The only roads north through Arkansas were really small, dizzying, and green. We drove for six hours, an unusually long day on the road.
On these days, you have lots of time to make observations about your surroundings. For instance, we have begun to see the American flag in a whole new light. Against the context of the defunct Confederate “rebel” flag, which is surrealistically touted on many homes throughout the south, it seems like American flags here are not necessarily a portrayal of nationalist pride, but a protest against the still-surviving Southern sympathies. One flag says, “The South will rise again!” The other says, “Cut the bullshit now, Jim”. Being a Yankee, I had never considered these nuances before.
All of these deep thoughts came to an abrupt halt when we were parking up at a campground in Oachita National Forest. We ran over a piece of scrap metal (an old drainage pipe?) and it tore up the fiberglass runner, the step that runs the length of the van. Our first accident. When I saw the damage, I was furious.
But there was nothing we could do about it that night, and I calmed down after a few glasses of wine. The campground, called Cedar Fourche, had free, truly hot showers! That was a plus one for morale.
In the morning we ran errands in Hot Springs Village. Edd got a fiberglass repair kit, and I went shopping at another “cost plus” supermarket which prices everything at cost and add ten percent. We could use these in the North!
Then we took a trip into Hot Springs National Park, the only one to encompass an actual town. Unfortunately, almost all of the once exposed natural hot springs have been capped, except for a few that are too hot to bathe in.
To make the most of the springs, you can go to one of the old, European-style bathhouses in the park. Hiking trails are another way to explore the park but that really doesn’t compare to taking a steamy natural bath. Anyway the bathhouses were still out of our budget so our hot campground showers would have to do.
The rangers were really nice at all of the visitor centers, which include the Fordyce Bathhouse. We did the free self-guided tour there. I recommend it!
We stayed that night in Ouachita again and kept driving on Scenic Byway 7 up to the Ozarks National Forest. The campground we wanted to stay at, Richland Creek, was packed with campers for Memorial Day weekend. Oops. We forgot about that. So we parked a few miles up the road on a small site.
However, we got really lucky! Right behind us were these little waterfalls, which we later found out are called Six Finger Falls.
It rained that night. HARD. We were never so happy to be sleeping in our cozy van. Plus we used our oven for the first time to bake a couple of 3 dollar pizzas! It’s a small gas oven with a built-in thermostat and it is super efficient! The pizza was okay too.
The next morning, we went for a hike to Twin Falls. We climbed up and down muddy trails and crossed two chest-deep rivers to get there! We loved that the trail goes through rivers! It was a challenging walk, but we had just as much fun on it as we did at the falls.
Back at the Richland Creek campground, the tent campers had left because of the previous night’s rain. So we moved the van in and slept there for three nights. They have a huge swimming area, so each day we had a wash in the cold jade-colored waters.
During the day, we worked on the fiberglass. The repair kit includes some nylon for patching and a messy polyester resin which dries super hard. I cut the nylon into strips and held them in place while Edd spread the resin over it. Then we waited for it all to dry. It looks pretty funny on the car. But it’s stronger now!
We didn’t get any data or cell signal. So we used the radio a lot! The only station we could tune in to that wasn’t full of crazy people was ESPN. Luckily, one night, the Detroit Tigers baseball game was on! We listened to them beating the pants off the Kansas City Royals.
When all was fixed, we drove North to Erbie Campground on the Buffalo National River. We took a gorgeous walk to a lookout point. Again we had to ford a river. We are getting used to this! We saw a national historic site called the Parker-Hickman homestead.
On our way out of Arkansas, we stopped in the mountain town of Eureka Springs. The hilly streets, stone buildings, wrought iron balconies, and art sculptures felt like “Victorians gone wild”. But Edd is right when he said most shops had meaningless (and expensive) “tourist tat”.
“The natural state” really should be called “au naturel state”. We haven’t taken an actual shower in a solid week. Just river bathing (with environmentally friendly soap). We turned into wild animals in Arkansas. What better time to go crash at a friend’s!