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Hello Friends and Family - thanks for checking out yet another Lisa Hale Photos' ROADTRIP! This was a solo trip that was a long time coming. The main quest was to visit several new states and to just get away for a while. There's something special about the open road and not being tied to an agenda. Gas prices in Asheville (home) were the highest of the entire trip, so I'm glad I didn't let that stop me from traveling. In total, I drove 2,107 miles. Again, thanks for checking out my blog! Enjoy the stories and the photos. <3
First up was Memphis, Tennessee! Driving from the mountains of North Carolina, it was a straight 8 hour shoot on I-40 West. I was a quick, 24-hour stop in the "Home of the Blues" and just long enough for some fried chicken (and gravy), a Graceland drive-by (figurative - I arrived too late to enter), Beale Street, and the following morning went on a paddle-wheel tour of the Mighty (Muddy) Mississippi River. The Jazz Brunch was a perfect option - add yes, there was gravy! Honestly, I could probably change the title of this blog entry from Arkansas Roadtrip to "The Great Southern Gravy Tour. "
I enjoyed the float on the Mississippi. The boat had two open-air decks. The Jazz band was amazing, and the scenery included several bridges, the Bass Pro Pyramid, a tugboat pushing 14 barges of livestock, several jet skis, people fishing, and the popular "Memphis" sign. But can someone tell Memphis to trim their bush? haha (photo below.)
New state for me, Arkansas, the Natural State and #42 in my quest to visit all the states. What - a - stunner! I made my way towards Little Rock and then North/West to the Ozarks. From my pre-trip research, I knew the state park system in Arkansas was amazing. My first stop was Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton. (To check out the state park system, visit www.arkansasstateparks.com.) I booked myself a cabin which was just downstream from a waterfall. I could hear the water rushing over the falls and slept with my window open. Great meal (with gravy) at Mather Lodge - which also had a fabulous view of the sunset! The sunset was so vibrant, I decided just to hang out there and enjoy it. It was one of the most colorful sunsets I had ever seen. The Ozarks reminded me a lot of the mountains back home.
As with any lush, thick rain-forest, there must be rain. I don't mind it usually, and was prepared to sight-see despite the wet. However, when you're on a mountain top and the rain also has thunder and lightening, it's a game changer. I hung out inside the lodge and drove around the park. Petit Jean is Arkansas' first state park and has so many cool hiking trails and neat things to see (pictoglyphs, old CCC structures (Civilian Conservation Corps), waterfalls, camping, etc.) It's 20 miles to the closest town - which is perfect for me! Sadly, the rain prevailed and I had to abandon most of my outdoor plans at the park.
Driving South along Scenic Byway Route 7 through Arkansas I saw a sign for National Wildlife Refuge, Holla Bend. What better way to spend a rainy day? A quick side tour was worth it! Here are some of my favorite photos from inside the NWR. Pictured below are red clover, red-winged blackbirds, grain, Dickcissel birds, cows, and an old truck sitting on a dirt road.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Finally made my way into Hot Springs. Arkansas. The town itself reminded me of Gatlinburg, TN with the touristy shops and bright flashing neon signs, Ripley's Wax Museum, t-shirt shops, tight street parking, and lots of people milling about. Then I saw the famous Bath House Row and it changed the feel of the town. Giddiness set in and I knew I'd be back the next day for a long anticipated Spa Day! I found my hotel and some food and called it a night. A long night to be honest. I pass along wisdom that in this tourist town, it is beneficial to pay a little extra for a decent hotel in a safe area. I changed my stay from two nights to just one night and put that hotel experience behind me. The next morning was my spa day! I had already decided to treat myself, so imagine my surprise when I found a Bath House offering an early morning special.
