Our stay in the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas last night was brilliant. Everybody enjoyed it for a wealth of reasons, and we got to put our trailer through its paces again.
We left a rather relaxing, somber campsite at Village Creek State Park, on the eastern side of Arkansas, and drove clean across the state in a day, arriving in Ozark National Forest to try and find a free spot for the night.
We had stopped for lunch and a load of laundry in Little Rock, and to try and find a spot for the night. I picked out Ozark due to the fact that “dispersed” camping, as it’s called, is allowed almost anywhere. That means free digs, and free means yes.
My strategy was simple: look at the satellite map on Google and scope out somewhere that looks promising. After a few minutes, I found what looked like a rocky embankment of a small river, with a dirt road leading off the small country road and down to it. Better still, there was a bridge passing over it, which hopefully we could park under. Based on that assessment, we deemed it worth the journey to check out.
How so wonderfully right we were. I mean, it was beautiful. An emerald-green stream flowed around the rocky embankment, which itself was broad and flat enough to camp on easily. And our trailer fit perfectly underneath the bridge. And perhaps best of all, you ain’t getting there without a Conqueror.
Turning off the country road onto the dirt path, we couldn’t see much of the spot, but as soon as we emerged from the greenery onto the rocks, a million dollar grin shot across my face, because I knew our big gray African pet trailer was finally in its natural habitat, as nature intended. I was almost too excited that she had brought us to a place of such beauty.
We pretty much just released Judah and Shiloh to throw rocks into the water while we cooked and set up. And once they were bored of that, we told them to build another fire ring like any of the several that littered the area. This spot is clearly popular with locals, as evidenced by the several that came through during the day. But thankfully no one else camped out.
After dinner was when the real fun kicked off. I brought out my fishing rod and almost immediately landed one of the tiniest catches of my life, a baby bluegill. At least it was enough to entertain the youths, and enough for me to say I caught something. Although, it’s worth noting that in some parts of Japan, it’s considered true skill to land a tiny fish. The tinier the better. I must be in contention for some kind of prize there.
After a few more casts yielded nothing, I set to work catching a few of the bajillions of crawdads skulking around the creek. They were some big suckers too. Practically every rock I turned over had one underneath it. I got the kids’ buckets and caught three each for them to ooh and ahh over. Judah was tickled to death by the fact that one of them kept trying to crawl out. As soon as it breached the surface, he would erupt in laughter. Simple joys for little boys. Shiloh just wanted to make sure that Judah didn’t have more crawdads than him. Eventually they released the mini lobsters, and then they both just flopped around in the warm shallows until bedtime. It was a really fun, fascinating day.
But that wasn’t the best part.
The best part came that night, after sundown. The sun was setting, the kids were fast asleep, and Trish and I were about to retire as well. I decided to linger a bit longer, hoping to catch a glimpse of an owl or bats or a raccoon or something. I spotted some nature alright, but not what I was expecting.
When the sun finally fully set, the forest absolutely exploded with fireflies. It started with what I would call a curiously high number of flashes, and within a minute or two it had multiplied exponentially to what must have been tens of thousands of them within a few hundred feet in all directions. I stood for a moment, awe-struck, before rapping on the window to call Trish out and show her. We were both slack-jawed as we watched a dizzying scene of flashes and pulses of light from every inch of the trees and shrubs.
We even woke Shiloh up to show her, knowing that we were watching something truly special that we wanted to share with her. Once she got over her grogginess, she was transfixed like we were.
The best analogy I can think of to describe it would be like watching an aerial view of a packed stadium, right as something significant is happening on stage, and seeing the ocean of camera flashes light up every corner of the venue. It was kinda like that, but really even more spectacular. The sparkling glitter of it all just didn’t stop. It was nearly silent. We were presented with a never-ending wall of mute fireworks. It was really an awesome display of nature. I’ll never forget it.
And it continued all night. When I woke up at 12 to refuel the generator, it was still going. When I woke up again at 5:30 to go fishing, it was still going. They didn’t stop until the sun came up. My only regret was that I don’t have the technology to capture it on film.
This morning, as we packed up and headed out across Oklahoma, I had the chance to reflect briefly on the power of commerce and modernity. We stopped at the general store in nearby Oark; a store that prides itself on having been open since 1890. Inside, it looked like little had been updated since then, save for the Square credit card reader attached to an iPad, and the clerk’s LuLaRoe shirt she was wearing. Just a funny thing I observed.
Tonight, we’re staying for free in the RV parking area of a casino outside Oklahoma City. I already caught a catfish and a turtle in the nearby mud puddle. Tomorrow I’ll try for another fish before we pack it up and head on out again. Our goal is to get out west as soon as we can, so that we may enjoy more days and nights at spots as beautiful as the banks of the Mulberry River in Ozark National Forest, Arkansas.