Two adventurers from Arizona experience the diverse
activities available at three Southern state parks.
For two traveling Arizonans used to a dry heat, heading south for the summer usually means a drive down to Mexico. On this trip, however, it means breaking a big sweat in Dixie to sample Southern hospitality at three state parks.
In Title: The Dogwoods Golf Course cuts through Mississippi forestland. The Dogwoods Golf Course
Above: Mount Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas, offers amazing vistas. Mary Osteen/Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Below: Louisiana’s Toledo Bend Lake is a great place to fish for large-mouth bass. Tim Mueller/Toledo Bend Lake Country
First stop: The Dogwoods Golf Course at Hugh White State Park near Grenada, Miss.
Golf amid the pines
If your spouse ever tells you he doesn’t like golf, take him to the Dogwoods course (2424 Hugh White State Park Road). The accolades begin to roll the moment you see the emerald forest background. Inside the cozy white clubhouse, the golf pro welcomes you like you’re family. The course itself, developed on the banks of Grenada Lake, is nothing less than spectacular.
Tee off and watch your ball fly (or roll) past fairways in the pines toward greens backed by dogwood trees as tall as 30 feet. In early summer, you may still see some lovely white blooms. Don’t miss the hilltop view from hole 9, and don’t mind the deer or wild turkey that cross your path.
Play the full 18 championship holes or just half. Either way, green fees (less than $50) include the cart. After the game, grab beers and hot dogs at the grill.
Consider coming in June when Grenada celebrates Thunder on Water to promote safe boating. Crowds rush the 63,000-acre freshwater lake for fishing contests, water ski shows, food booths, and fireworks. Stop in at the visitor center to see Civil War artifacts, a video about the park’s development since a 1927 flood of the Mississippi River, and wildlife taxidermy. Try the nature trails, too.
For dinner, try No Way José (1201 Sunset Drive). With its colorful Spanish décor, we feel right at home. Margaritas are on special, but we order wine and are treated to a glass so full we laugh, “They’ve poured the whole bottle inside.” The Tex-Mex menu includes what you would expect (tacos, burritos, enchiladas), and also items we do not (ribs, pasta dishes, chicken salad).
The park offers camping and cabins, but we stay at Hampton Inn & Suites (1545 Jameson Drive), a AAA Three-Diamond hotel.
Next stop: North Toledo Bend State Park near Zwolle, La., to recreate on water.
You don’t fish?
After an impromptu stop in Vicksburg, Miss., to drive through Vicksburg National Military Park, we get lost driving through rural Louisiana parishes after dark. Late for check-in, a lady from the park calls to confirm our reservation, provide the gate code number, and assure us our key to our log cabin is waiting for us on a table inside the screened-in porch. By the time we find a market, buy groceries, and haul our luggage in, we’re too tired to show much interest in anything but the bed.
The next morning, we wake to the most glorious sunrise over a lake and spend our first few hours relaxing on the porch to watch how the light changes on the water. Squirrels scamper from oak tree to maple and back, and a big white heron lands on the lake’s edge, elegantly stepping toward a bed of lily pads. It hunches down on its long thin legs and quickly snatches a tasty little fish out of the water. Ahhhh. This is the life.
Last summer, Toledo Bend Lake was named the No. 1 fishing spot by Bassmaster Magazine. Created by a dam on the Sabine River, the reservoir is known for its large-mouth bass (double digits in weight) and fishing tournaments. Visitors to North Toledo Bend State Park (2907 N. Toledo Park Road) often come to drop a line in the lake.
When we tell park ranger Chuck Hall we don’t fish, he says, “I think that’s a misdemeanor.” It’s easy to understand his surprise; more than 430,000 people have fishing licenses in Louisiana. He wants to sell us live bait and ice and points out the lake maps. But we’re just there to rent a canoe ($20 per day, includes life vests and paddles) that he says we can keep at the cabin overnight.
While we don’t have fresh fish, we do have our own food, an Olympic-sized pool, and a nature/recreation center, so we don’t feel the need to leave the park. After time on the water, floating past that white heron and cypress knees, we take the 1.5-mile Dogwood Trail through the forest where we discover white oak leaves the size of a hand, bald cypress (the state tree of Louisiana), and learn that the river bend was named by the Spaniards more than 200 years ago, because it reminded them of Toledo, Spain.
Last stop: Biking at Mount Magazine State Park, near Paris, Ark.
What a view
A celebration of the butterfly starts the summer off at Mount Magazine, which boasts Arkansas’s highest point overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley in the Ozark National Forest.
At just under 3,000 feet, I’m thinking it’s not a tall peak when compared to what we’re used to out West. But as we reach the lodge, it’s more impressive than you think. You’re overlooking a vast valley. The sky is wide open. And the traditional-looking lodge reminds me of places where I’ve stayed in Montana – large picture windows, heavy wood beams, and A-frame elevations. Inside, it’s homey and elegant at the same time.
The 60 rooms and public areas are appointed with comfy furnishings and mountain mammal motifs. A sign in the lobby lists the weekend’s free programs, weather permitting. A guided tour along the bluff interests me but conflicts with a growling stomach, so we make our way over to the on-site restaurant, Skycrest. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (American comfort food, including pancakes, burgers, and pasta).
A light rain arrives just in time to cancel a hike, so we drive to the visitor center to tour the nature center. Because they inhabit the mountain region, we’re not surprised to find a bear exhibit that includes facts, fur samples, and footprints the size of a child’s baseball glove. Remaining exhibits describe the ecology on the mountain and how it all works together, which animals live in or eat from what trees, and which plants grow during what season. A butterfly display highlights the Diana, a favorite during the summer festival. Mount Magazine is one of the few places in Arkansas where she’s found.
When the rain clears, we grab bikes and follow the historical Will Apple’s Road Trail, one of the first roads early settlers took up the mountain. We ride easily along the wildflower-dappled trail that once carried covered wagons, and we make it back in time for a hike up Signal Hill. At the highest point in Arkansas, we sign our names in the register. It’s the perfect place to be thankful for all of these Southern state park treasures.
Jackie Dishner is a contributor from Phoenix, Ariz.
July/August 2016 Issue