Tour de Arkansas

I took an impromptu car trip last week – from Houston to Iowa and back.  I had some extra time in my schedule so I decided to add to my National Park Stamp Collection by visiting the National Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites in Arkansas.    My plan looked like this:

The Plan
The Plan

I left New Boston, Texas (which is a dry county) very early and headed to Hope, AR which has Bill Clinton’s birthplace as a NHS.

Clinton Birthplace Visitor Center
Clinton Birthplace Visitor Center

His birthplace literally is next to the railroad tracks.   The Visitor Center is a new building next to the house.  Both are quite modest.

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The house is on the main drag of Hope which is a small town which mostly seems to ignore its one claim-to-fame and just continues about its daily business.

Hot Springs National Park Sign
Hot Springs National Park Sign

On to  Hot Springs!   I have two friends who have vacationed in Hot Springs and recommended it highly so I was interested in both the town and the National Park.  It turns out that the town IS the National Park!  OK – there is now land, trails and vistas in addition to the hot springs bath houses in town  but the main focus of the National Park is the bath houses.

The Hot Springs National Park Visitors Center - in the Fordyce Bath House
The Hot Springs National Park Visitors Center – in the Fordyce Bath House

There is a long city block of bath houses (called Bathhouse Row) that are the main part of the National Park.  The National Park Visitor’s Center is actually in one of the bath houses:  the National Park service has renovated that bath house into a museum and offers tours.   I took the free tour – it was a bit tedious for me but I do recommend walking at your own pace through the museum.

Some of bath houses are still in operation.  You can get a modern day bath in one and a old-style bath in another.   Sounded intriguing but did not fit my schedule.

Fountain utilizing Hot Springs water - you have to look really closely to see the steam...
Fountain utilizing Hot Springs water – you have to look really closely to see the steam…

I went down to the last bath house which had been converted to a microbrewery and had lunch.  In a few months, this place will start making their beer on site using the hot springs water.   Yup – this is really part of the National Park.

The Promenade Sign
The Promenade Sign

The short trail to the Promenade is right after the last bathhouse.   On a Monday, there are not many people but I understand that on the weekends, the town’s folks are out – recreating the ambiance of the glory days of Hot Springs.

The Promenade
The Promenade

The Promenade is (at most) a half mile walk – it is beautifully landscaped and a very peaceful walk.   As you can see, the weather on my visit was outstanding!

The National Park Sign at Central High School.
The National Park Sign at Central High School. Central HS is barely discernible in the upper left hand corner. The Visitor Center is a new building across the street.

I then headed to Little Rock to Central High School which was the site of the standoff in 1957 when 9 black high school students attempted to attend Central High School.

Inscription on Visitor Center
Inscription on Visitor Center
Central Park High School today
Central Park High School today

Central HS is still an operating Little Rock HS.  It looks like a fortress from the outside.  It was built in the 1920’s.   The National Park Service has daily tours that include going into the high school – I missed the tours.  I did see everything in the Visitor’s Center.  It was very compelling to me.    Well done!

Fort Smith is up next on my tour.    I got there about 30 minutes before the Visitor’s Center closed.

Fort Smith National Park Sign
Fort Smith National Park Sign
The grounds at Fort Smith
The grounds at Fort Smith

Apparently the construction of Fort Smith was a political and military folly – much like some of our modern day projects.  It was built twice and the size and costs were greater than anyone felt was necessary.   At least that was my takeaway.

A significant display on the “Trail of Tears” which attempts to capture the multiple relocation efforts of the Indian Tribes.   I am not well-versed on American history: my takeaway on this one is that the white man could not be trusted as we broke multiple promises to the Indian Tribes:  took their land, relocated them, took their land again, relocated … and repeat …

The other display was the jail at the fort.  Fort Smith was the location of the Federal Courthouse and jail.   Interesting but not compelling to me.   The jail rooms are restored and you can walk through them.

