I spent a good week at home after arriving back from the West. Relaxing, sleeping in my own bed, walking the dogs. While I was glad to be home, I was eager to continue the adventure. I spread my maps out, Google Maps, and started charting a course to the Southeast. I learned from my travels so far that this trip doesn't have to be rushed all the time. I had time and wanted to enjoy the journey as much as the parks themselves.
My next destination would be Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas on my way to Florida. Having never ventured south of Fayetteville, I was excited to see a new landscape, and park.
I took US 71 nearly the entire way until I got to Ouachita National Forest, where I turned left onto some winding mountain roads, and snow, and I was nearly there. When you arrive in the park you are at the same time at the visitors center and the historic district of the town. The visitors center is located in one of the historic bathhouses that line Central Avenue. I stopped in and talked to a ranger about hiking and camping and he gave me some tips on good sunrise and sunset spots.
I then headed to the one campground in the park, Gulpha Gorge. Being the middle of winter campers were sparse, although there were more than I expected. I found a spot away from the few other campers, paid to designate my campsite, then set out to find a sunset overlook.
The entire drive in was overcast and of the four weather apps I have, it was unanimous that the cloud cover wasn't going anywhere soon, so I resigned myself to searching for a spot for the following night where I could get a good look. After searching, and finding, a spot I decided to head back to the campground. I knew it would be nice not having to set everything up in the dark and I could get caught up on some writing.
I woke up the next morning at 5am to everything frozen. I picked up my phone to turn the alarm off and check the cloud outlook and it nearly froze to my hand. It was 17 degrees inside my car. Once again, all apps agreed that it was overcast with no chance of seeing the sunrise. So I laid my head back down and slept in for another hour.
I crawled out of the car in search of some hiking trails on the rangers recommendation. According to him, I couldn't hike all of them if I was here for a month. While I didn't plan on staying that long, I would get out there and see what I could find in a day. But first I went in to town to locate some coffee.
Running parallel to Central is a brick path called the Grand Promenade that cuts behind the bath houses and leads to other, more technical trails. I started down that to see where it would take me. After about an hour I ended up at a tall, Space Needlesque structure that turned out to be the observation tower. Happy to have stumbled onto it, it cost $4 to go up 306 steps to the top. Great views but the Bill Clinton video on repeat starts to wear you down after a while (he grew here, and was a very nice boy if you believe everyone in the video).
After descending the steps that took me to the top, I headed back to my car in search of other trails that were near the campsite. I hiked up the Gulpha Gorge trail that lead to a "hike only" lookout that was spectacular. Unfortunately it was mid day and the sun had finally broken through so the light was too harsh for photos. It was still well worth the 2 hour hike in to see it.
I headed back to the campsite to fetch my car and get to the overlook I wanted to be at for sunset. Once there I set out hiking down Sunset Trail. I'm still a little unsure of the naming of this as I hiked to the end and didn't come across any overlooks or even a decent view of the sunset. Either way the sun was going down and I wanted to be at a place that I could see both the city lights below, mountains and sunset in one place. I headed back towards the overlook where I parked and noticed I could see all of these things right here. Downside, it was Friday night and this is apparently the spot were the high school kids would come to "park". So there was me and three or four other cars. I was the only one not sitting my car. I could see why they came here, it turned out to be one of the best sunsets so far. The sparse clouds mixed in with the city lights and mountains. I stayed well past sunset until all the light was used up (I was the first car to leave).
The next morning I woke up at 5 knowing I would have to hike in to the spot I wanted to get to for sunrise. So at 5:20 with my headlamp on, I started on the 30 minute trek to the top of Mountain Tower Road that looks to the east.
After the sun had risen, I hiked back down, happy the second day had given my such a great sunset and then sunrise. Like the ranger said, I could have spent a month hiking the trails here but with other places to see, I need to get on the road. The thrill of this trip is knowing when you leave one beautiful place, it is replaced with a chance to see and experience something more.