Queen Wilhelmina State Park - Friday, August 31, 2007
For this trip we're headed to Queen Wilhelmina State Park outside of Mena, Arkansas. Queen Wilhelmina's Lodge is called the "Castle in the Sky." We're meeting four of our RV buddies on top of the mountain for a long weekend of food, fun and fellowship. Terry has never been to Queen Wilhelmina. I visited the lodge once with my parents probably 35-40 years ago. I always remembered the beauty of the park and was drawn back to the area. I've always wanted to make a return trip, so now is my chance. The present lodge is the third to be built on top of Rich Mountain. If you're interested in the history of the lodge and the state park, you can read all about it here.
The current "Castle in the Sky" is the third one to be built on top of Rich Mountain. The three lodges were built in 1898, 1959 and the current one in 1975. From the historical marker at the lodge:
Originally built in 1898 by the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad as a gathering place and stopover for high society from the east on the rail line from Kansas City, Missouri, to Port Arthur, Texas. Because Dutch money was invested in the railroad and perhaps to give the project a touch of romance, the inn was named after Wilhelmina, the ruling queen of Holland.
The Inn began to lose popularity in 1910 and soon fell into disrepair. In 1940 , Centenary College acquired the property to use as a dormitory and classrooms for summer college courses. Work was started, but World War II interrupted the project.
In 1957, Act 76 of the Arkansas General Assembly created Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The site was purchased and the inn reconstructed in 1959. During the early morning hours of November 10, 1973, the Inn was destroyed by fire. Work began immediately to secure funding and reconstruct the Inn for the second time.
Terry and I pulled out of our storage facility after getting something to eat at our favorite fast food restaurant and headed towards Mena, Arkansas. Our trip straight out Interstate 30 was uneventful. We made good time and arrived in Mena around 6:00. We were both hungry and decided to stop and get something to eat before heading up to the top of the mountain and our campsite. When you're pulling a trailer you've got to look for places to stop that you can easily park the truck and trailer. We found an Exxon station with a Wendy's in it that fit the bill.
Apparently there was a big football game scheduled for later on in the evening between two rivals. The Wendy's was filled with coaches and cheerleaders all talking about the "big" game this evening. Terry and I finished our meal and headed out to find the road that would lead us to the top of the mountain and our campsite for the weekend. I had to keep my eye on the road since it had lots of sharp turns. Terry kept going "Wow" but I didn't get to look at all of the beautiful scenery that surrounded us. Around 7:00 we pulled into the park and stopped by the lodge to get checked in.
|Welcome to Queen Wilhelmina State Park|
We were assigned to site #4, Steve and Leslie would be in site #5 and Mike and Cindy would be in site #6. Since Steve and Leslie's site was right in the middle, we'd probably be doing all the cooking and eating at their site. It just made sense. After getting checked in we headed to the campground area so we could get backed into our site and setup before it got too dark. We did notice one thing, it was a good 20 degrees cooler on top of the mountain than it was in town.
Our sties were really nice and deep but narrow. Terry and I got our trailer backed in and hooked up. Since our other RV buddies hadn't arrived yet, Terry and I got our recliners and our outside stuff setup. Mike and Cindy arrived around an hour later. They brought their chairs over and we sat and visited while waiting for Steve and Leslie to arrive. It was a beautiful cool Arkansas evening on top of the mountain. Around 10:00 Steve and Leslie pulled into the park backed into their site and got hooked up. Steve and Leslie brought their chairs over and we all sat and visited until around 11:00 before heading to our respective trailers for the night. Terry and I read for a while before turning in for the night. Neither one of us slept very well at all. We were both dead tired, but just couldn't get comfortable
Queen Wilhelmina State Park - Saturday, September 1, 2007
I woke up around 7:00 and immediately put on a pot of coffee. After the coffee was finished I grabbed a cup and headed outside. I also took our new Nikon D80 DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) outside to take a few shots and start learning about the camera. We had just gotten the camera a couple of weeks before the trip. Terry is starting to get serious about her bird-watching and she needed a better and faster digital camera than what our Canon Sure Shot could offer. I used to shoot professionally and I always used Nikon products so I was naturally drawn to the product line when we started looking for a professional type digital camera.
Wow, it was an incredible morning. I sipped my coffee and read for a while before Steve joined me a bit later. We sat and talked before the girls woke up and joined us outside. Mike and Cindy were still asleep in their trailer. Terry and I didn't have anything special planned for breakfast. Steve and Leslie invited us to share breakfast with them. With lots of enthusiasm, Terry and I readily agreed. On the menu this morning:
Scrambled eggs with cheese and hatch green chilies
Toast and jelly
Coffee, of course
After we had finished breakfast, we saw Mike and Cindy stirring over at their trailer. They brought their coffee cups over and joined us for a visit. After talking for a while Terry and Leslie decided to head up to the lodge so they could participate in the park's annual butterfly festival. Cindy decided to stay in the camp with the "boys'. Terry was anxious to put the new Nikon to work and see how it performed. Steve and I had a "project" to take care of on my trailer. On our last trip out to San Antonio, I ended up "whacking" off one of our rear stabilizers. In other words, I bent the heck out of it. I had ordered a new replacement but hadn't installed it yet. Steve had volunteered to help me take the old bent stabilizer off and install the new one. The "project" ended up being a fairly simple and quick job.
