Monday, August 17, 2015

Arkansas Adventure

Prologue: Tuesday--Expect the Unexpected

As much as I try to think through every last detail, I never know what will happen when I travel. This morning I was looking forward to flying to Arkansas with my friend Chrissy on a trip we've been planning for months.  However in an unexpected turn of events, Chrissy was suffering from a case of campylobacteriosis (an awful food poisoning) and Deb spontaneously agreed to be my new travel companion.

Chapter 1: Wednesday--History Lessons

Our first introduction to Little Rock Arkansas was a growling dinosaur.  As soon as we arrived, we headed straight from the airport to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. I was surprised to be greeted by a seemingly random exhibit featuring 13 life sized animatronics. I later learned this was a temporary exhibit honoring President Clinton's work to preserve fossil-rich areas in North America. In 1996, he designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante as a National Monument. 

Besides the dinosaurs, my first trip to a presidential library was a trip down memory lane.  Clinton was president from 1993-2001 when I was in my 20's so I could really remember many of the events from the historical timeline. 
We peeked in the replica of the Oval Office, but my favorite part of this exhibit were the president's daily schedule binders.  Organized by month, I could pull any binder off the shelf to see exactly how Bill was spending his day. 

The next stop on our tour was the Central High School and Visitor's Center.  In 1957, the first African American high school students began the process of desegregation in Arkansas following the historic Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The "Little Rock Nine" endured bullying, death threats, and even the Governor working against them. As a teacher today, this was a particularly interesting exhibit for me and it was both difficult and moving for me to learn more about their story.
From there, we stopped by the Arkansas State Capitol for a self guided tour, which included a statue of the Little Rock Nine. 
Finally, we ended up in Little Rock's River District enjoying the sculpture garden and view of the bridges.  Here, we found the official "Little Rock" for which the city is named. 
Chapter 2: Thursday-Exercising Our Options
Along with some other customers, we arrived promptly at 9:00 am to pick up our bike rentals from Billy's Bike Hike.  The store employee was not as prompt, so we chatted with other customers--two local guys--as we waited.  Our plan was to ride around the Arkansas River Trail.  This 18 mile trail crosses the Arkansas River twice--once over the Clinton Bridge and then again over the Big Dam Bridge.
I still can't believe I rode across this bridge!

 Once we crossed the bridge, we had the choice to return the way we came or to continue around, navigating some roads and construction.  Feeling confident, we forged ahead into the unknown.  And promptly got lost.  Cue those local guys, who happened to ride by and notice us standing on the other side of the highway.  They kindly helped us back to the trail and we rode together until we got to a giant fence barrier with a sign announcing, "Trail Closed." Well, apparently signs are optional in Arkansas because these guys lifted our bikes over the Jersey wall barricade and we rode right through the construction zone. Normally rule followers, Deb and I are not entirely on board with this plan.  The guys--who turned out to be a judge and a lawyer--did successfully navigate us all back to the end of the loop without anyone getting bulldozed or arrested.

Bikes safely returned, we jumped in the car to head northwest to the Ozarks.  We were in search of a scenic hike near the Buffalo River called Whitaker Point.  Heading west on the highway, we eventually turned up a windy road.  The Ozarks are not a very populated part of Arkansas, as we discovered.  We had planned to stop for gas at one of the many towns dotting the map along our route.  However, the only visible buildings as we passed through these towns were the occasional old home or post office.  Just when I was beginning to really worry, we hit Ponca.  Population 13 must be the magic number because we found a gas station and a store!

From there, we turned on a small dirt and gravel road and slowly made our way to the trailhead.  All our efforts were rewarded with a beautiful 4 mile hike and views of the valley.  If you look closely, you can see us standing on Whitaker Point--another hiker was kind enough to take our picture. 

Chapter 3: Friday--The Beauty of Arkansas
Our last day in Arkansas began with a trip to Hot Springs. There, we visited the Garvan Woodland Gardens where I learned that creatures big and small live in Arkansas. We walked over bridges and under waterfalls and fed the koi. We did not feed Sasquatch. My favorite part of the garden was Anthony Chapel.


Back in Little Rock, we completed our itinerary with the Historic Arkansas Museum and the ESSE Purse Museum.  Deb and I debated for a while about this last stop.  After all, I like a good handbag as much as the next girl but a whole museum dedicated just to purses?  Turns out the ESSE Purse museum is one of three dedicated purse museums in the world.  Who knew? 

Satisfied that we completed everything on our itinerary, we celebrated with a meal at Flying Fish, some Loblolly ice cream and a beer at Blue Canoe Brewery.  We are ready to go home!

Chapter 4: Saturday-Chicago

Well, we made it halfway home.  We flew into Chicago and learned that our connecting flight had been cancelled.  Apparently all the flights to our area were cancelled due to some kind of flypocalypse.  Deciding to make the best of an unplanned evening in Chicago, we checked into our hotel and took the L downtown, arriving at 5:00 pm.  There were so many suggestions and so little time!  We started with a walk around Millennium Park, caught an architectural boat tour, found some Chicago deep dish pizza at Giordano's and rode the elevator to the top of the Hancock building.  Not bad for one night!
The Bean

view from the water

view from the top

Watching the Cubs-White Sox game while eating Chicago pizza!
 As long as this post already is, so much is still missing.  It is impossible to write about everything that happened in five days--so you don't hear about the hotel mix-up that had us schlepping our luggage across the highway.  I left out the story of us sneaking past the line at the Hancock building to get up to the bar and take pictures without having to pay for an overpriced drink.  Many of these stories are memories now of a trip I will never forget!