WHERE IS NORMAN ROCKWELL

The good thing about visiting different parks and campgrounds in our beautiful nation is the uniqueness of each. Each park has something to offer and there are no bad campgrounds; some are just better than others. Then there is that one park that is stumbled on and gives the new visitor that “WOW” factor. This happened to me last week.
When my wife and I and our friends the Post’s arrived at the visitor’s center we felt like we had entered a time warp and were thrown back to a long-ago simpler time. The visitor center at Lake Catherine State Park overlooks Lake Catherine, the first of the three lakes built on the Ouachita River. The other two are Lake Hamilton and Lake Ouachita. If a camper shows up to camp in the park and expects to acquire food at the visitor center store the camper will be sorely disappointed; there is little there. The store does sport cast iron cookware and plenty of reading material.
Below the visitor center is a large stone verandah with pick nick tables. I was told by the ranger that the carved stones that make up the retaining wall were cut and set into place by German POWs during World War II. They even carved “PW” in the wall so visitors would know it was them and not the CCCs, Civilian Conservation Corps, that built the wall. Several of the prisoners returned to the Hot Springs area after the war and settled in Arkansas.
Cabins are available and look like something that came off a hand painted tourist poster from the 1930s. In fact the cabins were built by the CCC men in the 1930s when they were developing the area. The state completely refurbished the inside and they are in big demand. If someone wants a cabin they had better book a year in advance. If a large group books the cabins they can book as far out as two years, and it does happen. Winter is a little more accommodating and many cabins have fireplaces.
The State Park prides itself in that it does not have WiFi. This adds to the 1930s feeling and gives a person time to exhale and enjoy the trip. Slowly a camper is transferred back to a simpler and quieter time.
The campsites are definite throwbacks to a time when large tents or airstream trailers filled the sites. The three main campsite connections are available at each site. These are electricity, water and sewer. Sewer connections are rare in most campgrounds so Catherine is a true novelty. Most sites have pull ins for Travel Trailers. Also at the sites are large twelve foot by twelve foot tent pads. Everything is there including the view of the lovely lake. Today the cost to build sites like the ones available at Catherine would be cost prohibitive. When the construction is done in the middle of the Great Depression and desperate men looking for work are brought in to work or when prisoners of war are available, great things can be done.
Also, for those that like to hike, Catherine has four trails. The two mile trail that goes to the camp’s waterfall is listed as moderately rigorous. As one that hiked it I would hate to go on the ones listed as rigorous. During our stay a lady went on the trail, had an anxiety attack due to the high cliffs and had to be carried out by a search and rescue team. The park has recently opened a .6-mile ADA concrete trail.
Park interpretive programs are available and covers anything from snakes to Caddo Indian culture. My wife enjoyed petting the rat snake; being from Truxno that is understandable.
I kept thinking that there is something missing. I had commented that in winter you would expect people to be wearing red checkered Woolrich jackets but couldn’t place what was missing at the camp. Then it occurred to me that what would have rounded out Lake Catherine would have been for Norman Rockwell to have shown up. The art of Rockwell graced the Saturday Evening Post cover for years. His iconic medical print enhances many a doctor’s office and I still remember some of his paintings showing up in Boy’s Life Magazine. His 1930s and later drawings epitomize the camping at Lake Catherine State Park.
It was a wonderful five-day experience; so good that I have already booked a ten-day trip for next summer and the camp is already filling up.

HIDDEN ADVANTAGES OF CAMPING

When growing up in rural North Louisiana it was normal to spend the nights under the stars.  This was a rite of passage for the young man as he becomes an adolescent.  Sleeping on the ground while stoking a fire and fighting mosquitos was part of the mystique that most in the city dwellers could not understand.  The excitement of not knowing what loomed beyond the shadows could be quit exhilarating and bordered on terrifying as an owl screeched in the dark.