All Set Up. Time To Relax
Proudly Flying Our Flags!
|Steve and Leslie's new portable ice maker||Leslie the photographer!|
|Looks like a leaf, but really a butterfly or moth||A beautiful visitor to our campsite!|
The girls returned around noon after taking some awesome photos of the incredible variety of butterflies and moths that were flying and hovering all over the park. Terry and Leslie were gone around two hours shooting photos of all the beauty that surrounded us at the park.
Butterflies, Moths and Flowers, Oh My!
After they told us all about their butterfly adventures, we decided it was time to start lunch. On the menu this afternoon:
Jalapeņo and regular all-beef hot dogs
Chili and all the fixin's
Potato chips and Fritos
Beverage of choice
There's nothing better than cooking hot dogs when you're camping. Although we had to cook them on the grill since there was a "burn-ban" throughout the park. Our propane grills were okay to cook on. Even though the dogs were cooked on the grill they were incredible. How could they not be? After cleaning up after lunch, it was time, for what else, relaxing, reading and sitting around doing nothing. We did get our satellite dishes setup and locked in. Steve and I had great signals and pictures but we never could get Mike's dish locked in on a signal.
After sitting around a while we all decided to drive through the camping area and explore. After looking at all the other sites, we decided, even though our sites were narrow, we had the best 3 sites in the park. Since we were out running around we went up to the lodge to check out the gift shop and do bit of shopping. Leslie bought a butterfly guide book and Terry I purchased a couple mementos to remind us of our visit.
"The Castle In the Sky" and the State Park
The beautiful fireplace and carving inside the lodge
|Steve checking out the view from the lodge||A garden area on the lodge's grounds|
|Queen Wilhelmina's Train Station||Enjoying a train ride through the park|
We all returned back to our campsites and rested and relaxed for a while until it was time to start dinner. Tonight is our big group dinner. We've got a delicious dinner menu planned for this evening.
- Barbequed chicken - Mike & Cindy
- Pasta salad, deviled eggs and relish tray - Chuck & Terry
- Beans, fresh baked rolls and Dutch Oven cobbler - Steve & Leslie
- Margaritas from our "Margarator"
Group Potluck Dinner Time
|Getting ready for our delicious potluck BBQ dinner|
|"The Margarator"||Margarita anyone?|
After eating our delicious dinner, we all sat around relaxed and visited. We'd had a great day and the weather has been spectacular. Around 9:00 Mike and Cindy decided it was time for them to turn in and they headed to their trailer. The rest of us sat outside for another couple of hours leaning back in our recliners looking at all the incredible stars in the sky. The sky tonight was absolutely incredible. 11:00 or so we were all ready to turn in for the evening. We were all tired from a tough day at the campsite. This camping stuff is really hard work. Terry and I were in bed fast asleep around 11:30 and slept soundly through the night.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park - Sunday, September 2, 2007
I woke around 6:00 and went on and showered. As soon as I was out of the shower, I woke Terry up around 7:00. This morning we were doing our group breakfast. All of us were contributing parts of the breakfast this morning. Of course the first duty of the day was to put on a pot of coffee. After the coffee was ready I grabbed a cup and went outside to enjoy the cool morning air and get ready to start cooking. What a morning it was! The temperature was in the mid-60's. Shortly Terry came out to bring me the bacon and hash browns that we were contributing to the breakfast.
By around 9:00 we all had everything prepared and we were ready to sit down and eat my favorite meal when we're camping; breakfast. I love breakfast when we're camping. There's nothing better than the smell of bacon cooking accompanied by a cup of nice hot coffee. On the menu this morning:
Bacon and sausage
Fresh baked biscuits
Scrambled eggs with cheese
Jams, jellies and honey
Lovett's "Bun Burnin'" homemade hot sauce (oh my gosh, we all thought we were going to die, it was their hottest batch yet!)
Fresh hot coffee
Left over Dutch oven peach cobbler
As usual we all filled our tummies and had smiles on our faces. Everything was delicious. We got all the breakfast dishes cleaned up and got ready to leave on our road trip to Crater of the Diamonds State Park. Maybe we'll all strike it rich today (NOT!) but you never know.
Our Group Breakfast and Relaxing At Our Site
We left for our road in my truck since I was using Microsoft's Streets and Trips with GPS for our routing to Crater of the Diamonds State Park. Steve and Leslie decided to ride with us. Mike and Cindy drove their own truck so we wouldn't be so crowded. What a trip! I had routed our trip for the shortest route. The route took us through incredibly scenic parts of Arkansas and the Ouachita National Forest. We passed by campers with tent in secluded areas of the forest camped right next to beautiful streams. Wow, what a way to camp.
