Scott and I are collectors. We love to collect things, but because we are trying to live travel-ready, we do not want to collect things. When we decided to move into an RV to start Park Hosting, we thoughtfully decided to start collecting experiences instead of objects. So, now instead of object collecting dust in our home, the back of our SUV collects road dust from all the places we have been. Our collections range from collecting counties to state and national parks to specific special places. One of these are waterfalls in the state of Arkansas. With over 200 waterfalls in Arkansas, this gives us plenty of time to explore and see what amazing places there are in this natural state.
Scott and I downstream from Natural Dam
One of the places we love to visit in Arkansas is the Ouachita National Forest where you will find the Ouachita Mountains. Granted these are not the type of mountains you find in the Rocky Mountain, Great Pyrenees, or the Andies, but they are mountains to us and one of our favorite places. We have often found ourselves thinking about living within the area, but there is still so much more to visit so we must not stop here! On this trip, we decided to specifically find as many waterfalls as we could. We found four of the named waterfalls and plenty of little cascades that are found all throughout the area.
There are so many beautiful places in Arkansas.
Crooked Creek Waterfall is one of the first waterfalls we came across in our travel into the Ouachita National Forest. At first, we were not sure if we would find it flowing strong, but as we drove through a stream just above the falls, we were pleasantly surprised. It seemed to be an area that many people loved to camp and visit. Because I am not always very sturdy on my feet, I stayed up above the falls with Cordie. Because there had been recent rain, the river stone was slippery.
Crooked Creek Falls in Ouachita National Forest.
The colors of the trees were just breathtaking. I was afraid we had missed the fall foliage, but it seems we were just in time. There were not as many reds as I would l have liked, but we still saw red here and there. Scott had wanted to travel into to the Sand Gap area in Arkansas, but we would have had to camp and I was still a bit nervous about the weather. Fortunately, he is rather forgiving and never put it in my face that they were having record colors if that is even a thing. As we drove through the forest from waterfall to waterfall we had all but forgotten Sand Gap. It was well worth it, I would say.
The Little Missouri Falls that is located at a trailhead within the Ouachita National Forest.
The Little Missouri Falls was more of a cascade than a waterfall, however, it was well worth the stop. This is the location of a 7,000-year-old campsite where archeologists found many artifacts. This is also the area where you will find mainly shortleaf pine and plenty of black bears. The CCC build up this area with a viewing area and steps leading down to the rivers edge.
Blaylock Falls sits at the crook of the river and provides wonderful views of history.
Blaylock Falls was, in my opinion, the best fall of them all. Here you were able to see the way the rock was folded under great pressure when the area now known as Texas was pushed up against the area. This forced the mountains all around the Ouachita area to rise. When I first learned about this process, I was stunned and could not imagine what it would look like, but here you can actually see what happened! If you would like to learn more about this process, you can view our video HERE for more information.
Taking early morning photos of Rich Mountain on the Talimena Drive.
The trip to the capture many of the Arkansas waterfalls was fun, but definitely not long enough. We visited one other “waterfall” but it was most definitely more of a cascade. The park was beautiful and it will be one we visite again, but when the days are not quite so cold. I found this river to more like Perdanelas Falls in Texas with the giant smooth river rocks that created the rolling river. This is a spot that kayakers love to ride and it is a place I would love to experience again soon.
On our way to Arkansas to enjoy the fall colors, Ren and I stopped at a small city park, Sequoyah Park, to stretch our legs and take the dog for a short walk. This is a pretty little park near downtown, and the trees were in fine color, so naturally, I took some photos. It was on a Friday morning so we pretty much had the park to ourselves. I thought the contrast between the trees, the grass, and the clouds made for some interesting compositions.
Scott looking to make sure his shot was perfect; taken by Ren.
We were afraid we had missed the peak of fall colors, but, here in the Cherokee capital, it seems we might have chosen the perfect weekend to do our seasonal color trip. This park runs right along the Tahlequah Creek which runs into the Illinois River just east of the town. There are two historic WPA bridges crossing the small creek which gave it a great composition.
