Lake Chicot State Park, Arkansas

We continued exploring the Mississippi Delta at Lake Chicot State Park in Lake Village, Arkansas. Traveling south on Highway 165, a section of the Great River Road, we passed fields of cotton on both sides of the road.

The largest natural lake in Arkansas, Lake Chicot is also the largest natural oxbow lake in the United States. Our campsite was surrounded by wild pecan trees with a nice view of the lake. Our first day there, we drove across the mighty Mississipi River to Greenville, Mississippi to bring home 3 dozen delicious hot tamales.

Located in the Mississippi Flyway, the park is a great place for bird watching. In addition to egrets, herons and ducks, we were surprised to see a huge flock of White Peliicans on the lake.

We took a self guided driving tour along the Mississippi River levee. Most of the 20 mile tour was right on top of the levee. On one side of the levee were borrow pits with cypress trees, lily pads and many birds. On the other side was farmland.

We camped at Lake Chicot State Park in site 7 on October 21-22, 2014. For my review of this campground click here.

Barbeque, pie, and tamales in the Mississippi Delta – Part 2

Homemade Pie

Inspired by the book and tv series “Feasting on Asphalt The River Run” by one of my favorite Food Network Stars Alton Brown (who just happens to live in Georgia) we decided to spend a few days in the Mississippi Delta on our way home from Little Rock. The book and tv series chronicle the journey he and his crew took on motorcycles on the Great River Road from the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana to the headwaters at Itasca State Park, Minnesota.

Pie was on our mind as we set out on a day trip to Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. Coconut pecan pie to be exact.

Ray's Dairy Maid in Barton, Arkansas was featured on "Feasting on Asphalt"
Ray’s Dairy Maid in Barton, Arkansas was featured on “Feasting on Asphalt”

Our goal was to visit two places featured in “Feasting on Asphalt”: the Delta Cultural Center (it was closed) and to try a  piece of coconut pecan pie at Ray’s Dairy Maid. Just thinking about a pie with coconut AND pecans made my mouth water.

We were probably the only non-locals stopping here for lunch. As we glanced around the small dining room trying to find an empty table, a couple sitting at a large table invited us to sit with them.

They were a delightful couple from Helena. He is a retired banker and his wife Dolly is a hairdresser. She still does hair at the salon she has owned for over 50 years. They had just left the nursing home where she goes every Monday to fix hair for the residents there. They were regulars at the restaurant and seemed to know everyone.

Photo of Alton Brown at Ray's Dairy Maid
Photo of Alton Brown at Ray’s Dairy Maid

Ray’s Dairy Maid serves hand made hamburgers, plate lunches, and is famous for it’s homemade pies. We didn’t get to meet the owner Deane Cavette (also known as Nana Deane) who was out of town.

Every weekday they offer a different plate lunch special. Monday was meatloaf with 2 sides. Sounded great but I went for the country fried steak with fried okra. Good old home cooking at it’s best. Add good conversation to the good food and it was a lunch to remember.

Dolly pointed out a meringue pie with the meringue piled several inches high. It looked delicious but we had been thinking about the coconut pecan pie too long to try anything else. After getting directions on how to get back on the road to the campground we got two pieces to go and were on our way.

We had the pie for desert that night after our unbelievably delicious dinner of pulled pork from Jones Bar-B-Q Diner. The pie was even better than I imagined and was worth going out of the way for. Pecan pie is my favorite pie in the world and the addition of the coconut just put it over the top. It was a perfect way to end the day.

I can’t remember a time when I’ve had two such delicious and memorable meals in one day.

Ray’s Dairy Maid, Hwy. 49, Barton, Arkansas is owned by Deane Cavette.

We were camped at Mississippi River State Park near Marianna when we ate at Ray’s Dairy Maid.

Barbeque, pie, and tamales in the Mississippi Delta – Part 1

James Beard Award Winning Barbecue

One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is eating local foods from locally owned restaurants. Although we do most of our own cooking in the RV, especially when we are in a campground far from civilization, we will go out of out way to find good food. To find a truly authentic place, we like to ask a local where the locals eat. When we find something we like, we have been known to get enough to fill up the freezer to eat later in the trip and maybe even save some to take home.

Jones' Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas is the only James Beard Award winning restaurant in the state
Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas is the only James Beard Award winning restaurant in the state

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas was just such a place. The only James Beard Award winning restaurant in Arkansas, we would have never known about it if park ranger John had not told us about customers lining up around the building to get some of the famous, award winning barbeque pork.  We would have to get there early. John told us the restaurant opened at 7:30 am and stayed open until they ran out of BBQ.

We could smell the pork cooking before we even found the restaurant. Arriving at at 9:00 am, we walked into a small dining room with only 2 tables. Two other people were leaving as we came in so we were the only customers. Pit-master and owner James Jones was standing behind the window where I placed my order for 5 pounds to go. Behind him I could see tables covered with loaves of Wonder Bread and large jugs of his famous sauce.The prices were listed on a sign above the window. The menu is simple – pulled pork barbeque by the pound or sandwich. The sandwich is served on white bread with or without coleslaw.

