Despite the name of this post, I would be remiss to not point out that this was not just an anniversary trip; it also doubled as the final of our four trips for Seth’s 4-0. We hadn’t initially planned for any of them to serve as a dual celebration for two separate occasions, but after having to cancel an August trip to Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe due to wildfires, rescheduling that all-important fourth trip for the week of our anniversary seemed like a good way to find a silver lining.
And while Arkansas may not be as in-demand a destination as Yosemite or Lake Tahoe, it’s actually been on our list as a place to hit for quite some time — given that it’s so close *and* is home to a National Park! So when we had an opening for a last-minute addition to our 2021 travels and needed a destination that would be nice in October, it was an obvious choice that turned out to be even prettier than we’d expected.
Anyway, without further ado, ARKANSAS:
– feature film –
See the occasion come alive in these video highlights!
day 1 • 10.09.21
Independence, MO >>> Bentonville, AR >>> Eureka Springs, AR
We left home hoping it’s not actually bad luck to cross paths with a black cat. And a few hours later, we arrived in Bentonville (which seemed like an important stop on an inaugural trip to Arkansas):
Walmart’s headquarters are in Bentonville, and the original five-and-dime store Sam Walton opened in 1950 on the town square is still there — now housing The Walmart Museum as well as a retro-themed soda fountain.
Above is Sam Walton’s office, and below is the truck he drove even after he was well-off enough to afford something ritzier.
After leaving Bentonville, we made our way to Eureka Springs and came across some fawns not far from where we’d spend the next two nights glamping (i.e. “glamorous camping”).
Our first order of business after arriving at our glamping pod right at golden hour was to get some anniversary portraits, so we wouldn’t have to worry about fitting them into our schedule on our actual anniversary the next day. Plus, there was no guarantee we’d get such pretty light two nights in a row!
Our pod’s name was Ted, and he came with a corresponding bathroom pod (appropriately named on the sign in the top left of the above collage 🤣). The accommodations were so cute and allowed us to have a semi-rustic experience without really roughing it.
day 2 • 10.10.21
Eureka Springs, AR
What a handsome face and impressive head of hair I’ve woken up to for 11 years now (not to mention the brown Army-issued T-shirts that have also been a constant that entire time, and then some)!
I was so pleased to find this cute anniversary card that was a perfect fit for how we celebrated this year. And of course, Seth found a fitting gift for me, as well:
We spent the day seeing sights in Eureka Springs, starting with the seven-story Christ of the Ozarks statue on the campus of the Great Passion Play.
Also on the Passion Play campus was this section of the Berlin Wall, which we certainly weren’t expecting to see there! And not to make the Berlin Wall about us, or anything, but I did appreciate the fact that it was a 10-by-10 section that we encountered while celebrating our 10.10 anniversary.
We had lunch downtown at Basin Park Hotel’s Balcony Restaurant and Bar. This hotel happens to be in the Guiness Book of World Records for being the only hotel that has ground access on all seven of its floors (due to being built into a hillside)!
After lunch we met Gumbo, one of the “working bunnies” stationed at a downtown shop.
Our next stop was the stunning Thorncrown Chapel, which was the dream of an Arkansas man named Jim Reed who initially purchased the land it sits on for his retirement home. But when he realized how much people enjoyed stopping at the property for its views of the Ozark Mountains, he and his wife decided to instead build this beautiful glass chapel designed by architect E. Fay Jones (an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright). Since Thorncrown’s completion in 1980, it’s drawn visitors from all over the world. It’s also made some important lists, including the National Register of Historic Places and travel guides to the most beautiful churches in America and beyond.
We also visited Blue Spring Heritage Center, which has been a tourist attraction since the 1940s due to its vibrant blue spring that daily pumps 38 million gallons of water into the White River.
Blue Spring is on the National Register of Historic Places (due to artifacts having been found there dating back 10,000 years) as well as on the Trail of Tears, as Cherokees stopped there in 1839 on their journey from Georgia to Oklahoma.
The spring maintains a temperature of 54 degrees year round, and we decided 54 degrees felt colder than we’d expected!
Last up on our itinerary was a tram tour of Eureka Springs, which was a fun way to see and learn more about the city. Like, for instance, none of the downtown streets cross at right angles. This is because they were laid out following the historic paths Native Americans used. Since that created such curvy roads — with curves often introducing a new street name — individual streets sometimes contain very few addresses. One building we passed was actually the only one on its little section of street! And another fun fact: There’s not a single stoplight within the city limits.