Ren often looks for the shots with her phone’s camera so I can see what she’s talking about. This is one of those shots.
One of our favorite places in Oklahoma and Arkansas is the Talimena National Scenic Byway. We have taken it many times, but this year we decided to just do the mountain range this amazing drive between Talihina, Oklahoma, and Mena, Arkansas. The Ouachita National Forest was where we found ourselves searching out many waterfalls.
Little Missouri Falls on the Little Missouri River in Ouachita National Forest taken by Ren.
Our total mileage was 557 miles to find some amazing colors and waterfalls. Most of the mileage came because we had driven so much within the National Forest, but the trip one way was approximately 215 miles to get into the forest. All in all, you don’t always need to travel to distant or exotic locations to get a good photo. Sometimes you just need to look around you and imagine the possibilities
This evening Scott and I went to the movies. If any of you know me, you know I hate going to movie theaters because of the loud volume and I feel like I am wasting my time. However, there are those few movies that are the exception for me. **Free Solo** is one of those movies. It is a National Geographic documentary about solo mountain climber Alex Honnold and his ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in June of 2017.
Free Soloing is a style of rock climbing where a climber does not use any type of safety gear while scaling the rock walls. Normally climbers will have harnesses and guide ropes to keep them from plunging to their deaths. However, there are some climbers who find this type of climbing to be well worth the risk. There have been thirteen notable deaths from this sport since 1913 and Ueli Steck being the most recent having fell approximately 1000 meters. Most people believe this sport to be reckless because if you fall, you die.
Scott and I have come across a person or two who were doing soloing on small boulders in Glen Rose, Texas, but these were just boulders; not anything like the huge granite monster in Yosemite Valley. It was interesting to see these people working their way around each boulder and I was very curious how they could figure out where the hand and foot holds were. The movie actually discussed this by showing Alex Honnold participating in a scientific study to figure out just how his brain worked in this type of situation.
Big Rocks Park in Glen Rose, Texas.
One of the things that caught my attention during the movie was when he said, ” Nobody achieves anything great by being happy and cozy.” This struck home for me. I have found when I am sitting at home comfortably, not putting myself in new situations, I am rarely accomplishing anything more than the daily chores I have deemed important. It is when I am going new places and experiencing things where I am out of my comfort zone, outside of my box, that I find I am learning something new, being more creative, and accomplishing so much more.
Ren’s living on the edge!
I may not be climbing without safety gear on the tallest mountainsides, but I am stepping out and trying to experience life the best way I know how. For me, this means driving on those twisty roads high in the mountains, going for a hike where there are wild beasts and snakes, or preparing to travel to places unknown to us. The fact is that I get out there and live.
If you get a chance, go see the movie **Free Solo** and see just how inspired you can be to achieve something great by getting out of your comfort zone.
Photo by Scott Fridenberg, taken with a Sony A6000 – Fstop 3.5 – ISO 400 – 1/2000.
I decided that since Scott works so hard at taking photos and processing them, it was time for the world to see all of them, one at a time so you could really enjoy them as much as I do. This all started out as a hobby for him when a friend loaned him a Nikon, but he soon decided he wanted his own camera so he went with a mirrorless Sony A6000.
This is a photo of Bear Creek Lake at the Mississippi River State Park within the Saint Francis National Forest just north of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. We were on a county grab on November 16-20, 2017, and were enjoying the fall foliage trying to find a route through the St. Francis National Forest when we found this amazing spot. We entered the forest just north of Helena-West Helena along the Big Spring Road. It is a well-maintained dirt-gravel road with trees lining the sides giving it plenty of shade. As you can see, the fall foliage is just breathtaking, giving the road a very rustic view.
This National Forest on Bear Creek Lake has a very interesting surprise, it is one of the locations of a Louisana Purchase Survey Line Marker. It was in this area men traveled through the swampy river flatlands to survey the Louisiana Purchase. Not far from here at the Louisiana Purchase Historic State Park, you can view the National Landmark Survey Marker in Monroe County. If you are ever in that area, you should check it all out.
