Day 2 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways
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 will be the most challenging. My “A/C” is an 8 inch, 12 volt fan. Doubt that 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 without the fog and cloud cover of yesterday.
Hot Springs National Park
On to the City of Hot Springs which according to the road sign is Bill Clinton’s boyhood hometown. Here, I would connect to my next scenic drive through the Arkansas Ozarks. My first stop in the Arkansas Ozarks was 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 strenuous 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 VANilla), 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! Uneasy over the electronic navigating, I hoped for the best. 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
Continuing on, I stopped at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve never been to a national wildlife refuge that I know of, so it struck my curiosity. Marci who was staffing the visitor’s center informed me that the 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 may spot bobcats, coyotes, beavers, deer, as well as migrating birds. While I’m glad I visited, 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 in the Arkansas Ozarks for the evening is Petit Jean State Park. It looks spectacular. 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
Map of My Road Trip Across the USA
For a summary about my road trip across the USA, click HERE. For the interactive map, see the below link.
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Check out the photographic note cards and key chains at my shop. Each card has a travel story associated with it. 20% of proceeds are donated to charity.