The Sentinel-Record/Corbet Deary HIDDEN TREASURE: The Little Grand Canyon, near the southern Arkansas town of Chidester, is not well known throughout the state.

The Sentinel-Record/Corbet Deary HIDDEN TREASURE: The Little Grand Canyon, near the southern Arkansas town of Chidester, is not well known throughout the state.

Little Grand Canyon a unique Arkansas destination

This article was published June 13, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

Outdoor writer and photographer Corbet Deary is featured regularly in The Sentinel-Record. Today, Deary writes about the Little Grand Canyon.

I have been aware of a little spot in the Ozarks, referred to as the Arkansas Grand Canyon, for quite some time. But I was somewhat surprised when my friend, Richard Rasmussen, shared with me some information about yet another location in the state that also shares the name of a famous gorge of the Colorado River, which is considered by many as "one of the wonders of the world."

Located just below the spillway of White Oak Lake, in Ouachita County, this particular destination is not remotely as vast as the world-renowned Grand Canyon. In fact, the nearby town of Chidester boasted a population of 335 during the 2000 census. And although I have no information to support my suspicions, I would guess the number has remained the same, give or take a few, during the past 18 years.

White Oak Lake sees its fair share of visitors, though, as the 2,765-acre reservoir is noted as a reputable fishery. Standing timber provides cover for an array of fish species, including crappie and bream. And its waters are known to produce largemouth bass of impressive proportions.

White Oak Lake State Park also rests on the reservoir's shoreline and is a popular destination. The fishing pier is utilized by the locals throughout the seasons, and the facility's campsites are well maintained and situated in beautiful settings. They, in turn, are often filled with camping enthusiasts, especially during the warmer months of the year.

I had a hunch that the Little Grand Canyon also saw its fair share of visitors, as the destination is only minutes from the state park. But to my surprise, the folks I recently talked with at the facility had no idea they were close to the destination. In fact, one of the park employees explained that they had never even heard of the destination when I asked for directions.

But Todd Frazior and I still managed to find the location with the assistance of the internet. The attraction is not overly difficult to find. From Hot Springs, head south on Central Avenue/Highway 7 to Interstate 30. Turn right (west) on the interstate, travel 15 miles and take Exit 63 onto Highway 53 to Gurdon.

Travel 5.2 miles on Highway 53 and take a right on Elm Street. Go nine-tenths of a mile and take a left onto West Main. Travel 11 miles and turn left on Highway 24 east. Travel 8.7 miles and take a right onto Ouachita Road 332. Follow the county road for a mile and you will arrive at the destination shortly after crossing the White Oak Lake Dam.

The Sentinel-Record/Corbet Deary ODD TERRAIN: Those visiting the section of water below the White Oak Lake Spillway, referred to by locals as the Litt...

Although the canyon area is just downstream from the parking area, one might first consider taking a short walk down the road leading to the creek just below the spillway area. Although the dim road heads downhill at a steep pace, the walk will be well worth the effort, as the view back upstream toward the lake is pleasant.

In fact, there was also a small waterfall where the road and creek intersect. The fall actually makes its way over the remains of a concrete slab that is piled in the creek. Of course, water would be dumping over a natural structure in a perfect world. But bear in mind that you are in the flatlands of southern Arkansas, where waterfalls are sparse, to say the least.

Once returning back to the top of the hill, simply follow the dim road to the left, as it leads into a predominantly pine forest. Several spurs lead to the left from the road n the direction of the small canyon. Each path leads to a different section of the winding stretch of water.

Some of the spurs lead to vistas at the edge of a steep drop overlooking the water. The view from these overlooks lends to a great perspective of the overall scene and are quite impressive. Those who have spent much time in the southern section of Arkansas have likely grown accustomed to seeing creeks that have cut their way through a sandy and practically rock-barren substrate. But this small section of property, just below the lake, is a far cry from the norm.

In all truthfulness, I was somewhat disappointed upon first seeing the pool below, as the information and photos posted on the internet boasted of beautiful turquoise-colored waters. Well, the water was somewhat of a rusty color during our visit. But the terrain was still impressive.

One can actually worm their way down steep trails leading to the bottom of the riverbed from most of these vistas. But those who simply enjoy the view from above at these particular locations and follow the main path farther into the woods will be privy to a trail that is noticeably easier to traverse to the water's edge.

From above, I suspected the interesting structures containing the waterway below were made of sandstone. However, once reaching the interesting structures I came to the conclusion n they were made mostly made of a sandy soil that was compacted around shale rocks. Regardless of their content, the creek channel had obviously been formed as a result of many years of erosion.

The unusual terrain ran downstream for a ways lending to several great scenes and photo ops. Although I certainly took my fair share of photos, it was hard to remain focused on peering through the viewfinder, as I pondered if one who cast a lure into these waters might experience success. These waters appeared to be fairly deep and would surely provide ample cover for native fish of all species to thrive.

One would also suspect that this would be a popular swimming destination for the locals during the hotter months of the year. But it would also prove a great location where a family might simply enjoy a picnic in a beautiful and interesting environment.

Although White Oak Lake provided a bulk of the water running through the gorge, I did see what appeared to be a few small springs trickling through the structures on the opposing side of the creek. That in mind, I would suspect that the area remains wet even during the driest times of the year.

After taking in the scenery along the gorge, we followed the main trail a little deeper into the woods and eventually followed a path that led to the right and into yet another area that also lent to an interesting scene.

This particular area also sported its fair share of interesting structures. However, it was far from the creek and dry. Erosion had also played a role in shaping this substrate as well, as water had obviously cut large grooves in the sandy soil during previous heavy rains.

Hiking back in to the direction from where the excursion began, we eventually took a dim trail leading back to the vehicle and ending our trek. Although the entire hike was short, there was one thing for certain. We had experienced a hike along a very special spot in southern Arkansas. And I would eagerly return with anticipation of getting better acquainted with this quaint little location, referred to by locals as the Little Grand Canyon, in the near future.

Local on 06/13/2018

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