Touring the South and Midwest: Arkansas

July 6, 2016

Three in the morning might be an outrageous time for some people to start a road trip, but not for the LEAP Ambassadors! We packed up the van and began our 11-day journey that we had all been eagerly looking forward to. Even though our main destination is the Southern Legislative Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, we do our best to make the most out of all trips, so we created an itinerary that involves numerous southern and midwestern states: Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Hot Springs: Garvan Woodlands Gardens

Our first stop was Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we visited Garvan Woodlands Gardens.  While walking through the Gardens, we stopped to admire the Full Moon Bridge (so named for the arched tunnel under the bridge)…


…a waterfall…


…even to feed fish in a Koi pond!

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And, of course, to stop and smell the flowers.


Also, of interest to us was the Fairy Village. The most breathtaking part of the gardens came towards the end when we visited Anthony Chapel.


Designed by Fay Jones, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, the chapel is constructed of floor-to-ceiling glass and wood.


It is one of three Fay Jones’ chapels that we will visit this trip (the other two are in Bella Vista, AR and Eureka Springs, AR.  The design is intended to complement the surrounding woodlands so that it will look “one with nature”. The chapel is approximately 50 feet tall, roughly the same height as the surrounding trees to help give it a sense of belonging in the woods. We were all taken with its simple, yet elegant beauty!


Zoe’s Eatery and Art

After leaving Garvan Gardens, we headed to lunch at a place Alex chose, Zoe’s Eatery and Art, a place with delicious and healthy food. As we walked in we were immediately greeted by their staff and surprised by all of the nice decorations and art around us. Some of us felt as if we had walked straight into a Pinterest world. They immediately accommodated our large group and got us taken care of.

I had the aloha grilled chicken salad, which is a grilled chicken breast with a wedge of pineapple, sprinkled with toasted coconut sprinkles, and macadamia nuts served with a side of salad and a muffin. The fruit was extremely fresh and sweet! Kaitlyn really enjoyed the Southern Bell grilled Chicken salad, which was a leafy green salad topped with chicken breast stuffed with apricot corn bread, and topped with a baked peach (her favorite!) with a black berry drizzle.

kaitlyns meal

It was a great way to freshen up with healthy food and get ready for the next item on the itinerary, but before heading out we decided to have some dessert. We all tried the chocolate cake…


…bread pudding, and hummingbird cake. It was difficult to choose one favorite since we all had different preferences, but the bread pudding definitely made the list. As we were getting ready to leave, the owner of the restaurant asked if she could take a picture of our group. We definitely looked like a tourist group!

Hot Springs in Hot Springs!

After a great time at Zoe’s Eatery and Art, The Hot Springs bathhouses were our next stop, along with some shopping.  After a stroll down Central Ave. where we drank for the town’s natural spring water…


…posed for some photos outside of bathhouses…


…and went into the Fordyce Bathhouse. Thanks to the natural thermal springs that run beneath the city, many bathhouses, like the Fordyce, were at one point the center of attraction of the city. Hundreds of people needing a cure from an untreatable illness would rush into the Hot Springs in need of the attention and treatment that a medical center could not offer. These hot springs were believed to cure patients with terminal illnesses.  One such case was Samuel Fordyce, who was given only six months to live by his doctor, but came to Hot Springs, AR, where he recuperated and lived another 48 years.  Attributing his recovery to the springs, he created the Fordyce Bathhouse, which treated patients from 1915 to 1962.

As we toured the bathhouse, we got a sense of how these patients used wholistic treatment as a last resort.


Inside the woman’s bathhall were four stained glass windows, seven bath tubs, and a hypnotherapy room. The room, which stood in the middle of the women’s and men’s bath hall, is equipped with sun-ray cabinets (which would cover the patient’s body in hot steam) and frigid cabinets (in which the patient would sit a block of ice a allow their body to counteract the heat.) Thus, the patient’s body was treated to a cycle of extreme heat and extreme cold, allowing their blood to flow freely, their pores to open a close, their muscles to contract and expand, and the water’s minerals to enter their system. Further treatment was provided through electric baths (which exerted minor electric shocks to the body) and needle baths (administered by physicians through a system of pressured water which if done wrong could burn and tear the patient’s skin.)


Upon crossing the threshold we gazed at the luxurious hall the men would have bathed in.  The hall was decorated with a stained glass roof depicting Nepture’s daughter and as a center piece bronze fountain of Hernando de Soto, the Spanish conquistador who discovered the town’s springs.


In this time period bathhouses were considered more of gentlemen’s commodity, and the  nicer room reflected that.  But irrespective of gender, the bathhouse and its water were praised as a kind of miracle, while also adding economic prosperity to the community.


As an interesting side note, on our tour of 22 people, there were two other parties from SHSU.  While this no doubt falls into the coincidental category, it’s also a reflection of SHSU’s growing student base inside and outside of Texas.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Mountain Tower was our next endeavor. We were ecstatic to ride, or for the braver ones, climb to the top of the 216-foot observation tower. The tower has a unique history in that it is the third tower to be built on a mountain. The tower was actually first built out of wood but burned down after being struck by lightening. It was also once known as the Rix Tower after the land was sold in the Louisiana Purchase; however, that tower was destroyed as well. The present tower is surrounded by the Hot Springs National Park.

At the top we admired the beauty of the hills and surrounding architecture.


We are sure none of them however, gave justice to the view we experienced. The LEAP Ambassadors were sure this would be the HIGH-light of the day, but we had even bigger things in store.


Pinnacle Mountain, Little Rock, AR

For our final activity of our 22 hour day, we headed just outside of Little Rock, where we planned to hike Pinnacle Mountain.  Although several of the Ambassadors had been to Little Rock, none had ever hiked this mountain, so we weren’t sure what to expect.

From the trailhead, however, we found ourselves looking up a nearly endless slope.  In fact, it was more than 1,000 feet high, which is a steep incline when climbing over rocks.  Sharp rocks stabbed our feet as we climbed…


..and we slipped and slid, as we groped our way toward the peak.  Hikers, having already reached the prize, climbed down with smiles on their faces. Seeing them so enlightened, we knew that all of our efforts would be worth it once we reached the top. Finally, after having climbed almost a mile up, we reached the top and gaped in awe.  It was beautiful!


To our left was a seemingly endless green landscape…


…and to our right was Lake Maunelle, winding gently into the distance with the sun slowly beginning to hide behind it.


We sat there, perched, at the highest point, where only eagles could fly (or in this case they might have actually been vultures), watching the sun disappear little by little until finally it was gone.


Which reminded us that we had better start descending before we ran out of daylight.  But in between our reaching the top and the sunset, we took myriad photographs…


…of individuals…



…in duos…


…in trios…


…and many in groups…



Now experts on nature’s challenges, we clambered down the west side’s slippery rocks so fast that any goat would have be green with envy.


After taking an hour to climb up the east side, it took us only about 20 minutes to walk down the east side.  While Professor Yawn and Ryan ran ahead to get the van (from the east side’s trailhead), we enjoyed the dancing fireflies, the vestiges of the sunset, and our accomplishment.  Brian Aldaco noted that this was probably the most fun he’d ever had outdoors, and Karla reflected on our teamwork, “We reached the goal together, lending a hand and encouraging words when it matters.  We marvelled at nature’s beauty side by side, knowing we couldn’t have done it without each other.”

It was a fitting end to a 22-hour day, and a great start to an eleven-day trip of learning, fun, and teamwork.



Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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