November 8, 2010

Queen Wilhelmina State Park, Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas

Located near the summit of Arkansas' second highest mountain, Queen Wilhemina State Park is a tiny strip of land on Rich Mountain, surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest. The strange name of this state park has its history in the railroads. Back in the 1890's, at the same time the great lodges of the Canadian Rockies and Yellowstone/Glacier were being built by the railroad tycoons to lure tourism, a railroad was being built across the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas by the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad (KCP&G). 

As the rails were being laid in the valley between Rich Mountain and Black Fork Mountain, a relatively flat area near the 2,600 foot summit of Rich Mountain was set aside as a resort area, where the train could stop and passengers ferried up to the summit to enjoy the views. A lodge was built at the summit, with all the trappings and splendor of the Victoria era. Since so many of the investors of the company were in the Netherlands, they decided to name the lodge after Dutch Queen Wilhelmina (who actually happened to be from Prussia).

However, the splendor only lasted 3 years. When the great depression of 1893 hit, the railroad fell into financial difficulties and sold the resort. The resort fell into disrepair and closed in 1910. By the 1940's, the structure was falling apart and much of it was collapsed. Only sheep grazed where rich men and women once danced in the ballroom.

Then in the early 1950's, the state of Arkansas took over the site to become a state park. They rebuilt the lodge (much more frugally) and manage it today. The hotel rooms are only $70/night to stay at the lodge and food and camping rates ($19) are also very reasonable since it is a state-park operation, rather than a for-profit concessionaire. Ah the advantages of socialism.

Anyways, it is a wonderful place to spend a weekend. They have a small gauge railroad that loops around the complex. Hilina and I went for a ride, with her Thomas and Percy friends as well! It warmed up to the upper-50's to near 60 in the day and while chilly in the morning, we'd end up in short-sleeves by afternoon.

Hilina clearly enjoying the ride (with Percy in my hand and Thomas in hers)
They also have a nice playground, picnic sites, and some nice trails including the Lover's Leap trail that accesses the 136-mile Ouachita National Scenic Trail, which I will detail in the next post.

Old 1930's steam engine that kids can go into

What is this weird bug?
Notice the rubber stopper I use on the very sharp end?
 We enjoyed snacking on Hickory nuts that had fallen from the trees in the campground. Those nuts are so hard, I had to use the rock hammer John got me for my birthday some time back to open them. They taste kind of like pecans. Well, that is because pecans are one of the 27 or so species of hickory tree, although they are specifically a swamp species! These hickories were mostly pignut hickory or mockernut hickory.

50-mile long Black Fork Mountain across the valley with talus slopes exposed
The sunsets up there are incredible, but man November nights at 2,600 feet get chilly! We saw people camping in tents and were pretty happy to have a trailer with a heater. But, 30 degrees is nothing compared to the time we camped at 7000 feet in New Mexico over Thanksgiving weekend when it dropped to 11 degrees. That night Maile awoke with ice crystals on her whiskers.
Sunset Splendor

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