Day 57 – In the beautiful Ozark Mountains

LOCATION:  Mountain Home, Arkansas in very north central part of state, near Missouri border
CAMPGROUND:  Cranfield Army Corps of Engineers Park, part of Norfolk Lake.  Electricity and water at site.  Bathrooms dated but clean. Firepit and picnic table.  Our site has water views; some are waterfront.  A bit tricky to back in.  $10.50/night with senior discount.  We love Army Corps of Engineers parks.  This one is a bit dated.  4 stars out of 5.
WEATHER:  Beautiful again.  We are getting spoiled.  High 75

We watched the farmhands tend to the chickens at the Harvest Host farm where we stayed last night.  One of the farm dogs sat in the sun next to me while I read a book sitting on Joy’s steps.  What joy! 

Our route today was not very far, but it was slow-going in the Ozark Mountains.  These signs were posted about every 2 miles…

Then, the dreaded sign saying “Steep grade ahead.  Truckers use run-away lane if necessary”.  Great!  Guess who was driving! !!!

Our ears popped throughout the trip, but the scenery was just beautiful.  Full of trees, mountain views, and rich-looking valleys below. 

As we drove through one town, a big, beautiful Golden Retriever darted out into the highway. We came within an inch of hitting him, just brushing his tail.  Our hearts pounded…..Guess who was driving?

After we got set up at tonight’s ACOE park,  I explored the campground, trying to get in my steps.  It is quite pretty.  This is the view from our front door…

We drove to a fishing lodge for a drink.  It is quite posh out in the middle of nowhere.  The restaurant’s menu looked very gourmet. 

The restaurant/lodge overlooks the White River which is famous for its fly fishing.  People come from all over the world to fish here.

Back at the campground, George made a fire for dinner. 

DINNER:  I marinated the hangar steak that we bought yesterday at the Harvest Host farm, using  a paste our friend Rob uses – harissa and crushed garlic.   George grilled the hangar steak on the fire.    Sides were a baked potato, baked in aluminum foil in the coals, and broccoli. 

It’s official…..our trip to France planned for this September is off.  We have rescheduled for September 2022 when more things should be open for us.  With that in mind, we are really hoping that we can enter Canada in late August/early September.  We want to visit Winter Texans in Sioux St. Marie, Ontario and then travel with our Nova Scotia camping buddies.  For now, it will be “wait and see”.

Day #56: Fun at a nuclear missile ranch and then being chased by a pig!

LOCATION:  Bee Branch, Arkansas, in central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Rabbit Ridge Farms – a Harvest Host farm nestled in the Ozark Mountain foothills.  Beautiful location.  Super quiet.  We are parked in their spacious, graveled, level parking lot.  Only ones here.  Very gracious and organized hosts – arranged everything via text.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Chilly in the AM, warming to an absolutely perfect sunny day.  High 72
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  45 minutes

At the nuclear missile ranch Harvest Host site, we awoke to hear a lot of cows mooing in the fields surrounding us.  We were actually parked above part of the missile site.  This is the schematic of what is underground.

The tour was of the launch control center (building on the left).  We entered by walking down 5 flights of steps next to their big sign.

The site was built in 1963  and was used/manned until it was decommissioned in 1987.  There are 54 of these sites in Arkansas, Kansas, and Arizona.  This is the only one that is being used to live in. 

A work camper who is staying here this summer gave us the tour. We started by opening one of the many, heavy- heavy security doors.

The owner (the Harvest Host guy) bought this property and has converted the launch control center building into an AirB&B.  When he started working on it, he opened these doors to find the building completely flooded and full of mud and debris.  It was a huge project to restore it. 

This is the walkway from the entrance area to the 3 floors that make up the launch control center.

This floor is one of the Air B&B bedrooms that was formerly the crew’s headquarters.

The we climbed up the spiral staircase to the floor that used to be the work space, the control center.  It is now a very hip bedroom and bathroom for the AirB&B guests.

