The last week of March was spent in Little Rock, Arkansas. Like last year, we needed a stopover on our way from Texas to Tennessee for the East Coast Heavy Duty Truck Rally. We really enjoyed our time in Hot Springs last year, but didn’t want to necessarily do a repeat visit so soon. This year we traveled just a bit further east on I-40 and stayed right downtown at the Riverside RV Park in North Little Rock. Forgoing the “fun” stuff like laundry and cooking, I took in a lot of the sights this week!
Warning – this is a photo-heavy post! And unfortunately I was only carrying my phone for most of these sights, so they are not as crisp or colorful as I would have hoped. 😦
Riverside RV Park
The park is pretty much a glorified parking lot with a strip of grass along the riverfront for dog walkers. Yes, there are restrooms and a tiny laundry, but I never entered either so I can’t comment. BUT, we got these views:
The park also accepts discounts for both Passport America and Good Sam, which brought our total stay for the week for full hookups to just $135.24. Plus DID I MENTION THIS VIEW (click for video):
Arkansas River Trail
This awesome multi-pronged paved trail runs along the river — both north and south — for nearly 100 miles. Park elements including landscaping, playgrounds, sculptures, boardwalks, and commemorative plaques adorned the area near downtown Little Rock. Sections more distant from the city were more natural and followed the contours of the river as it winds east toward the Mississippi River. It’s a fabulous resource and Elvis and I explored two different sections on different days, putting in our miles on the #52HikeChallenge.
(click for video)
Big Dam Bridge
About five nautical miles west of downtown, the Big Dam Bridge was completed in 2006 on top of a pre-existing dam and lock system. The bridge is the longest pedestrian-only bridge in the USA. We wrapped up our last night in the city by visiting at dusk to see if we could get the drone in the air and photograph the sunset. Ix-nay on the drone due to wind and timing, but we walked the bridge and snapped some photos.
Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
I probably would not have given this site a second thought were it not for my friend Patti, who has made it her mission to visit each of the presidential libraries. I was a Clinton fan until a certain blue dress made an intern famous. I’m re-evaluating my stance in light of the exhibits presented at the museum.
The museum is just a mile walk from the park, up over the beautiful Clinton Pedestrian Bridge. The bridge itself is fascinating.
Originally built in 1899 as a railroad bridge, an elevator system was added in 1970 to allow the northernmost section of the bridge to be raised for river traffic. The lift span was permanently raised in 1980 when the railroad that owned it ceased operations. The city acquired the bridge in 2001, renovated the bridge and re-opened it to foot traffic in 2011. As shown above, LED lights provide an ever-changing spectacle at night.
The library is attached to but separate from the museum and apparently, you have to have a legitimate reason and an appointment to visit. The Museum is a beautiful glass-enclosed structure, modeled after the Long Room of Trinity College in Dublin (yes, I read ALL the signs! lol).
The shiny museum covers three floors and a restaurant. I didn’t take photographs of the exhibits as glass-fronted cabinets don’t photograph well, and — as stated before — I’m not a huge Clinton fan.
The only exhibit on the first floor was the presidential limo. Ahem. I’m from Detroit, and I’ve been to The Henry Ford a dozen+ times. Next!
The third floor includes a full-size reproduction of the Oval Office where you can pay a photographer to have your photo taken sitting behind the desk. Did I do that? What do you think?
The remainder of the third floor was focused on life at the White House, with hundreds of photos and displays capturing various events from state dinners to Easter egg rolls on the White House lawn.
The second floor was dedicated to a series of exhibits that traced the timeline of Clinton’s presidency (only the good parts – hah!); and another series that defined Bill & Hillary’s impact on many areas such as education, public health, and world politics.
Split between the third and first floors, a temporary exhibit titled “Louder Than Words – Rock, Power, and Politics” traced the impact that rock music has had on public opinion, action, and advancement over the last 50 decades. I found it interesting, if a bit static. It will be interesting to see what the next decade brings in terms of music –> change.
Old State House Museum
Originally the state capitol building for Arkansas, this Greek Revival building now houses historical displays and a small gift shop. A large portion of the first floor traces the history of the building and includes a great deal of information about the construction and subsequent reconstructions through 1995. I really appreciated this, as I love to learn about the history behind the structures and architecture.
The building has some quirks, owing to a change in managing architects and budgets halfway through. When the building was in use as a state building, some corridors were enclosed as rooms. You literally could not get to certain areas of the building without going outside to an external staircase or loggia! Those issues were rectified at some point. The House and Senate rooms have been restored, as closely as possible, to the original.
My favorite exhibit, though, was a temporary one.
“In 1979, Ed Stilley was leading a simple life as a farmer and singer of religious hymns in Hogscald Hollow, a tiny Ozark community south of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Life was filled with hard work and making do for Ed, his wife Eliza, and their five children, who lived simply, as if the second half of the twentieth century had never happened.
But one day Ed’s life was permanently altered. While plowing his field, he became convinced he was having a heart attack. Ed stopped his work and lay down on the ground….. And then, as he lay there in the freshly plowed dirt, Ed received a vision from God, telling him that he would be restored to health if he would agree to do one thing: make musical instruments and give them to children.
