April 2020

road tripAs I mentioned in the last post, Hot Springs is nothing to write home about.  That point proved itself meteorologically the day after my arrival when it started to piss down rain.  You win some, you lose some.  Fortunately I’m a veteran indoorsman so I kept myself busy with this and that for the day and a half the clouds let loose.  The rain finally stopped and the clouds thinned out enough to let some sun through so into the car I piled and was off like a shot to DeGray Lake State Park, just under 20 miles south of Hot Springs on Highway 7.  It’s a two-laner and a very lovely drive.

Arkansas is one of the few states with no stay-at-home order in place.  Since my excursion took place on Easter Sunday I ascribe the paucity of visitors to the park to religious observance and family gatherings rather than people huddling in quarantine to escape the dreaded virus.  Whatever the reason, I very nearly had the place to myself and after a long spate of rain it was a delight to wander about in the sunshine with the landscape fresh from a bath.  The spring colors could not have been more vibrant.

The full name of the park is DeGray Lake Resort State Park (website here).  Since it’s out in the middle of nowhere I expected a paved road ending at a gravel parking lot with trails leading off it.  Wrong, oh soooo wrong. There’s an 18-hole golf course and a lodge/restaurant combo that Ramada would love to get its hands on, I bet.  There are also posh vacation homes along one side of the golf green available for rent in addition to hotel-style rooms at the Lodge.  It all looks very country-clubby tbh, which astonished me.  The only people I saw there were good ol’ boys whose pickups were parked on the side of the road while they sat at water’s edge in lawn chairs with a fishing pole in one hand and a bevvie in the other.  Yeehaw y’all.  Let the good times roll.  They were few in number — and so the fish seemed to be, as well.  The golf course was completely deserted and looked as if it hadn’t seen the imprint of a human foot since opening for the season.  It’s close enough to Little Rock to be an easy get so I expect that’s where most of the traffic comes from, not from Hot Springs.  I can’t see how it could otherwise justify its existence.  Here’s a map so you can see the layout:

DeGray Lake map

It’s a reservoir in point of fact, not a natural lake, and it has the look of drowned landscape, truth be told.  That’s not to say it isn’t charming, but it looks exactly what it is: a piece of the surrounding countryside put under water.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there’s some village at the bottom of it that went under when the dam was finished.

But none of that need absorb our attention.  We’re just after the pretty stuff, right?  Right.  And there’s plenty of pretty stuff to delight the wanderer, no doubt about it.  My perambulations focused on two areas: the Visitor Center and the Resort (aka the Lodge).  Here’s a pic of the Visitor Center:

Visitor Center, DeGray Lake Resort STate Park, Arkansas

It was closed because of the holiday so I have no idea what’s inside, but no matter, the focus of my interest was exclusively on its surroundings.  There’s a trail — named on a handsomely carved sign “The Great Heron Trail” — at one end of the grounds so off I went on a ramble.  Here are the pics:

A self-respecting lake will not have bushes poking up through the water at its edges, that goes without saying.  But since our mommas raised us right we’ll overlook that inconvenient detail and appreciate the lacustrine beauties on display, okey dokey?  That things are thoroughly scenic is beyond dispute.  There are special bits of loveliness that merit comment, first of all that FABULOUS oak tree by the Visitor Center.  It’s huge and branches all over the place, affording exceptionally handsome views through its limbs and leaves of the water across the green.  I’ve been schooling myself anew to remember that every tree is an individual, just like people or animals, so each should be appreciated as such.  That’s an easy job with SuperOak.

The next to last pic is of a large flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that has attained a size I don’t remember dogwoods reaching in Virginia or North Carolina.  In the Spring dogwoods are like the Good Witch of the West in Oz — they shine white and promise that yes, indeed, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well with the rebirth of the forest.  Redbud is its frequent sidekick but I didn’t see any in that area, more’s the pity.  You can see from the last three pics that when the sun is out new oak leaves shine brilliantly and have a color that is the very hue of freshness.

If you drive along the south edge of the golf course heading west from the Visitor Center you’ll come to the turnoff for the Lodge/Restaurant.  I didn’t mind that it was closed.  I didn’t need a bed for the night and I had a sandwich with me, thanks so much, so all I needed was scenery.  The Lodge provided plenty of that free of charge with no reservation. 🙂

All the pics come from a tiny peninsula (peninsulette?) extending from the far side of the Lodge parking lot.  There’s an open area at the end of it with a fire pit and tables, a perfect place for a picnic.  I didn’t explore the grounds of the Lodge but it’s huge and looks posh, all the more puzzling considering that off the bridge across the inlet to reach it there were more fishermen with pickups parked off the road.  It would make a perfect subject for a Fellini film, I think.

There were tons of plant friends basking in the sun and I was delighted to greet them all as I wandered.  Here are the pics:

The last pic deserves special mention.  It’s blackberries, so full of blossoms the runners almost look like bridal sprays.  Just imagine what they’ll be like when the berries are ripe.  YUM.  Blackberries are a special favorite of mine and I’ve only lived in one place where they grow wild (near Portland, Oregon).  I had cascades of them along a fenceline near the house and I picked until my hands were stained so thoroughly nothing could get it off.  I canned 40 quarts of blackberries that summer and used them all over the course of the winter.  What a delight to see them here so profusely at Stage 1.  May the bees get busy and bring all that goodness into fruition.

