Monday, June 14, 2010

Exotic travel destinations in Arkansas

Jayson needs a vacation so I'm in the process of figuring out where we can go and what we can do that won't cost us more than about 10 bucks.  I love a challenge!  We're not one of those families who takes a vacation every summer, mainly because we're not smart enough to save up for it.  I don't work full time so I don't have that "need" to get away like Jayson does so it's just not a priority for me.  Besides, I'm a homebody anyway which is just a nice way to say I have hermit tendencies that would have impressed Howard Hughes.

It may have something to do with the way we were raised as well.  Jayson's family liked to go camping which does afford you more economical vacation options when you own your own equipment.  Of course, they lived in North Dakota so camping in the surrounding states was probably a very pleasant experience.  I grew up in North Texas.  Summertime camping in the surrounding states was equivalent to the seventh level of hell.  I'm pretty sure Dante was camping in Oklahoma when he wrote "Inferno".

That's not to say I haven't been anywhere. We did take a couple of random vacations while I was growing up and Jayson and I have been a few places as well.  Our trips are just few and far between. 

The first family vacation I can remember was when we drove to Kentucky in the 70s to visit a friend my parents met on their CB radio.  Just about the only thing I remember about that trip was visiting the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.  Maybe it's a good thing we didn't take too many vacations back then since my parents seem to have had trouble choosing family appropriate destinations.  I guess I should be thankful they didn't take us to visit Uncle Escobar's "farm" in Columbia.

When I was a freshman in high school, my dad had to go to an AOSC (Association of Oilwell Contractors) meeting in Hawaii.  He and my grandfather owned their own businesses and my grandfather had already been to Hawaii and hated it. (Freak)  So, poor Dad was forced to go in his stead.  No way was my mom letting him go without her and no way was she leaving me and my sister alone for a week (it was a control thing, not a love thing).  So...they pulled us out of school and we spent a week in Maui and Kauai.  Gotta admit, that was a pretty sweet trip.

Then when I was a senior in high school one of my teachers was taking a group of students and adults on a 3-week trip of western Europe.  Dad had no interest in touring Europe (or being stuck with my mother for 3 weeks), but the oil boom had been very good to us so he sent me, my mom and my sister on the trip.  We hit all the hot spots in England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  It wasn't until years later that I truly appreciated that trip and understood how fortunate we were to have been able to do that. 

A few years later I married Jayson and we took a cruise to the Virgin Islands for our honeymoon.  I hope we can take another cruise someday.  The destination doesn't even matter, I just loved being on the ship.  Where else can sit sideways on the potty, lean back and rest your head on your bed, then straighten your legs out into the shower?  Our whole room was about the size of an airplane bathroom but that didn't even matter because every night at dinner there was a new ice sculpture.

As luck would have it, Jayson's parents live in Florida so we've been to Disney World and the other surrounding theme parks 4 times.  I'm somewhat anti-social and I certainly don't like crowds or being out in the heat...but...I LOVE Disney World.  It's my happy place.  The Wonderful World of Disney was my childhood escape every Sunday at 6 p.m. right after Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.  Sing it: "Mutual of Omaha is people you can count on when the going's roughhhhhh".

In 1998 Jayson was working for a local oilfield company that had a plant in central China where they made some of their parts.  They needed him to go visit the plant and show the workers how to assemble the finished product that uses the parts they were making so they'd have a better understanding of what they were doing and why.  The company paid for both Jayson and I to spend 2 weeks in China, all expenses paid.  He had to work for 4 hours of that trip.  We spent several days seeing the sights in Beijing then took a train to Zi'an to see the terra cotta soldiers.  From there we flew to Wuhan then a company driver picked us up and drove us to the plant in Jungzhou.  That's where Jayson had to "work" while I shopped with my own personal driver and translator.  After a couple of days there, we flew to Hong Kong for a few days before going home.  Yeah, that was rough business trip, let me tell ya.  I kept a detailed journal on that trip that I might post here one day if I can't think of anything else to say.  It's a loooonnnng journal (like 12 typewritten pages) but it includes stories about getting drunk, eating a pig's ear, and running into a very naked Troy Aikman.

A couple of years in later in 2000 that same company sent both of us (I'm still not sure how or why I got to go but I'm not complaining) to Calgary, Canada for an oil convention.  Jayson actually had to work the convention for several days so I'd stop in to visit him when I could fit it in to my busy schedule.  We had a rental car just sitting in the hotel's garage while he was working, so I got myself a map, jumped in the car and drove all over Calgary.  I went shopping, went to some art supply stores, had lunch at a funky cafe, etc.  The streetcar stopped next to our hotel, so one morning I hopped on that and spent the day at the Calgary Zoo.  When the convention was over we had a couple of extra days before our flight so we drove up to Banff and played in the Canadian Rockies.  We took a gondola to the top of a mountain and had lunch with million dollar view.  Then we drove to Lake Louise and were awestruck at the beauty of the emerald water.  It really does look like the pictures you see.

