Simmons Consulting, the Website of Toby Simmons

Camping at Petit Jean, Fall 2005


We just got back from a four-day camping trip on Petit Jean Mountain. It was, in my opinion, the best camping trip we have ever had!

Site 80

When we arrived Tuesday afternoon, the first thing to do was find a good site. We started through loop B (too open) and moved to loop C. There were some pretty good sites available, but we settled on #80. It was close to a bathroom (but not too close) and had a good tent pad.

Then we started to set up camp — break out the tents, unpack everything, inflate the beds, get them all made up, get the kitchen area set up, etc. The second thing was to get a fire started, since the temperature was dropping fast. We sat around the fire and visited with some of the neighbor campers. Fortunately, they had small children that Molly and Maggie got to play with.

For dinner, I grilled marinated pork chops and made steamed vegetables while Penny made fried apples with sugar and cinnamon. We also ate a long loaf of sourdough bread (which didn’t get warmed enough!) Man, it was a goooooood dinner. After dinner, we sat around the fire and listened to the first CD of the new Adventures in Odyssey we purchased especially for this trip. We roasted marshmallows and made s’mores until we were all sick. What a great evening.

Then, came the hard part: leaving the fire and trying to sleep. The first night was frigid. According to the weather service, the low at the Russellville Airport (15 miles away, at an elevation 900 feet lower than Petit Jean) was 29 degrees. I suspect it was a bit colder on top of the mountain. Sleep didn’t come easy.

Lake Bailey

The next morning, I woke up early and immediately put on the coffee, hot water for oatmeal and started a fire. Everyone slowly started to get up and migrate to the fire. Once everyone began to thaw, we ate a mixed breakfast: some ate yogurt, some ate cereal and others ate hot oatmeal. Oh, and we heated up some cider, for the so-inclined. Around late morning, Kate, Jamie and I (with the dogs) went off to explore Lake Bailey, which the kids had gone to see the previous afternoon. The water-level was so low that the lake had become overgrown with lily pad stalks. It looked like an invasion of spindly aliens had arrived and taken over the lake bed. It made for good exploring.

We also found what appeared to be a beaver den. The two schnauzers were so intrigued and strained at their leashes to get up inside the den. They were so excited that they were just shaking!

Once we got back to camp, we ate a lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and chips. Everything tastes so good, when you are camping.

Penny wanted to take a nap and Maggie (who had been playing most of the day with the neighbor’s kids) needed to rest, so Sadie, Kate, Jamie, Molly and I decided to leave and go down to Mather Lodge and walk down the Cedar Falls trail.

It had been nearly seven years since I had gone down that trail, so I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to get to the actual waterfall. The pamphlet said to allow two hours for the trail (down and back), but it was already 4 o’clock when we headed out. I told the kids that we would have to hump it to get down and back in time to get dinner on, so we headed out at a pretty good pace. The kids explored off the main trail a few times on the way down, which was fun. We ended up making it to the falls in around 40 minutes. The three big kids climbed all the way around, behind the falls, and back around on the other side, while Molly and I explored around the front of the basin filled by the falls.

After spending 20 minutes or so exploring around the falls, we headed back up the trail. I timed the trek back up (which was exhausting!) and we made it back to Mather Lodge in 29 minutes. I knew we would all sleep well that night.

On the way back, we stopped off at the Cedar Falls overlook. This is a much shorter (and easier) trip than the hike down to the falls. It is a decked boardwalk leading down to the overlook, laid out with black iron fence on both sides. After poking around there a bit, we headed back.

Once we made it back to camp and got started with dinner. Fortunately, Penny had gotten up from her nap already started the fire so we could warm up as we got going! I grilled flank steak marinated in teriyaki and beer, while Penny heated up refried beans and flour tortillas. I sliced the steak into fajitas and we made wraps with the beans, steak, grated cheese, salsa and sour cream. It was very yummy. We all ate until we were stuffed. There was enough meat left over to pack up in baggies to eat Thursday.

Once again, we sat around the fire and listened to the second CD of the Odyssey series. It was great.

We went to bed again, but this time slept a little warmer. For one thing, Penny and I put our heavy coats on top of the covers to help keep the air out. The low Wednesday night was a little warmer, probably around 32 degrees. I think we all slept much better that night.

Thursday was the morning for the big breakfast. (This is a tradition for us when camping.) After getting the fire started and having the first cup of coffee, Penny went to take a shower and I got started preparing the meal. I cut up potatoes, onions and a yellow pepper. These were going to be fried up in the electric skillet. When Penny returned, she started making the fried biscuits (in an iron skillet, melt butter and fry sliced canned biscuits, turning until browned on both sides) and heating the L’il Smokies sausage links in another iron skillet. After the potatoes, onions and peppers were ready, we moved them all to one side of the electric skillet and put the sausages in with them, on the other side, to stay warm. We then made scrambled eggs in the sausage drippings. Finally, I made cheater gravy (from a mix) in the big stock pot.

We all ate until we were strutted. It was wonderful. Needless to say, we didn’t eat much lunch that day.

After getting breakfast cleaned up, we decided to go exploring again. We went back to Lake Bailey to explore the creepy lily pads, this time with Penny and Maggie, who hadn’t seen it yet. When we finished scouring the trails at the lake, we thought it was time to go see the falls.

Cedar Falls Overlook

Since it had gotten pretty late in the day, we decided to go to the Cedar Falls overlook instead of trying to go down to the falls basin again. Maggie was a bit upset about this, but she was really too tired to make the long trail anyway. We had a good time, and even (apparently) ventured into a restricted area while going along the overlook trail (whoops).

We got back to camp just at sundown. Penny and the kids worked on the fire while I got dinner ready. Tonight’s dinner was easy: canned chicken corn chowder with oyster crackers. It was very good. We listened to the third Odyssey CD while we ate and sat around the fire. We ate s’mores again (what were we thinking?) and laughed together. It was a great evening.

We went to bed again, ready to snuggle down. This time, Kate decided to sleep with the babies in our tent (since we had a small space heater!) It was even warmer this night.

When we woke up Friday morning, we did the normal morning routine: coffee, water for oatmeal and fire! After a restful, slow morning (many of us were sore from all the hiking!) we started to break camp. It took about 3 hours to get camp completely packed up (we like to do it slow and methodically). Since Maggie and Penny hadn’t been down to the falls, but we couldn’t take the dogs down the steep trail, Sadie and Jamie volunteered to keep the dogs with them and go fishing while the rest of us went down the Cedar Falls trail.


Penny, Kate, Molly, Maggie and I drove toward Mather Lodge to get to the trail head. On the way, we stopped and watched some balloonists launch their rig from a nearby field. It was quite an impressive site. Then, we went down to the lodge and started down the trail. It was nice to be able to take it slow this time. It took us around 45 minutes to get to the falls. We stopped and ate pecan sandies (yum!) and applesauce while we rested. After a quick respite, Kate, Molly, Maggie and I started exploring around the falls basin. We jumped, hopped and climbed all over the rocks for about 40 minutes.

Tired but happy, we headed back up the trail to get back to the car. It was nice to take our time going out this time, but it was still tiring. On the last stretch of the trail, I looked up ahead and saw Annie stretched tight on her leash, sitting right in the middle of the path (Sadie was hiding behind a bush, hold her!) It was quite a welcome site.

We rested up at the top for a few minutes, before packing into the cars and heading home.

Except for a few sore throats and ear aches (it was rather cold!), this was the best camping trip ever.

Comments (2) »

  1. Penny says:

    I agree, it was a great trip!

    I like the cut of your camping jib!! : )

  2. Thanks for the information. My husband was looking for this.

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