The last entry gave me a chance to talk about Devil’s Den State Park, one that I end up visiting and writing about a lot. Not only is it close to home, but it is one of my two favorite state parks. The other one is about as far away as you can get and still stay in-state: Lake Chicot State Park.
Nearly all of my family is clustered in that corner of the state and my first taste of camping outdoors happened around that lake. If you are reading this, then you already have a love for the wild parts of our state so I’m talking to you. Plan right now to visit LCSP. Seriously. Drive to Little Rock, head south toward Pine Bluff on 530. Forget about taking the bypass, instead I want you to turn off on Hwy 65 and brave the dozen or so red lights. Stop at Rich’s Burgers for lunch, right off the highway. If you don’t come that way but once or twice in a lifetime, or if you normally breeze around Pine Bluff, then you have to eat here. Say on 65 until you are just outside of Lake Chicot.
I love my mountains here, I do. I love the blindingly white clouds in the crisp blue sky. But driving down into the delta always feels like going home. Fields of soybeans and cotton spread out. Log trucks jostle along the road. Bugs smack the windshield like flak.
You’ll notice a few things about LCSP when you drive in. If you’re accustomed to the shine and polish of our newer, more glamorous state parks – then you’ll notice the same faded wear that seems to cover that entire corner of the state. The same visitor’s welcome center that I explored as a child still has many of the same exhibits I stared at thirty years ago. But, thirty years later, I’m still fascinated by wandering through there. (The alligator is new, and has definitely grown since I was there last. ) It may not be as sparkly as some of the other state parks, but it is a hidden treasure. Clean, well maintained, and nestled in beautiful scenery you just don’t see anywhere else in the state.
I only get to “go home” about once a year, so we decided to have a family reunion at LCSP. My parents, my sister’s family, and my family all went in on three cabins. My brother and his kids joined us for a night and two days. The first thing I did after checking in was to ask to meet the interpreter. They said that his schedule was already full with a troop of Boy Scouts occupying the park this week, but that they’d give him my name. Maybe I was a little put-out when I commented that my boys came over 300 miles to see this park and were surely as important as a scout troop. She took down my name and said that their interpreter was new to the job, but they’d see what they could do. I found out later that any perceived reluctance was only concern that he was maybe overworking himself that week.
** An aside here about him. If I remember right, I think his name is Brian. He was already putting in long hours, it seemed, to give those scouts a good experience. But when he met me, he gave me his personal contact information and started listing all the things he was willing to do. The guy is young and looks like he hasn’t been out of college long enough to change his mailing address, but I was impressed. What he lacked in experience, he more than made up for in eagerness. I can’t wait to come back in a few years and see how he’s grown in the job. **
I scheduled a pontoon tour of the lake with the interpreter for later in the week and we settled in to the cabins. My parents had a 2-bedroom cabin and kept all 6 of the grandkids (ranging in age from 2 to 10). My sister and I had adjacent 1-room cabins with a semi-private fishing dock. My boys and I are happy swinging from a hammock, but the rest of the family voted for air conditioning and hot showers. Since Momma has veto power, we went along with the cabins this trip. (Those pictures are outdated. The boxy television sets have been replaced with wall-mounted flat-screens.) As with the rest of the park, they were clean and well maintained. Pretty reasonably priced, too.
Poppa has a little flat-bottomed john boat that is perfect for this lake and the whole week went something like this:
Wake up, fish on the pier. Run the trot line and take a couple of folks out to fish among the cypress knees. The kids stayed between the new pool, the playground, and fishing on the dock. Break for lunch and mid-day naps (it was blisteringly hot), then fish/play/swim until evening. Clean the fish while someone cooks dinner. Eat, laugh, sleep. Repeat.
The fish weren’t biting all that great. The lake was lower than anyone could ever remember. The temperature was in the triple digits. And we all had an amazing time.
Momma and I took my sons and my 10-yr-old nephew on the Nature Trail there at the park. It is a little ¾ mile loop that is beautiful, but starting to fade away. There are a few remaining sign posts identifying and describing various fauna, but they’re in need of attention. The discovery trail that was really worth the trip a few years back now ends after just a few feet. The construction of the new swimming pool obliterated the trail and, according to the visitor’s center, there simply isn’t enough funding to reroute it. Considering how terribly few hiking trails there are in that part of the state, I would think it a priority to keep something like that alive. With a little TLC it would really be a trail worth driving to see.
I promised my nephew and Bear Bait that if they hiked the trail with me, I would buy them a LCSP patch. It was my nephew’s first trail and when we arrived back at the visitor’s center, he ran over to the kiosk of brochures. He asked me to point out the ones that I’ve hiked and left there with a patch and a fist-full of brochures. That night, we traced out the best hikes and told stories. He was begging my sister to let him stay with me this Fall and hike. I hope he gets to.
Thursday we met the interpeter at the boat dock and loaded everyone up on the pontoon boat. It used to be a sunset tour, but he was worried about the lights working, so we went out on a 4:30 tour . . . in triple-digit heat . . . on a boat without a canopy. (He said that it was bent and couldn’t be installed.) This trip was my only complaint, because by the time we paid for all 13 of us to get onto that boat – it got pretty expensive. Once he got it cranked up, we went out on the lake for a 30-minute ride then had to turn back around and go in because the children were just blistering under the midday sun.
Several years back, I took that same tour – but it was a sunset tour, the boat had a canopy, and the interpreter took us all over the lake. I was disappointed, but not enough to sour the trip. Like I said, given a bit more experience, I think he’ll do okay. On the beauty and memory of that first pontoon tour, I recommend you ask for it. But make sure ahead of time how long it will last and if the boat is in full working order.
Friday came too quickly and we headed back on up the mountain.