We climbed back down to the lowest floor which had been used for cables and storage.  It is now a kitchen and hi-tech meeting room center.  We watched a You Tube video about the site’s restoration.  Check it out on the channel called Death in Bunny Slippers. 

It was a unique experience, thanks to Harvest Hosts!  We hit the road, driving through the scenic foothills of the Ozark Mountains.  We passed through this tiny town with an old-style grocery store…

You just don’t see these much any more.  Sadly, they have been replaced with Dollar General stores all over the country.  😦    The town also had a Baptist Church, of course, with this cute sign.   It took me a minute to get it.

Today’s Harvest Host had sent me specific driving directions.  She said that if we came the other way, it would be “alarming” for a trailer – so we wanted to avoid that!  But, what did we do?  We missed the farm entrance road and went to the “alarming” section of the road!!!!!

We hadn’t gone far when we saw a bunch of huge, fat pigs that belong to tonight’s farm.  I got out to take a photo.

George drove a ways to the top of the next hill so an approaching car would see us.  As I got ready to walk back to the truck, I turned around and saw that two pigs had gotten out.  They were on the road and one started chasing me!!!!! 

We found a farm road entrance and George made a very very complicated and scary T-turnaround.  At one point, Joy was tilting precariously.  My heart was really beating!!!

But, we made it, due to his skills, back to the farm.

We told the hosts about the loose pigs and then got settled in.  We are right next to a field of very healthy-looking cows that are munching on fresh grass. This is the view from our front door…..

This farm is well-known for their grass-fed, dry-aged beef and pork from their forested hogs.  We bought a LOT of beef and pork from their store.  Unfortunately, we are not here for one of their weekend breakfasts or lunches. 

We took a walk around the farm and admired views of Joy.

The owners left for the day about 4:00 and told us to make ourselves at home.  We had the place to ourselves, along with their dogs who patrol the farm.

Being Cinco de Mayo, we got comfy on the barn’s patio overlooking the hills and ponds and shared margaritas and chips.  Paradise!

DINNER:  We started with caprese salad with a few minor twists.  Instead of mozarella, I used some goat cheese we had bought at the Harvest Host farm a few nights ago.  Instead of fresh basil, I used some of my home-made pesto.  It turned out well, and was a good use of the tomatoes that needed to be eaten. 

The main course was a nice, no-meat dish – kale and garbanzo bean soup.  It was super easy and seemed to be healthy!  Ingredients were:  olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, fennel seeds, tomato puree, kale, chickpeas, red pepper flakes, and water or vegetable broth.  Served with lemon slices and grated Pecorino Romano cheese. 

Day #55 – On to a missile site!

LOCATION:  Vilonia, Arkansas, about an hour north of Little Rock
CAMPGROUND:  Titan Ranch – an ICBM missile site, an underground silo built in the 1960s to protect the USA from our “enemies”.  A Harvest Host site.  We are parked in their graveled parking lot as their grassy area is too wet from recent rain.    The owner has converted the silo to an Air B&B.  He gives tours here and sponsors events.  We are surrounded by countryside, mostly cows.  Very peaceful.  We will have a tour tomorrow, so will learn more about it then.  4 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  A relief from the hot/humid weather.  Mostly cloudy.  High 74
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  45 minutes

It poured during the night. High winds and buckets of water. For a period, we heard hail stones pounding the top of Joy. The tarp flopped around on top. A bit scary.

We checked for damage and water leaks when we got up, but all is well.

We hung around Maumelle Park until mid-afternoon.   I got in my walking steps, and then the two of us strolled around the campground to the section with a marina.  This barge went right by our campsite…

We drove less than an hour north to this Harvest Host site.  The geography is changing – more hills and pine trees, compared to flat rice fields in the south. 

Our Harvest Host owner met us on the highway in his quad and guided us down to his property to park.    The owner chatted with us for awhile, until it was time for him to welcome his AirB&B customers. 

DINNER:  Leftover cassoulet.  For the veg, I sauteed some onion, mushrooms, and broccoli and added just a bit of cheddar cheese on the top to serve.  A French baguette on the side. 

