We thoroughly loved Devil's Den State Park in Arkansas. If we had known about it ahead of time (and if the weather had been different at the start of the trip), we would have headed straight there and spent several days. The hiking was great--at least on the short loop we did. There were several caves and many crevices, a few small waterfalls, lots of elevation to the trails, and beautiful scenery. We saw a bat and a five-lined skink (the armadillo still eludes us).
Even in early April while most of the trees were still budding and much of the grass has not turned green, there was still much to see: flowering dogwoods, small woodland flowers, fern fronds getting ready to uncurl. For the most part the insects had not started being bothersome.
But while yesterday's temperature reached into the 60s, the nighttime dropped to some of the coldest temperatures we'd felt. There was a faint hint of frost in places. Thankfully my sleeping bag is rated low enough. And for the boys I layered one unzipped sleeping back across their sleeping pads, and on top of them was a fleece blanket apiece, a shared blanked and the other sleeping bag lain across both of them. I learned to tuck the sleeping bag on the bottom under their pads so it didn't slide off so easily, but the top blankets became a struggle to keep equally on both of them. None of us wanted to get up quickly this morning and greet the cold air.
Thankfully, it warmed up quickly. We enjoyed driving around most of the day with windows down.
A cancellation meant we could have stayed another night in Arkansas. We seriously considered it. But we also knew we have a lot of ground to cover tomorrow. And with the mountain bike fest in the campground, we figured it might be a little harder to sleep tonight with a full capacity.
So we ventured north a little ways. We were intending to go to the campground in southwest Missouri where we intended to try and get to on our first night of the trip. But along the way we discovered there was a campground in Oklahoma not much further away. And none of us had been to Oklahoma before.
So I write this from Twin Bridges State Park. It's situated on one of those large, meandering river-lakes that are prevalent in this part of the country. From what I can tell, we're about the only campers here without a boat or at least fishing equipment. It seems to be the fishing destination for this area.
Our site is on a bluff above the lake. We haven't gotten to enjoy it too much as daylight was fading when we got here (and then when the propane for the camp stove went out part way through cooking the meal, we used up the rest of daylight trying to find some--of which there was none too nearby, so we ended up eating out at a cafe attached to a gas station attached to a casino). We did enjoy spotting pelicans, egrets, and other water fowl as we crossed the lake. It is our first cloudless night, so there are finally stars to see. Orion is up, as is Jupiter.
We drove through two different nations on our way to the campgrounds. Yesterday we had spent time on the Trail of Tears. With more time, I would have taken the boys to a Native American Museum we drove by. We also saw a couple signs for Civil War battlefield sites. These are not things we see in Minnesota. Some other time, we'll have to head this way and take in the history as well as the natural beauty. There is much to see in the vast country of ours.
In the last three days we've camped in three different states (MO, AR, OK). We've been up and down through the Ozark Mountain range, along many a meandering road. It's gone from cold and rainy, with temperatures in the 30s to warm and sunny on a 70 degree day. We've spent more time on the road than we'd necessarily like, but we've gotten to hike in some nice places. We've seen hundreds of turkey vultures as well as many song birds, ready for the warmer weather.
And most importantly, we've had some time together: father and sons. I know my patience has worn thin some times and I've yelled at them more than I'd like (seriously, why can't they just come the first time I call them to come help tear down camp). They've been grumpy and cried a few times (a twisted ankle on the trail, a change of plans due to the weather). But overall, we've had a good time together. It's been fun to watch them just go off and play along the river or in the woods. We didn't take in any of the sites in Branson--no "fun" activities or amusements; most of our time has been outside or in visitors' centers that deal with nature. Nothing fancy, but there's plenty of love.
And that's what makes any family road trip worth it.