As dawn approached the secluded location of the 2013 Spring Overnight Kayaking group's campsite in a remote area of Lake Ouachita, I awoke to the realization that I had made it through the night without having to leave my tent to "use the facilities"!! YEA!! The plan of restricting my fluids after supper had worked! One by one, folks yawned out of their tents, closely followed by a trip to the "little blue room" down at the pontoon boat. Elsewhere, the sounds of portable campfire stoves and coffee pots being prepared could be heard. The portable stoves were used to quickly heat water for the Folgers Coffee Singles and instant oatmeal packets (upper left photo)that were available, as well as a variety of fresh fruits and orange juice. After the caffeine in the coffee kicked in, efforts were made to rebuild the campfire, for the purpose of cooking a hot breakfast. Ouachita State Park staff member, Nicole, is shown in upper right photo of collage browning the sausage, in preparation for adding the eggs, to make a sausage egg scramble, to be placed on the tortillas she had heated on the fire. This was topped with shredded cheese and salsa to create a delicious breakfast that would sustain us for the remainder of the trip. Seeing Nicole cook breakfast on a fire, beside the lake, reminded me of the story from John 21:1-14, where Jesus cooked a "shore breakfast" for his followers, after they had been out on the lake all night fishing. Nicole's "followers" had not been out all night fishing, but many of us DID get limited sleep the night before due to the extremely close (and loud) serenading of a whippoorwill symphony in the trees above our campsite!
The area where we camped was like a "micro ecosystem", based on the plants we saw there. There was Spanish moss hanging from most of the cedar trees, and a bright green fern was flourishing on a big limb high up inside the canopy of an oak tree (upper right photo). And did I mention, the prickly pear cactus were plentiful?? One had to be very careful where they set up their tent and placed their feet.
Day 2 was the designated day for the group photo, and since the state park interpreter, Susan Adkins, has been a part of so many photo shoots, ( I recognized her in many photographs on the state park website, so I concluded she is very photogenic, and must be the "go to" model for outdoor activities!), she suggested carrying up the kayak of our youngest member, to our fire ring, and then the rest of us would gather behind it. Both her husband and her brother-in-law were in charge of snapping the photos using the many cameras they were handed, for this memorable "Kodak Moment"!
After the group photo, we had a brief meeting, so Susan could explain the plan for the rest of the day. Instead of simply "back tracking" over the same shoreline we had paddled the previous day, Susan had arranged it so that we would continue paddling for several more hours further up the lake, and see some new and different scenery. With the help of the park superintendent, and another employee, we now had TWO big boats shadowing us as we paddled ever farther away from the marina. Susan and the boat drivers could communicate via "walkie-talkies" (cell phone coverage is unreliable there), so that, at a designated spot, the bigger boat could be loaded to haul the kayaks back to the marina, and the "more luxurious" pontoon boat, would haul the people back to the marina. It was a well-thought-out logistical plan that they pulled off flawlessly!
Susan is shown in this photo, leading our group through a "ghost forest" near the shore line. She explained that when Lake Ouachita was formed, not all the trees were cut down. This makes it a challenging lake for the owner of propeller boats, but a bonanza for sellers of propellers!
The great thing about being in a kayak is that one can get close to the shore and see the flora, fauna, and geological formations much easier. Seeing the way the sun made this water sparkle reminded me of how I read that the name "Washita" means "sparkling silver water".
This guy is Lydell, and he has been a helper on all three of the kayak/camping weekends that I have participated in. He was the one who helped me search for (what seemed like hours) a missing link to my tent support system, on the last trip I went on. The missing piece had somehow grown legs and walked several feet away from where I emptied out my tent components, and was invisible in the heavy grass. This time, I marked all my stakes and poles with hot pink duct tape, so as not to repeat that fiasco!
There was a mother/daughter couple on our trip, and I thought it was cool how this mom had made a place in her kayak to hold a bouquet of flowers, that her daughter had picked for her!
This photo shows the hand-operated bilge pump that Susan let me borrow on Sunday morning. It seems that when the group when out on the night kayak, one of the guys had used this kayak, and accidentally turned it over. Since it was so dark when they got back, all of the water did not get emptied out of it, and after a very short time of paddling, I found myself sitting in about two inches of water! However, I would rather have water in my kayak than spiders, which is what some of the other paddlers were greeted with, when they entered their kayaks first thing in the morning!
When trying to get up close to take a photo of this beaver dam, my kayak accidentally bumped it. Apparently that irritated a snake that was sunning himself there, and the big snake's movement (upon being startled), startled another nearby kayaker who saw it, and made her let out an "OH MY GOODNESS"!
This is yet another of the unusual geological formations along the shore of Lake Ouachita that we paddled by. It reminded me of a beautifully crafted retaining wall, laid by skilled stone masons.
Many of us were intrigued by this vein of purple stone that was sandwiched between the sandstone layers of yet another beckoning shoreline.
Our group paddled until around noon, then got out of our kayaks and loaded them onto the larger of the two pontoon boats. As this photo shows, we made use of every single inch of space, including the roof!
The people boarded the state park's cruise boat, and with Susan as the captain, started our boat ride back to the marina. We had paddled about 12 - 13 miles up the late from where we started!
On the trip back, Susan took us by the formation that they call "The Checkerboard" because of the way the rock squares have formed a "checkerboard" on one of the shorelines.
Another island Susan pointed out is what is nicknamed "Hotel Island" because of the way that erosion has made little "hotel rooms" all along the shoreline.
This is a another view of "Hotel Island", when we rounded the tip of it, as our boat continued to circle it. It was an added bonus that Susan took us on this "Island Hopper Scenic Cruise" to show us parts of the lake we had not explored via kayak!
As mentioned in the Day 1 article of this series, recreation was one of the purposes of creating Lake Ouachita. That water recreation takes many forms, including sailing, houseboating, swimming, scuba diving, and water skiing. The boat shown in the lower left corner of this collage is designed to be a ski boat, but that is actually a large metal backyard barbecue grill that the guy is holding onto the boat with a rope! It gives new meaning to the menu phrase "pulled pork" and the land-based practice of a "tailgate party"!
It is helpful to know that locations on Lake Ouachita are numbered, depending on their distance from the dam. It is also helpful to know that signs in the shape of a diamond (upper right corner) mean that location is an island. Signs in the shape of a square mean that a particular location is not an island. Speaking of islands, Susan told us about "Bird Island" (lower right photo). It is America's largest known purple martin roost, with estimates of 8,000 - 50,000 birds using the area between late July and early August. This is a staging area for the martins, as they feed on insects and develop fat stores before migrating to South America. In addition to purple martins, the island is used by herons, ibis, egrets, crows, eagles, osprey, loons, coots, and cormorants. While we were kayaking, an eagle was spotted near a large eagle nest located in a pine tree near the edge of the lake. Photo on the left of the collage gives you an indication of the vast size of the eagles' nest.
I want to send out KUDOS to all the staff of Lake Ouachita State Park for the skill with which they handled the complicated logistics and paperwork details of sponsoring a multi-day event such as this one. They did an amazing job!! I hope that my sharing of these photos and descriptions of a great weekend at Lake Ouachita State Park will inspire you to get outside and visit the FANTASTIC state parks we have in Arkansas! Visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com and sign up for their free e-newsletters, that will alert you to the myriad of activities available for you to do. You will be glad you did, and I know your visit to an Arkansas State Park will give you "Miles of Smiles"!! Tricia