Jones' Bar-B-Q Diner has been in this location since 1964
Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner has been in this location since 1964

As Mr. Jones wrapped my order in foil and placed it in an aluminum tray to go he told us a little about his business. His family has been making BBQ using the same recipe for several generations. Although the sign outside says since 1964, he told us family has been making BBQ using the same secret family recipe since the early 1900’s.

It was such a treat to meet Mr. Jones and spend time talking with him. He answered all our questions about winning the James Beard Award and traveling to New York City to receive it. I asked him if he had to wear a tux. His answer was “no, I wore a suit but one of the other winners had on overalls.” When someone asks for his secret recipe, he tells them his father would come back from the grave if he gave away the secret.

Back at the campground, I put some pork and coleslaw (served in a mason jar) in the fridge for dinner that night and the rest in the freezer for later.

When dinner time finally arrived, we enjoyed unbelievably delicious BBQ unlike any other I have ever tasted. Close your eyes and imagine the smokey aroma of pork slowly cooking over a hickory and oak fire. Imagine biting into pork so tender it practically melts in your mouth. Imagine the pork dripping with a BBQ sauce that is vinegary yet sweet with just the right hint of heat. Believe me, it is worth a trip from anywhere to try this BBQ!

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, 219 West Louisiana Street, Marianna, Arkansas, is owned by James and Betty Jones and is one of the oldest African-American owned restaurants in America.

Next up: Homemade pie!

We were camped at Mississippi River State Park near Marianna when we visited Jones Bar-B-Q Diner.

Crowley’s Ridge Parkway and the Great River Road in Arkansas

Driving on the Great River Road
Driving on the Great River Road

Our home base to explore two scenic byways through the Mississippi Delta was Mississippi River State Park in Marianna, Arkansas. The large visitor’s center is less than 2 years old and has an excellent interpretive center about the Mississippi Delta area. The staff and rangers were friendly and helped make our stay here memorable.

The park is located in the Mississippi Delta on the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway and the Great River Road within the St. Francis National Forest. We stayed in the Beech Point Campground on a peninsula in Bear Creek Lake. It is one of the best state park campgrounds we have ever seen. There are only 17 sites in the campground with 14 full hookup waterfront sites and 3 tent sites.  Ours was a large pull through with a big patio area for the picnic table and fire ring. For my review of this campground click here.

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To ask about exploring the area we talked to Park Ranger John as he was patrolling the campground. After getting directions, we had a plan for the next day.

Crowley’s Ridge rises 200 feet above the Mississippi River Delta flood plain and stretches more than 200 miles from just below Cape Giradeau, Missouri to Helana, Arkansas. The Crowley’s Ridge Parkway in Arkansas traverses the entire ridge. The section of the parkway we drove is called the “high road” by the locals.

The Great River Road and Crowley's Ridge Parkway run together for a few miles
The Great River Road and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway run together for a few miles

We started our drive to Helena-West Helena on the “high road”. On top of Crowley’s Ridge, the gravel road wound through the St. Francis National Forest. Only a few of the tall oaks, sycamore and buckeye trees had started showing any fall colors. The only other vehicles we saw belonged to hunters. I hope they had better luck with deer than we did. We only saw one all day. Except for a couple of National Forest campgrounds there was no other sign if civilization.

After about 20 miles we were back on a paved road and soon were on Cherry Street in Helena-West Helena to visit the Delta Cultural Center. Oh No! Closed on Monday! We felt like the Grizwalds when they got to Wally World to find it closed for repairs!

We took the “low road” back to the campground. This gravel section of The Great River Road is just a small part of the 10-state route from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico along both sides of the Mississippi River. In Arkansas the road rarely goes right beside the river.

As we drove along the “low road” we passed through Cypress swamps and took a side trip to the mouth of the St. Francis River where it joins the Mississippi River. With Willow Trees growing along the banks of the river, the mighty Mississippi is about a mile wide in this location.

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We enjoyed two delicious meals from local restaurants that day. The meals were so memorable I will post about them in a later post. Stay tuned!

Beside the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas

Maumelle Campground is a beautiful Corps of Engineers park next to the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is a popular family destination and was almost full on the weekend. Just a few miles from grocery stores, shopping, and restaurants it was the perfect place for us to stay. The big sites are all paved with picnic table and fire pit. Our site was on the water with our camper set up beneath pecan trees.

On Friday we took a day trip to the first Arkansas state park, Petit Jean State Park. The 55 mile trip took us through several small towns. The final miles of the journey were up steep, winding roads until we reached the top of Petit Jean Mountain and the state park.

The legend of how Petit Jean mountain was named began in the 1700’s when a French nobleman named Chavet became engaged. He was soon leaving to explore part the Louisiana Territory and claim some of the land. His fiance wanted to get married before he left so she could accompany him on his journey. He refused because he didn’t want her to have to suffer the hardships they would encounter. She disguised herself as a cabin boy named Petit Jean and went on the exploration with him without his knowledge. Chavet never knew who she was until she fell ill and a doctor discovered the truth. She is buried on top of the mountain which was named after her.

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