Welcome to Arkansas

Trip Start Mar 01, 2005
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Flag of United States  , Arkansas
Thursday, June 23, 2005

The drive into Arkansas wasn't so bad. We stopped at the Welcome Center, walked Bandit, and Ed made some calls. I was inside gathering tourist information when Ed came running in and hurried me up. He could see a line of dark clouds headed our way and wanted them behind us. More of the storm system from the previous day. So we got back onto the road and continued into Arkansas.

I must say, the countryside of Arkansas is very pretty. We drove I-40 through the foothills of the Ozarks, this beautiful green, rolling landscape. And since it's spring, there were trees outlined in shades of white and pink and wisteria draped everywhere. The drive into Little Rock was even quite nice. The I-30 RV Park was located about halfway between Little Rock and Hot Springs, our two destinations. Unfortunately, it took us three tries to find our campground. However, we finally found it and got set up, cooked dinner and then chilled out.

The first day in Arkansas, we headed into Little Rock itself. The downtown is surprisingly small, smaller even than Wilmington's, but clean and nice. We ate lunch at The Flying Saucer, a little pub with plates all over the walls and ceiling (get it?). They even had a UFO Club for their most loyal members. The perk of the club was that you got your own "flying saucer" with your name on it hung on the walls of the restaurant The food wasn't bad, but the ambiance was better.

After lunch, Ed and I walked down to the William Jefferson Clinton Museum, an impressive structure with one wing that soars over the Arkansas River. Clinton called it the "Bridge to the 21st Century." So we bought our tickets and entered the museum. The first exhibit (and the only one on the first floor) was a Presidential car. Commentary that outlined safety issues for the President and the role of the Secret Service accompanied the car. A line of photos also supplemented the exhibit and as I looked down, it dawned on me that I was reading "School of Dance" on a pink stucco building. Sure enough, the picture was of Clinton's visit to Whiteville several years ago, and the building was Miss Wanda's. The picture demonstrated how the Secret Service holds onto the President's waist to keep him from being pulled into the crazy Whiteville crowd. *Chuckles*

On the second floor, we found a full scale Cabinet room with the chairs labeled as to who sat where. Also, sunk into the table were computer monitors that provided background about the Clinton Cabinet, the major issues they faced, and the outcome of those issues. The main room was a large corridor with separated sections for topics like Health Care, Education, Science and Technology, and so on. Outlined in each topic was the Clinton administration's work in the respective area. Also included was the Impeachment attempt and Whitewater.

On the third floor we saw an Oval Office set-up, which was cordoned off. Past this were several cases of Clinton memorabilia rife with gifts from dignitaries, artwork, photos, and such. A round table was set (with the china stolen by the Clintons when they left, haha) in the style of a formal White House dinner. Also on display were the dress and suit worn by the First Lady and the President at Clinton's second Inauguration. Along the opposite side, several cases were set up with the family members' respective histories. Bill Clinton was in the marching band. Hillary wanted to be a teacher.

The Clinton Museum was wonderful. I grumbled about George Bush 2/3 of the time we were there and left a little angry. A lot of what Clinton worked so hard for has been deconstructed since then slowly and methodically. But this isn't a political blog . . .

After the museum, we stopped by the gift shop (of course). The nice thing about the gift shop was that it was not set just before the exit of the museum. It was located several hundred yards away in a separate building entirely, thus giving visitors the choice of whether or not to enter. We looked at everything; bought a postcard.

Then it was back to the camper for supper and a brief rainstorm.

Our second day in Arkansas - Friday, April 8 - we headed down into Hot Springs, this wonderful town built in and around Hot Springs National Park. The downtown area is literally a block outside the park itself and is nestled in the mountains. The downtown is like any other little downtown: a strip of cool stores and restaurants a few miles long. The two large exceptions to this rule in Hot Springs are the water fountains scattered about and the row of bath houses found on the strip.

The water fountains aren't your ordinary water fountains. These fountains are used by the town's population specifically to fill jugs with mountain drinking water. We saw people hauling milk crates full of gallon and half-gallon jugs to the fountains and filling each one. The water that comes out of the hot springs is naturally sterile, so they (logically) are the main source of drinking water for the citizens of Hot Springs. Ed and I bought two empty jugs from a local shop and filled them up (as well as the Nalgene) with hot spring water. And it's not called hot springs for nothing. The water comes out of the tap at temperatures around 120 degrees - which makes the jugs a little hard to carry. The lady from whom we purchased the jugs told us how to vacuum seal the jugs and the best way to drink the water (ice cold or warm with lemon).

The National Park Service recently bought the bath houses along the row (about six in all) and is currently updating them inside and out while retaining the original spirit in which they were built. Fordyce Bathhouse is the official Visitor's Center and has been cleaned and preserved as it was in the 1920s (when bathhouses were the rage). The four story building was essentially halved vertically with the women's bathing rooms on the right and the men's on the left. Of course, women and men did not frolic together at spas during the 1920s as they do now, so certain things were off limits to members of the opposite sex. Each gender's side featured tubs, changing rooms, resting rooms (complete with cot beds), massage parlors, lounges, a steam room, a hydrotherapy room and cooling rooms. The women's facilities were a little more private than the men's, but the men's rooms were more ornate with statues and stained glass. There were even two gender-separated sun porches on top of the building. The men's sun porch was in the sun, but the women's was in the shade - in the interest of maintaining a milky white complexion as was popular then. Wish that trend had stuck around.

After the tour of Fordyce, Ed and I walked around the back of the bathhouse and up the mountain into the park itself. An extremely civilized park, there were paved and unpaved trails, benches, seating areas, bathrooms (not for bathing), and a beautiful brick promenade which provided views of the downtown area and the surrounding mountains. At one point along the promenade, there was an open air hot spring that cascaded down the side of the mountain. (Most of the hot springs have been capped so the water can be stored and regulated.) You could see the steam rising from the water even in 70 degree temperatures. And on the rocks grew algae that were the most amazing shade of green - almost emerald. Just fantastic.

Ed and I did a little bit of shopping before leaving the downtown/National Park area, and then took the truck and headed up to the mountaintop viewing tower. Already perched atop a mountain, the tower afforded views of the surrounding 50 miles or so. It was beautiful, but my fear of heights (which deepens as I get older) inspired me to hang onto the rail every second we were up there. Back on solid ground, but still at the top of the mountain, we exited through the gift shop. But first, I actually bought a souvenir: three magnetic hematite bracelets.

Back down the mountain and in town again, Ed and I hunted out the only sushi bar in town - Fuji Hibachi - and had our fill of cocktails, edamame (steamed soybeans), and sushi. Afterward, we headed over to Hot Springs Health Spa, the only affordable co-ed spa of the four or so spas not being renovated. We paid, changed into our swimsuits and headed into the pool area. We bobbed in the water for 30 to 45 minutes among older, wrinkled, and hairy Europeans, and a few mothers with kids in innertubes. Finally, we pulled ourselves out of the water, changed back into our clothes and headed back to the campground. But my skin was the softest I had ever felt it. Amazing. I can't imagine how wonderful my skin and hair would be if we lived there.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Hot Springs and didn't really want to leave, but at least our next destination (Tennessee) was a state we both love.
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