Walking Memory Lane

Paths sometimes act as anchors for memories. As a child, I spent many hours walking trails and roads in Hot Springs, Arkansas, while visiting my grandmother who lived on Highway 7 north of downtown.

I thought nothing of hiking through the woods to Gulpha Gorge where water cooled my bare feet. I can still feel the ever-present pea-sized snails that covered submerged rocks polished smooth from years of tumbling. 

Kodak cameraI sometimes carried a small plastic Instamatic Kodak camera, enchanted by rock formations and towering trees. I felt no fear, only freedom; freedom to go wherever my feet would take me.


As I drove into town early Saturday morning I felt jealous of my wife’s scheduled time for reading and reflection on the front porch of Mountain Thyme B&B. But, I also felt the excitement of knowing I would experience a day of learning while with Arkansas Master Naturalists.

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I stopped to view my grandmother’s old house and marveled at how small her front yard was where we played sandlot football and Frisbee. The uphill side had a definite advantage.

The chain link fence was a more recent addition. I remember near panic when momentum would take me close to that downhill edge as a child. I have a small scar on the inside of my lip from one of those games. I’d forgotten there were so many steps next to the driveway. My grandmother used those steps to pose us for dreaded family pictures.

On the other side of Hwy 7 stood an old hotel and long-retired swimming pool next to the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. As a child, I remember seeing the pool in use as my grandfather visited with the hotel owner.

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President Bill Clinton’s childhood home in the background

Continuing south on Hwy 7, I came to The Vapors, an old nightclub now way past its prime. While in college, I played percussion in pit bands at The Vapors. It was quite elegant back then but playing there influenced me to continue my education and finish college. After being offered an extended gig playing drums for a chain-smoking, hard-drinking musician, I realized that this wasn’t the direction I wanted to follow.

For several years, The Vapors was used for conference meetings, then as a church. Now it is only a dilapidated old shell of a place with ghosts and stories inside its silent walls. I was surprised that the marquee still stands in good condition.

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My favorite part of the Master Naturalists training involved walking through familiar areas while seeing through new lenses of learning.

A group walked north of the Arlington Hotel with geologist Doug Hanson as he shared from his knowledge using road cuts next to parking lots. He had extensive information about novaculite and its many applications as an abrasive. I knew the rock as a wetstone I’ve used to sharpen knives.

Shane Scott, a member of the Diamond Lakes Master Naturalists, led a group on the Hot Springs National Park Greenway. We began by walking alongside the springs above historic bathhouse row. I remembered walking this path many times as a child and marveled at how the springs and brick paths have remained so unchanged over the years.

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Lids secure and name the springs above Bathhouse Row

I was pleased to walk next to Hot Springs Creek where it emerged from its manmade covering that extends along Central Avenue.

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Before the first section of arched covering was built in 1884, rickety wooden bridges allowed early patrons to get to the bathhouses. The photo below shows the creek tunnel under construction.

Hot Springs Creek tunnel

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Hot Springs Creek flowing through a park

A highlight of our walk was seeing the butterfly garden maintained by the Diamond River Master Naturalists. I also enjoyed visiting briefly with a local who appeared to have all his possessions on a small dolly. He sat beside a section of railroad that ran through a small cutaway behind the butterfly garden.

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I broke away from the group for a few minutes and visited with the man, offering him some of the snacks from my pack. He was gracious and appreciative. I would like to have heard his story but decided to rejoin the group on the Greenway.

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Track where I met the hobo

After backtracking to the hot spring display pool where we began, I dipped my fingers into the water. This heat that traveled from volcanic depths before racing up to the surrounding hillside made me feel a sudden rush of childlike amazement.

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As I walked away from the springs, I felt thankful for the memories attached to these paths and the childlike fascination that we can feel at any age. These lines by Mary Oliver came to mind. 

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More about Arkansas Master Naturalists: A Pause for Learning

Luxurious Ouachita Trail Base Camp

 

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Mountain Thyme B&B, a beautiful base camp for the Ouachita Trail

Mike and Rhonda, owners of Mountain Thyme Bed & Breakfast, probably didn’t select their property specifically because it was two miles south of the Ouachita Trail’s intersection with Scenic Highway 7, but I think it was a brilliant choice! If Becca and I truly want to get away for relaxation balanced with exercise, the Mountain Thyme “Base camp” is ideal. Rooms are reasonably priced, and the best part is that there’s nothing to do there but relax and enjoy the woods, delicious breakfasts, and afternoon cookies.