My Bath House Experience
I'm putting this out here for informational purposes. So many people have asked about it, so I may as well include it here. There are two places on Bath House Row that still offer public bathing. I chose to visit Buckstaff Bath House as they are still offering the traditional bath house experience since they opened in 1912. The bath house sits on top of the old hot springs and the fresh water is pumped up into the bath area. When you arrive at the front door, you are greeted by employees in an old lobby with counter service. They tell you about the services and here's where you pay. I was given a colored elastic band and waited for my elevator. About 5 minutes later, the accordion style elevator door opened, and another employee escorted me up one floor (I think) to the ladies quarters. The men's quarters were on a different floor. Here's where I was introduced to my attendant (Terri). She put me in a small changing room with a locker. I was told to undress and to say her name when I was ready. Terri wrapped me in a sheet (toga style) and led me through a corridor. We turned to the right and walked past ladies getting facials and massages, and we passed about 10 claw foot tubs - some occupied and some empty. My tub was already filled. Terri helped me climb up into the tub. She turned on the whirlpool, placed a towel behind my head, gave me a cup of the fresh mineral water, and a loofa mitt. She left me to soak for 20 minutes. There were white curtains separating the tubs and white towels stacked in the corner. It was private with the exception of the attendant helping you in and out. They offer many services and will assist with loofa scrub, safely getting in and out of the tub. I chose to pass on the vapor cabinet and sitz bath. Terri wrapped me back up in the sheet and headed to the next station. She pretty much stayed with me the entire time I was in that section of the Bath House. When I was finished, Terri walked me back to the locker room. I dressed and sat in the cooling area and sipped more cold mineral water until I was ready to leave. There are tipping envelopes back in the lobby where you are expected to tip your attendant. If you want to read more about the history or services offered at Buckstaff, click HERE for their website.
The photos I have of the tub and shower are not the actual ones used at Buckstaff as no cameras/personal items are allowed past the locker room. I highly recommend Buckstaff Bath House and treat yourself to the whole experience! You won't regret it.
The next Bath House over is Hale Bath House. There are no spa services there, only hotel and restaurant. I had coffee and breakfast and was a little disappointed that I didn't get a family discount. (haha) I walked a few blocks in both directions and visited the gardens and the National Park Visitors Center (that's where the photos of the tub, etc. came from.) All in all, a half day or so is all that is needed for Hot Springs National Park. If you wanted to add a hike or something then maybe a full day.
Fisher Mountain Quartz Mining
Fisher Mountain Quartz Mine - yes, I left my spa day and went digging in the rich, red, Arkansas clay dirt. I found a place in Mt. Ida where it costs $25 to dig all day and you keep what you find. I headed up Fisher Mountain on a very rough dirt road. I live on a dirt road, so I kind of knew what to expect, but I underestimated the steepness, slickness, and distance to the dig site. But, I made it and my all-wheel-drive did me a solid. The public dig site is a secondary 'mining' area outside of the primary "pocket" dig site (which was charges $1,000/day/person.) It's part of the Ocus Stanley Claim. It's been in operation since 1946 and is the oldest public dig in the whole state of Arkansas. Specimens from the mine are in the Smithsonian and American Museum of Natural History. And here I happened to just see the sign and checked it out. My dad reminded me, I AM the Granddaughter of a miner. Maybe that's where the intrigue generates. Whatever the reason, playing in the dirt brings me joy! Here I was with a snow scraper (for a shovel), a kitty litter scooper, broken hand rake, and gloves that I happened to have in the car. For my first time mining for quartz, I don't think I did too bad. One piece (a cluster) was valued at approximately $150. There is a cleaning process needed to remove the iron residue, so I don't have any photos of my stash to share. I have about 10 lbs. of quartz pieces. I'll post a photo similar to what I found. If you want to read more about the mine and Fisher Mountain Quartz click HERE.
After digging, I headed West/Southwest and crossed into the state of Oklahoma - another one I needed (#43 for me.) I drove through Broken Bow and spent the night in Idabel, OK. There's not a whole lot in this area, but everyone I encountered seemed friendly. The next morning I headed back East - the half-way of the week. I suppose I was ready, but a part of me could have kept driving. I crossed into the edge of Texas along the Red River and then dropped into Louisiana to Shreveport and Bossier City to I-20.
I made a stop in West Monroe, Louisiana at the Duck Commander Warehouse made famous by the A&E Television Show, Duck Dynasty and the Robertson Family. My family watched DD for years and my Uncle Clifford strongly resembled Uncle Si from the show in so many ways. Since my Uncle passed away several years ago, I somehow felt like seeing Si Robertson might warm my heart and provide homage to my late Uncle. And boy did it ever! The warehouse itself is more like a movie set and the Duck Commander/Buck Commander business has moved on to bigger places. It's a neat tour and you get to build your own duck call to keep. If anyone is a fan of the show and happen to be in the area, I recommend a visit.
Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge
One rather large NWR in Louisiana, think bayou, swampy, buggy, middle-of-nowhere, desolate and that's the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. There is a self check-in permit and a self-clearing system set-up. I had to educate myself on this, but it is a check and balance for anyone entering the Refuge. I mean, it could be a couple of days before anyone figures out you didn't come out, but at least there is a system in place. There was also a basic map of the Refuge and each time I made a turn, I noted it on my map. I didn't realize the size of this place until I got in there and saw how far between the landmarks and roads were. Also, I will note that the map did not show the secondary roads (like roads to a hunting blind, or boat ramp.) Ask me how I know this!?! Yes, I got myself on a couple "roads" that were really just a path and had no where to turn around. At one point I started seeing warning signs for wild boar and black bear with a diagram underneath on where the 'kill shot' should be placed. No, I'm not kidding. That's when I started to get nervous because I had no where to turn around. I was essentially driving on a levee and had to keep going until I could safely turn around. I had a full tank of gas and still had cell signal, so it wasn't too dire. Eventually, I got turned around (9 miles later) and had to do the return trip. I never saw any wild boar or bear - honestly, I didn't see anything in there. I was just relieved to get back to a main road (and by that I mean a gravel road...haha).
On my way out, I saw an airplane dropping chemicals on crops. That made for some interesting photography. Photos below.
Mississippi - another new state for me (#44) - and let me just say that in Mississippi, they aren't foolin around with that heat and humidity. It's full on, in your face, sweat-a-thon season and not even summer yet. I did the drive-through tour of Vicksburg National Park which was an integral spot in the Civil War. I read on it and listened to the audio tour on the National Parks App. It was an impressive memorial with old canons and statues for the dead. It was overwhelming to think about a Civil War and how we have become a Nation divided again. (History repeating.) And it was hot. I didn't stay long.
Next up - Selma, Alabama
I knew I wanted to make a stop in Selma. I have unsettled feelings with the history of Selma and the March for Civil Rights from Selma to Montgomery. I often try to wrap my mind around the violence that ensued during the Civil Rights March and more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. I'm not anywhere closer to coming to my own understanding, but the empathy rages. Honestly, I probably left with more questions than I found answers. I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and visited the National Park Interpretive Center. I drove the route from Selma to Montgomery and made stops at several of the historical markers. This was an emotionally heavy day with history of the Civil War at Vicksburg and Civil Rights March of Selma. I made it as far as Atlanta, Georgia before stopping for the night. On a lighter note, the people of Atlanta sure do know how to celebrate Cinco de Mayo! Ay Carumba!!
Last Day - Old Car City in White, Georgia
Many of you probably never heard of Old Car City. It's a junk yard basically. Its been around for 90 years and it has 7 miles of trails lined with junk cars. It's marketed as a photographer's paradise and many of my photog friends have made the trip to see it. So, I decided to check it out. Here are some of my favorite photos. (Note: I also made a video in Instagram. There's a link below to my Instagram, but I'm not sure if you can see the video without an IG account.) Hey, like and follow if you do have an account! Full disclaimer, I was raised in a Ford household and my all-time favorite model is a Mustang. I tried to photograph some of everything, but admittedly, there are lots of Mustangs in my photos. I didn't see any snakes, but there were warning signs all over not to sit in or on the cars or open doors. My eyes were wide open the whole time and I had to sign a release waiver to enter.
Home Sweet North Carolina Home
I drove through Tornado Alley in Oklahoma and managed to stay ahead of a line of storms - until I got to North Carolina. A tornado came through Bryson City just as I was trying to visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It was a quick turn back around and nasty rain the rest of my drive home. So glad I only had to drive in that a short distance.
If you've read to this point, I thank you from the bottom of my heart! That's it for the Arkansas Roadtrip. I will continue my gravy detox! haha The struggle is real.
Until the next adventure - be well, travel safe, and enjoy the ride.