Aug 26, 2020 – Running from Laura

Our tour through Arkansas included four stops, each of which would give us lots of time on the water. It began in the Ozark Mountains and was to end at the Mississippi River.

Sometimes intentions are just that. Vivian and I had every intention of spending quality time in Arkansas this year, mostly because we didn’t get to do it as planned last year. Last year, Vivian broke her ankle while fly fishing the White River on the first day of our month-long Arkansas adventure. Consequently, reservations got cancelled as we hobbled out of Arkansas feeling defeated.

It is now 2020, Vivian has fully recovered and we’re back in Arkansas to slay our demons. To ensure we didn’t miss anything, I booked four Arkansas campgrounds giving us almost one month to explore its backwoods country. And it all began in the tiny town of Gilbert on the beautiful Buffalo National River.

At the Gilbert RV campground, we could open our door to view the steam rising from the Buffalo River each morning.
Gilbert, population 33, is a one-road town and that road dead ends at the Buffalo River. The most activity is at the campground seen here or down the road a bit at the outfitter/general store.
During the early 1920s, Reverend John Battenfield and his followers migrated into Gilbert and aspired to create a self-sufficient community to survive the return of the Messiah. Gilbert Cemetery was created for those who didn’t make it for the anticipated Rapture.
We camped five nights in Gilbert which gave us time to explore the area and paddle the infamous Buffalo National River.
Established in 1972, Buffalo National River flows freely for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states.

Next on our whirlwind tour of Arkansas was Lake Dardenelle State Park where we secured a coveted full hookup site on the water. The campground was quite generous with its real estate as we enjoyed a full view of the water from the RV. From the RV we could walk halfway down to the water to our own patio large enough for a couple of chairs and table.

From our campsite, we had prime real estate overlooking Lake Dardenelle. The lake is a major reservoir on the Arkansas River and covers over 40,000 acres.
While Vivian fished Lake Dardenelle, I photographed it.
From the state park’s pier, Arkansas Nuclear One is in clear view. The lake was created in 1968 upon the completion of the Dardenelle Dam. Although the lake itself offers beauty and a prolific fishery, there are always reminders of the strong hand of man.
We spent a day hiking some of the trails at nearby Petit Jean State Park, one of Arkansas’s best, located between the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark Plateaus.
A pioneer cabin nestled in the Ouachita Mountains was where five children were born over a hundred and fifty years ago. You can visit it at Petit Jean State Park.
Sandstone and iron oxide create interesting patterns and textures as seen on the Bear Cave Trail in Petit Jean State Park.
Lake Dardenelle supports a habitat for macro-invertebrates such as the mayfly nymphs. After spending the day exploring the area, we came home to this, the RV covered in mayflies. To me, mayflies are beautiful, so I commenced to photograph them. Enjoy the slide show below.

Our next stop was Lake Oauchita (pronounced WAH-shi-tah) where we had six days at Denby Point, an Army Corp campground.

Our campsite on Lake Ouachita. Unfortunately, we did not get to stay as long as we intended.
With the time we did have, we stayed put at the campground so Vivian could fish every morning while I explored the shoreline.

As always, we keep a wary eye on the weather. When we arrived at Denby Point, forewarnings of tropical disturbances was vaguely on our radar screen; that is until Laura came along. No doubt, being hundreds of miles from a coastline makes one cavalier toward tropical storms, but not this time. Tropical storm Laura was heading toward Arkansas and Denby Point was in the middle of it.

Laura was big and bad enough to make us leave and head north.

So we left. For the second time, I cancelled reservations at Mississippi River State Park, Arkansas’s newest. It was not meant to be. Instead, we left the southern mountains and drove north to Illinois, barely out of Laura’s cone of certainty. Laura approached the Louisiana coastline as a category 4 hurricane on August 27 and became the tenth-strongest U.S. hurricane landfall by windspeed. Louisiana was devastated – Texas and Arkansas were struck hard. Laura entered Arkansas as a tropical storm and generated eight tornadoes, the largest tornado outbreak recorded in the state during the month of August. Widespread flash flood warnings were issued throughout the state, along with 57 mph wind gusts.

Friendly campground chickens visited our campsite at Whittington Woods Campground outside of Benton, Illinois. We really enjoyed this campground and the owners were generous enough to share a dozen fresh eggs, complements of the friendly chickens.

Nimble with our 33-ft fifth wheel in tow, we were safe in Benton, Illinois. Never heard of the little town before, but dang if it didn’t turn out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Not because George Harrison visited it (the first U.S. visit by a Beatle) or because it was the site of the last public hanging in Illinois, or where John Malkovich grew up. No, instead, Benton, Illinois will always be in our memory because, through happenstance, we got to spend quality time with good friends and fellow fulltime RV’ers who were camped nearby.

While we were running north away from a hurricane, our friends Lorraine & Spencer were making a beeline across the country from Oregon to South Carolina attempting to get there in time for a wedding. As luck would have it, our paths intersected in Benton, Illinois. Didn’t seem like it, but it had been two years since we saw them last in Indiana. So with our friends, we toured Benton and had a blast.

This picture is the result of gawking tourists driving by. So what’s the story here? In September 1963, George Harrison and his brother came to Benton to visit their sister Louise who lived in this house with her husband. At that time, the U.S. had not yet caught on to the Beatles. But that would happen soon after many folks in Benton met the skinny younger brother of Louise. He had funny hair, but people found him to be respectful and charming.
The “George Comes to Benton – 1963” mural created by California artist John Cerney welcomes you to Benton, Illinois. While George visited Benton, a neighbor of Louise drove him to a music shop in nearby Mt Vernon where he purchased a Rickenbacker 425 guitar. It was fire red, but George had it refinished in black. The guitar, which he used when the Beatles recorded “I Want to Hold Your Hand” a month later, sold at auction in 2014 for $657,000.
Beatles memorabilia can be bought at an antique shop in downtown Benton. During his visit, many people of Benton became acquainted with the younger brother of Louise. One Sunday in early February 1964, the people of Benton turned on their television sets along with a record-breaking 73 million other viewers to watch “The Ed Sullivan Show.” George’s second trip to America was proving to be very different from his first.

Were we disappointed that our Arkansas plans were once again foiled? Absolutely not! But to Arkansas, our nemesis, I say “We’ll be back!”

Spencer, Vivian, Lorraine and Connie. One of the perks of traveling in an RV is meeting others who do the same. Our friends also travel in a Grand Design Reflection and through regular correspondence, we share our adventures and learn from theirs.

2 thoughts on “Aug 26, 2020 – Running from Laura

  1. And a good time was had by all!! Great post and great pics. Connie, only you could make a disgusting bug look attractive! Btw, Vivian looks so lonely in the picture of her sitting in the canoe. Reminds of when we used to give our kids time outs (not in a canoe, of course).

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    1. Glad I could make the mayfly look attractive to you! The canoe would be an interesting time out. Reminds me of a Dove chocolate candy wrapper quote “Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.”

      Like

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