Many of us were fortunate enough to have been part of the Boy Scout Troops in the area and the camping experience was refined to more than being an ordeal to being a true experience in nature.  Summer camping trips morphed to fall and winter camps and while our urban cousins experienced the outdoors from a television the youth of rural America created and lived the experience.

I was fortunate to have been a member of the Farmerville, Louisiana Boy Scout Troop .  I learned Morse code from the Bernice, Louisiana Scout Master while we were at Scout Camp at Camp KiRoLi in Monroe.  The local community supported the Boy Scouts and the camp was named for the organizations that built the camp; Kiwanis, Rotarian and Lion’s clubs.  This scout camp predated the current Camp T.L. James and is now a local park in West Monroe, Louisiana.  Life was good for a boy growing up in rural North Louisiana.

When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia the call for camping drew me into the deserts and coastal areas of the Eastern Province.  There was an exception to my earlier experience.  I did not venture into the desert alone but was accompanied by my wife in infant daughter.  This lasted for a year and then other activities entered our life and the tents found a permanent location on the shelves and attics.  With the exceptions of several very fun trips in America, camping faded from my vocabulary.

Finally, it has reared its’ head and Bonnie and I are rediscovering the therapeutic aspects of camping.  No more tents though.  We have compromised with a pop up camper and now with a travel trailer. There is now a larger camper on the horizon as we view a future that will include a large amount of time communing with nature.

We recently returned from a trip to Lake Ouachita in Arkansas as we continue to expand our camping experience.  Like we did in Arabia, we made some adjustment to the experience.  Our daughter, who as a toddler plodded through the sands of Arabia, was with us as were her two younger brothers.  The group expanded as we also had their children with us.  Our granddaughter, a clone of our daughter, blonde haired blue eyed and filled with excitement was with us.  The true excitement of being surrounded by nature was visible in these bright blue eyes.  It was at that time that the therapeutic aspects of camping no longer resided in my association with the great outdoors.  It now resided with sharing it with my children and especially my four grandchildren.  Each one was different in their own right but each one equally enjoyed the great outdoors.  This new journey in life is one that I am truly looking forward to as we explore the wonders of the outdoors together.

MORRO BAY STATE PARK, ARKANSAS

Every once in a while we stumble on to something where we are quite surprised to discover and goes beyond our expectations.  This happened to me recently.

Bonnie and I wanted to find another small camp ground that was within striking distance from home but somewhere that we had not camped in.  Our friends the Posts loaded up their travel trailer and joined us as we went north to the Ouachita River.  One key finding from this trip; do not take roads that are in disrepair.  It will beat up both the trailer and the driver.

We traveled from Farmerville to Strong and then on northward to the Moro Bay State Park.  This park is located on the Ouachita River and offers a good boat launch and boat slips.  Campers can also have their boats docked in front of their camp site but the walk to the river is steep.

Several days before we were scheduled to arrive the camp ground was practically empty.  Then with the first quick cool snap that hit the region the camp sites filled up.  It did not seem crowded since there is a wide space between all the sites and trees abound the camp sites.  For families with small children there is a large playground at the park plus a field of about 5 acres which allows plenty of room for the children to play.  At night the open space could easily serve as a prime location for star gazing and has prompted me to purchase a small spotting/astronomical telescope that I am waiting to arrive.

There are two small hiking trails at the park.  They are short, only three eights of a mile each but they are well maintained.  In the cool fall weather the trails were enjoyable but the summer months will probably be full of humidity and loaded with insects that abound the areas around the Ouachita River.

For the person that wants to stay connected and feels that they have to have phone and internet connections, this is not the campground for that individual.  Cell phone service is very sparse to nonexistent.  There is no WiFi conection.    This is quite remote and is the perfect place to relax.  El Dorado is twenty miles to the west.  Strong, Arkansas is fifteen miles south and Hermitage Arkansas is fifteen east.  There is nothing in between these three; no stores, no gas and few people.  There is a visitor center staffed with very friendly rangers in the park.  Soft drinks and abundant firewood and ice are available but little else.  Be sure to plan accordingly and don’t expect to find a WalMart near by; isn’t that great.