BOOK:  “The Lost” by J.D. Robb.  Robb is a prolific author and I have read a lot of her books, mostly about a female policewoman in the 2060s.  This book is a collection of short stories.  Very easy reading.  3 stars out of 5

Day 54: Out and about in Little Rock

LOCATION: Little Rock, Arkansas
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Lake Maumelle Army Corps of Engineers
WEATHER:  Mostly overcast.  Hot and humid.  High 87

I walked around the campground to get my 11,000 steps in.  The park is big.  One of the loops is designated for  medical-related issues only.  If a camper has an appointment at the nearby Univ of Arkansas Medical Center, he/she can stay in that special loop.  What a great idea! 

There are a lot of Canada geese running around the campground, including some babies!

Our site is right on the water and is in a field of clover.  Pretty!

On to downtown Little Rock to explore.  We drove through the historic district which looks pretty vibrant – lots of shops and cool-looking restaurants, bars, and music venues.  Our destination was President Clinton’s Library.

It is closed due to Covid, but we enjoyed walking around the interesting building and lovely grounds.

The library juts out over the Arkansas River.  An old railway bridge has been converted to a pedestrian bridge which connects Little Rock to North Little Rock.

There are a lot of bike trails and quite a few people were using the bridge.  One camping option would have been for us to stay at an RV park right next to the bridge on the North Little Rock side and walk over to Little Rock for entertainment.  We originally were going to do that, but the RV park is just one of those unappealing concrete lots.  It is much nicer at our campground, and this day trip was enough city life for us for now.

Time for lunch and a beer! 

We found another cool brewpub.  It is the largest one in Arkansas. 

We shared a wood-fired pizza, which was one of the best we have ever eaten.  It had a white, creamy lemony sauce with roasted garlic and lots of artichokes.  Yummmmm!

The afternoon was spent doing errands, taking advantage of being in a city for a change…..oil change for the pick-up and a run to the supermarket.

DINNER:  This experiment turned out beautifully!  I have been carrying around a jar of hazelnuts since we left Texas.  I googled recipes using hazelnuts (other than desserts) and found this one: 

Kale and Hazelnut Pasta

First, I sauteed some onions and garlic, and added the kale (stems removed)  to wilt.  I roasted the hazelnuts and set aside.  I made spaghetti and set it aside, too.  The recipe calls for mixing all of that together with lemon juice and mascarpone.  The grocery store did not carry mascarpone, so I looked up a substitute.  I found a substitute – to mix softened cream cheese with whipping cream.  It worked out fine.  Now I need to buy more hazelnuts to make this recipe again some time —   it was so good! 

Day #53 – Back to civilization! (aka brewpub!!!!)

LOCATION:  Little Rock, Arkansas
CAMPGROUND:  Lake Maumelle Army Corps of Engineers.  On the Arkansas River, part of Murray Lock and Dam.  Beautiful campground.  Our site is right on the river.  Electricity and water.  Paved, level site with fire pit and picnic table.  Sites spaced nicely apart.  Very nice bathrooms.  Close to city – so TV, cell service, and internet.  $12/night with Senior discount.  Highly recommend this one – best of both worlds. Very accessible for anyone traveling on Interstate 30.   5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Mostly overcast and light rain.  High 79

We were awakened very early (3:30 AM!) by the roosters doing their “cockle-doodle-do” and the donkey braying, while staying last night at Tammie Sue’s Critters farm.  We managed to get in a little more sleep before daylight.  It was a comforting noise. 

We left the farm about 9:00, as rain was predicted and we hoped to set up before the rain.  We were lucky; our campsite was available and we got set up and put the tarp in place.  This is our view from our front door…

We found the brewpub that gives the farm their spent grains for the goats , and had lunch there.  We shared a tofu bahn mi which was delicious. 

The pub is located in North Little Rock, across the Arkansas River from Little Rock.  North Little Rock has a surprisingly hip vibe. 

The brewpub is called FlyAway. 