And so he did. Beginning with a few simple hand tools, Ed worked tirelessly for twenty-five years to create over two hundred instruments, each a crazy quilt of heavy, rough-sawn wood scraps joined with found objects. A rusty door hinge, a steak bone, a stack of dimes, springs, saw blades, pot lids, metal pipes, glass bottles, aerosol cans—Ed used anything he could to build a working guitar, fiddle, or dulcimer. On each instrument Ed inscribed, “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God.”
— Kelly and Donna Mulhollan, creators of the exhibit, from their website Still On the Hill.
Ed knew nothing – absolutely nothing – about crafting guitars. But that didn’t stop him. Simply amazing. And he’s totally humble, too, as the videos portray.
The exhibit included over 30 of Ed’s musical instruments, painstakingly tracked down and on loan from their owners. Next to each instrument is an X-ray, showing the metallic implements used inside the belly to create reverberation.
You might think that instruments crafted from worthless scrap by an untrained man would sound like children’s toys, but that’s not the case. The sound is magical.
Contrasting with the Old State House, the current capitol building, completed in 1915, was magnificent. I’ve never seen so much marble in one place! As we visited on a Saturday, guided tours were not available. So we wandered around and explored all four levels, oohing and awing at the beauty and cleanliness of the site.
We arrived at the capitol building just in time to witness a brief event commemorating Confederate Flag Day on the north lawn. I didn’t know exactly what we were witnessing until I returned home and did a little research. The Sons of Confederate Veterans enact this ceremony every year. From the SCV website:
Charge to the Sons of Confederate Veterans
“To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish.”
Lt. General Stephen Dill Lee, Commander General,
United Confederate Veterans,
New Orleans, Louisiana, April 25, 1906
Many civil war (confederate) statues, memorials, and other icons have been removed — or argued to be removed — in the last several years. The argument has been made that by leaving these memorials to stand, we are commemorating those who actively condoned slavery. Conversely, the former confederates have been heard to say that slavery was not the issue, but that the federal government was overreaching and meddling in affairs that should be decided at the state level. I do not know which view the SCV espouses, so we did not speak to anyone and left after snapping a few pics.
Maritime Museum & Touring a Submarine (!)
Just a quarter mile down the Arkansas River Trail from the RV Park was the Maritime Museum. A modest set of two one-story buildings on moored barges, the museum was small but interesting, focused primarily on the history of the USS Razorback N5R, a diesel submarine that was available for tours.
The Razorback was launched in January 1944, and served for 26 years in the US Navy, followed by another 30 years in the Turkish Navy. The sub was decommissioned in 2001, then purchased and towed back to Little Rock in 2004 to serve as the mainstay for the museum.
Decommissioned does not mean mothballed. Our tour guide was quick to tell us NOT to touch any of the hundreds of buttons and switches, as the sub was still capable of firing up. Indeed, once a year former crewmembers convene to make repairs, swap stories, and turn the engines over.
The guide told us that the ship carried a crew of 77, and the tight quarters were astounding. The living conditions were pretty hazardous: temperatures in the bulk of the ship were regularly 100 degrees, and over 120 in the engine room; sharing a bunk in rotation with 3 other men, sleeping on top of massively powerful torpedos; showering once a month (if you were lucky!); stale recirculated air was only changed out once a day when the ship surfaced.
Given all of these facts, I was impressed that I didn’t feel claustrophobic! The modern air conditioning that’s been installed no doubt, coupled with the fact that we had only 4 of us on the tour, alleviated any closeness I felt.
Little Rock High School
No visit to Little Rock would be complete without a stop at this landmark civil rights site.
The National Park Service has built a nice exhibit building near the High School. The exhibits are interesting, but one really has to take the live tour to understand the true dynamics of the situation.
Ranger Randy, a former local television anchor, conducted an excellent and animated 2-hour tour. We heard how the “separate but equal” facilities were anything but. We learned about the absolute and total resistance to public school integration on the part of the governor, school board, and the general (white) public.
We were humbled to learn about the personal struggles faced by the “Little Rock Nine” and others involved in the fight for equality. We heard how the real struggles were not in the public, but behind the closed doors to the schools. We listened to the chants of “1 down, 8 to go!” as the white students banded together in an attempt to get the black students thrown out.
We imagined what it felt like to walk the gauntlet into school; to receive death threats; to be publicly physically assaulted and humiliated every day without recourse. Every day, all day. And not be allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities or sports. And be required to keep a 3.5 or better GPA or risk expulsion. How does one LEARN in that environment?? There is no doubt in my mind that I would have turned around and run home that first day upon seeing five hundred angry protestors at the high school.
FYI, all nine graduated with honors and went on to become distinguished citizens. We were gratified to learn that, many years later, some of the Nine made peace with their tormentors.
I’ve decided to make it my mission to visit every presidential library and every state capitol as we travel. We’re now in Nashville, Tennessee, and I hope to see the state capitol this week if the weather is favorable.