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Well, not exactly. After driving 4,500 miles within the state borders of Arkansas, we have successfully been through all 75 counties. It has taken about a year and a half, but it is finally done. However, we are not exactly finished with the state. Even though we have driven through 75 counties, photographed 27 county courthouses, visited 12 of the state parks, walked about 3 of the National Park sites, and enjoyed both of the National Forests, there is still many more things to do and places to see. So why, exactly are we saying we are “finished with Arkansas” when there is more to see? We have been busy doing what we call “collecting counties.”
In 2014 when we decided to start working towards moving into an RV to live fulltime, we were living in a 2,000 square foot house. Scott had a huge collection of books that were shelved in his study and the living room, while I collected craft supplies, nick nacks, and everything else for no reason. We had so many things we were overwhelmed at what to do with it. After two garage sales, many trips to the donation centers, and deciding we would not collect anything else, we were able to move into an RV. However, we still had an urge to collect things; isn’t that what we do, collect things to remind us of our travels and loved ones? Unfortunately, living in 122 square feet does not allow us to do this. We decided in 2015 we would start collecting counties in Texas since that was where we were living, but soon we found ourselves traveling to more places than the Lone Star State. The other states had to be included in this collection, it could not be limited to just one state; so we decided all 3,144 counties across the United States would be our goal.
In order to accomplish this goal, we have to do what’s called “county grabs.” This is when we sit down with the map and plan out a driving trip where we can get as many counties as possible in the amount of time we have available. Ths means, we do our best not to drive the same route home as we left. This may seem like a difficult thing to do, but we have found it is much easier than you would think. Unfortunately, this means we will not be able to always photograph the county courthouse of every county, but we have come to accept this fact; it’s just part of the traveling long distances without crossing back where we have been. Scott does his best when planning a county grab to get as many courthouses for me as possible and I call these photographs “the cherry on top!” If we are going to be near a state or national park, we will make sure to put those detours in the plan. There are over 10,000 state parks in the U.S. so we try to hit the parks up as much as possible on these trips. Often we are only able to do a drive-through, but we get the traditional sign photo and drive every road that is publically accessible. If the travel is multiple days, we will try to stay overnight in one of them. Since we have fixed the SUV up to sleep in or have the hammocks with us, the sleeping situation can be quick to set up and just as quick to take down. This has enabled us to cross off many state parks, which is another thing we tend to “collect.”
We actually did not plan to finish Arkansas’ counties as quickly as we did; it just happened. One holiday we decided to take the long route home and we drove along the western side of the state back towards Texas. Another holiday some of the Oklahoma family were not well, so the time we would have spent with them was spent visiting the Eureka Springs area. This meant we would have to find another route home since we were not going to go back home via Oklahoma Highway 75. We ended up visiting the Buffalo National River area and, during another trip, the Hot Springs area. Once we sat down and looked at the counties we had already driven through, we knew this state would be finished soon. With this in mind, Scott sat down and made a route for us to get the most counties in the shortest amount of time. Scott, our dog Cordie and I packed up and headed out that November 16th; we were on a mission to get the last 24 counties we had left. Unfortunately, time was not on our side and there were six counties left in the middle of the state.
Since November we have been back to Arkansas, but not as much to grab the last counties as to experience what the Natural State has to offer in the way of people, culture, and nature. Often we have day tripped to places like Siloam Springs to enjoy the spring festivals, mark off a state park or three, or just enjoy the beautiful mountains where Scott’s Aunt Freda lives. Staying in hotels tend to be pricey and Scott and I don’t always agree where to stay. He is always looking for the best deals to make our budget stretch, while I want to stay in the Bed & Breakfasts or resorts. Needless to say, we have yet to stay in a B&B or resort; most of the time, if we are not camping, we are staying in a dog-friendly Motel 6. Cordie goes along with us most of the time if we do not plan to stop for long periods of time; this makes traveling a little difficult sometimes, especially if we are planning to visit a museum or go out for a meal. Fortunately, our daughter enjoys having a small lap dog around and she will watch Cordie for us.
