Day 2 of Year Long Roadtrip Following Scenic Byways Around the USA
Best Places to Visit in the Arkansas Ozarks
OMG! As I left Dallas Tuesday, I told my mom it would be hard to sleep because it would be so hot…WRONG…whew, the wind was cold. I closed up all of VANilla’s windows in the middle of the night! I’m not complaining because I think sleeping on hot nights is what will be challenging given my “A/C” is an 8 inch, 12 volt fan will cool down VANilla. I’ll probably find out tonight!
Rich Mountain Fire Tower
To finish off the Talimena Scenic Byway, I stopped off at Rich Mountain Fire Tower, located on the highest peak of the Ouchita Mountains (2,681 feet). Today I was able to enjoy some of those scenic vistas and actually see what the area looked like without cloud cover.
Hot Springs National Park
On to the City of Hot Springs which according to the road sign Bill Clinton’s boyhood hometown. Here, I would connect to my next scenic drive through the Arkansas Ozarks. My first stop in the Ozarks was at Hot Springs National Park. The town, on the edge of the park, is quaint and cute. There is a row of ornate bathhouses right on the main road. The area looked a little too nice for my mangy mutts. Instead of going to the springs, I opted for driving up the winding road on ZigZag Mountain. At the top we took a 45 minute hike on a simple trail. The summit offered a selection of routes, including one hike into the gorge with a signed that warned it was a 40 minute strenous return. That sounded too hard for my old companions on this HOT day.
After stretching our legs, we continued on our trip. For the next several miles, we passed by numerous rock shops. After about the 10th one, I thought I should get a rock for my friend Rootie’s rock garden. As such I stopped off at the next store (with two open signs and two closed signs), to find that it was closed. Fortunately, a hundred feet down the road I happened upon another one, and it turned out to be the last one on the route that I noticed. According to their card, Coleman’s Cyrstal Mines and Rock Shop has the World’s largest selection of crystals and gems. Visitors can even mine their own crystals. After browsing the options, I left with a piece of quartz.
Ouachita National Forest
My Reader’s Digest Scenic Drive book mentioned additional stops at Lake Ouchita State Park and Ouachita National Forest, but I didn’t feel like I had time to visit if I wanted to make it to a campsite by 5 with some daylight to spare, so I pressed forward. Though, as I was passing the expansive woods, I saw a sign for Winona Scenic Drive through the forest. OK, I thought, this is my chance to get a quick view. As I turned in, I bounced along a dirt road. My GPS (which I think has been my best investment outside of VAN-illa), said it was a 3.7 mile loop before going back to Hwy 7. That seemed simple enough. Both wildlife and scenic views were non-existent, and when I got to mile 3.7 to get back on the highway, I was still in the forest with no left turn available. “Recalculating” says Gina the GPS! That made me a little nervous, given electronic navigating isn’t always accurate. Fortunately, Gina succeeded, at the stop sign in the forest, she told me to turn left on County Road 54. Low and behold, 2.1 miles later I found Hwy 7.
Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge
Onward…I decided to stop at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve never been to a national wildlife refuge that I know of, so it struck my curiousity. Marci, at the visitor’s center informed me that main purpose of the refuge is to provide a winter home for migrating ducks and geese. The staff plants soybeans and corn for the birds so they have a resting spot in the winter. The refuge is open to hunting though, so I’m not sure how much of a rest the birds get…maybe it is only hunting for deer.
Anyway, there is an 8 mile driving tour past lakes, marshes and forests where visitors can spot bobcats, coyotes, beavers, deer, as well as migrating birds. While I’m glad I stopped by, I needed Njano our African safari guide to spot wildlife for me! I saw a rabbit, a few birds, and do grasshoppers count? One of them hitched a ride on my windshield for a while. In all seriousness, it was 3:30 in the afternoon, and I was driving a little bit fast (20 mph) to really see much. I simply visited for the experience. I’d definitely go back or visit another wildlife refuge and allow myself more time to explore.
Petit Jean State Park
My resting spot for the evening is Petit Jean State Park. It looks magnificent. I am definitely going for a hike in the morning here. In the meantime, I met a guy named Bryan, who just graduated college with a film degree, at the campsite. He is roughing it with a car and tent while on a meandering route to Reno from Atlanta to visit his mom. We went to watch the sunset at Mather Lodge…it was quick, yet magnificent. ETB