Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”
I’m lucky enough to have several roads less traveled in Mississippi River State Park. Two of these roads are pretty well-known: the Great River Road, running the entire length of the Mississippi River, and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, that highlights Arkansas’s most unique natural division. Being two of only three national scenic byways in Arkansas, you would expect these roads to draw lots of traffic. But here in Lee County, they, like much of the region, quietly exist. Both byways turn to dirt roads as they plunge through the murky heart of the only national forest on Crowley’s Ridge. I have seen it time and again: motorcyclists wisely turn around and bypass this section of road, while birders and nature lovers delight in the wilderness.
The Great River Road, or the “low road”, as called by locals, skirts the eastern edge of Crowley’s Ridge. When the spring rains bring the Mississippi River out of its banks, the low road often goes under water. Because of this floodplain, you can count on one hand the number of people living on the low road. Here, Crowley’s Ridge acts as the levee to protect the rest of the Delta from flooding. It also creates swampy lowlands bordered by giant overhanging trees. At one point you can drive down to the banks of the Mississippi River, experiencing the river on a personal level.
Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, called the “high road”, drives directly through the National Forest. This section is uninhabited until you reach the outskirts of West Helena. Overlooks allow views of the Mississippi River and the Delta. Limbs seem to interlock overhead creating a green tunnel to drive through. At times the winding, twisting road comes within 100 yards of the low road, just 150 feet higher and worlds apart. The trees, the plants, and even the wildlife are different.
Animals abound along these roads. Grey Squirrels prefer the upper forest, the huskier Fox Squirrels the lower areas. Birds likewise separate into woodland and water-loving species. At night, deer, opossum and raccoons seem to be around every corner. Stopping, turning off your vehicle and sitting still will produce the sounds of the deep woods rather quickly. Owls are guaranteed at this time of the year – Barred in the evening and Great Horned deep in the night.
These roads were not built for speed. A stately 20 mph is about all you can do on the twisting, loose gravel. On the high road, if you try to go too fast you can very quickly find yourself on the way to the low road. This forces you to slow down, take in the scenery and appreciate the going, not just the getting there.
For me, in life and in traveling, the road less traveled is always the better one to take. Take some time, take out your map and turn off the GPS – they don’t work well on back roads anyway. Spend a little time exploring the back roads in your area. That road that most folks say leads to nowhere, often leads to the best somewhere of all.
John Morrow began work at Mississippi River State Park as the first superintendent for the park in February 2009. He has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 2000, first as interpreter at Lake Chicot (2000-2003), then as interpreter at Petit Jean State Park (2003-2005), then as the first Chief Interpreter at Historic Washington (2005-2009). His specialties are in interpretation and the application of interpretation to planning and managing a park. He has graduated from the Park Superintendent Training Program, is a Certified Heritage Interpreter, Certified Interpretive Trainer as well as a First Responder and SAR Tech II. He likes spending time with his family and antiquing with his wife, Nikki. They have a daughter Riley and son Carson.