Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tyler Bend CG

Today we left Hot Springs, AR, and drove north around Little Rock and about 75 miles farther north on US 65. Arkansas constantly amazes us with its beauty. We drove over rolling hills and scenic rivers and marveled at all the shades of green. We even drove far enough north to catch up with the blooming dogwoods. This must be why my spring allergies last for months. But I wouldn't change a thing.

We caught back up with the WINs at Tyler Bend Campground along the Buffalo National River. This is a perfect campground for us - lots of open sky for the solar panels and satellite dish.

The group has already done two kayak trips, but we'll be joining them for another one tomorrow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

DeGray Lake

Yesterday was our last day at Shouse Ford (not a car dealer, but a campground) on DeGray Lake. Our WIN host Susan actually lives nearby in Hot Springs, so she has really given us a taste of the area. We saw the sights, kayaked, hiked, ate out, and yesterday she even arranged for a boat ride on the lake. Her son-in-law came by with his gorgeous boat and was kind enough to take us out. And even better, from Ron's point of view, he got to do a little fishing.

Captain John prepares to get underway while Ron anticipates catching the big one.

Here is our fearless leader Susan demonstrating proper fishing technique.

As you can see, Ron is happiest when he's fishing.

Since I forgot my camera, these pictures were taken by Priscilla and/or Tom, who have better memories.

Hats off to John for taking us on this great ride and Susan for arranging it. Here's the whole group except for Susan who took the picture.

Today Ron and I moved to the campground in Hot Springs National Park. This is one of those 'good news, bad news' situations. I love staying in the parks, but the reason we're here is because Ron needs a dentist. Susan gave us a lead on a good dentist and we'll be calling tomorrow.

Although he still hasn't caught anything in Arkansas, he is not discouraged. The locals say the fish bite more when the water is lower. Here's to a dry spell.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Kayaking the Caddo

If this is the WINs, we must be kayaking. And last Tuesday, we did just that. We had an exciting six mile trip down the beautiful Caddo River. Previously, I had just kayaked calm rivers and peaceful lakes. This was different. I found out that I have absolutely no control over a kayak.

Here we are loading up the kayaks to take to the put in spot. Quite a system, don't you think? We had 18 of us on this paddle.

This is our friend and fellow WIN 'Maniac Mike' who kindly allows us to use his cargo trailer for this operation. The trailer usually holds his road toys - motorcycle, souped-up ATV, kayaks - and is pulled behind his motorhome. Mike is a great guy with a terrific sense of humor.

Here we are just starting down the river. As you can see, there are lots of rocks to navigate around.

And here I am demonstrating that special 'Barbara' style. (This and the previous two pictures were taken by Peggy. Thanks, Peggy.)

Back to the subject of my lack of control over my kayak. Soon after we began our paddle (and before this last picture was taken,) my boat sank right out from under me! Impossible, you think? Well, I was too close to the person in front of me as we were negotiating around some rocks. Suddenly she got turned sideways against a rock. What was I to do? Since I didn't have the control to go around her, I slammed on the brakes (dragged my paddle in the water) and ended up parallel to her. The current was so swift in this spot that it flattened my boat against the rock which caused it to be at a 45 degree sideways slant. As I watched helplessly, the water just poured into the boat until it was completely filled. Rather then sit in a boat full of water, I then just stepped out. (The water was only about a foot and a half deep.) Do you know how hard it is to move a kayak full of water? The good news is that my boat pushed hers farther up the rock and we were able to get it back on track. Then I just waited for my hero Ron to come and bail me out.

And here he is, still smiling at the end, after helping me and actually chasing down somebody else's kayak when it took off without them.

Ah, the tired, but happy adventurers waiting for their ride home.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Garvan Gardens

Today the WINs visited Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs. Ron and I had a couple of errands to run first and actually didn't arrive at the gardens until the rest were leaving. That wasn't because they are fast, but we are just incredibly slow.

In 1985 Verna C. Garvan donated 210 acres to the University of Arkansas School of Architecture. They have done an amazing job fulfilling her vision of an internationally respected botanical garden. If you're bored by flowers, you may as well stop reading this now, but I loved it!

As soon as we entered the garden, the azaleas and water features caught our eye.

Although these might look like koi, they're not fooling me. When the garden employee threw in a handful of food, they turned into piranha in a feeding frenzy.

