Migration Home – Seventh Stop, Cedar Lake Campground, Ouchita National Forest, Oklahoma

Cedar Lake

We headed north after our long week in Beaver Bend State Park. According to the Army Corps of Engineers the state of Oklahoma has taken over and runs all their campgrounds. Because of this the Corp campgrounds are the same cost as state parks. We were aiming for another state park, Wister Lake State Park. I knew there were several Ouchita National Forest Campgrounds on the Oklahoma side but I assumed they were being run by the state as well. That turned out to be wrong.

I spent a long time checking the map and Google earth satellite about the trip. Mountain driving scares me and my truck is underpowered for mountains. If I am not really careful the transmission overheats and I have to go very slowly uphill in low drive to avoid that. I am still afraid from when we cooked our break system coming out of Death Valley. I didn’t want to do that again. Thus, I was nervous about going through the Ouchita Mountains but we decided to give it a try. I am so glad we did! There was one particularly hair raising multi hair pin loop downward into the town of Big Cedar but the road was otherwise not especially challenging for me or my truck.  We stopped at the Oklahoma Ranger District on highway 59 far above the tiny town of Hogden and we were delighted to note that there was a National Forest Campground nearby that was not run by the state of Oklahoma. State parks cost us about $25-$30 a night, still much cheaper than a private campground and often much nicer. With the senior pass a nice National Forest stop can be a little as $8. When we got to Holson Valley Road we turned left and we ventured in to check out Cedar Lake. What a lucky detour that turned out to be!

Cedar Lake has three campsites. Shady Lane has several full service creekside campsites for $18 and we needed to do laundry for which we need a sewer hook up. Rain was predicted. Shady Lane is in a flash flood warning zone and there were signs all over reminding us of this fact. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms over the weekend so we decided we would move. After settling in we unhitched the truck and took a drive to see all the other campsites. The North Shore campsite is actually the prettiest and nicest part of the campground but it doesn’t have any hook ups. We can make do without an electric hook up but we prefer the electric if we can get it, especially in rain. I just don’t like cooking with propane inside the trailer. The Sandy Beach campsite is up high on a hillside and it has electric and water sites and washrooms with running water and showers. We checked out the equestrian campsite as well. It was interesting to see campsites with corrals but you could only stay there if you had horses.

When we arrived, Sandy Beach was full except for three walk in sites and two others that were too short for our trailer. The sites are half first come first serve and half reservable. In the morning, I dressed early and dragged out our “guest room” tent and put it in the truck.  I watched the road. As soon as I saw a big rig leave I jumped in the truck and raced up the hill and put up out the “guest room” tent on an exceptionally lovely site among the first come first serve sites which had just been vacated. This site was the highest in the campsite and overlooking the lake with the prettiest view. Even though it was up high, it was sheltered by a ridge and had no really big trees making it a good spot to ride out thunderstorms. As soon as the tent was up I raced down to the pay station and paid my fee and got the tags and raced back up. By this point there were four other rigs driving around looking for an empty spot and two of them asked me if I was leaving that day. Sorry, no. We had the lower site until 2:00pm checkout so we got our laundry done and then moved up into the higher campsite. We ended up staying five more days for $10/night with the senior pass and it was easily the best campground we stayed at for the entire trip.

Just a side note on the practicalities of trailer living. If we have a full hookup, sewer water and electricity, life is not much different from a city stick house. If we have water and electric and can fill at need we only have to worry about black water and grey water tanks being full. We can empty the tanks by either moving the trailer to the nearest dump site or by using our “honey wagon” which is a small portable tank that pulls behind the truck. If we don’t have water handy, we can either move and fill up directly or we can haul water in our big tank. In this situation we had a five day stay planned and we didn’t want to be bothered with hauling water or using our honey wagon every other day. We used the honey wagon in Beaver Bend State Park because they had coin showers and it was so crowded the showers were either full or there was no hot water. At Cedar Lake we showered in the nearby showers. They had warm and abundant hot water without having to plug coins in every few minutes and we usually had the showers to ourselves. We can typically go five to seven days between emptying the tanks under such circumstances and that was one of nice things about Cedar Lake.

