It was a sunny winter day in 2014, when I had the blessing of driving to the top of Petit Jean Mountain to see how things had changed there since my last visit. The first change I noticed was this overlook area, before you enter Petit Jean State Park. Back in the 1980's, I had arrived at this area before sunrise (along with a group of folks participating in a weekend photography seminar), so that we could be present to capture images of the sunrise over the Arkansas River Valley. As I recall, there was not a nice paved walkway, and decorative stone fence.
The overlook is where you can see the grave of Petit Jean, and a placard tells her story. The stone fence has an opening, so one can hike down the the ledge where the gravesite is located, if desired. "Petit Jean" was the nickname of the young French woman, who (about 300 years ago) dressed up like a little boy, so she could secretly accompany her beloved, with a group of French explorers and Catholic priests, on a trip to the New World. They traveled up the Arkansas River, but Petit Jean became seriously ill, which led to the discovery of her true identity. Before she died, she requested that she be buried on the mountain that she enjoyed, during her time in North America. The mountain was then named in her memory.
The beauty of the area eventually led to it being named as Arkansas' first state park. In the Visitor's Center, you can see a photo of the park's first superintendent, Samuel Davies (far left), and his son Ladd Davies (far right). Father and son were involved in the construction by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) of a bridge over Cedar Creek (shown on right side of collage). Because the Davies' family descendants continue to work in public service, and contributed to the preservation/restoration of this historical landmark, it now has the distinction of being called "The Davies Bridge", in their honor.
Appeals were made to Stephen Mather, an official with the U.S. National Park Service, to make Petit Jean a national park. Mr. Mather told the Arkansas proponents for this designation that , although the area was not big enough for a national park, he could recommend it for a state park. So when that designation was approved by the legislature in 1923, the lodge was given the name Mather Lodge, in his honor.
In 1933, the CCC laid the foundation for the park, as we know it today. One reason I was eager to revisit Petit Jean State Park, was to see the extensive renovations that had taken place since my last visit there three decades ago!
The lodge registration area has been moved and modernized, and includes a comfortable check-in desk, seating area, and gift shop.
You can still visit the older parts of the lodge, where a puzzle has been set up for those who like to while away the time solving "Where does this piece go?" riddles!
Several separate seating/gathering areas can be accessed on the main level of the building.
The CCC Room, with its log sides, tables, and chairs, makes one imagine what it must have been like for early visitors to the park.
The most spectacular addition was in the dining room. It now has the appearance of historic national park dining spaces, like those out west in the national parks. The floor to ceiling windows look out at the expansive Cedar Creek Canyon.
This will be the location of a special "Sweethearts' Dinner" on Valentine's Weekend.
The trailhead for Cedar Falls starts just outside the breezeway of Mather Lodge. I started out hiking it around noon, and there was still some icy spots on it, from the previous week's snow, but that had all melted by the time I came back on the return trip.
The trail will lead you to the bottom of the canyon, where a very sturdy, singlefile bridge, will take you over Cedar Creek.
It was nice to see the different ways people were enjoying the Falls area, and this collage shows it included splashing, climbing, gazing, photographing, and meditating.
Because of the recent freezing weather and rain, there was still a lot of ice at the top and bottom of the 200 foot waterfall. In fact, I heard a resounding crash while I was there, as a huge "stalactite" of ice came cascading to the ground!
If you want to see the scale of the waterfall, see if you can find the man in the blue jeans climbing near the snow line near the bottom of the falls.
I would encourage anyone who is physically able to walk two miles, to take the actual hike down to the base of the falls. However, there is a handicap-accessible Cedar Falls Overlook trail, where a fenced in platform (lower right corner of collage) will give you an overhead view of Cedar Falls.
Since the name of the mountain is the result of a love story, it is only fitting that there be a special weekend for St. Valentine's Day! The "Hikes, Hearts, and Hugs" event will be held February 14-16, 2014. One can enjoy historic Mather Lodge and be treated to a romantic weekend. Activities such as guided trail hikes are geared toward couples. The event's highlight is a romantic sweethearts' candlelight dinner (reservations required). Admission is free, except for the Sweethearts' Dinner. Call 501-727-5441 to make your reservation. In addition, you can check out www.PetitJeanStatePark.com or www.ArkansasStateParks.com for additional information on all this fantastic state has to offer visitors!
In the early 1900's, the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) had a lodge on top of Petit Jean Mountain, and its remains can still be seen at the Petit Jean Gravesite park. The triangle stone seen above the fireplace mantel, is a reminder of the symbol they still use in their logo.
The Visitor Center has this photo of a large group of worshipers, gathered for an Easter Sunrise Service on Petit Jean Mountain, in 1893. It reminded me of how thankful I am for the Christian heritage of those early settlers who were wise enough to know that this was a special area, that needed to be preserved for generations to come. I also saw the Baptist Church on the mountain, and the retreat center operated by the Episcopalian Church. All these various types of Christ-followers are living examples of what my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse says "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." Colossians 3:16. This expedition definitely put a spiritual song of gratitude in my heart to God, and gave me MILES OF SMILES! Tricia