Here is Ron on the Canopy Bridge. I must admit I didn't realize why 'Canopy' until I looked at this picture and saw it must refer to being in the tree canopy. It is a lovely bridge with all the graceful curving wood.

I can only imagine what the masses of tulips looked like at their peak, but there were some late bloomers. This one looked like no tulip I had ever seen.

Another unusual tulip - both in form and color.

Around each turn was a lovely woodland scene.

And let's not forget the azaleas.

I was really surprised to see some camellias blooming.

And for the purist, there were also more traditional tulips.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hot Springs, Arkansas

On Sunday, Ron and I joined our singles RV club (WIN) at DeGray Lake just south of Hot Springs. This is another lovely Corps of Engineers lake and campground with many tall trees. We had to try three sites before we found one where we could get satellite TV. (Now I know many people are thinking, "Why do you need TV in a campground?" Well, you have to remember this is our life and TV is a part of life.) Although the signal was weak because it was going through some branches, it worked fine on Sunday night. However when I turned it on the next night, the signal had dropped and it no longer worked. I couldn't believe it but the leaves had grown enough that they blocked the signal. Well, my hero moved again just so I would have TV. What a guy!

This is the first stop in a series of WIN gatherings in Arkansas and Missouri, the focus of which is kayaking these gorgeous rivers. We kayaked today and I'll post that later, but yesterday we toured Hot Springs National Park. This is a really unique park. Although it does encompass mountains with lots of hiking trails, the main focus is the historical Bathhouse Row right in the middle of town. These bathhouses used the natural hot springs and catered to crowds of vacationers and health seekers during their heyday from the 1880s to the 1950s.

In 1915 reviews proclaimed the Fordyce Bathhouse (below) the best in Hot Springs. It is now the park visitor center and has been restored to its original splendor.

We toured the bathhouse and saw some odd and scary equipment. This in particular looked like an instrument of torture, but it's a sauna using the 143 degree steam of the natural hot springs. Only the person's head peeked out the top. I can't imagine anything worse!

They did have a fancy stained glass ceiling to admire while they steamed. (Picture stolen from our friend Peggy)

The National Park Service is working to restore Bathhouse Row to its original beauty. I thought this one was particularly lovely.

Since 1985 the Buckstaff is the only traditional bathhouse on Bathhouse Row still in operation. You can indulge in a tub bath, shower, steam cabinet, hot and cold packs, whirlpool, and massage. Still doesn't appeal to me.

For lunch we went to an Ecuadorian restaurant recommended by Susan, a WIN who lives in Hot Springs and is hosting this gathering. Since I have what might be called very discriminating tastes (unbelievably picky), I wasn't sure if I would like it. When the food was served, we all raved how beautifully it was presented. I just had to take a picture. And it was delicious!

This third reincarnation of the Arlington Hotel opened in 1924. The Arlington has hosted both the famous and infamous over the years.

I couldn't resist a picture of the lovely azalea blooms that were all over town.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kirby Landing

Tonight is our third and final night here at Kirby Landing campground on the north shore of Lake Greeson (in southwest Arkansas.) After a week in the area, the water is still higher than normal. Yesterday we took a walk over to the marina and saw a car that got caught in the rising water and is sitting there half submerged. We found out the water actually was at a normal to low level one day and overnight rose to the highest it's been since 1968! That must have been a surprise.

We have a lovely spot overlooking a picturesque cove.

In the picture you can see the campground host's boat. He's parked farther from the water and leaves it by us. I told Ron that I'm sure he wouldn't mind if we took it for a spin.

However, Ron decided to use his own boat and try some fishing. So far, no luck, but we've seen some big fish that people have caught.

Clever person that he is, Ron mounted a holder for his fishing pole on the kayak. Now he can even troll.

We've been able to birdwatch from our front seats. There are a pair of blue jays industriously building a nest who took exception to this hawk who came around.

Tomorrow we'll move about 30 miles east to DeGray Lake and join the WINs for kayaking Arkansas and southern Missouri.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Carlsbad Caverns

Today we moved to the north side of Lake Greeson (Arkansas), but since there's nothing new to write, I'm going to backtrack. Near the end of March while we were parked on BLM land between Carlsbad Caverns NP and Guadalupe Mountains NP, we took a day to 'do' the cave. We have both been to many caverns, but Carlsbad is unique in its shear size. I love the fact that you can walk down a paved, switchback path to explore huge rooms 800 feet below the surface. We were too early in the year to see the thousands of bats that exit the cave each evening at dusk in search of insects. Last time I was there in October and only saw about 25 bats - I figured they were weak and infirmed and too tired to make the winter migration to Mexico.

