Friday, May 14, 2010

Devil's Den

I travelled up to northwest Arkansas to attend my cousin's wedding a few weeks ago. This was the same weekend that some nasty storms passed through, including one with a tornado that went just south of downtown Little Rock. The weather forecasters predicted it would be stormy all weekend, which made things a bit dicey for the wedding - it was being held outdoors. But on Saturday night the storms held off, and the wedding went off without a hitch.

On the way home on Sunday I made a quick visit to Devil's Den State Park, located south of Fayetteville. The park is located just a short drive from the freeway, and you pass by some neat old barns along the way. This old barn sits just off of the side of the road.

Devil's Den features many neat scenic places to visit. There is a stone dam at the park, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The waters of Lee Creek flow over the dam, in a series of cascades and falls. I headed over there to take some pictures.

Construction of Devil's Den State Park started back in 1933, and is now considered to be one of the finest examples of preserved architectural projects by the CCC. The dam, with the spectacular waterfall, is just one of the many CCC works in the park.

The park is also home to a pretty amazing natural area. The state park protects what is considered to be the "largest sandstone crevice area in the United States." There are many caves, bluffs, crevices and rock shelters at Devil's Den. There are trails that visit several caves in the park, but most of the caves are shuttered now. They have been temporarily closed in order to protect the bats in the caves against the spread of the White-nose Syndrome, a fungus that has killed millions of bats in other parts of the country. The fungus has been found in nearby states, and the caves at Devil's Den were closed as a precaution to keep the bats here safe. Hopefully it works...

I spent most of my time at the waterfall here...

While trying to find out more about cave closings at the park, I stumbled upon this historical tidbit about Devil's Den. Part of the old Butterfield Overland Mail route passed through the park. What's the Butterfield Overland Mail route? Well it was established back in 1858 by the postal service to send mail between both St. Louis and Memphis to California. While not many people have probably heard of it now, it was a big deal back in the 1800s. The route stretched for 2,800 miles across the country, and it cost someone just 20 cents to mail a letter. If you wanted to travel the stagecoach route, it would cost you somewhere between $150-$200. It took 28 days to make the journey, with an average speed of about 5 mph. At the time, it was the longest stagecoach line in the world.

The route from St. Louis dropped down through the Ozarks, passing through Fayetteville and past what is now Devil's Den State Park. The caves and crevices at the park provided an ideal hideout for outlaws along the stagecoach line. When the Civil War started in 1861, the rocky areas of the park were used as a hide-out and staging area by Confederate guerrillas. During the war, the Butterfield route was used by both sides to transport troops during the battle of Prairie Grove and on the raid of Van Buren.

Forgive me for going off topic here, since I've spent a good amount of time now reading about the old Butterfield Stagecoach. I had heard about it before, since one of the old stops along the route was in the small town of Charleston, which is where a lot of my family is from. The stop in Charleston was part of the Butterfield route which headed west from Memphis, through Little Rock and then south along the Arkansas River to Fort Smith. My grandparents used to have a house in Charleston which had a large front yard, where the old stagecoach route passed through. You could see the traces of the route there, thanks to a faint break in the trees. It's a bit of history that I regret not appreciating at the time, especially when I had the task of mowing the yard.

But that just goes to show how there is an amazing amount of history around here, but which seems to be mostly forgotten. Most of the old statecoach route, except where it passes through someone's front yard, has been largely forsaken. One of the few remaining historical spots along the Butterfield Route is Pott's Inn, in Pottsville, Arkansas.
Pott's Inn

But there is some other old history in Devil's Den State Park - the old town of Anna, which sat along Lee Creek. The town was destroyed during a flood in 1893, and only a cemetery, a well, and some stone foundations are all that remain.

And finally, here is one last shot of the dam waterfall at Devil's Den:

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