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Camping in The Natural State

That's what I have been doing for the last two weeks. I felt free and unencumbered. Closer to nature. It was...Arkansas.

See, that is their motto. The Natural State. I did not mean to suggest I was camping in my birthday suit, although that would be interesting.

Anyway, after a quick stop at a private park in Tennessee to catch up on chores I hit the road again. Hammer down, heading west.


It was shortly after taking that photo that I was praying hard for rain. Yep, I wanted the heaviest downpour possible. Something that would clean off the front of my trailer. I will fill you in on the reason why at the end of this post. I don't want to ruin your appetite. Yet.

The skies obliged.

Rain-1 Rain-2

The rain followed me through Tennessee and over the Mississippi River into Missouri.

Miss-River-1 Miss-River-2 Miss-River-3 Missouri-Sign

It continued into Arkansas and my first stop at Lake Charles State Park.

Arkansas-Sign Rain-4 Lake-Charles-Sign

There are 61 sites here in three loops and for some reason the numbers start at 25. The first two loops are just water and power while the last has full hookups. The prices are reasonable for a state park system, around $21 for for the former and $30 for the latter. They also don't slap on any silly non-resident penalties.

I was in site 29.


There was a neat Yurt a few sites from me in number 38.


But all the campers were in the full hookup sites which are closest to the lake. 70 and 72 for example.

Lake-Charles_070 Lake-Charles_072

Wait, I take that back. Site 53 in the middle loop had some folks. If you don't need sewer hookups this is the best one.


The lake supposedly has good fishing and there is a trail along the shore.

Lake-Charles-Boat-Ramp-and-Pier Lake-Charles Lake-Charles-Shore-Trail

It was foggy the next morning as I drove west to Bull Shoals-White River State Park.

Fog Bull-Shoals-White-River-Sign

Surprisingly, the sun came out as I was setting up camp.

White-River-Campsite White-River-View

This is the number one park in the state, mainly due to the excellent trout fishing in the cold White River below the Bull Shoals Dam.

White-River-1 White-River-2

I made burgers for dinner and stared at an Earth Roamer.

Burger-Dinner Earthroamer

These rigs are pricey. You won't get back any change from a $1 million bill. I'll take one in green.

I made tacos for breakfast before checking out the 102 campsites.


The sites come in all flavors.

I liked 3, 5, and 7 in the full hookup loop.

Bull-Shoals-White-River_003 Bull-Shoals-White-River_005 Bull-Shoals-White-River_007

22 was a big pull through next to a field.


Along the river there are partial hook up sites. 39, 48, and 70 are good examples.

Bull-Shoals-White-River_039 Bull-Shoals-White-River_048 Bull-Shoals-White-River_070

The tent area had some nice spots such as 86 and 88.

Bull-Shoals-White-River_086 Bull-Shoals-White-River_088

If you forgot your tent they have something called "rent-a-camp".


If you forgot your rv, they have three of those available.


There is also a store and marina.


The next morning was sunny and I continued west to Eureka Springs to photograph a KOA Kampground.

I passed over the dam and passed by an unhappy looking cow.

Bull-Shoals-Dam Future-Tacos

While at the KOA I did some laundry. When your laundry bag grabs you and tosses you out of your chair, well, something had to be done about it.


From there it was on to Lake Dardanelle State Park.


From this point onwards you might notice that my photos look a little different. I had to buy another camera as my old D200 was not fully cooperating anymore and I also picked up a new lens.

I was using a Nikon 18-200 for all the previous pics but I really wanted to go wider so I bought a Nikon 10-24 to go with the new camera, a Nikon D7100.

I set up camp and whipped up a pair of burgers.

Burger-1 Burger-2

The next morning I rambled down the Meadowbrook Nature Trail to the Visitor Center.

Meadowbrook-Nature-Trail Lake-Dardanelle-Visitor-Center

This was one amazing Visitor Center.


There were fish everywhere!

Fish-1 Fish-2 Fish-3 Fish-4

And bees.


I explored the lakeshore on my way back to my site.


Past the fishing pier and picnic area.

