Arkansas was our home the majority of May. We continued our stay at the Ozark RV Park in Mountain View through the middle of the month. With Karen and Galen’s help, we got in lots of dulcimer practice, even jamming a bit with some of the other campground guests. Days and evenings usually found us at the Ozark Folk Center, catching as many of the performances as we could. And we certainly didn’t miss too many of the potlucks at the RV Park’s Pickin’ Shed.
One day, the four of us made a trip to Eureka Springs, about 90 miles west of Mountain View. We’d lined up a dog sitter for Shelley so we could spend more time out and about – we’ll definitely call on Rachel next time we are in the area.
The ride to Eureka Springs was through beautiful rolling hills, on some steep and winding roads – we were still in the Ozark Mountains so hills are to be expected. Eureka Springs is distinctive because its entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. We arrived at the Visitor Center in time to take the 10 am guided tour of the historic area on an open-air tram with an extremely knowledgeable guide. This tour served two purposes – one, we saw how narrow the streets are as our tram drove up and down the steep hills (we were thankful we weren’t driving in our own vehicle); two, we made note of places to revisit later in the day, utilizing the city’s extensive trolley system.
Attractions we saw that day: the historic Crescent Hotel, built in 1886 on the tallest hill in Eureka Springs, at a cost of $294,000. Customized equipment transported the White River limestone used to build the eighteen-inch thick walls, fitted without the use of mortar – amazing and still standing today. Specialists in working with this type of stone were brought in from Ireland. As written in the Eureka Springs Times Echo in 1886, “the magnificent structure was then furnished in the most exquisite manner. It is lighted with Edison lamps, furnished with electric bells, heated with steam and open grates, has a hydraulic elevator, and is truly a showplace of today's conveniences.”
During the 1930s, the Crescent had fallen on hard times and was purchased by a “Doctor” Norman Baker. “Dr.” Baker’s claim to fame was to have found a cure for cancer, not through radiation, chemo or surgery, but through injections. “The formula was a solution containing glycerine, carbolic acid, and alcohol, which was mixed with tea brewed from watermelon seed, brown corn silk, and clover leaves.” What Baker didn’t publicize was that all of his test patients died shortly after being administered with his famous ‘cure’. He continued to boast of his cure’s success and the miraculous recovery of his test patients. He funded his lifestyle by having his patients write a series of letters home requesting additional funds but not dating the letters. Unbeknownst to the families back home, the patient would die but the letters would continue coming and they would continue sending more money. According to one postal inspector, Baker was raking in $400,000 a year in Eureka Springs, a fortune back in the 30s. Norman Baker was eventually arrested by the authorities and charged with using the U. S. postal system to defraud. Baker was a quack who raised the hopes of cancer patients with his cruel hoax and may even have contributed to their deaths by giving the patients hope that his cure would work rather than the proven cures available at the time.
Today’s Crescent Hotel has been restored to its original opulence but updated with today’s amenities. Paneled with beautifully aged wood, the lobby still has the original pigeonhole filing system for room keys and guest messages. A pipe organ is located in one section of the lobby and the original bar in another. Upon our guide’s suggestion, we took the elevator to the 4th floor and went out onto the open terrace overlooking the valley with a view of the statue of Christ of the Ozarks – more on that later. We lunched in the Crystal Dining Room, enjoying an excellent but reasonably priced lunch buffet. The menu that day was prime rib, stir-fry chicken with vegetables, accompanying side items and a wonderful chilled strawberry soup. We’re sure the soup has a fancier name but whatever it is called, it was refreshing.
Across from the Crescent Hotel is St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church, listed in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not because entrance to the church is through the top of the freestanding bell tower, climbing down steps to the lower level, then on to a short path to the church’s front door. Eureka Springs is built in and around hillsides. The church is built on one street level, accessible to the public only from an upper street level through the bell tower. The path from the tower to the entrance is lined with marble Stations of the Cross. Immediately upon entering the church, you notice beautiful ruby-red light filtering in through the stained glass windows.
