Petit Jean State Park 2007 by Doug Reeves
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Winthrop Rockefeller put the place on the map. Both he and his son Winthrop Paul made the runway what it is today - they parked their aircraft there, and over the years it got longer and longer. It's now over 5,000'. It's where we camped...
I missed last year's trip, so I really wanted to attend. The stars aligned and the decision to go was made at 8am on the day of launch. I pretty much threw everything together last minute, tossed some granola stuff in a Target bag and relied on the talk earlier in the week with Ross about extra hot dogs. As it turned out there were extra hot dogs, extra steaks, extra baked potatoes, chicken breasts, beans, too much firewood to burn, etc.
Ross and I launched from 52F around 1200 Friday before Danny/MJ and Jay/Carol. We wanted to stop in Russellville to top off our tanks before landing at Petit Jean (KMPJ). Once we were in the air we hooked up with Danny, Jay, Andy Duff, Don Christiansen on 122.75. We even hooked up with Arkansas RV-6A resident Bob Axsom on his way to the Taylor 100 race. If our schedules hadn't conflicted I'm sure Bob would have come over for a visit (we'll let you know when we're planning the next trip, Bob).
After fueling at Russellville, Scorch led me over the gorge and gave me a quick tour (while I was in loose trail) of the lodge, waterfall, Rockefeller Institute location and Lake Bailey. We setup for a formation arrival with a climbing fan break (briefed on the ground prior). MJ even got some pics (thanks). We had a monster tailwind and were seeing 205kts at 5,500' and 25/25. Andy, with his smaller frontal area RV-4, was getting 211kts. Incredible.
Most of the gang had already arrived and were setting up their camps. I scouted out a spot with a power pole next to it, pulled out my phone and saw I had 5 bars, then logged onto the web to make sure the world was still there. As I was typing a 'we're here' note in the forums Paul Dye came over the field at about a billion kts. I typed 'Paul is here'.....then I erased that and typed 'Paul is on final'....then I erased that and typed 'Paul just shut down'.
Paul later took Jay's RV-8 up for a spin and we all critiqued him (shocking). Our biggest critique was that he flew too far away, keeping us from critiquing him more.
We spent a few hours just sitting around the fire visiting and then the crowd started with the food. So much food. Robert and Brad drove in to visit and spent some time with us. Nice folks to meet. Brad ate with us, but Robert had to leave a little early.
Matt Burch and Nathan showed in in their rented slugger. Matt's a Garmin employee and had a big part in the development of the 396/496 (good guy to know).
Sitting around a campfire surrounded by RV friends is an experience difficult to accurately describe, but one of the most enjoyable things you'll ever do (if you're into that kind of thing). There is such a diversity in the backgrounds of the attendees that the conversations are, for a lack of a better word, VIVID. Danny going through some story about instructing in the T-38, Ross on refueling the F-4 at night over the ocean with less than 3 minutes of fuel (more than once) and how the spoilers on a 737 are activated upon landing, Paul explaining why hypergolic fuels are used on the Shuttle (and what for), Andy explaining solving the inevitable questions that come up while launching missiles from the F-22, Don explaining medical stats that had never occurred to me, Jay talking about being a boat captain in the Caribbean (in a previous life), Brad's experience of sitting in his Dad's lap while crop dusting, and the list goes on. It's usually the highlight of a trip for me. I always learn something and it's as all over the map in focus, as you might imagine.
There was talk of the next trip out to Big Bend State Park around President's Day. Stay tuned (and of course, you're invited).
After it was good and dark we all walked out onto the runway and took a stroll looking up at the beautiful SW Arkansas sky. There was a quartering Moon that washed out a lot of the stargazing, but the Milky Way was naked eye visible, as were the Double Cluster in Perseus and M31 in Pegasus. Orion rose just before I hit the hay, so I went out by myself to see that. I turned in a little earlier than the others, turned on the video iPod and watched an episode of 30 Rock that I had thrown on there. I love that show. Checked the forums one more time and turned out the lights.
Then the geese that were on Lake Bailey started honking. And honking. All night.