The rain and storms predicted for the weekend went north of us. We had lovely weather every day including afternoons nice enough to be out in just a t-shirt, all but two bright and sunny. We went on long walks and rode our bikes. We got the canoe into the water and had a wonderful couple of hours paddling around the lake. Migrating birds caught up with us and we saw eagles, herons, egrets, cranes, wood peckers, nuthatches, blue and grey jays, wrens, warblers, loons, cormorants, and many others. These are the birds that nest at our Manitoba home and we welcome so enthusiastically so it was lovely to note they had caught up with us on their migration north. While out in our canoe we saw two species of turtles. We saw a male ‘fence lizard’ in his bright blue bellied spring mating colours which was a first for both of us. Their favourite food is ticks making them one of our special favourites as reptiles go. We even saw a small rattlesnake subtly moving off the trail as we approached. There were wildflowers carpeting the ground and the trees were in bloom especially several large eastern red buds with the glorious pink/red. The southern maples with their brilliant scarlet were stunning. We saw huge numbers of water striders doing some kind of giant communal mating swarm which was also a first for us. We built a campfire and sat and talked until it burned itself out almost every evening. From our campsite we could see and hear trailer loads of horses going to the equestrian site and we got many glimpses of horses and heard their whinnies often. The angle of our place up on the hill meant we got to enjoy spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the lake. There were a lot of ordinary folks from the area who were happy to talk and we learned a lot, especially about fishing and how bad the economy still was in this area. There was no internet or TV so the days were quiet and stress free and we relaxed. It was beyond lovely. On our last day we took the three miles long (about 6km) hike on a well marked trail around the outside edge of the lake. Most people take under an hour to do it. We went slowly, stopped for rests and looked at all kinds of fascinating things and ended up taking three hours. It was worth every minute.

On a practical note, we drove to a Choctaw Nation run casino/gas station/deli in Poteau every other day because they had unlimited free internet. The food was reasonably priced and very good. I lost $40 in their slot machines. The town of Poteau is typical of what is so callously referred to as “flyover states” by people living on the east and west coasts. Poteau was full of empty buildings, empty factories, empty warehouses and an entire historic downtown district of empty stores in what had once been a thriving small city in a thriving community. There were Trump signs everywhere. The few people left in the area were older and underemployed and had not one nice thing to say about Democrats. We drove to see Wister Lake State Park on one trip and it was nowhere near as nice as Cedar Lake. It was satisfying to know our detour was the right thing to do and we had ended up in a nicer spot.

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My Review

Cedar Lake Campground Ouchita National Forest

Sometimes you pull into a campsite and your heart sings and your spirit lifts and you think “This is why I do this!” That’s how I felt coming to Cedar Lake. Cedar Lake is a small lake with a color like a glacial lake, pale blue/green and gorgeous. It is fed by two creeks. There are three major sections for camping. The east side has many lovely unserviced campsites. There is a section of serviced campsites including some with sewer on the south side on of the two creeks. There is a third group of sites above that on the west side of the lake that have water and electric. The upper area overlooks a lovely brown sand beach suitable for swimming. Half the sites, including all the sites adjacent to the beach, are reservable. Half are first, come first serve. Everything about this campsite was perfectly suited to my tastes. Big, spacious, private, paved drive, fire pit, barbecue, picnic table, and two places to hang things. We started with a lower level campsite with sewer in order to get our laundry done. We moved to a west side campsite high over the lake on the ridge where we could see both sunrise and sunset the next day. There is a three mile hike around the lake that is a delight. There are numerous other longer hikes. The west campground is adjacent to an equestrian camp so we got to see horses coming and going. Two caveats. The lower campsite with sewer is in a flash flood zone. Part of why we moved up the hill was because the forecast was for thunderstorms. Also signs say the lake can be contaminated with toxic blue green algae in hot weather. During our stay, it was just heavenly. Abundant wildlife, birds, turtles, beavers, and deer and blissful long paddles around the perimeter of the tiny sheltered lake, hikes on pathways with blooming wildflowers and the sound of creeks. During the weekend it got a bit noisy and busy so go weekdays if you have a choice.

And this is our trail after almost three weeks and seven moves. Next stop Cherokee Landing State Park and the Cherokee Heritage Centre.

Day Seven

Migration Home – Sixth Stop Beaver’s Bend State Park Oklahoma

Sixth Stop

We left the Crater of Diamonds State Park and headed into Oklahoma. We took the less demanding route and the cat rode in the cat carrier in the bathtub. We arrived at the Beaver’s Bend State Park after a grocery stop and settled in. The park has four campsites, three on the water and one in the woods. All the waterside campsite were full so we found a spot in inner campground. We initially signed in for two nights but we ended up staying a full week. The main reason we stayed a full week was that we were tired of traveling and even though our campsite was not very nice, this campground had a lot to do and see. The second reason was the weather turned cold and rainy and miserable and since the park had some indoor activities there didn’t seem much point in moving. Third, we discovered we had started our Oklahoma site seeing in the middle of spring break and a lot of campgrounds, including this one, were full by the weekend.

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The park had the one thing I enjoy beyond anything else, a babbling brook with falling water over rocks. Several time we walked from our campsite to the creek and followed the trails.

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In addition to the creek the park is full of roadways and places to drive and walk. We had our bikes out and we went bike riding every day except one where it rained.

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Going up and down the creek had some demanding parts including this little rock cliff that Dick carefully climbed.

