Wandering Around America One State at a Time – Arkansas

State 4:

Welcome to the next post in my series highlighting states we have visited throughout the years. I hope you will enjoy coming along for the ride! I will be featuring the states alphabetically and next up is

Arkansas

Arkansas became the 28th state on June 15, 1836. The capital is Little Rock.

When I was in elementary school my family lived on an Air Force base in northeastern Arkansas for four years. I remember there were cotton fields as far as the eye could see outside of the base.

Henry and I have traveled through Arkansas on several of our cross country trips and we have have made it a destination more than once. The Ozark Mountains, Hot Springs National Park, Little Rock, and several places on or near the Mississippi River were some of the places we enjoyed visiting.

We strolled along Bath House Row and the Grand Promenade at Hot Springs National Park. A relaxing day in one of the original bath houses was a real treat for me.

At Fort Smith National Historic Site we toured the federal courthouse used by Judge Isaac C. Parker in the late 1800’s.

We loved watching the barges going by on the Mississippi River from our campsite at Tom Sawyer RV Park in West Memphis, Arkansas.

Maumelle Campground on the Arkansas River was a great home base for attending a Georgia – Arkansas football game in Little Rock and for taking a day trip to Petit Jean Sate Park.

We enjoyed the scenic drives around Mississippi River State Park and Lake Chicot State Park so much that we made two trips to each park.

To read previous posts about the states featured in this series just click on the state name: Alabama      Alaska      Arizona

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.

Best Campgrounds of the year – 2014

Although we didn’t wander too much in our RV this year our travels took us to some very memorable places. We visited family, camped by lakes and rivers, got together with old friends, visited a distillery, watched barges go by on the Mississippi River, went to 2 Georgia away games, and ate award winning barbeque and tamales.

During our 2014 travels we camped in  8 states and stayed in a total of 17 different parks: 7 state parks, 5 private RV parks, and 5  federal parks.

So here it is, the first ever “Wandering Dawgs best campgrounds of the year” list.

Number 3: Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia.

Claytor Lake State Park is our favorite place to stay when visiting family in Virginia. We’ve returned several times and enjoyed each stay.

There are plenty of things to do in the area to keep you busy. The state park has a nice beach and swimming area, hiking trails, a marina, and gift shop with free Wi-Fi. The Blue Ridge Parkway is close enough for a day trip and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is just a short drive away.

We always stay in one of the big pull through sites in section D. Each site has water and electric, a picnic table, and fire pit. The sites are wide enough that you don’t feel like you are on top of your neighbor. There are no waterfront sites in the park but the lake is just a short walk from the campground.

We visited Claytor Lake State Park in April, 2014 and also in May, 2013.

Number 2: Maumelle COE on the Arkansas River in Little Rock, Arkansas

Maumelle is a popular Corps of Engineers park in Little Rock, Arkansas. This is a very popular park so reservations are recommended especially on the weekends. Our site, just a few steps from the lake, was a large back in with water and electric hookups, a big patio area with a fire pit and picnic table, and a beautiful view of the Arkansas River.

The campground is conveniently located in Little Rock and close to shopping. The park has a boat ramp, playground, basketball court and a picnic area. It is a good home base for exploring the area. We enjoyed a day trip to Petit Jean State Park.

We visited Maumelle Campground in October, 2014.

Number 1: Mississippi River State Park, Marianna, Arkansas

Not only the best campground of 2014, but I would rate this one of the best state park campgrounds ever!

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. 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. Everything was clean and new, the staff at the visitor’s center and the rangers were friendly and helpful, and the view from our site couldn’t be beat.

This is a great place to sit and watch the resident Great Blue Heron and turtles on the lake. The visitor’s center has a very well done and interesting interpretive center about the Mississippi Delta. The lake is a popular fishing destination and if you enjoy scenic drives the Great River Road and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway are both close by. Oh, and award winning barbeque is just a short drive from the campground.

We’re already trying to figure out when we can camp here again!

We visited Mississippi River State Park in October, 2014.

Honorable Mention:

  • Winfield COE on J Strom Thurmond Lake in Appling, Georgia.
  • Lake Chicot State Park, Lake Village, Arkansas.
  • Trail of Tears State Park, Jackson, Missouri.

Where do you think we will wander next year? Stay tuned…

Happy New Year!!

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!