campground photos

My site at Gulpha Gorge

If I was on vacation, with company and lots of time to play, I think that Gulpha Gorge would have been a very fun place to be camping. Like all of the national parks (in my experience, anyway) it was crowded and busy and beautiful. There were hikes that looked terrific and it was reasonably close — walking distance even — to the town of Hot Springs, which is adorable and historic and touristy, but not in a bad way.

As it was, though, I was kind of grouchy about being there. I’d been writing really well at Lake Chicot and the busy-ness of Gulpha Gorge was distracting and unsettling. Not unsettling in a spooky way, but unsettling meaning that I just couldn’t settle into writing. People wandered by the van, both in front and in back, and cars drove by on the road, and I paid more attention to my surroundings than I did to my computer. Part of me wanted to accept that, to appreciate the moment and be present where I was. To be mindful.

But mostly I was grouchy instead. I didn’t want interruptions and people; I wanted a better view — one with no people passing by, unless they were in boats — and to be living in my imagination.¬†Fortunately, I’d been skeptical from first glance, so I only had a couple nights there, and yesterday, I headed out to my current park.

Along the way, I stopped at Quapaw Baths and, well, had a bath. Actually, not literally — a private bath would have cost $35 – $40 and I was too cheap for that. I shouldn’t have been. More than once I’ve considered getting a hotel room for the night purely to take a bath, and it’s my birthday week so I should have been willing to treat myself. Funnily enough, I think my reticence was because Gulpha Gorge didn’t have showers, so I was feeling pretty dirty. I know, isn’t that ridiculous? I was feeling too dirty to take a bath. But I wanted a hot shower, and the thermal baths — four giant hot tubs of varying temperatures — required guests to shower first. So I spent $20 for the thermal baths. I did it the classic way, moving from the coolest bath up the line until I was in the hottest bath, sitting under a waterfall of 104 degree water, and then working my way back down again. It was absolutely lovely, and bookended by clean hot showers. Totally worth the $20. Possibly worth driving back to Hot Springs before I leave Arkansas and doing it again.

Bath complete, I headed north to Petit St Jean State Park. It’s a campground that I knew I didn’t want to miss, because it was rated the best park in Arkansas in a 2017 survey. High praise! But I’d really wish I’d waited to pick a site instead of choosing one at random online. There are 127 campsites and some of them are terrific. Mine is not one of the terrific ones. It backs up to the road; it’s on a slight slope; the water and electricity are on different sides of the site so Serenity can’t be connected to both at once; and my view is limited to trees. Still, trees are better than neighbors’ sewer lines and it’s quiet enough that even the traffic on the road probably won’t bother me too much.

And the weather… well. It’s 11AM and I have turned the van into Cozy Nest Van, closing all the blinds and curtains and turning the lights on even though it’s daytime. That’s because it’s raining and cold and dark outside. There’s a freeze warning in effect for tonight and I actually had to think for a moment to recognize the symbol on the weather app for tomorrow. Literally, I have not seen that symbol in… well, maybe never in relation to a place where I was!

I was thinking about driving into the nearest town tomorrow for a free Starbucks treat and maybe a sushi lunch to celebrate another year passing, but nope, I won’t be driving. And honestly, I’m not sure how I’m feeling about that symbol. But I can promise you that the blinds will not be down tomorrow while I wait to see if white fluffy stuff starts falling from the sky!

My site at Petit St Jean, yesterday. It’s much wetter today!