I could not get to Pea Ridge National Battlefield – I ran out of daylight.   I set my sights on Fayetteville as my stopping point for the night.  I found a Ruby Tuesdays next to my hotel and had a very memorable night watching the  Redskins upset the Cowboys.

Pea Ridge was not exactly “on my way” to Iowa but I took a 2 hour detour anyway on Tuesday and visited the battlefield.

Pea Ridge National Park Sign
Pea Ridge National Park Sign

The Battle of Pea Ridge was the most significant battle in the Civil War west of the Mississippi.   The Union was outnumbered but won the battle.  Confederacy lost 2000 men and many generals and colonels.  After that battle the Confederate Army stayed east of the Mississippi.

Apparently Arkansas legislature debated whether to stay with the Union or to join the Confederacy for two weeks.  They ultimately decided to stay with the Union.  When Fort Stockton fell a couple of weeks later, they voted again and decided to join the Confederacy.   I was amused …

You can drive around the Pea Ridge Battlefield which I did – partly because of the colors of the fall foliage.  Here are some pictures:

Pea Ridge Battlefield
Pea Ridge Battlefield
Civil War cannons line the drive around the battlefield
Civil War cannons line the drive around the battlefield
Fence line near Elkhorn Tavern - where the heaviest fighting occurred
Fence line near Elkhorn Tavern – where the heaviest fighting occurred

I stopped at Saint Vincent’s Cemetery on the way out of Pea Ridge – not for any reason other than the spectacular colors of the trees.

Saint Vincent's Cemetery - near Pea Ridge - beautiful colors of the trees.
Saint Vincent’s Cemetery – near Pea Ridge – beautiful colors of the trees.
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More trees…

I finally headed out of Arkansas – made it to Missouri where I stopped at George Washington Carver’s birthplace – but this post is not about Missouri…

Onto Iowa – had a nice visit with family – and then back to Arkansas as I left my laptop charger in my hotel in Fayetteville.

Crystal Bridges Museum
Crystal Bridges Museum

I had also gotten a strong recommendation from a very nice local guy to go see the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville  – which is about an hour north of Fayetteville.

Crystal Bridges was founded by Alice Walton – daughter of Sam Walton.    She has been actively working on this museum for 10 years but it has been only open since 2011.  I had never heard of it. Its content is solely American art – the art had to be created in the US.  Some of the artists were raised abroad but painted here.

Kindred Spirits by Asher Brown Durand
Kindred Spirits by Asher Brown Durand
Professor Benjamin Howard Rand
Professor Benjamin Howard Rand by Thomas Eakins

I spent about 3 hours in the museum buildings and on the grounds.   I saw about 1/10 of the art inside the museum.   The painting and sculptures were great but  not enough detail about them.   I am not knowledgeable in art – so I need an audio guide or a book or something to help me to appreciate what I am looking at.   About 1 in 10 pieces had a written description.  I bought a book on the paintings and the artists so maybe I will study up and take a return trip.

Sculpture at Entrance to Crystal Bridges Museum
Sculpture at Entrance to Crystal Bridges Museum

I went outside and walked the trails that had sculptures along the way.   Sculptures are like bridges – they capture my attention and imagination.    I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt – trying to find all the sculptures on the labyrinth of trails outside the museum.

Some were easy to find – like this pig named Stella:

Stella the pig on the left - along one of many trails outside the museum
Stella the pig on the left – along one of many trails outside the museum

Others were harder to find – such as this bicycle up in the tree:

Bicycle in Tree Sculpture (probably has a real name)
Bicycle in Tree Sculpture (probably has a real name)

One of the last sculptures I found

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I headed back to Fayetteville and ended my touring of Arkansas with a couple of cold beers at the Ruby Tuesdays next to my hotel.

I had a really good time in Arkansas – a lot of fun, a lot of learning, and a lot of good memories.  In the future,  I may actually hold back on some of those Arkansas barbs that come so easily.

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