Across Arkansas (part two)

Mountain View

It was early evening when we reached Mountain View, a little town on the way to Little Rock, whose only place of interest made our list solely because of its favorable location. That place, however—the building of an old mill— proved to be so wretched that even an oversized blue rocking chair set in front of a tanning salon brought us more excitement.

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Another quick stop that followed was the site of the Greers Ferry Dam, which we spotted by a fluke. Though the water flow was not exactly impetuous, and we could not afford a closer shot, the sight was still a fascinating one.

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Little Rock

The night’s imminent advent spilled in the air, we expended our time with unusual imprudence, lazing a great part of the evening in the T.R. Pugh Memorial Park in North Little Rock, gazing about the Old Mill and banks of the Lakewood Lake, artistically beautified with some unassuming stonework.

 

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We had all the more reason to prolong our procrastination that the last photographic meal of the day was to be consumed after dark. And when the right moment came (or maybe when our consciousness about dawdling too much gave way), we set off for the Junction Bridge Pedestrian Walkway at the Riverfront Park.

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An elevator-accessible observation deck atop the nearer tower of the bridge revealed a rather great downtown skyline.

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We reckoned that as a redemption for a fairly relaxed evening our following day had to be maximally productive, for which we went straight to the hotel to get adequate rest.

As planned, the next morning started in an expeditious fashion with a cavalcade of prominent local estates, including the Empress house:

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Although conventionally higher in stature, as far looks go, we found the Governor’s Mansion inferior to the aforementioned estates.

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Just minutes later we passed by the Little Rock Central High School, which I was wishing had rather been simply “Rock School.”

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Obviously, we did not just pass by the State Capitol. And how could we: I was struck by the blatant misalignment of the building with the street abutting it (simply look at the outer flagpoles, which are an equal distance from the road).

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Next we spent a little time at the Mount Holly Cemetery, a somewhat less isolated place than one might expect.

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We briefly stopped at the Bernice Garden that welcomes its visitors (and dwellers?) with a conglomeration of odd art installations united by an ornithological theme.

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Personally, the colossal mural spanning the length of a side wall of a museum building across the street amused me much more.

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Sadly, we had not time to spare for the allegedly haunted Hanger House:

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or much of the Quapaw Quarter:

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Arkansas Arts Center and Hearne Fine Arts Gallery closed, we hastily headed for the Historic Arkansas Museum, bent to inject some art into our secular heads after all.

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Watercolors, fancywork, posters, and what have you—it was, in fact, quite a respectable collection, even if somewhat bizarre.

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I cannot frankly recommend our next destination, the H.U.Lee International Gate and Garden, in view of its dubious aesthetic qualities, but I concede that it might bear some importance to a martial arts enthusiast.

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On the whole, though, much of the downtown gladdens the eye with various considerate trifles, such as bright-yellow trolleys, street decorations, and cheerful façades.

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Despite the name—and thus to our great amazement—at the Old State House Museum we were treated to a collection of cinematographic props and memorabilia

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as well as exhibits depicting the bicycle evolution, which was, perhaps, only slightly more in line with our expectations, owing to the fact that the former Arkansas’s governor’s bike was included.

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Then there were blueprints by an architect whose name now escapes me, and who, if my memory is at all to be trusted, designed the very building of the old State House.

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On the subject of Arkansas’s political heritage, the reader may have already noticed that many of the state’s tourist offerings have in one way or another to do with one of its most accomplished and well-known natives by the name of Bill Clinton. And the William J. Clinton Presidential Center is probably as splendid a shrine to the man as the money could build.

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Let me explain. On one hand, the museum’s contents are meticulously arranged and maintained, and include a number of rare and peculiar items; on the other, the fact that the museum was funded by the wealthy friends of the former president undermines the integrity of what is displayed within its walls. This bias manifests primarily in that not a word of critique can be found on the information stands and interactive screens scattered around the building, only inexhaustible words of praise.

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To keep bringing back local crowds, in addition to its permanent collection, the Bill Clinton museum regularly hosts various other exhibitions on its vast premises. For example, during our visit a sizable area of the second floor was taken by the exposition of Charles M. Schulz’s works.

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Although we were doing great on time and had no need or desire to skip any places, the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum happened to be closed for some event.

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Because we had made up our minds to attend a scheduled tour of the Rock Town Distillery (to compensate for the earlier mishap with the West Mountain Brewing Company), and had to kill some time before it started, we once more swung by the Pugh Memorial Park in North Little Rock. It was just as pretty in daylight.

Our tour of the distillery started with a few introductory words by our guide, an easygoing brunette in her late twenties. She talked about the birth of the factory and numerous accolades that it has received over its history.

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The production processes are not exactly primitive, yet low budget and sparsity of the staff at times compel the company to resort to unorthodox business initiatives, such as delegating some of the routine manual labor to willing citizens remunerated with booze, often right at the workplace.

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Slightly buzzed from the sampling of the distillery’s products at the tour end, we set sail for Hot Springs, the penultimate spot in our Arkansas itinerary.

Hot Springs

We reached Hot Springs in mid-afternoon and without any ado ascended to the Mountain Tower to get a general perspective on the area.

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Quite displeased with the panorama from the tower top, we proceeded to the city’s true landmark—the Bathhouse Row. Of course we could not make rounds of all of the bathhouses on the street, not the least because some were closed, but a quick survey of the Fordyce Bathhouse gave us a good idea about the kind of health-conducive leisure people dug back in the day.

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I mean who would not want to first get properly steamed up, then take a refreshing dip in a swimming pool, have a massage therapist stir up your bones after that, and finish off the afternoon over a casual conversation with your pals over a game of billiards.

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Seems like a worthwhile alternative to TV, beer, and pizza.

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In addition to sanatory functions, the bathhouses stand out by their slightly informal and exotic appearances, thus attracting health- and travel-driven tourists alike.

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And the rest of the downtown surroundings do their best to keep up.

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It would be safe to say that Hot Springs is a fair competitor to Eureka Springs in terms of help they render to Arkansas’s tourism, although I doubt there is any sort of rivalry between the two.

Texarkana

Contrary to the lyrics of a popular song, Texarkana is more than a mile away from the Louisiana border, and farther yet from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where we were headed that afternoon. Nonetheless, we had a wee bit of time before hitting the road again, so we used it for a quick glance around town.

Texarkana is remarkable in that its territory, including certain streets, is equally split between Texas and Arkansas—hence the name. The Texarkana Post Office and Federal Courthouse building, for example, is located in both states at the same time.

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And, to borrow the words of one charismatic movie character, that’s all I have to say about that. TTFN.

 

Traditional map:

map

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