Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Labor Day Weekend In Arkansas

Our obligatory leaving for a road trip selfie

All I can say about this weekend is: What. A. Weekend. After much debate, we decided at 10:00 a.m. Friday that we would be going to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the weekend, meaning we would be leaving at 5:30 p.m. THAT EVENING. With only hours to pack, this momma got it all done while working all day! I'm still quite impressed with myself. As usual, we were a bit late hitting the road, leaving at 6 p.m. 

Our first stop of the evening was at a rest stop that has very *special* meaning to us. Just over three years ago (July 2013), on our way down to Kansas City for a long weekend. our Harrison threw up everywhere! Being the inexperienced road trippers we were then (it was our first with children), we had absolutely nothing to clean the mess up. We wound up stopping at this rest area where I had to give Harrison an emergency sink bath in the women's restroom. Semi drivers helped us out by giving us cleaning supplies and even helped clean up the minivan. We've driven by this rest area plenty of times since then but on this night, we decided to visit the site of "the great puke clean up of 2013."

The minis pretending to get sick "just like Harrison did."

We spent the night in Joplin, MO (about halfway to Hot Springs). We were all wiped and went right to sleep. Our plans for the next day included driving the rest of the way to Hot Springs in the morning, touring the town a bit, spending a late afternoon at Crater of Diamonds (about an hour South of Hot Springs), and spending all day Sunday at Hot Springs National Park (the main reason for our visit to Arkansas). Little did we know just how much plans would change....

A blow up mattress is a must for us when traveling and booking basic hotel rooms that are only meant for four people.

We woke up Saturday morning to AN EARTHQUAKE. Yes, an earthquake in Missouri. There was a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in Pawnee, OK which is only 150 miles from Joplin, MO. It woke up Hubs and I, but the minis slept right through it. While experiencing an earthquake wasn't on my bucket list to begin with, it got put on and then promptly crossed off. Done and done. Luckily the earthquake got us up and ready to go bright and early.

I had no idea Arkansas had mountains! There were no deep valleys like the ones we experienced this past summer in Tennessee and North Carolina (even Kentucky with it's large hills).

Then, an hour into our drive we found ourselves at a Midas (thankfully there was one only 6 miles away when we noticed the van beginning to overheat). Turns out the water pump completely went out. Unfortunately, Midas couldn't get the van completed that day, so quickly thinking, we rented a vehicle and got on our way. By that time we were a good two to three hours behind schedule. By the time we actually made it into Hot Springs it was mid-afternoon. We chose to relax in the hotel room first and then head downtown to the National Park.

Gorgeous views as we drove.

Kids can be so gross. As we drove, I felt something wet flick my arm. I looked back and saw Harrison flossing his teeth....with a string from his sock. Yuck!

Originally our summer vacation to Tennessee included a visit to Hot Springs National Park (it got nixed in favor of Louisville). I spent a good portion of the spring and early summer reading up on Hot Springs. While I knew it was an urban National Park, it was still taken aback that it WAS the middle of the downtown area.

The one hiking trail we got to do in the Park. 

The Promenade was beautiful!

We had the opportunity to touch the Hot Springs numerous times. The water runs 143 degrees, so we very quickly dipped our finger tips in.

Max climbed this rock numerous times with no troubles....except for getting down. He froze and Hubs had to help him down each time. 

After the park (at one end of Bathhouse Row), we made our way down Bathhouse Row. Our first stop was Superior Bathhouse, which has been turned into a brewery. The beer is brewed with water directly from the Hot Springs. After the day we had, we rewarded ourselves with beer, dinner, and giant pretzels for the minis.

The inside of the restaurant/bathhouse still had the original tile on the floor. 

Dinner: a reuben sandwich, Greek orzo, and beer.

By the time we were done with dinner it was dark out. I didn't realize it until I was going through pictures, but I'm really glad we got to experience Bathhouse Row and the downtown district at night. If we didn't have issues with the van, we never would have been there at night. Everything happens for a reason.

I absolutely loved reading about the history of the town, the Hot Springs themselves, and the Bathhouses. Several of the bathhouses are spas (you have to be 14 years or older to enter the spas so that was out for us), one is a visitors center, one a cultural center, a gift shop, and of course, a restaurant. I really wish the spas did tours because I would have loved to see the inside of the other bathhouses.