One of our tour stops was the Crescent Hotel (above), which was built in 1886 and is billed as “America’s most haunted hotel.” According to our guide, a lot of its dark history is tied to a conman who presented himself as a doctor (despite having no medical training) and operated the Crescent as a hospital and health resort that made false promises of healing through treatments that consisted largely of drinking the area’s natural spring water.
On a brighter note, that bright blue sky in the above left shot perhaps makes this a good place to mention that this anniversary seemed more like our wedding day than any other we’ve had. In addition to falling on a Sunday for the first time since our Sunday wedding on 10.10.10, the weather on this anniversary was just like what we had then — with lots of sun and temperatures around 80 degrees.
I looked up this writers’ colony (shown above and below) after passing it on the tram tour, and it looks like such a quaint, pleasant place for a writer or artist to do a residency. If my whole life weren’t basically one long creative retreat already — and if I could bring along my husband and cat, of course — I might consider applying!
The tram also stopped at Grotto Spring (above and below). Early residents of Eureka Springs discovered this spring under an overhanging rock ledge at the base of a tree-covered hill, and skilled stonemasons created an enclosure to protect it during street construction in the late 1800s. A stone above the entrance is engraved with the words “Esto Perpetua,” reflecting the prevailing belief at the time that the spring’s healing waters would flow forever.
Early in Eureka Spring’s history, Grotto Spring was located only a few steps from the city’s electric streetcar line, and some of the first ordinances enacted by the local government were to protect it for public use in perpetuity. A candle representing this edict burns inside the enclosure.
Above are a few more favorite shots of Eureka Springs, which happens to be the only city in America with its entire downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was such a cute, unique spot to spend our anniversary — and interestingly, on this day we met a man also from Kansas City who was there celebrating his 22nd wedding anniversary, which was just the day before our 11th!
This antique shop was on our way back to our glamping grounds, so we stopped in to look around.
The store had a ton of interesting stuff, but by far my most surprising find was this shirt advertising a business that (based on the name) must have at one time been right in our backyard! I kind of wish now that I’d gotten the shirt, but a picture is the next best thing (or sometimes the actual best thing, when it keeps me from accumulating things I don’t need!).
Back at our glamping grounds, Seth set up a hammock, and we watched the sun set on another anniversary.
day 3 • 10.11.21
Eureka Springs, AR >>> Hot Springs, AR
We woke up to a cold morning that was quite a shock to the system compared to the weather we’d had the day before — but fortunately, we were heading south! We did have one last stop to make in Eureka Springs, though, at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge:
As the sign above says, Turpentine Creek rescues big cats and bears from poor living situations, usually subpar zoos or private ownership. Evidently more tigers live in back yards and basements than in the wild, which just blows my mind … because as much as I love cats, I can’t imagine attempting to keep a wild animal as a pet! See below for the condition in which they leave their “toys”:
Turpentine Creek staff couldn’t say much about this tiger family (below) due to an ongoing court case. But we gathered that they may have come from the Oklahoma zoo featured in “The Tiger King” on Netflix.
We had to wear masks, because evidently large cats can catch COVID. They also served an added purpose of keeping our faces warm, because we were freezing as we waited to start our tram tour of the facility! But it was worth being cold to see these beauties:
Last but not least, we saw Bam Bam, a grizzly rescued from Oklahoma. As much as I loved all the cats, he may have been my favorite (and Seth is pretty convinced I’d have tried to hug him if a cage hadn’t stood between us). I mean, just look at that face:
We found more sun and warmth as we drove the four hours south to Hot Springs, and we stopped partway at a scenic overlook.
It turns out a drone is great not only for aerial photography and videography but also for chasing stubborn stinging insects from your vehicle:
Below are a few more sights from the road — including some new anniversary twins of ours (per the writing on their back windshield), as well as our introduction to the fact that sand lizards are not only an animal that exists, but also evidently a school mascot.
day 4 • 10.12.21
Hot Springs National Park
How fun that the colors and patterns in my outfit matched this mural so well! Totally unplanned (although I admittedly am a person who would make an effort to coordinate my clothes for such a photo op).
As mentioned at the top of this post, Seth and I have had Arkansas and, specifically, Hot Springs National Park in our sights for quite a while. Especially given that it’s one of few National Parks within a workday’s drive of Kansas City, it’s kind of surprising we took this long to make the trip!