We didn't vacation again until 2007 when one of Jayson's vendors offered up his condo in Destin for us too use.  Jayson's position as a buyer for Expro often means that vendors are willing to give him gifts and schmooze him in the hopes that he will buy more from them.  He makes it very clear to them that company policy prohibits him from accepting their gifts and they will in no way influence his decision on whether or not to do business with them.  Besides, we don't have room to store any more of those gifts he refuses to accept.  With that understanding, this vendor insisted we use his condo with no strings attached.  Who were we to refuse?  We spent a week at the Tops'l Resort on Miramar Beach.  We enjoyed the condo which was way nicer than our house, we played in the sugar white sands on the beach and we played tennis on their world class rubico courts.  I asked Jayson about that guy the other day and he said he's no longer a vendor.  I cried.

Have you noticed how all our previous vacations sort of fell into our laps for free?  I tend to prefer that arrangement but, alas, the trend must end.  Jayson is need of a vacation this year (like NOW) so we're scrambling for something to do.  Taylor usually goes to Honduras during the summer to scuba dive but there was some scheduling confusion this year so it didn't work out.  She's oddly okay with that so that just leaves me with trying to figure out what we should do.  We want to drive someplace but not someplace that will take days and days to get there.  We want to take a week off and don't want to spend most of it in the car.  We also don't want to go anywhere in Texas or Louisiana.  Jayson wants to go someplace new but not too far and on the cheap.  Sure, no problem.  Actually, lodging will be easy since he has about a dozen free hotel nights because of business trips to places including Alaska, Kazakhstan, Scotland, and the Netherlands...none of which included me.  So, what destination will we be adding to our impressive list of exotic travel sites??  Isn't it obvious?  Arkansas!!

That's right, we're planning a little trip up to northern Arkansas sometime around the end of July.  Maybe.  We haven't hashed out that little detail yet and neither of us has scheduled time off of work either.  We'll work that out.  If we're going all the way to northern Arkansas, why not just go on up to Branson, you might ask?  Because Branson is a common vacation destination and the Greens are not common.  We're quirky and offbeat and that's the kind of vacation we want.  Oh sure, we'll do some of the regular touristy things in the area, but I've been looking for some of the more unusual, off-the-beaten-path things to do.  Arkansas is a veritable mecca for the offbeat and unusual. 

Our tentative plan, subject to change depending on my mood, is to drive from here to Texarkana where we'll stop at the Federal Building to take a picture.  The building straddles the Texas/Arkansas border and there's a photo op there where you can stand in both states at the same time and snap a pic.  That's just cheesy fun which is the whole point of our trip so we can't very well pass that up.  Besides, we have to stop for lunch somewhere and it just happens to be on the way.

Our next stop, again because we just happen to be going through there, will likely be a potty break in Hope, Arkansas.  I have absolutely no desire to see Bill Clinton's birthplace but I do, however, have a desire to see an exact replica of the world's largest watermelon grown right there in Hope...the watermelon capital of the world!  We just can't pass that up.

About an hour from Hope is Murfreesboro, where we can stop at the Crater of Diamonds State Park to dig for our own diamonds.  After we've dug up enough rocks to pay off our mortgage, we'll continue to Hot Springs where we'll park it for a few days at the nearest Holiday Inn Express.

Hot Springs should be a good mix of regular vacation stuff as well as some cheesy fun.  Of course we will have to visit the Hot Springs National Park and the Mountain Tower as well as Bath House Row.  We might even spend a day relaxing in the thermal waters in one of the spas since we'll probably need it after all the strenuous diamond mining we'll do.  We'll also visit Tiny Town, a little world made out of recycled junk, and we might drop by the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo.  You might be asking yourself why I would want to go to an alligator farm when I have them in my own backyard?  I could care less about the alligators, but this particular place has a merman on display.  A real, honest to goodness merman!  That just can't be missed. 