We enjoyed our walks in spite of the cool weather. I have been fascinated by the lifecycle of bryophytes with their sexual and asexual/haploid and diploid stages since I took introductory biology a long time ago. All the mosses were in bloom and the fern were coming up as fiddleheads. I even had luck while carefully examining the ground and found several of the nearly microscopic haploid gametophytes. What a treat!

The little river that runs through the campground has an old weir in it. The weir is nonfunctional now and is basically just a pretty waterfall. This is a working river and it came equipped with a siren that went off when water levels changed. And wow did they change going up a meter or more shortly after the siren sounded and then dropping back down again. Along the edge of the river is a long straight flat trail perfect for walking or bike riding. (The siren never went off while we were near it.) The trail along the riverside was full of wildflowers and tiny creeks and springs and the rocky ledges that were the most perfect for hunting up bryophytes. We took a walk every day, often with the dogs, and many a bike ride with several fast trips to watch the water levels change. The park also had a nature centre with a reasonable display of local flora and fauna. Dick noted an error in their diatom display and left them a comment card about that. The park also had a really nice museum of forestry in Broken Bow area that took about three hours to properly walk through. The walk ended with a small art gallery and a really nice gift shop. It was a perfect diversion for a rainy afternoon.

The campground was full of people and we met many of them. It was a bit peculiar. One man showed up on Thursday and parked a huge fifth wheel on one site. He had three teenagers along with him and they set up tents on three other sites. He told me the rest of his family was coming that weekend along with the other members of his church and their families for their yearly reunion. Friday night the campground really filled up with many large families. We saw several groups of women in long skirts, obviously pregnant or carrying babies, enjoying nature. The man with the fifth wheel helped three women with children to park their own rigs on the campsites he had put the tents on. By Saturday every site was full of these extended families. The children of whatever this denomination was, were all exceedingly polite but acted exceptionally wary around us, never speaking to us beyond a “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am” with a broad Texas twang and averting their eyes and running away if we said anything beyond hello. They traveled in happy packs, always with at least one older teen minder, like wild creatures set loose in this wild setting after a long captivity. The men organized group games like baseball whenever it was not raining. One campsite for each extended family group was set up as a sort of communal kitchen and every evening all the groups in a family would descend, gather and eat. Feeding this crew must have cost a fortune! On Monday, they began dispersing and by Tuesday the campground had a few empty places. On Sunday they had an open air service. I enjoyed watching them, the boys in blue jeans and jackets, and the girls with their long hair and modest skirts and leggings.

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And there was one special treat. I’m not sure what the special ingredients were, but the shaved ice sold from this little vehicle was absolutely the best tasting I have ever had. The owner had 14 flavours to choose from. I had pina colada and it was beyond delicious. It was even better after I went back to our camper and added a little vodka. Everywhere this fellow went, he had one long lines eagerly waiting their turn to pick a treat. He must have made a killing financially.

Every third day we drove into the nearby town of Broken Bow to check internet and weather forecasts and possible places to go. Finally, after a full week enjoying Beaver’s Bend State Park, we packed up and headed north to explore more of Oklahoma.

Here is my review of the park:

Beaver’s Bend State Park

Exceptionally nice state park. When you arrive at the main office, you can either go up the hill to the spillway area or continue down the river to the lower campsites. Going up, there are many unserviced campsites in three sections, half can take a larger rig and some are right on the water. These sites are $14. There are 15 non reservable campsites with water and electric. The upper area has paddle boats & canoes for rent, tackle shop, boat launch, easy lake access, miniature train, stables and a lodge. The lower section ends at the old dam that is like a waterfall and very pretty. The lower area has a good restaurant (We loved the fried pie!), nature centre, a museum of forestry and a gift shop. There are three camping sections of campground sites, Buckthorn, is reservable, Acorn and Cypress are not. Acorn and Buckthorn are all big and spacious and on the water for $27. There are also five sites specifically designed to accommodate the handicapped above Acorn. Cypress has many very narrow turns and all back in sites, When we were there, it was wet and muddy on either side of the narrow roads. We did not get stuck but we saw other longer rigs that did sink right to the jacks because they could not make the tight turns without going off the roads and into the muck. The sites are close together and set at haphazard angles so you don’t have much privacy. Our site was, like most, short and we had to unhitch to fit in. $24 but we got $2 off as nonresident seniors. The area below the dam has lots of tempting rocks to climb on and it looks perfect for wading. It isn’t. There are sirens that go off to announce water level changes at the dam and they are big changes. A man comes around selling snow cones for $2-3 and they are the best snow cones I have ever had so try one. We might go again if we can get a reservation first and it isn’t spring break.

And here is our path thus far on our long migration home.

