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Post Trip Fun in Murfreesboro and Hot Springs

Story and photos
by Kathleen Walls

ignous rocks

 This year I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Southeast Tourism Society Showcase in Little Rock. As those of you who follow my trips know, that usually includes a post trip. This year it was a delightful deep dive into newer territory for me. We visited Murfreesboro and Hot Springs. It was an interesting trip as I learned so much I had not known before, ranging from pre-historic colonies, digging for diamonds, to conflicts with the law. One of the most fun places we visited was the Gangster Museum in Hot Springs. We visited Crater of Diamonds State Park, where we dug for diamonds. Had we found any, we could have kept them. Perfectly legal. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any diamonds but got a deeper insight into legal situations in a short run-in with a Barney Fife Wannabe.

As I followed the bus with the other journalist who had flown in, my mind was on finding a big diamond and leaving Murfreesboro a rich woman. We slowed to a crawl as we entered the park’s parking lot. I noticed a police car as we turned to where the bus could park. He made a U-turn and began following us with his blue lights on. I thought, “How nice. The officer is here to guide us and greet us for our tour.”

As we approached a place big enough for the bus to park, the police car hit his siren. I wondered why but was not alarmed. When I parked next to the bus and started to get out of my car, I did get alarmed. I saw Officer Wannabe rushing towards me with a nasty look on his face. Those of you who remember the Andy Griffin Show and how Barney Five got so aggressive will understand why I was now worried. I don’t know if his mama tried, but like the song says, “her teaching he denied.” I guess he didn’t know you get better respect if you say, “Please” or “May I see your driver’s license, insurance and registration,” instead of his gruff “Give me your license, insurance, and registration!”

Of course, he needed them to take back to his police car and check to see if I was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. He ranted that I had failed to stop for a stop sign, and “didn’t I see his blue lights and hear his siren?” Since I had led him on a low-speed chase–I was going all of five mph–for about a city block, he was furious. Our state visitor’s bureau person tried to intercede telling him we were travel writers the state had invited in to tell the world what Murfreesboro was like, but that didn’t deter him. I mean, can you imagine Barney Fife being influenced by a female civilian?

He didn’t handcuff me and throw me into the Mayberry Jail but did give me a warning ticket for running a stop sign and fleeing an officer in pursuit. I think maybe my Florida tag made him jealous, as he obviously had never been out of Arkansas. Bless his pea-picking heart, he even asked me, “Do Florida stop signs look the same as Arkansas ones?”

Crater of Diamonds State Park

crater of diamonds state park

In spite of Deputy Fife, I enjoyed the Crater of Diamonds State Park.. This is the only diamond mine in the country where you can search for diamonds in their original volcanic source. It’s “finders keepers” if you uncover a precious stone, the park’s Diamond Discovery Center will teach you to recognize diamonds in the rough.

people digging at crater of diamonds

We had a ranger explain how to search and then she turned us loose to get our pail and tools and start searching. Had we found any, there was a washing station towards the back of the fields where we could wash our finds and see if they were pretty pebbles of valuable stones. The largest diamond ever dug in the U.S., the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam, came from here.

author examining a rock she dug at crater of diamonds

Besides the 37-acre field that was once a volcanic crater where you dig for diamonds, they have several trails, a seasonal water park, and a 47 site RV park.o:p>

Downtown Murfreesboro

items at antique shop

For lunch, we drove to downtown Murfreesboro for lunch at the Feed Bin Café. I had a very tasty quesadilla with sweet potato fries. Exploring downtown Murfreesboro is like stepping int an old west gold mining town except the emphasis is on diamonds not gold. There are several antique shops, most of which offer beautiful stones for sale. The sign in front of the Pike County Courthouse tells that the county’s first diamond was discovered in 1906.

Ka-Do-Ha Village

mounds at ka ha do village

Our next stop was one of Arkansas hidden gems, Ka-Do-Ha Village.. It’s an archeological site dating back about 1,000 years, with the only open mounds in the U.S. preserving the remnants of an ancient Caddo Civilization. Along with the mounds, there is a museum and an open field where you can search for diamonds or arrowheads. Again, you keep what you find. One of my friends found an arrowhead.

hand holding arrowhead and four leaf clover

Hot Springs

hot springs national park sign

Hot Springs history goes back to when Native Americans came there to harvest the stone for their tools and weapons. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, people came for the supposed healing properties of the springs.

boy dipping his hand  in hot springs fountain

Bathhouse Row

Fordyce Bathhouse

There were originally eight grand bathhouses along Bathhouse Row, but as belief in the springs’ healing power declined, many closed. Fordyce Bathhouse, which was first to close, now houses the park’s visitors center and museum. I loved the three floors of exhibits telling Hot Springs Bathhouse story.

Gangster Museum

our guide at gangster museum

Another attraction we visited tells a deeper story of some of the visitors the springs drew. The Gangster Museum is a deep dive into the days reaching from pre-prohibition era into the 1960s when mobsters like Al Capone, Oweny Madden, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Alvin Karpis of the Barker-Karpis Gang, and other mob figures ran the city. Our guide was great. He looked and talked like one of the gang and knew his history.

The Arlington Hotel

arlington hotel lobby

Hot Springs still has some links back to the mobster days. The Arlington Hotel, where we stayed, was Al Capone’s favorite. He stayed in a room, now marked as his on the fourth floor, and rented the entire floor for his henchmen.

Ohio Club

musician at ohio club

Dining at the Ohio Club, Arkansas’ oldest bar, felt like stepping back to those days. The club, originally founded as a bar and casino in 1905, was a favorite hangout of the gangsters and baseball stars like Babe Ruth, who did spring training in Hot Springs. Back in the early 1900s, Al Jolson, May West, and other big-name stars played here. The entertainment is still live Thursdays through Monday. The musician playing when I visited was talented and played a big range of styles.

Oaklawn

horses abnd jockies at Oaklawn track

Oaklawn Racetrack, Casino, and Resort carries on the gambling tradition, but it’s all legal now. The track hosts The Arkansas Derby. The racetrack dates back to 1904. There is a beautiful modern eight-story hotel and a spa there now.

shrimp and grits

There are several dining choices at Oaklawn. We dined at The Bugler, which won the Open Table Award in 2023. My Shrimp and Grits was fantastic and such a huge serving I could not eat it all. We still wanted to sample desserts. The Crème Brule, topped with fresh berries, was my favorite.o:p>

Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa

party barge at mountain harbor

For some more natural fun, we visited Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa located in the heart of the Ouachita Mountain range. The resort covers 900 acres along the shores of Lake Ouachita. They have the largest marina in Arkansas and have been recognized as the best marina in the state for over 20 years. We did a deep dive into nature on a party barge cruise out to a primitive island just offshore where we found a multitude of shells and spotted a lot of wildlife as we cruised.

Such a fun and informative trip.

   

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FTC has a law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are  "sponsored" or compensated. We also are to let readers know if any of our links are ads. Most are not. They are just a way to direct you  to more information about the article where the link is placed. We have several ads on our pages.  They are clearly marked as ads. I think readers are smart enough to know an ad when they see one but to obey the letter of the law, I am putting this statement here to make sure everyone understands. American Roads and Global Highways may contain affiliate links or ads. Further, as their bios show, most of the feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.

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