I put the tree closeup in the gallery because it’s sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), a true Southerner.  It will grow elsewhere, to be sure — a friend in Oregon has a huge one on the edge of her yard and gets the stickery balls all over the patio, oops.  But it’s native to the South and the leaves with their star shape are beautiful.  In the forest it doesn’t matter if the stickery balls fall on the ground, that’s the order of things.  It was a delight to see the tree again in a native setting.  I can see why it’s used as an ornamental, the leaf shape and its growth habit are wonderful.  Pity about those stickery balls …

The title mentions good and bad.  We’ve just gone over the good, now comes the bad.  First on the list is a thunderstorm that I recognized afterward had a “severe” warning from the National Weather Service which included mention of the possibility of “car damage from hail up to 1 inch in diameter, possibly up to 2.5 inches.”  I’m glad I didn’t read the warning before the storm hit or I’d have needed one of my special tablets.  I’ve never before seen so violent a storm come out of nowhere, lashing the treetops about like kernels in a corn popper and dropping curtains of rain.  Thank goodness we had no hail.  That would have required more than one tablet.  So now I know what “severe thunderstorm” means in that part of the world.  Once is enough, thanks very much.  I’ll cherish the memory for a long time to come. 🙂

The other main thing was the astonishment I experienced as a result of observing people in the area and finding every single stereotype box on the list ticked off as purtty as you please.  I’ve lived in two southern states and know my way around the stereotypes and how much they can be myth rather than fact.  Hence the height my eyebrows reached as my observations matched up with one after another of the chestnuts told around the fire about the locals.  I’ll offer my experience itself as baseline data.

At the motel where I stayed the couple next door (Arkansas plates and accents) — after 11PM, more’s the pity — had a knock-down, drag-out fight that could be heard not only in adjacent rooms but on the second floor, I’m quite sure.  I learned some new cuss words in the course of it so my time wasn’t completely wasted, but that personal enrichment wasn’t high on the to-do list.  The next morning as I got into the car a fellow guest from a few doors down asked me, “That was quite a brew-up last night, did you hear it?”  I nodded in the affirmative.  He continued, “That happens around here sometimes, I guess even more in crisis times.”  I could tell by his accent that he was from Arkansas although the plates on his pickup were from Florida — the wife was the Floridian and he was a transplant.  So apparently knock-down drag-out fights with people throwing each other against walls and screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs is Business As Usual in Arkansas.  How quaint.  Maybe Arkansas should consider adopting New Mexico’s motto: The Land of Enchantment.

Just south of the motel was a greengrocer that intrigued me when I found it on the map — only a mile down the road, cool!  So I pulled up the link and saw there were reviews.  I thought it wise to see what people said before making a trip so I read the first one.  Oops …

Just moved here from out of state and came here for a few items needed for a recipe. I began asking an older woman who worked if they had cut corn in the back and she didn’t understand so I explained I was wanting corn off the cob. Within seconds a man walked over and began yelling at me to stop disrespecting his mother by talking down to her. I literally was just asking about cut corn because their sign said they had some in the back. I told him I was simply asking about corn and I would never talk to an older person like that and he continued to say I was. (I’m a respectful person and he came at me rude and belligerent for absolutely no reason) I put my stuff back and left. I planned on being a regular shopper as we eat lots of produce. They lost about $100 per week income from our family.

That review did two things: it put paid to the notion of my going to see what the shop had on offer and it put a Magic Marker-sized tick in yet another box on the stereotype list.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the word “disrespect” used as a verb but it all comes back to me now.  Dang.  All y’all need to slow this sucker down, where’s the damn brake?

Coming into Hot Springs from the trip across the Scenic Byway through Oklahoma brought me to the site of two — count ’em, TWO — major accidents on Highway 270.  One was a truck that had gone off the road and lay crumpled in a deep ditch — no other vehicles involved.  The second accident involved more than one vehicle but there were so many police cars and EMS people running about I couldn’t tell what happened.  After sitting on the road for twenty minutes waiting for traffic to start moving again, I just kept my eyes on the road as we finally went past the scene.  Curiously enough, there were no crunched cars immediately obvious.  They were the first accidents I had seen since leaving the Bitter North, after some 2,500 miles on the road.  Why two of them within 20 miles of each other in Arkansas on a sunny, clear day?  Could it be something in the water?  Or maybe something in a … bottle?

My trip to the state park was on a two-lane highway with few turnouts.  On the way down the experience I had with other drivers made me ask myself if I was being overly sensitive.  One the way back the same thing happened and I gave myself the benefit of the doubt: they’re idiots, I was right the first time.  In my neck of the woods they’d be called very aggressive drivers.  But aggression really isn’t the issue — it’s self-absorption and a lack of consideration, which latter characteristic is so wholly unsouthern that one really can do nothing but assume that their mommas did not raise them right.  Of a developed sense for risk assessment we need not even speak.  They tailgate something fierce.  At the first opportunity they jump into the other lane to pass, after which there usually goes past your side field of vision a beat up sedan or pickup with at least one hole in the muffler.  It was all a bit too Dukes of Hazzard for my taste.  Another stereotype box ticked, thanks so much, kids.  You’re batting a thousand here.

So between the weather and the brawling and the tailgating, after three days I was ready to hightail it outta there and make any return something for the distant future.  That said, the countryside is ravishing and I’d happily spend more time with it.  The pics should make its many charms abundantly clear.

Oh and by the way, it’s also true what they say about people in Oklahoma and overalls.  I saw some people wearing them when I went to the supermarket.  So let’s tick that box, too, while we’re at it, shall we?

What I’d really love to have is the opinion of an Oklahoman and an Arkansan about which stereotype boxes I myself tick.  Wouldn’t that be good for a juicy post LOL.

Thus end the exploratory stays of this trip.  I made one in Texas and one in Arkansas and I will do no more.  Tennessee will be to me as chaff that bloweth in the wind because I’m bound for North Carolina, which I know as well as I know my own face in the mirror.  I lived and worked there for nearly ten years, so while not a native I have some street creds.  There’s plenty I haven’t seen and I intend to correct the deficiencies of the past to the best of my ability during my stay, so stay tuned, there’s more fun to come …