6th day

Migration Home – Fifth Stop Crater of Diamond State Park Arkansas

Crater of Diamonds

We left Gillham Lake area and headed east. We were on a mission. Hubby dearest wanted to see the old volcano site where melted pieces of a microcontinent he had just been reading about can be walked upon. I was out to get us to a place outside the latest hatched yellow severe storm area on the NOAA map. The dogs were just along for the ride. Klinger wanted to see our washing machine get a good workout. Actually, we took a short cut along a marginally shorter route according to our GPS. They say short cuts lead to long delays. In this case it led to feline motion sickness. The trip went up, down, up, down, swerve right, up, swerve left, down and similar twists and turns for three hours.  Now I know Mother Google says it takes 1 hour and 22 minutes but Mother Google does not adjust for pulling a trailer on turns that would be tight for Le Car, never mind a 30 foot travel trailer. I should have known better. Never take a short cut while pulling a travel trailer. We arrived and went in to set up. Thank goodness we were pulling into a full service campsite because Klinger got sick. That would be bad enough but his favourite place to ride when we travel is under the covers in our bed. I shall leave the rest to your imagination.

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Dick snapped the shot of me by their sign just after I went to check on the cat. And that says it all. One of my friends commented I must really love that cat. Yes, I do, but some days more than others. This park has a reasonable WIFI. After the laundry was done and the bed remade, we spent our first night catching up on email and following on the weather channel as severe storms drop tornados north, and west of us. (Gilliam Lake area was under a warning for a while so I was really happy we didn’t stay on there.) We got some rain but nothing else. The next morning we got up early to head down to the diamond mine and try our luck at getting rich quick by finding a diamond.

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Between hauling buckets of gravel for me to wash, Dick struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow from Ohio who was off work and looking for a quick buck. He was one of the semi pro types who pay their ten dollars and come in and sift through the volcano gravel every day here, over and over again. He was a friendly fellow and soon was giving us all kinds of tips and sharing his story. He also had pictures of various small diamonds he had already found on previous trips. I would hardly call it a get rich quick scheme since it was all much harder physically than we expected, but he does find enough diamonds to justify his daily $10.00 entrance fee and he’ll only need to need to strike a big one once and he can retire. Most of the people were just visitors with kids and only the semi pro types actually work very hard. The children really love it because they can get mucky and wet with everyone’s blessings. There was much happy kid noise.

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We picked our gravel in the runnels from the overnight rain. We figured any mother lode diamond would be easier to spot in running water. We paid particular attention to a semi permanent streamlet from a drainage pipe.SAM_9299 I did find a lovely perfectly clear quartz crystal I got very excited over for about 30 seconds until I decided it was quartz. That made me feel a bit silly. I took it to be identified, just in case, on our way out and the rock identifier lady also got very excited for about 30 seconds before announcing it was just quartz. That made me feel better. After only three hours of this I was thoroughly wet, mucky, and cold. A toddler had a temper tantrum nearby and I knew exactly how the poor little girl was feeling.

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We finished the day by a trip to the gift shop. Across from the gift shop is a science and history display of the diamond mine. Dick was disappointed to note nothing about the microfossils or the microcontinent. He started to tell the nice lady at the gift shop about how their science section was out of date and needs updating. She gave him a comment card and told him to write it all down and leave it in the box. She even seemed really fascinated by what Dick was saying. I was impressed. Well bred southern ladies are a special treat to interact with.

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Before bed we took the dogs on the exceptionally nice trail from our campsite down to the river. It was a wide paved trail accessible for wheelchairs and particularly scenic and lovely. The dogs enjoyed their walk as much as we did.

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We left on the third day after deciding we would try Oklahoma now. By the map, it looked to be easier on our tranny and our cat. On our way out, Dick dropped off the comment card with careful details about how their science section was out of date, appropriate references to bring it up to date and an offer to help, complete with his contact information. Just outside of the state park we stopped at several really delightful second hand/antique/touristy/vintage stores for a couple of hours and spent too much money and had a real blast doing it. And so I can highly recommend Crater of Diamonds State Park even if you don’t find a diamond.

And I was right about the drainage ditch. We saw this only a bit later.  Boy finds huge 7.44 carat diamond in Arkansas state park. Watching him on TV, we could see he found this beauty right at the spot we had been gathering our gravel. I am happy for him. (Jealous yes, but happy for him.)

We took pictures this time but I forgot to write a proper review. It’s a really nice campground, full service, inexpensive, reasonable WIFI, easy to get around. I do recommend it. They have not yet contacted Dick about their out of date science display so be sure to keep in mind you are standing only a few miles above a wonderful microcontinent full of microfossils if you go. We headed off to Oklahoma with the cat in the cat carrier sitting in the bathtub. He was not a happy camper.