Lake-Dardanelle-Fishing-Pier Lake-Dardanelle-Picnic-Area

(Notice that smokestack on the horizon?)

Past the Tournament Pavilion and boat ramp.

Lake-Dardanelle-Pavillion Lake-Dardanelle-Boat-Ramp

They were having a fishing tournament while I was there the weekend before last.


Past the beach and swimming area. (Loving that wide angle lens!)

Lake-Dardanelle-Beach Lake-Dardanelle-Swim-Area

Past the private marina and back to the campground.

Lake-Dardanelle-Private-Marina Lake-Dardanelle-Marina Lake-Dardanelle-Trail

(Hmm, there's that smokestack again. Could it be?)


Why yes it is. A nuclear power plant. Imagine the sunset if that baby blows.


But they have the safety precautions already ready in place in case of a meltdown.


I walked the 73 sites the next day, Sunday, after some of the crowd had left.


There is a small loop that juts out into the lake on a peninsula. Sites 13, 15, and 16 are near the tip.

Lake-Dardanelle_013 Lake-Dardanelle_015 Lake-Dardanelle_016

16 is the most popular spot in the campground. The campers had just pulled out before I took that photo.

There are several gorgeous sites near the marina, numbers 36, 38, 40, and 42.

Lake-Dardanelle_036 Lake-Dardanelle_038 Lake-Dardanelle_040 Lake-Dardanelle_042

I was in the overflow area, number 62, having not made any reservations. I didn't know this was a popular time to camp in Arkansas. I thought the campgrounds would be empty.


17 sites are in another area about 12 miles away. Much quieter and less crowded. 75 and 79 are good examples.

Lake-Dardanelle_075 Lake-Dardanelle_079

Last Monday I drove to Petit Jean, the first state park in Arkansas.


It is set high up on a rocky plateau.


Real high up.


I checked out the 123 sites shortly after setting up camp.

Area "A" contains 31 full hookup sites near Lake Bailey. 16 and 19 were good ones.

Petit-Jean_016 Petit-Jean_019

Areas B, C, and D are across the road. I was in site 50, which is in area B.


Not much privacy in this area. You will get to know your neighbors. Which is a good thing because mine brought me some peach cobbler cooked in a dutch oven and some delicious pot roast.


C and D offer much more privacy. I I liked 61 and 98 mainly because of their decorations.

Petit-Jean_061 Petit-Jean_098

There is a lot going on at this park so I spent last Tuesday exploring.

4 miles east of the campground is Stout's Point and the grave of Petit Jean.

Stouts-Point-View-1 Stouts-Point-Sign Petit-Jean-Gravesite Petit-Jean-Sign-2

Interesting story.

Back at the campground I took a gander at Lake Bailey.

Lake-Bailey-View-1 Lake-Bailey-View-2

Here you will also find the four yurts, the fishing pier, and the boathouse.

Petit-Jean-Yurt Petit-Jean-Fishing-Pier Petit-Jean-Boathouse

One mile west is the Cedar Falls Overlook Trail.


But alas the falls were dry.


It is the most photographed waterfall in the state and in the spring it looks like this sign.


A little farther west is Mather Lodge.

Mather-Lodge Inside-Mather-Lodge

There is a nice view out the back as well as a couple of dozen cabins, some made of wood, some of stone.

View-from-Mather-Lodge Mather-Lodge-Wood-Cabin Mather-Lodge-Rock-Cabin

I left early Wednesday morning and stopped again at Stout's Point hoping the clouds were gone.

They were, and I got a much better view of the Arkansas River below.

Stouts-in-the-Morning Arkansas-River

I kept driving south towards Little Rock and Maumelle Park.


It's 130 campsites are located at the confluence of the Maumelle and Arkansas rivers. There are 6 loops here with loop E not taking reservations.

So I stayed in E6.


Loops A and B have some sites right on the river. My favorites were A14, A18, B20, B24, B28, and B36.

Maumelle_A014 Maumelle_A018 Maumelle_B020 Maumelle_B024 Maumelle_B028 Maumelle_B036

I made dinner in the dark.

Burger-1-2 Burger-2-2

I woke up early to catch the sun rising through the mist on the river.

