Road trip to Hot Springs Arkansas...Monday, June 29, 2015 - And They're Off...

Wow – it’s been a while since we did a road trip, and even though it’s not as fatiguing as spending lots of hours in an airport and/or an airplane, it can still take a bit of a toll on the body and the brain.  However, it was refreshing (once we were able to get clear of the DFW Metroplex – more on that little hiccup shortly!) to get into East Texas, make the brief jaunt through southeastern Oklahoma, and ultimately cross over into Arkansas. 

Okay, here was the fly in the automobiling ointment, courtesy (we assumed) of TexDOT putting our tax dollars to work: We were tooling along nicely on I30 heading out of Big D when we lumbered into a parking lot of eighteen-wheelers and assorted other fellow travelers just prior to the bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard – ROAD WORK!  With the two left lanes closed (and the aforementioned road work nowhere in sight), crawling became the order of the moment as we inched our way toward the sweet release of the (once again) open road.  Fortunately, we only had to endure this for about 30 minutes before being turned loose to resume breakneck speeds out of our stomping grounds toward our more laid-back destination.

I wish I had a dollar for every logging truck that we encountered on and around State Highway 70; neither of us had any idea of the paper manufacturing that makes its home in this part of the country.  Once we made the connection, it was easy to discern and understand the impact that this industry has on the landscape, as we drove through miles of alternating clear-cut, new growth and mature growth forest.  The height of the trees (as compared with what we experience in Texas) reminded both of us of our home states (Maryland and Oregon), neither of which have to endure the blistering summers which keep Texas tree growth somewhat closer to the ground water.

We had decided that, rather than take the super-highway approach to arriving in Hot Springs, that we would enjoy the ambiance that less-traveled roads would afford; this turned out to be a happy choice, even though we sometimes found ourselves behind an individual who wanted to be a tad more leisurely in his back-roads wheeling than we were.  But the roads themselves are comfortable and comforting to drive on; often a slight jog to the left or right would open up onto a fleeting glimpse of mountain and valley, only for us to find ourselves again enveloped by the lush landscape that crowded itself seemingly to the edges of the tarmac. The small (and tiny) towns through which we drove provided a peek into a calmer way of life whose charms are often forgotten in the tumultuous lives we take for granted.  THIS is what we're searching for this week!

After a gourmet lunch of pulled chicken sandwiches eaten out of the cooler in the rear parking lot of a McDonald’s, we were on the home stretch of our journey to Hot Springs.  We had been gaining elevation throughout the first part of the day, but now we began a descent that culminated in our first breathtaking view of Lake Ouachita and the spectacular homes that share its shores.  We had made it to Hot Springs thanks to our AAA TripTik; now it was time for the GPS in the iPhone to take over for the fine-tuned navigation to the Hilltop Manor B&B where we had our reservations for the week.  (My parents [who pretty much wrote the book for me on road trips] would have been scandalized at this profligate use of technology to get where one wanted to go – the very idea!  It takes all the challenge and discovery [not to mention the aggravation] out of exploring the USA by car…  Sorry, Mom!)

Hilltop Manor – the pictures on its web site do not even BEGIN to do it justice!  We were met at the door by Jennifer, one of the owners, a wonderfully personable and accommodating 30-ish young lady who gave us a tour of this magnificent 7,000 square foot craftsman, built in 1910 on the east side of Hot Springs.  Much of the house is original (hardwood floors, interesting plate racks throughout the ground floor, roof), but the capacious rooms upstairs have been furbished with all the modern amenities.  We are pleasantly ensconced in the Rose Room, which occupies the entire southeast corner of the second floor, and whose interior is bathed in lovely outdoor light for the better part of the day. 

After getting ALL the stuff out of the car (another benefit of road trips over air travel!) and doing a little unpacking, we retreated to the large and inviting living/dining room on the first for floor with its impressive river-rock fireplace for some unwinding and FABs (festive adult beverages to you uninitiated types) courtesy of our hostess.  Jennifer had written out a list of must-do activities and places for us that dovetailed nicely with the list provided me by my awesome WW member Lauren (who is also a Hot Springs aficionado – thank you, Lauren!)

At Jennifer’s suggestion we went to the Ohio Club (built in 1905) in downtown Hot Springs for burgers and a preliminary look at the historic Bathhouses that line the town’s main drag.  The burgers were delicious as advertised, and the Club hosted a soulful young blues singer who serenaded us with what sounded like original compositions while accompanying himself on the guitar.  Afterwards we took a leisurely stroll up and down, with stops here and there for photos (to be seen here in the near future) of the picturesque structures and minute parks that vied for our attention.

Then it was back to the Hilltop for planning Tuesday’s expedition and an early bedtime, dreaming of breakfast with the hummingbirds on the Manor’s sprawling front porch!

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