Lakefront Campground, Award Winning Barbeque, Scenic Drives, and Delta History

Our next destination was Mississippi River State Park in Marianna, Arkansas, about 150 miles north of Lake Chicot. When we stayed here two years ago we traveled on Arkansas highways between the two state parks. Since we had never traveled on the Mississippi side of the Mississippi River we took the long way and drove through Mississippi on Highway 61 (also known as the Blues Trail). Almost every town we drove through had some kind of Blues museum and signs pointing to historical sites.

We  returned to Arkansas by crossing the bridge into Helena. With only about 20 miles to our destination, on Highway 1 in the middle of a construction zone, we ran right into a powerful thunderstorm. The rain was coming down so hard Henry could hardly see and the wind was rocking us as we slowly made our way north. The shoulder on our side of the narrow two lane road was lined with safety cones so there was nowhere to pull over to wait out the storm. At one point the rain was blowing sideways. We inched along until we finally came to a place wide enough to stop. Once the storm passed we continued to the state park and had good weather the rest of the day.

Beech Point Campground in Mississippi River State Park is located on a peninsula in Bear Creek Lake. Almost every campsite has a great view of the lake.

Early morning on Bear Creek Lake
Early morning on Bear Creek Lake
Bear Creek Lake
Bear Creek Lake
Our campsite was a great place to watch the herons, egrets
Our campsite was a great place to watch the herons, egrets, and turtles in the lake
Great Blue Heron with two turtles
Great Blue Heron with two turtles

On our first morning we drove into the town of Marianna to pick up some of the delicious barbeque we had discovered two years ago. Jones Bar-B-Q Diner serves up James Beard Award winning pulled pork with a vinegary, sweet BBQ sauce and coleslaw. That’s it.  He opens early in the morning and is usually sold out by 11:00 am. As we glanced through his guest book we saw names from Europe and Tokyo as well as closer places like Memphis. You can read about our first visit here.

Jone's Bar-B-Q Diner
Jone’s Bar-B-Q Diner
Jone's Bar-B-Q Diner
Jone’s Bar-B-Q Diner

A drive on the gravel section of the Arkansas Great River Road (also known locally as the Low Road) took us through the St. Francis National Forest beside the Mississippi River. We took a short side trip through an ancient pecan grove to the confluence of the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers. The area is undeveloped now but a parking area and overlook are planned for this beautiful, peaceful spot.

Henry and Blondie under the willow beside the St. Francis River
Henry and Blondie under the willows beside the St. Francis River
Confluence of St. Francis and Mississippi River
Confluence of St. Francis and Mississippi River
Beth and Blondie beside the mighty Mississippi
Beth and Blondie beside the mighty Mississippi

Another day we drove south on a gravel portion of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway (the High Road) to Helena for a visit to the Delta Cultural Center. Interesting displays tell about the history of the 27 county region of the Arkansas Delta. Blues music originated in the Delta in Mississippi and Arkansas and one room was dedicated to Arkansas musicians who contributed to the Blues.

Delta Cultural Center
Delta Cultural Center

We planned our trip to watch a live broadcast of the longest running blues radio show in the United States. The Peabody Award winning “King Biscuit Time” radio show has been on the air since 1941. The disc jockey Sonny Payne has been broadcasting the daily show since 1951. We heard him broadcast show number 17,583. Every one of the shows started with him announcing “Pass the Biscuits!”.

Sonny Payne broadcasting the King Biscuit Time Radio Show
Sonny Payne broadcasting the King Biscuit Time Radio Show
King Biscuit Time Radio Show broadcast booth
King Biscuit Time Radio Show broadcast booth

The old train depot houses more exhibits about the region.

Delta Cultural Center Depot
Delta Cultural Center Depot
Old Man River Display at The Depot
Old Man River Display at The Depot

While we were in Arkansas we traveled on several scenic byways. In addition to the Great River Road and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway we also drove on the Levee Road, The Trail of Tears, the Civil War Heritage Trail, and in Mississippi were on the Blues Trail.

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.