From the church, we walked down the hill, looking into some of the many shops available just waiting to relieve you of some of your dollars. We checked out many of the springs that made Eureka Springs famous. What surprised us, though, is that the water bubbling from the springs is cold, unlike other springs we’ve visited that are warm to hot. Whatever the temperature, the springs were thought to have a restorative benefit for those taking the cure by soaking or bathing in them. One interpretive sign stated that a woman who was blind had no luck with one particular spring but after taking the waters from another spring, her sight was miraculously restored – amazing, especially considering that you’d think the water all came from the same source.
We then hopped back on the trolley and headed for the Christ of the Ozarks Statue, located on the grounds of the Great Passion Play Complex. The magnificent seven-story statue is visible for miles but to experience how tall it is, an up-close visit is a must. What’s amazing is that the concrete statue was made entirely by hand – no molds produced this beautiful statue. It’s remarkable to see how smooth the finish is – it must have been a labor of love. From the overlook, we spotted the Crescent Hotel across the valley. Near the statue is a small section of the Berlin Wall. Inscribed on the wall are these words in German from the 23rd Psalm "Though I walk through the dark valley, I will not fear.”
Also at the complex are the Passion Play stage, the Bible Museum, the Sacred Arts Center, the New Holy Land Tour, and the Museum of Earth History. To do justice to all of these sites will require a return visit to Eureka Springs. While traveling that day, we noticed a nice city campground in Berryville, about 10 miles east of Eureka Springs. That will make a great home base for a future visit to the area.
Lastly, we drove to Thorncrown Chapel (also on the trolley route but we opted to drive.) We lucked out getting there at the same time as a tour bus. Tours or church groups that visit the chapel receive a talk on the history of the chapel with an inspiring song finishing the presentation. We benefited by listening to the docent speaking to the group – we were in the right place at the right time.
Opened in 1980, Thorncrown Chapel rises forty-eight feet high, contains 425 windows using over 6,000 square feet of glass. (We learned that the windows are washed annually, at a cost this year of over $4,000.) As we walked in, the windows on the far wall were so clear, we thought there were no windows, just a large opening back to the hillside. Thorncrown was the dream of Jim Reed, who had purchased the land in 1971 to build his retirement home. People admired his location and often stopped at his property to gain a better view of the Ozark hills. Instead of fencing people out, he decided to invite them in. He built a glass chapel to give wayfarers a place to relax in an inspiring way. Stopping here is a must if you’re in the area.
The highlight of our stay this time in Mountain View was at a fundraiser for the Stone County Humane Society. They combined a red beans and rice dinner and ice cream with homemade praline sauce with a concert by several of the local musicians. We read that Dave Smith was to be one of the performers, and as the four of us are Dave’s fans, we made plans to attend the fundraiser. City Park, within walking distance of our campground, has a picnic area and a large man-made stone amphitheater with great acoustics. Unlucky for everyone, though, was that the rains came just as the meal was ready. Because of the rain, few people turned out but those of us left gathered in the covered gazebo to eat our red beans and rice. The musicians then set up in the gazebo to play to the dozen or so people there.
Dave was the last to perform that evening-- the audience had dwindled down to just six of us. We suggested to Dave that if he’d rather just call it a night, we’d understand. But Dave insisted on playing and even gave us his play lists and asked us to choose anything from there for him to play. He told us he hadn’t performed some of the tunes in years but was excited about playing them that night. We sat and enjoyed every single song he played for us, even with the occasional broken guitar string or false start till he recalled how the song went. That evening was so laid back but so personal. For the next ninety minutes, we totally forgot that we were cold and damp from having been rained on earlier. What a spectacular concert Dave put on – that evening has to be one of the best WOW moments we’ve had. We felt privileged to have been there that night.
Just a few days before we left Mountain View, Mary and Jack Giger (Red Dog Jam), invited us (Karen, Galen, and the two of us) for a burger cookout at their house and to jam with them afterwards. Joyce and Lloyd Woods were there too. Along with Mary and Jack, the four of them are the group Long Ago String Band. We felt pretty special being invited to jam with them. Karen and Galen have played with pros before but this was our first time. Thanks to Karen and Galen’s coaching when we’re together, we did all right for a couple of beginners.
It was time to say good-bye to Karen and Galen and Mountain View. We had a great time with them as we always do, and very much appreciate their patience and encouragement with our dulcimer playing. We headed southwest a bit to Petit Jean State Park, near Morrilton, Arkansas.
