Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Spring Break on Arkansas Highway Seven.

Over the course of Spring Break 2015, my daughter Hunter and I explored Scenic Arkansas Highway Seven from end to end.  Our journey was followed on Twitter and in several different online publications, including Little Rock Family and Tie Dye Travels.  Here's a roundup on where we went.

Day 1 - Louisiana border and El Dorado
Overview at Little Rock Family
South Arkansas Arboretum
Minute Man Restaurant

Day 2 - El Dorado to DeGray Lake
Overview at Little Rock Family
Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources

Day 3 - DeGray Lake to Hot Springs
Overview at Little Rock Family
DeGray Lake Resort State Park
Mid America Science Museum

Day 4 - Hot Springs to Mount Nebo
Overview at Little Rock Family
Galaxy Connection

Day 5 - Mount Nebo to Harrison
Overview at Little Rock Family
Rotary Ann

Day 6 - Harrison to Diamond City
Overview at Little Rock Family
Arrowhead Lodge at Lakeshore Treehouse Resort

Monday, March 30, 2015

Oh How I Love Thee, Rotary Ann.

This article, I kid you not, is about a comfort station, a roadside station... in short, a rest stop along Scenic Arkansas Highway Seven.  What?

Highway 7 didn't exist before Arkansas joined in
the federal program for numbering highways, and then it ran from Camden to Harrison, with several sections a bit different from what they appear to be today.  Much of the roadbed was dug out with mules and carts back around the turn of the
century.  It improved a little over the ages, but slowly.  That roadbed received its designation as State Highway 7 in 1926.  It was a gravelly passage (except for around Hot Springs) and it was a bugger to traverse.

In the Ozarks, it was made even worse by the undulating peaks and valleys of the Ozark Mountain Plateau, rocky on its best days and horrifically muddy on bad ones.  But because it connected Russellville and Harrison, which connected to other important cities, it became a major route for travelers.  Mind you, this was back in the day when cars were still a relatively new invention.  There were few places to pull over and have a lunch, or even a break from the road itself.

Enter the Rotary Anns.  Now, the term Rotary Ann comes from two women -- one was Ann Brunier, who traveled with her husband to a Rotary Club convention from San Francisco to Houston in 1914.  She was the only woman on the train headed to the conference, and by the time the couple deboarded everyone was calling her Rotary Ann.  Ann Gundaker of Philadelphia was also at the event with her husband, and by the time it was over she too was known as Rotary Ann.  The name stuck, and the ladies auxiliary membership for the Rotary Club went by the Rotary Anns up until the 1980s.

The auxiliary members in Russellville saw a desperate need for a plate to stop along the route... not only because of the need for sanitary bathroom facilities, but to give drivers a place to take in some of the amazing views of the Arkansas Ozarks.  They encouraged development with the Rotary Club, and in the 1930s a scenic overlook with places to park was created along Highway 7.

It was the first rest stop in the state, and it should be around a good, long time.  In 2004, the stop was reopened after a year-long renovation and upgrade.  Today, it includes an unmanned restroom for men and women, interpretive panels, rail-guarded overlooks and picnic tables, along with lanes allowing for small
vehicle and bus parking.

Highway 7 received its Scenic Byway status in 1994, at one of the last high points of tourism in the area.  That happened to be the last year Dogpatch USA was open, and new developments
around the state were already drawing away travelers.  Upgrades to US Highway 65 to the east and plans to create an interstate through northwest Arkansas to the west were already underway.  Traffic dwindled.  Businesses faded.  Yet, Rotary Ann has been there throughout the decades.

Ask any Arkansas Boy or Girl Scout, family member who's traveled or motorcycle enthusiast about the highway, and they may mention this splendid little site.

I try to stop often, and I have many photos of these quick stops.  On Spring Break with Hunter last week, it came in very handy.  Hunter enjoyed
its views, too... as did the more than two dozen different individuals we counted that passed through in the quarter hour we were parked there.

If you're looking for Arkansas's oldest rest stop or would like to take in a gorgeous view, head up Highway 7.  You'll find it south of Pelsor and north of Booger Hollow.  Take a few moments and enjoy the view.

Friday, March 27, 2015

This Is The Museum You're Looking For... If You're A Star Wars Fan.

Hunter and I are exploring Scenic Arkansas Highway 7 from end-to-end this week. Watch my Twitterfeed @TieDyeTravels for updates each day on where we've been and where we're headed.

We like to explore. And
we both have an almost insatiable curiosity. So, when we saw the yellow building on Hobson Avenue Tuesday on our way downtown from Mid America Science Museum, decorated with at-ats, we both made a mental note to check out this place called Galaxy Connections.

Wednesday's rainy start provided a perfect excuse to squeeze a visit into our schedule.  When we entered, the floor got my immediate attention.  Turns out, owners John and Bridget Clower (who also own the pest control business in the back of the building) got the idea from visiting another comic book store.  They
experimented and tried several things before this worked, but it makes a stunning entrance.

We were greeted and asked if we'd like to take the tour.  We signed up.  It's $10 for adults and $8 for kids.  There was another tour ahead of us, so we waited a little while.  Another family came in and joined us.

Galaxy Connections opened November 30th, 2013.  It consists of John Clower's extensive Star Wars collection.  Now, John may not be a superfan, but he's an adept collector with a good eye, and he's managed to put together quite a few great things to make this museum happen.

This map shows where people came from just over the course of a portion of 2014.  While yes, there were a lot of people from Arkansas, there were visitors from the world over.  Our tour guide, Richard, told us about a young man from Russia who got excited about Jabba the Hutt, since Jabba apparently
means "big fat frog" in Russian.