At this point, we decided to collect our last six remaining counties in Arkansas. Because we had plans for Saturday evening, we needed to make it a quick trip so Scott took off Friday and we headed out to Freda’s Thursday after he was finished with work. Since we have collected the counties so close to the area we live in, we have at least two to three-hour drives to get to any new counties enabling us to utilize the highways and toll roads we normally would not think of taking. We prefer to take the roads less traveled and not to take the same road twice, if able. Having been to Freda’s so often, we are to this point, but we were able to get to Fort Smith within a matter of hours so we were able to kick around this city for a bit and still make it to Freda’s before 10:00 pm! This enabled us to get a good nights sleep and be able to head out in time for Scott to get some great photos.
Because we left so early on Friday morning we were able to do more than just drive through the six counties, we were able to visit seven Arkansas State Parks and get photos of all the county courthouses. It was an amazing day for us and by the time we reached our fifth state park, we had driven through all six counties. We took a few moments and did a short Live Video on Facebook and made the announcement. Both of us were extremely excited. Not only did this give us the 75 counties in Arkansas, but it meant we had visited 414 counties out of the 3,144 counties in the United States; this means we are 13% of the way! We can now focus on completing other states such as Oklahoma where we only have 17 counties left or up towards Kansas or Missouri. But it also enables us to be able to look deeper at Arkansas and truly see what more there is. We can slow down and really focus on this one state and enjoy places we have passed saying, “We will be back for you soon.” Our eventual goal is to be back to living in an RV spending weeks, if not a couple of months, in different regions really learning what is in each area. These county grabs give us an opportunity to scout out the places and know what more we want to see, do and experience.
Yes, this is a huge undertaking. However, it is not the destination that is important for us, it is the journey. This type of travel enables us to see the United States and appreciate everything it has to offer. We have made friends in places we never thought we would ever get to go, but because we have decided to get outside of our box, our neighborhood, we have been able to experience so much more culture and diversity. We could not do some of the travel through without people like Aunt Freda. She has allowed us to use her home as a jumping off point for our explorations. Without her, we would not have been able to complete the collection of the Arkansas counties so quickly. (Thanks so much Aunt Freda! We love you!)
Travel is what you make of it. For some, it is business travel to far off destinations; for others, it is going to the lake a few hours from their home. For us, it is collecting counties and the county courthouses while getting to experience new things. It has gotten us out of our box and that’s an amazing thing. Arkansas is the first state for us to complete visiting all of its counties. This has enabled us to see her mountains, her forests, her deltas, her lakes, and her rivers. We have loved every road we have driven and cannot wait to drive them again someday. Please celebrate this small thing with us and join us on our next county grab.
Driving along one of the tree-lined state highways in a destination we have no idea where. I have to pull over and am in a rush to get out of the SUV. Both Scott and I are stunned to see something so unexpected, so surprising. This is not a one-time thing for us; this happens every time we travel. This is what I believe Ruskin Bond was talking about when he said “The adventure is not the getting somewhere, it’s the on-the-way experience. It is not the expected: it’s the surprise.”
Recently we went on a waterfall hunt in Kansas. Yes, there are waterfalls in Kansas, but that is another Traveling Thursday story… someday. Anyway! As we were on this waterfall hunt, we found something extremely surprising. We found a State Park that was no longer a state park. That’s right Cowley County State Park was no longer a Kansas State Park due to the state not being able to afford the upkeep so they gave it to the county. This may seem drastic, but we have come across this many times. Oklahoma has at least three former state parks, Okmulgee, Adair, and Walnut Creek, that now belong the county or city it resides. Fortunately, the county and the city were able to keep these parks open, but not all state parks are that lucky. We have come across a couple of signs that state there is an Oklahoman State Park “next right” only to find there is not a park to be found. We spent a full afternoon searching for Rocky Ford State Park but it was nowhere to be found; it was just gone. However, if you look at Google Maps, there it is! Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Google hasn’t taken it away, but it sure was surprising.
