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Arkansas, Oklahoma trip report

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We had a week of spring break and used it to visit two more states and their state capitals. My older son and I are doing 'Volksmarches' (organized, at your own pace walks) in all fifty states and capitals. See www.ava.org for more info on volksmarching.

We flew to dallas from Phoenix. We used American Airlines frequent flyer miles for the flights. Leaving from Phoenix, we flew out of Terminal 3. It seems old now although I remember flying out of it the first week it was open. Before flying, I ate at a nice small food place that served bar-b-que. Not too bad beef ribs. Kept me full for the flight. Wife and kids didn't eat anything and ended up buying snacks at $3 per snack on the flight.

Arrived in Dallas and took shuttle to Days Inn near airport. We stayed at Days Inns or other affiliated motels on this trip, accumulating TripRewards points. All were booked on the internet, most at special rates. At 4:30 AM the alarm went off. I need to remember to check that the previous occupant didn't leave the alarm on! After the continental breakfast, my wife and I took the shuttle back to the airport and the the rental car shuttle to the very nice rental car center. I had previously booked the Alamo car on line, paying for it in advance to save an additional 10%. About 30% of the cost was various taxes! My wife decided that she also wanted to drive, so I added her as an additional driver - $90 for the nice days - ouch! In the past I always had some code to get this for free, so it was a shock.

Picking up the boys at the motel, we drove to Hot Springs Arkansas. Nice drive, but long. We stopped at the very nice Visitor Center just across the border and picked up some good info on things to do. We stayed at the Knights Inn, just outside Hot Springs. We had two nice large rooms with a connecting door. Long time since we have had that arrangement. While wife and son #2 rested, son #`1 and I went for our walk. The walk starts at the National Park Visitor Center and is two loops - one for each of the mountains that border Hot Springs. Since it was getting late, we just did the one loop and left the second for the next day. Nice walk on very nice trails. Quite a bit of climbing at first up to an observation tower and scenic overlook. At the end of the walk we took one trail that ended us at the 5th floor of a hotel. We entered and took the elevator down to the first floor and then out to the street. Different!

Back at the hotel, we decided on Outback Steakhouse for dinner. We called and got put on the waiting list - projected time 1 hour! We got ready and drove the the restaurant. It was packed with many waiting outside. But our calling ahead paid off as we were seated immediately. Food was only fair.

Day 2. Next morning we finished our walk. About a quarter mile into the walk was a spring the NPS has capped and diverted to a fountain. We drank some and filled our water bottles. Nice cool water - not the hot springs that the town is named for. After the walk, it was off to Crater of Diamonds State Park to hunt for diamonds! It was about an hour's drive over nice country roads. We rented equipment and spend about 2 hours looking for diamonds. No luck. The next day I heard a report on Paul Harvey that 8 yr old twins found a 2.5 carat diamond that weekend!

We drove back to Hot Springs on even smaller country roads. I really liked the countryside. It was raining and at one point we saw a funnel start to come out of the clouds, but it quickly dissipated. I asked the hotel clerk what was a good place to eat and she said her favorite place was the Fisherman's Wharf. We went and had a very good meal. Nice location - right on the lake, very friendly service.

Day 3. All four of us went to the park visitor center which is the bath house that has been restored. It was interesting to see the rather elegant facilities for taking the cure. I especially liked the gym with equipment that reminded me of the YMCA I attended 50 yrs ago. Then the short ride to Little Rock where we stayed at another Days Inn. Son #1 and I then went to do our walk. We started at the very nice Visitor's Center. Very nice personnel. They gave us two bottles of cold drinking water. We walked to the Clinton Presidential Library, then to the state capitol building and governor's mansion before returning to the visitor center. Back to the motel to pick up wife and #2 who visited the Clinton Library while #1 and I rode the trolley. The trolley started at the Library and went through downtown and then crossed over the river to North Little Rock. The driver was like a tour guide pointing out the sights and telling a few jokes. Great deal for 50 cents!

After picking up the others, we went to the Clinton Museum Store (located outside the museum, a few hundred feet down the road). As when we visit anywhere, we end up spending a fortune in the gift store! We spent so much that we qualified for 2 free 'Uptown Bill' s. It is a mechanical doll of Clinton playing the sax. Pretty clever, but nothing we would have ever spent a dime on. They must have really been overstocked and desperate to get rid of them. On the way back to the motel we drove by Central High School - site of the 1957 civil rights event. It's a huge, multi-story building. Must have been a frightening place for the nine students.

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    Day 4. It's a long drive to Tulsa. We took the direct route on the freeway. It passes through the fringe of the Ozark Mountains, but I must admit that I didn't see much that i would have called a mountain. Maybe it is being used to bigger mountains in the west. We left I40 and then drove on the Muskogee Turnpike. Nice road, small toll. We got off at Muskogee to visit the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. Only $3 each, before the 50% AAA discount. Small museum in the 1875 Indian Agency building. Most interesting to me was learning that the tribes provided 'code talkers' during WWI, similar to the Navajos in WWII. There was also information on a soldier in WWI who was similar to Sgt. York, killing about 70 Germans and capturing 170 single handed.