Path

Migration Home – Fourth Stop Gilliam Lake Arkansas

Gilham Lake

We left Louisiana and headed north into Arkansas. The interstate soon became a rather pleasant four lane divided highway through one small town after another. The terrain went from flat to rolling hills that border on small mountains. We travelled along the Red River of the South. We stopped at the MacDonald’s in DeQueen for a snack and checked the internet for more details. I had a map of Army Corp of Engineer sites in the state so I knew approximately where we were going. Our dog Fred had not been swimming for some time so I wanted us to be well out of gator country. Imagine my surprise to read that alligators once ranged all over this region but were extirpated by settlers and overhunting. They have been gradually recovering and expanding their old territory. We had to get north of DeQueen to be sure we had no possibility of our Fred have a close encounter of the toothy kind. After comparing facilities we decided on Gillham Lake.

We missed the turn at Gillham. Our GPS didn’t seem to like going that way and we didn’t see the sign until we were driving past it. The interstate was now a plain old two lane road going up and down and up and down with a lot of trucks and no place to turn. We got to Grannis before we could turn around and the map, and another unobtrusive sign, showed us another road in. We now got to experience Arkansas backroads. I had noticed before that these Arkansas types seemed to go in for really big trucks, like 250 and 350 deisels with their RV rigs. I learned why on this trip. The roads went down at ridiculous angles and then came back up at such steep grades I had to shift the truck into the lowest gear and the temperature on the transmission began creeping up the hill with us. Pretty country, lovely little farms, cattle herds of about twenty animals, horses, chickens, and up down, up down, up down, with an occasional rapid turn. We reached the campground and then we were kind of stumped. There were three sites marked on signs and no directions as to which one we should go. We tried Little Coon Creek first. After a very steep three mile drive of up-downs, crazy twists and riding the brakes a lot, we found it was just a few campsites on either side of the road. No one else was there. We used one campsite to turn around. We went back up the hill, paused to let the tranny cool again, and then tried Big Coon Creek. The road did not have as many twists and turns but that last hill down into the campground was a shocker. The steepest hill yet leading right into a small beach. I wondered how many people ended up in the lake. This was much nicer though! We pulled into site 19 which had the loveliest view of the lake and settled in as it got dark.

We stayed three days and we had a wonderful time. We took the canoe out. We ended up following the shoreline because of all the high speed boating traffic that nearly capsized us more than once with big wakes. The geology of the region was really fascinating. Wonderful pink and orange sandstone and granite layers that were shoved up to at least a 45 degree angle to make the hills. We had a lot of discussion between about the geology the area. By an interesting coincidence, Dick was reading a paper on origin of life and it included references to some ancient fossils from a microcontinent under the area we were in. That led to us really appreciating the geology we were seeing while imagining a microcontinent miles below.

We were still seeing lots of the birds we see nesting back at home. It seemed we were migrating home with nuthatches, pileated wood peckers, blue jays, wrens, warblers, eagles, ducks, geese, loons, crows, and orioles. What a pleasure to travel north with these lovely little birds. (Sorry no pictures as we were relaxing too much.) In addition to many colourful birds we were treated to many colourful wildflowers.

We had several long walks. One real treat was the folks next door invited us to join them at their campfire and we had the nicest visit. They were local people and they were able to fill us in on a lot of details of the history and nature of the park. We were going to stay longer in Big Coon but our campfire hosts told us about how this campground got flooded after heavy rain just the year before. They had barely gotten their own rig out while that lake rose up 70 feet in less than twenty four hours. There was rain in the forecast so they were going to leave a day early to avoid a repeat.

We  were finally able to let Fred have a nice long swim and he had such a good time. Unfortunately there were some rough rocks and he cut himself so we went home from the beach with him seeping blood. Once we were back I carefully cleaned the wound, applied antibiotic ointment and wrapped it up in layers of bandages and a final top layer of duct tape. For some reason duct tape makes a very fine doggy bandage. When you change the bandage the tape comes off easily without pulling out hair. Bonus, judging by the expression Fred makes if he licks at it, it tastes too horrible to put any serious effort into chewing it off. These days you can buy duct tape in every imaginable colour. I had white on hand because I had to repair the cover of the air conditioner on the inside and the white duct tape didn’t look quite so… well duct tapey. I know most of us who have rigs end up with ones largely held together by duct tape, but it is considered tacky and redneck. I also had standard grey duct tape because, well, grey is the standard you can buy in bulk. I wrapped Fred’s foot in grey because it matches his fur best.

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We drove up to see the third campsite, Cassatot Reefs, which is easily the loveliest of the three campsites at Gilliam Lake. I have a passionate love of the sound of water over rocks. and so we decided we would move to that site and stay for a week and enjoy the running water. Cassatot Reefs is below the dam and not subject to flooding. We packed up to move. Getting back up the hill meant driving in the lowest gear with four wheel drive on and there was an even bigger hill on the shortest route from Big Coon Lake to Cassatot Reefs. We decided to just take the easier road into DeQueen and take the trailer along with us and drive the longer easier other road back into Cassatot Reefs. The Talmud says “Men plan, God laughs.” This was proven to us again.

