Leaving the East behind (Nov 8)
When I got going again there were a few more miles of those very pretty hills, then suddenly I was back in the Delta – cotton fields and no services. I did not want to cross the Mississippi on one of those generic interstate bridges at Memphis, so here I am on US 49 leaving “the east” for good on this trip and heading to West Helena AR where I thought I was going to find dinner. West Helena is kind of a trip. Really decrepit looking and run down, but the run-down buildings were brick and stone buildings with distinctive architecture to give the place that aura of faded glory that crops up down here. Typically that means the place got fat off of slave labor back in the day, then reverted to poverty when the Civil War shut that shit down.
There was exactly one decent-looking restaurant in the whole area, so I drove to a sketchy part of town (actually, the whole town is sketchy) down by the levee, and the place was closed! 4:15 in the afternoon, the sign on the door says it’s open now, but it is definitely closed. I feel even less good about West Helena. It’s gonna be van leftovers tonight for me.
On the way put of town, a little before kudzu hills, I slowed for a light and a left turn and four teenage kids quite purposefully made me slow down and change lanes to not hit them, just because they could. It messed me up a little because avoiding running the little twerps over put me in the right turn only lane and now five cars have come up for the left lane. I had to be the dork with his left signal waiting for a nice person to bail me out. Eff those kids. I’m sure they their reasons for thinking “eff you” to ole white me, but I unapologetically return the feeling back to them, whoever they were.
On the way out of town there was 5-6 mile stretch completely taken over by kudzu. I’d forgotten about kudzu as a thing, but it’s alive and well here. I haven’t seem it for years, but it is quite strange and creepy to see miles of hillsides completely covered by these lush vines, nothing visible but vines. West Helena has bad vibes in my book.
There is a tents only campground here, but I got here late in the day and the nice lady called the supervisor and said sure, you can park in the corner of the lot. Bless them!
A railroad right-of-way has been repurposed to be the Delta Heritage Trail, and this is a spot for the hikers/bikers that use it.
The swelling has gone down in my messed-up ankle so I walked a teeny bit of the Delta Heritage Trail.to see how it goes and to get blood moving,
It was very nice of them to let me stay here, but it’s not the most awesome place to spend the night. The trucks chugging up the hill of the overpass are quite loud, and that damn parking lot klieg light is quite glaring.
xEastern Arkansas is the Delta fer sure. I even drove through a few miles of good ole Cypress swamp! It also totally lacks in what I would call civilized services. Yelp shows no restaurants – zero, none. And sure enough, every 20 miles or so of cotton fields there would be a little town, and in the little town would be a Dollar Store and a gas station with quickie mart, and … that’s it. I eventually got coffee in one of those marts, and pulled off at the edge of a wildlife refuge and drank my coffee and worked on my leftover pastry collection. That was way better than nothing!
Somewhere not too far from the suburbs of Little Rock I’m out of the cotton fields and back in the hills again, heading into the Ouachita Mountains region, which is I think, just the southern part of the Ozarks. Hot Springs Arkansas is an really interesting town, and I love visiting here.
Historic hotel in the very heart of downtown Hot Springs. Nice hot tub, I'm sure the pool is nice in the summer. A short walk to the Hot Springs Visitors Center.tonight:
Access to the pool and spa is on my floor (the seventh), so I got lucky.
I'm here on the weekend. That meant live music in the main room, a giant wedding on the mezannine, and loud drunk people in the hot tub.
So this is my birthday treat for myself that I did not have on my actual birthday, a couple of days in the historic Arlington Hotel in historic Hot Springs. It was pretty fun!
My van is too tall for the parking garage, so my two choices are: $17/day extra for valet parking or park around the corner two blocks away in the employee overflow lot. You know which on I chose. gimpy leg or not.
The hotel’s natural springs comes out of the ground about 50′ up the mountain So the 12 story hotel is built right next to the mountain with a catwalk off the back of the fifth floor to the swimming pool and hot tub. I had asked or a room with a view of the main street and downtown, and the booking lady blessed me with such a room on the fifth floor! So the hot tub was just a walk down the hallway for me!
I decided to go a little before sunset, to watch sunset from the hot tub. Good choice! It’s about 40 outside, so it’s a pretty brisk walk back to the warmth of the hotel.Around 7 pm I headed out to see what’s up in downtown. My destination is a new (to me) brewery in one of the historic spa buildings. The brewery was super interesting. They had a seasonal Oktoberfest that I quite enjoyed with my bratwurst. They brew with the hot springs naturally pre-heated water. One of the brewmasters happened to serve me my beer, and we got to talking, and he gave me a quickie tour of the brewery. Having the US Parks Service as your landlord can be trying. Pretty much every feature of the building from the window sills to the tile floor are historical treasures and must be preserved.
The 120 year old white tile floor looks great in the restaurant, but he says he spends half his life squeegeeing puddles from the brewery floor. They can’t mess with almost anything, really. They had to sign a 100 year lease!
But here’s a feature: apparently you need water at 160-170° to get the yeast going, and their water comes out of the ground at 140° so they only have to heat it a little bit.
I am loving staying at this hotel. When I got back, the huge ornate lobby bar was filled with Arkansans listening to piano trio that was [playing on stage. They have live music in the lobby every Friday night it seems. There were a lot of people there tonight. It kind felt like the Shining.
