In the course of two weeks, we traveled from Dallas, Texas to Hot Springs, Arkansas, stopping briefly in the tiny town of Atlanta, Texas along the way. Our stops ran the gamut from everything we love, to everything we dislike, and a little in between.
There were three major things I wanted to see in Dallas: (1) Dealey Plaza; (2) the George W. Bush Presidential Library; and (3) Cowboys Stadium burn to the ground. Unfortunately, arson is a crime, even in Texas, so I would have to settle for two out of three. I’ll talk about the presidential museum separately. For now, let’s talk about Dealey Plaza.
For those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that I visited the JFK Presidential Museum when we were in Massachusetts last fall. At the time, I expressed my opinion that the museum was in need of an update that would more thoroughly explain the context of JFK’s presidency, and the impact of his untimely death, to a younger generation.
In Dallas, I visited the Sixth Floor Museum, a museum that occupies the top two floors of the infamous Texas School Book Depository. The good news is, the museum was excellent and provided the kind of information that was missing from the JFK Presidential Library. The content went beyond the assassination to examine his life, his presidency, his policies, the societal context of his administration, the assassination, the investigation, and his legacy. The bad news is: the folks who run it don’t allow photography of any kind, so instead of me being able to show you how interesting it was, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
This is looking up at the Book Depository from the grass in the middle of the plaza. According to the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, fired three shots at the president from the rightmost window, second from the top, as the limousine was driving toward where I was standing.
Directly to my left as I took this photo is “the grassy knoll” from which many people believe one or more shots were fired by a conspirator.
Here’s the grassy knoll from the opposite side of the street:
At the top of the knoll is a plaque containing a quote from the speech JFK was supposed to deliver that day. If there was a second shooter, he would have been standing behind this plaque.
On the roadway, someone painted two X’s marking the exact spots where bullets struck the President.
And here are a bunch of morons running out in traffic so they can have their picture taken on the X’s. Because that’s not tacky at all.
Honestly, the museum was super interesting and really well done, but not having pictures to work with, makes it really hard to blog about (for me, anyway). The museum was adamant about photography, going so far as to say visitors were prohibited from looking at their cell phones – at all – while in the museum (because god forbid someone snap a covert photo.) Their reasoning was that photography, even non-flash photography, would damage the artifacts, which is, of course, complete nonsense. Not to mention, the museum only contained a handful of physical artifacts. The majority of exhibits were made up of informational boards and copies of photos. Whatever the case may be, it was frustrating to not be able to take photos.
And speaking of places that could have been better, Cedar Hill State Park, where we stayed, had the potential to be incredible, but after a flood in 2015, the state apparently just closed off much of the park. This is the map they gave us when we checked in. The entire blue/gray area represents the massive lake the park was built around. If you look at the roads on the map, you’ll see some have been highlighted in bright green highlighter. The highlighted roads were open to visitors, but all the roads near the lake were not highlighted.
All over the park we ran into roads that were closed off…
One evening, Kevin and I ignored the signs and walked down to the waterfront to check it out. We were rewarded with these lovely views:
It’s a beautiful lake, but the State doesn’t seem to be working to re-open it to visitors. We walked several miles along the waterfront and saw almost no activity at all.
The waterfront is closed, the marina is noted to be “permanently” closed, the hiking paths are closed, there was nowhere to rent a canoe or kayak. The end result was a pretty disappointing stay.
In addition to the campground being more closed than open, and the Sixth Floor Museum being a bit unreasonable, I was left completely underwhelmed by the George W. Presidential Museum. AND Cowboys Stadium is still just sitting there. All annoying-like. So, when our week in Dallas was done, we were more than ready to hit the road.
Atlanta State Park
We had the exact opposite reaction at our next stop: teeny tiny Atlanta, Texas. Located in the middle of absolute nowhere, in the very northeast corner of Texas, this park was one of the best places we’ve ever stayed.