The state park is located on Petit Jean Mountain. We followed the Arkansas River for just a short while then we slowly chugged up a steep and winding hill, climbing about 900 feet in less than a mile. This is a very scenic state park that offers several ranger-led programs weekends-- we made them all but one. More on the programs later. One of the camping loops was recently renovated--our spacious and level pull-through site overlooked Lake Bailey.
The legend of Petit Jean: A French nobleman named Chavet, supposedly related to the King of France, asked the King for permission to explore part of the Louisiana Territory and to keep whatever part of it he liked. At the time, he was engaged to be married to a young Parisian girl. She asked that they be married before he left France so she could accompany him. He refused because he was unsure of what hardship and danger he might encounter. Upon his return, if he had found something to his liking, they’d marry and return to the New World to spend their lives. She refused to accept his denial and disguised herself as a boy, applying to the captain of Chavet’s ship as a cabin boy, calling herself Jean. No one, including Chavet, recognized her. Because she was small of stature, they nicknamed her Petit Jean.
During that summer, Petit Jean hunted and fished along with the rest of the sailors, with no one suspecting she was a girl. The evening before they were to set sail back to France, she became ill – fever, convulsions, delirium and finally a coma. During her illness, her deception was discovered. She had a lucid moment when she begged forgiveness from Chavet and asked that she be carried back to the mountaintop to spend her last days. Legend has it that her spirit hovers over the mountain, giving it an air of strange enchantment.
Shortly after cresting the hill to the state park is the turnoff for Stout’s Point and Gravesite Overlook, where Petit Jean is supposedly buried. There is an awesome view of the Arkansas River from the overlook. College Lodge nearby is the only remaining structure from the YMCA camp located there in the 20s and 30s. It had some very unusual looking sandstone rocks that formed the walls of the lodge.
While at the state park, we drove Red Bluff Drive where there are two overlooks, perched on the steep mountain bluffs. We met park interpreter B.T. for a sunset stroll at the M.S. Richter Overlook, walking down to the larger of the two overlooks – the CCC Overlook. The valley was below us with the Arkansas and Petit Jean Rivers in the distance. The sun cooperated putting on a fabulous show as it set.
Also on Red Bluff Drive is the parking lot for the Rock House Cave Trail, an easy stroll through some very picturesque boulders, nicknamed Turtle Rocks because the rock formations look like the backs of turtles. There are several pictographs in the cave – we found several of them.
Park interpreter B.T. led a morning tour of several of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) buildings and structures at Petit Jean State Park. For those unfamiliar with the CCC, here’s a brief history.
Founded in 1932 by Franklin D. Roosevelt to help pull America out of the depression, the program was designed to put men to work on forestry projects throughout the nation. The Department of War, the National Park Service, and the Department of Agriculture operated the project camps that helped preserve and conserve many of the nation’s natural resource areas. In July of 1933, a company of men started to build Arkansas’ first state park, on Petit Jean Mountain. Most camps consisted of young men between the ages of 17 and 25. Petit Jean’s project camp also had veterans from WWI, some of whom were married with families. After seeing the completed projects still standing, it boggles the mind wondering how anyone, let alone a veteran aged 35-45, had the strength and stamina to haul some of the boulders used in the walls, steps and buildings.
The enrollees enlisted for a two-year commitment. They received $30 for a month’s labor and were only allowed to keep $5, the rest sent home to family or kept in savings, to be received as a lump sum payment at the end of enlistment. Their day started at 6 am. After reveille, cleanup and breakfast, they worked from 8 – 12 noon, broke for lunch, worked another two hours, then had three hours of either class work (learning a new trade or skill) or free time. After dinner, they had a few hours of free time before lights out at 10 pm. Imagine getting paid just $1 a day! They were well provided for though – they received uniforms, three good meals a day, medical care, education and job training.
On the way to Red Bluff Drive, we drove over a bridge with low rock walls. What we didn’t realize till we took the walking tour is that the top of the bridge is over a beautiful rock arch, built by CCC workers, as were two nearby pavilions used still today.
Park interpreter Michelle met us at the Palisades Overlook (another really steep bluff) and gave an interesting talk on black and turkey vultures. We practiced our spotting skills to search for them as they circled looking for a meal. We learned that the turkey vultures have better eyesight. After they spot a meal, they swoop down and are then joined by the more aggressive black vultures that take over whatever tasty morsels the turkey vultures find.
