We crossed the Mississippi River from Memphis into Arkansas and we quickly discovered that tractor-trailers ruled the road on Interstate 40 - Nancy remarked that the trucks looked like a traffic "fjord" as we cautiously weaved between them. We were on our way to one of the lesser-known National Parks - Hot Springs: the second smallest National Park and the oldest one maintained by the National Park Service, which earned it the honor of being the first to be featured on a US Quarter for the "America the Beautiful Quarters" coin series.
Hot Springs AR is a charming old town. Central Avenue is its main tourist attraction, with its row of grand bath houses from the Gilded Age. They sit at the base of the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain from which flows half a million gallons a day of thermal water. We arrived in the early evening and enjoyed a Mexican dinner at "La Hacienda". We opted for a Quality Inn & Suites a few miles outside of the town center. The closer accommodations were very pricey for tired old properties that saw their heyday decades ago.
Breakfast the next morning was at "Granny's Kitchen" - a homey place with hearty helpings and a colorful wait staff. We were seated in the back corner that featured a wall honoring mostly Motown artists with a sound-track to match. The biscuits were the stars of the show.
After breakfast we headed over to one of the two bath houses that still were open to the public (the rest are either under restoration or are just museums at this point). The wait at the Quapaw Baths was going to be at least 2 hours, and the Buckstaff Bathhouse required reservations that were fully booked for the next several days. As much as we enjoyed the thermal baths in Budapest, Hungary, and Baden Baden, Germany, we decided that we could take a pass this time. Instead we took a leisurely drive up Hot Springs Mountain before heading off towards Norman Oklahoma (home to the University of Oklahoma) where we'd stop for the night.
The ride into Oklahoma began through the Oachita Mountain Range along winding roads and hairpin turns with tree-lined vistas. Many decades have passed since Nancy was last in Oklahoma - her Dad was stationed in Oklahoma City for his FAA training and her family spent several months there back in the 60's. It was much more verdant than she remembered. Lots of open fields, grazing livestock, and rolling hills. One recently plowed field finally reminded her of the ubiquitous red dust she recalled from her childhood. We were reminded that we'd been traveling for several days by car almost 900 miles since leaving the area around the Great Smoky Mountains, where the Cherokee people began their "Trail of Tears" - when President Andrew Jackson (sadly, Trump's hero) ordered them to relocate by foot to Oklahoma.
Our next overnight stop was Amarillo Texas. On the way there wind farms stretched out for miles on both sides of the road (Texas leads the US in wind power). The Texas terrain was flat and dry - barren stretches of sun-bleached fields peppered with antique water-pumping wind mills. When we reached Amarillo we scouted out one of the top 5 BBQ joints in all of Texas - Spicy Mikes BBQ Haven - where we chowed down on burnt ends, green beans, Texas toast, and the first salad and baked potato we'd ever seen as BBQ sides. Oh...and we had to try the peach cobbler.
No visit to Amarillo should be without a stop at the quirky "Cadillac Ranch". Located in a cow pasture on the remnants of old Route 66 is this public art installation consisting of a row of 10 Cadillacs from 1949-1963, partially buried nose first in the ground, and covered with spray-pained graffiti. Visitors are invited to purchase cans of spray paint from an RV at the entrance - it's a tagger's paradise. Just up the road at the gift shop, the "Second Amendment Cowboy" stands guard.
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Nancy McCabe &