Pe­tit Jean State Park

Fall in love with this ma­jes­tic land, where wind­ing river wa­ters meet a moun­tain.

Country - - SPECIAL SECTION - STORY BY TERRY DON­NELLY | PHO­TOS BY TERRY DON­NELLY AND MARY LIZ AUSTIN

The Ar­kan­sas River be­gins its wind­ing jour­ney to the Mis­sis­sippi from high in the alpine head­wa­ters of Col­orado’s Rocky Moun­tains. Mid­way through the state of Ar­kan­sas, flow­ing be­tween the Ozarks to the north and the Oua­chi­tas to the south, it curves around the north face of Pe­tit Jean Moun­tain. The land­scape is a sin­gu­larly beau­ti­ful union of river and rock.

Lo­cal folks from Ar­kan­sas pro­nounce the name “PETT-ih jean,” while visi­tors usu­ally say “PETT-ty jean.” How­ever you pro­nounce it, Pe­tit Jean boasts over­looks along the shoul­der of the moun­tain of­fer­ing as­tound­ing views of the river and its rolling val­ley.

The moun­tain’s his­tory is based in the folk­lore orig­i­nat­ing from one of Ar­kan­sas’ best ro­man­tic leg­ends, a story set in the 1700s about a French stow­away. Adri­enne Du­mont dis­guised her­self as a cabin boy to go along with her beloved, an ex­plorer named Chavet, to Amer­ica. Nei­ther Chavet nor the ship­mates who tagged her with the moniker Pe­tit Jean (French for Lit­tle John) dis­cov­ered her se­cret dur­ing the lengthy jour­ney.

Upon reach­ing the moun­tain now named for her, Du­mont fell ill. She died, but not be­fore her true iden­tity was re­vealed to her beloved Chavet. A fenced-in grave, said to be hers, can be found atop Stout’s Point on the park’s east­ern edge; some say it is haunted.

While the story of Pe­tit Jean is cap­ti­vat­ing for its drama, it’s also worth not­ing the tale is grounded in early French ex­plo­ration, fur trad­ing and set­tle­ments along the Ar­kan­sas River—a su­per­high­way of the era con­nect­ing the re­sources of the Rocky Moun­tains with com­merce flow­ing along the Mis­sis­sippi.

In the early 1900s, the lum­ber com­pany that owned for­est land on Pe­tit Jean Moun­tain con­cluded that the ter­rain was too steep and prob­lem­atic to log prof­itably. So they sur­veyed the lo­ca­tion, in­tend­ing to do­nate it to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for use as a na­tional park.

While the na­tional park sta­tus never came about, this lo­ca­tion did be­come Ar­kan­sas’ first state park and the gen­e­sis of the Depart­ment of Parks and Tourism. It was largely de­vel­oped by the Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, and many of the stone struc­tures and trails from that era are still in use.

The his­toric Mather Lodge is a prod­uct of the CCC. Its na­tive stone and log con­struc­tion is an im­pos­ing pres­ence, af­ford­ing mes­mer­iz­ing views above the dense for­est canopy of Cedar

Creek Canyon and the Ar­kan­sas River Val­ley. Listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, it is one of the state’s ar­chi­tec­tural and cul­tural gems.

From the lodge, hik­ers can fol­low the short trail to the Cedar Falls Over­look or de­scend into Cedar Creek Canyon for an up-close view of the creek and 95-foot Cedar Falls, one of the tallest con­tin­u­ously flow­ing falls in Ar­kan­sas.

A short drive will take you to the Pal­isades Over­look, with views into the canyon, and the nearby trail­head for Seven Hol­lows Trail. This mod­er­ately dif­fi­cult 4 ½-mile forested loop has fas­ci­nat­ing ge­o­log­i­cal fea­tures like Tur­tle Rocks (mounded polyg­o­nal struc­tures that look like tur­tle shells) and a nat­u­ral stone bridge.

I es­pe­cially like tak­ing the Red Bluff Drive to CCC Over­look, a pic­nic shel­ter and walk­way fol­low­ing the north­west scarp of the moun­tain.

Pho­tog­ra­phers and ro­man­tics alike know this to be a per­fect des­ti­na­tion at sun­set. In ad­di­tion to the sweep­ing vis­tas of the Ar­kan­sas River Val­ley, make sure to take note of Mag­a­zine Moun­tain, the state’s high­est peak at 2,753 feet, prom­i­nent on the hori­zon.

This drive also pro­vides ac­cess via a short quar­ter­mile walk to Rock House Cave, a large rock shel­ter with pic­tographs and ev­i­dence of Na­tive Amer­i­can habi­ta­tion go­ing back about 8,000 years.

Stout’s Point, be­lieved to be the site of Pe­tit Jean’s rest­ing place, is sit­u­ated at the moun­tain’s far east­ern end. There, past Lake Bai­ley and the camp­grounds, this fa­mous scenic over­look of­fers a panoramic vista with a com­mand­ing per­spec­tive of the Ar­kan­sas River flow­ing to the east. From this po­si­tion, you can ad­mire vi­brant fields and mead­ows and watch boats nav­i­gate the wa­ters and chan­nels of the river.

Re­gard­less of the sea­son, Pe­tit Jean of­fers much to the day-trip­per as well as those will­ing to spend more time ex­plor­ing the nat­u­ral and his­toric fea­tures of the high­lands of the Ar­kan­sas River Val­ley.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.