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Yogurt and granola to be followed by omelet and sausage

A future trip on my to-do list involves covering the Ouachita Trail from it’s beginning in Oklahoma and concluding the extended backpacking trip with a stay at Mountain Thyme for some post-hike pampering. I’ve told Rhonda and Mike they could hose me off in the yard before letting me inside. This visit was for the celebration of our wedding anniversary and a chance for some early morning day hikes.

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Short Mountain overlook on Hunt’s Loop

Hunt’s Loop Trail begins at Iron Spring on Hwy 7 and climbs Short Mountain before intersecting with the Ouachita Trail. Hunt’s Loop has become a favorite over the years and is one of those trails you enjoy doing in all seasons and conditions.

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Stream running through Iron Spring Recreation Area with remnants of an iron water gate installed by the CCC.

I’ll hike Hunt’s Loop in different directions to add interest. If I have a little extra time and want some more miles, I’ll tack on the 1-mile out-and-back to the Moonshine Shelter on the Ouachita Trail. No evidence of a whiskey still but a nice place to take a break and read a few entries in the shelter journal.

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Moonshine Shelter

I like to walk Hunt’s Loop early and then make it back to “base camp” in time for breakfast. At 6:15 p.m. on our most recent trip, I surprised a black bear a few yards off of the trail, or as I said later, “the bear surprised me.”  I heard a low huff and looked toward a pine sapling thicket to see the back side of a black bear’s head and shoulders as it tromped quickly out of sight. I’d never heard that type of stomping on the ground before. I was pleased to have seen my first Ouachita bear! No photos. Barely got a look with the two lenses in my head!

Iron Spring is a great place for a family picnic or a restroom break when driving down Scenic Highway 7. There are pit toilets, but no drinking water unless you filter out of the creek.

GPS for Mountain Thyme B&B “Base Camp”

34°45’05.7″N 93°03’35.0″W

GPS for Iron Spring Recreation Area and location of Hunt’s Loop Trailhead

34°45’44.5″N 93°04’15.4″W 

Just to clarify, I don’t do product or service endorsements. I just like the place!

A few more scenes…

No Cookie Cutter Accommodations Please: If not a tent, then a B and B

Walnut Street Inn Bed & Breakfast

Walnut Street Inn Bed & Breakfast, built by Charles McCann in the 1890s at a cost of nearly $6,000

One of my hiking buddies always opts for a mom and pop restaurant over chains when possible. I’ve picked up this practice and have now applied this approach to selecting overnight accommodations. When not staying in a tent, I prefer a bed & breakfast over one of the chain hotels.

Becca and I recently made plans to celebrate our 36th anniversary, so something a little nicer than a tent was in order. We had never visited Springfield, Missouri and wanted to explore a little of the Missouri Ozarks.

Because of our wonderful experiences during repeated stays with Mike and Rhonda at Mountain Thyme B&B just outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, we decided to look at the bed & breakfast options in Springfield. Pricing of bed & breakfasts are comparable to hotels, but the food, fellowship, and personal attention far exceed even the nicest of hotels.

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Mountain Thyme B&B, off Arkansas Highway 7, two miles from the Ouachita Trail

We were pleased to find Walnut Street Inn, located right downtown on historic Walnut Street. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and then explored Springfield by foot. A short drive put us in the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, with a variety of hiking trails.

We stayed in the Cottage, part of the Walnut Street Inn two doors down the street. A third building, The Carriage House, is located behind the Walnut Street Inn.

The Cottage B&B

The Cottage B&B

Here are a few photos from the Walnut Street Inn.

Walnut Street Inn

Walnut Street Inn

Inside the Walnut Street Inn

Inside the Walnut Street Inn

Outdoor dining area

Outdoor dining area

Antiques in the main house

Antiques in the main house

Porch columns in Victorian style

Porch columns in Victorian style

Detail of a window in the Walnut Street Inn

Detail of a window in the Walnut Street Inn

Walkway outside of our room

Walkway outside of our room

One benefit of staying in Springfield is hiking beautiful trails at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center and Lake Springfield. The Walnut Street Inn owner, Gary Blankenship, gave good driving directions to these areas. I would rise early and hike before breakfast, then have the day to explore the area with Becca. We walked several miles each day and had some wonderful meals together!

The Walnut Street Inn Bed and Breakfast – No cookie cutter accommodations, but a wonderful place to stay!

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

Springfield Conservation Nature Center