    On we continued to Claremore to see the Will Rogers Museum. Interesting, free (donation) museum. The only problem with a museum like this (and most of the museums we visited in OK, is that they have so much that you really need several visits to really see it all). We then made our way to our motel, another Days Inn. Wife and #2 stayed at the motel and weren't hungry while #1 and I went to the Rib Crib - a local chain of rib joints. Decent bar-b-que at a moderate price.

    Day 5. Up early for us and then we drove through downtown to the Gilcrease Museum. Another free (donation) museum. We were the first people in and so a docent latched onto us and gave us a nice tour for about 30 minutes. Lots of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Also Gilbert Stuart (George Washington portrait), Audubon, Winslow Homer and other artists. Also interesting pre-columbian artifacts. Non-flash photography was allowed and I got some great pictures of the paintings. Then we were on the road to Enid. Stopping for lunch, my wife ate at a Taco Bueno, a local Mexican fast food chain, and thought it quite good. Much of the drive was on the Turnpike, another nice toll road. One of the only faults is that there is only once service area on that stretch - luckily we a before we entered the turnpike. It was on this stretch that the Oklahoma that I pictured in my mind appeared - flat treeless terrain for as far as the eye could see. Near Tulsa it had been rolling hills with quite a few trees and quite green. In Enid we stayed a the Ramada Inn. Son #1 and I then went to the Railroad Museum of Oklahoma ($3 suggested donation). Like most railroad museums, it has lots of items to display without the room and money to do them justice. A volunteer (85 years old - 40 years working for the railroad) gave us a tour. The museum has over 1,000,000 items, including almost one piece of each dinnerware used on all the railroads that served the U.S. They have 13 cabooses that they eventually hope to hook up to their locomotive. They have a spur line to allow them to go onto the main rail lines. They sometimes have events and travel on the main lines.

    Afterwards I contacted a relative and we had dinner with her and her daughter's family. We ate at Costello's, a nice continental cuisine restaurant in a strip center. Continental - that's code for small potions! The other adult male ordered the special and when it was served, I could see him blanch when he saw the puny portion. Following dinner we went to their house for a nice visit.

    Day 6. A leisurely drive to Norman, south of Oklahoma City to the Days Inn. Son #1 and I did a nice walk to the OU campus. Then just lazing around until dinner which we ate at a nearby Golden Corral. We hadn't eaten at one in many years (we used to eat there quite a bit when the boys were young and ate for free!). It was quite good.

    Day 7. Off to do a walk in the Capitol city. We started at the Myriad Gardens in downtown OKC. It is a nice area but closed for renovation. Our walk took us by the OKC memorial, some very nice houses, including the first mansion in OKC, the Overholser Mansion, and the state Capitol building. After picking up the wife and other son, we went to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. As soon as we got there, we ate at the restaurant. It was good food, but I was a little disappointed that it wasn't cowboy oriented. Very, very interesting museum. The 33 ft statue of James Earle Fraser's 'The End of the Trail' is the original plaster statue, rescued from years of neglect. Lots of real cowboy artifacts as well as Movie/TV cowboy memorabilia. As mentioned with Will Rogers Museum, it really needs to be explored over several visits. Back at the motel and another night at the Golden Corral.

    Day 8. A lazy day, so everyone except me slept in. I get up around 6 AM all the time - frustrating when the others would sleep until noon. We went to the 45th Infantry Division Museum. Another free (donation) museum. One of the best military museums I have ever seen. Featured displays are a fabulous collection of BIll Mauldin's 'Willie and Joe' cartoons from WWII and items taken from Hitler's Munich office and the Eagles Nest. The 45th also liberated Dachau and there are accounts and photos of the first troops to witness the horror. Next we drove to the OKC Memorial and visited the museum. Frankly, it was the worst of the museums we visited on this trip. Poorly laid out, the most interesting parts were the devastated room that shows the rubble, and the clues that incriminated McVeigh.

    Day 9. Up at a normal time and then on the road to Dallas. Uneventful until just outside Denton when traffic came to a halt. The freeway was closed. I usually believe that all lanes go about the same speed in these cases and so it is unproductive to constantly change lanes. Wrong this time. The lane we were in was much slower than the others. It took us about 2 hours to go about 5 miles. Fortunately we had allowed plenty of time to get to the airport. That long wait we thought we would spend in the airport, we spent in the traffic jam. Turning in the car was simple and soon we were on the shuttle to the terminal. Going through security posed two minor problems. Fortunately I remembered to put my small swiss army knife in the checked bags (I had it in my carryon on the flight to Dallas and security had missed it). Son #1 put his laptop in the tray and my wife pushed the trays forward, not realizing that there was a gap before the x-ray machine. CRASH it fell onto the floor. Freaked my son out until he verified that it was not hurt. Son #2 had a bust of Jefferson in his carryon and was subjected to a bag search. No problems with the flight and we were soon back in Phoenix.

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    Great report! Taking I-40 from Little Rock to Tulsa, you would have passed on the north side of the Ouachita Mountains, the only range in the US that runs east-west. I-40 actually runs in a valley that divides the Ozark plateau in the north from the Ouachitas in the south. You would not have seen much of the mountains along the interstate.

    And I'm really sorry no one sent you to the Brickhouse restaurant in Hot Springs for a good steak instead of Outback.

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    Nice report. How many states are you up to? I'm now at 46 (I visited Idaho and Oregon in February), leaving Alaska (where I will visit in July), Oklahoma, Nebraska and Vermont. I expect to complete all 50 states in 2008.

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