Plus, I’d been interested in its unique status as a park that’s actually part of a city and that has such a storied history. The map at above right shows the historic bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, which from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s were a big draw for tourists who came to experience the water from the area hot springs in a spa-like setting.
And with its status as “The American Spa,” it also became the birthplace of baseball spring training (more on that explained in the sign below) — where Babe Ruth hit the first home run to fly more than 500 feet. In the same era, Hot Springs was known for illegal gambling and gang activity … because of course career criminals need a place to relax and rejuvenate, too!
Only two of the eight buildings on Bathhouse Row still operate as bathhouses. The others have been repurposed, with the Lamar housing offices and archives, as well as the park store. It also offers a drinking fountain for sampling spring water:
The Ozark (above left) now serves as an art gallery, while the Quapaw (above right) is one of the two locations where visitors can still soak in spring water. The second is the Buckstaff (below), which has been in continuous operation as a bathhouse since it opened in 1912.
More to come later on the remainder of Bathhouse Row, but at this point we made our way behind it to the Grand Promenade, a picturesque walkway that took us to the Peak Trail. We hiked it to the top of Hot Springs Mountain, where a tower provides panoramic views of the city and the Ouachita Mountains surrounding it.
We could have take an elevator to the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, but Seth suggested that after hiking this far, we might as well walk the rest of the way up!
Finally, the views from the top of the tower!
We did use the elevator to return to the trail and spent a minute watching this stick bug (below right in the collage above) before heading back down to town.
The water from the hot springs is in fact hot — 143 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact! But unlike most hot springs, these don’t have a sulphur smell. Also notable is that they produce almost 1 million gallons of water daily.
We finished the afternoon at the Fordyce, which now functions as the park’s visitor center as well as a historically furnished museum showing what these bathhouses were like in their heyday. And as the largest building on bathhouse row, it was a way more extensive museum than we expected — featuring four floors of items and info. The photos I’m sharing really just scratch the surface, but I hope they’re enough to show that these historic spas went way beyond just bathtubs!
We also discovered at the Fordyce that we’d happened to time our trip to Hot Springs National Park for its 100-year mark. However, although it wasn’t a National Park until 1921, Hot Springs actually is the oldest federal reserve in the United States — with Congress setting aside the area in 1832 to preserve the springs for public benefit.
One part of the museum I found especially interesting was this contrast between Hot Springs being an in-demand destination for the well-off (as evidenced by the travel guides pictured above) as well as a desirable place for the destitute (shown below). And for both groups, the springs were the draw.
After our lengthy museum tour, we sat for a spell on the Fordyce’s front porch before finding a dinner spot up the street.
day 5 • 10.13.21
Hot Springs National Park & Garvan Woodland Gardens
Our second day in Hot Springs, we returned to Bathhouse Row for some photos in our “fancy” clothes — since it was once such a fancy destination — as well as to explore some more.
Above: Portraits on the Grand Promenade. And below: A drone shot of half of Bathhouse Row (including the five bathhouses we’d seen the day before).
We then walked past the remaining three bathhouses (above). The Maurice (top left) is currently vacant and available for commercial leasing. The Hale (right) is the oldest surviving bathhouse and now serves as a luxury hotel. And the Superior (bottom left) holds the status of being the only brewery in a United States National Park, as well as the only brewery in the world to use thermal spring water in its beer.
We also stopped to explore the historic Arlington Hotel, which has hosted a variety of presidents and celebrities. Al Capone was even known to have a favorite room there.
As we made our way back down the side of Central Avenue opposite Bathhouse Row, I happened to see this shot of Hilary Duff (above right) being used as a stock photo in a frame. I don’t think I’d ever seen a celebrity as a picture-frame person, but it seems like an effective approach for grabbing attention (mine, at least).
We happened to see this mural for Garvan Woodland Gardens as we were leaving Bathhouse Row to go visit the gardens. Maybe a sign our itinerary was spot-on? (Or, more likely, a sign that I like to find significance in places it’s really not!)
We were really impressed with this 210-acre botanical garden developed by the architecture and design department at the University of Arkansas. Among its beautiful features are a chapel and bell tower:
Anthony Chapel looks almost identical to Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs — which makes sense, since the draftsman for this chapel relied on 25 years of experience he had working alongside the architect who designed Thorncrown. I was so enamored with both structures and have become pretty committed to someday having a sunroom that looks something like them (never mind that this one cost $3.8 million to construct!).