If we're in the mood to dig for more treasure, we'll hit one of the quartz mines in the area before hitting the road again.  We'll head to Redfield, Arkansas to have lunch at the Mammoth Orange Cafe.  Because it's funky looking, that's why.  Then on to Little Rock to see Pugh's Mill which is actually not a mill at all but a sculpture that can be seen briefly in the opening sequence of Gone With The Wind.   As we continue north, we'll make another stop along the way in Dover, Arkansas to see the double decker outhouse and have a boogerburger at the Booger Hollow Trading Post.  The booger jokes alone are enough to lure us there.  Then it's on to Eureka Springs where we'll spend the rest of our time.

While in Eureka Springs we'll visit the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge to see the big cats eat.  We may drive over to Fayetteville to Terra Studios to watch them blow glass and make pottery.  We'll take in some of the cool local architecture by visiting Thorncrown Chapel, St. Elizabeth's and The Quigley's Castle.  We may even go to the Blue Spring Heritage Center for a dose of local culture.

Our main goal for the Eureka Springs area is to visit as many of the local caves as we can.  We went to Carlsbad Caverns several years ago and it was just a nice, relaxing thing to do...strolling through the caves and seeing some really amazing cavey stuff.'s nice and cool down there.  We're looking at the Bull Shoals Caverns, Blanchard Springs, Onyx Cave, Old  Spanish Treasure Cave, Cosmic Caverns, Mystic Cavern and Crystal Dome, and War Eagle Cavern.  Several of the state-owned caves have been closed recently to try to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome which is killing bats up along the east coast.  I certainly don't want bats to die needlessly from white noses so we'll make sure we blow before we go.

There is one attraction in Eureka Springs that is the ultimate cheese but I can't make myself go there.  It's The Great Passion Play featuring The Living Bible Tour, The Sacred Arts Museum, the Top of The Mountain Dinner Theater and Christ of the Ozarks which is a 67' tall really bad sculpture of Jesus.  I can just imagine that whole experience would provide enough bloggable entertainment to keep me busy for weeks, but I have a couple of problem with it.  One, it's expensive.  I can't justify paying $60/person to watch a bunch of people make my Jesus look bad.  They're not making fun of Him or anything and that's probably the bad part.  In their efforts to be serious, they're coming off as ridiculous which makes it even harder to convince people that us Christians are not all freaks.  Just some are and the rest of us don't like them.  And I'm not against poking a little fun at religion as long as it's not done maliciously.  I think Jesus has a fantastic sense of humor which is probably the only reason that horrible sculpture hasn't been struck by lightening.  I also don't want to give money to a theme park that was built by a white supremacist who said the holocaust never happened.  I'm just quirky that way!

Whenever we get tired of touring caves and absorbing the ambiance of Eureka Springs, we'll make our way back home with maybe one stop on the way.  If we time it right, we might stop at Riddle's Elephant and Wildlife  Sanctuary in Greenbrier, Arkansas.  They offer these "elephant experience weekends" which sound pretty cool but are way out of our budget so we're going to try to tour them on Visitor's Day which is the first Saturday of every month.  If we plan it right, that shouldn't be a problem.  And elephants are cool.

So that's the plan as of right now and I sure hope everything works out so that we can go.  I have a feeling this trip will make those 2 weeks we spent in China look like a trip


Vyx said...

YOU HAVE to come visit me, or at least meet up with me for coffee or lunch or something! You'll be right in my neck of the woods. I wouldn't even stay in Hot Springs that long... high tail it up to Eureka Springs, plenty to do around there.


Jamie said...

And I'm the obsessive planner?? I think you may have joined the club on this one!

Janet Detter Margul said...

Don't listen to Vyx, Hot Springs is the bestest place in Arkansas to just veg. And I recommend the Arlington Hotel and Spa for taking the waters. My Girl Scout troop voted one year to take all our cookie money (and these were older girls so they had significant cookie money) and spend a weekend at the Arlington, take the waters and go to Sunday brunch. The weekend did wipe the treasury, but those girls LOVED it. So did I, I think that was the best GS trip ever. Other than the girl who set fire to her hotel room, but that's another story, and she's a whole story on her own, we went another year to the state park at Fort Smith and the park ranger brought her back to me and asked me to make sure she didn't spend anymore time laying down in the middle of the road. And those were minor compared to some stuff she did that I'm not telling about so's I can blackmail her some day.

I was going to over some suggestions to your trip, but you've already planned for all my favorite places, other than the Clinton Museum in Little Rock, which is actually pretty cool if you can squeeze it in. I'd send you to Wicks n Sticks in Little Rock, too, other than my aunt and uncle's house it's the only place I go to every year, but Jayson would snort at going to a candle store I bet. So you can skip it, and skip my uncle's house, too, unless y'all really want to stop in and say hey. Have fun and send me a postcard, I always send you one. :)