GENTRY Earl and I spent the Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend visiting Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Little Rock. We didn't have time to explore all the park has to offer, but we did complete an amazing hike.
I called our daughter Megan, who lives in Conway, late that afternoon to let her know we had decided to visit the park before our planned stop at her house for the night.
"Be sure you hike the west summit trail and not the east," she said.
I couldn't tell if she was giving advice or issuing a warning.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Mom, I've hiked both sides, and you'll never make it up the east trail : and, don't wait too late to start," she continued, "If it gets dark, you'll never make it down."
I wanted to remind her that her Dad has excellent night-time vision and although we're getting older, we still get around pretty well, but she sounded serious enough that I saved my comments and just listened.
In Little Rock, we exited I-430, traveled west a few miles and soon pulled into the park. Pinnacle Mountain, a dayuse only park, was one of the busiest state parks we have seen all year. The recreation area at the base of the mountain was bustling with people. We have been to some state parks that appear to get little use. We've even had a few parks all to ourselves. That was definitely not the case at Pinnacle. Some visitors played volley ball, some picnicked, some sat in lawn chair groups, and others were there for the same reason as we, to reach the summit.
After finding the first parking area full, we drove to the next one and found only one or two spaces open. Once parked, we headed to the water fountain to get drinks and to fill up our water bottle before locating the trail head.
Only a few yards into the uphill hike and I started to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. I noticed that the descending hikers we met looked as though they had been through a real work out. Right away I felt the need to ration the one bottle of water we had between us. A few minutes into the hike, the steep trail gave way to an area with no dirt, but only lose rocks. It looked as though a massive load of large rocks had somehow been dumped like kids' building blocks on the mountainside. I had never hiked on anything like it.
Because there was no dirt trail to follow, yellow lines had been painted across one rock after another to help hikers continue the path leading to the top of the mountain. I am convinced that there were places along the climb that even a mountain goat would find challenging.
Distance markers located along the path helped assure us we were making progress, but didn't keep me from asking descending hikers the dreaded question, "How much longer 'till we get there?" I even asked one fellow hiker if maybe we had somehow gotten on the 'hard trail' instead of the easier one, as Megan had warned against.
"No, I think this is the easiest route," the young hiker replied.
This was definitely the most strenuous hiking trail we had been on all summer, and still the trail was buzzing with all kinds of other hikers. Many young athletic bodies were leaving us in the dust, which didn't bother me at all. What did get my attention were the several families with small children we encountered along the trail. I stopped complaining about my screaming muscles when I noticed preschoolers making the hike without whining.
There are at least a couple of good reasons why so many are willing to make this difficult, although relatively short (mile and a half round trip) hike to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain. Beside the exhilaration that comes with the accomplishment of such a feat, the top-of-theworld view is breathtaking. Rising over one-thousand feet above the valley below, the panoramic view from the top includes Lake Maumelle, the Arkansas River, the city of Little Rock and more.
After reaching the top, Earl and I lingered a while to rest and to enjoy the sights, then started making our way back. Due to the steepness, the hike down was also challenging. I am glad to say we reached the car with daylight to spare and without getting any scrapes, bruises or turned ankles. Maybe next time we'll attempt the more difficult East Summit Trail. On second thought : maybe not.
You can take your own virtual tour of the view from the summit of Pinnacle Mountain by clicking the photo next to the Pinnacle Mountain description on this Web site: www.adventurestateparks.com/hiking.
Opinion, Pages 4 on 09/30/2009