Tag Archives: Arkansas

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.

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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.

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Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park was a real surprise to us. We were thinking Yellowstone, lots of wild spaces with a few boardwalks so you could get close to hot water. Hot Springs National Park is entirely different. For one thing, all the hot springs come out of the side of the same hill in a cluster. Since the place was originally found, the hot water has been used as a bathing area both for cleanliness, for treatment of illness and just plain comfort. One of the consequences is that all the hot springs were long ago capped and all the hot water pooled in one big aqueduct system. There is a central row of original bathhouses with a lovely outdoor walking plaza. All the hot water comes out in controlled civilized structures. These are fountains, waterfalls and grottos. There is one spot where there is a spring in a lawn, probably because some pipe is leaking. You can walk around and see all the hot springs in a couple of hours and it is a pretty walk. We had the good fortune to have the park’s water specialist and biologist show off the spring area to us. We are interested in sampling the hot water’s green goop to see if it has any hot water acclimated diatoms. The park is supportive of the idea so we got visiting royalty treatment and we really appreciated it. We will be trying to get the permits in order for sampling for a fall visit.

One thing that was a big disappointment is it is a very developed place where the actual hot water is. There are two spas you can go into to swim but they are not swimming pools. They are full out spas. The cheapest visit is $20 each to just sit in the huge hot tub and it goes up from there. The full spa treatment with the works will cost you over $600 each for four hours of massage, aroma therapy, hot stones, facial and foot treatments and everything else before you get into the hot water. I walked in, and being scent sensitive, I found the aroma therapy quickly made the place a no go zone for me, never mind the price.

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The rest of the area around the Hot Springs reminded me most of Niagra Falls. There was even a wax museum and a Ripley’s believe or not type place. It is a rather exclusive sort of place for all that, with a suburb of charming homes and some lovely bike paths. There was abundant free parking in the parkade one block off the main street and it was even tall enough to accommodate our pick up with canoe. Bonus!

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We stayed at the national park’s campground and I can highly recommend it. It is small. It is in a ravine with a small creek complete with trout and full babbling brook sensoround. The campground is small with only about 50 sites altogether. Most back onto the creek for a very pretty view. There are no reservations and the number of full service and part service sites is limited. About half the sites are no service for tenters. We got a full service site for $13 a night since my husband has the senior pass. There were no open sites on the creek so we took an interior one but it was very nice anyway.

One of the best things about the campground is that the ridge between the campground and Hot Springs townsite is a ridge covered with lots of trails. They criss cross and you can walk from the campground to the springs and main part of town. Since we arrived just as the trees were budding, the trails were visible. We did not do the full walk due to Dick still recovering from his long walk off a short dock, but we did do some of the less than one mile trails that lead from the campground. They are really nice trails, quite demanding with steeps stairs in some places and wide and open with room to walk side by side in others. The rock formations are multicoloured and SO beautiful.We also took the winding road in our truck to the top of the ridge so we got to see the view from the top in spite of Dick’s still recovering knee.

We really enjoyed our stay at Hot Springs National Park and we will definitely go again if we can, “God willing and the crick don’t rise”.