We got to the same Macdonalds and had a snack while we went on line. I always check the weather first. I was concerned to see that Cassatot Reefs was not just expecting heavy rain. It was in that dreaded yellow hatched area on the NOAA map meaning severe weather was possible. Meanwhile Hubby Dearest had discovered that an old volcano had brought up melted lava chunks of that microcontinent and deposited it up at our level. Looking for another campground we found one called Crater of Diamonds State Park which was located right on that old volcano site. It was also outside the hatched weather danger. And so we decided to skip more of Cassatot Reefs. We left moving east outside of the yellow hatching to try our luck diamond hunting.

This is my review of the Gilliam Lake Campground.

Gilliam Lake is a smallish dammed lake built by the Army Corp of Engineers. It has three campground sites. We visited all three during our stay. Two are above the dam on the lake and lead to boat ramps. Little Coon Creek is simply 10 sites, all back in, on both sides of the road down to the lake just before a large boat ramp. There is very little to recommend these sites if you are not a fisherman but the lots are big and spacious and all were empty when we were there. It has modern washrooms and showers. Big Coon Creek is on the next lake inlet and also above the dam and it has some 31 sites, all back in. It was mostly full when we were there. It is a fisherman’s dream with room for a big rig, a big boat trailer, and a truck. All the sites are paved and have a barbecue and fire pit. The washrooms are new and clean. There are also showers with abundant hot water. There is a nice sandy beach and four playground structures including one in the water at the beach. Although both campgrounds are above the dam, Gillham Lake itself is infamous for rising many feet in under 24 hours in heavy rain. The locals told us you have to watch the weather and be ready to clear out fast if it rains heavily because the campgrounds will be underwater with little warning. We saw plenty of evidence that is is the case in the form of high water lines and deposited logs on the shores. One women told us about pulling her rig out in pouring rain and high water and barely making it just last year. The third campsites is Cassatot Reefs and it is on the Cassatot river below the dam. This 30 site campground is the largest of the three campsites because it is strung along the river just past the spillway with most of the sites overlooking the river. It is a pleasant and pretty stretch with long cement walkways by a park-like setting on the river bank with benches and swings. The campsites are set high above the flood plain on a ridge. There are three sets of pretty little rapids between deep pools. These campsites are smaller and older and do not have room for a separate boat and trailer in addition to a rig. There is a canoe launch and the current runs swiftly. These campsites are also mostly not paved but are packed gravel. Washrooms and showers are older style flush toilets. The dam was built to protect downstream houses and so of the three, this campground below the dam is the least likely to flood. I was alarmed to hear just last year the lake was full right up to the top of the dam which makes me wonder if water could flow right over the dam, given enough rain, but apparently this has not ever happened. We watched a grader repairing the dam above the current water line and a lot of evidence that the local who told us about last year’s flooding was not exaggerating. The roads into all this campground are about 3-4 miles of very deep drops and very steep hills that required I use 4 wheel drive and low gear to climb. These roads were really narrow and curvy in a few places. Not for driving by the faint hearted, an overloaded rig or one with poor brakes! Both Big Coon and Little Coon are served by a single dump site at the park entrance so you have to haul your full tanks up the hills to dump. Cassatot Reefs has its own dump site also at the top of the hills. There are two additional boat launches into the lake in addition to the ones at the campsites and due to the large number of high powered boats going at very high speed in this small lake there are a lot of wakes and noisy traffic. We therefore found canoeing to be a challenge. I enjoyed our stay and it was interesting to meet dedicated fishermen but I am not sure we’ll come back again.

And this is how far we have come on our slow migration home.

Gillham Lake

Migration Home – Third Stop Beaver Dam Campground Louisiana

 

BeaverDam

We left the Petrified Forest and continued our journey westward into Louisiana. I would have preferred to stay off the interstate but there is that great big river to cross and not a lot of bridges that reach that far so, interstate it was. The trip west was brief and uneventful. We stopped at a rest stop with internet and picked up our email, checked for disasters, made sure all was well with the family and then continued on to the National Forest’s Beaver Dam Campground.

We ended up even more cut off from the world than before because now the TV antenna did not pick up anything. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself so I went back to working on my novel. What a wonderful spot this campground was. Quiet, lovely small lake, almost every campsite empty. There were a few people around but most were overnighters who came in late and left early. The few who stayed over the two nights we were also stopped were fishermen. On one of our walks we went along the upper spillway and chatted with some locals who were fishing. They had pictures of big bass they caught before. They warned us about big gators at the other end of the levi. We walked a trail back to the campground, did a tick check and settled in for a quiet evening of writing.