I partake of the hotel’s breakfast buffet, very civilized. I have decided to treat myself to a second day here, mostly because I just don’t want to sleep in the van in this bluster weather. Also, it’s soooo nice not to have to hustle out of the room to check out by 11. It’s very bright and sunny, but very cold.
I walked back to the van for a little adventure. I drove over to the Libbey Memorial Physical Medicine Center to confirm that it is indeed shutterred. Too bad, that was a cool place. Health violations, they say … They have so much hot water here that there is a public station in front with four spigots where you can get as much hot water as you can carry away. I grabbed a gallon or so. I drove the backside of the national park to find the campground. It looks quite nice, also pretty crowded. But it is Saturday of a three day weekend after all.
Lazed around back at the room for a while, but got myself out the door so I could tour the old bathhouse that is now the Visitors Center before it closed. I did this 8 years ago, so I sort of all came back, but it really i very interesting. Both for the turn of the last century fads in health treatments – electrical therapy? – and also for the geology of why this is here. They say the water coming out of the ground now went in 4,000 years ago!Wandered around for a while, gazed at the “demo spring” behind the building. My ankle still doesn’t feel awesome, so I don’t climb the stairs and walk the Grand Promenade (although how could I not, with a name like that?. Back on Central Avenue, I’m looking for a place to eat. I unpromising little restaurant had a sign in the window that shrimp and sausage gumbo is tonight’s special. That’s all I needed to see. It was really, really good. The two meals I’ve enjoyed most on this trip, aside from the extravaganzas with Peggy, were dirty rice + shrimp back on the Gulf, and this modest little bowl of gumbo. I resolve to learn how to make dirty rice and gumbo when I get home!
The other new innovation since my last visit is that the Quapaw Baths has ben re-opened as a commercial spa! All their literature is about massages and treatments and all that expensive stuff, but it turns out you can pay $20 and hang put in the tubs for as long as you want. If I had known that coming in, I mighta braved the cold at the campground and soaked at Quapaw instead of the hotel thing.
Back to the Bathhouse Brewery for another excellent Oktoberfest, then back to the hotel. A big ole wedding has taken over the mezzanine level. I had kinda thought I would being my laptop down there later to hang out above the action so to speak, but that ain’t happening tonight.I’m sad to say the hot tub was not good tonight. There were three white couples there. The three dudes just would not shut up, talking in very loud voices about their boring-ass work or cars or motorcycles or whatever. The ladies were quiet till one couple left, then the true horror started. One of the women turned out to be an ugly drunk. I typed a few sentences of the details, then realized they did not make good reading. Suffice to say she was vulgar and mean in a passive-aggressive way. A very quiet family with teen daughters came and for some reason the woman starting talking about her big tits. It was too embarrassing to be in the same tub. left.
Leavin Day. Take a shower, pack my stuff, check out. Unlike the low-key scene when I arrived two days ago, the valet station was super-duper busy with all the very important people from last night’s big wedding all leaving at once. The valets had been very helpful coming in, but today, they were swamped. When I asked where to put my stuff while I retrieved the van, today, they just pointed to a corner of the lobby and said put it there. Worked for me. I walked two blocks, warmed up the van, drove back into the maelstrom, parked long enough to grab all my little bags out of the corner of the lobby, then spent ten minutes getting out pick-up area, because it was just a big confused mess.
After I escaped the loading area madhouse, it was back to the parking out to re-stow all my stuff from the bags to its correct spot in the van. Then lock up again and walk one block back to a place called The Pancake House. This is Sunday, so it was pretty busy, but I got a single opening at the counter, and it was pretty good!
An aside: the “novaculite” mentioned in the caption above is what the world famous “Arkansas whetstone” is made of. If you’re ever been taught how to sharpen a knife on a whetstone, tit probably came from around here, from the Zig Zag Mountains.
My near term Grand Plan is to end up at the Great Salt Plains in north central Oklahoma in a couple of days. I really liked it 16 years ago, although the details of why are hazy, I just really liked it. But tonight I am heading west on US 270 to north on US 71 to get to an Army Corps campground on the Arkansas River right outside Fort Smith:
Really nice place, good bargain. Quiet and natural, but close to civilization.
A Loop is more open, on a point of land in a calm little estuary of the Arkansas River. B Loop is in the forest above the actual river.
They have showers.tonight:
In the summer I would want B Loop shade.
But with 30° coming tonight I want whatever possibility of sun I can get on A Loop.
Also, this particular spot is at the end of the point, with water on 190° of my view.
Gotta love the Army Corp! This reservation is a huge chuck of land what was probably pretty remote when they set it up, but the suburbs has come to it’s door. There was a nice couple in the gatehouse. They gave me a map – B Loop is nearby to the right, A loop is waaay over there, drive around and see which site you want. As mentioned above, B Loop woulda been the place in the summer, but on a cloudy November day, A Loop seemed just the thing.
It was a couple of miles away, inside the park, on the headwater side of the dam, on a prosperous looking little inlet of the river which big brick mansions with private boat docks on the other side of the water. I enjoyed my half hour or so of daylight hanging out at my picnic table. A slightly blustery but relative warm evening – it’s very pretty here tonight.