As we drove away from Dallas and officially became "en route to Arkansas," Dan and I wondered out loud, What is Arkansas known for? We'd never met someone from Arkansas, and the only claim to fame we knew of was Bill Clinton's upbringing. (It must be tough to broadcast a state identity when your downstairs neighbor is Texas.) A little mobile Googling provided some insight: Arkansas is known as The Natural State. Great news for us, as our Jeep was loaded with camping gear, and we were headed to Hot Springs National Park and picturesque Lake Ouachita.
Five hours and one Taco Bell stop later, we arrived at Lake Ouachita State Park to check into our $11-per-night campsite. This being Labor Day weekend, it was completely packed (lucky for us, Dan had thought ahead to make a reservation). After setting up the tent, we walked to the park's beach and the on-site Three Sisters Springs - said to cure everything from diabetes to dysentery. (Scout sipped all three cold streams of water and experienced some pep in his step, but that was probably due mostly his newly found freedom in the wild.) We made it back to camp just before sunset to heat up two cans of Amy's vegetarian chili on our kerosene stove, sit around the campfire, and be blissfully free of all distractions.
The next day's adventure led us too Hot Springs National Park. If you think breathtaking canyons and peaks when you think national park, think again. A tourist town has been built around this preserved plot, and it all started some 200 years ago when word got out that these steamy waters had healing powers. Bath houses and hotels were built at a frantic pace, and folks came in from all over. While most of that kind of tourism has died off (though you can still take a hot spring bath), the town remains - and has been filled with shops and restaurants. The preserved Fordyce Bath House on Central Avenue, which now houses the Park's visitor center, is a great place to get a backgrounder -- and see how these things were set up. Not settling for a visit to a national park without at least some out-of-the-car, off-the-sidewalk- exploration, Dan found us a nice hour-and-a-half hike through the woods. We even stopped by a cold spring-fed spigot to fill our gallon water jug.
On our last day we rose early to score a lumberjack breakfast at the closest diner, the Home Plate Cafe (holy heavenly hash brown casserole!) before tackling the four-mile Caddo Bend Trail which weaves a circle around Lake Ouachita State Park. It was our first hike with Scout, and after battling the leash for all of three minutes, we lit him free. Being the perfectly well-behaved beast that he is, he made a habit of running 30 feet ahead, stopping to look back, and then doing it all over again. Our city dog even got his feet wet when we took a detour to a secluded shore.