We had a long discussion on the longer walk along one of the trails. Among the emails that were waiting to be picked up was a message from one of the campgrounds we had planned to stop in while visiting Utah.  They sent word that due to exceptionally heavy snow, they were opening late. We considered our option and eventually decided that were enjoying this slow pace of travel so much maybe we would just really slow down and  skip Utah this time. I looked longingly at our maps. Arkansas was packed full National Forest and Army Corp of Engineer campsites. We still had a month to go before we had to be back in Canada. We had driven through Arkansas once, and on a second trip, we stayed at Hot Springs and it had been so very nice. Arkansas was beautiful and spring was in full roar here. Why not do Arkansas instead of Utah? And so it was decided. Utah is the only state in the lower 48 we haven’t been to yet but we would leave it for another trip. We had two nights and full day in Beaver Dam Campground before making the decision to head north into Arkansas. Six night, three leisurely drives and four states. Not a bad pace at all.

Here is my review of the campground:

This is a National Forest campground. You enter Minden and then turn just before the main street stores and then take a long winding road through rural areas before arriving at the site. Much of the drive from Minden is through a very poor unkempt neighbourhood which was discouraging. Closer to the Park, poverty gives way to newer suburban development and hobby farms. The campground is not well marked. We saw one sign in the town of Minden and then nothing until we reached the National Forest so use your map or GPS to find your way in. We expect big lots and space between sites in this type of campground but this one is exceptionally so. Our paved site was so large that with our pick up and trailer still hitched (56’) we would have room for another entire truck in front of our rig. In addition to the very large wide drive there was a huge pad of fine gravel with an oversized picnic table. This campground could take the biggest rig I have seen. Each site had its own set of garbage cans. Half the sites are reserve and half are first come first served. The place was about one quarter full on the early spring weekday we arrived. We had a nice selection of sites. A local old timer proudly showed off pictures of a 9 pound 23 inch bass he caught at the base of the dam’s spillway. Firewood was not provided so if you must have a fire, be sure to stop in and buy some from the many places on the way in who are selling. The campground host was friendly and welcoming and proudly boasted about how this campsite won some sort of well deserved award for their super clean bathrooms. This campground is a good 20 miles from any store and you will not pass any stores after you get off the interstate unless you detour through Minden so stock up before you go in.

Day3

Migration Home – Second Stop Petrified Forest Mississippi

Our second stop was at the Mississippi Petrified Forest Campground. Being scientists, we tend to get excited about stuff like fossils and other unusual places which appeal to Geeks and Nerds. This place is a National Landmark but it is not a National Park so no discount but we stopped in anyway. It was an impulse thing. Dick saw this place on the map and said he wanted to see it. The times Google gives for driving have no connection to reality when you are pulling a trailer and have a husband, two elderly dogs and a cat to worry about. It was getting late. I was tired of driving. We decided to check it out. Sometimes an impulse stop like this is a disaster but sometimes great stuff happens and this was a good impulse detour.

Trip -2

On arrival we decided to stay for two nights. We had two reasons. One was due a pet accident, we had some more laundry to do that really couldn’t wait. [*big sigh*] Since this was a full service campground with the sewer hook up, we could do it ourselves in our portable washer. Second the weather was for rain and cold and the possibility of storms further west. It seemed like a good idea to let that happen without us being nearby. The next morning the weather was indeed drizzle and rain. The TV antenna picked up a local station with radar so we watched for a rain free spot and then took the petrified forest walk mid afternoon while north and west folks were dashing for their storm shelters.

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The gift shop has pamphlets you get to do a self guiding tour which begins with a neat historical context display. Each spot is clearly numbers and you read the booklet and learn new things. It wasn’t pouring rain during our walk but the trees were dripping so our decision to wear rain gear was correct.

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I liked how you can get right up close and touch the petrified logs, some of them were really huge.

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There were many examples of petrified wood, large, small, complex, simple, colourful and beautiful. The booklet gave us detailed background on the history of the discovery of the forest and explanations like why certain colours appear on some  logs.

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Not only was the petrified forest a treat to see, the living forest around and above us was also lovely. Since we are both amateur botanists we enjoyed that almost as much. We also saw a lot of birds and a deer.SAM_9208

We spent a good two hours on the guided tour walk and then it started to rain again. I was not too bothered though because with the rain, we found we were alone on the walk. (Note that about 1/3 of the walk (with the best parts) was wheelchair/stroller accessible.) The walk ends by going through the indoor displays and then the gift shop. The indoor displays were wonderful. Short of the Smithsonian, I have never seen such a varied display of minerals from around the world in one spot. We really enjoyed that. They even had amethyst and fossils from back home!