Michelle also led a talk at the Bear Cave Trailhead, supposedly named because the last bear on Petit Jean Mountain met its end there. We got to walk under, around, through and over gigantic rocks – we’d call them boulders. We then tackled the Cedar Creek Trail, one and one half miles winding along a scenic section of Cedar Creek above the falls. We’re glad we had our walking sticks to help us negotiate the trail’s rock steps (built by the CCC.) Another scenic park trail is the boardwalk path to Cedar Falls Overlook with a pretty view of the falls, which we’d later see up close and personal.
Friends Pete & Kathy, whom we’d met in Mountain View, pulled into the state park for a few days. They joined us as we hiked the Cedar Falls Trail the next morning. The first half-mile descends 200 feet down steps cut from rock (CCC work again.) After that, the trail levels out, following Cedar Creek. Seeing the spectacular Cedar Falls was our reward – they cascade 90 feet to the canyon floor. After a short break, we headed back up those same 200 feet of steps. Again, the walking sticks came in very handy.
One afternoon, we visited the Museum of Automobiles, a few miles from the state park’s entrance. The late Winthrop Rockefeller, former governor of Arkansas, founded the museum in 1964 to house his private collection of automobiles. After the collection was donated to the State of Arkansas, it reopened in 1976 as a not-for-profit organization, housing over 30 cars, motorcycles, automobile memorabilia, antique guns and toys. Several of the vehicles belong to private collectors and are temporarily on loan to the museum.
The day of our visit must have been a slow day--we practically had the place to ourselves. The building itself is interesting, architecture-wise. Made of wood and concrete, it looks like a huge square circus tent with the corners resembling the tall poles in a tent, pulling the canvas taut. Inside, we saw cars built from 1904 through 1969 – Oldsmobiles, Chevrolets, Fords, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Studebakers, Auburns, Packards, Desotos, and more – an impressive collection of nicely restored autos. JFK’s Lincoln Continental convertible is there as is Bill Clinton’s Mustang convertible. Have you ever heard of a Whizzer motorcycle? Also on display is a 1914 Cretors Popcorn Wagon – a first for us. Surprisingly, one of the collectors went to South America in the early 90s and in a ten day stay there, located, purchased and arranged to ship over two dozen American-made cars, some of which were still being driven, most of which needed a lot of TLC. The museum is definitely worth a stop - it’s easy to spend a couple of hours checking out all the exhibits.
Rick and LaVerne, with whom we had worked in Connecticut last summer, were in nearby Hot Springs visiting her son. We’d checked each other’s websites to see where our paths crossed and made arrangements for a day trip to see them – another great benefit to being a full timer! LaVerne gave us excellent directions to meet them downtown – together we toured the Fordyce Bathhouse, part of Hot Springs National Park.
Water, hot and cold, is the main attraction at Hot Springs. As the rainfall percolates down through the rocks, deep into the Earth, increasingly warmer rocks heat it at a rate of about 4 degrees every 300 feet. In the process, the water dissolves minerals out of the rock. Eventually, it meets faults and joints leading up to the lower west slope of Hot Springs Mountain, where it surfaces. What’s amazing is that this process takes 4,000 years! It’s mind boggling to think that the water we saw bubbling from the springs the day of our visit was from rainfall 4,000 years ago!
In the early years, crude bathhouses made out of canvas and lumber were built over individual springs or reservoirs carved out of the rock. Later wooden structures were built but they frequently burned or rotted due to the continued exposure to water and steam. You can imagine the eyesore and health hazard the main street was becoming.
In 1884, the federal government diverted the creek into a channel and laid a road above it, much of it still running beneath Central Avenue today. Private bathhouses from simple to luxurious were built. The government even opened a free bathhouse and public health facility for those unable to pay for baths recommended by their physician. Enter the Golden Age of Bathing – over a million visitors a year immersed themselves in the park’s hot waters (average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit.) And yes, the water is quite hot, too hot to leave your hand in for more than a second or two.
