Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ozarks Trip Days 1 and 2

First things first, we didn't technically visit the Ozarks, it's just the best descriptor of the area I could come up with.  A while back, my mom mentioned that she wanted to go to her family reunion in Arkansas, but she wasn't going to be able to make the drive.  I suggested the big girls and I could go and I'd handle the driving.  Then a couple weeks before the trip, it was mentioned that central Arkansas wasn't all that far from Branson, Missouri.  Branson is a long running joke in our family, my mom has talked about going for the last 20 years or so, but has never actually been.  Well, one of the huge benefits of homeschooling is flexible scheduling.  We were planning to leave on a Friday, I told her I could give her until the next Thursday to go wherever she wanted.

And with that, I found myself planning a girl's road trip!  Now, I've mentioned we have entered another traveling season of life...in particular, this trip fell in the middle of 6 weekends in a row out of town.  I get overwhelmed trying to think of all of those at once and prefer to take them one at a time, so we got home one Sunday night, I hammered out details and reservations over the next 3 days, then I frantically packed up to leave the next Friday morning.

The girls are road trip veterans, they settled right down with their DVD players and waited for the first destination
I turned over the camera to my mom and she worked on learning how to use it
In no time at all, we were stopping for lunch and a meet-up with a dear friend of mine that I've known since elementary school
Soon after that, we crossed into Arkansas, a new state for me and the girls!
Here's the latest map of all the states the girls have visited (as of the end of the trip).  I'd love to get them to at least 40 before they move out!

 This picture was taken at the Welcome Center on I-30.  I liked how they had it set up.  Wooden "maps" of the state were on top of bookshelves and each one had a different section missing.  You found the one with the section of the state you were visiting missing and that bookshelf had pamphlets for all the activities available in that area.  There were also free maps, people providing helpful information, clean bathrooms, and a large outdoor area and playground. 
We spent the night in Hope, Arkansas at the Holiday Inn Express (comfortable, clean hotel with a nice breakfast...I especially appreciated that the yogurt cups were Chobani).  We ate dinner at Dos Loco Gringos (isn't that supposed to be locos?) next door to the hotel.  The staff was friendly, there were a ton of options (not just Mexican food) and the portions were huge.  My mom and I tried to split a full order of nachos and still had leftovers.

The next morning, we filled up with gas, which is where Sedona found her first "bug" of the trip and made me take a picture of this moth
We drove into town to make a quick stop at the Clinton Birthplace NHS. 
Make that a very quick stop.  I mostly wanted to stamp my parks passport
From there, we moved on to Delight, Arkansas, where we visited the cemetery where quite a few of my relatives are buried.  The only one I actually knew while she was living was my great-granny, who passed away when Sierra was a toddler.   She lived to be 100 years old and was a fabulous person, it was nice to visit.

After a small snafu with the directions and a quick turn around, we headed to the family reunion at Narrows Dam on Lake Greeson.  We didn't explore all that much, we were hanging out at the pavilion just downstream from the dam. There was a nice covered section with plenty of grilling space, lots of tables and a large playground area.  The bathrooms were clean and convenient.  I don't know anything about fishing, but there were several people fly fishing in the area.

Of course, Sedona spotted a bug.  Then she told me to take a picture
I found these lovely flowers.  I think the purple striping is really pretty
These tiny ones weren't too shabby either
Sedona climbed a rock and surveyed her surroundings
This bird (some sort of heron?) hung out on the other side of the river most of the afternoon
Mostly, we ate and chatted and I met family members I didn't even know I had and the girls made friends with other girls that were probably 3rd cousins twice removed or something.   We were able to snag a 4 generation pic with my mom and her dad
As the reunion wrapped up, we decided to drive the girls up to see the dam and the lake behind it.  Sedona had kept asking, "like a beaver dam?" and just could not grasp the concept of a man made dam and the lake it would create, so I had to show her.