Another awesome aspect of the gardens was this tree house, which was designed with an intent to connect children to the natural world.
Garvan Woodland Gardens occupies 4.5 miles of shoreline along Lake Hamilton, which is one of the area’s Diamond Lakes.
As 5 p.m. approached and the gardens were about to close, Seth and I went on a wild peacock chase — as we knew there were peacocks that roamed the area and, in a moment of haste, wrongly came to the conclusion that they must reside in a nature preserve area. We hurried a decent distance over there only to discover nothing at all in the way of exotic birds.
But fortunately, upon making our way back to the entrance, we hunted around a bit more and found George the peacock hanging out behind the welcome center with a couple of lady friends:
Upon arriving back at our hotel, we took our drone up to capture Lake Hamilton from above.
day 6 • 10.14.21
Hot Springs National Park
Our last day in Hot Springs National Park, we set out on a morning hike — taking the Sunset Trail to the Balanced Rock Trail, which leads to one of the most scenic vistas in the park. Both going and coming, we had the hike entirely to ourselves (other than a lot of spiders!).
Above: You might have to look closely to see the two daddy longlegs (which we saw in abundance whenever we were out in nature this week!).
Posing with my initials, which I promise I didn’t put there myself.
Our destination: Balanced Rock!
We had to hurry on our return trip in order to get back to Bathhouse Row in time for a bath we’d scheduled at the Quapaw. But what better to do before a bath than work up a sweat!
We figured no experience of Hot Springs National Park would be complete without soaking in the spring water, which basically felt like being in a hot tub. But it was cool (oxymoron intended!) to know this water actually came from a spring in the basement of the bathhouse.
With rain in the forecast that afternoon, we were looking for an indoor activity and decided on the Gangster Museum of America — which paints a picture of what the darker side of Hot Springs was like around a century ago.
From the late-1800s through the mid-1900s, Hot Springs was a frequent hangout for infamous mobsters like Al Capone. Capone initially came in search of a cure for syphilis, which he didn’t find. But he did find a way to illegally distribute moonshine using bottles from Mountain Valley Spring Water Company (which still operates in Hot Springs today).
Although not exactly gangster-related, the museum also has a gallery on Hot Springs’ baseball history.
In the museum’s outlaw gallery were copies of death certificates for the infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who hid out in the area at a time Bonnie was recovering from a leg injury.
And finally, in the last gallery, Seth and I provided photographic proof that only one of us has been trained by the U.S. Army to handle a weapon:
Before heading back to our hotel, we stocked up on spring water — which we found stayed warm inside the bottles even after hours in a refrigerator!
Above: A rainbow after the rain. And below: A pewter magnet to add to our collection. Both beautiful sights in our eyes!
day 7 • 10.15.21
Hot Springs, AR >>> Little Rock, AR
With Little Rock being only an hour from Hot Springs and more or less on our way home, we decided to spend a day seeing some sights there — starting with the Arkansas State Capitol.
On the Capitol grounds is a monument to the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students who enrolled in the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School as the city began desegregating its public schools in 1957. They endured a lot of abuse and resistance, even at the hands of the governor, who called in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent them from entering the school. It wasn’t until President Eisenhower reversed those orders weeks later — requiring the troops to help the students instead of hindering them from entering the school — that their integration began.
We also went to see Little Rock Central High School, which is now a National Historic Site (even as it continues to operate as a school).
The site’s visitor center gives a good overview of the experience of the Little Rock Nine and highlights some of the broader civil rights movement:
Next, we went downtown and walked along the Arkansas River until some pretty ominous storm clouds came in.
We thought we were done for the day after the rain came, but when it didn’t last very long into the evening, we set out from our hotel for one last Arkansas hike in Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Never mind that the recommended time allowance for summiting Pinnacle Mountain is two hours, and we had only an hour before sunset …
We stopped a little shy of the summit, what with the sun setting and the rocks getting slippery as it started raining again. But we still made it high enough to have a nice view.
We ended up finishing our descent in the dark with the aid of our phones’ flashlights, but not before enjoying one last pretty look:
day 8 • 10.16.21
Little Rock, AR >>> Independence, MO
Trying to make the most of our driving-home day, we stopped in a few spots, including this scenic overlook.
We captured ourselves in our KC shirts in front of this Springfield mural, then took a slight detour to see this historic gas station on Route 66:
And finally, all that was left was to finish the drive … with a lot of memories in our rearview mirror!
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