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Last stop was the gift shop. When you have as many grandchildren to buy for as we do, a place with neat stuff that kids like is always appreciated. No doubt the owners also appreciated our devotion to the grandkids. We picked out a really nice very small sample of the petrified wood for ourselves. We left with our treasures and the owners positively beaming at us.

That was the second stop on our slow migration home. We took five days to go across three states and travel about 500 miles or 805 km. Next stop, Louisiana!

Distance

Here is my review of the campground:

We pulled in on a whim because we are fossil fans. The Petrified Forest is privately owned and has an attached campsite with room for eleven rigs. They charge a modest $22/night. The full service campsites are neat, clean, well maintained. A maintenance worker came by for morning clean up and check on things. An employee came by in the afternoon to make sure that all was well. The road are narrow and the turns on the one big loop are a little on the tighter side but not impossible for our rig. There were no trees and hazards near the road. The roads themselves were surface washed out in a few spots but there was also a lot of fresh gravel as if being on a hillside it is a constant struggle to keep the roads from washing out. The setting is overall beautiful trees and shady. Some campsites are close together, most are widely spaced. There are both pull throughs and back ins. There are some longer term residents but the owners limit those to 6 months and I presume they are employees because their rigs were all neat and newer. There was a long list of rules but none onerous for a short term stay. We were originally sent to #7 but the very nice lady checking us in said we could change to #8 if we wanted to. This was a good thing because #8 was not long enough for our rig to find a level spot without unhitching. There was no wifi available. The trail through the petrified forest is well laid out and a pleasant walk of 45 minutes with a written guide to the sights. It is available for a discounted fee of $5 if you are camping there. If you like fossils and minerals, they have one of the best selections that I have seen in one place in their museum and gift shop. Overall a very good value and we were pleased with our stay. I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay here again, but it was well worth stopping and seeing once.

Migration Home – First Stop Miller’s Ferry Campground Alabama

Our first trip after leaving our Florida stop in Panacea was a rather standard one for us of about 300 miles (500km). We traveled 289 miles (465km). We avoided big cities and interstates as much as possible. It was tempting to stop in at the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna Fl as we had such a great time there before. However we were still planning on getting to Utah at this part of our trip. We wanted to get some mileage under out tires so we left Marianna without stopping. We made only one stop at the Walmart outside Mariana to stock up on some groceries. We planned on stopping two days at an Army Corp of Engineers campsite which we assumed have very limited shopping opportunities.

Millers Route

We arrived just before 6:00 and tired and ready to stop. We were grateful that the nice lady at the office agreed to wait while we found a nice campsite. We had only enough energy to unpack and settle in. We walked the dogs and got lost in the dark. We fell into bed early. We have no pictures to show since we were too busy unwinding to care about documenting anything.

Miller's ferry Campground

The next day we awoke to the sight of a huge eagle sitting in the tree right outside our campsite. What a way to start the day. Drinking coffee with an eagle perched right nearby. Later we walked the park again. We decided a bike ride was in order and we ended up at the Sandy Shores Road on the opposite side of the lake. We chatted briefly with some local fishermen at the narrow bridge past the marina. We saw a lot of wildflowers as spring was in full rage here. After a relaxing lunch we did a load of laundry. It was weird having no internet and no TV reception after working hard all winter. So we just relaxed and unwound in a very pleasant fashion.

This is the review of the campsite I posted elsewhere:

This is an exceptionally nice Army Corp of Engineers campsite on a lake produced by a dam. Fishing appeared to be exceptionally good judging by what we saw being pulled in by fellow campers and the huge number of cormorants, pelicans and an eagle perched in a tree near our campsite. The campground is really large and wide with wide paved roads with easy turns and paved pads and drives. There are a variety of sites, pull through and back in, but all of them are huge. You can get sites right on the lake for an additional $2 charge ($1 if you have senior America pass.) The lakeside plots range from ones where you could walk straight out into the water to those raised up on ridges. We took a ridge site as we have a dog who loves to swim and we were warned about gators in these water. Presumably this is why they only allow swimming in designated areas which are closed in winter. This position also gave us an exceptionally lovely view of the sunset over the lake. Showers and laundry were modern and clean. No charge for showers, $1 for both the washer and dryer. There was only one dump site which meant waiting in line on the way out and the campground was half empty while we were here. I was told it fills right up in summer so the line must get very long. There are a couple of very nice children’s playgrounds next to the showers and with campsites right around them. All were full and the playgrounds were busy with happy children and parents watching from their campsite. The campground has a lot of additional services like free life jacket loan service and horseshoes. There is a very nicely designed boat launch. This is an exceptionally lovely campground and we will be back. I’d give it a ten except for the lack of sewer hookups and the line to dump. We camped at Miller’s Ferry Campground COE in a Travel Trailer.

The next morning we got up and left early for Mississippi.