Narrows Dam.  It's kinda narrow 
Just past the dam, there's an observation spot where you can park and look out over the lake.  Apparently my mom was taking pictures while I tried to balance my camera on a rather sketchy perch for a group photo
But I got one of the few pictures with all of us in it!
Lake Greeson:
As we were leaving, we passed this place.  We realized it's a hotel made to look like a town in the old west.  The girls were begging to stop and play and thought it was so neat.  I looked it up when we got home, it's called Diamonds Old West Cabins.  Definitely something I'm going to check out if we're in the area again.
We made our way east and stopped to visit Hot Springs National Park
Now, it was a holiday weekend, so that probably had a little something to do with the crowds, but I get the impression this is a heavily trafficked area all the time.  It was absolutely nothing like I expected.  Bumper to bumper traffic all the way through town, cramped parallel parking while traffic is waiting on you, large crowds walking down the side walks of bathhouse row.  I don't like big crowds of people, so it was stressing me out. 

We ended up parking on a side street and walking the Tufa Terrace Trail and part of the Grand Promenade.  That was a pleasant walk that got away from the hustle and bustle of the street a little bit

It was a pretty steep climb though.  We started down there at the bottom and hiked up to where I was taking this picture in about 200-300yds.
It was very pretty and much more relaxing than being on the street
I was having flashbacks to being at the mud volcano in Yellowstone, I don't know why I can't just trust that the steaming water is hot, I feel compelled to prove it to myself (setting an awesome example for small children)
I was determined to get another stamp in my parks passport and I suddenly realized we were VERY short on time to get that done before closing.  We hustled to the visitor's center, where I was told the stamps were down the street at the gift shop!
I practically ran down there to be told at the door that they were closing.  I begged to just get my stamp and promised not to buy anything
 Then we had a little bit of time to stroll bathhouse row and take a few pictures and read a few signs.  This was interesting, but if I ever go back, I'll be spending my time walking the trails

On the way back to the car, we hunted for a geocache that was hidden in the area.  This also gave the girls the chance to check out a spring we would have otherwise missed.
It was a fun find, but people had not been trading fairly, so we added a few extra trinkets to hopefully get it going again.
More purple flowers we passed on the way to the car
After a little more driving, we made it to Little Rock, where we stopped at Little Rock Central High.  It was already past closing time, so we didn't get to go in the visitor center (or get a stamp), but we got to walk around the school and the park across the street.
The old gas station across the street is part of the historic site.  Sierra was scared to even walk on the property, she thought we were going to get in trouble.  Sedona loved checking out the old gas pumps.
The school is so much bigger than I ever imagined.  I would love to tour the inside sometime, but since it's still a functioning high school, you have to be in a tour group to do that.  We did walk up the front steps.  Sierra fretted the whole time that we'd get in trouble.  I kept telling her it was a public school, she kept insisting since we pay taxes in Texas instead of Arkansas we couldn't be there
There is a park across the street with some interesting information and a lot of old photographs

At the visitor's center, a lot of the informational plaques are outside, so we still got a chance to read them.
Since we were in Little Rock, the girls were asking me if we could go by the capitol building.  I told them no, because I had no idea where it was.  Then I missed my turn to get on the interstate and ended up in the parking lot of the capitol building.  Sometimes things just work out.

As you can tell, the sun was starting to go down at this point.  We grabbed dinner on the road and headed for Memphis, Tennessee.  What?  You mean that's not on the way to Branson?  Well, my mom had always talked about going to Graceland too and I figured Memphis wasn't that far away in the big scheme of things, so we swung by for a pit stop to see the King.  

The drive from Little Rock to Memphis was horrendous.  It seemed nothing but 18 wheelers were driving the roads, construction meant lots of time driving next to concrete barriers with no shoulders and it was raining for a good portion of the drive.  I was just a tiny bit tense by the time we pulled into town.  And then I hit the first intersection, where all the lights were out because of the storm that had passed through.  And then I realized I had exited the interstate too early, meaning we had to actually drive all the way through Memphis instead of looping around it (either that or try to find the interstate with no street lights and all the construction).  I was ready to fall straight into bed when we finally arrived at the Heartbreak Hotel around 10pm that night.

Stay tuned for day 3 of our trip...when we toured Graceland, drove to Branson (including the most gorgeous, and frustrating, road of all time) and had what the girls called a "civilized fight" with a hotel receptionist who really needs to get into a different field.

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