Saturday, July 4 - Happy Birthday, America!

This is our last full day in Hot Springs, and it started out cool and damp following some overnight precipitation.  All the Manor’s guests again found their ways to the porch for the morning repast, and we enjoyed conversations with some of them before all of us dispersed on our respective excursions.  There is an adventuresome couple (also from North Texas) here on their two beautiful Harley Davidsons, and it was fun to chat with them about our shared biking interests.  We noticed a large gaggle of bikers passing by the Hilltop during breakfast, so they are sure to encounter lots of other riding enthusiasts with whom to cruise the scenic local roads today!

After hearing all week about the spectacular botanical gardens in the southern part of the city, we had earmarked this morning as our time to experience them.  The route to Garvan Gardens took us past and through some lovely newer neighborhoods (including the Hot Springs Country Club) that we made plans to explore on our way back into town.  

The Gardens are owned and maintained by the University of Arkansas after having been established by a remarkable businesswoman and her second husband.  Over 5 miles of paths for both walking and golf cart travel lead visitors through luxuriant plantings co-mingled with native forest; whimsical offerings to captivate children of all ages give way to arboreal settings that can be transformed to host outdoor events on a grand scale.  We opted for a guided golf cart tour and were soon off with our delightful and knowledgeable guide Barbara, who regaled us with the sequence of events that led to the creation of the Gardens.

Here we encountered yet another indicator of the smallness of our world: The Head Gardener for these Gardens (Bob Byers [sp?]) has recently been appointed to an analogous position overseeing the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens!  Barbara was bemoaning the loss of this Master Gardener, who was back in Hot Springs this weekend, as he still has a home here.  Even though we did not have the chance to make his acquaintance today, perhaps we will be able to introduce ourselves back home.  The magnificence of these Gardens is a testament to his talent, and Hot Springs’ loss is definitely Fort Worth’s gain!

After taking our leave of Barbara back at the Visitor Center, we hiked a short distance to one of the marvels of this sylvan spot: the jewel-like Anthony Chapel, the second most popular wedding venue in the entire country.  The Chapel is constructed entirely of wood beams and glass, and gives the impression of having been chiseled from some giant crystal before being nestled into its verdant surroundings.  It is paired with an all-wood-beam campanile, whose chimes mark the passing of the hours with familiar hymn tunes.

We only covered about 1.7 miles of the trails; even so, there was a great deal of interest in what we passed and photographed.  For example, there is the one portion of the numerous paths that is paved entirely with antique bricks from one of Mrs. Garvan’s factories that was destroyed by a fire.  Adjoining the Visitor Center is a G-gauge model train set-up representative of the various industries that underwrote our benefactress’s fortune, and the trail past a charming Fairy Garden leads one to the greenery-covered Mother “Gourd” House.  Many of the children we encountered with their parents were happily engaged in a map-driven Treasure Hunt, but even that merry activity did not detract from the serenity of our surroundings.  Indeed, the Garvan Gardens themselves are a treasure and we the lucky hunters who can revel in their splendor!

Re-tracing our route back downtown we took a few side jaunts on surprisingly long and meticulously manicured roads that led to some secluded upscale communities bordering on Lake Hamilton: out of our price range, but pleasant to amble through nonetheless.  These neighborhoods are bounded and separated by forest, out of which popped two seemingly unafraid fauns onto the street in front of us as we were completing our circuit - what an enchanting moment!  Then it was back to Central Avenue and lunch at the Copper Penny Pub after visiting an excellent antique store that hadn’t been open during last evening’s Art Walk. 

We were still discussing the possibility of going to Lake Hamilton for the fireworks display when a nap attack occurred, so that topic was tabled until such time as we regained consciousness…

At about 7:30 we got in the car and made for the location that had been identified in one of the local newspapers as possessing the best view of the pyrotechnics, but when we got there it was already teeming with humanity, most of whom appeared to have been camped out there for the better part of the day.  I would love to view the statistics on the amount of alcohol (beer in particular) that was consumed before and during the display in just this one location – Holy Schlitz!

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor (and knowing that we could watch A Capitol Fourth on PBS in the mosquito-free comfort of our room), it was time to stop at Kilwin’s for a final ice cream extravagance.  While waiting there to be served and viewing the aftermath of their wildly busy day (they were out of waffle cones – waaah!), we realized that there was one last touristy item that hadn’t been crossed off our list.  So we hied ourselves and our ice cream across Central Avenue to a small corner park that is home to one of the National Park’s uncovered free-flowing hot springs, although neither of us was able to summon the gumption to actually plunge our feet into the small rock-rimmed pool where the water collects at the base of the mountain – that water was HOT!  (Duh…)

As the evening shades settled in, it was time to return to the Manor to begin packing for tomorrow morning’s departure.  We have had a relaxing time here, met a lot of terrific folks, taken in some gorgeous vistas and, hopefully, made some inroads into deciding about a viable retirement locale.  Hot Springs will absolutely be on the list of contenders; in fact, it would gratifying to us if we could be active participants in this landmark city’s much-needed rehabilitation, so that even more Americans could enjoy the quaint, easy-going charms that it offers and that are in such short supply in our hectic lives.  We’ll be back – don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Thanks for joining us for this year’s journey!  Now it’s time to begin planning the next one…