There were lots of beautiful places to meander…
There was an enormous, pristine lake that we didn’t have to break any rules to enjoy:
And we had a gigantic site with tons of space between us and our neighbors:
And, as an added bonus, we got to meet new fun people! I happened to notice one of the couples we follow, Celena & Shoam, mention they were going to be at the same park at the same time, which is a really bizarre coincidence considering it’s truly in the middle of nowhere, so I reached out and we ended up spending a fun (boozy) evening trading stories by the campfire. And, as luck would have it, we expect to be visiting some of the same towns up north later this summer, so hopefully we’ll all be able to hang out again (though, hopefully, none of us will need as much Advil the following day…)
Hot Springs, Arkansas is an interesting place made famous by the natural hot springs that were first discovered thousands of years ago by Native American tribes before being appropriated by European settlers. For centuries, people have believed in the healing powers of the spring waters, which contain numerous minerals collected as the water makes its journey from miles below the surface to the springs. Through much of the 19th and 20th centuries, visitors flocked to the area, doctor’s prescriptions in hand, to obtain treatment for their various ailments at the bathhouses that lined the main street. Treatments would include both soaking in the spring waters and drinking it.
As time went on, the bath houses became more luxurious, train service became more frequent, and the entire town thrived. At various points it was home to spring training for professional baseball teams, and a favorite spot for Al Capone and his BFF’s.
The Lamar, pictured at the very top of this article, is now a gift shop for the National Park.
The town is unique in that it was the first natural area protected by the federal government (in 1832), making it the oldest protected place in the National Park System (it’s designation was changed from a “Reservation” to a “National Park” in 1921. Today, Hot Springs National Park actually encompasses the entire downtown historic area, as well as the surrounding land and springs. The Visitor’s Center occupies what was once the Fordyce Bathhouse and can be toured with a Park Ranger.
While the bottom floor of Fordyce was where guests went for their treatments, the upper levels were all about pampering. We found beautiful rooms dedicated to relaxation and socialization:
Down the hall were individual beauty and treatment rooms, changing rooms, and a large gym….
Numerous pieces of art, including this massive 8000 piece stained glass ceiling panel, adorned the building.
While, on the surface, the hydrotherapy treatments we learned about sometimes appeared draconian, our tour guide noted that many of them were simply precursors to modern day medical and spa treatments…. Things like hot/cold therapy, massage, saunas, jacuzzi tubs, etc. are still as relaxing and therapeutic today as they were 100 years ago. In fact, most of what we saw is still used in some form or another.
Except the mercury rub down. That one has definitely fallen out of favor. Whoops….
In the meantime, the hot springs continue to pump out millions of gallons of water containing all the beneficial minerals they’ve always contained. The National Park Service maintains numerous spigots around town where anyone is welcome to bottle their own water to take home, and many locals do.
After our visit to the bathhouses, we met up with even MORE fun fellow RVers (I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record)… We met up with Andrea and Shawn at a brewery that had once been a bathhouse. They have a super interesting RV set-up that we’ve seen a handful of times in other campgrounds: they have a Heavy Duty Truck – think tractor trailer/semi – that they use to pull a 5th wheel that’s the size of our motorhome. So, unlike most RVers, they never, ever, have to worry about not being able to make it up, or down, a mountain safely. The flip side is they need a really big parking space. It’s pretty cool to learn about the different ways people travel and the associated benefits and drawbacks that come with various set ups. Anyway, we had a good time comparing notes with them and hope to meet up again when our paths cross.
And with that, and this painting of Bill Clinton:
we said goodbye to Hot Springs and headed northeast toward Memphis…
In real time, we’ve quickly decided Nashville is an AWESOME city, but the endless rain is putting a serious damper on our opportunities to explore. Hopefully the sun will find its way back soon. More later….
- Where we stayed in Dallas: Cedar Hill State Park
- Where we stayed in Atlanta: Atlanta State Park
- Where we stayed in Hot Springs: Lake Catherine State Park