down steadily. Terry decided that she wanted to drive the first leg of the trip home. We were also getting "Trailer Fault" error on our IBC (Integrated Brake Controller). Before we only got "Trailer Disconnect" errors now we were getting another type of error. The truck and trailer both had been in for service. Having the faults and the warning beeps were very frustrating and I was determined to get the trouble with the system fixed. Terry took it very slowly traveling down the mountain. After we got to the bottom of the mountain, the rest of the trip home was uneventful.. The brake controller errors that we've been experiencing have now gotten worse. One of my main priorities when we return is to get the problem finally resolved. We stopped at a fast food restaurant on the way home for lunch. We arrived home around 6:00, safe and sound, unloaded the trailer at home and dropped the trailer off at our storage facility. We had an incredible trip but it sure was good to get home. Bandy, our dog, was very happy to see us.


Authored by Chuck and Terry Mencke

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"Petit Jean State Park - November 18-25, 2007" was last modified: October 18, 2009

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Chuck and Terry's Pilgrim 281 RB-S Adventures