There were Hot Springs fountains all around downtown. There's designated drinking fountains so you can fill up cups, bottles, water bottles, etc., wait for it to cool, and then drink it. Straight from the Springs. The water is completely and safely drinkable! Yes, we drank some and brought some home with us as a keepsake.

One of the biggest surprises while visiting the National Park was the role of the Park Rangers. We've visited plenty of National Parks and are quite familiar with their roles. Imagine our surprise when we saw the Rangers patrolling the area like police officers. It made complete sense since the Park is in the middle of downtown, but it was still surprising to see.

The Arlington Hotel was gorgeous! I'm really bummed I decided against booking a room here.

After all of the walking, we decided to end our day with the Disney channel, snuggles in our giant bed, and a pizza party. Vacation is all about doing special things. I'd say we did plenty of extra special things!

So to recap our day: we woke up to an earthquake, the *new* minivan broke, we got a rental car, we drove 4 hours, walked a National Park, had a beer, and ordered pizza. Whew. It's a day I'll not soon forget.

Sunday morning we began our day bright and early once again downtown at Bathhouse Row.

We got to tour Fordyce Bathhouse, which is also the Visitors Center for the National Park. This was by far my most favorite thing about the trip.

A view out of a second story window.

The kids had a blast in the Men's Dressing Room.

The Women's Dressing Room.

I loved all of the history and learning how life was at this time. 

A 1923 gymnasium. To the right is an authentic Sterilite container.

The tour wouldn't be complete without a few tears.

Our last stop was the gift shop. The minis got to pose in the bath tub (original to the bathhouse). We bought a commemorative glass bottle and filled it with water from the Hot Springs as we left the park. From there we hopped in the car, got snacks from the gas station, and made our way an hour South to Crater of Diamonds State Park. The drives along all of the small highways provided excellent views.

I learned about Crater of Diamonds from the oldest mini's National Geographic US Road Trip book. As soon as I read about it I knew we just had to give it a try! We didn't have any experience digging for diamonds, therefore we had no diamond digging tools. Luckily the State Park has rentals available. The cost to enter the diamond mine field was $8 for adults, $5 for kids, kids 5 and younger are free, plus money for the rental tools (only $10 for a basic kit that you can use all day long).

The State Park has a water park in it! The cost is separate from the mine field. We did not stop to swim (we have season passes to our local amusement and water park Adventureland and Adventure Bay. I didn't feel the need to spend extra money on something we can do for free at home). The kids were slightly disappointed but they didn't put up a fight about it.

Some people had quite the set up: tents, umbrellas, full coolers, huge diamond digging kits. We looked pathetic with our Basic Digging kit next to some of the "experts."

We only spent an hour digging, as the sun was incredibly hot. We didn't find any diamonds but we did find a crystal and a few other rocks and sediments. What a cool learning experience about rocks and minerals for the minis! After digging and getting our goodies identified, we went to the museum and gift shop.

Hubs was impressed by the stand for taking pictures!

We bought two bags of lamproite (dirt) so we can dig for diamonds at home! Maybe there will be a lucky diamond in one of the bags...

After we finished at the State Park, we began the drive home. By then it was late afternoon. We decided to make the 10 hour drive home so we could have Monday to rest before Hubs had to head back to Arkansas on Tuesday to pick up the fixed minivan.

After getting out for a minis poop break at a gas station, we found a stowaway on my door. The grasshopper was nearly the end to us all....Oh and it's not a grasshopper actually. It's called a katydid. I did not know this, I didn't even know what a katydid was! But the oldest mini knew ALL about them. He spewed fact after fact at us on all bugs, snakes, the weather, rocks, space.....he may be my science nerd.

Naps for all. I'm pleased to announce that our ten hour trip home was done without any electronics at all. No DVD's, no tablets, no iPods, nothing. It was the radio, car games, naps, and conversation. We survived. Not without a few tense moments and a few threats, but we did in fact make it.

A big highlight of the trip for the minis was a cat at a rest area. I had no idea where the cat came from (and it didn't want to be around people) but it did give us a good stare down.

I know our travel adventures keep everyone entertained (they keep me entertained too), but we won't be going on any big trips until next summer when we're looking at taking TWO big summer vacation road trips! We'll keep you posted as my research has already begun. Oh, and we WILL be renting a vehicle so there's no more mishaps with our beloved Town and Country.