I was intrigued by the pub’s map (below).  We are traveling in a similar direction as the birds, starting in the southern-most part of Texas, and hopefully ending up with our friends in Nova Scotia!

DINNER:  The last of our leftovers from the Cajun Fest.  Hurrah!  It was jambalaya that I jazzed up with sauteed onions and garlic, andouille sausage, and okra.  Side was a salad with the lettuce freshly picked at last night’s farm. 

Day #52 – Camping with goats!

LOCATION:  Out in the country near Little Rock, Arkansas
CAMPGROUND:  Tammie Sue’s Critters – a Harvest Host goat farm!  What fun!  We are parked on a level part of the graveled driveway amid the vegetables, chickens, goats, donkey, dogs, cats, and llama!  Really hospitable hosts.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Super nice.  Perfect for staying at a Harvest Host site – no need for A/C or heat.  High 78

We drove through a lot of farmland as we headed north and east.  We passed by huge fields of rice.  Here, they don’t raise crawfish in the fields as they do in Louisiana.  The towns had big grain bins and processing factories for the rice.  We had a European tour, passing through little towns with names like Hamburg, Stuttgart, England, and Slovakia.  It would be interesting to know how they were named.

We arrived at our Harvest Host farm about 3:00.  The farmer – Skip – greeted us and helped us get parked.

He gave us a tour of the farm.  He has LOTS of vegetables.  Everything is so neat and tidy…

He is a very industrious guy.  He uses techniques that help the soil – like using goat poop for fertilizer, keeping tree roots in the ground helping to avoid erosion, not using pesticides, etc.   After seeing George’s brewpub t-shirt, he told us that the local brewpub gives him spent grains which he uses for goat food.  The brewery also gave him some barrels of beer that hade gone bad.  He will use the beer as fertilizer.

Skip also keeps bees and makes honey. 

They raise a lot of chickens. 

Then, it was feeding time!  The donkey,  llama, and goats gathered excitedly for dinner – bales of hay.

Emma, the dog, got in to the fun, too, chasing chickens and watching the goats.

We watched Tammie Sue, the farmer’s wife, milk one of the goats.  It had a broken leg and cannot be with the others.

Then, into the milking barn to watch Skip and Tammie Sue milk the others. 

Skip feeds them “dessert” of the beer spent grains to distract them while they are being milked.

Each goat produces a quart Mason jar of milk. They sell the milk, make goat cheese, and use it to make soaps and lotions.

After feeding time, we visited the “soap barn” where Tammie Sue makes soaps and lotions.  The cats greeted us..

We bought some of Tammie Sue’s soaps and lotions, a big jar of goat milk, a big hunk of goat cheese, and a dozen multi-colored eggs.  We always like to support our Harvest Hosts. 

What a pleasant afternoon! Time to relax!

DINNER:  I thawed some leftover pasta, and sauteed some onions to add to leftover butternut squash.  At the last minute, I added some kale leaves, plucked from a plant next to the trailer, and walnuts for crunch.  Side was a beautiful salad from a head of lettuce we picked.  Wow!

Day #51. A slow day in Arkansas

LOCATION:  One more day on the lake in SE Arkansas
CAMPGROUND:  3rd night at Merrisach Lake Army Corps of Engineers
WEATHER:  Beautiful.  Sunny.  High 74

I’m trying to get back to some of my exercise regime.  For the last few days, I have been getting in 11,000 steps walking around the campground. 

We were going to go in to town to shop or find a place for lunch, but the park ranger told us that there isn’t much there.  There is one Mexican restaurant and it may or may not be open.  Since it is 40 minutes away, we didn’t think it was worth it.  So, we stayed around here all day.  With no more rain predicted, George took off the tarp.  Note that it is grey – to coordinate colors with Joy!

Arkansas has a lot of natural beauty, but it lacks in cultural opportunities and urban amenities.  The last grocery store we went to was terrible.  The liquor store didn’t offer much either  (except frozen daiqueries in their drive-through).  Pretty sad.  Tomorrow we go towards Little Rock, so we hope to find a few more things.  Then, back to the boonies. 