A Stop at Sugar Creek Vista
|Chuck taking a break at Sugar Creek Vista||The "wash-board" road we traveled on|
|Come on Steve, sit down for a picture!||Steve feeling abused|
What a view! Cindy was very afraid of heights, she didn't want to get anywhere near the edge of the lookout. There is also a picture of the road we traveled to get to Crater of the Diamonds. The 15-20 miles of county roads that we traveled were a little over one lane wide and had the effect of driving on a "wash board". Poor Mike and Cindy were staying back from me due to all of the dust my truck was kicking up by driving down the road. Both of our trucks were covered with a heavy coat of dust and dirt. If it hadn't been for GPS routing we all would have thought that we were definitely on the wrong route. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we turned onto paved roads! A short time later we rolled into Crater of the Diamonds State Park and proceeded to get the lay of the land.
We were all amazed at some of the "pros" digging for diamonds. Some of these folks are very serious about their digging for diamonds. A great page outlining the history of the park and the area can be found here. Terry, Steve, Leslie, Mike and Cindy rented their digging tools. If you don't want to lug your own tools, you can rent them at the park. Since my knees were hurting and messed up, I decided to sit in the shade and observe all the folks in the fields looking to strike it rich. If you're interested on learn what you need to know before you go to the park, here's a great page to access.
There's lots to do at the park other than digging for diamonds. The park has a wonderful campground, visitor's center, wildlife viewing blinds, and, from what I've heard excellent fishing. To learn more about all the stuff to do at the park, take a look at this page, it outlines all the activities at the park. There is also an excellent water park at Crater of the Diamonds State Park as well. The day we were there it was very busy since temperatures were hovering in the upper 90's to 100's. As hot as it was, I was really surprised how crowded the diamond fields were. In the visitor's center we got to view the famous "Strawn-Wagner Diamond". The "Strawn-Wagner Diamond" was discovered in 1990. It was originally 3.09 carats and cut down to 1.09 carats in 1997. What's so special about this diamond? In 1998 it was the first diamond ever to receive the "0/0/0" (Ideal Cut/D Color/Flawless) rating by the American Gem Society. This is the highest grade a diamond can receive. For more information on some of the other "Famous Finds" at the park, you can read about it on this page.
Digging for Riches
|Chuck, Leslie, Cindy and Steve||Chuck, Terry, Mike, Cindy and Steve|
|Chuck & Terry at Crater of the Diamonds||Chuck on his scooter|
|This way to riches!||Terry, Steve and Leslie digging for diamonds|
|Terry shifting her dirt||Is there something there?|
|Steve and Leslie checking for "riches"||Mike and Cindy digging in the dirt|
Let's get back to our "diggers" searching for diamonds in the "field of dreams". The 5 of them stayed out in the fields for close to two hours digging away searching for diamonds. Long story short, we all have to keep our day jobs. Terry found some quartz crystals but no diamonds. Oh well, everyone had fun. After cooling off for a while, it was time to head back to Queen Wilhelmina. We were also getting hungry so we were thinking about what we were going to eat for dinner. We also chose another route to go home instead of how we came. We certainly didn't want to travel over the "wash-board" roads again.
About an hour or so later, around 6:00 we rolled back into Mena, hungry. We decided to give the lodge's restaurant a try. I had heard good and "so-so" things about it. Since it was Labor Day Weekend, the restaurant was crowded and there was a wait going on. We were finally seated around 8:00 and had a nice relaxing meal. The buffet was pretty good. We finished dinner, and headed back to our individual trailer exhausted after the long day. The temperature was also much warmer than it had been. We had to turn on the air conditioning in the trailer for the first time during the trip. It felt good sleeping in the cool air within the trailer. Terry and I turned in around 10:30 and slept soundly through the night.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park - Monday, September 3, 2007
I woke up around 6:00 in the morning. It was a cool morning in the lower 70's. I put on a pot of coffee and went outside to sit and enjoy the morning. I didn't want to disturb Terry, I wanted her to sleep. I was sitting outside reading when Leslie joined me a bit later. We both sat and read and enjoyed our last day at the park. Shortly later Steve and Terry joined us. It looked like Mike and Cindy were still asleep. We didn't want to bother them. This morning for breakfast we were having fresh baked cinnamon rolls. Terry put them in the oven around 8:00. I could smell them cooking. The four of us shared a wonderful farewell breakfast.
After breakfast, all six of us started stowing all of our outside items and started packing up. We also said our goodbyes and talked about the wonderful weekend we all had. It has indeed been an incredible trip. Mike and Cindy were the first ones to pull out followed by Steve and Leslie who pulled out around 11:30. We pulled out of the park right at noon right behind them. Terry and I stopped at one of our favorite Mexican food restaurants in Mount Pleasant for a late lunch/early dinner. We pulled into our storage facility around 6:30 very happy to be home. The trip to Queen Wilhelmina had been wonderful. We had seen some beautiful parts of Arkansas and driven on some very scenic roads. Terry and I decided we'll definitely have to return to the state again soon to do some more exploring and sightseeing.
Authored by Chuck and Terry Mencke
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