Visitors would stroll Bathhouse Row with cups and drink from the decorative fountains, believing the minerals in the water were beneficial. Today, you can fill bottles at fountains that dispense the odorless, flavorless and colorless liquid that is tested regularly to ensure quality (this water is from cold springs.)
The Fordyce Bathhouse, no longer being used as a bathhouse, is the park’s visitor center. After watching a short video about Hot Springs National Park, we took the self-guided tour of this beautiful restored three-story building. Within the lobby, we saw walls of veined Italian marble, pink marble staircases, fountains at both ends of the lobby, and stained glass over the transom windows.
In 1919, for $15.00, you could use the baths twenty-one times. A personal attendant was assigned to pamper and guide each bather through the bathing regimen – a tub bath, sitz bath, vapor cabinet and needle shower. Between each bath, the attendant rewrapped the bather in a sheet. At one point, the bathers rested for at least thirty minutes, allowing the body temperature to return to normal. Are you feeling relaxed just reading about this ritual? There were bath halls for women and for men. The men’s was more luxurious. In their toga-style sheets, they lounged around the elegant court and fountain. The ceiling in the men’s hall displays a stained glass scene titled “Neptune’s Daughter.”
The second floor contained several rooms to continue your pampering. Foot problems? – see the chiropodist. Need a massage? – check out the electric massage devices, the electric lamps used to treat certain part of the body and of course, the shock massage which caused muscles to contract or relax. Sure did look like lots of torture devices. Dressing rooms were also on this floor - individual wooden cubicles with doors for privacy.
On the third floor is a combined assembly room and music room under a ceiling of stained glass. The women sat on one side of the room, the men on the other. In fact, men and women had their own quarters throughout all three floors. If you went to the bathhouse as a couple and needed to communicate with your partner, a messenger would discretely deliver your message. The gymnasium on the third floor was the only room open to both sexes, not just for bathers but also for athletes who worked out there. It was considered the largest gymnasium in Arkansas in 1915. Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth worked out there.
An interesting room we visited on the third floor was the Hubbard Tub Room. A large tile-covered tub, holding 675 gallons of water, was used for physical therapy. An overhead rail transported patients from the elevator to the tub. Once positioned over the tub, the patient was lowered and would remain either on the board or he/she could stand, using parallel bars for support. A licensed physiotherapist would then help the patient with the treatment. Do you know that one of the preferred treatments of that day was a mercury bath – yipes! Knowing what we know now, it’s hard to picture someone lying in a pool of mercury-filled water, or even being the therapist who worked day in and day out with the mercury. (Hubbard Tubs, minus the mercury, are still in use for physical therapy.)
After an enjoyable lunch at the Brickhouse Grill, we went back to Rick and LaVerne’s rig to visit some more and talk about our 2008 trip to Alaska. They’re planning on joining us as school ground sitters in the Kenai area. (See our 2005 travels.)
Time to leave Arkansas, after a pleasant five weeks. We headed east for Huntsville, Alabama, stopping overnight in Memphis at the Agricenter RV Park and having dinner at Corky’s, of course. Pete and Kathy were heading home to Alabama and left Petit Jean the same day, meeting up with us at the RV park and joining us for dinner.
For the week we were in Huntsville, we stayed at the Space & Rocket Center’s RV Park. Friend Teri, who lives in Huntsville but has parked her ‘condo on wheels’ at the RV park for the summer and fall for a quick getaway, invited us to her rig for burgers and fixins’. We enjoyed catching up on news of the area since we saw her last.
While in Huntsville, we met with longtime friends Ron and Linda, and Deb (without Neil who was out of town) at Green Hills Restaurant for dinner, going back to Ron and Linda’s for dessert. We missed seeing Andrew and Gail that night but were invited to their home for a cookout on Memorial Day, spending most of the time on their back deck enjoying the peace and quiet. Ron and Linda were there too. We finally got to see Neil later that week, meeting he and Deb for a burger at Cheeburger, Cheeburger. It was fun to see the gang again – we go back over 35 years together!
Speaking of years, we celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary on the 31st – no fancy dinner for us though. We enjoyed pizza at Donato’s, introducing Teri to their unique crust. It was a great finale to the month of May!
Next stop: A few days in Summerdale, Alabama, then heading east to Palm Bay, Florida, where we’ll spend the summer helping move Lucille’s parents to Georgia.