In the fall of 2017, we did a massive county grab in Arkansas and there were some pretty wonderful surprises for us, but we both agree that the best experience was our drive through the St Francis National Forest. We needed to get from Philips County to Lee County and instead of backtracking Scott insisted we take the gravel roads through. I was a bit nervous due to the fact that we were right along the Mississippi River and it was storming all around us. You see, I am not as brave as you would think with all this travel, cliff sitting and such, plus I have an imagination that would scare the pants off you. Because of this, all I could think was that the Mississippi was going to flood and take us, the SUV, and Cordie out to sea. Yes, I know, but that, too, is another story for another time. Anyway! As we drove along the tree-lined road we came across a sign that said “Louisana Purchase Baseline Survey 1815”. Suddenly I began getting very excited at the thought that we were touching history. We were driving in the place where the frontier began. It was making the history I learned in school come alive and become very real making it a special experience. This touching history is one of the reasons I love to travel; it wakes me up, shakes me to the core because it reminds me of where we have been as a nation.
How often are you driving down the road and you see something that just blows your mind? It happens to us way too often. We had taken a trip from the Eureka Springs area in Northwest Arkansas down the middle of the state along the Buffalo National Scenic River area the end of 2016. We knew Arkansas was a beautiful state, but it seemed to surprise us every turn this trip. Neither of us had ventured in this area and the experiences were new and exciting. As we drove down past the George Ridge, we saw one of the prettiest sights. There was part of the Buffalo River running alongside the road cutting through the bedrock with a covered bridge crossing just above it. The sight caused us to pull over and spend a little time taking photos and admiring the wonder we stood upon. This would have been enough to have made the drive worth our time, but after a stop in the town of Ponca we headed out to visit the Lost Valley Trail but we were delayed due to yet another surprise, Elk. Elk in Arkansas! I was stunned and Scott was taking hundreds of photos. I had no idea there were Elk here, but they are indigenous to the area, but their numbers were so low that it was thought they were completely lost. However, in 1981 the Arkansas Game and Wildlife Commission created the Elk Restoration Project and they are back. There is something about seeing wildlife in nature that causes the heart to be joyful; it’s almost as if it is a signal from Mother Nature herself that there is hope.
Last year we were traveling from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Piggott, Arkansas, to bury my mother-in-law. She was unable to do much traveling due to a large family and, eventually, her health, but she loved watching our videos and reading our blog and Facebook posts about when we traveled. She told me once that she was traveling right alongside us in spirit. This is one of the reasons I try to do Facebook posts as we are traveling. I wanted her to be able to enjoy the journey at the time we were taking it. Because of this, we took one long trip in her memory. We did as much as we could that trip; visiting one state park in every state we touched. We drove through Oklahoma (Two Bridges State Park), Kansas (Crawford State Park), Missouri (Big Oak Tree State Park), Illinois (Giant City State Park), Kentucky (Columbus-Belmont State Park), Tennesee (Reelfoot State Park), and Arkansas (Davidsonville State Historic Park). While we were driving to Giant City State Park in Illinois we crossed the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau heading toward McClure when a historic marker caught our attention. Needing to pull over for a stretching break, we thought this the best time. It was at this rest stop that would bring us a huge surprise.
The historical marker explained that just south of where we stood was one of the original county courthouses for Alexander County. Of course, we were only about two miles from Thebes and we knew we would regret it if we didn’t take an hour and go see it. Before heading into the center of town to see the courthouse, we stopped at the shoreline of the Mississippi. Looking back Scott points to the house on the ridge and comments what a wonderful view they must have of the river and train bridge. We decided to head up and see what type of view it was. To our amazement, the building turned out to be the very courthouse we had come to see! We were stunned because normally the county courthouses are massive and built with huge stones, statues, and belltowers; however, this courthouse was very humble in its appearance. The stop charged us causing us to discuss and research (thank heavens for smartphones and a good cell phone signal) the history of Abraham Lincoln. We were further hyped up when we found we would be passing directly through Jonesboro, IL, where the third Lincoln-Douglas Debate occurred. Even though it was a short stop, we had to visit this National Historic Site.
Travel is meant to be an adventure. It is meant to inspire, encourage, and teach. If one travels and it does not cause one to rethink who they are and what their life means, then it is not being done correctly. You should allow yourself to be surprised on every roadtrip.
Safe travels y’all and see you next Traveling Thursday,