Thursday, March 15, 2018

Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas: The Natural State was Naturally Awesome!

Arkansas' official motto:  "The Natural State."
We've revised that to:  "Wow, Wow, Wow!"

Around every corner, gorgeous scenery and uncrowded attractions.
Arkansas has quickly become one of our favorite destinations!
Here, just a few of our favorite things from Little Rock and Hot Springs!

Garvan Woodland Gardens


No, we're not in Holland.  This is Arkansas!  Specifically, the breathtaking 210-acre botanical gardens in Hot Springs known as Garvan Woodland Gardens.


The tulips and daffodils are in full bloom in mid-March through April.


But beauteousness awaits year-round.  After inheriting the property from her father, Verna Garvan (a self-taught gardener) started developing the site as a garden and over the next 40 years, planted thousands of specimens, personally choosing each new plant and its location.


Upon Verna's death, the property was left to the Landscape Architecture Department of the University of Arkansas, and is now open to the public (even doggies!).  With walking trails, waterfalls, streams, and rare shrubs, trees and flowers, natural beauty was around every corner!


Its location along 4.5 miles of Lake Hamilton shoreline makes it even more spectacular. There are at least 2,340 named lakes and reservoirs in Arkansas!  Wow!


The on-site chapel's rustic woodland feel is perfect for the property. 


Check out that gorgeous ceiling and view!  


Little Rock's Pedestrian Bridges

There are four pedestrian/cycling bridges spanning the Arkansas River in the Little Rock area,
and the Lucky Charm's parking spot was situated right between these two beauties!



All the bridges come alive at night with beautiful LED lighting, and the resulting reflections were breathtaking in every way!



At the far end of this bridge, is the William J. Clinton Presidential Museum and Library (far right in the photo above).  A five-minute walk from the RV!  


I was very excited to visit 42'nd Library, due to the oft-remarked-upon similarity between my husband and Bill Clinton.  He's my favorite President for this reason!  :-)


I was hoping the staff would recognize Bill, I mean Philip, and we would be immediately ushered to the Clinton's private 5,000-sq.ft. apartment atop the Library and offered red wine and massages, but alas, that didn't happen.  We didn't even get discounted admission!  Humphhhh.


The interior of the Library is modeled after The Long Room at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.



It had lots of interesting displays, but naturally, Monica's blue dress was not included (in the same way that Colonel Parker was not mentioned at Graceland ... revisionist history.)


I was intrigued with the "Elect My Husband Bill Clinton for President" button.  
A very small run of exactly one, I guess ...?


In front of the Library is a Clinton time capsule.  Maybe THIS is where Monica's blue dress went?  Never to be seen again until an entire new generation is born?  No, that's wrong.  Click here to learn what is actually in there and why.  It's not nearly as interesting as I'd hoped.


Little Rock's River Market District
 is a bustling area of shops, restaurants and museums on the bank of the Arkansas River.


The Metro Streetcar system connects the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock on either sides of the river.  



Three historic replica streetcars cover 1,080 miles weekly, taking happy tourists all around the downtown areas in a fun, unique way.




Arkansas River Trail


The Arkansas River Trail is two-wheeled heaven for taking in the natural beauty of the area.  This 16-mile bike loop runs along both sides of the river.


Along the way, the Big Dam Bridge is the longest bicycle and pedestrian bridge in the world designed and built for that purpose.



The Big Dam Bridge is elevated 90 feet above the water and is 4,226 feet long.  It is a haven for endangered wildlife and migratory waterfowl .....


....and also a really steep ride!  Huff, puff!





Hot Springs National Park


Indigenous Native Americans were the first residents of the "Valley of the Vapors" before the Quapaw tribe ceded the land that is now HSNP to the U.S. (Did you spot the tiny Tessa below?)


Hot Springs is known for its naturally heated springs, heated to 146 degrees and emerging from 47 different springs.  The water is available for free at many local locations. (Cooling included).



Following federal protection in 1832, the city turned its natural resource into $$ as a spa town.  The hot spring water was purported to have medicinal properties, and everyone from major league baseball teams to mafia gangsters came here to partake.


Though there were once nearly two dozen bathhouses, the National Park Service has preserved eight  of the buildings.  Two of them still operate as bathhouses, one is a visitor center, one is a NPS gift shops, and a couple are vacant.


All of them are in the Gilded Age or Art Deco style and yet architecturally distinct from each other.



Hot Springs (National Park) includes a portion of downtown Hot Springs (the city), which makes it a weird combination of touristy stuff on one side of the street, and preserved NPS buildings on the other.


The Fordyce Bathhouse is the only one that has been historically restored and that can be toured.


The Quapaw Bathhouse is still available for natural bath treatments.  Yes, please!


Four separate pools of spring water are heated to 95, 98, 102 and 104 degrees.


The elaborate ceilings and tile work have been retained from way back in 1922.  It actually retains the footprint of two previous bathhouses, the Horseshoe and Magnesia.


Private baths can also be arranged, with a newer jacuzzi style tub but the same hot spring water that has been flowing here for thousands of years.
  

Perhaps Arkansas should change their motto from "The Natural State" to the "Au Naturel State" ....  


A "steam room" is also available, and we expected a standard square room and piped-in steam, like you get at most modern spa resorts.  To our astonishment we walked underground into a cave, where 146-degree water flowing down the rocks and emanating from the capped spring (box on the left) provided the treatment! 


It was HOT, but in the best possible way.  A bowl and spoon of icy cold water was provided for continual body dousing, and wow was that an incredible feeling!


One of the bathhouses has been turned into a brewery, where (YOU GUESSED IT) they brew 40+ different varieties of beer from the natural hot spring water.  They are the only brewery in the world to do this, and hey!! the water is free, so seems like a good business model to me.


You can even bathe in hot springs beer here!


We opted for the beer flights and a window seat as we gazed upon the beautiful childhood home of my husband, I mean Bill Clinton. 




Oaklawn Racing

Being a town of gangsters and major league baseball players in the early 1900's (both with a lot of free time and money on their hands), it's only natural that a racetrack be located in Hot Springs.  


Oaklawn has been the place to bet on thoroughbreds since 1905 and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah began his winning season with victories at Oaklawn.  Many horses go on from here all the way to the Kentucky Derby.


It was astonishing how close they let spectators get to the action at Oaklawn.  You can practically reach out and touch them, both in the paddocks and on the track!



It would be great to report that we won big, but alas we can only say it was a really fun time.



One cannot help but be awed by the natural grace and stamina of thoroughbred horses!



Hot Springs National Park Hiking

Hot Springs National Park, aside from the duck boat tours and magic shows, also has a great quantity of beautiful hiking trails.  We soaked up all the natural beauty surrounding us in the great outdoors!



As the final new state sticker of this trip was added to the Lucky Charm's map, our brief visit to the Natural State of Arkansas has us already planning to return for more of its beauty in the future! 
Next up, Oklahoma City!