Sunrise Maumelle-Sunrise

Very nice.


Friday morning I headed towards Hot Springs and Lake Ouachita State Park.


There are 101 sites here on the 40,000 acre lake. 12 are walk in tent sites.


The 40 sites in Loop A are full hookup. I liked 4, 6, 21, and 24.

Lake-Ouachita_004 Lake-Ouachita_006 Lake-Ouachita_021 Lake-Ouachita_024

Loop B contains tent sites. I was enamored with 54 and 57 which had great views.

Lake-Ouachita_054 Lake-Ouachita_057

Loop C was closed for remodeling, (I still took pics), and I was in Loop D with the crazy people.


Just kidding. They were nice folk and we enjoyed a terrific sunset.

Lake-Ouachita-Neighbors-1 Lake-Ouachita-Sunset-2 Lake-Ouachita-Sunset-1

There are only 13 sites in this loop but 91, 92, 93, and 94 have the best views in the park.

Lake-Ouachita_091 Lake-Ouachita_092 Lake-Ouachita_093 Lake-Ouachita_094

Saturday morning I took a look at the lake before a day trip to Hot Springs National Park.

Lake-Ouachita-View-1 Lake-Ouachita-View-2

There is a beach, a full service marina, and some fancy cabins.

Lake-Ouachita-Beach Lake-Ouachita-Marina-Sign Lake-Ouachita-Marina Lake-Ouachita-Cabins

The National Park was less than 20 miles away.


There are 40 sites here, half with partial hookups. Of those, I liked 5 and 9.

Hot-Springs_005 Hot-Springs_009

But the sites I preferred were the basic ones alongside the creek. Here is a view of sites 37-44.


No reservations are accepted. Sites go for $12 and $24.

Here is a look at the picnic area and the creek.

Hot-Springs-Picnic-Area Hot-Springs-Creek-View

I passed through the town of Hot Springs on my way back to camp.


On Monday I drove 90 miles southwest to White Oak Lake State Park.


This is a smaller park with only 45 sites but is very popular. If I had arrived two days earlier on Saturday I would have found it completely full.

They were celebrating Halloween and all the campers decorated their sites and kids came around for candy.

The good weather I had been enjoying the previous 5 days was due to change on Tuesday, so I walked the campground right away.

Sites 9, 11, 12, 15, and 16 are on the shore of this 425 acre lake.

White-Oak-Lake_009 White-Oak-Lake_011 White-Oak-Lake_012 White-Oak-Lake_015 White-Oak-Lake_016

The leaves are starting to turn.

White-Oak-Lake-View-1 White-Oak-Lake-View-2

There is also a small marina and fishing pier.

White-Oak-Lake-Marina White-Oak-Lake-Fishing-Pier

But I was digging on the motel for quackers. Can you spot it?


Here is a close up.


Gotta love it.

I am writing this today (Tuesday) with the rain pouring down on my tarp. Tomorrow I will be driving 5 hours west into Texas to visit some state parks I could not check out due to the winter storms last year.

Hopefully the weather will be good because there is one big mountain I have to cross over.


But I want to leave you with an important trailering tip.

It has to do with roadkill and why I was praying for rain two weeks ago.

The animal was fairly large, maybe a woodchuck, something that size. It was right in the middle of my lane. There was traffic, so I had to drive over it, not swerve into the other lane. But I figured I had plenty of ground clearance. So I lined it up and it would have passed cleanly under my car and trailer except for one thing. The trailer's safety chains.

I heard a wet thunk followed by a thwap.

I pulled over when I could.

The safety chains had picked up the carcass and flung it upwards. Bloody chunks of fur and meat decorated the Scamp's front end. Pink ropey intestines were draped about like obscene garlands on a Christmas tree.This was way beyond paper towels. I needed to drive 60 mph through heavy rain before I would even attempt any cleanup and that is why I was so darn happy when the storm hit. Just a few chunks of gristle were still caught in the chains but the trailer was clean.

So pay attention to your ground clearance, fellow campers. Don't forget about those low hanging chains.

Regards, Park Ranger


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