November 20, 2010

Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas

Located down in southeastern Arkansas, in the Delta region, not far from where the Arkansas River meets the Mississippi River, is Arkansas Post National Monument. It is at this site that in 1686, the French established a trading post, one of the first French colonial sites of their newly acquired Louisiana territory. It wasn't much of a trading post at first, just a handful of trappers canoeing up and down the river, trading furs and European ornaments with the local Quapaw Indians.

A canopy of huge water oaks along the nature trail
The site was chosen because it was on a relatively high bluff, some 20 feet above the river, offering some protection from flooding, while still providing relatively good access to trade routes up and down the river systems. Apparently the French and Quapaws got along with each other very well and this relationship worked out well for a long time. But, eventually due to the variety of proxy wars between the various European powers, the Arkansas Post was transferred to the Spanish. They continued the traditions of trading up and down the Mississippi with the Quapaw. The French later regained the site and then in 1803, the United State acquired it as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

A variety of grape, poison ivy, smilax, and other vines create a major tangle in the understory
The site became the first capital for the Arkansas Territory, a full fledged town developed, and the first newspaper was published in 1809 (the still going Arkansas Gazette). However, when the capital was moved to Little Rock and the area became isolated due to the lack of roads, the development of the steamboat, and changes in the river course, the site was eventually abandoned.

The backwater marsh of the Arkansas River with a lone cypress, lily pads, and lotus plants
I asked the park ranger at the site what it was like working at such a remote and swampy national park unit. He described summers as miserable, with 100 degree days and nearly 100% humidity. In addition, as you can imagine, the mosquitoes are voracious given the site is surrounded completely by water. I asked him what the Native Americans did at the time. He said there were some plants that when you smeared their juices on the skin it repels the mosquitoes. As for him, he stays indoors all summer and doesn't venture out to do walks and interpretive talks until the weather cools in the fall and winter.

Linda and Hilina chasing an armadillo
As we hiked the little nature trail around the site, we came across a few armadillos grazing and rooting in the field of the old townsite. Hilina was really excited to see them for the first time alive, after having seen them in various nature center displays and occassionally as road kill.

These armadillos were pretty leery of Linda and I and would take off into the woods when we approached. But, they completely ignored Hilina, apparently not seeing her as a threat. They just minded their own business rooting away for worms and grubs.

I did manage to sneak up on one of them, by hiding behind a tree, and snapped this quick shot before it dashed off into the woods.

This region is so amazing. It reminds me of something out of Dagobah (the planet full of life Yoda lived on in Star Wars). There is so much life growing out of this hot, humid, rainy subtropical environment. Wherever you look, if it is not regularly maintained, some vine or fern is growing out of it. As you look at the huge water oaks, you will see a thick carpet of ferns growing on their boughs and vines rising up the trunks.

Luckily for us, we planned this trip at the right time of year and have seen virtually no mosquitoes or other scary bugs. Not sure how we got so lucky, because despite a few cool days, most days are in the 70's and there has been no frost yet. This would be fine weather for these critters up north. But, they just seem to be done for the year, to our great relief.

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