|It’s a Breeze||
Above: The “End of Summer Fly-in” at Mt. Nebo attracts hang gliders and onlookers.
Below: Stone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps sport a charming rusticity for overnight guests at Mount Nebo State Park. Arkansas Parks and Tourism photos
Find a cool, calm summer escape
at Arkansas’s Mount Nebo state park.
By Margaret Dornaus
|s the car made its zigzag approach from state Highway 155 up 1,350 feet to the top of west central Arkansas’s Mount Nebo, my husband assured me that he could climb the summit blindfolded if necessary. Like many of his former Little Rock neighbors, he has made annual summer treks to this mountaintop retreat for years in search of a noticeably cooler climate and a slower, more restful pace. Still, there were moments after turning off Interstate 40 to start the ascent up the mountain that I found myself reaching for an imaginary foot brake.
But once we were firmly planted at the top of one of the state’s oldest playgrounds, I caught my breath and took in the panoramic views of the surrounding Arkansas River Valley.
Arkansans have sought out the cool breezes and scenic surrounds of Mount Nebo since before the Civil War. In 1927, Mount Nebo received its state park designation. We ventured up the mountain not only for a quick weekend getaway but also to witness the annual “End of Summer Fly-In” (scheduled this year for Aug. 28 and 29), when hang gliding enthusiasts from across the state fill Mount Nebo’s buttermilk cloud-covered skies with spots of man-made local color. The aviators’ antics pleased the crowd on the ground. They, like us, came to cheer on these daredevils from the Central Arkansas Mountain Pilots who seemed to float effortlessly through the air above the park’s Sunrise Point.
Exploring the park
The park grounds, covered with seven trails that comprise more than 14 miles of mountain hiking, were originally laid out by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Evidence of its signature native rock work construction is everywhere, from Mount Nebo’s trails to its rustic cabins, bridges and pavilions. Situated on the eastern rim of the mountain are a more modern pool and bathhouse that are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
It's best to get out of the car to explore some of the park’s other distinctive landmarks, including its amphitheater. This is where park rangers entertain guests with evening programs, ranging from slide shows and movies to sing-along and star-gazing gatherings. While hiking the Summit Park Trail, we found the ruins of the Summit Park Hotel that graced the mountain from 18901918.
Adding to our time-tripping frame of mind was the encampment of Civil War re-enactors on the western rim of the mountain. This year, these living historians have planned their Civil War Days Encampment for Aug. 21. A hayride for park guests to and from the encampment will begin at 7 p.m.
A dramatic way to close a day of exploration and recreation is a visit to Sunset Point, where park guests and summertime residents congregate in the evening to watch spectacular streaks of color light up the mountainside. The display traditionally ends with enthusiastic and unrehearsed applause from everyone in attendance. Early risers can take in its counterpart show at Sunrise Point.
We spent the night in one of 10 CCC cabins that have a rustic stone fireplace as its focal point. The fireplaces are standard features in the newly renovated cabins, while some of the more modern A-frame cabins also offer Jacuzzis.
A busy Event calendar
Summer is particularly lively on Mount Nebo. From July 13, square dancers from across the southwest celebrate Independence Day at Mount Nebo in the park’s large pavilion. And on July 3, the annual Community Softball Game kicks off the park's Fourth of July celebration, with old-fashioned three-legged races and a water balloon stomp scheduled during mid-afternoon. Mount Nebo Remembers Day on July 10 is a traditional gathering where friends of this mountaintop community come to share memories of and memorabilia from their families’ previous trips.
Come Sept. 18, the park’s Annual Chicken Fry lures visitors to the mountain’s post-summer celebration. Festivities include arts and crafts, music, a basketball tournament and chicken-calling contests, as well as the centerpiece chicken dinner that’s had folks licking their fingers for 56 years. On Sept. 25, Mount Nebo’s September Star Party sets the stage for subsequent stargazing of fall and winter skies.
A rich history
Hike the four-mile Bench Trail and see moss-covered terrain leading to springs where children fetched water for family meals in the 1800s. Or view the site where Louis C. White constructed the mountain's first log home just after the Civil War. White’s wife was responsible for giving the area its name. She remembered that Moses had his first view of the Promised Land from the biblical Mount Nebo.
After your initial visit, you will want to return to the rarified air of Mount Nebo to appreciate the park’s singular respect for preserving something as timelessly beautiful as its natural landscape.
Margaret Dornaus is a contributor from Ozark, Ark.
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