Inside the tour, we first encountered a Stormtrooper -- or rather, a Stormtrooper costume.  Richard shared with us how it was made, what it was for, and how today's 501st wouldn't consider it more than a low-quality version of their high-end recreation costumes.   He also shared with us schematics for the sets for the original Star Wars (or, as we know it today, Star Wars IV: A New Hope).

This room also contained a control panel, which interested Hunter more than anything else.  I suppose having control over whether to destroy whole planets at her fingertips made the child a bit giddy.  That's my girl, I guess.

Richard also showed us an original costume for Darth Vader.  It was a bit shorter than we expected. We had a conversation about David Prowse, the guy in the Vader costume in the movies... and how his voice was dubbed over afterwards by James Earl Jones.  Wonder why?  Check out this video clip before the dubbing.

In the next room, Han Solo's still ensconced in carbonite. Or, there's a version of the famed visage from the end of Empire Strikes Back and the beginning of Return of the Jedi that's been cast from the original mold, along with a perfect model of a Jawa and a rather imposing costume of Boba Fett.  

And, of course, there's Yoda.  This Yoda's not a puppet.  He's actually one of the remaining Pepsi promotional display Yodas that went out to stores as part of a contest.  He fared a lot better than the rest.

The last room of the exhibit is the largest.  It's an entire room full of memorabilia, including a huge case with all the different original trilogy Star Wars toys.  We learned how George Lucas struggled to have action figures created, and how the fledgling Kenner came forward and
started the process.  There's a certificate on display from that one Christmas when the toy set wasn't ready, so many kids woke up and found that certificate rather than a complete action figure set under the tree.  

And there's the X-Wing... which a fan in Memphis actually built for his child's birthday party.  This provides a great photo-op for kids.  While Hunter had been reluctant to pose with any of the costumes or figures throughout the rest of the exhibit, she had to get in on this.

Richard made the tour a lot of fun, answering all sorts of questions and making sure everyone got the photos they wanted to take.  But this was the best.  At the end, he lets families dress up in Jedi, paduwan or fledgling robes and "battle" with light sabers.  You can
really tell he loves his job.

You wouldn't expect to find something like Galaxy Connection in Hot Springs, with no obvious ties to Hollywood or George Lucas.  But it's a great stop, especially if you have a fan in the family.  

Galaxy Connection
906 Hobson Avenue
Hot Springs, AR 71913
(501) 276-4432

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Central American Fare at Rolando's Nuevo Latino Restaurante.

Next time someone tells you they’ve had great southern food, suggest a visit to Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurante. It’s not only southern, it’s south of the southern border… and even south of the south-of-the-border sort of food you’re used to.

Renewed Wonder at Mid America Science Museum.

 Hunter and I are exploring Scenic Arkansas Highway 7 from end-to-end this week. Watch my Twitterfeed @TieDyeTravels for updates each day on where we've been and where we're headed.

Like thousands of other Arkansas children, I grew up with the really cool place, the Mid America Science Museum.  Field trips and summer visits offered a world of wonder and lots of chances to play.

Even as an adult, I visited many times.  Over the years, some of the things became routine, but it was always still a great stop.  

A few weeks ago, the newly remodeled museum reopened.  Hunter and I planned a visit for our spring break road trip.  After visiting the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources the day before and having the place to ourselves, we didn't expect all that many people out for the mid-week stop.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find people parked all along the road leading to the museum, and a full parking lot as well.  Take a look at all the cool stuff we found inside.

She was excited from the moment we arrived.  Before, even.

On the outside, it doesn't look all that different.

But on the inside, it's a different story.

Right inside the front door, there's a neat video project where kids can hula hoop
or play ball or dance, and it'll loop and reverse.  Notice the difference in Hunter
on the screen and Hunter on the floor.

Could packing peanuts and a trampoline ever be quite this fun?

A lot of the old attractions and experiments are still there, such as this metal

Some of the attractions make a lot of noise.

The old skybridge is now called the Light Bridge, and you can see the new
Skywalk from there.  It's unique!

There are a lot of different pieces on the light walk.

This is a frame full of different prismatic glass pieces that distort what lies beyond.

Hunter enjoyed playing with the different colored cels to create different colors.

A two story structure just inside the main building uses water to propel balls
up and down.  It requires a little kid participation.

As you see, that's not a problem.

Hunter launched balls from this contraption up into that spring overhead...

which spun down into this water funnel.  Kids below grabbed balls and put them
on tracks to launch them back up to the top.

Sometimes the balls escape, but that's all right.  There's help getting those back, too.

As you can see, there are a lot of changes to the main area of the museum,

And there were plenty of people there to enjoy all of it.

Without a doubt, Hunter's favorite thing at the museum is this structure.

Here, rubber pieces are piled up and knocked down to create mountains and rivers.

When you hold your hand over it, it rains.

The mastadon is still there...

As is this giant lump of quartz crystal.

You can see what you look like in infrared.

Or check out this ice coil!

The Gyroid is a neat climbing contraption for the kids. Hunter had to get her
shoes off immediately to tackle this.

She never made it to the top, but she sure tried!

Those fabulous Rowland Emmett machines are still on display throughout
the museum.

Hunter got a real shock out of this contraption.

She rather enjoyed connecting circuits in the Tinkering Studio.

We went out on the Skywalk.  It was an adventure... a musical one. 

There were a lot of people out.

Hunter loved the kaleidoscope.

Here's what it looked like inside.

This giant trampoline was the center of attention.

Hunter was far more interested in the tightrope... but after this run, she said never again.

The cafe is still located on the bottom floor of the entry building.

Here's a carbon atom display.

And here's another one of those amazing machines.

There's even a machine to break rocks.  Which is genius, since this allows the kids
to make gravel for the paths... KIDDING...

And of course, we had to check out the gift shop.
If you'd like to learn more about the Mid America Science Museum, check out the website.