Monday May 7, 2012
Woke up to very overcast skies – there had been heavy rain during the night but not too much at the moment…so we loaded up the few things we had taken into the motel, ate breakfast and headed out about 8:15 just as the skies opened up again. We filled up with gas and headed across Memphis and the Mississippi to Arkansas. There was heavy fog and rain – I did take a couple photos but not too sure how they would turn out.
Leaving Memphis in rain.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Trail followed I 40 or a bit north of I 40 for several miles. We passed through West Memphis, Forest City, and at Brinkley turned north and headed to Des Arc on a small road that did not make the GPS. Des Arc is one of the oldest towns in Arkansas. The trail crossed the river here where there was a thriving riverport on the White River. There is not much of a town now – a county court house, a few shops, a gas station and a few state buildings. There is a nice park on the riverfront but it is hard to imagine a bustling town in the late 1800’s for shipping cotton, mussels for pearl buttons, and additional crops. Then we continued west through numerous small villages to reach US 67 which would take us south to Little Rock. The rain during the night was extensive in this area - we had some road flooding in one area.
Along the Butterfield Trail
The most interesting feature of the morning was the rice paddies. Some were the usual square or oblong paddies seen in many locations. The rice was beginning to rise above the water and was a brilliant green. Most of the fields were plowed in contour with the land and had graceful curved paddies. There were a few fields of corn and some of ready to harvest winter wheat but approximately 75% were planted in rice.
We stopped at a service station near the intersection with US67 and bought some fresh strawberries to eat for lunch. We set the GPS for the Central Little Rock High School National Historic Site. The High School is still an operating 4 year high school so is not open for tours but the visitor center about half a block away tells the story of the integration battle that occurred in 1957. It seems we would remember more about this than either of us do as we would have been in high school ourselves – but any memories are very dim. They had numerous news reports of the huge crowds, the 9 black students, and President Eisenhower sending in the federal troops from Fort Campbell. It was indeed a different type of visitor center with quite a story to tell. We ate a nice lunch outside on benches in the sunshine. We had been afraid the rain might stay with us all day but it gradually cleared and turned into a pleasant day.
Little Rock Central High School
From Little Rock we headed south on I 30 towards Hot Springs National Park. This park is about 60 miles south of I40 and we have never taken the time to visit. Jane has had this on a bucket list for some time…so this was it! Driving down the main street was a little like a mini-Gatlinburg. Along one side of the street were numerous Bath Houses with one turned into a National Park Visitor Center and Museum.
The other side of the street was shop after shop and restaurants. Several of the Bath Houses are closed but two are operating today, and another is being remodeled as an art museum. There are several old hotels and a huge medical facility that is now an Army-Navy Rehabilitation facility. We toured the visitor center and asked about the two Bath Houses that were operating. One the Buckstaff Baths was operating much as it had since it opened in 1912. The second has been remodeled and operates much as day spas everywhere in the country.
We chose to visit the “real thing” and spent an hour having a soak in 105 degree water, a visit to the steam or vapor cabinet, a sitz bath, hot packs, a cold shower and a Swedish massage. You could add on manicures, pedicures, and paraffin treatments – but an hour was enough and I felt quite pampered and shriveled. Never imagined myself in one of those huge aluminum boxes with only my head sticking out!
Buck Staff Bath House
After our visit to the Bath House we made a stop at the National Park Fountain where you can fill containers with the water from the hot springs. We poured out our Kingsport water and filled it with pure water from the hot springs. Having drunk several cups of water in the bath house it was pure with absolutely NO taste. Wonder how good the coffee will taste made with pure water?
The campground for the Hot Springs National Park was about 3 miles outside of town – well really on the other side of the mountain! It is a lovely small park – about 50 campsites most with water and electric. It has paved level sites and nice clean bathrooms. Only thing missing is a shower but having just spent the hour at the bath house – no shower is needed tonight! The only negative for this campground is the road noise as the road back into Hot Springs is about 100 feet from our campsite – so when the police cruiser just went by with it’s siren screaming I noticed it! One other unusual thing is the lighting – turn of the century globe lights! No WIFI but there is 3G on the I phone so we are in touch with the world.