For those that want to stay in a park but does not find camping desirable, there are cabins available.  They are new and modern and suitable for two families.   WiFi is available in the cabins.  These cabins are flood tolerant as they are eight feet off the ground thus sit above floods from the river.

What I am discovering is that these small out of the way yet unique camp grounds are quite abundant and within easy striking distance from us; we just have to look.

HIDDEN DIAMOND IN THE OZARKS

In 1948 permission was granted to begin construction of a new lake in Western Arkansas.  Construction was completed in 1952 and the only total concrete dam in the Vicksburg Corps of Engineers District crossed the Little Missouri River and formed Lake Greeson.  This is the same Little Missouri that caught the Farmerville,  Louisiana Boy Scout troop in a torrential flood. The Troop barely made it out but others were not so lucky.   Had it not been for the quick leadership of the scout leaders the fate of the young scouts could have ended tragically like other campers.

Lake Greeson is approximately twelve miles long and with an average depth of sixty feet and it appeals to a wide variety of water sports.  For many years Lake Greeson drew people from all over the deep south who wanted to experience the deep waters of an Ozark lake.  It was close to the North Louisiana and Northeast Texas tourist base so this provided a tourist stop closer than Hot Springs.

Another draw to the area is the only open diamond mine in the United States and anyone entering the State Park can dig for the stones.  Located in Murfreesboro, ten miles south of Greeson, the mines were an added attraction for the tourists.

In 1971 I visited a new dam site in Arkadelphia that was crossing the Caddo River.  Four years later after leaving the U.S Navy I was talking to one of my college professors at Northeast Louisiana University.  He was retired from the Army, had taught electrical engineering at West Point and was the past commander of the Vicksburg District of the Corps of Engineers.  Mr Garrett proudly told me that he was the man responsible for the construction of Lake Degrey at Arkadelphia.  What he didn’t realize was that the construction of Degrey had sucked the life out of Greeson.  The new interstate that connects Texarkana to Arkadelphia and Little Rock made Degey the lake of choice.  Also Degey was much larger and Hot Springs is a mere thirty miles away.

Greeson languished and the once popular Daisy State Park was all but empty.  Cabins are twenty dollars a night cheaper than Lake Ouachita and the lake is every bit as beautiful, though much smaller.  The Little Missouri boasts good trout fishing and SCUBA divers will enjoy the many inlets of the lake.

Near by is the small town of Delight.  This is just another very small stop in the highway to Greeson with one exception.  This is the home of Glenn Campbell.  One of his early songs was titled “The Witchita Lineman”.  The original song was named the “Washita Lineman” and was named for the mountains in the area.  The record producers said the name would not relate with the audience and the title was changed.

I rediscovered Greeson and stayed at Swaha Lodge.  I sat on the porch of our cabin and remembered the story when I was in Junior High of Johnny Albritton going SCUBA Diving and hunting diamonds in the mountains of Arkansas and at the time I thought how fun that would be.  Unfortunately, Johnny never got to complete his adventure quest.  He won the silver star, posthumously, protecting his comrades in some little know outpost in Viet Nam.  The owner of the Lodge tald me that he had bought a cutting horse from a man in Farmerville.

What I found at Greeson was a great place to commune with nature and rediscover a lost diamond in the Ozarks.  You won’t find three star accommodations but when on a lake who needs it.  Hiking trails abound and smallmouth bass fishing is great.  SCUBA would be good when the water warms and of course there is the Diamond Mines and the Caddo Indian excavated burials.

The State Park at the Diamond Mine has camping available as well as Daisy State Park on the lake.  The sleeper for campers is the Corps of Engineers camp ground near Swaha Lodge.   It is hardly over 50% filled and is immaculate with full hook ups  and showers.  It is located across the street from the swimming area near the dam.  The price is right.  Fifteen dollars a night is all it takes to stay in the park and if you are a senior with a gold card you will pay $7.50 a night.

Can’t wait to get back later this year.