This blog follows on from where Part 1 left off.
The next day was to be for outdoor activities. We drove to a nearby campsite on creek of the White River where there was canoeing and kayaking for the family. M & I wanted to do a trail walk so Oliver drove us to the head of a trail that would finish back at the campsite. The route was well marked and had distance posts every ½ mile. At first the trail followed a creek then it rose up to higher ground occasionally descending to cross a tributary. The first walker we met was a lady who advised us that she had passed a wild boar sow with three piglets on the path some 2 miles further on. Sows with young can be dangerous so we started to arm ourselves with stout sticks. We never did see the pigs.
Over the length of the trail we met very few people and near the end we wished we had met two fewer. We were descending quite steeply down to the main creek when Margaret saw two well-rounded, youngish, naked figures about 30 feet below us on the path. I’ll leave it your imaginations to work out what they were engaged in. Let’s say it wasn’t hiking. When they saw us they were, to say the least, startled. We did a discreet about turn and retraced our steps. After a couple of minutes we decided the coast would be clear so we restarted our descent. The couple in question were now dressed in bathers and standing in the water a bit to our right.
The route markers had petered out at this point so, nothing daunted, we asked them for directions. They indicated that we should head downstream along the bank of the creek – away from them!! This turned out to be not the best idea as five minutes or so later we had reached a dead-end and realised we would have to cross the creek to get to the campsite. A bit of wading took us safely to the far shore where we quickly found a proper footpath that lead to a car park. From the car park we were able to follow a track up to the main road then take about a ½ mile walk to meet up with the family who, by happy circumstances, had just started to pack up. Everyone had had a great day.
That evening we returned to the Anglers Resort and ate a good meal on a veranda overlooking the White River. Oliver’s birthday was in a few days and Katie had made a cake. So back to the cabin, a campfire was lit and we all ate birthday cake round the fire and toasted marshmallows in the embers. All very outdoorsy under a sky laden with millions of stars.
The next day we were moving on. Oliver & Katie had to be back in Little Rock that evening whilst Margaret, Henry, Beatrix and myself had a room booked for the night in the town of Heber Springs, still in the Ozarks, but a little further south. In our ever obtuse way, the journey started northwards. We were making a diversion to follow the White River upstream to the township of Calico Rock along a very scenic highway. Great river and forest views. Calico Rock is a railroad town and the main street clearly has not changed much since the arrival of the railway in the C19th. The only difference is that it is now very, very quiet. It started to rain so it was a quick retreat to the cars and off southwards.
The rain got heavier and heavier. It felt as though the rest of the day would be a write off. And then, we arrived at the Heber Springs Visitors’ Center, the deluge eased off and a fine afternoon was approaching.
The main attraction of the area is the Greer Ferry Lake, covering an area of more than 60 sq miles and with more than 300 miles of shoreline. It is the reservoir of a hydroelectric scheme. When it was built in the late 50’s/early 60’s, the region was poor and run-down. Despite the prospect of lots of work during the construction phase there was a lot of protesting about the loss of land. In October 1963, just a few weeks before he was assassinated, the then President of the United States, John F Kennedy, came to inaugurate the scheme. In his speech, Kennedy explained that the Greers Ferry project and others like it were investments in Arkansas and the nation’s future. He was right – after the lake filled, tourism boomed, many businesses reopened, and Greers Ferry Lake became one of Arkansas’ leading destinations. Today it is clearly a prosperous community. (Thanks to Wikipedia for some of the facts and figures).
First stop was lunch and Oliver’s iPhone app suggested a Mexican restaurant. It looked very unprepossessing from outside and not a lot better when we got inside but the food was first class. The best accolade came from Katie, a professional in the field of good food, who said this was so good it would be worth the 50 mile trip each way from home just to eat there.
We then spent a happy hour or two walking through the forests and along the shore of the Little Red River that flows out off the dam. Apart from the walking trails, there was a large, well organised campsite and many facilities for fishing. In particular, there were some fishing platforms available solely for the use of children.
It was now time for the parents to set off for home. Before they left we all went to the hotel, a Holiday Inn Express. The room had two Queen beds and a sofa that turned down into a bed. Bea opted for the sofa whilst Henry got a Queen bed all to himself. Once the parents were happy that the kids were settled in, we said our farewells and waved them off on their way.
Although by now it was early evening the Mexican meal had not worn off. A quick discussion on what we should eat was quickly resolved when the idea of a big picnic in front of the TV was proposed. So we piled into the town in search of a supermarket. One was soon found. We all went in and raided the shelves. Back to the hotel, where the reception provided all the paper plates, cutlery and napkins that we needed, and the picnic began.
As so often happens, there was nothing on the TV, even with its 100+ channels. Henry persuaded us that a reality programme in which an auction firm sell off the contents of unclaimed lock-ups at a storage company. The punters bid either with the contents completely unseen or with only an opportunity to view what can be seen with the door open. I’ll leave you to imagine the rest. Sufficient to say, we watched umpteen episodes that night.
In the morning Bea and myself went for a swim in the hotel pool. She loves being in water. For me it was a reminder that if I had been at home in the UK, Monday morning would be the time for my regular weekly visit to our local swimming pool for the meeting of the “pensioner’s swimming club”.
Breakfast in the hotel was a disaster. It was a buffet with many items finished and no willingness by the one and only member of staff to do any replenishing. Poor Bea with her gluten-free diet had a very raw deal.
Our plan for the day was to visit an island in the middle of the lake. It was about 15 miles to a little town on the south shore with the same name as the island and from where we assumed the ferries departed. Just to be prudent, we returned to the Visitors’ Center to check boat times and it was just as well we did as we discovered that we had to pre-book and the boats left from the north shore more like 50 (not 15) miles away. Anyway, the kids were excited about the idea of a boat trip on the lake and we were keen to see more of the shoreline, so tickets were booked and we set off. As we got near to the part of the lake where the ferry was based, Bea said she was not feeling too good and would need to go to the bathroom. All praise to the US National outdoors provisions, in this case courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers who are responsible for the provision of facilities and the ongoing maintenance of the whole Greers Ferry project.
Soon Bea was feeling as right as rain but we had now missed our ferry booking which turned out to good luck. When we got to the lake shore there was a strong wind blowing the length of the lake and throwing up big waves. There was no sign of a boat on the lake so we assume the sailing had been abandoned.
Instead we found an area of lakeside woodland with picnic tables and camping sites – all unused. We got out the food left-over from our picnic of the previous evening and had a goodly feast. Then it was time for games, including a version of hide and seek which was enjoyed by all, regardless of age. The kids wanted to swim but the water was not safe where we were. We spent about1/2 hour driving westward from one lakeside parking lot to the next until we came across a place with a large, safe bathing area, fenced off with buoys from the open waters. There were about a dozen people in the water. The kids plunged in. We stayed on the shore and people-watched. The majority appeared to be large (in every sense) local families. They looked at us as though we were from another planet. It’s strange in life how you can find yourself in relatively close contact with people with whom there is little or no common understanding.
Everyone was now tired and home was only an hour’s drive away so it was back into the car. We drove home to the accompaniment of Papa Mellon and his country music band. By now we knew all the words by heart so it was one big sing-along. By mutual consent, our favourite was the Lyle Lovett song “The Long Tall Texan”, a song about a Texan who wears a ten gallon hat, rides a very large white horse and is a law-enforcer. Rousing stuff and a great ending to a trip to the Ozarks.