Here I am at the Natural Entrance preparing for my decent into the dark. This is also where the bats exit when they are in residence. There is a definite odor of bat guano. When Ron was here 50 years ago, he not only walked down, but also back up. Now they have elevators.

We lucked out and were able to take a guided tour of the Kings Palace and Queens Chamber rooms. Here is Ron on the tour.

My little 'point and shoot' camera was not able to capture the awesome beauty of the rooms, so I have to make do with individual formations. Most are dry and not growing at this time, but here is one that is wet. The cavern decorations are formed drop by drop. Drops containing calcite descend into the cave, deposit calcite crystal, and billions of drops later, you have a formation. (That's the short version.) Ron, who has an active imagination, saw a face in this one.

This stalagmite picked up some nice color due to the presence of minerals.

This stalactite is named the lions tail. Cute, huh?

This one they named 'Rock of Ages.'

I like the way this one looked like an upside down root system.

Back on the surface, the Torrey Yucca were blooming.

When we arrived back home, the neighbors were waiting to hear all about our adventures.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Strange, but true. . .

The water is receding from the lower campground sites at the rate of about a foot a day. It's an interesting situation. Ron can fish from a picnic table. We can put in the kayaks from space 18. We are no longer the only people here and our neighbors launched their boat from a road that is not supposed to run into the water, but does.

But what I find the strangest of all, although we have sporadic phone service, our Verizon Aircard does work from here. And even weirder, we can access the internet, upload pictures, and seemingly do everything but send email. So if you're waiting for an email from me, it will be a couple of days. In the meantime, Mary Ellen, the answer is no!

Monday, April 14, 2008


Today we went to Crater of the Diamonds State Park, the only diamond-producing site in the world where the public is invited to search for diamonds and keep what they find! For a small fee of $6.50 each, you can get down and dirty, digging for treasure in a 37 acre plowed field that is the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe. Over 75,000 diamonds have been found, including one that was 40 carats. By the time we left this afternoon, five had been found today.

There are two main methods for finding the gems - the dry method, demonstrated here by Ron. (We rented the screening box for a couple bucks.)

And here is the wet method which looked way too cold to us. The park provides processing pavilions and the tubs of water.

On the left is Ron's find - a lovely piece of quartz. Then a nice lady showed me her prize, although even she thought it was probably glass.

Personally, I just went for size. I believe it's all in the polishing.

I think searching for diamonds is like playing a slot machine in a casino. Do you stay with one spot figuring it has to pay off eventually, or change to a different spot and hope for better luck.

On our way off the field, we passed these two. You can see which theory they believe.

Here is our charming Lake Gresson in all its flooded glory.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Arkansas Flooding

Today we continued east on I30 on our way out of Texas and noticed the creeks and rivers we crossed were over their banks. Soon after entering Arkansas we crossed the famous Red River. It too was very high and tinted with all that red Arkansas dirt. We had to find a place to pull over and walk back for a picture.

We stopped at the Arkansas welcome center and asked about the flooding in the northeast part of the state. It sounds like the news reports were not exaggerated, but we never thought to ask about the southwest where we are. We made our way north on some scenic roads to Lake Greeson, another Army Corps of Engineers Lake. I am hooked on these places now. Well, after searching for one of the lake campgrounds on a road that got progressively worse, I broke down and called the Resource Manager in the Lake Greeson field office. I was very impressed that he answered the phone on a Sunday afternoon. He directed us back to another campground with paved roads but warned us to park on the upper part of the loop. "You mean the campground is flooded?" I asked incredulously.

There was this very helpful sign on the lower level of the campground.

Oh, look, an aquatic nature trail. I wonder if they supply scuba gear.

Then there was the watery playground, with the swimming area that you have to swim to in the background.

But this was my favorite - If you look closely to the right of the half-submerged light post, you will see the tip of the bathroom roof.

But never fear, we did get a lovely spot about 5 feet above the water level. It might be our imagination, but we think the water has already receded some.