I learned all the verses to “The Arkansas Traveller” in preparation for this 2008 road trip! And I sang it all the while in Arkansas, but all I remember of them now is “my roof never leaks when it doesn’t rain.” Alas. I do recall being pleasantly surprised at all this State has to offer the traveller. What stayed vivid in my memory are the caves the size of football fields, the dulcimer shops, and a fine production of that dark musical, “Urinetown,” by the Weekend Theatre. I spent just 6 days there, but I covered a lot of ground. I recommend a road trip around Arkansas. But be forewarned, many roads have no street lights or shoulders. Also, there are many pickup trucks and many country music stations.
I first headed toward the Ozark National Forest. Why? I liked the name. Good walking on short trails. I bought some Ozarka Natural Spring Water; the label said it is sold by a company in Connecticut! Still in the Ozark National Forest, my next stop was at the Blanchard Springs Caverns in Stone County. (Blanchard was said to have homesteaded 160 acres there after being released from a Union army prison after the Civil War.) The National Forest Service maintains these caves, 280 feet below ground and about 100 feet tall. I remember having the sense that I was walking in a dried up ocean as it had a coral look. In the nearby Mountain View, there were folk arts and crafts. I particularly enjoyed browsing about the dulcimers and pottery. I restrained my urge to buy breakable merchandise, but I finished my plate of BBQ ribs at Tommy’s Famous Pizza; they were delicious.
Hot Springs National Park was all about the bath house culture for the wealthy who would visit there for the hot springs; the 1915 Fordyce Bathhouse exhibit told of the travel modes that people would use to travel to the site, the recommended cures and the bathhouse etiquette. The excellent signage at the site helped me better appreciate my spa appointment at the nearby Arlington Hotel (established in the 1920s). While on my promenade in the bathhouse district, I stopped in a very good but small aquarium with an unrestrained African Tortoise shuffling about, minding his own business. I ended my time in Hot Springs with a catfish lunch. After which, I arrived at the nearby Oaklawn Park (established in 1904) in time to lose my bets on each of the four remaining horse races of the day. Thankfully, it is the playing that is the fun.
I drove out to see the Louisiana Purchase Historical State Park; it was some history I was familiar with and made me realize just how much land that deal had covered. (President James Madison ordered a survey of the Louisiana Territory that the USA had already purchased and this survey started from Arkansas.) While on the road, I learned Louis Jordan was born in Arkansas. I added “Beans and Cornbread” to my repertoire for the road. (I knew all the words to that song without any advance preparation.) I stopped to dig and sift for gems in the frozen ground at the Crater of the Diamond State Park. Finders keepers there if you find any diamonds; I didn’t. Lots of small churches, mostly Baptist, along the road. You could see how they would fill up quickly. Signs upon entering towns said “No Jakes Brakes” but I never did learn what that meant. I drove through lovely rolling green hills spotted with horses and the occasional Confederate Flag. I drove through the Town of Antoine, population of 156! Arkansas may not have seen me, but I saw some of Arkansas. (Continued next week.)
“What did Tennessee? Whatever Arkansas!” —Anonymous