I learned more than anyone can from any book about nature up here on this mountain; every trail led to a discovery and still does. In my early adulthood, I constructed a small observatory off of Red Bluff Drive on the north brow of the mountain, and nearly every weekend provided astronomy and nature presentations for the public as part of the park's "Naturalist" programs. The presentations on space and science became so popular that residents from throughout several counties would schedule their Saturday nights with us in the park as we explored the natural world.
For years I later led school and some special interest adult groups on hikes through the woods of the mountain, searching for edible and useful plants, trying to locate fossils or identify snakes and trees. Later my explorations took a more serious note when I was asked by the State of Arkansas to examine the known prehistoric rock art sites on the mountain to determine if there was any astronomical significance to them. In this 4-year study which followed, I found several dozen more unknown rock art archeological sites on the mountain and hundreds more throughout the Arkansas River Valley; for the duration the Rock Art Project I stayed in the cabins or rooms provided by Arkansas State Parks and developed a fellowship with the likes of Superintendents Jerry Scott and later Chris Snodgrass of Petit Jean Mountain, and Andy Thompson of Mount Nebo State Park, friendships which have remained solid to this day.
Yes, contrary to claims otherwise, it was me who discovered and recorded the lion's share of rock art in Arkansas. The hundreds of reports have been on record with the Arkansas Archeological Survey for decades now, as others continue to lay claim as they "reinvent the wheel." Gosh, there is even a BOOK published by the University of Arkansas system to attest to this. Imagine that.
On weekends when the moon was absent from the sky and the heavens were dark, members of the Midsouth Astronomical Research Society would gather above the cliffs of Red Bluff and camp for a few days of astronomical exploration and friendship; in 1985 and 1986 the return of famous Halley's Comet resulted in my capturing the first known breakup of the comet during any return from those bluffs on a warm and dark night in April, 1986.
As a very young boy I came to the mountain with my Conatser grandparents, whose home was in Ozark, Arkansas; they also loved the mountain and frequently would meet family members (particularly the Parettes) from Morrilton, Arkansas for reunions and most commonly one day picnics. One vivid and somewhat frightful memory of an early visit to this mountain stuck with me as my grandfather in his old green Nash Rambler made attempt after attempt to get enough traction to make it up the steep mountain's dirt and gravel east road. With all of us afraid to even watch, his car would get a running start, then start spinning.....then back down the very narrow one lane road to the bottom only to try again. Needless to say, for all the incredibly gifted things that Garland Conatser was....he was not a really good driver.
Nonetheless, we eventually made it to the top of the mountain.
I continued to camp and visit Petit Jean throughout my adult life. In 1983, shortly after proceeds from a published book, I bought 8 acres along Jones Lane, on the east side, just south of the Church of Christ; my intent was to build a home that the family could eventually move to; later properties were bought in two other locations but all was eventually sold as life took some unfortunate and unexpected turns. That dream and home, as so many dreams do......faded away.
In 2000, while living in a newly constructed beautiful home in west Conway, I decided again that I wanted to construct an observatory somewhere on Petit Jean Mountain, remembering the inky dark skies of the 1960's and 1970's. Negotiations with Win Paul Rockefeller and his wife, Lisenne, led to a 50-year lease on a small parcel of land known then as "Hay Hill" where I constructed a large observatory with automated dome and robotic telescope in 2002. Within only months of its completion, the fogs from the Arkansas River Valley below and very near this northern part of the mountain, and the horrendous lightning storms that reduced the electronics of the observatory to wiring rubble on two occasions, it was obvious that the observatory needed to be moved.
In 2003 I started construction on a modest, yet paradise, home on Tanyard Springs Road on the south side of the mountain; on several acres of land was a small cabin and a virtual jungle of land that required the next three years to clean and modify. Construction was completed in November 2003 and on the first week of enjoying the new home, we experienced the type of rainfall that only this mountain is capable of: 13+ inches in one night.
Nonetheless, it is indeed paradise; I turn off the lights at night and hear absolutely nothing man-made....only critters and creatures of God's world. We have fox, coyotes, deer, squirrels and rabbits of all sizes and colors, skunks, possums, porcupines, bobcat, cougar and even brown bear. The calls and songs of the birds are so thick that it is almost impossible to attempt identifying the friends that fly by.
A year after the residence was completed, the Observatory was moved to the home property; very selectively, I cleared enough opening in the tree canopy to provide 6 hours of continuous viewing of any object that might pass overhead to view. The observatory remains here today as major landmark of Petit Jean Mountain and the community of Conway County.
At night, I explore the sky and enrich my life through the humbling creations of God; by day I am a biologically aging but mentally stimulated fellow zooming through the narrow roadways of the Mountain in the "Star Car" which ventures out only on pretty days.
Unlike Garland's old green Rambler, the Star Car has absolutely no trouble pulling the mountain, no matter what speed.
The old-timers used to say that Petit Jean Mountain created its own weather.....and I believe that it does today. They also talked of the peace and tranquility to which the Native American Shaman attributed to this mountain, a holy place it is believed among the prehistoric people of this area. As you live and breathe the life of Petit Jean Mountain, you do become overwhelmed with the Peace and the Tranquility.
It is my paradise under the stars and within the forests of our planet.
This is my world.