Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Exploring Central Arkansas

During our two months at Hot Springs National Park, we have hiked most of the trails in the park. They are excellent trails and a good way to get away from the busyness of Central Avenue and Bath House Row.

We toured Garvan Woodland Gardens, spectacular botanic gardens near Hot Springs. The Japanese Gardens were really special, as was the waterfall. They also have built the Anthony Chapel on the grounds, a beautiful space that makes you feel you are surrounded by the forest and God’s creation.

We have gone geocaching several times. This is a sport where we use our GPS to locate treasurers that have been hidden by other geocachers and listed on the web site. This activity helps us discover some of the hidden nooks and cran
nies of the community where we are staying. One geocache was located in Entergy Park, a newly developed area along Lake Hamilton. It gave us a glimpse of the lake and showed us some bike trails. We returned a couple of weeks later to test our new bike rack and ride our bikes.

Two trips to Little Rock have allowed us to visit the President Clinton Library—
really interesting and an impressive building and the Little Rock Central High School Historical Park where we relived the integration of the school 50 years ago. The exhibits in the visitor center are very well done and really brought that period back to life for us. It was very moving. We could see, read and hear what people experienced and felt during those difficult times. It is sad to see how cruel people can be to one another and how they are afraid of the unknown. One comment was especially poignant, “That was the first time I’d ever gone to school with a Negro, and it didn’t hurt a bit.”

Wrapping up at Hot Springs

Our time at Hot Springs National Park is coming to an end. We have one more week of work—three days. Two months is the right length of time to volunteer and to live somewhere. We’re ready to move on. But knowing we are about to leave helps us savor what is good about the time here and not get bothered by what we don’t like.

What has been good about Hot Springs? We’ve learned a lot about the American Spa, European-type bathing, and pre-modern medical treatment. We’ve experienced taking the baths and getting a massage. We’ve enjoyed being in a small-city urban area with all the convenience of shopping and services. Our camp site is lovely and comfortable. And we’ve gotten to know a number of very nice volunteers.

One real plus of this experience has been the opportunity to worship at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Hot Springs each Sunday since Easter. The worship services are very well done, the organist and music are excellent, and the Rev. C. B. Baker, rector, conducts a good liturgy and gives stimulating sermons. This is the first volunteer assignment where we have been able to worship regularly.

We learned how to operate a cash register and credit card machine. But we won’t be sad to finish the boring time in the bookstore, the repetitive questions and answers on the Visitor Desk. The staff here is stressed and doesn’t operate as a team.

We’ve yet to find a state or national park we wanted to return to the next year, but we’re glad each time we’ve taken the assignment.

We’ll pull out May 31and spend two and one-half months as tourists before we begin our next work assignment at Kodachrome State Park in Utah.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Whole again

Finally—we’re all back together and set to go after the ladder on our 5th wheel broke March 21 in Louisiana! We were driving north on I-55—a very bumpy road—when a trucker honked at us. John looked in the mirror and saw the bikes hanging at a strange angle. When we were able to pull over, we discovered that the ladder, where the bikes were hanging, had broken. They were only hanging on one connection to the trailer. Thank God, they hadn’t fallen off and caused others to have an accident. We took them down and stored them in our RV—not an optimum solution, but the best available at the time.

When we arrived in Hot Springs, we began searching for a bike rack that would carry the bikes on the front of our truck. Two companies referred us to Truck Buddy, where we found installing hitch receivers on the front of trucks happened fairly often. That receiver was installed in April.

We then located a Keystone dealer to order a new ladder for our Keystone Montana. On Tuesday we drove 75 miles north of Hot Springs to Russellville, where the new ladder was installed. Finally, $445 later, we are good to go. We are able to climb onto the Montana roof, carry the bikes on the front of the truck and tow the 5th wheel on the back. Our ladder shouldn’t fall off again.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bathing at the Buckstaff

Recently we had our bath and massage—part of our training as Interpretation volunteers at Hot Springs National Park. I didn’t get anything out of my only previous experience with a hot tub and I have never liked someone even massaging my shoulders. So I really wasn’t looking forward to a traditional bath and certainly not to a massage. For 175 years men and women have been coming to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for the baths, usually as a form of medical treatment, more recently as a form of relaxation. I found the experience better than I anticipated (or, at least, not as bad as I expected). It was relaxing and comfortable. But I am relaxed. I decided I prefer the physical sensations of running, weight training and hiking to a relaxing whirlpool bath, hot packs, steam cabinet and massage. The massage was not as uncomfortable or to be avoided at all costs as I had imagined. But, unless I’ve injured myself, pulled muscles or over-worked, it’s not to be sought.

In April Hot Springs National Park celebrated its 175th anniversary. In 1832 the springs were set aside (reserved) for the use of the people of the United States by a resolution of congress signed by President Andrew Jackson. The area was called a Reservation until 1921, when it was became a National Park. The celebration of the anniversary included festivities on April 20-21 with an actor portraying President Jackson, dignitaries and dancers from the City of Hot Springs’ sister city, Hanamaki, Japan, special concerts and art shows, and various governmental workshops in the bathhouses that are being stabilized on Bathhouse Row.

The following weekend there was a Walk Through History--living history presentations on various aspects of the history of Hot Springs National Park. I had never attended such a living history presentation and wasn’t very interested. But I did go to two talks—one concerning the depression-era program to house and treat indigent syphilis patients and another about conditions here during the Civil War. Both were excellent. If I ever have the chance to attend a similar event elsewhere, I will take advantage of it. Re-enactors add so much life to history.

Racial Relations

For the past three years we have spent two months a year in the south. Two years were in Texas, this year in Arkansas. We also have traveled in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina in the past. Until this year, our experience has been that Blacks are largely invisible, except when shopping in stores like Wal-Mart or at a shopping mall. When we did encounter one, they seemed uncomfortable if we talked to them, they didn’t look us in the eye. The races lived largely separate.

This year we spent a couple of days in Mississippi before coming to Arkansas. There, and here in Arkansas, we found African-Americans much more open to us, responding in a comfortable way. Here in Arkansas, we see them as tourists, as employees in the park and in local businesses, and there doesn’t seem to be the discomfort and separation we saw, especially in Texas. It is refreshing.