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dwart oaks

Dwarf Oaks

OMG!  As I left Dallas Tuesday, I told my mom it would be hard to sleep because it would be so hot…WRONG…whew, the wind was cold.  I closed up the windows in the middle of the night…not complaining because I think hot nights are what is going to be difficult…not sure how well an 8 inch, 12 volt fan will cool down VANilla.  I probably will find out tonight!  That did spur me to remember to post the picture of the oak trees I took yesterday.  The ridge tops are covered with “dwarf” mature oaks whose growth is stunted from the cold winds and ice in the winter.

To finish off the Talimena Scenic Byway, I stopped off at Rich Mountain Fire Tower, located on the highest peak of the Ouchita Mountains (2,681 feet).  I also found a few more scenic vistas to see what the area looked like without cloud cover.

Grande Vista

On to Hot Springs, according to the road sign Bill Clinton’s boyhood hometown, where the next drive began. My first stop was Hot Springs National Park.  The town on the edge of the park is quaint and cute.  There is a row of ornate bathhouses right on the main road.  I didn’t get a picture of them.  It looked a little too nice for my mangy mutts.  Instead of going to the springs, I opted for driving up the winding road on ZigZag Mountain.  We took a 45 minute hike on a simple trail.  The trail down to

View in Hot Springs National Park

the gorge said it  was a 40 minute strenous climb back up which would have been too hard for my old companions…plus it was HOT.

For the next several miles, we passed by numerous rock shops.  After about the 10th one, I thought I should get a rock for Rootie’s rock garden, a friend of mine who takes home rocks from wherever she has been.  So I stopped off at the next store (with two open signs and two closed signs), to find that it was closed.  Oh well…nope, a hundred feet down the road I happened upon another one, and it turned

The rock shop

out to be the last one on the route that I noticed.  According to their card, Coleman’s Cyrstal Mines and Rock Shop has the World’s largest selection of crystals and gems.  You can even mine your own crystals.  So, Rootie, in case you are reading, I am carrying around a piece of quartz for you until I get back to Dallas in January.

The Reader’s Digest book also showed stops at Lake Ouchita State Park and Ouachita National Forest which I didn’t feel like I had time to view if I wanted to make it to a campsite by 5, so I pressed forward; however, as I was passing the expansive forest, I saw a sign for Winona Scenic Drive within the forest.  OK, I thought this is my chance to get a quick view.  As I turned in, I came upon a dirt Forest Road.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since I’ve been on several forest roads in Colorado, but I guess when I was on those there wasn’t a park entry sign claiming scenic views.  My GPS (which I think has been my best investment outside of VAN-illa), said it was a 3.7 mile loop before going back to Hwy 7.  I’ll brave it, I thought.   No luck with wildlife viewings in the forest, and when I got to mile 3.7 to get back on the Hwy, I was still in the forest!!  No left turn available…”Recalculating” says Gina the GPS!  That made me a little nervous.  Shockingly at the stop sign within the forest, Gina told me to turn left on County Road 54.  I was definitely off roading at this point.  I’m thinking 2.1 miles…we’ll see…worse case I’ll just turn around, and I have my cell phone (without service).  Low and behold, Hwy 7 – a happy sight!

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Onward…I decided to stop at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge.  I’ve never been to a national wildlife refudge that I know of, so it struck my curiousity.  Here there is an 8 mile driving tour past lakes, marshes and forests where one can spot bobcats, coyotes, beavers, deer, as well as migrating birds.  I’m glad I stopped by, but needed Njano our African safari guide to spot wildlife for me!  I saw a rabbit, a few birds, and do grasshoppers count?  One of them hitched a ride on my windshield for a while.  In all seriousness, it was 3:30 in the afternoon, and I was driving a little bit fast (20 mph) to really see much.  It was more for the experience, and I’d definitely go back or to another one and allow myself more time.  Of course, it would be nice if I knew more about trees and birds so I knew what I was viewing.  Marci, at the visitor’s center was super nice and helpful.  The main purpose of the refuge is to provide a winter home for migrating ducks and geese.  They plant soybeans and corn for the birds so they have a resting spot in the winter.  The refuge is open to hunting though, so I’m not sure how much of a rest the birds get…maybe it is only hunting for deer.

My resting spot for the evening is Petit Jean State Park.  It looks magnificent.  I am definitely going for a hike in the morning here.

Bryan

I met a guy named Bryan at the campsite.  He is roughing it with a car and tent.  He is on a meandering route to Reno from Atlanta to visit his mom.  He just graduated college with a film degree.  We went to watch the sunset at Mather Lodge…it was quick, yet magnificent.  Bryan, if you are reading – safe travels and sorry if I spelled your name wrong – forgot to ask if it was with an “i” or a “y”. ETB

Websites:  www.talimenascenicdrive.com/autotour_tower.html, www.nps.gov/hosp/index.htm, http://www.fws.gov/refuges/, www.petitjeanstatepark.com,

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