Being Friday, we expected the campground to fill up, but only a few more fishermen arrived.  George went over to chat with our neighbors.  When he came back, I asked him what they talked about.  He said he didn’t know!  He couldn’t understand their drawl!

DINNER:  Since George has chopped so much wood, we made another campfire in the stand-up grill. He grilled hamburgers.  His new technique is to grill two thin patties, and then put one on top of the other with cheese in the middle.  They turned out really delicious.  Side was a huge sweet potato from Mississippi.  I started cooking it a bit in the microwave, then wrapped it in aluminum foil, added a dab of butter, and finished coooking it in the coals.  Yum!

I’m doing a lot of reading….. We only get one TV channel here (a religious one); our DVD player quit working; and our internet is not strong enough to stream anything.  Oh well….I have a lot of good books to read!

BOOK: “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah.  I have read several of her books.  I think she is a good author; every book is very different.  This one is historical fiction about a family in the Great Depression, forced out of their farm in the Dust Bowl, and then finding hardship in California.  5 stars out of 5

Day #50 – In the Arkansas boonies

LOCATION:  Out in the boonies in SE Arkansas
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Lake Merrisach Army Corps of Engineers
WEATHER:  Pretty nice; a bit humid.  High 78

The tarp worked successfully again last night.  It rained quite a bit, but Joy stayed nice and dry inside.  We will leave on the tarp….just in case it starts raining again.

Sure enough, the park ranger stopped by and said we had to move to another site; it is reserved for tonight.  So we did a minimal pack-up and hook-up and moved across the inlet to another waterfront site.  This one is almost better – a nice configuration of the covered picnic table fire pit, and grill.  We face the water and there aren’t many campers around us.  All good.

This is the view from our new site back to our old one

There are a lot of birds here, especially swallows.  As we were sitting under our picnic table shelter, they started to dive-bomb us!  We realized that there were 2 nests up in the rafters and the mother was trying to protect them from us.    George got this great photo of their eggs. 

Our lake is part of the Arkansas River, which is quite large.  It flows eventually into the Mississippi.  We watched this barge pass right by our campsite…

We took a drive around the area, checking out a few of the nearby locks on the river.  As we were driving down one remote road, a lynx jumped out in front of us.  Beautiful animal!

I got in my 11K steps walking around the park  while George got exercise by chopping up more wood for the campfire. 

DINNER:  Curry rice with chicken and squash.  When we visited America’s oldest rice mill a few weeks ago, I bought one of their curry rice packages.  I made it tonight, but had to add a lot more curry spice and cayenne to kick it up.  I added some chicken that we had grilled a few nights ago along with the butternut squash I had previously cooked.  I was careful not to make too much so we wouldn’t have leftovers! 

The sun set about 8:00 and was beautiful, over the water

Day# 49 – North to Arkansas!

LOCATION: Merrisach Lake in SE Arkansas.  Not close to anything!!!
CAMPGROUND:  Merrisach Lake Army Corps of Engineers Campground, part of Arkansas River -Wilbur Mills Dam.  Huge campground – more than 100 sites, and there are only about 15 sites filled.  Located right on lake.  Many (like ours) with lake views.  Electricity at site.  Water and dump station available.  Fairly level, paved site.  Firepit and stand-up grill.  Picnic table with cover.  Good bathrooms.   $18/night.    Too far from civilization for any cell service, TV reception, or internet.  4 stars out of 5.
WEATHER:  Mostly cloudy.  Humid.  High 86 – time to move north

We took our time enjoying all of the amenities at Lake D’Arbonne State Park – great showers, laundry, etc before we hit the road again.

Our drive was backroads again.  The only problem is that most of the state highways do not have any shoulders.  I am always afraid of needing to pull over for a flat tire.    Today, we encountered a lot of big lumber trucks and I had to pull as far over as I could.  Scary.

