After Paris, Arkansas, I drove a bit to a town called Dardanelle. I knew there was a state park nearby, and I figured I would see how much it would cost to camp there. It’s called Mount Nebo State Park, and the road up is windy and incredibly steep. My little car was on the verge of overheating, but I made it up safely. From the peak, you can look out over the entire towns of Dardanelle and Russellville. Also within view is Lake Dardanelle with an adjacent nuclear power plant (reminiscent of the Simpsons’ Springfield). It was somewhat disconcerting to see signs around town denoting the nuclear evacuation route, but, in any event you’d be safe on Mount Nebo. Unfortunately, though, the Visitor’s Center was closed, and the posted regulations were confusing. You were supposed to register with them or something, but since they were closed you’d have to complete registration in the morning. I didn’t want to do that, so I went down the steep, windy hill back to town. I drove around in the dark through the empty downtown full of worn-down buildings, and then made my way to the Walmart, where I slept well.
For two hours, I slept at the turn-off in complete darkness and when I woke up there was a bear on top of my car. Not really, but if there had been I wouldn’t have been surprised. There was daylight, but all the trees practically blocked out the sun. I drove the winding, billowing mountain road up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. But there are all these dirt roads that branch off the highway and lead to trailheads or campgrounds in the Gila National Forest, and I kept passing them up with the intention of eventually hiking at least one of them. I pulled over at one spot called Pine Flat, which wasn’t exactly a trail or a campground, just a rough-hewn dirt road that leads up a hill to nowhere. I hiked it because my car wouldn’t have made it up all the sharp, rocky terrain. You get the idea that if your sense of direction wasn’t keen and you got off the road even a little bit, it would be very easy to get lost. The pines are just mesmerizing and you end up looking up, mouth open, like a turkey caught in the rain.
After spending all that time in a hotel room, I didn’t want to leave. I had readjusted to the comfort of being indoors, and I was still feeling queasy as it was. Maybe I should’ve taken an extra day, but I decided to just press on, and I think I was better off because of it.
I went south on Alternate Highway 89 (Highway 89 splits into two — one goes into Utah, the other, the alternate, goes down toward the Grand Canyon). A little ways down on the Kaibab Plateau, there’s a turn-off where you can step out and look over the winding road you just traversed and the dense, wooded forest you’re heading into. It was nice to feel the cool air on my face, to focus less on my remaining nausea and more on the scenic overlook.