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Arkansas Scenic Drives: Crowley’s Ridge Parkway

Imagine a geological wonder that took wind, water, and ice together 50 million years to create. Now imagine yourself enjoying the dramatic views and rolling topography you’ll experience as you drive along on top of it. All of this awaits you on a scenic drive along Crowley’s Ridge Parkway in Arkansas.
Named for the earliest settler in the area, Crowley’s Ridge is one of only two such formations in the world, and the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway allows you to experience it firsthand. This unique, crescent-shaped ridge rises 100 to 250 feet above the flat delta lands that surround it and boasts plants found nowhere else, along with many beautiful native wildflowers and cacti.
Along with its natural qualities, the ridge and surrounding areas are rich in Southern history and culture. Take the time to stop at one of the many fresh fruit and vegetable stands or browse the shelves at an old-fashioned country store. As you travel the byway, you will also find numerous museums, Civil War battlefields, African-American heritage sites, culture centers, and festivals.
If you prefer the great outdoors, be sure to visit one of five nearby state parks or the St. Francis National Forest. Along the way, you’ll discover opportunities for world-class waterfowl hunting, fishing, boating, picnicking, hunting, camping, golf, bird-watching, and more. With all of these recreational opportunities at your fingertips, you’re sure to have a good time.
The earliest recorded cemetery in the new world is found in Greene County on Crowley’s Ridge. Excavated in 1974, the Sloan Site was both home and burial ground for a small group of Native Americans who lived here approximately 10,500 years ago. Living in small bands and in semipermanent villages, they established the earliest documented cemetery in North America.
The Mississippian site of Parkin is now the Parkin Archaeological State Park in Cross Country, providing a museum, a visitor center, a walking tour, and a research station. This site features a rectangular planned village of 400 houses, with a plaza surrounding mounds and evidence of a large population that interacted with the DeSoto Expedition.
Culturally, the most notable part of this byway is the historic development of the Delta Blues at Helena. The Delta Cultural Center and the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival keep the legacy alive.
Historical Qualities of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway
The Civil War battlefield at Chalk Bluff plays a key role in understanding the historical importance of Crowley’s Ridge. A site of significant battles, this area has remained largely undisturbed since Civil War times. The railroad also played a significant role in the history of Crowley’s Ridge.
The arrival of the railroads to remove harvested timber from the ridge and delta led to the beginning and end of many towns. After the railroads traversed the ridge, numerous towns were established along the tracks. Several county seats were abandoned and relocated near the railroads as well.
Also significant is that one of the world’s most-famous American authors had great connections with this area; the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Conference Center shares the story of Ernest Hemingway’s time in Piggott.
The natural intrinsic qualities found along this byway are unique to the Crowley’s Ridge geographic formation. Simply stated, this ridge is the only known erosional remnant in North America. This narrow ribbon of land, some 200 miles in length, was formed during the tremendous erosional action of the Pleistocene Period. The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers formed huge glacial sluiceways that altered the face of the landscape. An amazing sliver of erosional remnant survived, with elevations up to 200 feet above the delta topography.
The combination of the loess soil deposited on the ridge and the ridge’s topography did not support large-scale agriculture, thus preserving unique plant communities found here. Along Crowley’s Ridge, a mixture of plant communities and a diversity of species respond to abrupt changes in soil type, exposure, soil moisture levels, and slope.
In terms of recreation

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, the ridge is home to five state parks, world-class waterfowl hunting, and excellent fishing. Numerous trails and outdoor recreation areas abound.
Length: 212 miles
Time to allow: Six hours
States it runs through: Arkansas, Missouri
Cities it runs through: St. Francis, Piggot, Forrest City, Helena
Considerations: The entire length of the route is paved, with the exception of an interesting 11.5 mile stretch of well-maintained gravel road through the St. Francis National Forest. An alternative to the gravel road is Route 1 south of Marianna. Watch your engine temperature so that you notice if it begins to increase.

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