When somebody finally creates an RV Trivia Pursuit game, you can add the question "Does Paul Dye snore?" The answer is 'yes'. I have a data point. Audible from thirty feet away. <g>
I wrapped my jacket around my head to both warm my chilly noggin and dampen the noise of those geese! It did wonders and I was soon sleeping. It was a good day.
I woke up the next morning to the sounds and smells of coffee and breakfast. Every food you can imagine, from cold Pop Tarts to bacon and eggs. Some folks took hot showers and others broke camp and stuffed their RV with gear. We split into three camps: 1) Paul flying home as weather was on the Houston horizon, 2) Jay, Danny, Charlie and Don going to Gaston's for lunch and to visit some other friends, and 3) Ross, Andy and me staying behind to hike the Cedar Falls trail starting at the Mather's Lodge.
Ross called a number he had for the FBO at the end of the field and shortly afterwards we were on our way to the lodge (located here). When you arrive, you walk through a small breezeway into one of most spectacular visual feasts you'll ever see. I got some pics (link up top right) so be sure to explore those. Words and cameras don't do it justice. I can see now why Winthrop Rockefeller preferred this back yard to Manhattan Island.
Turns out after we were driven off another plane showed up full of donuts. Dang!
The hike starts at the lodge and, if you're choosing to go to the falls and back, takes about 35 minutes each way. It is NOT an easy hike - they list it as Moderate to Hard in the brochure. You drop over 200 feet in the first ten minutes (that you have to climb back up at the very end). I kept wondering why I was so dog tired later in the day when I got home, since a 1.8 hr flight is nothing. Oh yeah, the hike... I wish Louise Hose would have been with us, because it is nothing but layer after layer of exposed rock - her kind of nature hike I'd guess. When you get to the falls, you'll agree that it was worth the effort.
Being pilots, we can't just enjoy the view. We have to COMPETE and get to the back side underneath the waterfall. I had two headlines floating in my head as we all crawled around the bowl:
1. Dallas Folks Enjoy Day Hiking At Petit Jean
2. Idiots Break Arms and Legs Trying To Best Each Other In Stupid Contest
It was both harder than we thought and worth it. I shot a short video clip from behind the falls that doesn't begin to do it justice.
After arriving back at the lodge alive we went into the restaurant for an early lunch/late breakfast. It was fifteen till eleven so they still had breakfast going. We all ordered breakfast - me the pancakes that were the size of my head with a side order of crispy bacon. The nice FBO guy had given Ross his card with a number to call when we were ready to go back to the planes. We only waited about ten minutes and were back on the road complete with commentary along the way regarding the Rockefeller involvement around the parts. When we were dropped off at the planes we were happy to find three more RVs had tied down - folks from around the area that were going to go eat at the lodge. One fellow (David I think his name was) stuck around and visited awhile. His green '6A was gorgeous.
A 'not as nice as it is in person' picture from the lodge's patio.
Taken with the pocket Canon SD-1000 in 'wide' mode. More pics HERE.
The trip home was uneventful. Ross wanted to stay for a couple more hours reading a book and Andy had to stop for fuel, so I solo'd it. Put the survival vest on and plugged in the tunes. Toured the Rockefeller home from the air for a bit and gave Scorch one last pass and wing rock. Listened to U2 and Velvet Revolver until I got about halfway across Oklahoma, then switched to Robert Earl Keen as the Red River (and Texas) came into view. It's a Texan thing... .
- Bring ear plugs if geese or Paul Dye are anywhere near you after the Sun goes down.
- A 20*F sleeping bag gets cold at 34*F.
- A cheap Styrofoam sleeping pad doesn't work as good as you think it will. Ross talking about how well he slept in his tent doesn't make it any better.
- This would be a GREAT place to do a RV fly-in star party...if scheduled around a Moonless night.
- I need more endurance training. The walking/jogging I've been doing isn't cutting it.
- The people and places around Petit Jean State Park are first rate.
504.7 air miles travelled in 3.5 hrs. Hiked two moderately hard miles and saw some spectacular scenery with good company. Did it all in 24hrs thanks in great part to Richard VanGrunsven's wonderful creation.
We were all talking about how much fun we had and that we needed to do this again. If you would like to join us on the next trip you are absolutely invited!