Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

True Grit Country

One, make that two, of my favorite movies is (are?) True Grit -- both the original with John Wayne and Glen Campbell and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.  The book by Charles Portis is also a great read.  Which is why when I realized I was going to be passing through Arkansas I had to make a swing through where the story is set.   Seeing as it wasn't all that off the beaten path from Hot Springs, I decided to do some exploring.

First though I wanted to see a bit of Hot Springs.  The nice thing about a trip like this is that I have no real agenda, no timetable, no deadline.  I can take as much time as I want to explore, and change my itinerary on a whim.   But I had to get breakfast first  -- as it wasn't included at this hotel.  I had spotted a Waffle House down the street and for old-times sake decided to hit it.  I hadn't been in a WH in ages.  They have hundreds of them along major roads in the South mainly.  I used to hang out at one in Phoenix back when I lived there and was going to school.  My first boyfriend in Phoenix was an overnight cook at one, and I'd go hang with Ruben and study and he'd make me big plates of "scattered covered and smothered" -- hashbrowns (scattered), covered (onions) and smothered (cheese).   I had that and a waffle, and skipped lunch I was so full.  It was still the same -- narrow, long building with small booths and a counter and the cook right there next to you.  Ruben and I were together for a couple of years, but I've completely lost track of him.  He'd be 47 now, if he's still alive.

Hot Springs is a gorgeous little town, and in the heyday of the "American Spa", back at the turn of the century, this was THE place to come to soak in the hot springs and get all sorts of modern-day (back then) hydrotherapy and other fun treatments.  The town literally had a "bathhouse" row, not to mention a huge rehabilitation facility that the Navy and Army built after WW I. 
The entire district downtown is now part of the National Park System, and they have opened up and restored several of the old bathhouses, with one being a museum, and the other a gift shop and one still in use and you can get a pass and go in and get treatments.  God I wish I had time for some spa!   All this time on the bike has my muscles sore and tense, and I could use a good soak/steam/massage.
The main visitor center is the old "Fordyce Baths", which was one of the largest.   It has stunning features, gorgeous stained glass, marble and fountains, (above is the main mens steam room in the Fordyce) not to mention lots of old-fashioned steam cabinets and showers and what not. 
It really must have been something in back int he days when folks came to treat their polio or arthritis or gout or other ailments in the natural hot mineral water.  The whole town was built on this industry, with hotels nearby catering to folks coming to bathe away their aches and ailments.

The night before I had mapped out the area I wanted to see -- a little loop through the Arkansas and Oklahoma hills where True Grit was set, and all somewhat close to Hot Springs.  It made for a great riding day, but didn't really get me any closer to Seattle by the time I was done, even though I'd ridden 300 miles. 
Cue Glen Campbell again... "One day little girl, the sadness will leave your face, as soon as you've won, your fight to get justice done..."   If you remember the movie or the book, little Mattie Ross, the bossy know-it-all kid who hires Rooster Cogburn to find Tom Chaney the man who killed her father, is from Dardanelle in Yell County, Arkansas, which is East of Fort Smith, and due north of Hot Springs.   This little overlook is near there, (I didn't actually make it to the town) and reminded me of the ranch scenes in the movie.   It was a most wonderful ride up in the high country of Arkansas, the temperature in the 80s, and sunny without a cloud in the sky.  I had the roads to myself, and was taken aback at the scenery.  I literally had no idea this part of the country was this pretty.  I am embarrassed to admit I didn't think Arkansas would be this nice.
After she hires Rooster, they chase the outlaw who has hooked up with "Lucky Ned Pepper" and his gang and are hiding out in the Winding Stair Mountains, in the "Indian Nation" (now Oklahoma) across the Arkansas River.   I love that name -- Winding Stair Mountains.   There is a scenic parkway that runs through the Winding Stair Mountains Recreation area, so I rode it for about 30 miles, east of the town of Mera, AR, and across the state line into Oklahoma.  The view above is from the parkway, looking back into Arkansas.

A little ways into Oklahoma I turned Northeast and headed towards Ft. Smith, the town where Maddie goes to hire Rooster, and where the US Government headquarters for administering justice and policing the Indian Nation were headquartered.   Much of the old fort is still there, the buildings, the jail, and the military cemetery.
That little loop through True Grit land put about 200 miles under my seat, but got me no closer to Seattle.  It was still early in the afternoon, the weather had been fantastic, never getting above 80 and I still could go a bit further.  The girls at the Harley dealer in Ft. Smith suggested going to Fayetteville up in the far northwest corner of Arkansas.  At least I'd be 80 miles closer than I was in Ft. Smith, so I did.  Using my app to book a room there, it gave me a choice of routes, and I took the longer one that used mostly state highways.  Again I was not disappointed.  It was a wonderful drive as the sun was going down, through more little towns, farms, and up and down the hilly terrain.   This is the land of WalMart and Tyson -- most of the farms had "Tyson" branding or signs on the roads, and huge chicken sheds.  No one one the road to bother me, and still riding in a t-shirt, although getting quite hungry.

About 8pm and about 30 miles outside of Fayetteville I stopped at a small place called "All-American Drive Inn", and it had a swiriled up vanilla soft-serve cone on the top.  My kinda place.   I rolled in and found what had to be most of the local high-school class in chatting and eating -- I easily was the oldest person there.  I got a booth and ordered, and listened in as a Marine recruiter in full dress blues "wined and dined" a young high-school recruit.   I think he won after convincing him it was the best way to go to college.

After I finished eating I actually had to get into my bag and put on a hoodie!  The sun had set, and it was cooling off into the 70s.  I'd been sort of cursing the fact I was lugging around a second bag with all that heavy cold weather riding gear, but it turns out I'm glad I did and I'm sure I'll use more of it down the road.

I've yet to decide what road to go down tomorrow.   That will come at breakfast.   I will be saying goodbye to Arkansas unfortunately.  It's been a wonderful two days of riding through some fantastic scenery on roads seemingly built for motorcycle riding.    Who'd a thunk?  Not me. I hope to come back again.

By the way, lots more pictures on my Facebook album:

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