Jet Speed Through Arkansas

A trip to Houston, Texas to visit my father. The plan is to spend some time with him and then how can I resist, a little hiking and camping north in Arkansas. The picture below was taken at my father’s favorite establishment. It was an all-you-can-eat Chinese food restaurant.

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I took the picture below just as I was pulling out of his driveway on my departure. Every time I see him, I always wonder if it will be the last time. The dog in the picture is named “Randy.” He was the friendly one. The other two didn’t take too well to my stay. One of them (Lulu) sunk her teeth pretty deep into my calf.

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After driving several hours I made it to the Arkansas state line. Arkansas is one on the few states I had never visited. The plan would be to camp four nights and hit all the national sites travelling the entire length of the state before returning to Houston.

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This was my first campsite. I reached Crater of Diamonds State Park just as the sun was setting. It was a great campsite back in the woods. I also took a picture of the diamond field (closed at this time) just before it got dark.

The picture below shows how I spend the remaining hours of the night. At my dad’s house I was able to obtain all his 35mm slides. They were all still in their original carousels from the 60’s and 70’s. Since they would have been too bulky to take on the plane, I pulled over a thousand slides from their little slots and placed them in brown lunch bags organized by year. Thankfully while doing this tedious job in the dark, I was able to listen to the Chicago Blackhawks playoff game.

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The area was experiencing record flooding. The rain didn’t stop when I arrived. The morning monsoon flooded my tent and soaked all my gear. I retreated to the car. After looking at the forecast, I prepared myself for a wet week in Arkansas.

Though I was planning to hunt for diamonds in the morning, the muddy field didn’t sound too appealing to me. Packed up, went to a laundromat to dry things off and departed for Hot Springs.

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Hot Springs National Park!

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The weather cleared up and I was excited to explore this National Park. Unfortunately, it was much different than I had expected. I was picturing natural hot springs in the woods. Rather here all the springs suitable for bathing were harnessed and contained within a structure. You can see some of the larger and more famous historic establishments below.

Some of the old remnants of the original baths were preserved for display.

Though it wasn’t a significant interest and the best use of $20, I had to at least say I was able to sit in the Hot Springs water while on location. As you can see in the larger picture below, this location offered several pools all set at different temperatures. I had a nice conversation about the Lord with the man you see sitting in the back of the middle pool. I was also reprimanded by the attendant for talking too loud!

Went for a little hike at Hot Springs.

Subway sandwiches – one of my traveling staples!

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I made it to Buffalo National River just after dinner. The Buffalo River is located in the north-central part of the state. It is famous for great hiking and rafting. The temperature also dropped rapidly when I entered this area. I took the picture below of myself just after I woke up in the morning – maybe 40 degrees!

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Another fabulous campsite! My tent is in the picture to the left and the river was just behind me. In the picture on the right, you can see the large rock bluffs that line the banks of the river.

This was going to be my one big hike. The plan was about a 10-miler, hitting some of the most popular sites along the river. As you can see in the slideshow below, I made it to “Big Bluff” (what an incredible view!) and the “Old Henderson House.” My plan was to also visit “Hemmed-in-Hollow,” but I could find the trail and was a little afraid of getting lost in this rugged wilderness. Much of the trail was muddy, and as you can notice in one picture, some parts did not make for a very enjoyable hike. The picture with my poles up in the air (orange shirt) marked the end of the adventure.

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This was one sweet campsite!

When I asked for a dinner recommendation, I was told there is only one restaurant anywhere remotely close. I wasn’t sure of this place called, “The Oasis.” I paused at that yellow door for what seemed like hours before entering. I moved in with caution not knowing what to expect. Turned out to be super nice people and the best barbecued food I ever tasted.

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Early in the morning on the next day I drove west (now along the border of Missouri) to Pea Ridge National Military Park.

According to Wikipedia, “Pea Ridge National Military Park is a United States National Military Park located in extreme northwestern Arkansas near the Missouri border. The park protects the site of the American Civil War Battle of Pea Ridge which was fought March 7 and March 8, 1862. The battle was a victory for the Union, and helped it gain control of the crucial border state of Missouri.”

From Pea Ridge I drove south to Fort Smith National Historic Site.

Fort Smith’s history is fascinating, unique in American history, and important. We tell people sometimes that Fort Smith is a small town, but a big deal. Here is where justice (and occasionally injustice) was meted out to hundreds of the most vile outlaws who sought to escape the law by hiding out in and terrorizing the vast uncharted west known as Indian Territory. Here are the histories of the lawmen who sought to keep the peace among these lawbreakers and among the Five Civilized Tribes that converged here near the Arkansas border. From the Civil War soldiers and U.S. Marshals and Deputy Marshals who enforced the law to the dozens of men hanged at the Fort’s infamous gallows, to the heart-wrenching tales of this last leg on the Trail of Tears, Fort Smith is full of jaw-dropping stories. Thousands of people come to Fort Smith each year to experience these stories and the sights of our rough-and-tumble past for themselves. At the same time, the innate beauty of The Natural State and the charms of our well-instilled Southern culture take the edge off our dark past and make visiting Fort Smith today a hospitable, welcoming and affordable getaway.

Pictured below is the jail, “Hanging Parker’s” courtroom and the fort itself.

Made it to Oklahoma!

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I was planning to spend a few hours at Chickasaw National Recreation area, but it was raining most of the time I was there. I visited one of the several hot springs (see below) and then departed for my campsite in back in Texas.

Welcome to Texas and my final night of camping before my flight leaves from Houston the next day back to New Jersey.

Enjoy a brief video showing some highlights from this trip!

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