The rolling hills of Crowley's Ridge surprise many visitors to Phillips County because they are so uncharacteristic in the otherwise flat Delta region. Crowley's Ridge is a unique geologic formation that starts up in the boot heel of Missouri and ends right here in Helena.
So, what is Crowley's Ridge and why is it unique?
The rolling hills of Crowley’s Ridge surprise many visitors to Phillips County because they are so uncharacteristic in the otherwise flat Delta region. Crowley’s Ridge is a unique geologic formation that starts up in the boot heel of Missouri and ends right here in Helena.
So, what is Crowley’s Ridge and why is it unique?
The ridge rises about 250 feet above the relatively flat landscape of the Delta and ranges in width from one to 12 miles. It is clearly visible in northeast Arkansas and consists of a series of rolling hills, with one slight break at Marianna. It was named after Benjamin Crowley who moved there in 1800 to avoid flooding in the Delta lowlands.
It is commonly thought that the ridge was once an island between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Think about that. That means that the Mississippi would have been west of the ridge with the Ohio flowing along the east side. Over time the courses of the rivers changed and Crowley’s Ridge became a long, narrow formation located west of the Mississippi River.
The ridge is capped with loess, windblown sediment comprised typically of dust and silt. Although wind is responsible for depositing most loess soil, glaciers also contributed by grinding rocks into powder form. Loess continued to collect of Crowley’s Ridge while streams and rivers washed away much of it on the alluvial plain. The erosive nature of loess creates steep slopes and deep valleys along the ridge. Take a trip up on Military Road past Battery D to see what I mean.
Crowley’s Ridge has natural vegetation similar to that found in the western Appalachian Mountains. Oak and hickory trees, and uncommon hardwoods such as American beech, sugar maple and the tulip tree comprise the lush forest. The ridge also has extensive areas of pasture.
It’s easy to understand why the Union forces who occupied Helena during the Civil War erected batteries on the ridge. This was the highest point in town. One visit to Battery C or a drive along Military Road will show you how far the troops could see. There was no better vantage point.
I grew up on Crowley’s Ridge, but didn’t know it until I was an adult. My house was surrounded by hills on three sides and Battery D was just up the hill from my back yard. I had fun as a youngster climbing the hills and riding Granddaddy Hickey’s horses up to the top of the ridge, not knowing the unusual nature of this formation.
Arkansas's portion of Crowley's Ridge was designated one of Arkansas's scenic highways in 1997 and became one of America's national scenic byways in 1998. It is a favorite route for motorcycle groups and recreational tourists, with four state parks and a number of historical attractions along the way.
The Arkansas Welcome Canter at the Helena Bridge has maps and information on the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, as well as the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center in Jonesboro. This center gives the visitor a chance to experience and explore a unique place in North America.