Arkansas. The splotch of place above Louisiana. The place Bill Clinton came from. Yes, that Arkansas. In my quest to hit all fifty states, a trip had to be made. A quick drive across the bridge from Memphis, and I was there.
Arkansas is called the Natural State, and the name seems to fit. Much of the state appeared to be open forests, even along the interstates. Our first stop was Hot Springs, located about an hour southwest of Little Rock.
The town of Hot Springs is cute, featuring an easily walkable downtown lined with restaurants. The town – coincidentally the childhood home of President Clinton – was also a favorite retreat of gangster Al Capone, and dinner at the Ohio Club (a prohibition era bar, casino, and brothel) surrounds you with Capone memorabilia, and other relics of the period.
The highlight of the town, though, is its namesake hot springs. Now a national park, the 600,000 daily gallons of heated mineral water are best accessed through the bath houses that line the main road, Central Ave. My father and I spent our afternoon at the Quapac Baths.
The bath house is co-ed, so swimwear is necessary, as are flip flops (though they were available to purchase for $3), and carries a fairly hefty $20 per person entry fee. That includes as much time in the pools as you desire, but no other services. Those can be purchased separately. The pools range in temperature, with the hottest being kept at 104 Farenheit. Capacity is kept deliberately small, so the room never felt crowded. It was certainly worth a stop.
Driving due north after spending the night in Hot Springs (the Embassy Suites was a good choice though the Arlington Hotel is the famous historic landmark) up Arkansas scenic highway 7, we drove through rolling forested hills and up into the Ozarks.
I have to be honest, I expected mountains. But the Ozarks are not mountains. They are not even hills. It is a plateau with valleys carved out, so the rises are all pretty much the same elevation. It was a pretty drive, but not worth going out of your way to see.
After a quick stop at Little Rock Central High School, pictured in the title, location of the first forced desegregation in the South where the army accompanied the first black students to school, we reached our hotel in downtown Little Rock. Downtown Little Rock is surprisingly nice, built along the Arkansas River. Restaurants are everywhere in the River Market district, featuring the Arkansas staple: fried catfish. If you don’t care for catfish, both seafood and chicken are in abundance, and like most places in the mid-south, it is all good!
So what’s the verdict? Is Arkansas worth seeing? If you want to see every state, definitely. If you are a fan of good food, warm people, nice hot water, and some history, yes. If you are looking for excitement and the thrill of big cities, probably not.