Leaving Mississippi behind, we crossed the mighty Mississippi River where we could see evidence of the recent flooding. We skirted around Memphis, luckily passing through on a Saturday morning so the traffic was light. The roads around Memphis were really rough and full of potholes. Quickly we crossed over into the beautiful state of Arkansas. We continued to see a lot of flooded farmland as we traveled towards Little Rock, the capital and largest city in the state. The last time we were in Little Rock in Oct 2013 a government shut down closed the Clinton Presidential Library, so we were looking forward to checking another presidential library off our list.
We arrived at Downtown Riverside RV Park located right in the heart of North Little Rock. It is little more than a parking lot with hookups, but wow, what a location! It is located right on the Arkansas River with views of the Clinton Presidential Library in the distance across the river and a view of the Little Rock skyline.
A walkway from the RV park led to the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge, so the Library was just a short walk away, no need to even drive your car. The Park had security and a gated entrance so we felt safe even though we were in the heart of North Little Rock. At night the bridge was lit up with lights that changed color. Across the Bridge was the Arkansas River Trail, an 88 mile multi-use loop trail perfect for walking or biking. The Clinton Presidential Park Bridge, dedicated on September 11, 2011, is one of Little Rock’s six bridges and connects pedestrians to Little Rock from North Little Rock.
On Sunday we decided to make the drive to Hot Springs to visit Hot Springs National Park. The town of Hot Springs received its name from the rising steam from more than forty boiling springs. Native Americans were drawn to the area during the late 1700s and early 1800s for the healing potions given by the Great Spirit. People today still come for the therapeutic auras and spas. It is also the boyhood home of Bill Clinton.
The springs are found along the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain where thermal water, which is naturally sterile, begins as rainwater. It is absorbed into the mountains and carried 4,000 to 8,000 feet underground where the earth’s extreme heat raises its temperature to 143 F. The purified water makes its way back to the surface through cracks and pores in the form of hot springs. The entire process takes around 4,000 years! The 47 springs have an average daily flow of approximately 750,000 gallons. The water is collected into one central system where it is distributed to bathhouses and drinking fountains. Tub baths as well as fancy spa baths are available for a cost.
In 1832, because of the number of people coming to the area for the medicinal benefits, the federal government set aside the springs and surrounding area as the country’s first park-type federal reservation created to protect a natural resource. In 1921 it became a national park. The park Visitors Center is located in one of eight bathhouses known as Bathhouse Row. The popularity of the springs began to decline in the 1950s.
It was definitely the strangest national park Visitors Center we have ever visited. We parked in a parking garage and walked to the Visitors Center located in the restored Fordyce Bathhouse in the middle of Bathhouse Row. There we found the usual park rangers, a film, exhibits and a self guided tour of 23 restored rooms furnished as they appeared during the height of the area’s popularity. Behind the Visitors Center were display springs where we could feel how hot the water was as it emerges from the ground. We found a couple of geocaches and then wanted to explore more of the natural areas of the park. We drove to the nearby West Mountain Summit Drive where the car wound around Hot Springs Mountain with some nice views of the town below. A short hike in the park took us to another geocache.
Sunday morning before heading to Hot Springs I discovered a rash on my thighs that was very itchy. Bill and I both thought it was bug bites. During our visit in Hot Springs the rash and itching intensified and at times I felt dizzy and lightheaded.
By Monday morning the rash now covered a larger part of my body, the itching was driving me crazy and I was weak and very dizzy. Bill took me to a nearby walk in clinic in North Little Rock. By this time I was so lightheaded I could barely walk from the car to the waiting room. As I walked to the examining room I briefly passed out and was sick to my stomach. As the nurse asked me questions I mentioned that eight days earlier I had been bitten by a tick while hiking at Wind Creek State Park in Alabama. That comment immediately alerted the nurse and doctor who diagnosed my sickness as a tick borne illness. They gave me a shot at the clinic and i was put on Doxycycline antibiotic, Prednisone and an anti nausea medicine. It has taken a week of treatment and excellent care from my wonderful husband for me to start feeling better. The side effects of the Prednisone has been pretty unpleasant as well as the rash. I had no idea a tick bite could make a person so ill. I have heard this is going to be a particularly bad year for ticks. Please check yourself after any outdoor activities and check your pets as well!!
Needless to say our sightseeing in Little Rock did not happen as planned. We drove by places I had hoped to walk around and visit.
One really beautiful place was The Old Mill at T.R. Pugh Memorial Park a short distance from the campground. The Old Mill was built in 1933 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was never a real working mill but was built to be a replica of an old water powered grist mill that was in service in Arkansas in the early 1800s as a tribute to Arkansas pioneers. What caught my attention was it was used in the opening scene of the 1939 classic film “Gone With the Wind” and is the last standing structure from the film. The Old Mill was honored on the 50th anniversary of the film and was the site of the unveiling of the Gone With the Wind commemorative stamp.
It is truly a gorgeous setting. I made it to the mill bridge while Bill went inside and looked around.
We drove by the state capitol building, something we try to do in all capital cities. Constructed between 1899 and 1911, I had hoped to see the six doors at the front of the building up close. They are made of four inch thick bronze fashioned by Tiffany of New York . In the early 20th century they cost $10,000 each. Today all six would cost 1.5 million. The capital grounds also include many memorials and monuments. All that will have to wait for another visit.
Bill toured the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Located in the historic tower of the Old Arsenal which was built in 1840 as part of a frontier military post, it is the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur and a National Historic Landmark. MacArthur was born here while his father was stationed at the arsenal. It houses exhibits of Arkansas military history from Territorial days to the present as well as exhibits about the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
The main reason we came to Little Rock was to see another presidential library, in this case the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. The original plan was to leave the car at the RV park and walk across the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge with its magnificent river views of Little Rock. But a tiny little Alabama tick had other plans for me so we drove over instead. The glass building projects over the Arkansas River representing a “bridge to the 21st century”. There is 20,000 square feet of exhibition space including the largest collection of presidential archives and artifacts in U.S. history. Also included are replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. There is a penthouse suite above the museum where President Clinton often stays.
We began our visit with a twelve minute film about President Clinton’s life and political career before touring the museum. I sat on a lot of benches but Bill was able to spend time looking at the exhibits.
We liked Little Rock very much and there is certainly much to see and do there. It certainly deserves another visit in the future.
Next stop: Bentonville, Arkansas to see my Aunt Shirley!