Our most recent adventure was our first overnight stay at Petit Jean, we've visited the park before but this was our first time to camp. We've stayed a few times at other Arkansas State Parks and I must say they really know how to maintain and clean a place but truly leave it in 'The Natural State'.
We booked our campsite online, which is a GREAT way to do it, but the first few preferences were already booked. My wife handled the email conversations with the park staff, they were polite and knowledgeable about their campground and what would work for our Little Skunk Family. We always find out what exact facilities are available; Fire rings, picnic tables, where restrooms/shower-houses/water are located and how far away other campsites are from ours. The staff suggested we get campsite #37, it was visible from the main road but not on a busy corner, and it was conveniently close to the restrooms.
Arrival- We had been to the camp store before and knew where to check in, so we drove straight past our site and went to the office. Momma Skunk paid our bill, check in and we shopped a bit for goodies and the normal touristy knickknacks. The staff here is always so helpful, letting us know the weather situation and how busy our camping area would or wouldn't be during our stay. The kids love the educational displays and historical information presented here, so we looked it over again, plus it let us stretch out from our four hour drive before we headed to set up camp.
Set up-We knew storms would be the norm for our trip, it always rains when we camp, either at set up or take down time... I've learned to stop the cussing and just deal with it. If getting wet is the worst thing that happens to us on a trip, that is a great trip! We get to the site as the rain lightens up, so we grab our rain jackets and jump out of the car. Opening the tailgate of the Family Truckster, we grab the big locker of tarps (I'll introduce the in another post, at another time) and quickly scope out the site for drainage and find a spot to drop our tent. The established tent pad was flooded with mud that had been washed down the hill during the record rains of that week, so the pad was out of the question with more rains coming. We chose a nice spot nestled between four huge rough-bark pines, it would give anchor points for our overhead tarps and the spot was the high ground in campsite #37.
The rain begin to pick up, of course it would, we had already opened the vehicle and begun to unload, so I grabbed our monster sized tarp and began bungee cording it around the big trees. Trying to work from underneath a tarp, in the rain, and remain dry, while directing the Little Skunk Family, was a test of new 'just let it rain' attitude. We had the shelter more or less ready within 5 minutes but it felt like an hour with the rain beating against the covering as it was pressed against my head with it's own weight. Next we had to build our big family sized tent and a smaller two man for the kids to share.
We plucked the tent bag from the car and spread it out in the new dry area, our gear is packed so we always know where the door will be, so it was easy to position as we started assembling the giant poles. After some hustle and complaining, the first on the kids' part, the later on mine, we had the tent ready to raise. Pinning the poles to the anchor points along the base isn't easy on a dry day, and downright nasty in the wind and rain of spring. We get the poles in place, get the rainfly on and I began to stake down the fly while Momma Skunk finished the doorway fly... only there was one problem, the pole end that fits on the end of the pin, it was completely missing. Ugh.. really? We've used this tent for a few years now and we should've probably expected things to begin needing more maintenance. Luckily we carrying military grade duct tape in the car, so the kids grabbed it and I lashed the broken pole to its anchor spot. That repair would have to wait for a drier day. The kids set up their little tent in no time and we laid tarps under both tents and inside both tents, nothing is worse than having your gear draw up moisture from a puddle in the floor. We began setting up our chairs and other items that we could fit under the footprint of the monster tarp. I grabbed more tent pegs and we staked down the storm side of the monster and did our best to create drainage places that would focus the rain away from our tent entrances, some creative bungee cording worked very well for this task. More tarps were added to create walls around our tents and we felt a great sense of accomplishment to have created a dry shelter amidst the storms.
Next we had to fill the tents with our personal items, the biggest of which is Momma Skunk's bed- a VERY comfortable Intex Queen Sized Airbed. One of the luxuries of car camping in an electric site? Well, it's the chance to bring luxury items like this wonderful bed. I ran our power cord into the special zipper in the corner of our Coleman tent and we began to unroll the base of the bed. Once again, this is an item that we pack in a certain way to save time at camp so inflation, placing the bed and the mattress are easy to do. Yes, it's a two piece airbed, and it is amazing to sleep on. While it's a big bulky and heavy, it's perfect for car camping and we'll continue to use it as long as power is available for the high speed pump. I may do a feature on that bed at a later time.
Dinner- With our beds readied, sleeping bags unrolled and personal gear under protection, we decided it was time to get ready for dinner. The lantern, stove and fuel tanks came out. We began to unpack our carefully planned and packed meals, Momma Skunk and I looked at each other and said 'Let's go back to town', the rain took too much out of us and a short drive was preferable to prepping/cooking and cleaning dinner. A short while later we found ourselves in Pizza Hut, ordering enough food for a dozen people.. while it was a special and left us plenty of food for later, we had a good laugh at the sheer amount of food that came back to camp with us. We hit the local WalMart, because it IS Arkansas after all, and grabbed a couple of items that we couldn't live without. Back to camp where we did our best to start a fire and share some downtime before heading to bed. The kids scavenged wood from the empty campsites and the treeline. Before too long we had a cozy little fire to sit by as we enjoyed the sounds of nature. Momma Skunk and I are weather nuts, to put it mildly, we are weather aware and use our phones to check local radar and forecasts. As the fire died down we moved our chairs back under the cover of our tarps and went to bed as the next storm hit the mountain. Sleep was sporadic with the deluge of wind and rain, the kids running to the restrooms what felt like every hour and the checking of the radar. Camping during a Tornado Watch isn't always the best plan, but we don't cancel a trip once we've made it there.
My next entry will be Day 2 and we get to meet some neighbors from campsite #36! :)
Thanks for reading, not sure where this is going, but now it's eternally part of the interwebz.