We arrived at this campground to find the registration office closed on Tuesdays!  Since we had reservations we went to our site.  It was kind of a dog-leg shape, and we didn’t think we could fit it in.  Since there were so many other sites available, we parked in another site.  We hope we won’t have to move.  Our new site is perfect – right on the water and no one near us. 

With rain predicted, we put the tarp up again.  Without a ladder, it is an annoyingly long and frustrating process.  The tarp keeps getting trapped around various things on top of Joy – like the air conditioner, solar panel, awning top, and vent fan.  We finally got it on, and celebrated with a drink next to the lake.

DINNER:  One of the things I enjoy about camping is re-purposing foods.  I write about our evening meal so that fellow campers can get some ideas about how I handle a small refrigerator/freezer and sometimes limited options in rural grocery stores. 

Tonight I re-purposed the grits  leftover from George’s  Sunday breakfast.  To the leftover grits, I added an egg and Parmesan cheese.  After stirring it up well, I padded it around a Pyrex dish to make a shell.

I baked the shell until it was crisp and brown.  Then, I added toppings:  George crisped up some sausage we had leftover from a previous evening’s cassoulet dish and some scallions, left over from last night’s steak roll-ups.   Other toppings were some tomato sauce, sauteed garlic and onion, and more Parmesan. I even added some of my frozen pesto that I had made before we hit the road 2 months ago!  I baked the casserole for about 10 minutes, until everything was hot and the cheese had melted.   This dish was tasty and easy.  A winner. 

BOOK:  “Among the Mad” by Jacqueline Winspear.  This is part of a series of a female investigator/psychologist that takes place in England in the 1930s.  One of these books is always a nice fall-back while I am waiting for other books to become available online.  4 stars out of 5.

Day #48: Winding up Louisiana visit

LOCATION:  Near Bastrop, Louisiana – in very north central part of Louisiana
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Chemin-a-Haut State Park
WEATHER:  Mostly cloudy.  Very pleasant temps – 78

We hiked around the state park, finding other sections.  One is for group camping.  They have a lodge that will accommodate 38 people and a camping tent area, with dish-washing sinks, which you rarely see in USA campgrounds.  (They are more common in Canada.)

Another section has a big “rally” room for day use with a nice swimming pool and playground.  There are two sections of cabins that will sleep 8-10 people.  It would be a great venue for a family vacation or reunion. 

We found the bayou and the lake.  The area is famous for its old-growth cypress trees. 

We will be leaving Louisiana tomorrow, and we will miss these bayou/cypress tree views

We returned to the campground via a trail in the woods.  It wasn’t well-maintained and we were a little afraid that it would just peter out, but it took us back to “civilization”.  On our way, we saw some bear print paw prints in the mud. 

I have mentioned before that we have really enjoyed Louisiana state park camping.  We have stayed in 9 (out of 21).  All have electricity and water at sites; some are full hook-ups..  They all have nice paved pads for RVs and a tent pad – convenient if you have more family members/friends accompanying you.  They have fire pits, stand-up grills, and picnic tables.  All have the best bathrooms/showers we have ever experienced camping.  Most have laundries, unusual for state parks.  Most have cabins or yurts in addition to RV/tent camping.  Most have swimming pools or splash pads.  Here is our route to state parks after we left the Cajun Fest in early April…

Tomorrow we cross the border to Arkansas.  Although we really enjoyed our time here, I would not want to be camping in Louisiana in the summer.  I imagine it is very hot, humid, and buggy.

DINNER:  We watched a cooking show on PBS recently where they made these Asian steak roll-ups, so thought we would give them a try.  We bought some flank steak pieces and pounded them out to be thin.  We rolled them up with scallions in the middle. 

Meanwhile, I made a Vietnamese dipping sauce with fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, chile paste, sugar, and sake.  We coated the roll-ups with the sauce as they cooked. 

When they had cooled, we cut them up to look like sushi rolls. 

For serving, we drizzled more of the dipping sauce over the rolls and some rice (I would have used Asian noodles but we were out).  Side was peas. 

All very good!  They would be great for a party.